media watch with peoples input an organization of rastriya abhyudaya
month march 31, edition 000469, collected & managed by durgesh kumar mishra, published by manish manjul
Editorial is syndication of all daily- published newspaper's Editorial at one place.
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- PERSIAN GULF
- NEFARIOUS NEXUS
- POLITICAL WILL REQUIRED - ASHOK K MEHTA
- UMA, BJP MUST JOIN FORCES - SUDHANSU R DAS
- JUMBO TALES OF ABUSE - VR JAYARAJ
- BENJAMIN'S OPTIONS - GWYNNE DYER
- TIME TO STOP BEING PASSIVE - NIKOLAI TROITSKY
- CLIMATE RHYTHM OUT OF TUNE - SACHIN JAIN
- SONIA MUST PUT HER RETURN AS NAC CHIEF TO GOOD USE
- AVOIDABLE CONTROVERSY
- ADOLESCENT PREOCCUPATION
- COOPERATION A MUST FOR GOOD CYBER SECURITY - BY SUBIMAL BHATTACHARJEE
- DECCAN BUZZ - A SRINIVASA RAO
- DASNA JAIL ' SUICIDE' GETS A POISON TWIST - BY AKASH VASHISHTHA IN GHAZIABAD
THE TIMES OF INDIA
- TWO'S COMPANY
- LOVE ALL
- RESURRECTION OF THE STATE - SHAIBAL GUPTA
- 'FREE ISN'T ALWAYS GOOD ENOUGH' - RONOJOY SEN
- PUBLIC & PRIVATE - JUG SURAIYA
- WAITING TO EXHALE
- CRIME AND PUNISHMENT
- PROTECTING THE PM - S SUBRAMANIAN
- AN ARSENAL CALLED DECEPTION - THOMAS MATHEW
- CAPE OF GOOD HOPE - N CHANDRA MOHAN
- FREE THE ADVICE
- NUCLEAR SUMMER
- THAT NEW SCHOOL FEELING - SANJAYGDHANDEU
- MOUNTAINS OF TERROR - SUDEEP PAUL
- CONVERT MUNICIPAL WASTE TO WEALTH - RANESH NAIR
- THE SANDRA BULLOCK TRADE-OFF - DAVID BROOKS
- THE GREAT GAME FOLIO - C. RAJA MOHAN
- JOBS IN THE CITY
- MEMORIES OF REVOLUTION - ASHIM CHATTERJEE
- THE RIGHT KIND OF ADVICE
- GET THE ENVIRONMENT RIGHT
- FINMIN'S CONJURING ON BORROWING - SUBHOMOY BHATTACHARJEE
- NOW THAT FARM PRICES ARE FALLING - YOGINDER K ALAGH
- TAX DEPARTMENT LOSES A BATTLE - TANU PANDEY
- RIGHT DECISION
- LAWLESS STATE
- YOUR RIOT WAS WORSE THAN MINE
- A DAMAGING REPORT - MAHADEVAN RAMASWAMY AND RAMASWAMY R. IYER
- HAS THE RECESSION ARRESTED CRIME? - TAMMY JOYNER
- FATIMA MEER: ACADEMIC AND ACTIVIST - ARJUMAND WAJID
- OVERCONNECTED WORLD
- ENDING CASTE TYRANNY
- BJP'S LOST OPPORTUNITY - S NIHAL SINGH
- WHY FOREIGN BUSINESSES TRIP UP IN CHINA - VENKATESAN VEMBU
- THEY HAD IT COMING
- N-DEAL: ANOTHER HURDLE GOES
- SONIA BACK IN NAC
- THE INDIA-BHARAT DIVIDE - BY ASH NARAIN ROY
- THE PORTRAIT - BY HARISH DHILLON
- AN UNEQUAL FIGHT - BY DINESH MANHOTRA
- ARMY CAN'T DO WITHOUT 'SAHAYAKS' - BY COL PRITAM BHULLAR (RETD)
- DELHI DURBAR - PIL MISUSE
- YOU MAY NOT LIKE IT
- THE REAL IRAQI FREEDOM
- PROTECTIONISM REDUX
- WHAT FOOD COUPONS CAN AND CANNOT DO - SUBIR ROY
- INDIA'S CENTURY - JAIMINI BHAGWATI
- SHOULD OVERSEAS DEALS BE TAXED?
- LUNG SPACE FOR CITIES M J ANTONY
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
- IT'S 'PUNNY' HEADLINE TIME!
- LESSONS FROM MOSCOW BLASTS
- STANDARD CHARTER?
- WHITHER THE PRAKASH KARAT LINE? - C L MANOJ
- WHAT THE GREEN REVOLUTION TEACHES US - ARVIND PANAGARIYA
- HARMONISING ONE'S FAITH WITH SCIENCE - VITHAL C NADKARNI
- WILL RAISE PENETRATION OF INDIAN GENERIC
- HUGE OPPORTUNITY FOR OUTSOURCING COS
- INDIA GAINS FROM US HEALTH BILL?
- ZAIN'S A BETTER BET THAN MTN: SUNIL BHARTI MITTAL - SANDEEP GURUMURTHI & SHAILI CHOPRA
- US-CHINA TRADE WAR CAN SHAKE UP MARKETS: NOURIEL ROUBINI - ANDY MUKHERJEE & SHAJI VIKRAMAN
- AFTER MOSCOW: UNITE, TACKLE ROOT OF TERROR
- TOWERING INFERNOS - BY INDER MALHOTRA
- PROFESSIONAL TRIUMPH OR MARITAL BLISS? - BY DAVID BROOKS
- HISTORY'S DANCE WITH EQUALITY - SHOVANA NARAYAN
- A SUFI WHO WAS BELOVED OF GOD - BY SADIA DEHLVI
- THE ORDER OF THINGS - BY K.C. SINGH
- WIDOW WORE BLACK
- ARSENAL BLAZES
- BACKDOOR TROT
- HIGHER STILL HIGHER - BY PR DUBHASHI
- CONSTITUTION,QUOTAS AND COURTS - RAJINDER PURI
- SILLY SEASON FOR SELLING - SUDIPTA DEY
- GRAFT IN CHINA... A WAY OF LIFE?
- ICON FEVER
- ENEMY WITHIN
- A TRUSTED ALLY - K.P. NAYAR
- INSIDE THE SCRABBLE ASYLUM - STEPHEN HUGH-JONES
- TRAVESTY OF JUSTICE?
- MOSCOW MAYHEM
- DEFENDING RAISINA HILL - BY P P BALACHANDRAN
- THE BLOSSOMING OF SINO-IRANIAN RELATIONS - BY RICHARD HEYDARIAN
- MEETING OF EAST AND WEST - BY SHOBA NAIDU
- NEEDED: AN ISRAELI PEACE PLAN
- WHAT IS BARAK DOING IN NETANYAHU'S 'REPUB-LIKUD' GOVERNMENT? - BY AMIR OREN
- AN IMPASSE WITH WASHINGTON - BY MOSHE ARENS
- HAPPY FESTIVAL OF FREEDOM - BY MERAV MICHAELI
- WHERE'S THE SOLIDARITY? - BY SHLOMO AVINERI
THE NEW YORK TIMES
- WISHING DOESN'T MAKE IT LAW
- THE MOSCOW BOMBINGS
- ENFORCING SCHOOL STANDARDS, AT LAST
- LO-SWEET, LO-FAT, LO-SALT
- WHAT MAKES CHECHEN WOMEN SO DANGEROUS? - BY ROBERT A. PAPE, LINDSEY O'ROURKE AND JENNA MCDERMIT
- SHOULD THERE BE AN INQUISITION FOR THE POPE? - BY MAUREEN DOWD
- THIS TIME WE REALLY MEAN IT - BY THOMAS L. FRIEDMAN
- DUNGEONS AND DRAGONS
- NOT SO 'SPECIAL'
- THE SKY IS NOT FALLING, IT'S JUST DEMOCRACY - AMEER BHUTTO
- BOMB WITH THE FUSE LIT - ZAFAR HILALY
- JUDICIARY, JUSTICE AND THE PUBLIC - DR A Q KHAN
- THE TALE OF MISSING CONSULATES - M SAEED KHALID
- THE THIRD SUMMER OF DISCONTENT - ANJUM NIAZ
- JIHAD JANE - LUBNA JERAR NAQVI
- DR KHAN A FREE MAN
- INDIA TO BUILD ANOTHER DAM ON CHENAB
- SBP SEES LIGHT AT THE END OF TUNNEL
- FROM BACKBURNER TO COLD STORAGE! - KHALID SALEEM
- US EFFORTS TO SNAP TALIBAN-QAEDA ALIGNMENT - ASIF HAROON RAJA
- PAKISTAN IS NOT A 'PRIORITY' - ALI SUKHANVER
- INTERNATIONAL ARMS CONTROL - MAHMOOD HUSSAIN
- KARZAI FLOUT US INFLUENCE - DEXTER & MARK
- BURIGANGA'S WOES
- DAYS OF DARKNESS
- A 500-RUPEE NOTE..!
- USE OF DUAL-USE CARS IN REDUCING TRAFFIC CONGESTION - PROF BIJON B. SARMA
- THE END OF AN ERA IN FINANCE - DANI RODRIK
- THE RIGHT DECISION ON DRAGAN
- BOGUS GREENS SHOULD BACK OFF
- OUR EXPERTS NEED TO SING FROM THE SAME SONG SHEET
THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD
- EASY COME, EASY GO
- POLICY BUDGIES STILL BEING SMUGGLED
- A VERDICT SHOWING CHINA IS STILL MADE OF STEEL
- DROUGHT OUT OF SIGHT, NOT OUT OF MIND
- IN PRAISE OF VICENTE TODOLÍ
- CONGO: MASSACRE IN THE JUNGLE
- NATIONAL CARE SERVICE: DEATH TAX RIP
THE KOREA HERALD
- CELEBRITY SUICIDE
- A CASE OF CORRUPTION
- NEW TREMORS IN GLOBAL FINANCE, TRADE - MICHAEL BOSKIN
- ARE KOREANS REALLY FAST WHEN NEEDED? - KIM SEONG-KON
THE JAPAN TIMES
- TOUGH TIMES FOR PRO SPORTS
- MUTUAL UNDERSTANDING OF HISTORY
- WHY CHINA KILLS A CHICKEN TO SCARE MONKEYS - BY TOM PLATE
- A SERVICE REVOLUTION IS SWEEPING SOUTH ASIA - BY EJAZ GHANI
- THE POPE'S EASTER MYSTERY - BY KEVIN RAFFERTY
- CAN TURKEY FULFILL ITS TRANS-ATLANTIC PROMISE? - BY KEMAL KIRISCI, NATHALIE TOCCI, AND JOSHUA WALKER
THE JAKARTA POST
- YES, RI NEEDS TO PLAY A GLOBAL ROLE, BUT HOW, AND WHEN? - YASMI ADRIANSYAH
- KOPASSUS AND THE LEGEND OF 'MPU GANDRING' - ABOEPRIJADI SANTOSO
- ASIA'S 'HOLY GRAIL' OF REGIONAL ARCHITECTURE - EVAN A. LAKSMANA
- HUNT DOWN TERRORISTS
- AN IGNORANCE OF LIVES
- END OF HOUSING BUBBLE?
- THE SURPLUS OF PROMISE
- ADDRESS THE SOCIAL CONFLICTS DUTIFULLY - BY CHAN CHOI-HI (CHINA DAILY)
- STOP BLAMING CHINA FOR AMERICA'S WOES - BY COLIN SPEAKMAN (CHINA DAILY)
- AN OPEN INVESTMENT RACE - BY ZHANG MONAN (CHINA DAILY)
- INDIA'S FAILED DIPLOMACY TAINTS INDO -AMERICA PARTNERSHIP
- LEGISLATIVE POWER OF PARLIAMENT IS NOT ABSOLUTE - BY MHM SALMAN
- RIGHTS AND RESPONSIBILITIES OF THE MODERN DAY ELECTRICITY CONSUMER
- WHY NOT A GOVERNMENT OF COHABITATION?
A GAP NEW DELHI AND TEHRAN NEED TO ADDRESS
The cancellation of Foreign Minister SM Krishna's visit to Iran after Tehran changed dates twice and made its reluctance to play host obvious indicates an emerging challenge for Indian diplomacy. In a sense, the Iranian Government acted in bad faith. It initiated the process of the visit by inviting Mr Krishna for Navroz traditionally marking New Year in that country and then altered the dates. When the new dates were accepted, Tehran changed them again and this time it was inconvenient for New Delhi to play along, given Mr Krishna's prior commitments. The Foreign Minister's visit was supposed to be a precursor to a prime ministerial trip to Iran. Obviously, the entire time-table will now have to be revisited. Iran is making it clear that it is not going to forgive India easily for voting against it at the International Atomic Energy Agency and seeking sanctions and action against the regime in Tehran for its clandestine nuclear weapons programme. Iran has consistently violated its commitments under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Its pursuit of the Bomb is worrying for not just Israel and the United States but also deeply disquieting in terms of India's own security. A Shia nuclear-weapons state will be seen as a grave provocation by Sunni Governments in West Asia. There will be pressure, particularly on Saudi Arabia, to take counteractive measures. The secret or perhaps non-so-secret protocol between the Saudis and the Pakistanis whereby Riyadh funded and supported Islamabad's development of a nuclear arsenal that would then provide umbrella cover to the paramount Arab kingdom could then become explicit. A larger arms race in the Muslim world would result and Pakistani's diplomatic space as well as ability to leverage its nuclear infrastructure aimed primarily at India would increase. As such, particularly at a time when it was negotiating a civilian nuclear deal with the United States and the international community, and needed to provide evidence of its being a responsible stakeholder in the nuclear enterprise, India could just not have ignored Iran's transgressions, much less approbated them.
This background is important and suggests a contradiction that will always remain. Nevertheless, India and Iran have a compelling medium-term congruence of interests in Afghanistan. In case American troops withdraw or scale back their presence in Kabul, in case the Taliban or least a faction of the Taliban beholden to the Generals in Rawalpindi and deriving ideological sustenance from a particularly extreme version of Sunni Islam takes change, both India and Iran are going to see a critical worsening of their security environments. They will have to work together, as they did in the 1990s and in the period leading up to 9/11, to build proxies and create capacities for alternative players in the Afghan polity. Unfortunately, Tehran's blind antagonism to Washington, DC, a result of the limited, provincial world-view of its current President, is preventing it from taking a clear-eyed view of the Afghan situation. It wants Western forces to quit at once, not realising this is probably going to happen anyway in 2011 and that it will inevitably create a power vacuum in Kabul. In these circumstances, India and Iran need to discuss Afghanistan as well as perhaps the scenario in Pakistani Balochistan. However, this conversation cannot even begin if Iran decides to be bull-headed and seeks not tactical alliance with India but strategic subservience from it.
BELLARY COULD GO THE GOA WAY
There is no denying the fact that politics today is viewed as a murky profession wherein the only way one can climb up the ladder of success is by employing money, muscle power and a good dose of deceit. Some might say, and justifiably so, that this is an unfair generalisation. After all, not all politicians deserve to be tarred with the same brush. But one has to accept the fact that this is the majority perception. And not helping matters are cases like that of the Reddy brothers who have no qualms about liberally using all resources at their disposal to serve their political and business interests. At the outset, it is quite apparent that things are not quite kosher in Bellary, the mining barons-cum-politicians' fiefdom along the Karnataka-Andhra Pradesh border. The Reddy brothers have allegedly pushed their mining activities into large tracts of reserved forest area in violation of the Forest Conservation Act. The allegation has forced the Supreme Court to stay all further mining activities of the Obulapuram Mining Corporation, the company owned by the Reddy brothers, and order an expert committee headed by the Survey of India to ascertain the veracity of the alleged encroachment of forest land. But it would appear that someone is averse to letting the law of the land take its course. On Monday, a group of unidentified men physically assaulted the Tapal brothers who are responsible for initiating judicial proceedings against the Reddys. The former were waiting to meet Survey of India officials when the attack took place. It is clear that the aim here was to intimidate the Tapal brothers, perhaps into withdrawing their case against OMC. Yet, one cannot overlook the fact that the Tapal brothers are themselves in the mining business and are close to a local Congress leader.
What we essentially have here is a heady cocktail of business and politics, precisely the thing that the common man has come to despise. When business and politics mix it automatically results in the creation of lobbies and mafia that not only squeeze the system dry but also spawn a culture of criminality. Goa is a classic example of this where the nexus between the sand mining mafia, the property developers and the politicians has completely spoiled the tourist paradise and given rise to a host of criminal activities. Unless there is expeditious judicial intervention, Bellary too will head the Goa way. This is the last thing that Karnataka Chief Minister BS Yeddyurappa wants. His Government came to power on the plank of inclusive development and clean governance. Mr Yeddyurappa is a seasoned statesman and knows the pitfalls of allowing a nefarious miners-politicians nexus to flourish. He must do his best to ensure that the law of the land prevails.
POLITICAL WILL REQUIRED
ASHOK K MEHTA
With Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa on an unprecedented winning spree on the battlefield and at the hustings, can he secure a two-thirds majority in the parliamentary elections on April 8? The complex proportional representation system virtually rules out such an outcome on the strength of just his own party. Mr Rajapaksa wants to drop reliance on defectors and inconvenient allies which had forced him to appoint 113 Ministers out of his alliance's 131 legislators. Technically he needs another 19 seats to reach the magic figure of 151 in a 225-member House. So rampant is political opportunism that UNF leader Ranil Wickremesinghe has made his party members sign an affidavit to preempt any post-poll defections.
Sri Lanka is divided into 168 constituencies among 109 districts. Of the 225 seats, 196 are directly contested and the remaining 19 come from the national list. The three main parties in the south of the country are Mr Rajapaksa's UPFA, UNF, and Gen Sarath Fonseka's DNA. With the General in military custody facing charges of treason and fraud, the Fonseka factor was given an inadvertent boost by his arrest.
The election excitement is really in the north and east where, despite voters' lists being incomplete, Tamils and Muslims will be voting independently for the first time. Big Brother LTTE is not watching. The North and the East are represented by 31 parliamentarians of which the TNA, the LTTE proxy, held 23 seats in the dissolved House with the balance split between Muslims and Sinhalese. This time around, the TNA has split into four groups and reverted to its old name of Federal Party.
The non-LTTE groups in the fray are EPRLF, TULF, PLOTE and other smaller parties. EPDP led by Jaffna's own Douglas Devananda, a Government Minister and a future Chief Minister of the North, will contest under the UPFA. In the East, Chief Minister Pillaiyan, the renegade LTTE commander, will fight under his TMVP banner. Unlike in the past, the Tamil vote will get divided among different parties while the Muslims will vote either for the UPFA or UNF, or the SLMC.
Current poll predictions give the UPFA an outright margin over other parties but missing the two-thirds majority target. Provincial elections in the North will be held later in the year depending on the outcome of the parliamentary elections. Many reasons are being suggested for the two-thirds majority required to change the 1978 Constitution devised by President Junius Jayawardene. Mr Rajapaksa, like his predecessor Chandrika Kumaratunga, wants to curtail the executive presidency; change the electoral system and enact Amendments enabling power-sharing with the Tamils; and last but not the least, remove the limitation in the Constitution restricting the President to two terms in office.
People fear that Sri Lanka could be drifting towards a single-party state with a nominal Opposition and power concentrated in the ruling Rajapaksa family. Blinded by the success of the military solution, Mr Rajapaksa has completely ignored the question of national reconciliation. His track record towards devolution indicates that he has sought to buy time pretending that the ethnic problem did not exist and it was terrorism which had to be quelled by crushing the LTTE.
To impress India and the internal community he appointed two panels the All Party Representative Committee and an Experts Committee whose recommendations have become archival material. Most recently, he announced the establishment of yet another committee to study the root causes of the ethnic conflict. This is a big contradiction because Mr Rajapaksa has said there is no ethnic conflict. He has dazzled his southern admirers, juggling with the four Ds: Demilitarisation, Development, Democracy and Devolution, forgetting the last D.
India has been taken for a ride with frequent pledges that the 13th Amendment would be implemented soon. Mr Rajapaksa made this commitment to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh who announced it in Parliament last year. Foreign Minister SM Krishna stated in Parliament last month: "We keep urging the Sri Lankan Government for a political solution." Members in the Tamil Nadu Assembly periodically endorse the same sentiments.
The 13th Amendment enacted in 1988 ensured that powers relating to police, land and finance were not devolved to Mr Varatharaja Perumal, then Chief Minister of the erstwhile North-Eastern Province. Twenty years on, Chief Minister Pillaiyan has even less power than Mr Perumal, the difference being that Mr Pillaiyan's one-time mentor, Karuna, who was made the Minister for national integration had said: "Tamils are interested in development, not devolution".
New Delhi has good reason to be angry over devolution being pushed to the back-burner despite its unpublicised role in helping Sri Lanka win the war against the LTTE. This was a big strategic investment, even bigger than the deployment of the IPKF and sacrifice of 1,200 lives. All that South Block likes to hear are rosy commentaries on the unique and time-tested relationship between 'sister countries'.
It is the UN and the West that Mr Rajapaksa has steadfastly defied over transparency and accountability in the conduct of the war who are now turning the screws on the Government over alleged violations of human rights. The US and the UK keep pressing Colombo on reconciliation, early rehabilitation of 11,000 LTTE rebels and a free and fair trial of Gen Fonseka. UN Secretary General Ban ki-Moon is to establish an experts' panel to advice him on alleged excesses during the war. The EU has withdrawn trade concessions which will hit Sri Lankan textile workers. Former Chief Justice of Sri Lanka Sarath Silva recently observed that the Government has to uphold human rights and the right to freedom of expression in order to reclaim trade benefits.
Stung by Western criticism of its record in governance not lifting the emergency and anti-terrorism laws even one year after the war and creating new high security zones in the north and the east Colombo has employed an image makeover company Bell Pottinger. Tourism has registered a 68 per cent increase and National Geographic billed Sri Lanka as the number two tourist destination in the world. Mr Rajapaksa has promised doubling the per capita income from $ 2,000 to $ 4,000 in his current term.
Sri Lanka becoming another Singapore is possible if there is genuine reconciliation and power-sharing with Tamils, including winning over the Tamil diaspora. With or without a two-thirds majority in next month's elections, Mr Rajapaksa must show he has the political will to win the hearts and minds of the Tamils.
UMA, BJP MUST JOIN FORCES
SUDHANSU R DAS
Had the Sangh Parivar taken the initiative to get the BJP's stalwarts on the same page before the last Lok Sabha election, the UPA would not have returned to power. Senior BJP leader LK Advani has admitted it was the disunity among party leaders that led to the BJP's defeat. Over the years, BJP leaders have been quoting historical facts to explain the lack of unity among Hindus, which they say is the source of misery in our society. But they too have fallen victim to the same disease.
Both the BJP and its former leader Uma Bharati wasted seven precious years in trying to decide if they should unite for a common cause. This exemplifies the fact that the Sangh has failed to convince the people that Hindutva is synonymous with universal brotherhood. Whereas, the BJP has hardly succeeded in countering the malicious campaign of its opponents who have unjustly tried to equate Hindutva with communalism.
The absence of Govindacharya has been extremely costly for the BJP. The former was one of the key strategists of the party. Govindacharya was relegated to oblivion due to the BJP's dilution of political integrity. Being a cadre-based party, this is something that the BJP can ill-afford.
Politics of convenience is something that the RSS cadre, who have given their blood and sweat for the BJP's growth, can never endorse. Ms Bharati enjoyed the backing of the RSS cadre due to her clean image. When she first came to Bhopal she was up against huge odds. Then Chief Minister Digvijay Singh had turned the State into an impregnable fortress for the Congress. But Ms Bharati, with the support of the RSS, was able to breach this fortress. She comprehensively exposed the Chief Minister's lies about development in the State. As a result, Ms Bharati was able to win a thumping majority and become the Chief Minister of Madhya Pradesh.
But the fire-brand sadhvi did have her shortcomings. She was too quick to judge her party colleagues in the BJP. She should have realised that she was part of a political party and not a sat sangh. She and the BJP must come together to give the country the political direction it needs.
JUMBO TALES OF ABUSE
DESPITE STRINGENT LAWS, ELEPHANTS ARE ILL-FED AND CONTINUE TO BE PARADED DURING FESTIVAL SEASON EVEN WHEN THEY ARE IN MUSTH. THE CONDITION OF WILD PACHYDERMS IS NO BETTER AS THEY FACE INCREASED DANGER OF POACHING. THIS IS THE SITUATION IN KERALA WHICH HAS A REPUTATION OF BEING AN ELEPHANT-LOVING SOCIETY!
Elephants are revered and loved in Kerala and have been an integral part of its culture for centuries but they are perhaps the most persecuted animal species in God's Own Country nowadays. There are more than 700 tamed elephants in the State and a good majority of them are victims of persecution in one way or another: Mahouts torture them for weird reasons, owners force them to do festival jobs even when they are in musth just for money or caretakers make them starve without giving them adequate water and food. They are made to walk long distances on asphalted roads under the blazing sun or forced to stand for long hours on hot concrete floors or grounds packed with large numbers of people at festival venues in the summer when temperatures soar above 40 degrees Celsius, and often the owners and caretakers 'forget' to sprinkle water on their bodies or to keep the floor they stand on wet to keep them cool as the law stipulates. Added to these cruelties is the threat of deliberate refusal of treatment when the pachyderms fall ill and reduction in fodder when they get old simply so that death comes quickly for the owners' greed for insurance money and the good sum the sale of ivory could bring.
According to statistics, 81 elephants more than 11 per cent of the State's total tamed elephant population died in 2009, and Wildlife Department officials say that there is no justification for such mortality rates in Kerala. This becomes even stranger when one considers the fact that 78 out of them were aged between 19 and 38 years, while the average life-span of Asian elephants is said to be 70 years. Veterinary doctors specialising in elephant diseases say that there has been no record of the spread of any serious elephant diseases last year.
"Keeping elephants is not really a profitable business now as it used to be earlier," says Mr Anantha Padmanabhan, an elephant-lover in Thrissur, known as the capital of Kerala's elephant-rearing business. "The exhaustive mechanisation of logging and timber business has made tamed elephants almost jobless. The only way for the owner to make money from elephants is by using them for temple festivals but it is a seasonal affair. So it is normal for the owners to put them to festival jobs in hostile climatic conditions and even when they are in musth without giving them adequate fodder or water without any break," he says.
There are Central and State laws to prevent cruelty to elephants but almost often these are disregarded. According to the Kerala laws, elephants should not be made to walk on asphalted roads for long distances but normally this is not adhered to. Elephants are not to be paraded under open sun for festivals between 11:00 am and 3:00 pm but this rule is violated just because the main function (Ezhunnallippu) of temple festivals is held during these hours. Owners, caretakers and festival committees are required to ensure that water is being sprinkled frequently on the elephants during Ezhunnallippu on hot days and that the ground where they stand should be constantly kept wet but this is conveniently forgotten. The law has strictly banned the use of elephants in musth for festivals but even officials admit that owners manage to violate this rule by organising fake certificates from veterinarians.
In the context of rising complaints about abuse and torture of tamed elephants in Kerala, the Animal Welfare Board of India last month instructed the Kerala Government to strictly enforce its rules, including the one that elephants used for festivals should have registration as per the rules pertaining to performing elephants. Though the Kerala Wildlife Department passed on the instruction to authorities in all districts, the tragic fact remains that not even a single elephant in Kerala is registered with the Animal Welfare Board. "But this has not caused hurdles to the conduct of any festival this season. Almost all the temple festivals of the season are over and all these festivals had paraded caparisoned elephants," Mr O Sreenivasan, a Malappuram-based vet, points out.
If this is the plight of the tamed in elephants in God's Own Country, where the pachyderm's picture is part of the official Government seal, the condition of wild elephants is not any better. On the one side, elephants in the jungles of Kerala are running helter-skelter for water and fodder as temperatures are rising to unprecedented levels due to large-scale deforestation. On the other, incidents of poaching for ivory are increasing by each passing year. The Kerala Forest Department had found the bodies of at least 12 wild elephants with tusks and teeth removed in the past three years. The department had identified at least three cases of elephant-poaching last year. Officials say that this number related to elephants that died of natural causes or in accidents but they have no idea as to how many elephants could have been killed by the poachers in the past three years. One official put the number of wild elephants that had fallen victims to poachers in the past three years at above 30.
CHOICES GALORE FOR ISRAEL TO DEAL WITH US CONFRONTATION
By the time Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu left Washington on Wednesday night, after postponing his departure twice, there was general agreement in the American media that his visit had been disastrous. Congress gave him its uncritical support, of course, but his meeting with US President Barack Obama went into overtime and ended without a photo op, a joint statement, or even a public handshake.
At the same time, the British Government was warning its citizens that they risk having their passports cloned if they travel to Israel. Twelve members of the Israeli hit-team that murdered Hamas leader Mahmoud al-Mabhouh in Dubai in January used passports that had been cloned by Israeli officials at Ben Gurion airport from genuine British passports.
"Such misuse of British passports is intolerable," said British Foreign Secretary David Miliband. "The fact that this was done by a country which is a friend, with significant diplomatic, cultural, business and personal ties to the UK, only adds insult to injury." He then ordered the expulsion of the head of the intelligence services at the Israeli Embassy in London.
The French and German Governments may do the same thing, for the Israeli assassins in Dubai used French and German passports too. But none of that will bother most Israelis, since they already see the Europeans as hypocritical and disloyal. "I don't want to offend dogs on this issue, since some dogs are utterly loyal," said Mr Aryeh Eldad, leader of the far-right HaTikva Party. "Who are (the British) to judge us on the war on terror?"
But falling out with the loyal American dogs is a different matter entirely. Israel depends very heavily on the United States for weapons, financial aid and diplomatic backing, and now Mr Netanyahu finds himself in a contest of wills with Mr Obama.
His problems with Washington became acute with the announcement, during Vice-President Joe Biden's visit to Israel earlier this month, that 1,600 more homes for Jews would be built in occupied East Jerusalem. It was an "insult to the US," said Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, as it deliberately sabotaged American attempts to restart peace negotiations between the Israelis and the Palestinians.
That, at any rate, is Washington's interpretation of the event, and it certainly does resemble Mr Netanyahu's tactics during his previous stint as Prime Minister in 1996-1999. His goal has always been to expand Israeli settlement and control in the occupied territories and ward off any peace deal that hinders that process. So now that he finds himself in a direct confrontation with the White House, what are his remaining options?
One, obviously, is simply to give in and stop expanding Jewish settlements in the occupied territories, including East Jerusalem, while peace talks with the Palestinians proceed. That would cause the immediate collapse of the far-Right coalition Government Mr Netanyahu now leads, but an alternative coalition including the centrist Kadima Party would not be hard to construct.
The main obstacle to that option is Mr Netanyahu himself. Despite his reputation as a slippery character, he has always been rock-solid on the issue of land, particularly with regard to Jerusalem. "Jerusalem is not a settlement. It is our capital," he said in Washington on Monday and for him, that includes the eastern part of Jerusalem that Israel conquered in 1967 and subsequently "annexed."
International law does not allow that, and other countries do not recognise it. More than 40 years after the "annexation," not one foreign embassy has moved up from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. But Mr Netanyahu has nailed his colours to the mast on this subject, so unless Mr Obama gives in the Israeli-American split will continue.
What other options does Mr Netanyahu have? He can just wait for the wind to change in Washington. The mid-term Congressional elections get closer by the month, and Democratic members of Congress who fear that the powerful pro-Israeli lobby will subsidise the campaigns of their opponents will be begging Mr Obama to let Mr Netanyahu have his way.
It would be humiliating for the White House, but it's almost traditional for American Presidents to be humbled by Israel and they all survived the experience. And if, by some chance, Mr Obama sticks to his guns and the confrontation really becomes a political liability for Mr Netanyahu, he can always change the subject entirely by attacking Iran.
That is what he'd really like to do anyway. Whenever possible, he changes the subject from the thorny question of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks to the more comfortable topic of Iran's alleged drive for nuclear weapons. This is an area in which Israeli and American views are very close (which is not to say that they are necessarily accurate).
Changing the subject in that way would require unilateral Israeli air strikes against Iran, and lots of them. Washington would be privately furious that Israel had embroiled it in a dangerous confrontation, but publicly it would have to back Israel's play. So perhaps we should hope that Mr Obama backs down at some earlier stage in the proceedings.
After all, it's not as if the Israeli-Palestinian "proximity talks" that this confrontation is all about were actually going to produce anything useful.
-- The writer is an independent journalist based in London.
TIME TO STOP BEING PASSIVE
AN EMERGENCY SITUATION CAN OCCUR AT ANY MOMENT AND, THEREFORE, WE MUST TAKE PRECAUTIONS OURSELVES AND ALWAYS BE PREPARED FOR THIS, WRITES NIKOLAI TROITSKY
Two explosions rocked the Moscow metro on Monday morning, killing more than 30 people and injuring dozens more, according to official sources. Spokesmen for law enforcement agencies described them as a carefully planned terrorist attack.
The strike was dealt with brutal precision in order to produce as many victims as possible. On the first day of a working week, during the rush hour between 8 am and 9 am when thousands of people in the city are travelling to work. What is more, they chose two of the busiest change stations on the same line. Both of them are in the heart of the capital.
Why did this happen today? The attacks could have happened last week or next week. They are not tied to any date or anniversary. We needn't look for any logic there. The trouble is that both last week and next week we would have found ourselves equally unprepared for this tragedy. "We" in this case refers to all of us: Special services, city authorities and everyone who lives in or is visiting the capital. Everyone except those who have taken a long time to carefully engineer the tragedy.
This metropolis with its millions of people is powerless before terrorists. It is impossible to seal all directions, all entries and exits, all public places. It is impossible to check every metro passenger. If metal detectors are installed at all stations and start to inspect the passengers, the city will grind to a halt.
No matter how effective and professionally competent the security agencies might be, they are not in a position to prevent every threat. Even in smaller states like Israel, whose residents live with an inborn expectation of terrorist attacks, where practically every door is closely guarded, there are occasional failures. Blasts tear through cafes, bus stops and night clubs. What then can be said of this vast country and a huge city like Moscow?
Does that mean that no one can do anything, and all that remains to us is to passively wait for trouble to come? No, it doesn't. Such an approach is equivalent to a piece of black humour advice: In case of a nuclear explosion cover yourself and start crawling towards a cemetery. But you can protect yourself against standard terrorist acts, unlike nuclear explosions. Certainly, there is no 100 per cent guarantee. But every opportunity must be exploited to minimise the deadly risk.
What must not be done is to place all responsibility for our security on city services, the Emergencies Ministry, the Federal Security Service, on officials and law enforcement agencies. We must take precautions ourselves. Regrettably, such is the reality of life. In this sense, life in Moscow is no less and no more dangerous than in any metropolis. The danger lurks on the streets, in the metro and its myriad of public places.
An emergency situation can occur at any moment and one has to be always prepared for it. And not only mentally. You should carry personal identification papers on you, have information on your blood type, and a notebook with telephone numbers to call or contact in case your mobile is damaged.
Many of our offices hold regular fire drills for their personnel. These are usually taken with a grain of salt and treated as a formality. And when disaster strikes such lack of forethought now and again backfires with tragic consequences.
As practice shows, terrorist attacks in public places take place as often as fires in offices. So why not hold drills for explosion warnings? People need to know where to run, what to do and how to keep themselves safe. Certainly not everything can be foreseen, but this does not mean we should give up in despair and do nothing.
Inactivity spells impotence. The fact is that we cannot put up anything against our strange brand of terrorists, the likes of which cannot be found anywhere else in the world. They always try to remain anonymous and make no political demands. This is more terrible than the notorious Russian 'rebellion'. When a series of detonations causes a huge city to shudder and collapse and its residents to flee in panic, such acts must rightly be called ruthless, though, unfortunately, they are not senseless.
The writer is a Moscow-based commentator on current affairs.
CLIMATE RHYTHM OUT OF TUNE
BUNDELKHAND FARMERS FACE THE CHALLENGES OF GLOBAL WARMING, WRITES SACHIN JAIN
Bundelkhand once used to yield the highest agricultural produce both for domestic consumption and export. But today, beset with relentless drought and a mindless development trajectory, it is identified as one of the most backward regions in north India.
The region represents a textbook case of adverse impact of climate change. With the din at the international negotiations having died down and settled into individual nations seeking solutions and setting their own targets, the focus perhaps now needs to narrow down to a tighter local context.
The 193rd Report of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Global Warming and its impact on India acknowledges the serious implications of climate change on Indian agriculture system and even defines climate change as threat to its existence. The report dwells upon the decreasing productivity of most of cereals due to increase in temperature and decrease in water availability, especially in the Indo-Gangetic plains. It goes on to describe the regional impact of climate change a decreasing trend in the rainfall in east Madhya Pradesh and adjoining areas.
In recent years eastern Madhya Pradesh was severely hit by what is referred to as dry monsoons. Of the 39 districts declared drought-affected in 2007-08, most of them were in Bundelkhand region. In 2008-09, 21 districts in western Madhya Pradesh were classified as drought-hit.
After four long years, rains showered a bounty on Bundelkhand but it was without the joy that normally heralds the monsoon. In the second week of June 2008, in a span of only 15 days, the region received nearly 32 per cent of its total average annual rainfall. This continued relentlessly till July 2008, by which most of the Bundelkhand received around 55 per cent of its total rainfall. A region which had remained parched suddenly experienced a deluge. This freak rain caught the farmers unawares. They were simply unprepared with their seeds and agricultural practices which precede the onset of the monsoons in the normal course. The flooding caused the erosion of top soil. About 76 per cent farmers lost almost everything agricultural land, livestock and shelter.
According to a group of farmers in Teela village, Tikamgarh district, earlier they used to have a systematic approach towards agriculture and livestock management based on an inherent understanding of climatic patterns. But now in summers it gets stormy and there are rains in deep summer. In fact during the monsoon, they do not get rains, and at the end of winter it is gets so cold that all vegetables, wheat and other crops fail.
In short, there seem to be no manual to steer these farmers caught in this vortex of climate change. In other words, it is not possible for farmers to predict weather any more. There are no corresponding solutions, at least not at present.
Most families have either lost their cattle to drought or set them free to find their own means of survival. Hakkim Singh Yadav of Wigpur village, once the proud owner of 37 animals, laments that he is now left with only seven of them.
It is also apparent that frequent droughts and deforestation over the last 15 years have robbed Bundelkhand region of its capacity to harvest and store rainwater. Agricultural production has been continuously decreasing for the last eight years and today the region is producing less than half of its capacity. The increasingly unpredictable weather pattern and the impact of climate change have taken toll over crop yield as well as livestock.
What's happening in Bundelkhand clearly shows that climate is the biggest and most serious problem faced by the world in general and India in particular. It's time we take the environmental damage that being caused due to climate change serious as it is proving disastrous for agriculture which is the mainstay of our country.
SONIA MUST PUT HER RETURN AS NAC CHIEF TO GOOD USE
THE question that inevitably comes to mind, following Sonia Gandhi's return as chairperson of the National Advisory Council or NAC after four years, is whether this is a hint that she feels that UPA- II is dragging its feet on some of her pet social programmes. For instance, problems have cropped up in the implementation of the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme or NREGS, which was the brainchild of the earlier NAC. Complaints about misuse and under- utilisation of funds earmarked for the scheme are pretty common.
The Congress president will surely be disappointed with this. It is no secret that Mrs Gandhi is the main force behind the party's social agenda and if she is going to monitor such programmes it is a welcome step. We should not be surprised that she would want to ensure the success of the government's key social sector initiatives covering the right to education, food security, welfare of workers and women's empowerment. The party has good reason to believe that lack of performance on this front will hurt over the long run.
The step to revive the NAC and reappoint her as its chief also indicates a shift in the way the Congress keeps a watch on the UPA government.
Mrs Gandhi has been reasonably successful in the separation of party and government, in the sense that while everyone knows who is boss, the interventions in government matters are discreet. She will now be keeping an eye but from within the government. However, she must be careful not to be seen as Super Prime Minister because that would undermine the government's authority. She should also choose the NAC members carefully, people who have the standing to provide guidance to the government like some of the members in the previous council.
FEW things could have been more avoidable than the ongoing controversy at the Delhi Technological University ( DTU) which has seen students boycott mid- semester examinations.
It is a wonder how instead of expending their energies on projects that badly need their attention, the authorities poke their nose into affairs where there seems little reason to disturb status quo.
This is what the Delhi government did by ' upgrading' the Delhi College of Engineering, which was a constituent college of the Delhi University, to DTU, a state university. As is well known, the DCE had been a reputed engineering institution of the country. The problems it faced could have been easily resolved within the existing framework. But it appears that the ambition of the institution's director, who was close to retirement, was more of a factor to reckon with than such considerations. So, even as the said official finds himself elevated to the post of vicechancellor of DTU, the students have been left worrying about the dilution of their institution's brand value.
The least the Delhi government can do under the circumstances is to remove Mr P B Sharma from the vice- chancellor's post and get an able educationist and administrator in his place, one who commands the confidence of the teaching faculty and the students. Also, there is no reason why the institution cannot revert to its old and established name as the Delhi College of Engineering, even while retaining its status as a university.
DOES the Congress party have nothing better to do than fight Amitabh Bachchan? The mighty political party counts Mahatma Gandhi, Pandit Nehru and Sardar Patel among its leaders. It has ruled the country through most of its history and continues to do so, yet, it gets into an obsessive low- level vendetta with a film star.
Surely there are other issues of import that deserve precedence over whether or not Mr Bachchan should have been present at the inaugural function for the Bandra- Worli sea link or not. Or even whether or not he is Gujarat's brand ambassador. Mr Bachchan may be a film star, but since he is not a political adversary of the Congress, he is simply not worth the time and effort that Congress spokespersons have put in to denounce him.
COOPERATION A MUST FOR GOOD CYBER SECURITY
BY SUBIMAL BHATTACHARJEE
RECENTLY, Indian and American officials met to discuss counter- terrorism issues. For the first time, cyber security figured in their exchanges. Because of an earlier misstep, when the National Security Council Secretariat had taken up the issue, the two sides are moving cautiously and would prefer not to publicise their meetings.
The last time around, the whole issue was side- tracked as three of the Indian participants in the process were arrested and are still in jail for allegedly giving classified information to an American counterpart.
Yet the press of cyber security issues has compelled the two sides to resume their dialogue. Leave alone the alleged issue of Chinese penetration of Indian official networks, there is the real threat of jihadi use of cyberspace for their operations.
Every day it becomes clearer that the country needs a national approach to look at cyber tools for infrastructure, intelligence, investigations and as a potential offensive weapon.
On the infrastructure front, the CERTIn under the Department of Information Technology ( DIT) was set up in January 2004 to provide both reactive and proactive services and also create awareness on various aspects of cyber security. In 2008, its role was partially improved and incorporated under the amendments to the Information Technology Act 2000 ( IT Act) but it needs much more teeth to deal with the situation. It is better oriented to handle civilian and criminal issues than the more serious and dedicated attacks having national security implications.
The National Technical Research Organisation ( NTRO) was set up during the NDA regime to take charge of all communications surveillance and cyber security issues and by now it should have become the point of reference for any government effort on cyber security. It is far from that and needs to have a reorientation and focus in the area.
The defence forces have their own autonomous activity for both offensive and defensive security worked out by the tri- service Defence Intelligence Agency and the intelligence branches of the three wings of the armed forces. Some of the research issues have been taken up in the DRDO labs and some academic institutions through miniscule funding provided by the DIT. The Intelligence Bureau, the Research and Analysis Wing and the sector specific intelligence bodies have their own arrangements and have taken up cyberspace
as a major area of participation and intelligence gathering. For investigation purposes, the Central Bureau of Investigation ( CBI) and the state CIDs have started to make headway in cyber forensics and while the progress is not tardy, a lot of ground needs to be covered in a very short time. The offensive dimensions of cyber tools is something that cannot be commented upon here, but our neighbours have given us enough indications that we cannot remain perpetually on the defensive.
Despite all this activity, we still do not have a picture of an overall culture of cyber security across the nation. There are islands of activities and some of them are really good. But there are also gaps.
There is also the important task to get them all to work in consonance. That has to be a function under the highest level and the Prime Minister should be able to have a daily desktop shot of the cyber scenario along with his intelligence briefing.
There is definitely some thinking that has moved in the right direction and the activation and rejuvenation of the Multi Agency Centre ( MAC) is one pointer of this. The Home Minister's pitch for getting the National Counter Terrorism Centre ( NCTC) set up by the end of this year is an important step and all reports indicate cyber security will be a major focus area for the NCTC.
However the outfit is yet to be built and therefore the challenge is to carefully work out its architecture and then set up the structure. The Home Ministry would be well advised to keep the work of the US Department of Homeland Security as a reference point and learn from them as to how a quality counter terrorism centre can be set up in quick time, with cyber tools being a key factor in its performance.
The Indo- US cyber security dialogue, through the now defunct Indo- US Cyber Security forum, had gone on very well till 2005 when everything stopped because of the alleged NSCS spying incident which remains to be proven in a court of law. In the forum, apart from the government to government dialogue, there was also an industry day where all the top companies participated and this was a great
opportunity for generating synergy. The recently begun counter terrorism dialogue, restarted after the state visit of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in November last year, should make cyber security a major area of action and the MHA should have no hesitation in picking up the best in cyber forensics and training from the US side.
But there are many angles to cyber security other than the terror or criminal angle and the external attempts to target and reach our networks need to be dealt with much more systematically. As the nation becomes more digitised, and as more government functions move to the cyberspace due to its intrinsic advantages, there will have to be matching infrastructures to secure the networks.
More and more critical networks are becoming computer and network systems dependent and so protecting the critical infrastructures is an on- going job that needs 24X7 vigil.
The ambitious Unique Identity Card ( UID) which is proposed to be launched in the next few months is going to be one such mammoth network which will have a huge database the present target of 600 million users in the next four years is itself a huge task and there would be constant references to that database by a variety of registrars like the income tax department, the banks, social sector schemes etc who plan to use the UID as the base for authentication.
At the same time, global engagement to address concerns relating to cyber security has to be fostered. Cyber
attacks have a transnational dimension and so a sound globally compatible legal system has to be in place to prevent the attackers from finding sanctuaries in a few countries.
Today technology also enables deception over the exact digital location of an attack, but global cooperation will be able to bridge this gap and partnership on R& D efforts will also be useful. Efforts have to be made to work out a binding treaty to commit nations to ensure that their territory will not be used to launch cyber attacks that can destabilise other countries' networks.
The cyber attacks in Estonia in April 2007, the reported attempts on Indian systems, and the more recent attempt on Google, are a reminder about how dangerous this can be. The current dialogue of the Group of Governmental Experts ( GGE) of 20 leading nations is deliberating on the subject and hopefully will have a working model this time. India is participating for the first time in this GGE and, ideally, it should have played a leadership role in it.
Everything indicates that cyber security is going to be an ever larger part of the national security apparatus. Since the process of setting up the NCTC and revamping the national security system is on, it will be a good idea to ensure that the internal and external dimensions of cyber security are effectively integrated even while retaining its essential attribute flexibility.
The writer is country head, General Dynamics. The views here are personal
A SRINIVASA RAO
CM, JAGAN GO TO TOWN ABOUT THEIR HOSTILITY
A COLD war of sorts has been continuing between Chief Minister K Rosaiah and Kadapa MP Y S Jaganmohan Reddy ever since the latter was denied the opportunity to succeed his father Y S Rajasekhara Reddy, who died in a tragic helicopter crash on September 2.
The differences between Rosaiah and Jagan have now reached a stage where they literally do not see eye to eye with each other. On Sunday last, the two leaders had been to Gudavalli village in Krishna district to participate in a condolence meeting for former deputy chief minister Koneru Ranga Rao.
Jagan came to the village a few hours in advance and ensured that he got an unprecedented welcome at the Vijayawada airport from the Congress leaders.
At Gudavalli, he addressed the condolence meeting much before the chief minister arrived there and soon left the place.
By the time Rosaiah landed at the Vijayawada airport, Jagan was entering the lounge. They just ignored each other's presence and refused to have eye contact, what to speak of exchanging pleasantries. The police were apprehensive that there could be a clash between Jagan's supporters who came to see him off and the Congress workers who were there to receive Rosaiah.
The incident shows how uncomfortable the situation is in the state Congress. The Jagan camp, which initially thought Rosaiah was only a stop- gap arrangement, is growing impatient with the Congress high command's move to grant full powers to the chief minister. In the last six months, there have been attempts by both the sides to run down each other. Rosaiah has been trying to strike at the roots of Jagan's business empire by various means, such as stalling iron ore mining at Obulapuram where Jagan's friend
Gali Janardhan Reddy has stakes and cancellation of tenders for Singareni coal mine privatisation in which Jagan had business interests. On the other hand, Jagan's camp tried to embarrass Rosaiah by engineering
engineering attacks on Reliance outlets.
Even the ongoing communal problem in the Old City is being attributed to Jagan's camp, as a bid to destabilise the Rosaiah government.
Now, Jagan's camp is getting
ready to take on Rosaiah politically.
The young MP is embarking on a state- wide tour, starting with West Godavari district, in the second week of April, in the name of consoling the families of those who had either committed suicide or died of shock after the death of YSR. His fan club, Jagan Yuva Sena, is gearing up to make his tour a grand success.
It is going to be nothing but a show of strength by Jagan to prove that he is the only charismatic leader in the party.
Jagan's proposed tour has left Rosaiah in a tizzy, as it has been planned to coincide with the state government's " Praja Patham" ( mass contact) programme, as part of which Rosaiah will be touring different parts of the state to review the progress of various programmes at the village level. Already, Jagan has been running a campaign through his Telugu daily Sakshi , criticising the Rosaiah government for not effectively implementing the programmes launched by his father. During his tour, Jagan is going to raise these issues, which might embarrass the chief minister.
Rosaiah reportedly sought the Congress high command's interference to stop Jagan from going ahead with the tour. Pradesh Congress Committee president D Srinivas made it clear that if Jagan wanted to go ahead with his proposed tour, he could do it only in his personal capacity.
" There is nothing wrong if Jagan wants to call on the distressed families. But, it is not going to be an official programme of the Congress party," he said.
MALLYA CLAIMS THE LORD IS ON HIS SIDE
THE ongoing IPL- 3 cricket tournament is interestingly poised and it is very difficult to predict which team would emerge victorious in the finals.
However, liquor baron and chairman of Kingfisher Airlines Vijay Mallya, who owns the franchise of Bangalore Royal Challengers, is pretty confident that his team will bag the cup. This is because he claims he has the blessings of Lord Venkateshwara of Tirumala.
Last week, Mallya had a darshan of Lord Venkateswara and announced a donation of Rs 6 crores for the goldplating of the celestial doors at the Bangaru Vakili ( golden threshold) of the sanctum sanctorum. He said he had sought the blessings of the Lord to ensure the victory of Royal Challengers in the IPL- 3 tournament.
For Mallya, a donation of Rs 6 crore is nothing compared to the windfall gains he would make if the Bangalore Royal Challengers win the IPL- 3 cup. The profits would run into a few hundred crores and would fetch business 10 times more than that.
YSR REDDY'S ' JINXED' HOUSE GETS A NEW OCCUPANT
THE Chief Minister's camp office at Begumpet, which was a beehive of activity during the Y S Rajasekhara Reddy regime, had become a deserted place after his family vacated the premises in January.
His successor K Rosaiah was reluctant to occupy the premises, apparently because he was not sure how long he would remain in the chief minister's post. So, he preferred to operate from his own residence at Ameerpet, three kilometres away from the Chief Minister's camp office. As his residence was located in a densely populated area, there used to be a lot of space congestion and traffic problems.
And the visitors had a tough time meeting the chief minister.
There was another reason why Rosaiah was hesitant to move into the Begumpet residence.
Superstitious that he is, Rosaiah believed that there were some vastu problems with the camp office which led to the untimely death of his predecessor YSR. Finally, exactly 200 days after taking over as the chief minister, Rosaiah moved into the camp office last week, amidst chanting of Vedic hymns. But before that, he ensured that major changes were made in the building as per vastu requirements so that evil forces were kept at bay. And he also got a firm assurance from the Congress high command that he would not be unseated for at least another couple of years. Amen!
DASNA JAIL ' SUICIDE' GETS A POISON TWIST
BY AKASH VASHISHTHA IN GHAZIABAD
THE MYSTERY of Frontier Mail blast accused Mohammad Shakeel's " suicide" has deepened after a forensic examination revealed traces of poison in his viscera.
The discovery of aluminium phosphide in Shakeel's viscera by experts at the Agra Forensic Lab has cast fresh doubts over his alleged suicide in the highsecurity cell of Dasna jail on June 19 last year.
Jail authorities said Shakeel had hanged himself with his lungi ( wrap- around) in his cell and left behind a suicide note in which he had claimed that he was " dying of his own will". Shakeel's post- mortem examination had failed to pinpoint the cause of his death. But his viscera was preserved and three samples were sent to the Agra Forensic Lab for examination.
The report, which was filed on March 5, stated that traces of aluminum phosphide was found in jar numbers one and two while the sample in the third jar was devoid of poison.
On March 25, the Dasna jail superintendent, V. K. Singh, sent a letter to district magistrate R. Ramesh Kumar apprising him of the contents of the viscera report and urged him to take " relevant and necessary action" in the matter.
The discovery of poison in Shakeel's viscera raises many questions over the jail authorities' suicide theory, bringing along with it a whiff of murder, sources said.
And all this cannot be done without the collusion of jail authorities, they pointed out.
When contacted, Singh said: " The aluminum phosphide found in Shakeel's viscera could be attributed to the use of insecticides which are used on wheat and other
food grains. Aluminum phosphide is also used as a fumigant for rodents and insects." He added, " Still, the presence of this compound in the viscera is a matter of investigation."
Shakeel was an accused in the 1996 Frontier Mail bomb blast case in Ghaziabad. The son of Pilakhuwa resident Suleman, Shakeel was arrested after his involvement in the blast at Ghaziabad
station came to light.
He was also accused of involvement in terror- related activities in the Capital in 1997. Various sections of the Indian Penal Code ( IPC) including 302, 307 and 121 ( a) as well as the Explosives Act were then slapped on him.
Shakeel was subsequently convicted for his terror activities in Delhi while trial was on in the train blast case.
He was transferred to the Dasna jail in Ghaziabad in 2006. Since then, he was confined to the solitary cell, barrack no. 5.
On the day he " committed suicide", the police said, around 3 pm, he tied his lungi and bedsheet together and hooked the makeshift cord on the 11- feet- high roof. He then hanged himself.
The new twist in Shakeel's ' suicide' case also raises fresh doubts over the death of Ashutosh Asthana, a key accused in the multi- crore PF scam. Asthana, who was lodged in the same jail as Shakeel, was found dead on October 17, 2009, in his cell.
In his case, too, the postmortem examination report had failed to pinpoint the cause of his death. The findings of the viscera report were also inconclusive.
RIGHT TO EDUCATION KEEPS SIBAL MINISTRY ON ITS TOES
BY KAVITA CHOWDHURY IN NEW DELHI
THE HUMAN resource development ( HRD) ministry is working overtime to ensure a quick implementation of the Right to Education ( RTE) Act, which comes into effect on April 1.
The ministry is trying to get the financial aspects of the Act approved by the cabinet and the central model rules cleared by the law ministry so that states can enact their own rules at the earliest.
HRD minister Kapil Sibal said: " Institutions will be given ( adequate) time to ( align) with the provisions of the Act." An official said the ministry had framed model central rules for the Act, but was awaiting the law ministry's clearance to notify them. " Once we notify the rules, the states will be obligated to notify them," the official said.
" We need to rework the financial norms for the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan, the main vehicle for implementing the RTE. The central funding has to increase to enable states to implement the Act and put the necessary infrastructure in place. We are working with the finance ministry and need to get ( the funds) approved by the cabinet," he added.
The ministry will also generate awareness about the Act through a short publicity film on television titled Roll Call, which features Nandita Das.
Sibal has met various channel heads and requested them to air the film.
The government, Sibal said, would work on a year- long programme to generate awareness about the Act.
The minister also indicated that the implementation of the Act would not be delayed on account of the ongoing litigation challenging it before the Supreme Court. " The SC has served notice on the government," Sibal said, and added: " Everybody has the right to challenge the government. The court will decide. But the implementation of the Act will not be affected." Private institutions challenged the RTE Act in court as it mandated a 25 per cent reservation for poor children in their pre- school sections.
SUMAN SAYS HE WAS HUMILIATED
BY ALOKE BANERJEE IN KOLKATA
A DAY after he expressed his desire to quit from Parliament and from all party posts, Trinamool Congress MP Kabir Suman described a section of the party leadership as utterly corrupt.
Suman said he had been continuously humiliated by some leaders after he raised the issue of corruption and opposed the ongoing Operation Green Hunt.
On Monday, Suman had sent an SMS to party chief Mamata Banerjee, chief whip Sudip Bandyopadhyay and some other senior leaders, informing them of his decision to quit. He said he would not reconsider his decision and would send his resignation letter to the speaker.
The press conference at his residence on Tuesday was disrupted by some Trinamool supporters. They asked Suman not to talk to the media about party affairs. They also wanted him to reconsider his decision, saying the party would be ruined if honest leaders quit.
" In politics one should be prepared to accept humiliation. But strictly speaking, I am not a politician. I can't accept the humiliation anymore," Suman said.
A popular singer, he plans to return to music.
Trinamool leaders in Kolkata and Delhi maintained silence on the issue. Mamata Banerjee could not be contacted. But Bandyopadhyay said Suman had been embarrassing the party and that a decision would be taken once his resignation letter was received.
NEED A REGULATOR
WILL THE government lock the stables after the horses have bolted? Or in other words, will the government set up the Coal Regulatory Authority after all the mines have been allocated? Natural resources are gold mines, and there is a mad rush for it among our enterprising and resourceful barons. The authority was proposed in the annual budget in 2008. And it was underscored in the recent budget as well.
Sriprakash Jaiswal, the minister of state for coal, asserted that the regulator would be in place by March 15.
Nothing has happened yet. There are those in the power and steel sectors who demand coal mine allocation as a birth right.
Is there something more to this than meets the eye?
Busy swatting flies!
UNION ministers of state ( MoS) are nowadays seen as a liability in many quarters for their out- of- turn
Left with nothing much to do, their penchant for speaking out of turn has not brought about any improvement in their status. A prime ministerial intervention did little to alleviate their idleness. Being left with precious little to do other than making statements, they spend more time in their home states.
One chief minister of a southern state is particularly annoyed with the manner in which MoSes from his state keep sauntering around, inaugurating all and sundry events and contributing to the political turmoil. The octogenarian never misses an opportunity to rub salt to the wound by slighting them about their lack of real work in the Capital.
VICE- PRESIDENT Hamid Ansari's wife Salma feels measures such as the women's reservation Bill will not be of much help unless awareness is created among women at the grassroots level. " I have just one problem with this Bill. The government comes up with a lot of schemes and many projects, but how many women are able to take advantage of these?" she says.
" Unless awareness is created among women at the grassroots and they are educated, such legislations will not be of much help. Till the time they are not educated, unless they understand that they have to take care of their lives themselves, no matter how many such Bills are passed, there will be no benefit at the grassroots- level women."
MODI TURNS POET
AFTER a literary exhortation to " countrymen" on the lines of " friends, Romans, countrymen" from Julius Caesar at the prospect of being grilled by the SIT for the Gujarat riots, Narendra Modi has turned to writing poetry.
Clearly, the chief minister's more erudite friends have not dared intervene with this sudden outpour of poetry.
The poem " The one who loves my Gujarat, Is my soul. The one who loves my India, Is my God" therefore, could only appeal to those possessed with a tepid sense of humour.
For most of the others who were witness to the pogrom against Muslims in Gujarat, there is no humour left so far as Modi is concerned.
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The UPA, in its first stint, created a government-civil society interface via the National Advisory Council (NAC), a panel subsequently disbanded. The political innovation was seen to have paid off in May 2009. NAC's brainchild, the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA) contributed to the coalition's electoral success. This advisory panel which earned its spurs by pushing people-friendly legislations guaranteeing rural jobs or the right to information is back. Asserting herself only recently on getting the women's quota Bill through the Rajya Sabha, Sonia Gandhi too returns at the NAC's helm. Accorded cabinet minister status, the Congress chief now has an institutional platform to promote the UPA's social schemes.
The timing is significant. Just recently, the Budget hinted at a scaling down of focus on the government's social sector commitments. The finance ministry is also pursuing fiscal consolidation and reform, through attempts to trim subsidies or by pushing disinvestment. Plus, the government hasn't entirely toed Sonia's line on the upcoming food security law, considered as much of a social sector policy marker for UPA-II as NREGA was for UPA-I. Its draft Bill deviates from Sonia's proposals by reducing the monthly quota of food to 25 kg without mentioning a price. It also distinguishes food from nutritional security and restricts beneficiaries to a yet undefined but strictly BPL category.
Clearly, give and take will be in order. A debt-burdened regime can't be faulted for trying to pare the scheme's costs. But this shouldn't mean defeating the aim of entitling the poor. Rather than slash quantity or define BPL in a way that doesn't fully cover the needy, the focus must be on delivery. Costs will dip if the creaking PDS is reformed, and by disallowing multiple programmes. The NAC, on its part, must realise that social schemes shouldn't stretch acceptable fiscal limits. Nor can there be opposition to the window opened up to cash transfers as a 'food allowance' in case of non-supply of foodgrain. If anything, experiments with alternative delivery mechanisms like cash transfers and food coupons are desirable. Besides, funds for bloated populist schemes can be better spent on health, education and infrastructure, the real keys to empowerment.
As for the NAC-backed communal violence Bill, effective crackdown on rioters is necessary. But the legislation will require both political firmness and tact to push through, given strong opposition among certain political and social groups. Fast-tracking the whistle-blowers' Bill is equally important. Punishing fraud, corruption and mismanagement of resources mandates protection of those exposing crimes. NAC's services will be useful for both. Overall, government-NAC interaction can be a good thing. It can make government more aware of the uses of political pragmatism. But, as a quid pro quo, the NAC will need to appreciate the government's compulsions, with special regard to the economic logic of policymaking.
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The news that tennis star Sania Mirza is all set to marry Pakistani cricketer Shoaib Malik seems to have caught everyone by surprise. But at a time when India and Pakistan are not on the best of terms, there couldn't have been better news. There is nothing like more civil society contact and across-the-border romances and marriages to ease tensions between the two neighbours. It has been shown that in societies where there are a greater number of inter-faith or inter-ethnic marriages there is less likelihood of ethnic violence or tensions. This has proved to be true in some of the most divided and violence-prone parts of the world such as the Balkans. But there's more to the Sania-Shoaib engagement. It goes to show that borders, even the most contentious such as the one dividing India and Pakistan, are essentially artificial constructs. That is the reason this newspaper played on 'LoC' to create a category called 'Love over Country' in its matrimonial ad section, to encourage marriages across the border.
The Sania-Shoaib engagement has of course attracted attention because they are both extremely popular sportstars. Sport has traditionally been a barrier breaker between the two nations. Even when relations have been rocky, cricket has often succeeded in bringing the people of India and Pakistan closer. The warm reception that the Indian cricket team got during its tour of Pakistan in 2004 stands out. Shoaib seems to be well aware of the role of sports in dissolving borders. That's probably why he has said that he would be the proudest person if Sania can win a medal for India in the 2012 Olympics.
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RESURRECTION OF THE STATE
In the last four years, no chief minister in post-independence India has got as much adulation as Bihar's incumbent. In this backdrop, it would be legitimate to ask how Bihar could turn the corner and reinvent itself, when the state was a non-functioning institution and the economy at the bottom. Even if Nitish Kumar is making well-intentioned efforts, a fact conceded by most people, he cannot possibly create a provincial benchmark in the absence of either a sound financial base or the institutional memory in the state of even a modicum of governance which could trigger change.
Thus, some analysts may feel Nitish's government is a one-election wonder because, like its financial base, the social support of his coalition is narrow and there is an absence of a well-oiled party structure which could tangibly convert political capital, if at all earned, into electoral support.
When Nitish took over the reins of Bihar in November 2005 with numerous disadvantages staring him in the face, he went about his job with clinical precision. On one hand, he had a techno-managerial strategy of working out the nuts and bolts of how to resurrect the state structure, then non-existent. On the other, he took forward the 'social justice' constituency by incorporating it even more substantively in governance.
The resurrection of the state essentially entailed better coordination between the judiciary and the executive with the full support of the legislature. Soon the state reassumed its role as a social mediator in Bihar. Its effects were immediate. The authority of the state was established with a spate of convictions of criminals across the board. In the absence of a functioning state earlier, that space had been taken over by musclemen or radical organisations.
But once the state reacquired legitimacy, its role was not limited to establishing law and order alone; it also choreographed massive public investment. Even private sector investment, as per the report of the CII, increased manifold in Bihar. Thus gross state domestic product (GSDP) growth of 11.3 per cent is not a flash in the pan for the state. Being construction-centric growth, Bihar's GSDP reflects mainly economic activity related to the building of roads, bridges and houses.
However, Nitish is not a leader who fetishises growth. Inclusion in the lower-tier of governance - through positive discrimination - of women (50 per cent) extremely backward castes (20 per cent) and Dalits (10 per cent) in panchayati raj institutions was built into his priorities. The most backward section among the Dalits and Muslims, christened "Mahadalits" and "Pasmanda", were given attention and proactively promoted.
In the process, the 'social justice' constituency was further consolidated. In south and western India, the anti-
Brahmin movement had graduated from focusing on identity to economic entrepreneurship. But in Bihar, in the absence of societal incentives, taking up governance at the lowest level was a crucial component of the empowerment agenda for the subaltern. On top of that, positive discrimination for women has created a new constituency without precedent, where a section of the elite is also involved in a newly democratised social configuration.
Nitish's 'coalition of social extremes', crafted in the last assembly election, could survive for so long because Bihar's construction-fuelled growth is class-neutral. Building of roads and bridges facilitated movement of goods, people and agents of the state, which in turn ensured social peace and tranquillity. Such development was a critical intervention in Bihar where road density is very low.
Second, the revival of the state had unanimous public support, because it benefited all. One should also remember that the phenomenon of the 'coalition of social extremes' has a long history in India. It was first constructed by Mahatma Gandhi to serve the freedom movement, and later adopted by Nehru to build the massive edifice of the national state. Bihar coopted the strategy in its state-building exercise in recent years.
However, Bihar's state-building exercise would be incomplete without addressing the problem of land management, especially with relation to updating of records, consolidation of holdings etc. In anticipation of Nitish taking some steps related to land management, members of a section of the elite, mainly upper caste, turned belligerent. A relatively better-functioning state and positive discrimination in favour of the subaltern in panchayati raj institutions had already embargoed their criminal activities and marginalised them from the lower centres of power. Further, certain principles were sought to be adopted by Nitish's party, like discouraging nepotism in politics. So, any space further ceded to him through a programme of land management could permanently disempower the traditional elite, both economically and politically.
Consequently, there was an 'elite revolt', spearheaded by the most discredited and lumpen sections of their rank, which attempted to destabilise the government. Its resonance is felt even within the party structure of the JD(U). However, the tenant section within the same social composition has given full support to the state-building effort, particularly maintenance of law and order. The forthcoming assembly election in Bihar will thus script a new grammar of political coalition-building and consolidation.
(The writer is member secretary, Asian Development Research Institute, Patna.)
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'FREE ISN'T ALWAYS GOOD ENOUGH'
Nigel Portwood was appointed chief executive of Oxford University Press in 2009. With over 20 years of experience in publishing, he is at the forefront of tackling the many challenges facing OUP. He spoke to Ronojoy Sen during a recent visit to Delhi:
What are OUP's India plans?
India is seen by people in the West as a source of great growth and big opportunity, as a market to exploit because of the number of people here. The interesting thing about OUP's approach to India is that although it's an interesting market it's not one that we want to access from the outside. We want to access it from the inside. We have been here for nearly 100 years and have done very well. We've got to the stage where in the last decade we've had the highest growth. We're just at the point where the titles, publications and content from India are being exported to the rest of the world. We see India as a source of value for the rest of OUP both in content and services.
What are the growth figures for India?
India is one of the fastest growing businesses in OUP. I fully expect to double the size of the business in 5-6 years. More of our sales, our research content is going to come from this part of the world which we are going to sell in the rest of the world.
What are the challenges facing the publishing industry?
The publishing industry is going through its most significant and fastest transformation in its 500-year history. Digitisation is going to drive that change. It's changing the way in which content is presented and used. It's much nicer to have an online database that you can search and is cross-referenced than wade through shelves ofprinted matter. But it changes the way the consumer uses the product, it changes the way we distribute the roducts, it changes the way we publish.
Some people in the industry are fearful of this. But it also creates more opportunities for us. Earlier, the only way we could represent content was on the printed page. Now we can represent it completely differently on multiple formats. We have to think of new business models. If you look at the journals business, which is an important part of our academic business, it is an example of how the industry realised that they could deliver more value to consumers, more content for less cost. The industry has grown because it embraced the technology. Libraries get access to many more products for less money. An added value benefit for us is that we get to distribute our content to more people.
How do you see the dictionary business being affected?
The perception from outside is that the dictionary business is over. In some markets that's true. But it's not true for India where sales of our dictionaries have doubled. In western markets few retailers stock them. But if you look at our dictionary business, sales have continued to go up. We are selling more and more of online dictionaries. It's still a very vibrant business. From the dissemination point we can create more usable dictionaries. We can then put them on to different devices by licensing our content. There will always be free versions of the dictionary online, but people are discovering that free isn't always good enough.
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PUBLIC & PRIVATE
The Indian economy is often likened to an elephant: slow and lumbering, but strong and stable. Can the Indian elephant put on roller skates and again accelerate to 9 per cent-plus growth? A semantic problem stands in the way.
In the economic realm there is great confusion between public and private. We are constantly talking at cross-purposes when we discuss issues regarding the public sector vis-a-vis the private sector. And there is going to be a lot of heated talk about this, in Parliament and outside, in the coming weeks.
The point of dispute will be disinvestment in public sector undertakings (PSUs), which had been put on indefinite hold during the UPA government's previous tenure in office, thanks to the Left parties. Once again in fashion, disinvestment is the finance ministry's key to economic breakthrough.
It is through disinvestment that the government hopes to bring the fiscal deficit down to 5.5 per cent for 2010-11. The fiscal deficit is the amount by which the government's expenditure exceeds its income, from tax revenues and other receipts. To cover the deficit, the government borrows money from itself: i.e., it prints more currency. By doing this, the sarkar has done a very clever thing: it has made its fiscal - or financial - deficit, your deficit, through inflation. When the government prints more currency, there's more money chasing the same amount of goods and services so you end up paying more for what you buy. This results in a hole in your household budget, your very own fiscal deficit. Public debt has been made into private debt.
One of the ways the government can bring down its fiscal deficit - which in the end is really your deficit - is to disinvest in the public sector. Disinvestment is very wrongly often mixed up with 'privatisation' - a dirty word in the socialist vocabulary and one routinely likened to the cardinal sin of 'selling off the family silver'. Privatisation is when a PSU is sold to a private company, or consortium. Disinvestment is when public sector shares are sold to you and me - the real public - directly or through mutual funds.
Disinvestment is what makes the public sector truly public, which it is far from being right now. Currently, India's so-called public sector is more private than the so-called private sector. What we call the private sector is held accountable for its performance by its shareholders and investors. If it does not perform well, it will be pulled up by the public that has invested in it. Our so-called private sector is really the public sector.
What we call the public sector - what really should be called the sarkari sector - is actually a very private sector, in that it is accountable to no one but itself for its performance, or lack of it. If a PSU continues to run at a loss, it won't go under. It will be bailed out with government money. Which means your money and mine, but over which we have no say. What we call the public sector today is a form of economic dictatorship, the equivalent of taxation without democratic representation.
Disinvestment - a public sector owned not by the sarkar, but by the public and for the public - represents economic democracy. So when people liken disinvestment to selling off the family silver, ask them whose silver it is, and to whom it is being sold. If it's sarkari silver being sold to the public, is that a bad thing for the public, or for democracy, or a good thing?
Whom ought the Indian elephant - on skates or not - belong to: the sarkar, or to the real public, to you and me?
WAITING TO EXHALE
A confirmed Maoist and a godman? An unusual combination if there ever were one. Prachanda, that inveterate anti-Indian, has found solace in Indian yoga as propounded by Baba Ramdev, to cure an ailing neck and cultivate positive thoughts. Now this is good news. Baba Ramdev, whom the Indian communists have taken on, seems to have new friends in the neighbourhood. It was not so long ago that the CPI(M)'s Brinda Karat had found his pills and potions to contain animal products. A doughty exhalation from the yoga guru found Ms Karat running for cover on that occasion. Perhaps we can export the Ramdev school of exercise to greater benefit to countries that are not so well disposed towards us. After all, if they are engaged in exhalations and inhalations, chances are that they won't be plotting and planning against us.
We agree completely with Prachanda's view that there must be positivity in life. We do recommend that he apply this in the political field where, we are sorry to see, there has been little of this. For those of us who are not in the best of fitness conditions, Baba Ramdev's yoga may be a hard act to follow, especially in light of his calisthenics on television that seem to involve sucking in his stomach to his spine.
If there are any among our readers who can do that, we may give you an year's supply of editorials for free. This, of course, could be scarier than having to undergo the Ramdev regimen. Prachanda has exhorted his hordes to adopt the Ramdev course of action and that too even as Nepal is in the throes of drafting a new constitution. We can only hope that all this twisting and turning will result in Prachanda and his followers adopting more positive thoughts about a neighbour that has wished his country well. But for the moment, let's not hold our breath on that one.
CRIME AND PUNISHMENT
Many Russians and much of the world had nearly forgotten the Chechen insurgency that erupted in the 1990s. While Chechnya and swathes of the North Caucasus have remained wracked by ethnic and Islamicist violence, Moscow's success has been to maintain a protective cordon and keep the violence confined to its southern reaches. The Kremlin's declared end to counter-terrorism operations in April 2009, was really about it being contained, not eradicated. However, that containment was breached in November last year, when Chechen terrorists bombed a north Russian train.
The brutal bombing of the Moscow metro on Monday morning, already claimed by a pro-Chechen insurgency group on its website as its handiwork, is likely to further confirm that the North Caucasus has come to haunt Prime Minister Vladimir Putin's and President Dmitry Medvedev's government once again.
This is not a great surprise. Russia had adopted a relatively successful no-holds-barred military strategy in the region in the past decade. But the political follow-up was uninspired. Moscow set up thuggish local rulers to keep the insurgency in line and provided them with money, arms and a blank cheque when it came to human rights and good governance a strategy not dissimilar to what India practiced for a while in Kashmir. The goal was less about seeking a final Chechen settlement as much as trying to ensure the violence did not spread to Russia proper. The Moscow explosions indicate this half-measure has now run its course.
Messrs Putin and Medvedev now face a choice. They can fight terror with more terror and win themselves a year or so of peace. Or they can also float a genuine attempt at political reconciliation in an area of Russia that has been handed over to officially sanctioned warlords. The latter will not be easy but it holds out the only possibility of a lasting peace. There is another incentive for Moscow. There have been sketchy reports since last year that Chechen fighters based in North Waziristan, and under Taliban and al-Qaeda influence, are working their way back to Russia. A deeply alienated Chechnya will be a fruitful recruiting ground and the Moscow area a target-rich environment. If they are to secure a hold over the insurgency, Moscow will never be able to quarantine the North Caucasus. Russia needs to think more long-term if it wants to ensure this does not happen.
PROTECTING THE PM
The Special Protection Group (SPG) celebrated 25 years of its formation on March 30. Prior to 1947, executive powers were vested in the viceroy and the governors. As they represented the British, they faced threats from revolutionaries. The then Central Intelligence Bureau monitored those threats and periodically issued advisories to the provinces.
After Independence, it became necessary to protect PM Jawaharlal Nehru from crowds. The assassination of Mahatma Gandhi brought home the fact that popularity was no protective shield. Nehru was allergic to the presence of uniformed policemen. So, security personnel were deployed in plainclothes. The responsibility for the protection of the PM continued to remain with the states and the Intelligence Bureau (IB) was made responsible for coordination. The system stood well, and during Nehru's tenure, there was one solitary attempt to harm him by a man in Nagpur in May 1955.
The initial years of Indira Gandhi's tenure were marked by no serious security problems. It was later that there were unsavoury incidents that happened in some states. To assist the local police and to coordinate arrangements, the IB started to send one of its experts in advance to the places of the PM's visit.
In the 1970s, threats to the PM's security increased with separatism, insurgency and militancy. Despite precautions, Ms Gandhi was assassinated in 1984 by her own guards. A committee was formed to review all arrangements and it recommended the creation of an elite organisation to take care of the "proximate protection of the prime minister" and overall coordination of security arrangements. An Act of Parliament was enacted and the SPG was born in 1985.
In a nation of a billion-plus, it is not humanly possible to identify people who may harm the PM. Precise intelligence is, on most occasions, an elusive commodity. Hence, security authorities work on the principles of denying access to "unknown or unvouchsafed persons and distance-keeping".
The SPG has been evolving its strategy and tactics and upgrading its equipment constantly to keep ahead of the adversary. And it firmly believes in its motto: The more you sweat in peace, the less you bleed in war.
S Subramanian is the Founder Director of the SPG
The views expressed by the author are personal
AN ARSENAL CALLED DECEPTION
In the 1990s, Deng Xiaoping, China's pragmatic leader who is credited with sowing the seeds of the policies that have made China what it is today, outlined the '24 Character Strategy' and said: "Observe calmly; secure our position; cope with affairs calmly; hide our capacities and bide our time; be good at maintaining a low profile and never claim leadership". In plain words, it was a homily on the art of deception.
The 2010 Chinese military budget announced recently seems to be an effectuation of Deng's advice. Li Zhaoxing, the former foreign minister and currently the spokesperson for the annual session of the Parliament of China, the National People's Congress (NPC), delivered the spin. He announced that China's budget is 'comparatively low' for a nation of the size and territory of China. He went on to add that in 2010, China's defence budget only grew by half of what it did in 2009. Some newspapers carrying the story commented that the military budget of 532.115 billion yuan (nearly $78 billion) was the lowest increase in the last two decades.
But the numbers don't add up. The China Daily, quoting Xinhua, the official Chinese media organisation had announced in 2009 that the Chinese defence budget would be 480.686 billion yuan (nearly $70 billion), an increase of 14.9 per cent over the previous year. The same official source claimed that the budget for 2010 has increased by only 7.5 per cent over the previous year. But when a number rises from 480.686 to 532.115, it is a 10.7 per cent increase. If on the other hand, 532.115 is to represent a 7.5 per cent increase, then it should have risen from a base of 495.115. Therefore, it can be either that the 2009 budget grew 18.4 per cent over the last year or it rose 10.7 per cent in 2010.
So, are the figures meant to deceive nations already wary of the huge Chinese military build-up? Official Chinese defence budgets in any case are notorious for their lack of transparency. Since 2002 China has been the largest importer of weapons and nations are left befuddled by the import of Chinese professions concerning its 'peaceful rise'. Therefore, Chinese military budgets could be concealing more than they reveal.
The game is obviously to 'hide' its growing military strength. Even if the Chinese official figures are presumed to be correct, countries like India have reasons to worry. Chinese defence budgets have traversed a sharp upward trajectory in the last two decades. In 2000, China, from being the seventh largest military spender, emerged as the second largest spender.
India needs to be vigilant. The spectacular growth in Chinese military and economic power cannot but be a matter of grave concern to India. Both nations have several outstanding border issues that China doesn't seem to be in any hurry to settle. It has made the audacious demand that Indian leaders should refrain from visiting parts of Arunachal Pradesh staking claim to the state. Beijing has also successfully blocked international financial institutions from extending development assistance to a sovereign part of India. These are but a few instances. Its continuing policy of arming Pakistan against India is evidence of Chinese animus against India.
However, India's defence budgets have, on the other hand, not kept pace with its growing security imperatives. Its 2010 defence budget of Rs 147,344 crore (around $31.1 billion) represents a measly year over year growth of 3.98 per cent, barely enough to maintain the previous year's level of expenditure after adjusting for inflation.
Compare it with China's budget, which has been estimated to be 2-3 times its official budget. This would make China's budget dwarf Indian military spending by nearly 5 to 7.3 times. The present level of India's defence expenditure is, therefore, inadequate to address the security challenges it could face even in the immediate future.
Critics, however, say that there is little purpose in increasing the defence budget when, every year, money is surrendered. The reality, however, is that Ministry of Defence (MoD) is not the only ministry that is culpable of not spending its allocations. The compelling need of the hour is to overhaul the acquisition structure in MoD and spend more on defence, like nations do when faced with security threats.
India, of course, doesn't have any imperial intent but it surely must be ready to counter any nation preparing to employ it.
Thomas Mathew is Deputy Director, Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, New Delhi The views expressed by the author are personal
CAPE OF GOOD HOPE
N CHANDRA MOHAN
Since the early 2000s, fast-globalising corporations from India, China and other Asian countries have shown a growing appetite for foreign direct investments (FDI) in Africa. This push into the world's poorest continent has been motivated in part by a desire to secure access to raw materials for their rapidly growing economies. Their hunger for oil and minerals has led western observers like the billionaire George Soros to dub them as Africa's 'new colonialists' as they are perceived to be exploiting the continent like the Europeans had in the past.
This drive into Africa by Indian transnationals does appear, prima facie, problematical. The continent is home to more than half the 35-odd countries that have experienced humanitarian emergencies largely man-made crises in which thousands of people perish in wars. Sudan is civil war-ridden but that hasn't prevented India's oil giant ONGC from being heavily involved in oil exploration there. In this milieu, a scramble for resources is bound to appear controversial with India vying with China to become one of the largest investors in Africa.
The flow of India's FDI into Africa averaged $334 million a year between 2000 and 2004, hitting a peak of $883 million in 2002, largely reflecting ONGC's involvement in Sudan. Now, with Bharti Airtel's $10.7 billion acquisition of Zain, Kuwait's third largest telecom operator, for its African assets (excluding Sudan and Morocco), India's FDI in Africa has touched, according to Indusview Advisors, a mergers and acquisitions advisory firm, $16.7 billion. Much of these investments represent more than a search for oil and minerals.
Not so long ago, Bharti had agreed to buy Warid Telecom in Bangladesh, signaling a new strategy of scaling up globally through a string of small and medium-sized acquisitions in the developing economies. Africa is the new frontier for Bharti as its telecom market is the most underdeveloped and is spread over a vast geographical area. The market has relatively low rates of penetration with only three to four operators. In India, in contrast, most of the global players are already present in the industry and the market has become highly competitive with wafer-thin margins.
More generally, India Inc's African safari is more than resource-seeking in nature. India's biggest domestic auto manufacturer, Tata Motors, is making preparations to launch its 'people's car', the Nano, in the continent. Godrej Consumer Products Ltd wants to take its products to Africa and has recently bought Tura, a household brand in Nigeria. The investment intentions of even a mining conglomerate like the Vedanta Group also go beyond its interest in copper as it intends to set up a power project in southern Africa not only to meet its own requirement in Zambia, but also to cater to demand in Mozambique, Botswana, Malawi and Angola.
Far from being a search for oil and minerals, "some of these investments are propelling African trade into cutting-edge multinational corporate networks, which are increasingly altering the international division of labour," argued Harry Broadman, a World Bank economist. One of the top 25 agri-business transnationals, India's Karuturi Global Ltd, a global leader in the production and export of roses, acquired Sher Agencies, the world's largest rose farm in Kenya. It is also engaged in large-scale agricultural farming in Ethiopia to produce rice, palm oil and sugarcane.
Indian giants like the Tatas whose commitment in current and future projects in the continent is pegged at $1.24 billion and Mahindra and Mahindra are making outbound investments in South Africa to exploit a booming market in the continent. Back home, they have acquired critical size and now look increasingly overseas for growth. According to consultancy firm, Accenture, companies like these follow a 'string-of-pearls' approach, gaining experience and confidence by venturing into smaller markets in emerging economies before tackling more mature markets. Mahindra's auto business, thus, targeted Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia before moving onto South Africa. The American and European market represents the ultimate challenge.
While rising FDI from India holds great promise for Africa, reforms are needed to strengthen this process. The business environment needs to be made more investor-friendly and transaction costs lowered. An Indian firm in Ghana found it so costly to ship a container from Accra to Lagos that it decided to do a cross-border investment than export. Broadman also advocates reforms that leverage linkages between investment and trade to allow African business-participation in global production-sharing networks generated by Indian and Asian investments.
India, for its part, has considerable advantages in engaging Africa. The biggest of these is the Indian diaspora, especially in south and east Africa. The diaspora's contribution has been significant in India's trade, as they own distribution channels, manufacturing facilities and even mines in these countries. Unfortunately, this potential has not been adequately tapped, although India Inc has made diverse investments of late in a range of industries, including infrastructure. India's growing partnership with Africa must harness the diasporic potential.
N Chandra Mohan is Professor of Economics and International Business at the IILM Institute for Higher Education, New Delhi
The views expressed by the author are personal
FREE THE ADVICE
In its first outing, everybody knew what the National Advisory Council was supposed to do. The United Progressive Alliance relied on support from the Left; that support was supposedly conditional on the implementation of the Common Minimum Programme; and, since the CMP was a political compromise, a political group outside government to monitor its implementation seemed a straightforward idea. So the NAC's mandate then was clear. But this time it's the government that got a mandate. What, then, are we to make of news that the NAC is back? Sonia Gandhi has once again been appointed its chairperson, and its other members will reportedly be named shortly.
A re-formed NAC, one without a clear mandate, will have quite a tightrope to walk. On the one hand, India cannot afford that it become a cosy talking shop for those who feel that their leadership of what they would choose to call "civil society" somehow entitles them to have more of a say in policy formation than anyone else (including
the elected representatives of the people). Where, after all, is the guarantee that a clubby insiders-only group will not start reflecting the reflexively statist views of the anti-reform group that exists within the Congress party? On the other hand, a group that works on the political calculations required to ease the passage of important legislation to which the ruling coalition is already committed the food security act, the nuclear liability bill is something that is clearly missing. And if it can also gauge which reformist steps would both super-size India's growth while including in the process more and more of our citizens and be politically implementable, especially by creating a non-partisan consensus on the subject, then that too is needed.
So the NAC must, of course, advise on policy. But its composition will be crucial. An officially-sanctioned pressure group for the party is one thing; a group of experts that can figure out pragmatic steps forward for reform, and begin the process of bringing on board non-UPA parties to make the legislation happen, is something quite different. It cannot, therefore, be a group composed purely of social-sector do-gooders or, for that matter, of "apolitical" technocrats. We will have to watch carefully as the new members of the council are appointed; for in those announcements the government's commitment to reform, and the scale of its ambitions for the remainder of its term, will both be made clear.
After more than nine months of tedious wrangling and patient negotiation, India and the US have finally reached an agreement granting India the right to reprocess spent nuclear fuel. It caps the groundbreaking Indo-US civil nuclear agreement that gave us access to nuclear fuel and technology. The deal was intended to inaugurate billions of dollars worth of nuclear commerce between the two countries, but had been stuck so far because of India's discomfort with American oversight (there will be none, India will only answer to the IAEA in Vienna) and US concerns about proliferation.
For India, a concrete arrangement on reprocessing terms was vital before buying reactors, to avoid another Tarapore where we bought American nuclear reactors but US policy did not allow us to reprocess or return the fuel. This arrangement lays down some safeguards to address concerns that the fuel could be diverted towards a weapons programme. India has also bargained and won the right to more than one reprocessing plant, given the risk of transporting nuclear material. Pushing these through has been a wrenching affair in the US, and now the burden shifts to India, which must complete the process and enact a nuclear liability bill to begin brisk nuclear business between the two countries. Such a law is necessary to lay the foundations of nuclear industry, to create an insurance sector, and allow for private participation. While it has been unfairly cast as a favour to American business interests, it is patently in our own interests to get nuclear business going.
Even as we can now transact with Russia and France, it is worth underscoring the fact that this exchange would not have materialised without American heavy-lifting in the Nuclear Suppliers Group. The US ambassador greeted the news as part of the "great, win-win narrative of the US-India global partnership" and indeed, in swatting down its own non-proliferation chorus, and offering India a model that has only been held out to Europe and Japan so far, the US has clearly signalled its investment in the relationship. India would do well to stand by its friends.
THAT NEW SCHOOL FEELING
The Indian higher education system, including technical , professional and vocational education, is, in its present form, more than a hundred years old now. It all started when a set of institutions were started by the British Raj in Calcutta, Bombay and Madras. Soon thereafter, some more institutions were established by the Church and related organisations. Some of them continue to operate even today. It might be worth noting, thus, that Indian higher education was after all started by Foreign Education Service Providers (FESPs) from Britain. The very fact that the language of instruction in most of Indian higher education is English is another pointer that Indian higher education has always been open to foreign inputs.
An element of fierce competition was introduced to this model in the '30s and '40s, when some nationalist groups started their own educational institutions. These institutions were, however, passing on the same basic knowledge, if with a flavour of national- ism: the ownership of these nationalist institutions was in the hands of trusts or individuals. The competition, as far as academics was concerned, was healthy. And among them, including the British or Church-owned FESPs of those times, the quality was uniform. The situation continued thus till the '50s.
Soon after Independence, there was a significant expansion in the higher education space. Due to the adoption of a socialistic model of economy and governance and because of the initiative of state and Central governments, all higher education institutions were brought under full government funding and support and hence under government control. The IITs and IIMs were established, as were Central and many state universities. Since the country was building new dams, establishing new steel plants and building new aircraft, a new kind of manpower was required. The educational system, hence, started setting up many polytechnics, industrial training institutes and engineering colleges. This phase continued till the end of the '70s.
The beginning of the '80s saw a new phenomenon: self-financed institutions in existing universities, as well as private institutions in engineering, arts, commerce and science education. Many politicians saw in this an opportunity, financial as well as social. The "Shikshan Samrat" age was born, and higher education became a source of big revenue. All one was required to do to succeed was to make sure one got all the licences from government agencies and regulatory bodies, as the younger generation of students was growing in numerical strength. The methods of access to higher education were becoming so stringent that this development, the opening up of a huge number of educational institutions in the southern and western parts of India, became a major demographic solution (or was it a problem?).
It must be mentioned that private unaided institutions have a social responsibility and thus should be held accountable for their quality. Unfortunately, the regulatory mechanisms both internal and external did not ensure quality. So while the country saw a huge expansion of the higher education system an expansion that is needed even today, considering that India's gross enrolment ratio of 12.4 per cent is still very low the expansion in quantity at the cost of quality has brought us to the present situation.
Unshackling the higher education system and opening its doors to fresh air would reinvigorate a static system particularly in finding a resolution to the quantity-quality issue, the major challenge today. Opening up the system is merely a strategy; it is neither a magic wand nor a magic solution. But there is a long history of how opening up a sector has helped that sector. The time has come to adopt that strategy for higher education.
Consider India's automotive sector. Till the early '90s, it was one or two car manufacturers, one or two truck manufacturers, each pushing the same models year after year under a licence-permit raj. Once the sector was opened, India emerged as a global hub for automotive components. Even when a GM car is produced in
India, it is not sold at the international price: international brands in India will try for better quality at competitive prices. And Indian companies are competing, and winning in some aspects.
Now, let us consider a service industry, the banking sector. Till the early '90s, we were used to
the highly inefficient services of nationalised banks. When it opened up, we were able to see a big change in the entire industry. International banks are there; nationalised banks have changed; new technology speeds up operations. Customers have plenty of options, as new banks come up with new products and services. Even when interest rates are low, customers are happy with banks' increasingly automated and efficient services.
Companies like Unilever and Colgate-Palmolive have been selling consumer products for decades. Does it mean that we have been paying exorbitant prices for these? The answer is simple: prices are always based on quality and costs, no matter whether the product is produced by a national or an international organisation. If these aspects are taken into account, the education sector will also see a bright future.
One should consider the Foreign Education Providers Bill with an open mind, and examine the specific features of the bill.
However, one has to consider both the historical background and the present situation in India before one looks at the details. Both clearly point to the bill's potential.
The writer is the director of IIT Kanpur
MOUNTAINS OF TERROR
Whether you are in a Moscow subway or a London subway or a train in Madrid or an office building in New York, we face the same enemy." The London of yore may have cringed at its subway being called a "subway"; but those were Hillary Clinton's rather emotionally chosen, and therefore reductive, words in reaction to Monday's suicide bombings in the Moscow metro. Collated with Barack Obama's prompt condemnation and pledge to help bring the perpetrators to justice, they hint at a reintegration of Russia's story of terrorism with the War on Terror the former having been isolated somewhat as a case of its own after tales of Russian brutality in Chechnya and the emergence of Vladimir Putin's neo-muscular Russia.
The Federal Security Service believes the attacks are attributable to terrorists from the North Caucasus. Whether or not forensics has indeed found as much evidence in the body fragments of the two female suicide bombers the suspicion (or conviction) is founded on rock solid precedent. The Russian Federation has known terror bombings and hostage-sieges since the First Chechen War that a demoralised Russian army had lost in 1996.
The first suicide bombings began in 2000, after Russia's victory in the Second Chechen War. In 2002, the siege of Moscow's Dubrovka Theatre brought to light the cult of female Chechens ready for death. The first female suicide bombers surfaced a year later, in an attempt on Akhmad Kadyrov, the pro-Moscow Chechen leader and father of Kremlin-backed Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov. In February 2004, came the first big one: an attack on the Zamoskvoretskaya line of the Moscow metro that killed 40. In August, a woman blew herself up outside Rizhskaya station, killing 10. After that attack, came Monday's. Meanwhile, women militants had taken part in the Beslan school siege in September 2004 in North Ossetia.
Mostly Chechen and Ingush, these women terrorists lost husbands, fathers, brothers, sons at Russian hands. A couple of the women in the Dubrovka siege were reportedly victims of rape by Russian soldiers. From brutal victimisation to terror is the route that only a minority of the overwhelmingly traumatised Chechen women took. Yet, for Muscovites, if there's a suicide bombing and the bomber is female, the trail, axiomatically, leads to the North Caucasus.
A twist in the tale this time, however, taking one back to the question of repositioning Russia's terror narrative, is Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov's claim that militants originating along the Af-Pak border may have facilitated Monday's attacks. Moscow's growing agitation at the prospect of a US pullout from Afghanistan in 2011 a region that had terminally infected its last empire and could again jeopardise its geopolitical security along with New Delhi's is no secret. The Caucasian militias' old links to jehadis in Af-Pak could be re-manoeuvred to carry out attacks which presumably will spread out among Russia's cities, particularly the Federal Cities of Moscow and St Petersburg. Monday's attacks were most likely in retaliation for recent federal military successes in the North Caucasus, including the slaying of a militant leader in Ingushetia allegedly linked to the bombing of the Nevsky Express in November last year that left 29 dead. That's why Chechen rebel leader Doku Umarov's promise last month, to export the Caucasian war to Russia's cities, appears quickly buttressed by action.
Russia fears the North Caucasus as its Achilles Heel, where, despite putting pro-Kremlin regimes in place, it has no assurance of continued control. The North Caucasus, still retaining Lermontov's scenic, topographic, ethnic beauty and ruggedness, still the "cauldron of nationalities", lies between the Black and Caspian Seas, overlooking the path to Turkey and Iran, allowing Russia access to the Mediterranean. It's where Europe meets Asia; it has been fought over by nations since the distant past. Today, it's the key to Russia's dominance of its rediscovered "traditional sphere of influence". Ironically, Chechnya is relatively calm now. But its spillover has resulted in burgeoning Islamist violence in Ingushetia and Dagestan.
North Ossetia is the only healthy dwarf of the region. The rest Chechnya, Ingushetia, Dagestan, Kabardino-Balkaria, South Ossetia and Abkhazia (the last two technically in Georgia, and focus of the Russo-Georgian war of 2008) are each a basket case, with poverty, unemployment and corruption radicalising the youth in the Muslim-majority republics, notwithstanding Kremlin-funded development projects. If history, for centuries, has been made here, resentments too run back into the past. The Muslim ethnic groups (Chechen, Ingush, Balkar) were accused of collaborating with the Nazis by Stalin and mass-deported to Central Asia. They returned in the '50s, to find the Soviets redrawing their maps. That unforgiven act triggered invasions when the Soviet Union suddenly stood dissolved.
Moscow's hope lies in the exhaustion of the ordinary folks. Even Chechens are not sure anymore if they want independence. The rest are just aware of their vulnerability. If large-scale investments by Russia's government and oligarchs help rebuild the republics' economies, a very dangerous conflict zone could go off the radar of global terror. A little money in the right pockets does what the best militaries cannot.
CONVERT MUNICIPAL WASTE TO WEALTH
When you visit the beautiful green grounds covering an area close to 48 acres in Gorai, in the western suburbs of Mumbai, by the side of a creek overlooking Asia's largest pagoda, it is hard to imagine that this picturesque location was until recently home to approximately 2.3 million tonnes of garbage in an open dump with an average height of 26 metres, about as high as a five-storey building. The wide green expanse and the revived mangroves have brought about a marked improvement in the quality of life of the residents in the surrounding neighbourhoods.
Before we tell you the Gorai story of rags to riches, let us first get a sense of the urban waste challenge in India. Urban India produces an average of 1,20,000 metric tonnes of garbage daily. With a population of over 12 million, Mumbai alone generates garbage of 6,500 tonnes per day.
Municipalities in India spend between 10 to 50 per cent of their budget on solid waste management (SWM), but most of this is consumed in the salaries of sanitation workers and transport of waste, while a minuscule proportion is spent on its scientific disposal. The abysmal state of affairs with regard to the collection and transport of waste is all too well known. Less understood are the implications of the neglect of waste treatment and disposal, as the garbage lies untreated and unprocessed in open dumpsites, and its grave consequences for public health and the environment.
Not very long ago, nearly 1200 tonnes of garbage was being dumped daily at the open dumping grounds in Gorai. The site had been used for this purpose since 1972, and had become a huge public health hazard. The foul odour emanating from the dump created a situation where residents in the surrounding neighbourhoods could not open their windows. The toxic leachate (the liquid that drains through the garbage) from the waste had led to the degeneration of mangroves in the creek that runs parallel to the dumpsite. A court directive in March 2007 led to the shutting down of the dumpsite.
Thanks to an innovative public-private partnership led by the Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai (MCGM), the scientific closure of the dumpsite at Gorai has transformed this waste, accumulated over several decades, into wealth. Sanitary landfills are large and deep underground pits into which the residual waste is put in between scientifically layered geo-textile material and high density polyethylene sheets to ensure complete and airtight closure. The onsite conversion of methane gas is carried out using flaring systems, and the area is developed so as to provide a green cover over the dumpsite.
MCGM earns carbon credits for the capture and combustion of methane (landfill gas) from Gorai, and the transaction is one of the largest carbon advance transactions in the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM). A tonne of methane is equivalent to 21 tonnes of carbon in its global warming potential. The leachate is collected and transported off-site to Versova where the municipal corporation operates a sewerage treatment plant. Gorai is the first dumpsite closure project in India to be registered at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). MCGM has already received a carbon advance of Rs. 25 crore against future delivery of carbon credits from the Asian Development Bank, and the total carbon credit earnings are expected to be about Rs 72 crore (higher than the total capital cost of the project). It is estimated to reduce greenhouse gases by 1.2 million tonnes of carbon dioxide over a 10 year crediting period. MCGM is in discussions with a leading energy company to set up a 2 MW power plant at the site to convert the methane to energy, further enhancing the revenue capability of the project.
At Gorai, the project has been completed in 24 months and commissioned in February, 2010 at a total capital cost of Rs 50 crore. After competitive bidding, IL&FS was selected as the project developer and environmental consultants to MCGM and the contract for construction was awarded to a consortium led by United Phosphorus Limited and M/s Van Der Weil Strotgas BV for a period of 15 years. The operations and maintenance of the site will be done by the consortium for a period of 15 years at an agreed cost of Rs. 12 crore.
The project required clearances from multiple authorities of the Government of India and the government of Maharashtra, and has been developed in accordance with the Municipal Solid Waste Rules 2000, which make it mandatory for Urban Local Bodies (ULBs) to collect, transport and process/treat garbage and dispose of the residual in sanitary landfills. The rules have typically been ignored by ULBs in India.
Admittedly, solid waste management in urban India is a much larger challenge than attending to the menace of an over-piled dumpsite, no matter how huge. But while the Gorai scientific closure addresses only the backlog in solid waste management, it sets a great example for what is possible. Gorai is a part of Mumbai's overall Integrated Waste Management Strategy which involves a comprehensive waste disposal plan, developed on a public-private partnership framework as a set of independent but well synchronised projects that covers multiple projects including large landfills at Kanjur (4000 tonnes per day), Deonar (2000 tonnes per day) and Mulund (500 tonnes per day).
Besides carbon credits, the integrated strategy includes projects which generate revenue from sources such as compost, an organic manure prepared by microbial decomposition of organic matter under aerobic conditions; biogas from organic waste which can be used to power electricity generators, construction debris waste which can be used in pavement blocks, etc. While no specific plan was devised for the 150 or so rag-pickers in Gorai, MCGM has built in a social rehabilitation program for the new scientific landfill sites at Kanjur, Deonar and Mulund, with the possibility of using their skills at the material recovery facility.
It was good to hear from R.A. Rajeev, the additional municipal commissioner who oversees the solid waste management for Mumbai, that for the next 25 years, the city does not have to worry about its solid waste management. Mumbai has shown the way. Other cities must follow.
Dr. Isher Judge Ahluwalia is the chairperson of ICRIER and chair of the High Powered Expert Committee on Urban Infrastructure.
Ranesh Nair is a consultant to the committee. Views are personal.
THE SANDRA BULLOCK TRADE-OFF
Two things happened to Sandra Bullock this month. First, she won an Academy Award for best actress. Then came the news reports claiming that her husband is an adulterous jerk. So the philosophic question of the day is: Would you take that as a deal? Would you exchange a tremendous professional triumph for a severe personal blow?
On the one hand, an Academy Award is nothing to sneeze at. Bullock has earned the admiration of her peers in a way very few experience. She'll make more money for years to come. She may even live longer. Research by Donald A. Redelmeier and Sheldon M. Singh has found that, on average, Oscar winners live nearly four years longer than nominees that don't win.
Nonetheless, if you had to take more than three seconds to think about this question, you are absolutely crazy. Marital happiness is far more important than anything else in determining personal well-being. If you have a successful marriage, it doesn't matter how many professional setbacks you endure, you will be reasonably happy. If you have an unsuccessful marriage, it doesn't matter how many career triumphs you record, you will remain significantly unfulfilled.
Over the past few decades, teams of researchers have been studying happiness. Their work, which seemed flimsy at first, has developed an impressive rigour, and one of the key findings is that, just as the old sages predicted, worldly success has shallow roots while interpersonal bonds permeate through and through.
For example, the relationship between happiness and income is complicated, and after a point, tenuous. It is true that poor nations become happier as they become middle-class nations. But once the basic necessities have been achieved, future income is lightly connected to well-being. The US is much richer than it was 50 years ago, but this has produced no measurable increase in overall happiness. On a personal scale, winning the lottery doesn't seem to produce lasting gains in well-being. People aren't happiest during the years when they are winning the most promotions. Instead, people are happy in their 20's, dip in middle age and then, on average, hit peak happiness just after retirement at age 65. People get slightly happier as they climb the income scale, but this depends on how they experience growth. Does wealth inflame unrealistic expectations? Does it destabilise settled relationships? Or does it flow from a virtuous cycle in which an interesting job that in turn leads to more interesting opportunities?
If the relationship between money and well-being is complicated, the correspondence between personal relationships and happiness is not. The daily activities most associated with happiness are sex, socialising after work and having dinner with others. According to one study, joining a group that meets even just once a month produces the same happiness gain as doubling your income. According to another, being married produces a psychic gain equivalent to more than $100,000 a year.
If you want to find a good place to live, just ask people if they trust their neighbours. Levels of social trust vary enormously, but countries with high social trust have happier people, better health, more efficient government, more economic growth, and less fear of crime.
The overall impression from this research is that economic and professional success exists on the surface of life, and that they emerge out of interpersonal relationships, which are much deeper and more important.
The second impression is that most of us pay attention to the wrong things. Most governments release a tonne of data on economic trends but not enough on trust and other social conditions. In short, modern societies have developed vast institutions oriented around the things that are easy to count, not around the things that matter most. They have an affinity for material concerns and a primordial fear of moral and social ones. Governments keep initiating policies they think will produce prosperity, only to get sacked, time and again, from their spiritual blind side.
THE GREAT GAME FOLIO
C. RAJA MOHAN
Last year on the occasion of the Nowruz, the new year celebrated widely in Iran, Afghanistan and Central Asia, US President Barack Obama reached out to the Iranian people and leadership and offered to end decades of confrontation between the two countries.
This year it is Iran's turn to leverage the Nowruz for its own regional diplomacy. Last week, Iran hosted the first ever World Nowruz Festival in Tehran by inviting the leaders of its neighbouring countries.
Nowruz, which means "new day" in Farsi, is a spring festival of Persian origin that begins on March 21, the vernal equinox in the solar calendar. Nowruz celebrations predate Islam and originated about 3,000 years ago when Zoroastrianism dominated the spiritual landscape of Persia and its neighbourhood.
Hardline Islamists have tended to frown upon the pagan elements of the Nowruz festivities, but have been unable to force the Iranian and Central Asian Muslims to discard it. When the Taliban-ruled Afghanistan during 1997-2001, it had banned Nowruz celebrations.
That Tehran's Islamic Republic has chosen to make a big deal of Nowruz suggests Iran is keen to build on the strong Persian civilisational links that bind it to its neighbours.
Speaking at the celebrations, which Iran now plans to organise every year, the Supreme Leader of Iran, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei underlined the cultural nature of the festivities and the opportunities it provides for regional cooperation. These Nowruz celebrations expand on the trilateral summitry of Persian-speaking nations, under which the Iranian, Tajik and Afghan leaders have been meeting annually over the last three years.
The Nowruz event was attended by Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, Tajik President Emomali Rahmon, Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow, Afghan President Hamid Karzai and Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Cemil Cicek attended the Tehran celebrations. Azerbaijan was represented by Foreign Minister Elmar Mammadyarov.
External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna, could not make it to the Nowruz festivities this time. India which shares so much of Persian culture will, hopefully, not miss it the next time around.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai's frequent contacts with the Iranian leadership is raising eyebrows in Washington. Two days before President Obama breezed through Kabul, Karzai was in Tehran to join the Nowruz celebrations.
Earlier this month, Karzai hosted the Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on his second visit to Kabul. Ahmadinejad did not miss the opportunity to lambast the United States and its policies. With Karzai standing next to him at the press conference in Kabul, Ahmadinejad hit back at a hostile US reporter by asking him a counter question: "Your country is located on the other side of the world so what are you doing here?"
Karzai's outreach to Tehran comes amidst the growing gulf between him and the Obama administration. The more insult Washington throws at Karzai, the greater the incentive for the Afghan president to reach out to all those who are opposed to the United States. The New York Times reported in its Tuesday edition that Karzai has begun to deliberately signal distance between himself and Washington, and presenting himself as the only leader who can limit American dominance over Afghanistan.
The Americans might be making a big mistake if they underestimate the intelligence and survival skills of Afghan rulers. When the Soviet troops started leaving Afghanistan in 1988, few in the West expected that the Russian-backed President Najibullah would last. Najibullah surprised every one by holding on to power for three more years.
As Karzai begins to step back from the American embrace, Pakistan's army chief, Ashfaq Kayani is adding up the benefits of being serenaded in Washington last week. The GHQ in Rawalpindi, however, can't be unaware of the costs of drawing too close to the US. If Kayani really cooperates with the United States in taking on the Afghan Taliban and the Haqqani network, the extremist groups are certain to step up the efforts to destabilise Pakistan.
If Kayani is seen as acting on America's behest, many friends of Pakistan in the region, including those in Beijing and Tehran, would want to think through the implications for their own interests. Put simply, Kayani's Washington visit might have begun to limit the Pakistan Army's options of playing all sides of the game in Afghanistan.
JOBS IN THE CITY
With the Left governments in Kerala and West Bengal announcing urban employment guarantee schemes, the CPM is now daring the UPA to extend its flagship rural employment guarantee programme to urban areas. It says that unless the Central government comes up with an employment guarantee scheme for urban areas, the UPA's "illusory pursuit" of inclusive growth will cease to have any meaning. "It is up to the Central government to display its sincerity in upholding both the letter and spirit of this constitutional guarantee by extending the employment guarantee to the urban areas," says the lead editorial in party mouthpiece People's Democracy.
Adding some political punch, the editorial says the introduction of urban job guarantee by Left-ruled states comes at a time when the Centre has adopted a "cruel trajectory of imposing unprecedented burdens on the poor through policies that are aimed at increasing the prices of all essential commodities."
With its Bengal unit not playing ball, the CPM may have dropped the term "jail bharo" from its protest plan on April 8. It is saying that the lakhs of people would picket Central government offices and court arrest as part of the nation-wide protest against price rise.
The CPI, however, is sticking to the plan. The editorial in New Age underlines that the jail bharo campaign "must be a real mass arrest programme." "The fight against price rise could not be confined to opposition to certain decisions of the Union and state governments...It has to be intensified and enlarged as a fight against the very concept of economic neo-liberalism," it says.
In the light of the Medical Council of India's attempts to bar doctors from receiving gifts and sponsorships from the industry and from promoting specific medicines, an article in People's Democracy says the MCI should be given statutory powers. It welcomes the MCI's decision to amend the Indian Medical Council Act to insert a code of conduct for doctors in their relationship with pharmaceutical companies, and plans to recommend a quantum of punishment for those who violate the new amendment.
Compiled by Manoj C.G.
MEMORIES OF REVOLUTION
Comrade Kanu Sanyal is no more. The news is quite difficult to digest, and still more difficult because of the mysterious circumstances in which the glorious revolutionary's life came to an end.
Without any investigations, I have no right to judge the suicide theory put forward by different quarters. But I am at a loss to understand how Kanuda, whom I knew closely for over four deacdes, could resort to such a step because of physical pain or political isolation. Instead of paying lip service to Comrade Sanyal's greatness, Left leaders as well as his comrades and admirers should take the initiative to unearth the mystery behind his death.
If the story of suicide is true, it must be stated that Kanuda had no right to do it. It has not only killed Kanuda, but will deliver a mortal blow to the movement of which he was a symbol. It must also be stated that the responsibility also lies with us. Instead of splitting, had we been able to stay together and manage differences of opinion, this mishap could have been avoided. The time has come to understand that the split by itself is no virtue. Today, uniting with differences is far more important.
I had the privilege to know Kanuda well. Along with him, I was a CPI(ML) Central Committee member, elected from the Calcutta Congress in May 1970, of which Comrade Charu Majumdar had been secretary. Along with Comrade Souren Bose, I was Kanuda's cell-mate in Alipur central jail for over a year and a half. Together we formed the Organising Committee for Coordination of Communist Revolutionaries (OCCCR). Around 1981, we fell apart on the question of evaluating the crisis that engulfed us then. While I thought that the crisis was a theoretical one, Kanuda termed it an organisational one. He revised his stand later, but we did not unite under a single organisation again.
From my experience, I evaluate Kanuda as a revolutionary comrade with firm conviction, unwavering determination and a down-toearth approach. He had an intense love for the people. A charming personality, Kanuda hated hypocrisy, was never comfortable with urban intellectuals, but had been quite at ease with peasants and workers both known and unknown.
For two major contributions, Comrade Kanu Sanyal will be remembered for ever. First, during the stormy days of the 60s, Comrade Sanyal, through the Naxalbari uprising, gave a new direction and orientation to the communist, left and democratic movement in our country. After Naxalbari, to quote Samar Sen, nothing remained the same.
Secondly, when everyone thought that Naxalbari was developed because of Charu Majumdar, Comrade Sanyal, through his article 'More on Naxalbari', boldly declared that Naxalbari had developed in spite of Charu Majumdar. In his article he distinctly described the development of that period in North Bengal two lines, two developments, two parallel practices and two results the success of the Naxalbari uprising and the fiasco at Chaterhat. The future will remember Kanu Sanyal for these two contributions.
With Kanuda, the last stalwart of the Naxalbari uprising is gone. It denotes the end of an era. The communist, left and the democratic movement as well as the whole country is poorer because of the sudden demise of Comrade Kanu Sanyal. Long live Comrade Kanu Sanyal.
The writer was a Naxalite in the 1970s
THE RIGHT KIND OF ADVICE
The National Advisory Council (NAC), now all set to start a second innings after the appointment of Sonia Gandhi as its chairperson on Monday, was first set up in the tenure of UPA-1 to oversee the implementation of the common minimum programme and to act as an interface between civil society and government. The NAC, in its first avatar, got much credit for conducting advocacy for, and pushing the government to enact, two of UPA-1's most significant legislative actionsthe NREG and the Right to Information Act. But the NAC met an early demise when Sonia Gandhi resigned as chairperson in March 2006 after the office for profit controversythough the NAC was officially disbanded only two years after that in March 2008. The government still hasn't announced who the members of NAC-2 will be, but the membership of the first term serves as a good guide while understanding the motivation for, and future role of NAC-2. Almost all the members, including former bureaucrats, academics, scientists and activists were strongly associated with UPA's agenda for social sectors and redistribution. There wasn't much, if any, representation for the reformist, economic growth-oriented section of civil society. It will probably be the same this time.
The Congress party strongly believes that its redistributionist agendaNREG, loan waiver and other big spending schemessecured it a second term. And it probably believes that more such programmes are necessary to secure a third term. NAC-2 will likely perform the role of advocating redistributionist legislation like the Food Security Act, which seems to have lost its way in the last one year. The only difference is that NAC-1 operated in the boom years of economic growth, which made all the public spending affordable. NAC-2 has to operate in a different growth environment. And it must recognise that big spending programmes can only be financed in an economy that is booming and generating massive revenues for the government. With the international situation still bleak, the thrust for growth has to come from within. But will NAC-2 see reason in allowing (even pressurising) the government to continue with economic reform in order to get the kind of growth needed to sustain what NAC will likely have in mind on spending? Unlikely, if its membership has a profile similar to NAC-1. It is a pity that the Congress doesn't have an institutional forum for economic reformers to make their voice heard, just like the NAC gives a focus to social sectors. After all, redistribution will bust the deficit if there isn't any reform-generated growth.
GET THE ENVIRONMENT RIGHT
A recent report puts hugely positive numbers against increased M&A activity in the Indian metal and mining industry, finding that 2009 saw an increase of 45% in deal count and 173% in deal value compared to 2008. The flip side of this story is how delays and disputes continue to make headlines. The latest development on this front is that the Supreme Court asked the French cement giant Lafarge to seek fresh environmental and forest clearance from the Centre before resuming limestone mining in the east Khasi hills of Meghalaya. The project in question is intended to supply raw material to Lafarge's cement plant in Bangladesh. The delay is especially controversial for two reasons. First, there is the potential for diplomatic complications, given that India had guaranteed Bangladesh an uninterrupted supply of limestone. Since Bangladesh is short of limestone reserves, there are claims that delays in this project will not just hold back our neighbour's cement plant but also its overall economic development. Second, it has been alleged that Lafarge transferred tribal land to itself in violation of the Indian Constitution's Sixth Schedule and then mortgaged it to international banks. As lawyers and concerned parties trade charges, what's evidenced is the scale of the cost being paid for India's confused mining policiesnow extending beyond domestic economics to international politics.
There is chaos in the Union government ranks. Just yesterday, it was reported that steel minister Virbhadra Singh is asking the finance ministry to increase the export duty on iron ore. This is part of the ongoing turf battle with the mining ministry. Last week, PM Manmohan Singh was playing umpire between environment and forests minister Jairam Ramesh and surface transport minister Kamal Nath, power minister Sushilkumar Shinde, water minister Pawan Bansal and others. It's the contention of Nath, Shinde, Bansal and party that developmental projects are being gratuitously held back by Ramesh's ministry. Now a few states are also at odds with Ramesh. His defence is that the Union environment and forests ministry is only trying to protect India's ecological security. He has accused state governments of deliberately delaying the notification of buffer zones for wildlife reserves. As this factitious back and fro continues, India is seeking to incentivise foreign funds into mining. Legislative amendments that would make the sector more investment-friendly are constantly being tom-tomed around. But how can the sector register smart growth as long as confusion prevails? Investment requires the bedrock of certainty.
FINMIN'S CONJURING ON BORROWING
On Monday evening, as banks pored over the details of the half year market borrowing calendar of the government and RBI, they may not have noticed a Rs 10,000 crore jugglery in the figures. That jugglery is in the statement of the revenue deficit figures by the government for the current year. The difference will also impact the deficit calculation for the next year, for which the borrowing calendar was released on Monday.
In short, the government has told Parliament that its revenue deficit for 2009-10 is Rs 3,39,766.84 crore, whereas for the rest of the world the figure is Rs 3,29,061 crore, a difference of Rs 10,705 crore. The first set of figures is contained in the annual financial statement (AFS) of the central government. The statement can be called the heart of the budget documents. The statement is a sort of accounts for the government treasury. And the treasury, known as the Consolidated Fund of India, is under the control of the Lok Sabha. So every finance minister gives the details of the spending and receipts from and into the consolidated fund in the AFS.
Every official writing those numbers, therefore, ensures that none of those figures are incorrectly printed. To make sense of those numbers, the government also prints supporting documents, including the crucial Budget at a Glance, which presents those numbers in a ready-to-understand form for you and me. This document also has sanctity as it is laid on the table of both the Houses of Parliament.
Yet, the revenue deficit of the Centre, as per the AFS, is much more than the deficit as shown in Budget at a Glance. It will be difficult to recollect when this has happened before. The government is, in effect, saying that the revised revenue deficit of 5.3% for 2009-10 is an understatement and the correct figure is more like 5.5% of GDP. This also means the revenue receipts in Budget at a Glance have been overstated or the revenue expenditure has been understated by a similar amount.
In the scheme of government accounts, the fiscal deficit is the sum total of all revenue and capital expenditure balanced against the revenue receipts and non-debt capital receipts. Usually, the government spends more than it earns. So the difference between the two is made good by government borrowings from different sources, including the bond market. Since the market borrowing made by the finance ministry matches the lower estimate of revenue deficit, it would seem the under-provision has not been accounted for. In effect, the fiscal deficit, too, has been understated.
Is there a critical piece of information missing in the accounts for the current year? The total number of ministries for which the finance ministry draws up a balance sheet is 105 and it would be a gargantuan task to trawl through them to find the missing link. It is also unnecessary. The point of debate is pretty clear. One set of government figures on the deficit does not match the other. Both have been tabled in Parliament.
However, in the budget estimates for 2010-11, this discrepancy has been ironed out. The difference between the two sets of numbers in the AFS and Budget at a Glance is just Rs 250 crore, which is obviously an accounting difference. But there are two entries in the receipts and in the expenditure budgets that provide a hint of how the same may have been reconciled. In the demand for grants for the ministry of consumer affairs, the sum provided for the estimated food subsidy is Rs 55,578 crore. But the projected expenditure for food subsidy is Rs 10,000 crore more. This will be provided for, the budget documents show, through a ways-and-means advance to the Food Corporation of India for Rs 10,000 crore.
This sort of borrowing by the government to meet a departmental expenditure has rarely happened before and certainly not in the past two decades. No department has had its projected expenditure clearly offset through the mechanism of cash borrowing. The explanatory note with the entry says the advance will be adjusted in the same fiscal, which the government can be quite relied upon to implement. As a result, despite incurring a total expenditure of Rs 66,678 crore for food subsidy, the government can get away with showing a lower bill. To that extent, the fiscal and the revenue deficit will also be lower in the next fiscal. But as the ways-and-means advance will be financed by RBI, it will add to the overall cash availability in the economy with the attendant consequence on yields.
Similarly, in the receipts budget, the finance ministry has made another startling assumption. This is the under-provision for the borrowings made by state governments. In the past two years, as the state governments have got richer due to higher tax collections and fiscal prudence, they have invested their surplus cash in 14-day treasury bills issued by the Centre. The interest on those bills is naturally provided for by the Centre. In 2008-09, that investment rose by 73% and in 2009-10 by 43% to Rs 98,663 crore. But for 2010-11, the finance ministry has assumed there will be zero growth in the cash surplus of the states. The corresponding interest payment provision is also lower and so on. The borrowing calendar offered to banks to make up the shortfall naturally looks healthier than it actually is.
NOW THAT FARM PRICES ARE FALLING
YOGINDER K ALAGH
While a lot of money is being spent on agricultural projects, not much is seen in terms of outcomes in water availability and newer seeds. While the cap on subsidies is fine and the market-linked policy on newer products and expansion of urea capacity is well taken, it is nobody's case that much advantage to agriculture can be expected in the short-run. So, it is the price and profitability signals that will be the centre point of any short-run revival strategy after the bad kharif last year. But nobody is worrying about all this out there.
The Economic Survey made the valid point that despite the 'hype' over food prices, producer prices in agriculture only grew by 6%. GDP deflators are a box only national income statisticians know. The reconstituted Statistics Commission together with the chief statistician has to take us forward on price statistics for agricultural policies and the spread between consumer and harvest prices, but the rough trends are known. Since the chief economic advisor wrote on the 'hype' over agriculture prices, a lot of water has flown down the rivers. The Wholesale Price Index has fallen for food and if one uses the language some papers have used, it is now at an annual negative rate of above 25%.
But more seriously, harvest prices are falling. In western Maharashtra agricultural markets about two weeks ago, tur dal prices were running below Rs 30 per kg, just above the minimum support price (MSP), and so was soya. Potato prices started falling, and now there are reports of potatoes selling at Rs 2 per kg in village markets because of which potato-producing regions like West Bengal and northwestern Gujarat have been sending SOS messages to non-existent saviours. Sugar prices are also on their way down and we are in the falling cobweb, with the factories no longer buying sugarcane.
The response of policymakers has been fascinating. I argued for an examination of the possibility of a mild degree of tariff protection and MSP support. The government was kind enough to tell oilseed and pulse farmers, largely in very poor rain-fed areas, that duty-free imports will continue until March 31, 2011, putting paid to any fancy ideas (s)he may have of making money this kharif season or even the next rabi season because by March-end the larger cropping decisions will have been made.
The Reserve Bank of India, meanwhile, coolly kept on churning its information machine. In the period April 2009 to July 2009, for which they gave us the latest figures this month, edible oil imports went up by 77.7% and pulses imports grew by 34.6%. Meanwhile, the ministry of shipping was generous in saying that more is on the way. The government not only imports these food products, it also subsidises them. Take pulses, where the numbers are less frightening. The April-July numbers suggest an annual rate of $1.5 billion.
Since we subsidise farmers in OECD and other countries who sell us these pulses at 15% premium over local market prices, we will give them $115 million. That's roughly Rs 500 per tonne. If we look at acreage response elasticities, we could probably get 10% growth in pulses, provided we were equally generous to our own farmers. The numbers in edible oil, where we now import more than three-quarters of what we need, are even more promising. However, I wanted to take the less favourable case for my argument.
The chief economic advisor tells us very validly that the way you present your argument will convince the policymaker. He gave a very interesting example of a vacuum cleaner improving the welfare of domestic servants. I taught my pulses example in a course for college teachers in economics last week. The students loved it and we were all very happy. It is textbook stuff from Krugman and Obstfeldt and great fun. I didn't know whether it was funny or tragic that the government went out of its way to reject the Alagh Committee on using tariff policies in tandem with pricing and monetary policies, yet accepted the objective of ensuring global competition for our farmer. Actually, I only wrote the stuff four years ago and some of the top economists in the government have argued for a variable tariff policy for agriculture.
As I drive down to my retreat, next to a nature park, there is the enervating thought that our economists are really good and our senior ministers are even better and maybe somebody out there is reading. At seventy-one years young, I am still an optimistic kind of blighter.
The author is a former Union minister
TAX DEPARTMENT LOSES A BATTLE
In a ruling that could put sizeable revenue receipts for the government at risk and impact its stand on the capital gains tax levied on capital gains from the sales of shares of Indian companies by overseas firms, the Authority for Advance Ruling (AAR) has said that profits from such sales are not taxable in India if the company comes from Mauritius.
This could have very wide implications as many overseas firms operate in India through low-tax countries like Mauritius and the Indian government is even engaged in a legal tussle over levying the capital gains tax on companies where mergers and acquisitions have been carried out via share purchase transactions.
The AAR ruling was in favour of E*Trade Mauritius that had earned profits from selling shares. The AAR said in its order that though the capital gains accrued to the company, a tax cannot be levied with the Indo-Mauritius tax treaty as it stands now.
The tax department's point was that the company is 100% subsidiary of a US firm and that the Mauritian company was only a vehicle used by the US firm to operate in India. So, the department was in favour of levying the capital gains tax on the profits from sale of shares. The company had, of course, contended that the tax should not be levied.
Experts believe that the only solution to deal with problems like these is to revise the tax treaty between India and Mauritius. The government has already initiated a process to revise tax treaties with various countries including Mauritius.
This AAR ruling has, therefore, confirmed that a tax resident of Mauritius can only be taxed in Mauritius and not in India, even if it is the shares of an Indian firm that have been sold. This could even pose a threat for the revenue department with many companies using the Mauritius route to buy shares of Indian companies, at least until the treaty remains in its current form.
The Tamil Nadu government did the legally correct and politically wise thing in accepting the recommendation of the Prison Advisory Board against releasing Nalini, a life convict in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case lodged in the Special Prison for Women in Vellore. Nalini played a key role in the monstrous crime that shook the nation on May 21, 1991: alongside the charge of conspiracy, she faced charges on 121 different counts and was physically present at the scene of crime. As Justice D.P. Wadhwa noted in the Supreme Court decision awarding the death penalty to Nalini and three others in the case: "It is not that Nalini did not understand the nature of the crime and her participation. She was a willing party to the crime." Fortunately for her, the death penalty was commuted to life imprisonment in April 2000 following an open appeal by Congress president Sonia Gandhi. But if a life sentence for a heinous crime is to have any meaning at all, it should be just that: a lifetime in prison. Indeed, one of the arguments of those who want the death penalty to remain on the statute books in India is that the alternative, a life sentence, is decidedly not meant to be incarceration for the remainder of the convict's life. The life convict, in fact, can count on freedom after 14 years and usually earlier. Early release of Nalini would have bolstered the argument of the hanging party, advocates of an extreme, barbaric punishment that no longer exists in most countries.
While there is something commendable about the sense of forgiveness shared by Sonia Gandhi and her daughter Priyanka, who showed personal nobility in visiting Nalini in Vellore, this can have no bearing on the legal issue. Nor is the fact that Nalini is a mother or has acquired educational qualifications in prison relevant to the issue. A relevant question is: has she shown any remorse? "Even now," the PAB records, "she does not admit her guilt." Add to this the problem of taking care of the security of Nalini and others who might have to live in close proximity to her in the event of her release and the issue resolves itself from a practical standpoint as well. The principal perpetrators of the assassination are all dead now, but the ends of justice, including proportionality of the punishment, will not be served if Nalini is set free. After all, as Justice Wadhwa held, without her help, the assassination could not have been carried out. Instead of taking up the wrong cause, sympathisers of the no-longer-extant Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam would do well to support humanists in campaigning for the abolition of capital punishment in India and for getting the three others sentenced to death in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case off death row.
On March 9, during a visit by U.S. Vice-President Joe Biden, the Israeli government announced approval for the building of 1,600 new settlement homes in occupied East Jerusalem. The timing was highly offensive, as Washington had only just brokered indirect talks between the Palestinians and Israel. The Palestinian leadership is justifiably furious: with its chief negotiator, Saeb Erekat, saying no trust can be built if Israel acts like this, it has pulled out of the planned talks. The Israeli announcement, made without Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's prior knowledge, came from the Interior Minister Eli Yishai, whose ultra-orthodox Shas party is a member of the ruling coalition. As if this were not enough, on March 24 the Jerusalem municipality announced a project under which 20 more apartments would be built in East Jerusalem. The number of Israeli settlers in East Jerusalem has doubled since the 1993 Oslo accords, as it has in the West Bank. No other state has recognised the occupation of either the West Bank or East Jerusalem. In another episode that damaged Israel's standing, the United Kingdom has expelled an Israeli diplomat and member of the Israeli intelligence agency, Mossad, over his country's use of forged British passports in the operation to murder Hamas official Mahmoud al-Mabhouh in Dubai on January 19.
For countries that invariably back Israel, the reactions of the U.S. and the U.K. have been very sharp. Mr. Biden, on President Obama's instructions, has "unequivocally" condemned the building plans while Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has called the main plan's announcement an insult. Several British MPs have said Israel is becoming a rogue state. In response, Mr. Netanyahu has been typically truculent, calling Jerusalem his country's capital and telling the Palestinians that their demand for a freeze on all Israeli settlements in the occupied territories was "illogical and unreasonable." He knows that none of the condemnations will be backed by serious action. Ms Clinton has told the American-Israeli Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) that U.S. support for Israel is "rock solid"; and the British security services will continue collaborating with Mossad. This means Mr. Netanyahu is unlikely to make any attempt to control his coalition partners, and can pander to the most extreme sections of Israeli society. He can also be confident of ensuring in advance the form of a final settlement with the Palestinians. Israel, it seems, can continue insulting its friends and destroying any possibility of a Palestinian state.
LEADER PAGE ARTICLES
YOUR RIOT WAS WORSE THAN MINE
WHEN DOUBLE STANDARDS TAKE CHARGE, IT IS THE VICTIMS OF COMMUNAL VIOLENCE WHO SUFFER, BE THEY THE SIKHS OF DELHI, THE MUSLIMS OF GUJARAT OR THE PANDITS OF KASHMIR.
India's polity has an unerring taste for the irrelevant. That is why the controversy over a sitting Chief Minister being summoned to answer questions about mass murder has made way for an unseemly debate about the morality of an ageing actor. After his embarrassing, nine-hour appearance before the Special Investigation Team, one would have thought Narendra Modi presented a large enough target. Instead, the Congress has chosen to launch a full-throated campaign against Amitabh Bachchan for choosing to become a brand ambassador for tourism in Mr. Modi's State. The party has accused the Bollywood superstar of being indifferent to allegations of State complicity in the massacre of Muslims which took place there in 2002. And it has started boycotting him in a manner that is as crude and mean-spirited as it is ineffective and pointless. Thanks to this, the mass media are today discussing Big B rather than the Little Men whose role the SIT is now investigating.
As can be expected, the Gujarat Chief Minister is thrilled. The spotlight which was earlier on him is now being trained elsewhere. Instead of being forced to rally others to his own defence, Mr. Modi has happily mounted the barricades on behalf of Mr. Bachchan. In keeping with his party's fondness for technology and Islamophobia, he has blogged that the actor's critics are 'Talibans of untouchability'.
If Mr. Bachchan is guilty of overlooking mass violence today, it is because equally illustrious gentlemen, including some industrialists, did the same when they declared Mr. Modi prime ministerial material. For that matter, the actor himself has done this sort of thing before. In his movies, Mr. Bachchan was a crusader for the underdog. In real life, he is attracted to the kind of powerful men he once fought on the big screen. His fans have a right to feel cheated. Political parties, especially the Congress, do not have that right.
The party finds fault with him for representing Gujarat in the wake of 2002. But in 1984, barely weeks after the blood in the streets of Delhi had dried, the actor accepted a Congress ticket for Allahabad and got elected to Parliament. "As a brand ambassador does he endorse or condemn the mass murder in Gujarat?" Congress spokesperson Manish Tiwari asked the other day, adding: "It is high time Amitabh Bachchan came out and said what his position on [the] Gujarat riots is." Despite the party having 'apologised' for its role in the massacre of Sikhs following Indira Gandhi's assassination, I doubt Mr. Tiwari or any other Congress spokesman will ever ask Mr. Bachchan what his position on the Delhi riots was or is.
But if the Congress prefers to forget the history of 1984, the BJP and its leaders act as if history ended that year. In their telling, 2002 either didn't happen or pales in comparison with what preceded it. And so begins the sordid exercise of weighing the suffering of victims and, worse, of playing the plight of one set against another. Mention the suffering of the Muslims of Gujarat and the BJP will start talking about the plight of the Pandits, driven by terrorism from their homes in the Kashmir Valley in 1989 and 1990. Try talking about the injustice done to the Sikhs of Delhi and the Congress will insist on speaking only of Gujarat. And the minute the microphones in the studio are switched off, the politicians are quite happy to forget about the shared travails of all victims.
The reality is that the Delhi and Gujarat massacres are part of the same excavated site, an integral part of the archaeology of the Indian state. Eighteen years separate 2002 from 1984. Eighteen is normally the age a human being is considered to have become an adult. Inhumanity also seems to take 18 years to fully mature. In an act of conception which lasted four bloody days, something inhuman was spawned on the streets of Delhi in 1984; by 2002, it had fully matured. Paternity for the 'riot system' belongs to both the Congress and the BJP, even if the sangh parivar managed to improve upon the technologies of mass violence. Both knew how to mobilise mobs. Both knew how to get the police to turn the other way. Both knew how to fix criminal cases. Both knew what language to speak, even if one set of leaders spoke of a 'big tree falling' and the other paraphrased Newton. Both had the luxury of not being asked difficult questions by criminal investigators. Until now.
There is one school of thought that Mr. Modi's summons and interrogation have come eight years too late. There is a lot of merit in that point of view. But the reality is that the call for a leader to render account for mass crimes committed on his watch comes 18 years too late. Veteran journalist Tavleen Singh said recently that if Rajiv Gandhi had been interrogated in 1984 about what happened to the Sikhs, Gujarat would not have happened. She is right. Had the courts and the entire edifice of the Indian state not failed the victims of 1984, many, many politicians, police officers and officials would have gone behind bars. Had that happened then, every leader would have been forced to think a hundred times about the legal consequences of instigating mass violence or allowing mobs to go on the rampage.
The debates on Mr. Modi over the past two weeks have been so incredibly divisive because neither the Congress nor the BJP is interested in a discussion on systemic remedies. Justice is about punishing individuals, rehabilitating victims and dismantling the infrastructure of communal terrorism. But our biggest parties want nothing to do with any of that. Gujarat 2002 should go unpunished because Delhi 1984 never saw justice, says the BJP. 'No SIT ever interrogated Rajiv Gandhi so why is Mr. Modi now being interrogated?' is the party's self-serving refrain. On its part, the Congress is unwilling to incorporate in the draft Communal Violence Bill clear-cut legal provisions that could deter politicians and policemen from again abusing their power as they did in 1984 and 2002.
One of the questions the SIT was expected to ask Mr. Modi during his interrogation on March 27 was what exactly he said when Ehsan Jaffrey called him up on February 28, 2002, asking for help. The question is important because soon after the former MP put down the telephone, he was killed by a mob along with 58 other innocent people. I have no idea whether that question was put to Mr. Modi, let alone what his answer was. But when the same question was put to Jai Narayan Vyas, official spokesman of Mr. Modi's government, in a televised debate a few days ago, the answer was atrocious. Ehsan Jaffrey had been a Congress MP, said Mr. Vyas. "So I demand to know what the Congress party did to help him."
There was, of course, nothing the Congress could have done to save the doomed member then. The BJP was in power in both Gujarat and the Centre. But the party has a chance to do something now: Pass a law with real teeth. It's been more than a quarter-of-a-century since a big tree came crashing down upon us. It is time for the earth to stop shaking.
A DAMAGING REPORT
THOSE WHO WERE IMPATIENT WITH THE NARMADA BACHAO ANDOLAN'S STRUGGLE MUST NOW RE-EXAMINE THEIR THINKING IN THE LIGHT OF THE SECOND INTERIM REPORT OF THE EXPERTS' COMMITTEE SET UP BY THE MINISTRY OF ENVIRONMENT AND FORESTS.
MAHADEVAN RAMASWAMY AND RAMASWAMY R. IYER
The Second Interim Report of the Experts' Committee set up by the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) of the Government of India to assess the planning and implementation of environmental safeguards with respect to the Sardar Sarovar (SSP) and Indira Sagar projects (ISP) on the Narmada River is a clear finding, by a government committee, of the egregious failure of the government machinery on virtually all the aspects studied.
The report covers the status of compliances on catchment area treatment (CAT), flora and fauna and carrying capacity upstream, command area development (CAD), compensatory afforestation and human health aspects in project impact areas. (The scope of the committee did not include the issues of displacement and rehabilitation or hydro-meteorological issues, which were dealt with by other groups.) The report is a severe indictment of the governments of Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra and of the bodies set up by these governments to implement the projects for the 'integrated development' of the Narmada Valley. Peppered with phrases like 'gross violation', 'negligence', 'highly unsatisfactory,' 'inadequate,' 'serious lapse' and 'non compliance' it states in strong and unequivocal terms that with respect to virtually all of the aspects under consideration compliance is either highly inadequate or absent altogether (a partial exception being compensatory afforestation). Construction, on the other hand, has been proceeding apace: the ISP is complete and the SSP nearing completion. The report recommends that no further reservoir-filling be done at either SSP or ISP; that no further work be done on canal construction; and that even irrigation from the existing network be stopped forthwith until failures of compliance on the various environmental parameters have been fully remedied.
This is a major development. It must be seen against the backdrop of the protracted legal battle fought by the Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA) against the various lapses, failures and deficiencies in these projects. In a climate where environmental and human rights issues are increasingly being sacrificed at the altar of 'development,' the NBA has been persevering untiringly with its struggle for decades. Those who have tended to become impatient with that struggle must now re-examine their thinking in the light of the present report.
The legal history of the NBA's petitions is a long one. We need not go into the High Courts' or the Supreme Court's earlier pronouncements, some of which affirmed the fact of lapses and inadequacies several years ago. What needs to be noted is that even the majority verdict of the Supreme Court in 2000, which rejected the NBA's petition and allowed the project to proceed, and was widely perceived as indicating a shift in judicial thinking in favour of 'development' and against public interest litigation on environmental and displacement aspects, did reaffirm the importance of those aspects. While directing the government to ensure the speedy completion of the projects under consideration and taking the view that the existing machinery for environmental protection and relief and rehabilitation (R&R) must be presumed to be working properly unless proved otherwise, the SC made an important mandatory stipulation for the continuance of work, namely, that further progress would be subject to checks at every stage (every increase of 5 m in dam height) on the status of these measures. Subsequent litigation over the years has related largely to the issue of compliance with this condition.
The first interim report of the Expert Committee, dealing with the issue of backwater effects, rejected the project authorities' contention that on recalculation the backwater level of SSP was going to be much lower than earlier stated. That contention had been used to assert that gates and other proposed structures could be proceeded with without concern over any additional submergence over that relating to the approved level of 121.7 metres. The report showed this to be untrue. Now the second interim report comes up with a strong finding of non-compliance on virtually all environmental aspects. This is a clear vindication of the NBA's assertions over the years.
It is a matter of grave concern for more than one reason. One, this is not a non-official committee or a committee of environmental activists, but a government committee consisting almost entirely of technocrats, retired forest officials and the like; two, its findings point to a fundamental and near total violation of significant aspects of the Supreme Court's judgment; and three, the severe environmental damage documented in its pages is largely irreversible.
Even assuming that 'development' can be pursued without any concern for the environment, and that some argument can be found to defend the flouting of a Supreme Court judgment, there are several other concerns that should worry the votaries of 'large infrastructural development at all costs.' Untreated catchments can shorten the life of projects through siltation, thus altering their cost-benefit ratios; they can also bring about increased run-off and washing-off of soil nutrients with adverse consequences for the productivity of irrigated land (as also for the aquatic and river-bank species and fisheries); dam operations in such unstable catchments can lead (and have led, in at least one incident already here) to flash floods with tragic consequences; and so on. These are hard, practical and often economic consequences that can be noted by all and not only by 'environmentalists'. One hopes that Indian society as a whole citizens and government alike will take at least these concerns seriously.
In the meanwhile, the SC, possibly not having yet been seized of the second environmental committee's report, has said that work on canals can start subject to the approval of the MoEF of the CAD plans submitted for the Omkareshwar Hydroelectric Project (OHP) and the ISP. However, since the report is itself in pursuance of court directives, the MoEF can and should halt all further work on the project, bringing this anomaly to the court's attention.
Where do we go from here? We cannot say, but many will be watching keenly to see how the government responds to the recommendations of its committee. We must hope that the response will not be such as to make us doubt the seriousness of its professions of concern for the environment.
HAS THE RECESSION ARRESTED CRIME?
After two long years of economic woes, the recession in the United States has managed to create a few unexpected benefits namely a noticeable drop in crime and confound a few economists and criminologists along the way.
Until this recent downturn, a bad economy was easy to read: crime and deviant behaviour (think drug dealing, fencing and the like) go up when the economy goes down. But the latest set of police reports across the country doesn't square with past downturns. The underground market, it seems, has been turned on its ear in this recession.
"This is a real break in past patterns," criminologist Richard Rosenfeld told about two dozen economists from around the world who gathered in Stone Mountain, Georgia., this month for the second annual meeting on the "Economics of Risky Behaviours."
More eyes on the street
Across the nation, crime, on the whole, is down considerably, especially property crimes and violent crimes such as robbery. The counterintuitive nature of this recession makes sense when you peel back the layers. Take home burglaries, for instance.
"We assume crime climbs when the economy is down," said Rosenfeld, curators professor of criminology and criminal justice at the University of Missouri in St. Louis. But "during high unemployment, more people are at home and that cuts the rates of burglary."
Additionally, people tend to carry fewer valuables these days, so there are fewer street crimes such as robberies, Rosenfeld added.
The drug trade, which usually grows and flourishes in a recession, has been contained mostly within the groups of people who were already buying and selling drugs. In the past, disputes over drug deals often resulted in murders or other violent crimes. Now, they're contained and rarely reported. After all, who's going to go to the police about a drug deal gone bad?
"The absence of expansion in the drug market could be related to the absences of crime increasing," Rosenfeld said.
Add last year's stimulus money, which extended unemployment benefits and food stamps to millions and helped many communities keep more police on the street, and you get a clearer picture. "That may have cushioned the low-income against the full effects of the economic downturn," Rosenfeld said.
But don't break out the champagne just yet. Rosenfeld cautions that the usual crime wave that accompanies an economic downturn may just be slow in arriving.
"These factors aren't going to continue much longer," he said.
"The latter half of 2010 is going to be the real deciding factor" as to whether the current crime wave hiatus is a fluke or a real trend. ©2010 New York Times News Service
( Tammy Joyner writes for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution .)
FATIMA MEER: ACADEMIC AND ACTIVIST
WRITER AND FORMIDABLE CAMPAIGNER FOR HUMAN RIGHTS IN SOUTH AFRICA.
Fatima Meer, who has died aged 81 after a stroke, was the most formidable female leader of Indian origin in the liberation movement of South Africa. She was an intellectual, academic, writer and activist, but above all a tireless fighter for social justice and human rights. Meer was the first non-white woman to be appointed in a "white" university when she joined the University of Natal as a lecturer in sociology in 1956, and later set up the influential Institute for Black Research there in 1972. Describing her characteristic intervention during an incident of student unrest, one of her students said: "It was an unbelievable sight to see this petite little woman, wrapped in a sari, march in front of a Hippo [an armoured police vehicle] and order it to stop." This typified the moral courage she demonstrated in all her activities, whether it was welfare work or political campaigning. During the race riots of the Cato Manor area of her home town of Durban in 1949, in which black people attacked Indian homes and businesses, she was one of the first to get to the heart of the troubled area with a van full of supplies and baby milk.
Much later, during the Inanda riots of 1985 in which the Gandhi settlement in Phoenix, near Durban, was set on fire, she again found herself a van to save some of Gandhiji's belongings from the burning house. She returned soon after to plan projects to improve conditions for one of the most deprived communities in the area. Whether it was literacy classes in her father's garage, fundraising for flood victims in Bengal, leafletting in the streets of Johannesburg or leading a march against the pass laws that restricted the movements of nonwhite people, her underlying agenda, always, was to fight for equal rights and bring down the apartheid government.
As Winnie Mandela, Meer's close friend, put it: "At a time when most Indian girls were helping their mothers in the kitchen making samosas, this young woman was leading protest marches and challenging the most oppressive system in the world." Meer's Gujrati grandfather, Ismail, had arrived in South Africa as a trader from Surat on the east coast of India in the 1880s. Her father, Moosa Meer, was the editor of Indian Views, a weekly in Urdu and English. Her mother, Ameena, was a white woman originally called Rachel. The Meer household was a mixture of Muslim Gujarati traditions and liberal political activism; Fatima combined the two.
At Dartnell Crescent school, Meer began her political involvement by organising the Students' Passive Resistance Committee to support the struggle against the apartheid regime and made her first public speech at a Natal Indian Congress rally at the age of 17. She was inspired by her paternal uncle, Ahmad Meer, a prominent political figure, and her second cousin Ismail Meer, a law student and NIC leader. Fatima fell in love with Ismail while both were at Witwatersrand University in Johannesburg, where they were contemporaries and friends of Nelson Mandela. She completed her university education in Durban and they were married in 1952. The 50s were a period of intense political activity for Fatima Meer as she fought government decisions such as the pass laws and the Group Areas Act, which segregated communities on racial lines and resulted in large numbers of Indians, including Meer's family, being forcibly evicted from their homes and businesses in areas declared "whites only."
Considered a threat to public order, Meer was banned three times under the Suppression of Communism Act. She was proud to be among the first banned when the powers of the act were widened to cover groups other than communists. Among other restrictions, the banning order stipulated that she could not attend gatherings, make public statements or make contact with other banned persons. She was first banned in 1955 for two years, in 1976 for five years along with Winnie Mandela and again in 1981 for another five years.
Unlike her husband Ismail, who was also banned at the same time, Fatima flouted the orders as much as she could. In 1977 she survived an apparent assassination attempt by apartheid hitmen. In 1976, her son Rashid was forced into exile in London, where he remained for almost 14 years before returning to a postapartheid South Africa, where he died in a car accident in 1995.
Passionate about education, Meer also was involved in a number of schemes and projects to help impoverished Africans gain key skills. A woman of strong convictions, she lived her life with a strong sense of duty. She did things instinctively, spontaneously and passionately; sometimes in the most haphazard manner. A maverick, she refused to join a political party, although both the ANC and NIC claimed her as their own.
She wrote Nelson Mandela's first biography, Higher Than Hope, published in 1988, along with more than 40 books, essays and lectures. Her book on Gandhiji's life, Apprenticeship of a Mahatma, was made into the 1996 film The Making of the Mahatma, for which she wrote the screenplay. Ismail died in 2000. Two daughters, Shamim and Shehnaz, and five grandchildren survive her. © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2010
( Fatima Meer: born: August 12, 1928; died: March 12, 2010.)
Middle and upper class opinion in India has just got wider and better established. Today's war of words will be carried out not just in newspapers and television studios, but also in the cyber world of blogs and tweets. The last few days have seen all forms of media, traditional and new, exploding over the subjects which excite the middle class even temporarily. Among them: the woes and worries of film icon Amitabh Bachchan and his peculiar relationships with the Congress party and Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi. Modi's own riposte on what was happening to Bachchan has also leapfrogged from Twitter to TV and print. The advent of multiple media has changed the nature of action and response in politics and society. Today, you tweet, and someone may react and act on that information. At the other end of the spectrum, a humdrum event may draw an adverse blog comment and set off its own chain of comment, debate, reaction and political development.
Purists will argue that subjects like Bachchan's invitation to the inauguration of half a bridge in Mumbai and the confusion this caused in the Maharashtra Congress are hardly as significant as, for instance, US president Barack Obama's sudden visit to Afghanistan, the twin bomb blasts in Moscow's underground rail system and Indian ships being hijacked off the coast of Somalia. But together with the Gujarat chief minister's defence of Bachchan on his own blog and the questions raised on why Bachchan has associated himself with Gujarat, we have examples of very effective use of cyberspace and its tools by two prominent figures. Their labours have borne fruit.
The battle in China over internet freedom between the authorities and net giant Google is a case in point. Google has exited the country ostensibly because the latter refused to allow interference. This constitutes clear evidence of the importance countries attach to the cyber world and its impact on society. The minister of state for external affairs Shashi Tharoor may have got into trouble with his party bosses for his tweets but he does have over five lakh followers. Similarly, where blogs were once an opportunity for ordinary people to get a chance to air their views, film stars and politicians use them to defend their actions and attack their detractors. Welcome to the brave new world.
ENDING CASTE TYRANNY
Caste may be losing its oppressive edge with urbanisation and modernisation, but it is still a depressing reality once you move away from the big cities. An extreme deformity of this system is the caste court or panchayat, or khap, as it is known in Haryana.
It has continued to function unofficially in many parts of north India and its authority has remained partly unchallenged. They should have been declared illegal a long time ago but for some reason this anachronistic institution has continued to exist in many parts of rural India.
Their social tyranny has become a byword for cruelty and superstition as no one has yet challenged them officially, not even the modern state. Consequently, these caste courts have literally become kangaroo courts, sometimes meting out death sentences and getting them carried out as well.
It was exactly such a caste court which was responsible for the murder of Manoj and Babli, young lovers who got married in defiance of caste convention. They were kidnapped and killed by members of the khap in June, 2007. Justice was done recently when a Karnal sessions court last week convicted seven people for the murder of the young couple.
On Tuesday, death sentences were awarded to five of them, with the sixth one getting a life sentence and the seventh one seven years. It is not just the exemplary harshness of the sentence which will have its own salutary impact that is crucial in the matter. What is more important is that at long last a clear message has gone out that the caste court cannot have a juridical status and cannot punish individuals.
It is not certain that this verdict will end once for all the tyranny of caste elders and the criminal complicity of the rest of the clan in murderous deeds. But the Karnal court has struck a blow for the state, for the justice system and for society in general.
This should put the fear of law in the hearts of caste-minded folk that they cannot impose their views on others and that they cannot commit what is shamelessly called "honour" killings.
Caste tyranny cannot be justified in the name of tradition. Justice, old or new, is based not just on blind custom but on the principle of fairness. Caste courts are merely expressions of old prejudices and tyranny. It is time to stamp them out completely.
BJP'S LOST OPPORTUNITY
S NIHAL SINGH
As Nitin Gadkari approaches his first 100 days as the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) president, his efforts to reinvent the party, to bring it more in tune with the India of the 21st century, and thus make it more electable, must be termed a failure. His attempt to use symbols to denote the change has not succeeded in enthusing the young and has merely confused the party faithful listening to old Bollywood songs he belted at a party meeting.
Gadkari, of course, has an impossible job in changing the persona of the BJP. To begin with, he has the handicap of being the nominee of the party's mentor, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), whose new leadership decided to take the party under its wings in the face of two successive losses in general elections. RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat was betting on the fact that Gadkari's informality, his preference for bush shirts and trousers, rather than the traditional party garb, would help him win new friends and influence people.
But the RSS pitch in elevating him to the party presidency was very much to safeguard the ramparts of the Hindutva creed. The RSS view, and that of a section of the BJP, is that the party's fortunes have taken a nosedive because it has strayed away from the holy grail. The truth is that neither the party nor its mentor has succeeded in marrying Hindutva to the multi-ethnic and multi-religious character of the country.
The demolition of the Babri Masjid was a one-off event preceded by the blood-curdling rhetoric of LK Advani painting the countryside red through his original rathyatra. It led to the first national BJP-led government, despite the hiccups. It was clear to the party and everyone else that it could not play the same card again. Worse still, Advani's expected retirement merely sharpened the contest for the throne.
Bhagwat felt that only a new broom outside the party hierarchy in Delhi was the answer. The new president's first test was the composition of the new BJP executive. The howls of protest that have greeted the list from Bihar are only one part of the story because most party men and women were underwhelmed. He had to make too many compromises and the induction of men such as Varun Gandhi with his baggage of campaign hate speeches and film, theatre and television stars and sports entertainers of the ilk of Navjot Sidhu was a sign of desperation, rather than maturity.
Bhagwat was betting on the fact that a somewhat obscure party functionary with no record of playing parlour politics would help enthuse the party ranks. Judging by the new executive, it seems that Gadkari's lack of experience has led him into making basic mistakes. Squabbles in the BJP for the leader's crown have harmed the party, but it suffers from a deeper malaise of its inability to find a compromise between its hardcore Hindutva beliefs and the compulsions of ruling a heterogenous country.
True, Gadkari has sought to make the definition of Hindutva elastic, as have others before him. The only person who succeeded in doing so up to a point is AB Vajpayee, who took poetic licence in swearing his allegiance to the RSS even while skirting around it.
Where do Gadkari and the BJP go from here? It has lost its self-advertised tag of party with a difference, most recently in the shameful spectacle of the party leadership bowing to the demands of the mining lobby in Karnataka even at the cost of humiliating its chief minister in the only southern state it rules, proving the veracity of the aphorism that "all are naked in the (political) hamam". How then is the BJP to discover the winning formula to return to power in New Delhi after its tantalisingly brief six years?
Perhaps Gadkari now recognises that he has taken on a bigger challenge than he had imagined. The problem is
that the greater control the RSS exercises over the BJP, the more difficult it becomes for the party to sell a sanitised version of Hindutva that does not alarm significantly large sections of the electorate.
Unlike in Vajpayee's case, Gadkari's attempt at a makeover for the party through his dress, behaviour and informality has scored poorly in achieving his objective.
It must also be open to question whether Gadkari's cocking a snook at political morality by elevating a person such as Varun Gandhi in the party's ranks or roping in film, television and theatre stars to enhance the party's popularity is the right key to strike at the beginning of his national leadership career. Well-wishers of the BJP can only hope that Gadkari will learn from his mistakes and change course before it is too late.
WHY FOREIGN BUSINESSES TRIP UP IN CHINA
On Monday, four executives of Anglo-Australian mining giant Rio Tinto were sentenced to harsh jail terms after a Shanghai court found them guilty of accepting bribes from Chinese steel makers and stealing "commercial secrets" during the annual iron ore price negotiations.
The case, which has been criticised for its non-transparent trial and which threatens to roil China's relations with Australia, has drawn sobering attention to the increasing political risk that foreign businesses face as they flock to China and look to ride its economic boom. The arrests in the case were made last year, when a frustrated China found itself unable to leverage its 'commercial clout' as the world's largest consumer of commodities and secure lower benchmark ore prices from the international miners. And even the punishment verdict, it is widely believed, was intended to intimidate foreign miners as well as the fragmented Chinese steel industry, particularly those domestic elements that have resisted consolidation, which would strengthen China's hand at the price negotiations.
The Rio Tinto case isn't the only incident involving the interplay of politics and business where foreign companies have run up against theGreat Wall of China. In other ways too, foreign businesses are learning to their dismay that their investments over the years in (and their assiduous cultivation of) China offer no guarantee that they'll gain access to its famed 'billion-three' market. Having milked foreign companies for their technology, and having built up its domestic industry on the strength of copious foreign direct investments, China is signalling that it can, and will, be picky about whom it patronises. And foreign businesses in China don't feel too welcome.
A recent survey conducted by the American Chamber of Commerce in China found that a growing number of US businesspeople "feel unwelcome" in China owing to "discriminatory government policies" and "inconsistent legal treatment". In particular, they pointed to a new Chinese government regulation that aims to promote 'indigenous innovation' by requiring companies to use domestically developed technology rather than foreign ones. It's true that it's US companies, in particular, that are feeling the chill wind of Chinese discrimination. It's part of the larger story of frictions between the two countries over everything from climate change politics to the undervaluation of the renminbi to US arms sales to Taiwan. But other countries from Europe and Asia too increasingly find themselves being shut out of the marketplace. Indian companies have long been hankering for greater access to the Chinese market in four areas IT products, pharmaceuticals, engineering goods and services, agriculture and meat products they've had little luck so far.
The irony is that although the recent experience of foreign companies in China, particularly Rio Tinto and search engine giant Google, should perhaps serve as a cautionary tale to others overseas, the flood of foreign direct investment into China continues. And for all their moaning and groaning, even the foreign businesses now operating in China who complain of discrimination aren't willing to walk away.
The only exception, of course, is Google, which last week redirected its web search function on the mainland to its Hong Kong servers, and ended its self-censorship of web content.Given that Google is in the information business, and its brand equity elsewhere was being tarnished by its yielding to Chinese demands for self-censorship, and it was slipping further into the slough of censorship, it could afford to walk. Faced with a similar choice between having to shut up or ship out, other foreign businesses might still prefer to shut up, in anticipation of the potential rewards from a 'billion-three' market.
THEY HAD IT COMING
"HONOUR" KILLERS DESERVE NO MERCY
Given the general sentiments against capital punishment, it is given in the rarest of rare cases. The brutal murder of Manoj and Babli by their relatives and community members in 2007 on the diktats of a self-styled community panchayat (khap) for marrying in the same gotra (sub-caste), indeed fell in that category and forced a Karnal court on Tuesday to sentence five of the seven convicts to death. While one of them has been sentenced to life imprisonment, the seventh convict, accused of abduction, has been sentenced to seven years in jail. How well entrenched the khap panchayats and those who owe allegiance to them are can be gauged from the fact that this was the first case in the state in which the affected family decided to seek justice against the illegal diktat. The death sentence will presumably put the fear of law in the minds of those who think that women are no more than dumb cattle, who must live, marry and die the way menfolk want them to. Such medieval prejudices have been strengthened by the totally illegal but powerful kangaroo courts which not only boycott the "offenders" or force them to live as siblings but also kill them, as it happened in the case of Manoj and Babli of Karoran village near Kaithal.
Those who actually kidnapped the couple and eliminated them have been punished. But what about those who aided and abetted the crime? They too are equally responsible for the inhuman crimes that take place at the bidding of khap panchayats. Everyone from the courts to the Home Minister of the country has spoken strongly against their excesses but nothing much has changed on the ground.
The reason is simple. Politicians see in khap panchayats a dependable political tool and vote bank. And the policemen, most of them coming from the same milieu where a boy and girl from the same village are forbidden from marrying, are also averse to coming to the aid of those who defy the self-styled keepers of public morality. When these two join hands, they simply play havoc. It is heartening that finally the noose is tightening around the neck of such forces.
N-DEAL: ANOTHER HURDLE GOES
FOCUS NOW SHIFTS TO LIABILITY BILL
With the finalisation of the spent nuclear fuel reprocessing agreement between India and the US, the nuclear deal clinched by the two countries in September 2008 has crossed another major hurdle on its way to bearing fruit. Now India will be allowed to reprocess the US-supplied enriched uranium in two facilities to be set up in this country. The two nuclear plants will operate in line with International Atomic Energy Agency procedures, and India will be in a position to make additions and alterations if it so desires. It would have been in the interest of both countries if India could get more than two plants on a "stand alone" basis, but the Barack Obama administration had its reservations. However, India has been given some concession so far as the clause for halting the reprocessing of the US-origin spent fuel is concerned. The new agreement empowers the US to suspend all the arrangements made under the Indo-US nuclear deal only if there is a threat to the physical security of the plants or to US national security. This is almost as India wanted "under exceptional circumstances".
Now the ball is in India's court. It has to get the Civil Liability for Nuclear Damages Bill passed by Parliament so that there is no hurdle for US firms to invest in the country's nuclear energy sector. This will lead to not only the creation of a large number of jobs primarily for Indians but also a substantial increase in nuclear power generation to meet the country's fast rising power demand. The introduction of the Bill during the budget session of the Lok Sabha had to be deferred owing to sharp differences between the government and the Opposition over the capping of the liability of the operating firm at Rs500 crore in the event of an accident affecting civilians. Hopefully, the differences will be sorted out by the two sides so that the country can have the law essential for the entry of foreign nuclear firms in India.
India and the US deciding to sign the spent nuclear fuel reprocessing accord without much difficulty shows that Washington remains committed to allowing the historic civilian nuclear deal to bring about the intended results. The new high in India-US strategic partnership should now lead to the transfer of high nuclear technologies to this country as envisaged in the deal.
SONIA BACK IN NAC
SIGN OF REASSERTION OF HER AUTHORITY
Congress President Sonia Gandhi's appointment to the National Advisory Council (NAC) as its chairperson not only suggests her reassertion of authority in the party and the government but also the United Progressive Alliance government's desire to monitor social sector reforms at various levels. Mrs Gandhi had left the NAC in March 2006 after the Opposition accused her of violating the rule that MPs must not hold offices of profit during their tenure. Parliament amended the office of profit law to exempt 55 offices, including the NAC chairperson's. However, Mrs Gandhi refused to return to the NAC. She quit her Lok Sabha membership and got re-elected from Rae Bareli. Subsequently, the NAC, once regarded as a "super government", also lost its lustre though its term expired only on March 31, 2008. After the Supreme Court upheld the Parliament (Prevention of Disqualification) Act, 2006, in August 2009, the Congress mooted the NAC's resurrection.
The NAC acted as an effective interface with the civil society in regard to the implementation of the Centre's National Common Minimum Programmed (NCMP). It comprised distinguished professionals drawn from diverse fields of development activity such as Aruna Roy, Jean Dreze, C.H. Hanumantha Rao and N.C. Saxena. Through the NAC, the government had access to their expertise and to a larger network of research organisations, NGOs and social action and advocacy groups. It made recommendations to the Centre and provided feedback on the impact of action initiated in various sectors.
The NAC had played a notable role in the enactment of the Right to Information Act, the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (NREGS) and the Rs 70,000-crore loan waiver scheme for farmers. In its new avatar, it is poised for a bigger role because Mrs Gandhi is said to be keen on monitoring the Congress' big ticket programmes like the Food Security Bill, the Right to Education Act, the NREGS expansion and major schemes on health and water. The BJP's charge that Mrs Gandhi's position in the NAC had undermined the Prime Minister's authority may seem exaggerated. However, one cannot rule out the possibility of growing tension between the party and the government which needs to be avoided.
THE INDIA-BHARAT DIVIDE
THERE IS A LOT TO LEARN FROM BRAZIL
BY ASH NARAIN ROY
The rise of "Chindia" has forced the centre of the world to move to the East. However, the world largely views China's rise as a threat and India's as a wonderful success story. Thanks to democracy, so goes the argument, India produces the largest dollar-billionaires as also slumdog millionaires. As the world moves closer to the deadline for achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MGDs), India, a nation of billion aspirations, faces millions of problems. And yet, despite the many loopholes and leakages, the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA) and a plethora of Central schemes have begun to change the face of rural India. Now the Right to Food Act, independent India's biggest, boldest effort to free the nation of hunger is about to be introduced.
Prof Amartya Sen has applauded the Manmohan Singh government's move as a "step in the right direction". At the same time, he has advised the government to make sure that the facilities reach the poor. As celebrated American journalist James Reston famously said, "A government is the only known vessel that leaks from the top." More so in India where many revolutionary steps have floundered owing to the corrupt, inefficient and highly bureaucratic state machinery.
Reaching the goals of MDGs depends largely on India's and China's success. NREGA gives out hope despite its many limitations. A revolutionary step, it has added substantially to the purchasing power of the rural populace. It is slowly becoming a powerful mechanism for helping poor communities to invest in building durable assets and to generate employment. The flagship programme has got the thumbs up from the ILO which said that had it not been for the scheme, the labour class in India would have been badly hit by the recession. Nevertheless, NREGA is still far from becoming transformative.
Now that the Food Security Bill is on the anvil, there is a lot that India can learn from the Zero Hunger Programme of President Lula of Brazil.
The Fome Zero or Zero Hunger programme was launched on the very first day President Luiz Inacio da Silva, popularly known as Lula, assumed office in 2003. Inspired by the UN Millennium Development Goals, Lula's flagship programme placed primary importance on reducing hunger, malnutrition and extreme poverty.
At the core of the programme is Bolsa Familia (Family Purse). It is the largest income transfer programme in the world, providing cash assistance and benefits to 12 million poor families. The emphasis is on giving cash directly to mothers and female heads of households as mothers are considered more zealous in controlling family resources.
However, the beneficiaries must show children's school attendance and use of health cards and other social services. The programme allots about $ 55 a month to poor families on the condition that their children go to school, and distributes food to some 37 million children while they are at school. Some 12.4 million families are part of the Family Purse programme.
Brazil is a country of sharp economic and social contrasts, even more than India. It is simultaneously the most developed and the poorest country in Latin America. It has been for long one of the world's most unequal societies: from the Manhattan-style skyscrapers of Sao Paulo's financial district to the grinding poverty of the parts of the north-east. In Morumbi, the affluent neighbourhood of Sao Paulo, there are some of the most magnificent houses in the world. And yet, even in a city of Rio de Janeiro a large chunk of population lives in favelas (slums), many under sub-human conditions.
Lula's revolution has sought to change that and the results are there for all to see. When Lula took over, he
realised Brazil was not an underdeveloped country; it was an unjust country. While Brazil still faces major challenges, as per FAO estimates, malnutrition has been reduced by 73 per cent in the last six years. It has also managed to reduce infant mortality by 45 per cent in the same period. This has been achieved through food banks, community kitchens, school meals from local ingredients and support for small farmers. Between 2003 and 2008, the proportion of people living in poverty has come down from 28 per cent to 16 per cent.
The Brazilian model has several ingredients. First, it is the result of excellent coordination between the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Social Development. Many of our programmes in India suffer from the lack of coordination. In early 2009, while attending a meeting organized by the Ministry of Panchayati Raj with the visiting Afghan delegation in Shastri Bhawan, I was stunned by the reaction of a senior ministry official in response to a request from the Afghan minister to meet officials of the Rural Development Ministry. He flatly told the delegation, "You may have to directly request the ministry. Here we deal only with the Panchayati Raj."
Second, it is an excellent example of a combination of public-private partnership, international support and governmental contributions. Third, Lula's success owes a lot to his ability to get the Family Purse programme coordinated among the federal, state and local governments.
Many people were skeptical about Lula's initiative initially. Lula ensured that the Family Purse did not remain a one-off programme. He combined emergency measures with structural changes, like family agriculture programmes, agrarian reform and initiatives to educate families about nutrition, something that had never been done in Latin America. He launched dozens of programmes under the zero hunger banner that targeted clean water and electricity supplies, among others.
The northeast region in Brazil is the poorest and has the highest rates of illiteracy. Interestingly, 88 per cent of the beneficiaries who learned to read and write were from the same region. Lula has reasons to take credit for ensuring that the programme reaches the intended beneficiaries in regions that need utmost attention.
Several African countries like Mozambique, Guinea-Bissau, Ghana, Nigeria and Zambia have begun to replicate aspects of the Brazilian model. In North Africa, some of the countries have largely relied on price-distorting food subsidies for their social safety nets. Many argue if countries fighting hunger and malnutrition could switch to a conditional cash transfer model like Brazil's, things could improve. India too has for long depended on the subsidies model. Will the conditional cash transfer model like Brazil's be a success?
India's stakes are high. If India is to acquire global power status, it cannot afford any further widening of the India-Bharat divide. The robust economic growth and several Central schemes have lifted millions out of poverty. But our gains are still modest. At times, we seem to be trying to eradicate cancer cells with a blow torch.
The writer is Associate Director, Institute of Social Sciences, Delhi.
BY HARISH DHILLON
Years ago I read a Ronald Dahl story where a dealer in antique furniture, masquerading as a parson, scouts old farmhouses for neglected, forgotten pieces of antique furniture. He meets with spectacular success and uses his ingenuity to reaffirm, in the farmer's mind, that his possession is a piece of useless junk. Having done this he buys off the piece at one tenth of what he will sell it for.
Then, inevitably, he overdoes his smartness. He finds a genuine Chippendale commode. He convinces the owner that it is a crude, modern reproduction and that he is only interested in the legs to be used for a coffee table. A deal is struck for a very small fraction of the real value.
The dealer, his heart bursting with excitement, rushes off to bring his van around. In the meantime the owner is assailed by doubts. A parson would be driving a car too small to take such a large piece of furniture. Once he realises this, he would back off from the deal. Since it was only the legs he was interested in, the farmer chops off the legs to ensure there is no backing off.
I felt that the parson's inordinate greed had called divine retribution upon him. With this feeling I should have learnt to control my own greed. But I am ashamed to admit that in a similar situation I behaved in exactly the same way.
I found an old portrait in a junk shop, covered with green fungus. Yet, enough of the face was visible to show that it was a superb work of art. The dealer, noticing my interest, launched into the usual sales talk: "Its an original oil painting, more than a hundred years old".
"Painting?" I cut in, "What painting? It is in such a bad condition; it is absolutely useless. I only want the frame for a mirror."
After some haggling a ridiculously low price was settled upon. Since I was travelling by train, he agreed to send it to my sister's place, who would bring it up later. The next day my sister rang up. "What did you want that dilapidated frame for?"
"For what is inside it."
"But there is nothing inside it". My heart missed a beat but my mind raced.
"Can you ask him what he has done with the painting?"
The answer came five minutes later. "He says you told him it was useless. His daughter has just started painting lessons and he has given her the canvas to practice upon."
Fortunately my story had a happy ending. I made a dash to Delhi, recovered the canvas while the coat of white paint, which the girl had put on it, was not quite dry, paying him the price he had originally asked for.
Six months later, fully restored, the splendid portrait of Salar Jung II hangs in my living room, a constant reminder of what might have happened because of my inordinate greed.
AN UNEQUAL FIGHT
J AND K GRAPPLES WITH JOB RESERVATIONS
BY DINESH MANHOTRA
While introducing a Bill in the Legislative Assembly on February 28, 2009, to ban inter-district recruitment in the State, Chief Minister Omar Abdullah, perhaps, had no idea that this issue would snowball into a big political controversy and that he would have to plead before Sonia Gandhi to find a way out.
Both the coalition partners the National Conference and the Congress have divergent views on the issue. The National Conference advocates that the Bill should be tabled in the Assembly but the Congress opposes the Bill in its present form.
If passed into a law the Bill would jeopardise the interests of weaker sections, especially the Scheduled Castes (SCs), as the SC candidates would be allowed to apply for the reserved posts only in their own districts.
According to the existing rules, any person who is a state subject is eligible to apply for any government post anywhere in the state.
The issue was first raised in 2007 when some MLAs demanded that inter-district recruitment should be banned as candidates from the educationally advanced districts take away jobs at the cost of candidates from the backward districts.
As the Supreme Court had already upheld the verdict of the J&K High Court against banning inter-district recruitment, the then Chief Minister, Ghulam Nabi Azad, had announced in the Assembly on January 15, 2007, that the government would amend the Constitution for imposing the ban and a Bill in this regard would be introduced in
Azad, however, could not introduce the Bill during his tenure. Omar Abdullah introduced the same Bill in the Assembly on February 28, 2009
The Bill intends to amend the present recruitment rules which deals with reservations. Clause 6 of the recruitment rules makes it clear that a person is eligible for appointment to a district cadre post only if he/she is a permanent resident of the State and also a resident of the district concerned.
As the population of the Scheduled Castes is almost negligible in 12 of the 22 districts, leaders of this section term the Bill as an attempt to jeopardise interests of the weaker sections because they can apply for the reserved posts in only 10 districts and the reserved posts in the remaining 12 districts would automatically lapse due to the unavailability of SC candidates.
Keeping in view the pressure of the SC leaders, the government referred the Bill to a select committee of legislators on March 9, 2009. The committee, headed by Finance Minister Abdul Rahim Rather, has submitted its report.
Those advocating a ban on inter-district recruitment demand that the Bill should be tabled in the House for discussion and voting.
The Congress leadership feels that since the Bill in the present form would harm the interests of the SCs, a consensus should be evolved.
"The Bill in its present form is contradictory to the mandate of the Supreme Court and against the reservation rules in the Constitution", observes B S Slathia, a former president of the Bar Association of Jammu.
Legislator Murtaza Khan argues that a provision for reservations should be made in the Bill for the SCs as per their population in different parts of the State. Abdul Haq, who is spearheading the agitation to ban inter-district recruitment, says that reservations should be given to the people as per their population.
Engineer Abdul Rashid, who also supports the ban, suggests that the reserved categories should be left out of the Bill and a ban be imposed on posts of the open category.
The trouble over recruitment is the result of unequal and unbalanced development in the State since 1947. Some areas of Jammu and Kashmir have remained backward even after six decades of Independence and inhabitants of these socially and educationally backward areas find it difficult to compete with candidates of the educationally advanced districts of Jammu and Srinagar.
ARMY CAN'T DO WITHOUT 'SAHAYAKS'
BY COL PRITAM BHULLAR (RETD)
THE Parliamentary Standing Committee on Defence asked the Army the other day to abolish the "colonial" practice of employing jawans as "sahayaks" of officers as it felt that this system was "demeaning and humiliating".
In reply to the committee's suggestion, the Ministry of Defence (MOD) has said that a sahayak is "a comrade- in-arms" to an officer. The Army has reacted to this suggestion by issuing instructions to its units to ensure that combatant soldiers are not employed on jobs that are not in conformity with the dignity and self-respect of a soldier.
Employing "sahayaks" is not a "colonial" practice as all armies in the world have combatant soldiers as batmen integral to the organisations of their units. Sahayak is a Hindi version of batman.
The MOD has rightly said that a sahayak (batman) is a comrade-in-arms to an officer. His duties are to ensure that an officer's dresses are kept ready and laid out for all appropriate occasions, for instance, P.T. dress, uniform, mess dress, etc.
In war, he carries the radio set of the officer/JCO he is employed with apart from being with him in the thick and thin of war.
In other worlds, he is a buddy of the officer/JCO he is working with. This relationship is life-long and does not end with the retirement of the officer and his sahayak.
During his visit to India in February 1968, Lieut-Gen Sir Reginald Savory recorded about his relationship with his old batman thus: "I joined the 14th Sikh 54 years ago in 1914 when I was just 20 years old. Only this morning (February 8) Lance Naik Bhola Singh of the 14th Sikh, who had been wounded in Gallipoli in 1915, took the trouble to come all the way from his home to call upon me; and after 52 years we saw each other again. Now he is 'chitti dahri walla' and I am old and bald; but although we both have grown so much older, yet our affection for each other and our mutual pride in our Regiment stays as young as ever. Long may this continue."
While asking the Army to shed the batman system, the Parliamentary Committee seems to have totally forgotten that the Army is meant to fight a war; therefore, all its establishments are designed to cater to war-like situations.
Most of the time the units are in field areas where they cannot employ civilian manpower for security reasons.
There is no doubt that some officers employ sahayaks on jobs which are below the dignity of a soldier. Rather than discarding the sahayak system for this reason, such officers should be taken to task to stop this unethical practice.
There is no system or rule that is not being misused or abused in this country today. If we start discarding/abolishing systems or rules for this reason, then no system will remain intact.
Incidentally, the sahayak system is not only prevalent in the Army but is also in vogue in the paramilitary and police forces. In most police forces its misuse is well-known to the public. A lot of manpower of the police is used even by retired officers in the name of security.
In the days of yore, one could not even think of using a batman on a duty, which was below the dignity of a soldier, leave alone doing so. But then what one should not forget is that in those days, the officers, by and large, came from a different background.
Why talk of this, see the number of corruption cases among the senior officers today. We never heard of a senior officer being involved in a disciplinary case in the olden days. But today when all other organisations in the country have deteriorated in standards, how could the Army having the same countrymen remain unaffected?
There should be no question of abolishing the sahayak system as it is integral to the Army and its necessity remains beyond any doubt. The senior officers, however, must ensure that neither do they misuse sahayaks nor they allow their subordinates to do so.
What all officers need to remember is that besides professional competence, the only other secret to command men with dignity and respect is to hold them in high esteem.
The Supreme Court delivered three verdicts last week expressing serious concern over the misuse of the legal provisions for filing public interest litigation (PIL) and special leave petitions (SLPs).
An apex court Bench even went to the extent of suggesting the setting up of a Constitution Bench for drawing up guidelines to minimise the scope of SLPs, which were primarily responsible for as many as 70,000 cases being filed in 2009 alone.
While the Canadian SC hears only 60 cases every year and its US counterpart handles just two times of this number, the apex court of India is burdened with 55,000 pending cases at present.
Another Bench felt that litigants were unnecessarily resorting to Article 32 of the Constitution which guaranteed fundamental rights. In some cases, this provision was misused even for challenging the decisions of the courts below and tribunals.
Yet another Bench opined that the SC and HCs had no power to order probes into allegations of corruption against politicians. All this have had the lawyers worrying as less cases mean less income.
Vaidya's bitter pill
Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS) ideologue MG Vaidya was at his preachy best the other day when he built the thesis of Hindutva being a way of life and not a religion.
With BJP president Nitin Gadkari by his side, the Sangh veteran set out by making clear as to who the boss was.
"Mera naam Vaidya hai kuchh dawaein kadvi bhi hongi (My name is Vaidya. Some medicines will be bitter)", he said before slamming the BJP for thinking of dissociating itself from the RSS post-Lok Sabha election defeat last year.
Pointing to Gadkari the RSS choice Vaidya promised hope for the future. Both leaders, in fact, spoke in peculiarly similar tones on Hindutva, stressing its pan-Indian strain. Vaidya went out of his way to argue that the BJP was the most committed among the parties to the Women's Reservation Bill.
"Hinduism is the only religion that makes space for female gods. Is it not?" he asked, illustrating Hindutva's universal nature using three words Dharamshala, Dharamkanta and Raj-dharma.
"Is Dharamshala meant only for the Hindus and not the Muslims? What does a Dharamkanta weigh? Is Rajdharma meant only for the king and not the subjects?" For a while, Vaidya had the audience thinking.
Separatist Kashmiri leaders came in full strength for the celebrations of the Pakistan National Day at the
Pakistani mission in New Delhi last week.
Even as Pakistan High Commissioner Shahid Malik and his senior colleagues personally received moderates
and hardliners of the Hurriyat factions as well as JKLF chief Yasin Malik, the Kashmiri leaders avoided even eye contact with one another.
Even on the dinner tables, they sat separately with their respective supporters, relishing 'kababs' and other Mughlai dishes.
One photo journalist, who wanted to capture the separatist leaders together in his frame, was quite disappointed as they just would not give him an opportunity to do so. Ultimately, he left the venue with a one-liner: "They can't even sit together and they talk of uniting Kashmir."
Contributed by: R. Sedhuraman, Aditi Tandon & Ashok Tuteja
YOU MAY NOT LIKE IT
VIHIRAFFECTS YOU ONLY IF YOU CAN PARTICIPATE IN ITS MUSINGS ON WHAT CONSTITUTES LIFE
You don't come out of a show of Umesh Kulkarni's national award-winning film Vihir saying I enjoyed that. You come out in silence, unable to separate yourself immediately from the internal turmoil of the young boy, Samir whose pain you've just shared. He's on his way home after a long journey undertaken to come to terms with his beloved cousin, Nachiket's death. It has been a journey of escape, experience, understanding and healing.
Nachiket is not an empty name. It is the name of the boy from Kathopanishad who is sent to Yama by his father and will not leave till the god has enlightened him on the nature of death and the after-life (if there is one). Kulkarni's Nachiket also dreams obsessively about becoming invisible, about escaping from his earth-bound life to some place far away. Inevitably he chooses death to fulfill his longings, leaving his cousin Samir feeling totally abandoned. Nachiket has gone to a place where Samir can't follow; he must therefore find another way to get back in touch with him.
The film affects you only if you can participate in this slow unfolding of Samir's consciousness about what constitutes life and how life connects with, and includes death.
Unlike the first half of the film which chatters incessantly, the second half is practically silent. The focus has shifted from the family and the wedding to the conflict in Samir's mind. If you can't follow the film into that space, you will ask, as several women eating popcorn did in the show I saw, "What's going on?" Filmgoers, used to having their food chewed for them before being spoon-fed, have no interest in tangling themselves with questions of life and death. In their minds these questions belong to a compartment marked "spiritual". Films belong to a compartment marked, "entertainment".
That is why the audience finds the first half of the film mildly entertaining. They know what's going on. There are recognisable people here, people like us, chattering about everyday things. There's a drunk uncle upstairs, the stereotypical black sheep of big families. There's an old woman in a corner living in past times. There's a new born babe to balance the old woman, demonstrating that life goes on. Thankfully, it is a silent babe. Given an unstoppable mother who screeches baby talk at him through the day, it sees wisdom in holding its peace.
For me, the big flaw in Vihir is the uniformly high volume of human voices. The voice-overs for the initial exchange of letters between Samir and Nachiket, anticipating their meeting in the family wada in Pandharpur for a young aunt's wedding, are loud and unmodulated. They destroy the sense of privacy that attends the writing and reading of letters. The wada is shot to explore the separations and interconnectedness of its spaces; but the human voices are often fore-grounded, destroying the effect of the visuals. A young girl bursts into song. It is unaccompanied by musical instruments, because the idea is to convince us that it is she, not some playback singer who is singing. But while her talking voice belongs to the acoustic space of the open air; her song belongs to the acoustic space of a studio. Such things matter in a film that strains to be realistic.
However, what makes the film a haunting experience, apart from the story, are Kulkarni's stunning locations, luminously shot by Sudhir Palsane. Whether it's the wada or the river, the hills, quarry or the well, they stay with you long after the human voices have faded. What also stays, are the sounds of water which pervade the film. Drops from a leaking roof fall into a metal vessel; the rain comes crashing down; there's a placid, indifferent river, a swimming pool, and, over and over again, the echoing splash of young bodies jumping into the well. Water is life, water is death.
THE REAL IRAQI FREEDOM
US MUST NOW BE JUST A FRIENDLY FACILITATOR
The easy conclusion that some in the United States may draw from the recent elections in Iraq is that George W Bush's 2003 invasion of that oil-rich country has been justified. The lessons that the country should take away are more complex than that. The fragmented verdict from elections underwritten by American security certainly indicates a healthy emerging plurality that Iraq has lacked for decades. To be sure, the situation is delicately poised among the rival communities for power Shia, Sunni and Kurds and the options before the Iraqi people scarcely look appetising right now. The rival contenders for prime ministership are neither popular nor have they stood out as beacons of good governance in the past. Ayad Allawi, a former US-backed Sunni prime minister, has emerged with 91 seats against his rival and incumbent Prime Minister Nuri Kamal Al-Maliki's Shi-ite coalition with 89 seats in a 325-seat Council of Representatives. That leaves both contenders with the prospect of negotiating for the requisite 163-seat majority with a host of other smaller parties, none of whom are natural allies. Among them are the Iraqi National Alliance partly led by the hard-line Shi-ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr with 70 seats and the nationalist Kurdish party with 43 seats. Much horse-trading is expected not unlike government-formation in India since the nineties and the result is by no means certain. Still, the uncertainty of the verdict suggests that rigging has been minimal though the rivals beg to differ and, therefore, marks a great leap forward from Saddam Hussein's Sunni-dominated Ba'ath Party dictatorship, which curbed Shia and Kurdish aspirations brutally enough to create a vicious period of instability after his death.
There is no doubt that Iraq is likely to see the kind of political flux that tempts super-power intervention, especially given its continued engagement in that country (troops will exit only in 2013). The US should avoid the understandably strong temptation to influence the outcome. One is the simple lesson of history. If US interventions from Vietnam to Nicaragua and Afghanistan have demonstrated anything it is that, however troublesome, democratic impulses need to work themselves through society and systems to endure. This has been the history of Europe, the US, south-east Asia and, not least, India. Iraq, a rag-tag creation of a post World War I nudge-and-wink agreement between Britain and France after the Turkish empire fell, is no different. Its status as a republic was the result of a military coup against a British-imposed monarchy that brought Saddam Hussein to power. If Saddam endured in his labyrinth for 24 years, it was because he enjoyed staunch US support for at least 20 of them as a counter-balance to a radically anti-American Iran. Without that, it is worth questioning how long he would have stayed in power, whether the deaths of over 100,000 Iraqis and 4,300 US soldiers in Operation Iraqi Freedom are worth today's turmoil or how the cause of greater American security the ostensible reason for the war has been served. Playing the role of friendly facilitator, as the US has done under General Odierno, is the best favour the US can do Iraq and itself.
CARBON TAX IS NO MORE THAN A NON-TARIFF BARRIER
The attempt by the European Union (EU) and the US to link international trade with environment protection through some kind of a pollution tax on imports from the countries not obliged to undertake binding emission reductions seems a sinister protectionist move that will be detrimental to both these important causes. While the US House of Representatives has already passed a Bill that allows import taxes on goods from countries that do not have statutory curbs on greenhouse gas emissions, the EU has, on several occasions, considered such a proposal but without a final call on it. The proponents of this concept, led by France, justify it on the plea that it would create a level playing field between polluting developing countries (read India, China and the like) and the developed countries that have accepted emission cuts under the Kyoto protocol on climate change. Fortunately, some of the member countries of the EU itself have so far been resisting this move, considering it to be a new form of eco-imperialism. But how long they can prevent this from becoming a reality is difficult to visualise. As it is, the EU is on its way to mixing environment and commerce by imposing another kind of extra-territorial carbon tax from 2012, in the form of pollution credits on all airlines arriving in or leaving from European airports. This will net substantial revenues for the exchequers of several countries, especially those with busy airports, such as Britain and Germany, but without any environmental benefit.
India and other developing countries must challenge this ill-conceived carbon tax at the World Trade Organisation (WTO). Such trade barriers, being inimical to the promotion of free and fair global commerce, are unlikely to be WTO-compatible. Fortunately, India will not be alone in resisting this move. Some other emerging economies, such as China and Brazil, which are also likely to be affected by it, will surely resist this move. In fact, China has more at stake than any other developing country, because of its higher volume of exports to both the US and the EU. In India, the exports of items such as iron, aluminium, cement and chemicals can potentially get affected by a carbon levy. The idea of a carbon-based import tariff is condemnable also because it is based on a pretext which is not well-founded. The developing countries may be exempt from targeted emission reductions under the Kyoto accord, but that does not mean that they are unmindful of their duty to safeguard the environment. Most of them have voluntarily opted for measures to curtail environmental damage. India, on its part, has decided to reduce its carbon emissions by 20-25 per cent by 2020. Rather then strengthening the argument in favour of unilateral measures to reduce carbon emissions, such non-tariff barriers imposed by developed economies are bound to weaken the environmentalist's cause, with domestic political resistance building up.
WHAT FOOD COUPONS CAN AND CANNOT DO
VOUCHERS HAVE SOME BUT NOT ALL THE ANSWERS TO CURRENT ILLS
Vouchers or coupons have long been a favourite of hard headed liberal economists with a soft corner for the poor. The idea is to deliver benefits directly to the poor, thereby eliminating unintended beneficiaries, while using the market mechanism; cut the costs of an inefficient public delivery system; and allow the poor some choice by letting them shop around with their benefit payments. Thus school vouchers can let a parent send her child to a school of her choice and not to a poorly run state school. Unsurprisingly, public sector trade unions and leftists generally have opposed vouchers.
The government now seems to have bought into the idea. A beginning can be made with food vouchers which will skirt the inefficient and leaky public distribution system and vouchers to poor farmers to buy fertilisers may follow. To make the system easy to run and vouchers popular, it has been suggested that beneficiaries be allowed to sell them. So someone with food vouchers should be able to sell some or all of them to buy what he likes. Whether the buyer should be able to use the coupon to only buy food is moot as policing such a restriction will be difficult.
How do the odds stack up for and against vouchers in today's India? Vouchers which can be sold should be extinguished as soon as possible carry an early expiry date. Otherwise there will be an ocean of vouchers circulating as a parallel currency system. This brings us to the most important downside, the chance of counterfeiting of vouchers. To make that difficult they have to be designed with security features which will raise the cost of producing them. In a country where there has been a major forgery of stamped paper, the issue of counterfeiting, within the country or in its neighbourhood, should not be underestimated.
Beginning with food vouchers has been proposed presumably because that's where subsidy really counts and offers a route to quick acceptance and popularity. But many of the problems in running a voucher system can be avoided if vouchers cannot be sold and are issued for one-time use, like paying school fees. Only a school will be able to redeem them. This will be like a pilot, allowing the idea to be tested and lowering the chances of abuse, before expanding the scope. But while small means manageable, it also reduces scale and usefulness. For example, school vouchers will be no good for parents in remote areas where there is little choice but to send children to a state school. But such vouchers in urban and semi-urban areas, which have a fair share of the poor, can go a long way in putting on notice government schools whose lack of accountability has been hugely frustrating.
Vouchers to poor farmers to buy fertilisers can go a long way in helping them and not also rich farmers and fertiliser companies. Gold plating by the latter, which would mean Indian fertiliser factory managers are global leaders in running plants, has been long recognised as a way in which fertiliser producers manage to benefit from a scheme meant to help farmers.
Food subsidy is misused in two ways. One is when food with a fair price shop is sold by its owner in the open market at a higher price than what ration card holders would pay. Two, when someone who is ineligible to hold a 'below poverty line' (BPL) ration card as he falls in a higher income bracket, does so and benefits from the subsidy. Vouchers can curb the scope of malpractice by ration shop owners but not by the ineligible holders of BPL cards.
The whole issue of properly targeting subsidies will get a boost when the unique identification authority starts issuing identification numbers and biometric cards follow. One, this will greatly reduce the scope for misrepresentation. Ration shop owners who now routinely sell in the open market the rations not bought by some card holders will, in the UID era, find it more difficult to falsify records. Two, if food subsidy is loaded on to smart cards which are charged via point of sale devices at ration shops when a person buys rations, the scope of leakage will go down even further.
But UID numbers are expected to go with the holders of such IDs being able to open and operate no-frill bank accounts. It will then be possible to pay any and every kind of subsidy into these accounts and the need to issue vouchers which can be sold will disappear. So even if the government starts issuing vouchers which can be sold, a fairly early sunset will be written into them because of new technology clearly on the horizon. But even then the problem of someone misrepresenting his income will remain. Thus, vouchers have some but not all the answers to current ills.
A CARNEGIE PAPER ESTIMATES INDIA'S GDP WILL GROW AT 5.9% P.A. TILL 2050, COMPARED TO CHINA'S 5.6%
It is tempting to speculate what the future holds for India a hundred years post-independence, i.e., by around the mid-point of the 21st century. As it happens, a February 2010 Carnegie Endowment paper titled The World Order in 2050, by Uri Dadush and Bennett Stancil, has made long-term GDP projections for the G-20 countries (available as a working draft at www.carnegieendowment.org/publications).
The principal conclusions of the study are that by 2050: (a) China, USA and India will be the three leading economies in that order, with the EU as the fourth-largest economy if its members function as a group; (b) investment rates will be higher in developing countries as compared to industrialised countries and technology will play a more crucial role than capital accumulation; (c) western countries will continue to be the richest nations in terms of per capita income; and (d) absolute poverty will persist in limited areas in sub-Saharan Africa and India. According to the paper, its GDP projections are subject to the following risk factors: (a) nuclear confrontation: (b) unmitigated rise in carbon emissions; (c) a breakdown in global economic governance; and (d) protectionism.
Of course, such long-term growth projections can be substantially off-target if there are minor deviations from the underlying assumptions. For instance, investment rates may be lower and wages in developing countries may rise faster than anticipated. However, this study should not be categorised as an exercise in self-indulgence. It provides trend growth rates for the G20 economies and serves to flag where the world is headed, absent cross-border or country-specific perturbations.
The paper is consistent with the understanding that 2008 was a watershed year, when the world recognised the extent to which country economic weights had shifted. This was acknowledged by the elevation of the G-20 grouping to the Summit level in November 2008. As evident in the last 18 months, the capacity of large developing countries such as India, China and Brazil to weather the downturn in G7 economies has come as a surprise even to themselves. Concurrently, as some countries were compelled to replace private debt with increasing amounts of government liabilities, there are incipient signs of disquiet at the pace at which country economic weights are changing. The pendulum of economic growth is swinging towards large-young-population developing nations. It remains to be seen if the world can manage this correction without a rise in protectionist measures and political differences. It is conceivable that decision-making elites concerned about changes in country economic standings may consciously prefer the low growth scenario of Table II.
Obviously, India cannot be complacent, since higher growth rates cannot be sustained if there are systemic supply constraints caused by inadequate infrastructure, inefficient agriculture and shortage of skilled human resources. We will need to stay focussed on maintaining internal security along with enhancing transparency in land acquisition and licensing of mining. At the same time, political capital has to be expended on pushing reforms in labour laws, energy pricing and banking, as indicated by Shankar Acharya in the 25 March edition of the Business Standard.
The Carnegie study projects that even in 2050 about 4 per cent of India's population would be living on less than $2 a day. The comparable number for China would be 2 per cent of its population. It follows that we need to pay targeted attention to increasing employment opportunities. We will also need to provide for those living at the margins of our urban agglomerates, since a much higher proportion of our population will be located in urban areas by 2050.
On a separate note, if India aspires to grow along the lines of this report, it would need a widening and deepening of the private sector, including a large increase in the number of small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). To move from the big picture of this report to micro issues, we need to ensure that financial and accounting statements provide an accurate picture of the company or institution concerned. As we know from the Enron, WorldCom, Lehman and Satyam episodes, to name only a few, rising prosperity does not preclude accounting and legal skullduggery. It is important that we move the administration of the Companies Act out of a government department to a statute-based regulator. Further, the same regulator and not an industry association should be responsible for ensuring that accounting standards are scrupulously observed.
To conclude optimistically, there is every chance that if India implements the next round of reforms our average GDP growth from now to 2050 would be higher than 5.9 per cent.
The author is India's Ambassador to the European Union, Belgium and Luxembourg. Views are personal
SHOULD OVERSEAS DEALS BE TAXED?
While the Authority for Advance Rulings has ruled against this in the case of E*Trade, the Vodafone case will come up in a few weeks - with 40% of Indian FDI coming through Mauritius, the issue is critical.
The issue of whether taxation should be 'source-based' or 'residence-based' needs to be sorted out, given how cross-border transactions are rising
The best way to understand whether Indian tax authorities have the right to tax transactions taking place overseas is to take the example of a house that is located in India and is sold. If the house is sold at a profit in India, the owner will have to pay capital gains tax. Now, assume the house is owned by a company and shares of this company are sold in India once again, there will be a capital gains tax. But if the company that owns the house is registered overseas (even though the underlying asset is located in India), not asking it to pay taxes is unfair, to both the Indian tax authorities as well as Indian firms/individuals who have to pay these taxes. This is the underlying principle behind cases like Vodafone if the asset is in India, the Indian tax authorities must have the right to tax the asset. If it is possible to escape this taxation, it means there is a lacuna in the Income Tax Act which needs to be plugged.
Of course, where there is a Double Taxation Agreement (DTA) between countries, there is a separate set of rules that come in since the DTA overrides the domestic law. India had eight such DTAs, like the one with Mauritius, which allow companies not to pay the capital gains taxes, but five of these have been amended the one with Mauritius allows firms not to pay the capital gains taxes (since Mauritius does not levy capital gains taxes). Whether India can amend this DTA is something the government has to take a call on since there are other factors at play as well, but it has to be mentioned that the Direct Tax Code (DTC, which has now got stuck) had envisaged a situation where the tax officer could, if s/he felt a firm was abusing a structure (such as registering the company in a tax haven for instance) to avoid paying taxes, recategorise the transaction in order to levy the tax. The DTC said it would override any DTA of course, I'm sure the DTC would have been challenged in court on the grounds that it was a domestic legislation which was seeking to override a global commitment.
Of course, none of this applies to the Vodafone case since the sale/purchase took place in the Cayman Islands with which India does not have a DTA. Indeed, if the deal had taken place at the Mauritius level, it would have been difficult for the Indian tax authorities to get the tax since there are several judgments saying you can't tax such transactions.
Some argue the Indian position on seeking to tax transactions where the underlying asset is in India but the firm is registered overseas will lead to all manner of problems in real life. The example that is given is of Vodafone getting sold off to a US firm in a transaction in the UK. Since some part of Vodafone's assets are located in India, the argument goes: Does this mean the Indian tax authorities will want part of the capital gains? There is no question of the Indian tax authorities seeking a tax since there is a DTA between the UK and India Vodafone has to pay capital gains in India or in the UK, it cannot escape paying this. Similarly, if Tata sells off Tata Motors, the UK government may want a part of the capital gains tax since Corus is located in the UK, but it will go by the DTA. But the issue of whether taxation should be "source-based" or "residence-based" needs to be sorted out as it is becoming more important with so much foreign direct investment (FDI) and capital flowing from one area to another.
That said, it is also true that there are other issues to be considered of development and investment, for instance. The government, and not the taxman, has to take a call on these.
But just like we have non-level playing fields because of treaties like the one with Mauritius, we also have un-level taxation within the country areas like Uttarakhand, for instance, have tax advantages. Also, while it is true India needs to lower its tax rates (the DTC proposes 25 per cent), let us not exaggerate the importance of this. Investors are coming to India because of its market, not because of its tax breaks while 40 per cent of FDI comes through Mauritius, another 60 per cent comes from the tax-paying route.
The author is currently member, Competition Commission of India
(As told to Sunil Jain)
Reinterpreting long-established tax treaty provisions by the tax authorities creates confusion and has to be avoided as it affects investment into India
Any company seeking to enter a country ensures that it chooses a structure that suits its commercial requirements, one that is legally-compliant as well as tax-efficient. In the past, a lot of investment has flowed into India through Mauritius, given the favourable tax treaty between the two countries.
Of late, however, some international takeovers have been questioned by the Indian tax authorities, which have asserted that these transactions are taxable in India. In the first category of transactions, shares of an Indian company are sold by a foreign entity, invoking the favourable tax treaty provisions (as in the case of E*Trade by applying the India-Mauritius tax treaty). The challenge arises when the tax authorities contend that though legal ownership resides with the foreign entity (in Mauritius, for example), the "real" and "beneficial" ownership lies in the jurisdiction from where the foreign company is controlled, and thus the benefits of the India-Mauritius tax treaty are denied.
The second category of transactions involves a scenario where one foreign entity transfers shares of another foreign entity, but with a portion of the transaction value derived from underlying assets in India, even though the transaction has taken place outside India, and the asset (in this case, shares of the foreign holding entity) is also situated outside India.
As regards the first scenario, i.e. the taxability of gains derived by a Mauritian entity, the law was settled in favour of the taxpayer by the apex court in the case of Azadi Bachao Andolan in 2003. The court upheld the validity of circulars issued by the Central Board of Direct Taxes (CBDT) which provided that a Mauritian entity holding a tax residency certificate issued by a Mauritian authority would constitute sufficient evidence for accepting the status of residence for the application of the tax treaty.
The apex court found no legal prohibition if a resident of a third country (the US, for example), in order to take advantage of the tax reliefs and other economic benefits arising from the operation of a tax treaty between the two countries (India and Mauritius, for example), sets up an investment entity in Mauritius to route its investment in India. The motive behind setting up such holding companies and doing business through them in a country having a beneficial tax treaty was held to be not relevant to judge the legality or validity of the transactions. At that time, even the government defended the India-Mauritius tax treaty.
The reinterpretation of the long-established tax treaty provisions by the tax authorities creates confusion and uncertainty, and so, it must be avoided.
Under the second category, the tax authorities assert their rights to tax transactions where the shares of a foreign company (i.e. a capital asset situated outside of India) have been transferred, but due to such transfer the underlying assets and the controlling interest of a company operating in India have also changed, though indirectly.
The Indian Income-Tax Act suggests that income in the hands of a non-resident is taxable in India if it arises from the transfer of a capital asset situated in India. In the recent transactions under examination by the tax authorities, the capital asset, i.e. the shares, was situated outside India. Accordingly, the gains from the transfer are not taxable in India under the long-established tax principles. Notwithstanding that this was the well-understood position before the transaction took place, this issue is presently under examination by the Indian tax authorities and the outcome is expected shortly.
From a business perspective, the above positions can expose many buyers and sellers of shares in global companies to significant tax liabilities that they have not accounted for, and could create further uncertainty for similar transactions going forward.
Any reinterpretation of the established taxation principles must be avoided. Furthermore, the government also has to think about the adverse impact that its policy may have over the investments made by Indian multinational companies outside India. Lastly, any change in the tax polices or tax treaties must be done prospectively. If the law is amended to this effect, careful consideration will have to be given to how the law should be framed and where the line should be drawn between taxable and non-taxable transactions.
LUNG SPACE FOR CITIES
HIGH COURTS SHOULD REPLICATE FOR STATES WHAT THE SUPREME COURT HAS DONE FOR DELHI'S ENVIRONMENT
M J ANTONY
In its activist zeal, the Supreme Court has often dared to take up social and environmental problems that appeared to be insurmountable. In several instances, the result has surprised cynics. After a decade's struggle against the automobile and petroleum lobbies, it succeeded in introducing compressed natural gas (CNG) fuel for public transport in the national capital.
Last week, a Constitution bench brought the curtains down on a two-decade-old tussle with hazardous and heavy industries that had operated in the heart of Delhi. In 1996, hundreds of such large units were ordered to be shut down or relocate to other states, after surrendering part of their land in Delhi to make way for green belts or "lung space". The court asked them to "dedicate the land for the community".
It was indeed a tall order and the industries had been resisting the move for the past 15 years. They had been using every legal stratagem available to get the issue reopened, or at least get fat compensation, apart from several concessions already granted by the court. The court commented: "Some of these review petitions have been filed after dismissal or withdrawal of the earlier petitions by the very same petitioners seeking almost the very same reliefs." The court put an end to the saga by dismissing the review petitions of some 20 large industries that wanted the recall of the order of closure or, alternatively, sought more compensation. The court granted neither in the Siel Foods and Fertilisers Industries vs Union of India case.
One of the strong arguments against the order of closure/relocation was that the court has no such blanket powers. It cannot ask property owners to "surrender" land and "dedicate" their land for the "need of the community". The proper course was to acquire land under the Land Acquisition Act or similar such laws.
However, these industries should not have come up at all in thickly-populated areas or should have been shut down long ago, according to the Master Plan gazetted in 1990. It was only after a public interest litigation petition was moved by lawyer M C Mehta that the industries and the authorities realised the gravity of the situation. The court passed a series of orders regarding shifting, relocating and closing the polluting industries. With the assistance of a committee, it classified the industries according to the degree of ecological devastation caused by them. Most of them were told to move out of the capital and surrender part of their land. The part of the land that was left with them was allowed to be used by the owners with relaxed floor area ratio (FAR) conditions. This did not satisfy the industries, and they continued their fight till last week when they finally lost the case. The court was categorical: "So long as the land remained as lung space/green area, there is no question of any payment to the owner as compensation or otherwise."
The long-drawn-out case provides at least two lessons. The government draws up magnificent master plans for cities but cowers before vested interests when it comes to implementation. It required the help of the judiciary to implement the Master Plan for Delhi in this case. In the case of CNG fuel for public transport, the court had to intervene to enforce environmental standards. The Delhi authorities at one stage were found cringing for orders from the court to control vehicular pollution so that they could implement them without any political fallout.
The court could be treated as the fall guy and blamed for encroaching on the executive power. After all, judges do not call press conferences. The story repeated itself in the case of noxious industries. Without burning its fingers, the executive succeeded in clearing the Capital of hazardous industries, thanks to judicial intervention.
The second lesson provided by these momentous cases is that they show the way for the high courts in other states to clean up the Augean stables there. The M C Mehta case, which triggered the Delhi clean-up, also had an application pointing out that Mumbai was no safer. In fact, it faces more risks from inefficient storage of chemicals and even nuclear substances within the limits of the metropolis. But the Mumbai petition has somehow disappeared from the dockets. Neither the citizens of Mumbai nor the Bombay High Court have taken up the issue so far. The Public Liability Act or the new-fangled Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage Bill is not even a band-aid in case a Chernobyl happens. The threat faced by other cities and towns is also substantial. But no one there, neither public-spirited citizens nor the high courts suo motu (on its own initiative) have taken a leaf from the Delhi story.
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IT'S 'PUNNY' HEADLINE TIME!
The news that India's tennis star Sania Mirza will be marrying former Pakistani cricket captain Shoaib Malik clichéd headlines. "Shoaib bowls Sania over" could be the cricketer's way of looking at this development. And so what if Shoaib is known more for his batting prowess than for his bowling these days! "Sania aces Shoaib" could be the tennis player's take in a sport where the scoring system sounds far more romantic, what with each game starting with "Love-all" . It could, however, be premature to say "Game, set and match to Sania" or even "Advantage Sania" ! Sania is just getting her visa ready to go to Lahore for the reception , following the wedding on home ground in Hyderabad in early April.
The good news is that Shoaib will not be conforming to the stereotyped behaviour pattern that expects the bride to meekly follow in the groom's footsteps and is exemplified in traditional sayings like Beti to paraya dhan hoti hai (the daughter belongs not to the family she is born in but the one she marries into). The couple will be based not in Pakistan or India but in Dubai. And Shoaib has been quoted as saying that "I'll support Sania as long as she wishes to play. Representing India at the 2012 Olympics is very important for her and I will be the proudest husband if she can win a medal for her country." Which still doesn't answer the question of who will Sania cheer for if India faces Pakistan in the finals of the 2011 cricket World Cup in Mumbai and Shoaib is playing. Sania could emulate the kids of Udayan, a home for destitute children in Kolkata, with which Australia's former cricket captain Steve Waugh is actively involved. Just before the famous 2001 Kolkata Test between India and Australia, the children of Udayan were quoted as saying that they would be praying that Steveda scored a century and that India won the Test. And their prayers were answered!
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
LESSONS FROM MOSCOW BLASTS
The twin blasts in Moscow's metro system underscore the global threat of terrorism specifically targeting urban areas and the need for nations to forge a unified front to confront the scourge. India would do well to learn some lessons from the deadly attack, not least given the vulnerability of our cities and mass transport systems. With a metro system functional in two major cities and plans to establish it in other cities, the Moscow attack should serve as a catalyst to improve the security systems at such places. With terrorists repeatedly attacking public transport systems both in Russia itself and in Europe in recent years, and given the copycat nature of terror attacks, it could be a matter of time before a similar strike is carried out in India. If the attack was indeed carried out by Chechen militants, it again posits the worrying fact that terrorists, even when believed to be beaten, can retain the capacity to strike when least expected. It also underlines the vast, intricately linked, if not actively coordinating, network between terrorists operating in different parts of the globe. And while leaving no stone unturned in striking at these networks and those that provide them sanctuary, adequate attention must also be paid to the faultlines the terrorists cynically use. In this case, for instance, it is the long, bloody history of attrition between Russia and the Chechens . A history of conflict that stretches from the Tsarist era, through the Stalinist en masse deportation of the Chechen population, to the last war, where the Kremlin was accused of widespread human rights abuses.
The war in the North Caucasus was a dark, dirty one. In fact, there have been suggestions of links between the assassination of the journalist and human rights activist Anna Politkovskaya and her work on the second Chechen war. But it is also equally clear that what might have been a war for independence from Moscow has degenerated into violent Islamic extremism. And the terrorists who carried out this attack are of the same ideological persuasion as those ranged against India. India and Russia, as well as the global community, must therefore heighten cooperation in the fight against the menace.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
Standard Chartered Bank's announcement that it has filed a draft red herring prospectus to raise over $500 million through Indian depository receipts (IDRs) with the Securities and Exchange Board of India (Sebi) marks a dramatic coming of age of the country's capital market. The announcement is significant for two reasons. For one, this is the first issue of IDRs, the Indian counterpart of global depository receipts and American depository receipts, by an overseas company after guidelines were framed in 2004. For another, since these depository receipts represent equity shares of Standard Chartered held by an overseas custodian based on which an Indian depository issues rupee-denominated receipts or IDRs to Indian investors Indian IDR holders will, in effect, own equity shares of a foreign bank and also be able to trade in them as the receipts will be listed on our stock exchanges.
The StanChart experiment is bound to be watched with keen interest both in India and abroad. IDRs provide foreign companies a platform to directly raise capital in India but had not, for a variety of reasons, including somewhat restrictive regulations compared to American or global depository receipts, found favour with overseas companies so far. Thus, the issuer is required to immediately repatriate the rupee funds raised through IDRs outside India , which means they cannot take advantage of any interest arbitrage. Moreover, share price arbitrage opportunities are limited as IDRs do not have two-way fungibility , which means they cannot be converted into underlying shares and vice versa at will. Investors have the option of converting IDRs into underlying shares but only after a year. Even after one year, retail investors are required to sell off the shares obtained by redemption in the foreign stock exchange where they are listed. There is also a lack of clarity on whether IDRs are exempt from capital gains tax. If, despite all this, the British bank is keen to tap the Indian market, it is a clear vote of confidence in the Indian economy . It is also a vote of confidence in India's macroeconomic stability. It is a good beginning that an established bank, rather than a minor company, is the first one to issue IDRs.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
WHITHER THE PRAKASH KARAT LINE?
C L MANOJ
A rising political tide gives a leader a chance to ride it to fortune or, with great difficulty, to squander the opportunity. Political misfortune provides a chance to either come out as a heroic saviour or as a wrecker of his movement. Prakash Karat has been twice blessed, now into his fifth year as CPI-M general secretary and the great helmsman of the Left Front, with both opportunities, the one with the formation of the first United Progressive Alliance government and the other, with the failed attempt to pull it down over the nuclear deal, and in its electoral aftermath for the Left.
What he did with these chances will be assessed at the "extended central committee meeting" in August this year. It will frame the party's political/tactical line. This line would guide the party into the 2011 assembly polls in West Bengal and Kerala, and the subsequent party congress, which will decide on a third term for him.
Should Mr Karat personally own up responsibility for failure to consolidate and build upon the historic Left show in the 2004 polls, flawed resistance to the civil nuclear deal, the Third Front misadventure and crippling electoral rout of '09? Aren't these matters of collective responsibility of the polit bureau (PB) and the central committee (CC)?
The CPI-M goes by the principle of democratic centralism, which makes the party line, once framed, a collective project. However, in the communist party, the general secretary enjoys unique powers to influence the party's political, theoretical and strategic lines. That is why Mr Karat could wage his 'nuclear war' against the UPA, overruling many sceptical comrades. That is why he could trigger a Congress-Left break-up even if it meant uniting enemies, the Congress and Mamata on the Left's home ground. That is why he could get Somnath Chatterjee expelled, and even get H K S Surjeet's official political profile 'edited' to omit his role in forging the Left-UPA alliance.
But, then, such powers come with personal accountability, as India's communist history testifies. Past general secretaries P C Joshi, B T Ranadive and P Sundarayya and chairman S A Dange had to bow out when their respective political lines failed. And H K S Surjeet offered to quit when the party CC rejected his plea to make Jyoti Basu the prime minister in 1996.
Karat faces no immediate danger, but trouble is brewing. The Bengal unit blames him for fatally uniting the enemy camp. Karat's (by now denied) interview to Eric Hobsbawm was his own way of taking anticipatory bail, blaming Bengal's land-acquisition policy for the anticipated rout in 2012. Karat also faces flak for failure to end party infighting in Kerala and to rein in tainted Pinarayi Vijayan. As the Bengal unit bays for his blood, Karat's fight-back depends on Kerala comrades rallying behind him and mobilising other state units in the CC.
Karat is trying to sharpen his line. Seeing the resurgent Congress making the BJP, the Left and the Mandalites equally insecure, Karat is advocating a 'united Opposition' war against the Congress' 'anti-people economic policies and pro-US N-liability law' just like his earlier 'united war against the pro-imperialist N-deal' . Karat has justified the Left-BJP Parliament tango (key to Opposition unity), as struggle to "isolate the ruling party" against its retrograde policies. It is a significant shift from the previous tactical mantra to isolate the BJP.
Karat is also making a pitch for yet another Third Front experiment with Samajwadis' . In short, Karat pitches for the pre-Babri masjid 'grand anti-Congress' alliance of saffronites , the Left and the Samajwadis as a way out of the post-UPA Left isolation. But forging a united Opposition means a tactical victory for the BJP. Will this go down with the Left's secularism and Muslim voters in Kerala and Bengal?
Similarly, reverting to Mandalites' means accepting the very same Lalu and Mulayam who wrecked the Left bases in UP and Bihar. It also means pardoning the SP's serial backstabbing , including on the nuclear deal. It also means Karat diluting his two original themes 'independent Left expansion' in north India and the need to base a third alternative on definite programmes and policies, not mere electoral adjustments. After spotting prime ministerial material' in Mayawati, should the Left's now divine ideological brotherhood in Lalu and Mulayam?
Again, a bid for a combined Opposition war against UPA-II has many technical pitfalls . The Left is neither ready to risk Lok Sabha polls nor has a viable alternative to the Congress . Increasing conflict with UPA also means adding to the Congress resolve to stick with the temperamental Mamata, something the Bengal Marxists dread. Significantly, the Bengal Marxists pulled out of Karat's 'jail bharo' agitation against the UPA regime.
But Karat seems convinced and determined about the way ahead and is ready for a gamble. After BTR's 'Calcutta thesis,' no political line of a general secretary has triggered as much in-house turbulence as Karat's 'Dillithesis'.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
WHAT THE GREEN REVOLUTION TEACHES US
The priority our environment and forest ministry gave public consultation over scientific evidence in reaching a negative verdict on Bt Brinjal calls for a look back at the process leading to the adoption of high-yielding varieties (HYV) that ushered the Green Revolution. The courage and tact then minister of agriculture C Subramaniam exhibited in navigating the process eventually earned him India's highest civilian honour, the Bharat Ratna. And late Dr Norman E Borlaug, the inventor of the new technology with HYV seeds at its centre, won the 1970 Nobel Peace Prize.
In the mid-1960 s when Subramaniam became the minister of agriculture, India suffered from such serious food shortages that then Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri called upon all Indians to miss one meal each week. Around this time, assisted by the Rockefeller Foundation and Ford Foundation, Indian Agricultural Research Institute (IARI) had been experimenting with the seeds and cultivation method of Dr Borlaug. The IARI had observed in its experiments yields twice those obtained in traditional agriculture. Ralph Cummings of the Rockefeller Foundation brought the studies based on IARI experiments to the attention of Subramaniam . The latter had the studies reviewed by a panel of scientists he himself appointed. The panel overwhelmingly, though not unanimously, recommended in favour of the new technology.
The dye was cast but Subramaniam faced formidable opposition from within the Cabinet as well as from the left parties and public. He needed foreign exchange to import seeds and fertiliser and commitment of additional rupee resources to compensate farmers in case the new technology failed and farmers incurred losses. Then finance minister T T Krishnamachari was unwilling to provide either . The left parties, which saw an American hand in the new policy and contended that the new strategy will hurt small and marginal farmers by lowering agricultural prices, actively opposed Subramaniam. A large number of our economists also leaned against the proposed strategy. The opponents organised as many as thousand protest demonstrations around the country.
But Subramaniam worked diligently to persuade various constituencies to his view. Among other things, he converted five acres of lawns and playgrounds in his bungalow into a demonstration farm of new strategy. That experiment proved highly successful, leading his Cabinet colleagues to capitulate.
The process leading to the rejection of Bt Brinjal stands in sharp contrast to this splendid episode in our economic history . To be sure, GM foods are no longer new; they have existed in North America for nearly one-and-a-half decades. Even the European Union, which had at one time led the charge against GM foods, recently gave approval to Amflora, a GM variety of potato. In my personal view, India can ill-afford to ignore GM food varieties if it is to combat food shortages and the resulting food inflation.
But for the present purpose, the denial to Bt Brinjal is not at issue. The concern is with the process by which the decision was reached. With some dissenting voices recorded, the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC), the apex regulatory body under the environment ministry charged with the approval of GM foods, gave Bt Brinjal its approval on October 14, 2009. According to available reports , the GEAC reached this decision on the basis of scientific data generated during 2002-2009 , international experience with GM crops and scientific reviews by as many as three high-level technical committees . The committees included the Review Committee on Genetic Manipulations and two expert committees that the GEAC itself appointed in 2006 and 2009.
Oddly , after the GEAC had made its recommendation, the environment ministry decided to invite comments from the public on its report. Surely, if public opinion was to be given a prominent role, an initial draft report outlining the benefits and potential risks of GM seeds should have been circulated to the public prior to the committee making its recommendation. More importantly, at this late stage in the game, the environment ministry went a step further, actively organising a series of consultations in different places with scientists, agriculture experts, farmers' organizations, consumer groups and NGOs. A collection of assertions and claims of various groups present at the consultations put together in a "free for all" format in a "report" rather than scientific analysis and evidence then became the basis of the final decision by the ministry.
There are no indications in published accounts that the allegations of misconduct against a small number of GEAC and technical committee members, brought about mainly by opponents of Bt Brinjal, led the environment ministry to doubt the integrity of the GEAC recommendation . Indeed, if that were the concern, any public consultation would have been unnecessary. The concern itself would have provided a compelling basis for seeking fresh scientific opinion. On the other hand, if the GEAC recommendation was untainted and based on the best scientific evidence and knowledge available , its members and the members of the technical committees should have been brought to consultation sites to address the concerns aired by other scientists, agriculture experts, farmers and NGOs. Good public-policy making is not just about listing hundreds of positive and negative opinions and fears expressed by those consulted, as the consultation report literally does, but about informing them whether scientific analysis and evidence supported their opinions and fears.
In a 2002 public letter, addressed to his Green Revolution colleagues in India that included M S Swaminathan, Nobel Laureate Borlaug had stated, "as an enthusiastic friend of India, I have been dismayed to see it lagging behind in the approval of transgenic crops, while China forges ahead. I hope India's recent approval of Bt cotton is indicative of a change towards more progressive leadership in agricultural policy." If the expectation of this great scientist is to be fulfilled and the work of Bharat Ratna Subramaniam brought to its logical conclusion, our approval process must be better streamlined, with decisions based on science rather than "consultation" with all and sundry.
(The author is a professor at Columbia University)
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
HARMONISING ONE'S FAITH WITH SCIENCE
VITHAL C NADKARNI
Francisco J Ayala, a geneticist who trained as a Dominican priest, has won this year's $1.5 million Templeton Award for making "exceptional contributions to affirming life's spiritual dimension". As an evolutionary biologist and geneticist at University of California, Irvine Ayala has tried to keep the spirit apart from the bottle. Science and religion are two separate realms, he argues, and people come to grief when they try to 'entangle' them, as scientists do when they argue that there is no proof that God exists; or when creationists invoke hand of God to account for evolutionary change.
In 30 years that he has been preaching Darwinian evolution to Christian believers, Ayala has learnt to use tactics of 'shock and awe' : one out of five pregnancies ends in spontaneously in miscarriage. Does that make God the greatest abortionist in history, he asks, assuming that God designed the human reproductive system.
But Ayala also believes that scientists who attack religion as that self-described 'Darwin's rottweiler' Oxford biologist Richard Dawkins, does or ridicule believers are making a mistake. It encourages either-or thinking and strengthens preachers to bully their flock to choose either Darwin or God.
He advocates a more conciliatory approach that would allow believers to harmonise their faith with science. Nature is not the best of designers, he concedes, pointing to oddities such as blind spots built into the human eye or the narrowness of the human birth canal which forces babies to complete their crucial brain growth outside their mothers' womb (a phenomenon known as altricial birth).
Darwinian teory can also help in explaining red-fangedNature'sfearsome cruelty, he adds, enabling us to remove 'evil' from the natural world and to replace it with volitional acts of free will and kindness in human affairs. In his Darwin's Gift Ayala says Darwin solved the problem of evil that's been plaguing theology since eons: The earliest formulation of this conundrum is attributed to the Greek philosopher Epicurus.
As for priests, he prefers science-savvy theologians who present a God continuously updating His creative process through undirected natural selection . By addressing religious people on their own terms, Ayala aims to offer a better answer than intelligent design or creationism . May his tribe flourish!
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
WILL RAISE PENETRATION OF INDIAN GENERIC
The US healthcare reform is positive for the Indian generics industry. There are three parts to the reform. The first is expanding healthcare coverage to citizens, mostly those employed in smaller companies, the unemployed and reducing co-payments for Medicaid the federal insurance programme for the poor. Estimates suggest that almost 32 million US citizens will receive additional healthcare access and that both private insurance plans and Medicaid have generic utilisation rates at over 50%.
The numbers are significant given that the number of new participants is over 10% of the US population and close to the existing Medicaid population. Increased Medicaid coverage will increase dispensing and compliance requirements for generic drug prescriptions. This should benefit both formulation companies that sell in the US and active ingredient and contract manufacturers that provide raw material to Indian or foreign companies selling in the US.
The second part consists of regulations and data exclusivity protection in the biologics drugs space. The bill has granted innovator firms 12 years of data protection, also allowing the first interchangeable bio-similar 18 months of exclusivity. While the period of data exclusivity for innovators is far longer than the generic players would have wanted, the announcements of setting up regulatory pathways in this space is crucial as the value of biologics starting to go off patent from 2014 will be increasingly larger than conventional oral drugs. Already, almost half of new drugs approved are biologics and a regulatory pathway would benefit many. The 18 months of exclusivity to the first interchangeable would help the bio-similar companies offset increased costs they would incur to bring these drugs to market.
The third part is higher emphasis on insurance regulation and access . There would be new regulations governing the insurance industry that will prohibit the denial of coverage due to pre-existing diseases or from placing life-time value limits on policy coverage. All these should help overall generic penetration improve in the near term and consequently the opportunity for Indian pharmaceutical companies.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
HUGE OPPORTUNITY FOR OUTSOURCING COS
US President Barack Obama's plan to make healthcare more affordable and accessible to US citizens through a $938-billion health reform implies both a system overhaul and creation of a multitude of opportunities for the healthcare ecosystem. That 32 million more US citizens will now come under the healthcare system means insurers will have to deal with a growing customer base. This needs a stronger administrative framework and support system in the form of third party administrators (TPAs) and technology partners.
The US healthcare law mandates creation of state-based health insurance exchanges. The new marketplace will allow insurance carriers and TPAs to innovate and excel in technologyenabled administrative services. Cost reduction , resource optimisation and issues like access to information, etc, will compel insurance carriers to seek help from outsourcers and TPAs to assist in tasks traditionally performed internally . Business analytics and reporting requirements will become key to evaluate the efficacy of reforms, creating opportunity for IT services.
Another significant development is the $37-billion allotment for the implementation of electronic health records (EHR). This requires US hospitals to follow phases such as system setup, installation, beta-testing , conversion of archival data into compatible formats and a change management exercise for clinical staff to use the new system all of which can be delivered by Indian IT services firms. In fact, experts suggest best practices from ERP implementation can be used in EHR deployment.
A business process outsourcing (BPO) opportunity too lies in this incremental inclusion. According to studies, the US is likely to have spent over $2.5 trillion or $8,160 per US resident, on healthcare in 2009. The pool of newly-insured will translate into a supplementary healthcare market of over $261 billion. This spells tremendous growth potential for BPO firms, especially in claims processing, enrolments, underwriting support and customer support for insurance carriers. The new reforms will help solidify this ecosystem, helping its players to compete in a regulated marketplace.
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INDIA GAINS FROM US HEALTH BILL?
HUGE OPPORTUNITY FOR OUTSOURCING COS
US President Barack Obama's plan to make healthcare more affordable and accessible to US citizens through a $938-billion health reform implies both a system overhaul and creation of a multitude of opportunities for the healthcare ecosystem. That 32 million more US citizens will now come under the healthcare system means insurers will have to deal with a growing customer base. This needs a stronger administrative framework and support system in the form of third party administrators (TPAs) and technology partners.
The US healthcare law mandates creation of state-based health insurance exchanges. The new marketplace will allow insurance carriers and TPAs to innovate and excel in technologyenabled administrative services. Cost reduction , resource optimisation and issues like access to information, etc, will compel insurance carriers to seek help from outsourcers and TPAs to assist in tasks traditionally performed internally . Business analytics and reporting requirements will become key to evaluate the efficacy of reforms, creating opportunity for IT services.
Another significant development is the $37-billion allotment for the implementation of electronic health records (EHR). This requires US hospitals to follow phases such as system setup, installation, beta-testing , conversion of archival data into compatible formats and a change management exercise for clinical staff to use the new system all of which can be delivered by Indian IT services firms. In fact, experts suggest best practices from ERP implementation can be used in EHR deployment.
A business process outsourcing (BPO) opportunity too lies in this incremental inclusion. According to studies, the US is likely to have spent over $2.5 trillion or $8,160 per US resident, on healthcare in 2009. The pool of newly-insured will translate into a supplementary healthcare market of over $261 billion. This spells tremendous growth potential for BPO firms, especially in claims processing, enrolments, underwriting support and customer support for insurance carriers. The new reforms will help solidify this ecosystem, helping its players to compete in a regulated marketplace.
WILL RAISE PENETRATION OF INDIAN GENERIC
The US healthcare reform is positive for the Indian generics industry . There are three parts to the reform. The first is expanding healthcare coverage to citizens, mostly those employed in smaller companies, the unemployed and reducing co-payments for Medicaid the federal insurance programme for the poor. Estimates suggest that almost 32 million US citizens will receive additional healthcare access and that both private insurance plans and Medicaid have generic utilisation rates at over 50%.
The numbers are significant given that the number of new participants is over 10% of the US population and close to the existing Medicaid population. Increased Medicaid coverage will increase dispensing and compliance requirements for generic drug prescriptions. This should benefit both formulation companies that sell in the US and active ingredient and contract manufacturers that provide raw material to Indian or foreign companies selling in the US.
The second part consists of regulations and data exclusivity protection in the biologics drugs space. The bill has granted innovator firms 12 years of data protection, also allowing the first interchangeable bio-similar 18 months of exclusivity . While the period of data exclusivity for innovators is far longer than the generic players would have wanted, the announcements of setting up regulatory pathways in this space is crucial as the value of biologics starting to go off patent from 2014 will be increasingly larger than conventional oral drugs. Already, almost half of new drugs approved are biologics and a regulatory pathway would benefit many. The 18 months of exclusivity to the first interchangeable would help the bio-similar companies offset increased costs they would incur to bring these drugs to market.
The third part is higher emphasis on insurance regulation and access . There would be new regulations governing the insurance industry that will prohibit the denial of coverage due to pre-existing diseases or from placing life-time value limits on policy coverage. All these should help overall generic penetration improve in the near term and consequently the opportunity for Indian pharmaceutical companies.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
ZAIN'S A BETTER BET THAN MTN: SUNIL BHARTI MITTAL
SANDEEP GURUMURTHI & SHAILI CHOPRA
Sunil Bharti Mittal has been chasing that big-ticket global acquisition for more than two years. Success eluded him, as MTN slipped twice from his grasp. But, on Tuesday, he finally signed a spectacular deal that will take Bharti and the Airtel brand to 15 new countries. Minutes after he signed the $10.7-billion deal, he spoke first to ET NOW exclusively from Amsterdam. Excerpts:
From selling phones to signing what is India's second-largest cross-border deal, it's been a long journey. How do you feel?
We all feel very humble. By God's grace, we have got an opportunity to demonstrate that an Indian company can go out and create a very large base for itself outside India. In one stroke this takes us to 18-19 countries. It makes us India's first truly post-independence multinational. We all feel proud that it gives us a chance to show to the world the telecom model we built in India.
We understand that due diligence has indicated there could be liabilities arising out of several lawsuits against Zain in various countries. Are you protected against potential fallout from these lawsuits?
Absolutely. Whenever a deal of this kind is signed, all documentation is done to cover the buyer from any unforeseen eventualities that may arise. I can tell you without going into too much detail those matters have been covered.
When will Zain be rebranded as Airtel in Africa?
It's hard for me to give a date on that, but I'd say within months of closing the deal.
What is the timeline for payment? Is the payment for the first tranche contingent on the deal closure and
only after you obtain regulatory approvals?
It's a very customised process. Today, we have entered into a definitive legally binding agreement that involves certain terms and conditions. Wherever regulatory approvals are required, we'll take them. Approvals are necessary and take their own time, but we don't expect it to take too long. As soon as the regulatory approvals fall in place, $8.3 billion will get transferred. The remaining $700 million will be transferred after one year.
Bharti has traditionally been a debt-averse company. Do you have a road map of some kind of equity dilution?
We'll see what kind of fund-raising activities are required. As a company, we have never carried much debt on our books. Yes, this particular asset in itself generates $1.2-billion EBITDA and we are in a comfortable position as of now with regard to servicing the debt. While there will be a requirement of bringing down the debt, going forward, how we'll do it is not yet decided.
Are you confident that you will be in a position to replicate the outsourcing model in Africa?
Absolutely. We have had a number of conversations with our partners. And I have no doubt that all of them will come along with us to Africa because it's not just a great opportunity for Bharti, but for all its partners in the ecosystem.
Comparisons with MTN are inevitable. Some analysts say MTN would have been a superior deal for you. How do you counter that?
MTN was a bigger deal than this, but we were getting just participation rights and co-management rights in the company. It was not as clean and as elegant a deal as Zain. Zain is smaller in size, but is not, in any sense, second to MTN. In its own right, it is a leader in 10 markets, including those where MTN is present. If you ask my honest assessment, this is a much better deal because we will have our brand, our management stamp, our low-cost model and our outsourcing model. So, this is a much better deal for Bharti. There is no question about that in my mind.
What is your strategy for the turnaround for Zain?
I don't agree that we need a turnaround. Zain is a very well-run company. It's No 1 in 10 countries, No 2 in four countries and No 4 in just one country, Ghana. It has $4 billion of topline and $1.2 billion EBIDTA. The company has been doing really well. Now, the question is, will we be able to take it to greater heights. The answer is 'Yes'. That's the confidence with which we're entering into this company.
Could you tell us a bit about the structure of the deal?
I will not be able to give you the whole structure, but it will suffice to say that a subsidiary of Bharti Airtel has been created in the Netherlands. That will be the vehicle which will own Zain Africa BV.
When will the deal be EPS accretive for Bharti? This is a number a lot of analysts will be keenly watching.
I will leave it to my treasury team to look at those numbers. I personally don't look at EPS accretion. I look at when we are going to enhance our market share and when we are going to get to particular levels of sales and EBITDA. So, I'll leave it to my investor relation team to work out those numbers and give to analysts.
What will be the structure of the Zain Africa board? Will Manoj Kohli be moving to Africa? Who are the key executives that you are likely to retain from the current management team?
The exact structure will take some time. I can confirm that Manoj Kohli is the designated CEO of Africa. Manoj heads the international operations outside South Asia and will be leading the charge of the new operations. This company will be 100% owned by Bharti and will be populated by Bharti members on the board. The accounts will be consolidated with that of Bharti. As far as management changes are considered, some key people will also be moving from India to Africa. Operations will be led by the Africans and supported by key members of the Indian team.
In the past six months there has not been any fresh investment in Zain. How much of investment will be made into the company to grow the business and take it to the next level?
Zain has been certainly making investment year-on-year. Every year, they have been investing $600-700 million in capex, sometimes even $800 million. We are yet to evaluate the fresh investment numbers. But we'll surely grow the market and customer base.
Have you had a chance to speak with Phuthuma Nhleko (CEO of MTN)? Last time we spoke after the deal with MTN failed, you described him as a friend. Now, you are going to turn competitors.
I speak to him all the time. I had a nice chat with him just last week. I'm sure we will cooperate and collaborate in a lot of areas. There is network sharing, tower sharing. lots of stuff needs to be done with our peers in Africa.
Are you going to wait for deal closure to turn non-vegetarian again or are you having meat for dinner tonight?
No no, I'm vegetarian until it closes.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
US-CHINA TRADE WAR CAN SHAKE UP MARKETS: NOURIEL ROUBINI
ANDY MUKHERJEE & SHAJI VIKRAMAN
Ever since he predicted the global financial meltdown, Nouriel Roubini, the professor of economics, New York University, has been a much sought-after man. It's not just businessmen but policy and law makers who also seek him out to ascertain his views and as to where the global economy is headed for. Dr Doom, as he's dubbed, was in Mumbai to attend a conference organised by Edelweiss. In between meetings, he took time off to talk to ET Bureau. Excerpts:
When the US Federal Reserve stops buying mortgage-backed securities, what will be the impact on the market? Is there enough private demand at all?
That's an open question. The US, like other advanced economies, is set to stop quantitative easing which involves the purchase of long-term assets, not just mortgage-backed securities, but also certain amount of long-term treasuries. One view is that there is not going to be a significant increase in long-term interest rates or in mortgage rates, in which case, the Fed can lead with that. However, there is also the possibility that given the supply of US Treasuries and mortgage-backed securities, mortgage and interest rates could go up. At that point, in my view, the Fed will have to lose its reputation. In its own words, it will have to reverse its policy and resume the policy of purchasing long-term assets. The last thing that the Fed can afford in an election year is a meaningful increase in mortgage rates at a time when the recovery of housing and real estate is at best anaemic and, probably, worse than anaemic right now.
You're quite bearish about the prospects of advanced economies in the second half of this year...
Yes, in my view, the growth is going to look better in the US and also in the advanced economies in the first half because of a number of temporary factors. The fiscal stimulus, restocking of inventories, base effects in the US, the government temporarily hiring a million workers to do essentials something they do every 10 years a series of tax policies that sold the man the future like the cash for clunkers on cars and tax credit for house buyers and so on. Those are all effects that are going to fizzle out by the second half of the year. And I see the weakness of the US household sector keeping the consumption growth weak over time, given that income growth is anaemic and wealth income is low compared to the past. And that implies, private demand is not going to recover fast enough when the policy effects phase out. Then you could have growth falling back towards 1.5-2%. That is well below a potential 3%.
What about Europe and Japan? Are their fates going to be even worse than that of the US?
Yes, first of all the growth rate potential of Europe and Japan is at best at 2%. Rather than the 3% in the US, we were forecasting growth at below 1% for Europe and Japan. This year, given that the data suggests anaemic recovery and with problems of Greece in the Eurozone, they are not just the problems of fiscal sustainability but of loss of fiscal sustainability, external competitiveness and, therefore, of growth. So even if there is a fiscal adjustment, how are you going to resume growth? It's going to be difficult. Japan also looks very anaemic. It has an ageing population, public debt is 180% of GDP, and there's a relatively weak government that's not really committed to accelerating reform. The yen is probably too strong and most of Japan's growth is coming from net exports because there is domestic deflation, as prices are falling, which is a signal of weakness of aggregate demand to aggregate supply. So at the margin, I'm more bearish about Japan and the Eurozone than I am about the United States.
You talk about a potential break-up of the Eurozone. What are the odds that the Euro will still be around in 2020, according to you?
Well, you could have the Euro as a currency but the member countries may be smaller than the current 16 or so Eurozone members. If the weaker links in the Eurozone are not able to resolve the fiscal problem, external competitiveness and return to growth at some time, the cost of staying in the Union may be greater than the cost of exiting, and the benefits of exiting are going to rise. Specifically, if you are going to have recession continuing for a while in places like Greece. At some point, no social and seven political boundaries are willing to accept fiscal austerity and reforms. If there is no growth, then some of those weaker links in the next few years may exit. And that's going to be negative in terms of contagion. Other members states are going to get into trouble over losses that exiting and defaulting on euro debt will imply for financial institutions in the Eurozone. But you've got the core of more homogeneous and better integrated economies around in Germany and France that might be a stronger axis for a smaller monetary union, but one that maybe more cohesive. Again, I don't say with certainty that this break-up of the Eurozone is going to occur and we'll see in the next couple of days, it's going to be critical.
Is the euro really an alternative to the dollar for an investor at the moment?
That is becoming an open question, because a reserve currency has to have two characteristics. One, it has to be liquid enough, but also a reserve currency. In fact, it's a reserve currency because it is considered riskless. Bonds were considered as riskless, because either they were AAA or AA, effectively. The risk of default was minimal. But now one of the lessons of that rising deficit and debt in advanced economies implies that there are good reasons why people are also worried about the dollar, given the burden of public and external debt liabilities of the United States over time. So the question is in relative terms, who is going to be in greater economic and financial trouble the US or the Eurozone? And you can make both sides of the argument. People worry about Greece in the Eurozone but California is a larger share of the US GDP than Greece is in the Eurozone. It's not just California, a number of states in the US are in trouble, so there is some symmetry between problems of Greece having a weakness for the Euro and eventually if the problem in California is going to be socialised with a bailout at the federal level and then monetised, that could actually be bearish for the US dollar in the same way as Greece has been for the euro recently.
What about the fallout of a collision between the US and China on currency?
The risks of such a collision have not been priced in by the markets. Take the example of what happened in 1987 when the US was running a large current account deficit but was not shrinking fast. The Fed had warned both Japan and Germany of a trade war because of how those countries were managing their currencies. Then one Sunday in October 1987, US treasury secretary, James Baker said the US may take trade sanctions. The stock markets fell by 20%. I don't expect them to fall as much this time. But if the markets discover a trade war, then action could be in the form of a fall of several percentage points.
How long do you think will the Fed stay on course in terms of policy rates?
The near-zero policy levels will be maintained until the middle of next year if not later, if growth stays weak. The world is still dependent on the US. India and China alone cannot be the engines of growth though they may be 20 years from now. Though there has been a shift of power from the West to the East, the absolute levels of differentials are significant, given the size of the US economy and Japan and China. So what happens to the US consumer matters a lot.
In India, there is an ongoing debate on whether there needs to be more of market and less of government, which is the opposite of what is happening in the West. Does India need deeper markets and financial innovations?
I believe that greater financial liberalisation, if managed well with sound regulation, can be positive. The lesson from the crisis is that if you have a laissez faire system, you risk asset bubbles and stability. But if you have a repressed system, you won't have a banking crisis but innovations of financial services which help in channelling savings and growth may not occur. So there is a trade-off. The lesson for India is not to liberalise, but liberalise with sound financial regulations and systems and institutions.
Do you think that the Reserve Bank of India is on top of macro-economic stability, considering that rising inflation is a worry?
I think that they are quite in control. There is a debate on whether they should be tightening with rising inflation. RBI realises that it is not just supply-side factors but the robustness of income and so it is important to tighten. Therefore, RBI is signalling through its recent policy action that it is on top of the problem.
AFTER MOSCOW: UNITE, TACKLE ROOT OF TERROR
The Moscow metro bombings on Monday bring home to us in India how vulnerable people everywhere are to the diabolical methods adopted by jihadist elements. In the light of this, it is useful to remind ourselves that the terrorism unleashed by these quarters can be met optimally only if there is an international recognition that jihadist outfits are well networked, regardless of their country of origin, and justify and glorify each other's actions on the grounds of a common purpose. As such, the victims and prospective victims which means pretty much every major country too need to coordinate their counter-terrorism efforts at the technical as well as political levels. No place has been targeted by terrorists as long as India, and we understand the pain and anger of innocent civilians in other countries who suffer or die in terrorist attacks. We have seen Mumbai hit more than once, including its commuter rail network. Urban mass transit systems have been struck in Madrid and London, as well as in Moscow earlier in 2004. It will be shortsighted to see these geographically dispersed incidents as actions of Islamist militants responding to local grievances as encapsulated in the concept of the "accidental guerrilla" given currency by an influential Western expert. Such an understanding fails to adequately take into account the ideological component that drives Islamist militant warfare in the world today. Al Qaeda, whatever the discussion among experts on its organisational structure and international reach, is but a name with which to identify the ideological tendency that drives the international jihadist outlook whose principal instrument is terrorism unleashed against civilians. At first sight the Moscow bombings are being ascribed to developments in the North Caucasus region of Russia, and this may well turn out to be the case on deeper examination. But the world should take little comfort from this. In the days of its infancy, the cause of Islamist terrorism in Chechnya, Ingushetia and Dagestan the Caucasus belt had many of its activists trained in Pakistan alongside similar elements from across the world. Pakistan, thus, became the training ground of the so-called "accidental guerrillas" from many continents. If Pakistan is the epicentre of international terrorism, it is the Lashkar-e-Tayyaba enjoying from its inception the patronage of the Pakistan military and its principal intelligence agency, Inter-Services Intelligence that sits at the core of this phenomenon. According to a news report on National Public Radio in the US earlier this week, America is unable to "short-circuit" LeT on account of "political reasons" as the Islamist terror outfit has the blessings of the military and the ISI that presumably Washington cannot squeeze. Court papers in the David Headley case in Chicago revealed that the LeT has the reach to hit many parts of the world. But for a conscious decision on its part, it could have been wreaking havoc in Denmark and Sweden (the case of "Jihadi Jane" links to the latter, she being among the Westerners trained by LeT) before Mumbai was attacked in 2008.
BY INDER MALHOTRA
BY THE time the catastrophic blaze at Kolkata's Stephen Court, a heritage building in the heart of the city on the prestigious Park Street, had sent shock waves across the country, almost everyone had forgotten the no-less-disastrous fire at Bengaluru's Carlton Towers exactly a month earlier. It may seem harsh to say so at this juncture but it is a safe bet that the Kolkata outrage would suffer the same fate in a matter of weeks. Does anyone remember the Dabwali conflagration in Haryana that was mind-boggling in its dimensions? The Bengaluru blaze may have devoured fewer lives than the longer-lasting flames in West Bengal's capital, but the frightening causes of the two tragedies were more or less identical. To expect that anyone would do, or can do in the incorrigible Indian milieu, anything about them would be a classic case of the triumph of hope over experience. Even a cursory look at the stark facts would underscore this.
At both Stephen Court and Carlton Towers many lives were lost because the poor victims could have no access to fire exits because these were all blocked. The occupants were using these as additional office space or for storage. This is not an aberration confined to these two buildings or to Kolkata and Bengaluru. It is standard practice in every metropolis, every city and even every major town where multi-storeyed monsters are sprouting up, like mushrooms after a summer shower. In Kolkata, the rescue teams that entered the building after the flames had been brought under control well past midnight found as many as 17 charred bodies in the staircase leading to the building's terrace, obviously the best place to escape to during a fire. But the luckless people had no go: the door to the terrace was locked.
Again, this, too, was not unusual. A surprise and sample check in Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata and Chennai etc. would establish that the high-rise buildings' terraces are almost always out of the reach of their inmates. In the infamous fire at Uphaar cinema in 1990s in nation's capital, not the staircase to the terrace but a fire exit on the ground floor was locked. The case against those responsible for the virtual massacre dragged on for years, at the end of which they were let off rather lightly.
At Kolkata's Stephen Court the state of affairs turned out to be chilling. For 64 flats two-thirds of which are being used for commercial purposes there is only one entrance and exit. All other entry and exit points had disappeared in the 1980s when two floors were added to the original four.
Every city and state, of course, has elaborate fire safety rules, but these are violated as flagrantly as other laws and regulations, and for exactly the same reasons. Those assigned the task of enforcing fire safety measures do not sit idle by any means. They make the necessary rounds, but are happy to receive their weekly or monthly payment and look the other way. Any building owner or occupier who obeys the rules and, therefore, refuses to pay is often harassed.
If fire safety measures are thrown to the winds, firefighting also leaves a lot to be desired, as both past experience and what happened during the two fires under discussion show. According to almost all reports, the fire at Stephen Court in Kolkata was first detected on the fourth floor at 1.45 pm. The fire brigade, only half-a-kilometre away, was notified 15 minutes later. The first batch of fire tenders arrived at 2.35 pm but did not have ladders or hydraulic water jets that could reach the fourth floor. Another hour passed before tenders with the requisite equipment reached but they could become operational only half-an-hour later.
In Bengaluru, there was inexplicable delay in informing the fire brigade about the blaze. The first fire engine came from seven kilometres away but by the time it arrived it could not reach the burning building because a huge crowd yet another unavoidable hazard at the time of a disaster, man-made or natural had collected. The police had to work hard to make way for fire fighters. Moreover, here also the fire services were found lacking in the necessary equipment and skills. There is nothing to show that at a time when the Indian system cannot muster reasonably effective bullet-proof jackets for fighters against terrorism, it would act immediately and energetically to make good the deficiencies in fire fighting services across the country.
The cruellest twist to the tragic tale is that only after the havoc wrought by the fire the Left Front ministry in West Bengal discovered that the two floors added to Stephen Court in 1980s were "illegal". The Communist Party of India-Marxist state government has been in power uninterruptedly since 1977. Did it not know then what was going on? And is it so naïve as to believe that apart from these two floors no illegal construction has gone on in the sprawling city during the last 30 years? Regardless, the state chief minister has thundered that those who allowed the illegal construction at Stephen Court would be punished. To nobody's surprise, the civic authorities have blandly informed him that the files relating to the construction he has at last taken note of are untraceable. "Found missing" is the appropriate official jargon. One can be sure that if these files were not destroyed earlier, they must have been by now. Also, any simpleton would know that municipal and other officials who took bribes to allow illegal addition of two floors would have retired by now.
In all fairness it must be added that the Central government is no less tolerant of massive illegal constructions than are governments in the states, which is a measure of the builder mafia's clout and the venality of the politico-bureaucratic structure. Did not the Union government beat a hasty retreat after taking only limited action against unlawful constructions in Delhi only a few years ago?
Is it any surprise, therefore, that most, if not almost all, high-rise buildings could become potential towering infernos?
PROFESSIONAL TRIUMPH OR MARITAL BLISS?
BY DAVID BROOKS
Two things happened to Sandra Bullock this month. First, she won an Academy Award for best actress. Then came the news reports claiming that her husband is an adulterous jerk. So the philosophic question of the day is: Would you take that as a deal? Would you exchange a tremendous professional triumph for a severe personal blow?
On the one hand, an Academy Award is nothing to sneeze at. Bullock has earned the admiration of her peers in a way very few experience. She'll make more money for years to come. She may even live longer. Research by Donald A. Redelmeier and Sheldon M. Singh has found that, on average, Oscar winners live nearly four years longer than nominees that don't win.
Nonetheless, if you had to take more than three seconds to think about this question, you are absolutely crazy.
Marital happiness is far more important than anything else in determining personal well-being. If you have a successful marriage, it doesn't matter how many professional setbacks you endure, you will be reasonably happy. If you have an unsuccessful marriage, it doesn't matter how many career triumphs you record, you will remain significantly unfulfilled.
This isn't just sermonising. This is the age of research, so there's data to back this up. Over the past few decades, teams of researchers have been studying happiness. Their work, which seemed flimsy at first, has developed an impressive rigour, and one of the key findings is that, just as the old sages predicted, worldly success has shallow roots while interpersonal bonds permeate through and through.
For example, the relationship between happiness and income is complicated, and after a point, tenuous. It is true that poor nations become happier as they become middle-class nations. But once the basic necessities have been achieved, future income is lightly connected to well-being. Growing countries are slightly less happy than countries with slower growth rates, according to Carol Graham of the Brookings Institution and Eduardo Lora. The United States is much richer than it was 50 years ago, but this has produced no measurable increase in overall happiness. On the other hand, it has become a much more unequal country, but this inequality doesn't seem to have reduced national happiness.
On a personal scale, winning the lottery doesn't seem to produce lasting gains in well-being. People aren't happiest during the years when they are winning the most promotions. Instead, people are happy in their 20s, dip in middle age and then, on average, hit peak happiness just after retirement at age 65.
People get slightly happier as they climb the income scale, but this depends on how they experience growth. Does wealth inflame unrealistic expectations? Does it destabilise settled relationships? Or does it flow from a virtuous cycle in which an interesting job produces hard work that in turn leads to more interesting opportunities?
If the relationship between money and well-being is complicated, the correspondence between personal relationships and happiness is not. The daily activities most associated with happiness are sex, socialising after work and having dinner with others.
The daily activity most injurious to happiness is commuting. According to one study, joining a group that meets even just once a month produces the same happiness gain as doubling your income. According to another, being married produces a psychic gain equivalent to more than $100,000 a year.
If you want to find a good place to live, just ask people if they trust their neighbours. Levels of social trust vary enormously, but countries with high social trust have happier people, better health, more efficient government, more economic growth, and less fear of crime (regardless of whether actual crime rates are increasing or decreasing).
The overall impression from this research is that economic and professional success exists on the surface of life, and that they emerge out of interpersonal relationships, which are much deeper and more important.
The second impression is that most of us pay attention to the wrong things. Most people vastly overestimate the extent to which more money would improve our lives. Most schools and colleges spend too much time preparing students for careers and not enough preparing them to make social decisions. Most governments release a ton of data on economic trends but not enough on trust and other social conditions. In short, modern societies have developed vast institutions oriented around the things that are easy to count, not around the things that matter most. They have an affinity for material concerns and a primordial fear of moral and social ones.
This may be changing. There is a rash of compelling books including The Hidden Wealth of Nations by David Halpern and The Politics of Happiness by Derek Bok that argue that public institutions should pay attention to well-being and not just material growth narrowly conceived.
Governments keep initiating policies they think will produce prosperity, only to get sacked, time and again, from their spiritual blind side.
By arrangement with the New York Times
HISTORY'S DANCE WITH EQUALITY
The Women's Reservation Bill has been occupying the pages of all newspapers and magazines. While following the debates on this score, my mind goes back to the world of dance. What is the position of women in the arena of classical dance? It seems to be a woman's world as dance has been largely associated with the fairer sex. But was this always so?
Ancient India, before the advent of the Christian calendar and largely during the post-Vedic period, is the tale of the Indo-Gangetic belt. Starting from the Harappan figurine of the dancer that each recognised classical dance today appropriates as its focal point of origin, we come to Amrapali, the celebrated dancer and nagar-vadhu of Vaishali during the period of Buddha. Vaishali, the first democracy of the world which preceded even Athens, was where women in 600 BC had the power of franchise. Women could choose whom they wished to favour and had a say in personal life, politics and state administration.
But was this the general rule or was it unique to Amrapali? If we all cater to the first line of argument, then it was a sign of woman power. Yet later, the Prakrit verse in Asokan Brahmi script of the 4th century BC, several centuries prior to the writing of the Natyashastra, describes the devotional dance of the male Kathaks at Varanasi. This and all other references to Kathaks appearing at regular intervals speak of respect being accorded to the Kathaks largely because of their gender and the devotional aspect of their dance. Yet, against the large presence of male Kathaks in northern and central India, it was this region that first saw the development of the devadasi system in the post-Mauryan period.
During the period spanning 1,500 years, the devadasi system that the modern world today eulogises seems to point to a deteriorating status of women where they were used as pawns in the caste game. Any permanent liaison of an upper caste male with a courtesan or a devadasi, equated with temple prostitution, was frowned upon. This is evident from plays such as Mricchakatikam by Sudraka, cave references to Sutanuka and Devadin and the 5th century AD novel, Silappadikaram.
With the simultaneous rise of tantricism, woman power, through her image as "Shakti", was glorified. This also aided the development of the devadasi system. Sensualism became accepted as an inherent aspect of life. Yet all women performers, whether as temple, court or social performers, were considered sensual and of loose morals and, therefore, relegated to the outskirts of societal acceptance. They were also largely from low castes. In case they were born to an upper caste family who willed them to the temple because of penury, they ceased to belong to the caste they had been born in.
Temples were great revenue earners and worshippers were enticed through the system of devadasis. Several records, such as verses from the 8th century Bhavishya and Padma Puranas, and several French and Portuguese travellers have thrown light on the issue of devadasis. Similarly, some of the bais of northern India, well-versed in performing arts, while being feted by the elite society, again formed the fringe of society. In contrast, the male Kathaks attached to various temples of the Indo-Gangetic belt remained brahmins, the caste they were born in, and therefore, accepted members of mainstream society.
Society's hypocrisy was most evident in women-dominated dance, such as in Sadir and Dasi-attam of southern India, and that of the Maharis of eastern India. In the colonial period, the favours dispensed by the British led to a change of aspirations and equations. Members of the lower caste saw the devadasi system as a measure of humiliation and domination. Western education also led to a new breed of Indian intelligentsia who along with members of lower castes such as the Isai Vellalar and the Sengundar communities, and the devadasis themselves, subscribed to this view and rebelled. The movement in favour of abolition of the devadasi tradition finally saw the introduction of the "prevention of the dedication of women to Hindu temples" bill in the Presidency of Madras in 1930, popularly known as the Devadasi Abolition Bill. It was finally passed in 1947.
But it was the effort of lawyer and activist E. Krishna Iyer, scholar and critic V. Raghavan and Rukmini Devi Arundale that set the pace and mood that totally reversed the hitherto held notions about devadasis and their dance. Just 70 years ago, V. Raghavan coined the name Bharatanatyam to replace Sadir and Dasi-attam. E. Krishna Iyer spoke at every forum while Rukmini incorporated new mudras, hastas and positions after studying the Natyashastra, as well as internationalised and institutionalised the dance.
Later dancers and scholars started relating the term to Bharata of Natyashastra. Scholars such as Mohan Khokhar and Schechner commented that this newly created dance was claimed to be ancient by a "backward projection in time". To quote them: "A dance was created in the past in order to be restored for the present and future".
Led by the upper echelons of society, and with all three belonging to the brahmin caste, it soon led to the gradual acceptance of women performers as part of elite society and also to the presumption that it was an "ancient dance". Women-dominated dance forms went through sanitisation, re-construction and re-christening. The dance of the Maharis, synthesised with the dance of the Gotipuas, was christened Odissi in the late 1950s.
Thus, romanticisation and re-designing of the past, led by influential members of society, had a positive fallout, as it changed mind-sets in all parts of the country. Traditional male bastions, such as those of Kathak, Kathakali and Kuchipudi, fell before the upsurge of interest taken by girls from educated and elite society. The last two decades of the 20th century and the 21st century have, therefore, seen most of the classical dance scene being dominated by women performers and women gurus. The issue of reservation for women as performers does not hold here. In fact, there have been attempts at having all-male dance festivals to focus on the vanishing male dance traditions.
Today, the dance scene is full of women dancers from different social classes. Many gurus are trying to impart to them not only the technique of dance, but also the religo-cultural environment from which it was born. Many women dancers are increasingly taking up issues that are of relevance today. Thus women empowerment has come full circle, without reservations of any kind, from a suppressed, exploited status to a free-flowing culture combining tradition and modernity in some of the most innovative ways.
*Shovana Narayan is a renowned Kathak dancer. She has beenawarded the Padma Shri.
A SUFI WHO WAS BELOVED OF GOD
BY SADIA DEHLVI
I love Delhi for this is where my beloved Sufis lived and chose as their final resting ground. The Kaaba of my heart is the dargah of Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya whose 706th urs (Hijri) festivities commence on April 2. Death anniversaries of Sufis are called urs, literally means "wedding", signifying the union of the lover with God, the Beloved.
One of the greatest Sufi masters of the 14th century, Hazrat Nizamuddin's master Baba Farid Ganj-e-Shaker, prayed that his successor "become the tree which gives shelter and peace to humanity". Defining the city's thriving composite culture, the dargah continues to offer food, solace and shelter to devotees irrespective of class, creed or race.
Following the Mongol invasions of Central Asia, the Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya's family migrated from Bukhara to India, settling in Badayun. The quest for knowledge brought the young mystic to the city of Delhi when he was 16-years-old. Although his mother Bibi Zulekha endured financial hardships, she provided the best tutors for her son who acquired the reputation of an excellent debater. He initially thought of becoming a cleric, but decided to travel to Ajodhan, the khanqah of Baba Farid, and became his disciple.
On the second visit to Ajodhan, Baba Farid appointed the trainee mystic his chief successor, awarding the khilafatnama. Sensing the disciple's nervousness on accepting the responsibility, Baba Farid assured, "Nizam, take it from me, though I do not know if I will be honoured before the Almighty or not, I promise not to enter Heaven without your disciples".
Thirteen rulers ascended the throne of Delhi during the Shaykh's lifetime but not once did he visit the court (a Shaykh is a Sufi authorised to teach, initiate and guide aspiring dervishes). Even though Sultan Alauddin Khilji and members of his family were devotees, the Shaykh kept away from the kings. Baba Farid had clearly advised, "Do not turn your attention to worldly people. Do not accept grants of villages or gifts from kings. If travellers come to you and you have nothing to offer, think of it as a blessing from God".
The masses lovingly addressed Nizamuddin Auliya as Mehboob-e-Elahi, the Beloved of God. Emperor Firoz Shah Tughlaq referred to him as Sultan-al-Mashayakh, emperor of the mystics. Ziyauddin Barani, a historian of the times, gives the following account of the Sufi's influential and charismatic personality: "Shaykh Nizamuddin admitted all sorts of people as his disciples, nobles and plebians, rich and poor, learned and the illiterate, citizens and villagers, soldiers and warriors, free men and slaves. These people refrained from many improper activities and the general public showed an inclination to religion and prayer. Out of respect for the Shaykh's discipleship, all talk of sinful acts had disappeared from the people. There was no quarter in the city in which gatherings of the pious was not held every month with mystic songs that moved them to tears. Out of regard for one another, Muslims refrained from open usury and hoarding while the shopkeepers gave up lies and using false weights and deceiving the ignorant".
People considered Hazrat Nizamuddin to be the most favourably-endowed man alive but the mystic felt otherwise: "No one in the world is as sad and unhappy as me. Thousands of people come to me with their troubles and it afflicts my heart and soul. Strange is the heart that listens to sorrow and is not touched by it. The dervishes who retire in the mountains and jungles are lucky".
Hazrat Nizamuddin's khanqah served as a welfare centre, attending to the needs of the locality. Once when some houses in the neighbourhood caught fire, Sufi rushed to the spot barefeet and stayed there till the flames were extinguished. He personally counted the damaged houses, appointed his deputy to help the affected families with silver coins, food and water. There are countless recorded instances where he personally looked into the needs of the destitute. Despite a busy routine, he kept his door open and met visitors at all times.
Hazrat Nizamuddin's teachings added a new dimension to the understanding of Islamic ideals. He emphasised that looking after the destitute had greater value than formal religious practices. Healthy debates were encouraged and the mystic insisted that there should be no expression of anger during the dialogue. He taught that although many ways lead to God, none was more effective than bringing happiness to the human heart. He reiterated that the love of God should be the sole motivation for righteous and not the desire for Heaven or the fear of Hell.
Shaykh Nizamuddin Auliya breathed his last at the age of 82, on 18th Rabi ath thani 725 Hijri/1325 AD. With his death a historic phase of the Sufi movement in Delhi came to an end.
Sadia Dehlvi is a Delhi-based writer and author of Sufism: The Heart of Islam
THE ORDER OF THINGS
BY K.C. SINGH
The pictures from the US-Pakistan strategic dialogue in Washington on March 24-25, showing US secretary of state Hillary Clinton and Pakistani foreign minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi giggling, interminably radiated bonhomie. Should they justify concern in South Block or can they be dismissed as mere diplomatic charade? Pakistan's maximalist wishlist rested on the assumption that they are now critical to the success of the post-London Conference roadmap for Afghanistan. They sought a civil nuclear deal akin to India's but were promised three thermal power plants; exaggerated claims were made of Pakistani economic sacrifice, but no new aid was announced, despite Mr Qureshi melodramatically pronouncing that the US no longer berated Pakistan for inaction on terrorism, private demarches were different.
The spring in Pakistan Army Chief General A.P. Kayani's walk is due to the Army's rising control over critical foreign policy issues and their lead role in the endgame in Afghanistan. Reconciliation and reintegration for them means the re-emergence of those Taliban elements that are either existing or potential allies; otherwise they will meet the fate of Mullah Baradar and some of his associates from the Quetta Shura, who are under detention in Pakistan.
This cockiness is corroborated by the stiffening of Pakistan's approach to India, increased ceasefire violations and escalating cross-Line of Control infiltration attempts. When India seeks action against Laskhar-e-Tayyaba and Hafiz Saeed, counter-claims are presented about Indian complicity in terror attacks in Pakistan.
Having just attended a seminar at the King's College, London, on Afghanistan, attended by Pakistani retired Army generals, media and think tank representatives, one felt the Pakistani Army may be setting forth on another misadventure, relying on flawed assumptions.
Firstly, the US position on troop withdrawal from Afghanistan is more nuanced than some are assuming. The actual decision on timing and pace would be contingent on the success of the reconciliation and the readiness of the Afghan National Army and police to assume responsibility. Their collective strength is to be 300,000 by 2011. Thus, India needs a US assurance that they will not cut and run but empower and withdraw.
Secondly, reintegration and reconciliation should imply proper vetting, re-education and gradual absorption of those who abjure violence, accept the constitutional arrangement, as it exists or may evolve after the Loya Jirga on April 29. Pakistan's understanding of these terms is a rapid pushing of its favourites like the Haqqanis and those in Mullah Omar's group or Hekmatiyar or such of his followers who align with Pakistani interests. The dominance of the Pashtuns is considered inevitable. This is grossly at variance with British foreign secretary David Miliband's assertion, in a speech at Boston a fortnight ago, that while Pakistan's concerns need addressing, so do those of other neighbours. He added that the international community would not tolerate, in future, attempted dominance by any single neighbour. Is this message being heard in Rawalpindi; or believed?
Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai has responded by expanding his strategic elbow-room. He hosted Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in Kabul while US defence secretary Robert Gates was still in Afghanistan. As the US-Pakistan strategic dialogue kicked-off in Washington, Mr Karzai was on a plane to Beijing promising new oil and gas deals. Preceding all this was Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin's working visit to India. Therefore, the Pakistani actions are causing the regional powers to rally, fearing a return to the past.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh visits Washington next month. He needs to do some plain-speaking as there is public unease in India that the Indo-US strategic engagement is a cover for US restricting Indian strategic independence, while advancing its own regional agenda, re-arming Pakistan and letting off pressure on Pakistan to curb radical Islam.
For a successful outcome in Afghanistan, all regional countries must adjust their core interests. India has already toned down its antipathy to the Taliban. Iran must cease supporting the Taliban, including factions like Hekmatiyar as a buffer against the US. China cannot be extracting minerals and fossil fuels from Afghanistan without curbing Pakistan's self-destructive march to the past. Russia must endorse Taliban's balanced participation in governance. Critical, perhaps, will be greater delegation of power to the regions with, say, Taliban control in Kandahar and only influence in Kabul. Even today Herat and Mazar-e-Sharif are booming cities due to stability across the border from them in Iran and Central Asia.
Stability in southern and eastern Afghanistan needs early liberation of Kandahar from Taliban, the assumption of control by the Afghan National Army and police, genuine cooperation by Afghanistan's neighbours, and a successful Loya Jirga to suck the Pashtuns into the national political mainstream, leaving Al Qaeda isolated and defeated. A tall order, for sure, within the stated timeframes. Historically, multi-ethnic nations have been easy prey to regional ambitions of neighbours. Two examples are Lebanon and Bosnia. Pakistan may hopefully calculate that an imploding Afghanistan will not give it strategic depth, as in 1990-2001, but threaten its territorial integrity. If not, Afghanistan has a long, trying summer ahead and so does India.
* The author is a former secretary in the external affairs ministry
WIDOW WORE BLACK
A MARTYR FOR A CAUSE?
Moscow has been shaken to its foundations and literally so. Monday's Chechen reprisal is decidedly the worst since Vladimir Putin's Chechen wars of the Nineties. On the face of it, the outrage was a fairly standard manifestation of Islamist terror ~ an attack on the State regardless of the innocent victims. By that token, the suicide attack on the Metro marked a chilling resurgence of terror under the Medvedev-Putin dispensation. And the resurgence has found expression most crucially in the vicinity of the Kremlin. The distinctive feature of the strike carries a message for the Russian authorities as much as the world. This time, it was reportedly spearheaded by the doughty members of the Black Widows brigade. Yet this ought not to occasion excessive surprise because the Chechen terrorist groups have routinely inducted women to act as suicide bombers. In a very real sense, the peak hour bombing of the Metro was an act of what they call "blood revenge", a traditional practice among the ethnic groups in the North Caucasus. Beyond that, the women have also conveyed the stark message that they have the will to die as martyrs for the Islamic jihad.
For close to two decades they have been witness to the kidnapping, torture and killing of their husbands and children by the Russian army as it launched a brutal suppression of the revolt. Indeed, torture and executions have been part of the State reprisal. Ergo, Monday's mayhem was a counter-reprisal, a renewed bout of the conflict between Russia and Chechnya, a part of the world where to avenge the killing of the next of kin is deemed as a duty. The targeting of civilians underscored the depth of hatred towards Russians in the North Caucasus. They have struck and struck with mortal effect, this time in the heart of Moscow and close to the seat of power.
The awesome build-up over the past few months was portentous enough, and it is clear that the rebels have studiously executed their devastating intent. A team of suicide bombers were trained over the past year and the Chechen leader, Doku Umarov's warning as recently as January was explicit that "the war is coming to their cities", pre-eminently Moscow and St Petersburg. The first part of that intrepid agenda has been executed with fantastic fanatical fury. Black Widows may even surmount the Great Wall of China that Alexander Solzhenitsyn had prescribed "to keep them away from us". The spectre of violence has shaken the Kremlin; and the jolt is as physical as it is symbolic.
HAS ENOUGH BEEN DONE?
SUPERFICIALLY there is a little reason to dispute the contention of the Eastern Command spokesman that the quick response of the fire-fighting units prevented the blaze at the ammunition depot in Panagarh from spreading beyond one shed, and developing into a major inferno that "threatened" the civil populace of the vicinity. Yet that cannot serve as a smokescreen, there is every reason to raise unpleasant questions about the safety and efficacy of ordnance storage facilities across the country. For it is difficult not to recall ammunition fires at Bharatpur, Suratgarh, Dehu Road, Kundroo (in J&K) , all in the last decade. The reasons for each may vary: while in Panagarh the fire started in a shed, in Bharatpur it broke out in dry grass and spread to ammunition piled in the open and destroyed weapon-stores worth some Rs 360 crore ~ what is the quantum of loss at Burdwan? After Bharatpur, the defence minister of the day was candid enough to admit that there had been little upgrading of several facilities of World War II vintage, and announced a Rs 3,000-crore modernisation programme. How much progress has been made on that front? Will the defence minister use the floor of Parliament to present the current picture? Provided, of course, our MPs take time out from politicking, and focus a little on expenditure of a considerable share of taxpayers' rupees. Or maybe he could use some other means to take the nation into confidence.
It is indeed a confidence issue. Increasing is a public perception that while top officers of the defence services are effective when pressing for state-of-the-art equipment (in addition to their own pay and perks, their critics would add), inadequate attention is paid to the maintenance/preservation of low-profile but high cost equipment. As weaponry increases in sophistication, so too would ammunition-storage require stringently controlled temperature and humidity conditions. Has enough been done on that front? Some of the details will obviously not be disclosed for "security reasons", but the winds of change are blowing and the defence establishment will have to open up. Particularly since aam aadmi is beginning to ask if he is being provided the quality of military functioning that a budgetary provision of Rs 1,47,000 crore ought to ensure.
ASSAM RS POLL RAISES MANY QUESTIONS
WHILE the Congress in Assam is on cloud nine after winning both Rajya Sabha seats to which elections were held last week, the Opposition is fuming. As much is evident from Asom Gana Parishad president, Chandra Mohan Patowary's description of the exercise being an "assassination of democracy and that it (Congress) might have won both the seats but (was) morally defeated". The reported confinement of some Opposition members to a hotel on the eve of the election and their being "chaperoned" by an influential Congress leader to the Assembly on the day of voting clearly points to the ruling party's adventurist politics. Notwithstanding the Whip issued by the BJP ~ it has 10 members in the Assembly ~ four of them voted against the official candidate. What's more, even two from the Muslim-dominated All India United Democratic Front and one each from the AGP and the Autonomous State Demand Committee (Karbi Anglong) defied their parties and allied with the Congress.
The ruling party is known to go to any lengths to achieve its narrow partisan ends but what appears to have forced the "rebels" to change their minds is the selection of a common candidate, Jayanta Barua. He is not even a political personality and his only "claim to fame" is his ownership of a newspaper ~ Asomiya Pratidin.It reportedly enjoys a fairly large circulation, is very critical of New Delhi and is a staunch supporter of Assamese nationalism. On several occasions, it is said to have morally supported the Ulfa but some years ago its executive editor and human rights activist, Prarag Kumar Das, was killed, allegedly by surrenderd Ulfa cadres. Many questioned Barua's motive for finding a seat in the Rajya Sabha. Was it to end his anti-state stance or merely a "marketing strategy" to sharpen anti-government slogans? Little wonder then why opportunists thrive in Indian politics.
HIGHER STILL HIGHER
THE ILLUSORY CONCEPTS OF GROWTH AND 'SAFETY NET'
BY PR DUBHASHI
IN the midst of the food inflation, the Prime Minister, the Deputy Chairman of the Planning Commission, Dr Montek Singh Ahluwalia, and the finance minister, Mr Pranab Mukherjee are obsessed with growth. They are proud of the fact that the year 2009 registered a 7 per cent growth rate; they hope that this will rise to 9-10 per cent in 2010. A strange phenomenon that has been highlighted by some "knowledgeable" people in the government is that while there was food price inflation, there was no general inflation. The misconception was exposed when the rise in food prices was reflected in the general index of prices. None in the government is prepared to accept the fact that this is a serious problem and has to be dealt with seriously. The attitude reflects the priorities of the government and the lack of concern for aam aadmi that has elected this dispensation for a second term.
The minister in charge of an omnibus ministry covering agriculture, food, civil supplies and consumer distribution ought to be directly responsible for the abnormal rise in food prices. But he has washed his hands off the matter, saying that it was not his responsibility alone but that of the government as a whole.
WALLOW IN LUXURY
THE finance minister refused to lighten the monetary policy of credit liberalisation and the fiscal policy of a surge in public expenditure through deficit financing. On the other hand, through his secretary he asked the Reserve Bank not to raise the bank interest rate as it would hurt business. Food inflation, his experts argued, was not demand-driven but caused by supply restraint. And this was blamed on the drought for which the government was not responsible. Apparently, no one is, therefore, accountable. The common people have to suffer meekly while the affluent classes, including politicians and administrators, continue to wallow in luxury.
It was only when Mamata Banerjee, smarting under the steadfast refusal of the Prime Minister and other Congress leaders to respond to her demand for the dismissal of the West Bengal government, kicked up a row at a Cabinet meeting that the Prime Minister announced an 11-point programme to combat food inflation. She had highlighted the fact that certain pulses were selling at Rs 100 a kg and sugar at Rs 50.
The agenda covers the following aspects:
(1) Release of 2 to 3 million tons of wheat and rice from the stocks in government godowns;
(2) Import of sugar;
(3) Import of dal;
(4) A subsidy of Rs 10 on imported dal by the state government.
(5) Distribution of 5 lakh tonnes of wheat and 2 lakh tonnes of rice through NAFED.
(6) No vat or other tax on sugar;
(7) Liberalisation of rules regarding the processing of raw sugar by mill owners in UP by allowing processing outside UP;
(8) Continuation of subsidy for edible oil till 31 October.
(9) Strict action against the holding of food stocks;
(10) Strict action against smuggling of sugar and sugarcane.
(11) Meeting of state chief ministers to be convened by the Prime Minister. This was held on 27 January.
There is nothing extraordinary about these measures. They could have been announced long ago to provide relief to the common people. The fact of the matter is that after regaining power, the government had become insensitive to hardships. It stuck to the neo-liberal policy of free market economy, minimal governmental intervention, a reduced role for the state, liberal concessions to big business and multinationals on whom the government depended for boosting investment and the rate of growth. The question whether such growth would create adequate employment or bring about equitable distribution of income and wealth was not addressed.
The government shirked its responsibility by attributing the so-called supply constraint of essential commodities to natural factors like drought and untimely rain. They are a part of what is referred to as our "climatologic". The government has to evolve and implement a series of policy measures and programmes over the next one year to counter the drought, notably an increase in water availability through better irrigation in the catchment area, water management in drought-prone areas and developing drought-resistant crops. The cooperative system with an integrated programme for the supply of credit, supply of inputs, storage and marketing has declined considerably. The government relies on private seed and fertiliser supply agencies which are solely governed by short term-profit considerations. They provide expensive but inferior seed and insecticides. The marketing of agricultural commodities is handled by private agencies of big business. They have indulged in building stocks and profiteering. Indeed, all this is part of the lopsided government policy adopted since 1991 to give priority to secondary and tertiary sectors by giving short shrift to the primary sector which produces essential commodities. This explains the supply constraint. Indeed, the bias against agriculture has gone to such an extent that Sharad Pawar echoes big business when he suggests that agriculture is unviable and ought to be privatised. Hence the minister's emphasis on "corporate farming" and "contract farming".
The agriculture minister has been openly asking farmers to quit agriculture and join other sectors. He wants priority to be accorded not to the production of food but to the use of foodgrain to produce wine, which is a profitable enterprise.
WITH the tilt in favour of market economy, the government has over the years allowed the public distribution system to become non- functional. The concept of a welfare state has become outmoded in a neo-liberal state and the public is left to face the vicissitudes of the market forces. Prices are bound to rise when there is a supply constraint. This is the logic of a free market economy and the government cannot be held responsible for the suffering of the common man. The market is capable of making the necessary corrections in an efficient manner and not the government. The government must abdicate its responsibility in economic matters. This is the new philosophy of neo-liberalisation.
The minister and his colleagues often argue that is not necessary to be self-sufficient in foodgrain, pulses, oil seeds and other essential commodities since they can always be imported. Dal imported from Korea and supplied through ration shops was found to be unfit for consumption.. The import from Myanmar was held up because of procedural problems. Rotten food was imported from Australia and had to be discarded. Despite the anticipated shortage, sugar was exported at a low price. When the country faced a shortage, it was imported at a high price. Such dubious transactions confirm the utter lack of planning. But Mr Pawar has passed the buck onto the state governments as though the Centre and the states are not expected to work together in a cooperative federal system. Those left out of the globalised segment of the economy are suffering most acutely. The so-called "safety net" provides no safety at all. So much for the Prime Minister's "inclusive growth".
The writer, a former Secretary to Government of India and Vice-Chancellor, Goa University, is currently the chairman, Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, Pune Kendra
CONSTITUTION,QUOTAS AND COURTS
AS DEMANDS FOR RESERVATION CONTINUE TO MOUNT UNCHECKED, IT IS FOR THE JUDGES TO CONSIDER WHETHER THE SUPREME COURT'S PAST JUDGMENTS ON THE QUOTA ISSUE WERE JUSTIFIED, SAYS RAJINDER PURI
There should be no surprise if Muslims get reservation quotas. The belief that the Constitution debarred reservation on the basis of religion was demolished earlier when the Supreme Court upheld reservation on the basis of caste in its judgment in the Mandal Case delivered on November 16, 1992. The Supreme Court allowed the government to subvert the spirit of the Constitution and grant reservation on the basis of caste. Now, how can it deny reservation on the basis of religion?
Article 16(2) of the Constitution states: "No citizen shall, on grounds only of religion, race, caste, sex, descent, place of birth, residence or any one of them, be ineligible for, or discriminated against in respect of, any employment or office under the State". This appears explicit enough in debarring reservation on the basis of religion or caste. However, there is a catch. The article debars discrimination on the basis of "only" religion or caste. Other qualifications added to religion or caste would allow reservation because these would then cease to be "only" religion or caste!
Article 16(4) of the Constitution states: "Nothing in this article shall prevent the State from making any provision for the reservation of appointments or posts in favour of any backward class of citizens which, in the opinion of the State, is not adequately represented in the services under the State". So what did the Mandal Commission do?
It utilized Article 16 (4) of the Constitution to create caste-based reservation. To identify backward classes, the Mandal Commission assigned weight to various criteria to define backwardness. It gave many points to caste and very few points to economic status. Abracadabra! Certain castes became "backward classes". Reservation doors became open not only for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes but for any caste that could wield sufficient political clout to influence the politicians of any state. In the opinion of the Honourable Supreme Court, does this conform to the spirit of the Constitution? If it does, then surely it should be possible for, say, the Jats of Haryana to one day obtain reservation by conforming to the Constitution. They too can be made backward. After all, their cousins, the Yadavs, who are forward in Haryana, are backward in Uttar Pradesh. Why can't the Jats be forward in Uttar Pradesh and backward in Haryana?
Given this background, the Ranganath Mishra Report's proposal to grant reservation rights to Muslims should encounter no Constitutional impediment. The Supreme Court had cleared all the roadblocks. It is for people and for Supreme Court judges to consider whether the spirit of the Constitution is being upheld or not. The judges must introspect and decide for themselves whether their past judgments conformed to the spirit of the Constitution or were influenced by the prevailing political atmosphere.
After the majority judgment (4:3) in the Mandal Case of 1992 eminent jurist late Nani Palkhiwala said: "Future historians of the Indian republic will regard 1992 as one of the saddest years in the history of our jurisprudence. This is the year in which the Supreme Court, by a majority continued, virtually in perpetuity, the scourge of casteism". Palkhiwala himself seemed to have had little doubt that the judges were influenced by the prevailing political atmosphere that overrode legal constraints. When Rajhbhoj, the MP from Pune, approached Palkhiwala to take up the case of minority religion Dalit members, Palkhiwala told him: "Bring 10 lakh Dalits outside the Supreme Court when the case comes up, and I will get you your reservation!" That remark did not reflect a particularly high opinion about the Supreme Court's objectivity.
As demands for reservation continue to mount unchecked, it is for the judges to consider whether the Supreme Court's past judgments on the quota issue were justified. If not, the Supreme Court must take steps to rectify the error. They would be serving the interests of the Supreme Court as well as of the nation.
The writer is a veteran journalist and cartoonist
SILLY SEASON FOR SELLING
"Buy two and get three free. Offer valid till stock lasts" - advertisements like these have already caught our eyes. This "opportunity'' comes in the last month of the Bengali calendar, Chaitra. We get it also during the Durga Puja, Deewali and Eid. Not only big companies but also small stall owners announce offers and do brisk business. We end up buying tons of goods at a rate what we think is a good bargain. What we fail to understand is that the sellers have the last laugh.
There are many who eagerly wait for a special offer (they go by high-sounding names like "bonanza'' and "dhamaka''). No sooner is it done than we go on a buying spree. City malls witness huge footfalls. Apart from a discount on sales, other offers like "fifty per cent ki chhut'' make us lose our senses. Moreover, there are gifts from mobile phones to cars, key rings to earrings. There are lotteries on cash vouchers where one stands the chance of winning an air-conditioner. The luckier ones can win an all-paid trip to Singapore. Naturally we find it irresistible and end up buying a product for the gifts rather than for the product itself.
Roadside stalls do not lag behind in offering freebies. Places like Burrabazar, Hatibagan, Shyambazar, Sealdah, Bowbazar and Gariahat in Kolkata witness large footfalls. The word "sale'' is a huge incentive to make a mad rush. They remain so engrossed that they encroach upon the entire stretch of the thoroughfares throwing traffic out of gear. The honking of vehicles seldom reaches their ears. The best efforts of the traffic policemen notwithstanding, traffic goes haywire.
The less said about the towns like the one I live in, the better. The main roads are choc-a-bloc with buyers and sellers. Hawkers encroach on the roads. Pedestrians cannot walk without shoving one another. The condition becomes worse if buses or lorries pass that stretch of the road. Drivers honk with all their might. Choicest abuses are hurled. One can well imagine the plight of patients who have to suffer the misfortune of being taken to hospitals through roads like these.
Women are far ahead in these matters. She can buy anything from handkerchief to a sari, a grinding stone to a mixer-cum-grinder machine. My sister is a compulsive buyer. She first buys things and later decides how and when to use them or whether they are of any use at all. She shuttles between Salt Lake and Hatibagan almost daily at this time of the year.
Traders take full advantage. They not only clear their old stocks but often sell substandard goods. Many customers often grumble that the goods they have bought are either made of inferior material or have a poor finish. They wish that they had not bought anything at all. But as soon as they see the advertisements, they are the first to rush.
GRAFT IN CHINA... A WAY OF LIFE?
BEIJING HAS IDENTIFIED CORRUPTION AS A MAJOR CHALLENGE AND HAS TAKEN SOME HIGH-PROFILE SCALPS BUT THERE IS STILL A FEELING THAT CORRUPTION IS RIFE, SAYS CLIFFORD COONAN
The British engineer was shown a photograph of a local Communist Party official's daughter, and the cadre tapped the frame and said: "I hear you have good universities in Britain. But the American ones are good too. How will you compete when offering her a place? That's what it will take to secure the business!" The Briton lost the deal.
An Australian mining-equipment manufacturer discovered his company's equipment was being copied exactly by a neighbouring factory, to the point where he was approached by the boss of the factory looking for the exact mix of paint. But this rival was also his partner, and it took a major payout to ensure he stopped making the equipment. It was only a temporary respite, however, and the Australian eventually abandoned the joint venture.
Foreigners' accounts of doing business with China are filled with tales of local graft, of funding enormous banquets to secure access to corrupt officials and of kickbacks keeping the wheels turning. But the decision to impose hefty jail sentences on the Rio Tinto Four for paying bribes and stealing secrets has caused a major stir in the Western business community.
The four all admitted they had taken bribes, and the decision to hand down heavy jail terms is the government showing, in a very public way, that foreigners are not above the law.
Beijing has identified corruption as a major challenge to single-party rule and has taken some high-profile scalps in a number of public crackdowns on graft in the past few years. But there is a feeling that corruption is rife, despite the government's best efforts.
However, for many Western companies, this case must surely leave a rather nasty taste in the mouth. The problem is the lack of clarity about how one is supposed to operate in China. The rule of law is getting better, but there is still a way to go. And there is a perception that the Chinese government, using the legal system it controls, will intervene to help domestic interests.
The case must also send a chill down the spines of many foreigners working in China, who will tell you about the bribery they had to use to get their foot in the door.
The lack of transparency around the case little consular access for the accused and very little independent media coverage has also raised questions about how public the rule of law in China is. The Commercial Secrets Act that Mr Hu and his colleagues were charged under is not public knowledge, and the details remain secret.
If a man is known by the company he keeps, it seems possible that a nation is known by the icons it celebrates. At present, India is busy looking up to Amitabh Bachchan as an icon; his commissions and omissions become weighty topics of discussion in social and cultural arenas. Yet, India once boasted of icons acknowledged the world over for their extraordinary stature and immeasurable contribution, such as Rabindranath Tagore or Mahatma Gandhi. More than one generation of children were brought up with such figures to look up to. Their vivid presence in the cultural consciousness served as a kind of benchmark for extraordinary powers and deep humanity, against which the young could measure their aspirations, efforts and ordeals, their rebellions and achievements. India has produced a number of remarkable personalities who both defined the country's culture and served as its launching pad, who made history while also changing it.
To put in their place the most celebrated icons of today, whether it is Mr Bachchan or Sourav Ganguly, argues a startling diminution of scale. This has nothing to do with the admiration and respect that brilliant actors and sportsmen deservedly command; they are indeed a significant part of any nation's cultural life. But a Tom Cruise or a David Beckham is not accorded the iconic stature in their respective countries that Mr Bachchan or Mr Ganguly enjoys in India. Even serious discussions on society nowadays take their acceptance as icons for granted. But building up and leading a team of players with intelligence, patience, skill and determination, for example, is rather different from uniting the nation in quiet resistance. This lack of discrimination in the choice of icons reveals an immaturity that is far from charming. Unable to distinguish among greatness, excellence and popularity, this immaturity ends up devaluing standards, which leads to oddities such as the most prestigious civilian award, the Bharat Ratna, being given to Lata Mangeshkar as a singer of unrivalled popularity, in recognition of "the highest degree of national service". When a nation lowers its sights in the perception of values, it is time to worry about the quality of its intellectual and cultural achievements.
Just when Russia seemed poised to enter a new phase in its relationship with the United States of America, its bitter enemy in the Cold War, history intervened. Days after agreeing on a nuclear arms reduction treaty with Washington, Moscow has been ripped apart by powerful explosions on its underground network. It may be tempting to read a deeper meaning into the timing, especially when the arrow of suspicion is directed at the usual suspects Islamic separatists from the North Caucasus fighting to separate the republics of Chechnya, Ingushetia and Dagestan from Russia. In the days before 9/11, the 'axis of evil', for the US, passed through Russia, whose desire for supremacy over Central Asia went back to the Soviet era, and even further back to the age of imperialist expansion. With the war on terror, the US swiftly interchanged its friends and foes in the region, though Russia was already having a field day over its relatively weaker neighbours since 1999. Chechnya, in particular, has been bruised and battered by Russian soldiers, who have killed, raped and plundered with impunity. These atrocities were also perpetrated in Georgia locked in a fierce struggle with Russia over South Ossetia and Abkhazia by Russian peacekeeping troops, culminating in the devastating war in 2008.
In the two intervening years, the rhetorical battle between the US and Russia has changed into some sort of an alliance, to be now clinched by the upcoming nuclear deal. The coming together of these two major global powers serves well to keep the pressure on Iran to make a clean breast of its own supposedly clandestine proliferation programme. There is also the common goal of destroying the terrorists, to borrow a phrase that the Russian prime minister, Vladimir Putin, used in the wake of the Moscow attacks. But then, Mr Putin should not confuse the enemy of the US with the one that threatens his own nation. Terrorism may be a global phenomenon but its roots are almost always local. Barack Obama appears to be aware of this dimension as he tries to negotiate the knotty question of how justice can be done to the Middle East, Cuba, South and Central Asia regions that have figured as stubborn challenges in the chequered history of his nation. But in contrast, Mr Putin's aggressive nationalism, modelled on a Stalinist absolutism, has not only undermined the political and human-rights reforms achieved by Boris Yeltsin and by Mikhail Gorbachev's glasnost, but also destablized Central Asia.
A TRUSTED ALLY
BETWEEN G.P. KOIRALA AND INDIA, IT WAS A TWO-WAY STREET
DIPLOMACY - K.P. NAYAR
Only in Nepal could this have happened to India! In the household of Girija Prasad Koirala, Nepal's five-time prime minister who passed away 11 days ago, a big effort was under way to locate Shiv Shankar Mukherjee, who was the Indian ambassador in Kathmandu until May 2008. Leading the search was Shekhar Koirala, nephew of "Girijababu", as G.P. Koirala was popularly known within his country and in India. The Indian embassy told the Koirala family that Mukherjee was in a remote sector of Nepalgunj, doing shilanyas for an India-funded development project: cell-phone signals were poor in that area and it would be difficult to reach the ambassador quickly.
Then Shekhar Koirala unburdened his mind. Girijababu had been taken seriously ill and needed to remain in the hospital where he had been admitted. But Nepal's tallest politician, even in his advanced age, was refusing to listen to either his doctors or his family. He wanted to get back to his work among his people, insisting that there was much to be done in a country at the crossroads of history. Shekhar Koirala told Indian diplomats in Kathmandu that the only person who could make Girijababu see reason was New Delhi's man in Kathmandu.
At the end of a Herculean effort, the embassy got across to Mukherjee, who immediately dropped everything, took a flight to Kathmandu and drove straight to Girijababu's side. The ambassador persuaded him to stay a few days more in the hospital until the leader of the Nepali Congress was nearly fit to resume his hectic schedule of public service.
Between G.P. Koirala and India, however, it was a two-way street. Most Indians in politics who have been dealing with Girijababu since his political family's involvement in the Quit India movement from their home in exile in North India could never say 'no' to him either. His counterparts in Indian politics treated him as one of their own and he became "Girijababu" to many of them, like "Babu" Jagjivan Ram at one time.
G.P. Koirala's closest friend in Indian politics was the former prime minister, Chandra Shekhar: for a man who represented a one-man organization, Chandra Shekhar had influence across parties that was far in excess of his political strength. Until his death, many prime ministers and most external affairs ministers turned to Chandra Shekhar for advice on Nepal. The only state visit that Chandra Shekhar insisted on and undertook during his short tenure as prime minister was to Kathmandu.
This columnist was in Kathmandu during the height of the Jana Andolan, which terminated absolute monarchy in Nepal in 1990. The live wire, so to speak, at the Indian embassy in Kathmandu then was the deputy chief of mission, G.S. Iyer, a Tamil-speaking Keralite. Once again, only in Nepal could this happen to India: Girijababu and the other leaders of the Nepali Congress were under house arrest, but Iyer could meet them in their homes. When Iyer was leaving Nepal on a posting back to New Delhi, Prime Minister G.P. Koirala insisted on breaking protocol and attending his farewell at a hotel in Kathmandu.
For this deputy chief of mission, who was in Hong Kong and Beijing during the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution and went to Tehran soon after Ayatollah Khomeini's revolution overthrew the Shah, there was a sense of déjà vu about the popular movement that Girijababu, Ganesh Man Singh and Krishna Prasad Bhattarai were leading.
Just as Khomeini's speeches were distributed through cassettes in the Shah's mercilessly repressive Iran, when the Jana Andolan was announced, it had to be done on the private property of Man Singh: political parties were illegal and no public meetings could be held. The proceedings declaring the movement for democracy had to be recorded on cassette and distributed to mobilize the masses.
It is not possible to write a simple obituary of any tall political leader in Nepal, especially someone like Girijababu. Any such attempt inevitably turns into an essay on Indo-Nepal relations. Today's media, especially sections of the visual media with very little historical memory, often make mountains of molehills in relations between Kathmandu and New Delhi. While Girijababu was undoubtedly a trusted friend of India, it is really no different with almost any other political leader in Nepal. What is needed to sustain India's special relationship with Nepal is patience, perseverance and sensitivity to a smaller neighbour.
When K.V. Rajan was picked by Prime Minister P.V. Narasimha Rao to be the first career diplomat to be sent to Kathmandu as ambassador after very many years, Man Mohan Adhikari had just taken over as the first democratically-elected communist to become prime minister of Nepal. Adhikari was breathing fire at India in public, demanding the recall of ambassador Bimal Prasad, a political appointee, who, it was alleged, had put all of India's eggs in Girijababu's basket. Adhikari was also demanding the abrogation of the 1950 Indo-Nepal Treaty of Peace and Friendship.
A company in London, where Rajan had been deputy high commissioner before moving to Kathmandu, had just brought out a collection of Hindustani classical music and treats by Kundan Lal Saigal, Mohammed Rafi and others. The incoming ambassador procured this collection before leaving London, and presented it to Adhikari when he called on the prime minister, about whom mistrust was rampant in India.
It is a reminder of the strong cultural and sentimental ties which bind India and Nepal that the 'hardline' communist melted upon receiving the musical tribute. According to those who have seen Rajan's report to South Block on that meeting, when the new ambassador brought up the issue of the 1950 treaty, Adhikari who took part in the Quit India movement from his exile in India silenced him with a wave of his hand. The 1950 treaty is a treaty of friendship, the prime minister said, adding that friendship treaties between friends are not easily dispensed with. Rajan was the longest serving Indian envoy to Nepal.
Rao's biggest contribution to neighbourhood diplomacy was perhaps his genuine effort to address the insecurity about India among Nepal's politicians during that period. India is still reaping the benefits of that policy.
When Ustad Amjad Ali Khan visited Nepal in 1995, the kingdom was in the throes of yet another crisis, and bitterness was high among politicians of different persuasions on the one hand and between the king and political leaders on the other. So the political leaders were somewhat surprised that the king and queen turned up at India House to listen to the maestro since Narayanhiti Palace knew that every major political leader would be at the sarod concert. Unscheduled, all of them stayed for dinner at the ambassador's residence: in fact, that dinner broke the ice and paved the way for resolving Nepal's political crisis, although sadly, the kingdom was then buffeted by one crisis after another in quick succession and saw nine governments in five-and-a-half years.
After Girijababu's death, the most moving tribute was paid by the man who was viewed in recent years as his most implacable foe: the Maoist leader, 'Prachanda' Pushpa Kamal Dahal. But Prachanda's tribute was also revealing of how deeply involved India was in trying to forge a consensus across the border even when the Maoist insurgency was at its height.
If only India's politicians would emulate Girijababu and Prachanda, who forged a strong bond of friendship and mutual trust in national interest at several secret meetings in Delhi, Noida, Gurgaon and other places, even as the latter was fighting a guerrilla war and the former was ostensibly doing everything to finish off the Maoists.
Was India's fascination for Girijababu partly because his family had produced three prime ministers Matrika Prasad Koirala, Bishweshwar Prasad Koirala and Girijababu himself? India's equivalent of the Koirala family, the Nehru-Gandhis, have also given their country three prime ministers. Whether there will be a fourth on Nepal's side from the Koirala family is an issue that is now being discussed much in Kathmandu.
INSIDE THE SCRABBLE ASYLUM
WORDCAGE - STEPHEN HUGH-JONES
Forgive me. I've sworn not to be unkind more than once a year to the "English" used in the game of Scrabble. But recently I came upon a Scrabblehead's list of single-syllable words that usefully include a double a. On this eve of April Fool's Day, it is too surreal a joke not to be passed on.
Here it is: aa, aah, aal, baa, baal, baas, caa, faa, faan, haaf, haar, jaap, kaal, maa, maar, naam, naan, paal, taal, waac. Surprisingly, no kraal, no yaar either.
Well indeed. Most of these 20 words, supposedly, can add a plural s, and four were said to be verbs. Those included the two lonely words that I'd accept as English, baa and aah. So if you want to go oohing and aahing making those sounds of surprise at the noise of sheep baaing, I won't protest.
As for the others, I've actually heard haar, from pretentious BBC weather-forecasters; it is used in eastern Scotland for a coastal fog. Waac I know as a World War II Americanism, a member of the Women's Army Auxiliary Corps; there was a British version in WWI. And maybe naan by now has a claim.
These apart, the list's author graciously revealed that aa is a type of lava (as it is in Hawaii), haaf to Shetland Islanders a fishing-ground, and kaas a Dutch wardrobe. Alas, foreign-born words don't become English just by being used by volcanologists in the uttermost United States of America; or in remote Scottish islands (or even, for a kind of fishing-net, around one mainland-British estuary). A few French words for pieces of furniture qualify; but not the Dutch kaas usually spelt kas anyway, kaas normally being the Dutch for cheese.
Of the remaining words, whatever naan's claims, naam just isn't English. I've read baas (ie, boss) and taal (ie, language). But both unless tabla-players want to double the a in tal are pure Afrikaans. The rest I've never even met, in a long and tolerably literate life. I've no idea whence they spring or what they mean, and I wouldn't waste my time or yours (with a nod to kaal) finding out. No normal English-speaker has ever used them, outside the Scrabble asylum, where the lunatics and their "official" word-list are in charge.
Whatever the fun of surrealism, there is a serious issue here. Bar the artificial ones, all languages include archaisms. All have dialects, mostly with a modest vocabulary of their own. All are mongrels, having incorporated some foreign words and ready to tolerate the use of some others, often technical terms, which may in time be taken in.
But let's not pretend that all the words, let alone spellings, of the past persist for ever, or that obscure bits of dialect are more than just that. Nor, whatever grand dictionaries may include, does a foreign word join a language just by turning up therewith. Some words from India are found in British English, and far more in Indian English. Many English ones turn up in Indian languages and others. But these alien arrivals remain foreign until the undefinable day when they can be seen as truly naturalized.
As for Scrabble, it's fun played in real English, and if some people prefer to play it in Anglo-Martian, and enjoy the resultant fancifulnesses, fictionalities and nonexistences (yes, those barmy words all figure in the Scrabble word-list), no one can stop them. Alas.
TRAVESTY OF JUSTICE?
"MURDERERS OF DUBEY SHOULD BE PUNISHED."
The award of life imprisonment to three persons for the murder of Satyendra Kumar Dubey, a National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) engineer, in 2003 does not answer all questions raised by the case. The relatives of Dubey and others who took up the cause of the whistle-blower have found the investigation undertaken by the CBI and the trial of the accused in a Patna court deficient and have charged that they were marked by cover-up and miscarriage of justice. The case which was fast-tracked in view of the national uproar created by the murder of a conscientious young man who had exposed corruption in the execution of national highways projects, took about seven years to be decided. The culprits who have been convicted are petty criminals and they have been found guilty of robbery and murder, unconnected to the threats Dubey had faced.
It is difficult to believe that Dubey was the victim of a highway robbery when there were circumstances that made it clear that he had made powerful enemies in the contractor-official network. He had also received a number of threats to his life. The letter he wrote to the then prime minister A B Vajpayee about corruption in highway projects and requesting confidentiality was circulated across many government departments and his identity had been exposed. The men who have been convicted could only have pulled the trigger and those who planned the murder might still be roaming free. That demoralises everyone within the government and outside who thinks it is his or her duty to expose corruption.
There have been other cases also of whistle-blowers coming to grief and even paying with their lives for their integrity and courage. An Indian Oil Corporation executive, Manjunath Shanmugham, was killed in 2005 for his action against sale of adulterated fuel. In this case death penalty was awarded to the main accused. An RTI activist was killed Pune in January for exposing the land mafia. The government has still not put in place a law to give protection to whistle-blowers and to set up a machinery which would handle complaints of official corruption without exposing the complainants to harassment and danger to life. A government order which was issued in 2004 for this has not been found effective. The entire scheme of the legislation is ready and there is no reason why the government should delay it.
"THE ATTACKS ARE A SERIOUS SECURITY LAPSE."
Terrorism has made a deadly comeback in Moscow with twin suicide bombings in the Lubyanka and Park Kultury stations. Thirty-nine people were killed and 65 injured. It is evident that those who masterminded the attack were keen to create maximum damage. The target they chose was Moscow's metro, one of busiest in the world and they struck at rush hour. Moscow's metro is not new to suicide attacks. In February 2004, a suicide bombing on a line linking the main airports, killed 40 people. Six months later, a suicide bomber blew herself up outside Rizhskaya station, killing 10. Prior to the 2004 bombings, at least half-a-dozen attacks ripped through its stations. No group has claimed responsibility yet for Monday's carnage but the needle of suspicion points in the direction of the Black Widows, women who carry out attacks to avenge the death of their husbands, fathers and sons at the hands of Russian troops in Chechnya. Whether it is the Black Widows or one of the Chechen Islamic militant groups is unclear. What is obvious, however, is that if it is indeed a Chechen group, then the claims made last year by the Russian government that its forces in Chechnya successfully crushed the militants are far from true. On Monday these militants signaled that they continue to retain capability to strike at the heart of the Russian capital.
The bombings are a serious security lapse on the part of Russian authorities. Russian forces scored a series of successes against militants in the North Caucasus in recent weeks and they should have expected the latter to hit back. Last month Doku Umarov, leader of one of the Chechen militant groups, had issued a clear warning that his group would carry out attacks in Russian cities. Security in Moscow's metro should have been tightened.
Western analysts have been ambiguous in their condemnation of the attacks in the Moscow metro, drawing attention to its roots in Russia's brutal war in Chechnya. Indeed, the attacks are a reminder that Russia's war in Chechnya, which has taken 100,000 lives over the past 15 years has brought nothing but pain and that Chechen grievances must be tackled politically, not through military means alone. However, no attack where innocent civilians are targeted is justified. And for this reason, the bombings in the Moscow metro must be condemned unconditionally.
DEFENDING RAISINA HILL
THE NAXALS ARE OUR OWN PEOPLE; THEY MAY NOT HAVE VOCIFEROUS CHEERLEADERS, BUT THEY HAVE A GROUNDSWELL OF SYMPATHY.
BY P P BALACHANDRAN
When does a local insurgency acquire stripes of a full-blown revolution? When the arc of discontent widens itself and acquires more geography enveloping more people, all equally discontented, and thus turns itself into a circle of fire that is searing enough to burn the system down. That's all? No. It certainly has to have a strong ideological fibre that would fuel the popular discontent into a fusion and then on to the final explosion. Also necessary is a leadership with an unflagging conviction and an unfaltering vision of the road ahead.
That said, does the 'people's war', being fought in the eastern frontiers of the country qualify itself to become a people's revolution that can burn the system down?
Prime minister Manmohan Singh and home minister P Chidambaram think that it does. Addressing a media conclave recently in New Delhi, the home minister repeated the words of the PM, who exhorted a gathering of police chiefs last September to treat Naxalism as a bigger threat than terrorism.
On the first read, one would see their prescription to be short on logic and blind to political reality. The Naxalites, after all, are a small band of political drifters, operating within the confines of limited space and with limited resources, which include their obsolete weaponry. And as for their leadership, they still haven't got the spectral presence of a Ho Chi Minh or a Mao Zedong, or even a Fidel Castro to inspire them. And certainly not anyone with the talismanic hallow of a Che Guevara. Instead, the unlettered tribesmen of eastern India's jungles are still led by men who are as homespun as themselves.
On the other hand, the terrorists, whom the prime minister chose to confine within the borders of a neighbouring country, do not actually suffer from any space constraints, nor are they short on resources or having obsolete on weapons. The world is their theatre and their soldiers are multi-national. Their finances come from some of the wealthiest of nations and they have taken on the mightiest of nations.
As for inspiration, Osama bin Laden may not exactly fit into a prophetic frame. But he is a good enough messiah for the hundreds of thousands of Muslim youth drafted across the world for the modern 'crusades' they were told would lead to the final victory of God's 'chosen' faith. Samuel Huntington's taxonomy of a world, where an inevitable clash of its major civilisations must end in the final victory of Islam, may not have greatly added muscle to Osama's brand of terrorism, but it has certainly extended considerable cachet to his vision of the future.
And yet, Manmohan Singh, who is the closest we have got to flaunt as a statesman, and his leather-tough home minister see Naxalism as a far greater threat to the country than terrorism. Why?
Let us get to the basics of the two 'scourges' to get a good read of their logic. We all agree that terrorism is a global threat, a threat the whole world must face united, with India being just one of the many trenches in that vast battlefield.
It's a fair war where a government needs no elaborate moral equivocation while destroying the enemy. The more pro-aggressive a government gets in its war against terrorism, the more secure its people feel and more and more do they rally around the government.
Hunting down political extremists, though, is a different game. The Naxalites are not Arabs or Pashtuns, but our own people; they may not have vociferous cheerleaders among the citizen class, but there is a groundswell of sympathy and understanding seeping across the society.
Victims of social order
Not just the left-liberal fraternity, but even the apolitical middle class and a section of the ruling elite are beginning to see them as victims of a non-egalitarian social order.
There are only two ways of achieving social justice, they argue. One is to grant it from above and the other is to grab it from below. In the past six decades, the boon from the rulers apparently never flowed to the millions of India's unwashed, leaving them no choice but to grab it from the bottom. Violence is de rigueur.
So, evidently, while the terrorists should be tackled at the global level as they are trying to take over the civilised world, the Naxalites are adventurists trying to take over the Indian state the government, the civil society, the economy, and even the armed forces.
Vividly put, while the terrorists have the Capitol Hill in their gun sight, Naxalites have Raisina Hill as their target. And, Understandably, Singh and Chidambaram are more worried about losing the second mount, because that is where they sit.
The only way for Singh and his government to save the Raisina Hill is by ensuring speedy social justice -- top down, not bottom up.
If he persists, on the other hand, with the 'force option', the prime minister would do well to remember the warning a certain Ho Chi Minh gave his colonial oppressors: "You will be tired of killing us much before we will be tired of dying."
THE BLOSSOMING OF SINO-IRANIAN RELATIONS
DESPITE THE SANCTIONS ALREADY IN PLACE, TRADE BETWEEN IRAN AND CHINA GREW BY 35 PER CENT IN 2008. .
BY RICHARD HEYDARIAN
Iran continues to defy western pressure and assert its interests in the highly strategic and vital region of the Persian Gulf which supplies 40 per cent of the world's energy resources as well as the greater Middle East and Central Asia. Sino-Iranian relations, which have grown steadily stronger are entering a critical stage, and the west will have to address the emerging alliance between these two revisionist powers.
In recent years China stepped up its rhetoric as it wielded more political power, thanks to three decades of relentless economic growth and persistent military modernisation, and openly challenged the century-old liberal international order led by the west. While China was at the forefront of calls for the restructuring of the global economic system, it showed little inclination to utilise its newly-gained clout for more security-oriented ends, such as reigning in Iran's nuclear programme.
Thanks to the increase in oil prices in recent years, Iran has been able to amass a whopping $100 billion or so in sovereign wealth funds. Iran is projected to be among the 25 largest economies in 2009-2010.
Unlike western countries, Beijing has been relatively uninvolved in the politics of the Middle East, but as China's reliance on energy imports grows, there is little reason for it to remain silent on developments in the Persian Gulf. Last year saw significant developments in Iran-China relations: political ties deepened while economic transactions continued to surge. China signed energy investment deals with Iran worth more than $ 8 billion.
If one visits Iran today, traces of the flourishing of Sino-Iranian relations are visible everywhere. Chinese contractors, engineers, and workers comprise the majority of visitors to the country.
The beginning of 2010 was even more significant for relations between the two countries. In January, Beijing sabotaged the P5+1 talks by opposing any new sanctions and sending a low-level representative to the discussions, signalling its disagreement with any serious efforts to further isolate Iran. In the Munich conference in February, Chinese foreign minister Yang Jiechi explicitly articulated his country's intention to block any additional sanctions against Iran.
A week later, the US and even Russia rebuked Iran after it announced plans to escalate its uranium enrichment process to 20 percent purity and above. China again stepped in and called for more diplomacy --meaning, it would tolerate no sanctions that could compromise its heavy investments in Iran.
The Iranian regime has not only survived US sanctions, isolation, and threats but has also managed to enhance its influence in the region. Tehran, with its vast influence and regional connections, is now arguably the main key to resolution of the region's problems, from the civil wars unfolding in Iraq and Lebanon to the security challenge of the Persian Gulf. It is hard to imagine any of them being resolved without its cooperation if not blessing.
Iran is a vital international player beyond the Middle East, mainly because of its geostrategic position in the energy-rich Persian Gulf and Eurasia. It boasts the second largest natural gas reserves in the world and the third largest reserves of oil, which make it a potential future energy superpower.
Particularly in the past three years, China has been the major investor in Iran. Despite the sanctions already in place, trade between the countries grew by 35 per cent in 2008, to USD 27 billion.
Iran, for its part, needs China to help vitalise its oil and natural gas industries, which have been hurt by existing economic sanctions against top companies that invest in Iran.
The growing cooperation between Iran and China is not entirely opportunistic. Historically, the two countries have much in common: both have long resented western interference in their region and in their internal affairs while defending their revolutionary gains against growing pressure from both within and without.
The spectacular burgeoning of Sino-Iranian relations poses a clear challenge to the US and its superpower status in the world. The combined strength and influence of China and Iran has consistently exposed the limits of American power and the efforts to isolate Iran for defying western pressure over Tehran's nuclear programme.
It is increasingly evident that the US is still grappling with these seismic shifts in global politics and has yet to develop a coherent and comprehensive policy to manage if not contain the growing ties between these two ancient Asian powers.
MEETING OF EAST AND WEST
THE WEDDING DAY ARRIVED BRINGING WITH IT ALL THE EXCITEMENT.
BY SHOBA NAIDU
Mom, I'm going to propose to Nydia," my son's voice came across the mobile waves from the distant USA.
I was nervous to say the least. I cautioned him to think carefully. Brushing aside all my 'ifs' and 'buts', he proposed to a beautiful Tex-Mex girl and she gladly accepted. I hoped the wedding would be held in sunny California where my son lived. At least I could look forward to an expense paid vacation in the US.
The next call, however, dashed my fond hopes. "Mom, we would like to have the marriage in India!" "That would be lovely," I mumbled, knowing full well that the 'big, fat Indian wedding' would be anything but 'lovely' for the person conducting it. It would entail months of planning, hard work and a bank balance lighter by a few lakhs.
After much discussion, we opted for an Arya Samaj wedding. The scales tilted in its favour as we were told the pundit would explain the meaning of the rituals in English.
The person who could unravel the mysteries of the Sanskrit shlokas to the young couple in angrezi was Swarnalathaji, a doughty old lady.
There were other pressing issues at hand. Who would dress the bride? How do I get the bride's blouse stitched? Luckily, our neighbourhood tailor promised to deliver within 24 hrs. The bride's mom and friends too wanted to be togged the Indian way. So, another round of shopping ensued for sarees, blouses, bangles, matching ornaments...not to forget appointments with the beautician, tailor and mehendiwali squeezed in between.
The wedding day arrived bringing with it all the excitement of the unknown. The groom waited anxiously for his bride beside the exquisitely decorated floral mandap under the star spangled evening sky. We were equally nervous. At the appointed time, the bride glided in to a haunting nadaswaram tune, looking radiant in a gorgeous red Kanjeevaram sari.
She was accompanied by her mom and American friends looking equally elegant in their colourful saris and sparkling jewellery. The gathering was touched when she bowed down to touch the feet of the elders to seek their blessings. What a glorious reply to the east-west debate!
"East is East, and West is West and never the twain shall meet," is often quoted to highlight the differences in culture of the two cardinal points. Actually, Kipling was right if we quote him further: " But there is neither East nor West border, nor breed, nor birth when two loving hearts stand face to face tho' they come from the ends of the earth."
NEEDED: AN ISRAELI PEACE PLAN
While in Washington the U.S. administration is trying to reduce tensions with Israel, in Jerusalem they go out of their way to depict in war paint the demands President Barack Obama put to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Political sources in Jerusalem told Haaretz's Ari Shavit this week that hiding behind the American demands is an intention to impose a permanent settlement on the two sides in less than two years. This is being presented as a troubling change in U.S. policy toward Israel, while the Americans issue veiled yet serious threats about the risks that allegedly loom for them if their credibility in the Middle East is lost.
The top U.S. political officials and that country's defense establishment recently made it clear that the continued Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the perpetuation of the occupation in the territories undermine the strategic interests of the United States (and Israel as well). The stern demands made of the Israeli government reflect Obama's willingness to invest a significant effort in defense of these interests. It seems he concluded that the endless dialogue with the Israeli government does not push forward anything unless an American peace plan is formulated.
This is not necessarily a bad thing. The possibility that the United States will propose a plan of its own and seek to convince the sides to accept it, or even impose it, is not the worst of all possibilities.
However, it is obvious that a settlement reached through negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians is preferable to an imposed settlement, where not accepting it would involve an especially intense confrontation with the international community and deepen Israel's isolation. The only way to prevent an imposed settlement must be through a realistic Israeli peace plan that is similar to that of the United States and based on agreements and understandings reached by previous governments. It must be based on principles that, obvious to everyone, are imperative for a settlement.
A government that seeks to prevent an imposed settlement must not only bring to the fore serious propositions and demands of its own, it must avoid at all costs unilateral steps that signal an intention to foil all chances for an agreed settlement. An imposed settlement may prove to be the least worst alternative when compared with no settlement and a continuation of the situation. Those who fear an imposed solution must immediately present an Israeli peace plan.
WHAT IS BARAK DOING IN NETANYAHU'S 'REPUB-LIKUD' GOVERNMENT?
BY AMIR OREN
Once upon a time, at the Knesset, Shin Bet security service head Amos Manor waited for prime minister David Ben-Gurion, who had just delivered an address expressing his desire to once again assemble a government "without Herut and without Maki" - Likud's precursor and the Israel Communist Party, respectively. Years later, Manor told a friend about the conversation he'd had with Ben-Gurion as they walked to the Prime Minister's Office.
"Why without Herut?" Manor asked him. "Without the Communist Party I can understand, but why Herut? After all, they're Jews, Zionists and patriots." Ben-Gurion didn't answer immediately, but when he reached his office he stopped suddenly, grabbed Manor by his jacket and said, "Amos, they're fantasists! Put them in power and they're liable to cause the destruction of the state!"
Ben-Gurion's reconciliation with Menachem Begin later on, amid their hostility toward Levi Eshkol, did not invalidate that statement. Benjamin Netanyahu is the scion of this chain of fantasists - speakers, prophets, poets, lovers of self-indulgence, those who take pleasure in the sound of their own voices wafting across adoring crowds. And then there is Ehud Barak, rather reluctant to sign on as the fantasist's apprentice.
Barak now regrets his eagerness a year ago to join Netanyahu's jug band as third fiddle, given that his instrument of choice is the piano. He already knew that such a collaboration would have poor results. It's ridiculous to hear Barak utter comments about the forum of seven's seriousness of purpose. It's not impressive, certainly not like Golda Meir's government, boasting the likes of Moshe Dayan and Abba Eban, Yigal Allon and Pinchas Sapir - that is, until Yom Kippur 1973.
What does Barak's Labor Party have to do with the foolish and transparent tactics of Netanyahu - who is meddling in internal American politics as if a single party, the Repub-Likud, ruled on both sides of the ocean? John Boehner, the House of Representatives' minority leader, has asked his Republican supporters for donations this week to wage a two-pronged fight against Barack Obama - on Israel and health care. This backing of Netanyahu confirmed Democrats' suspicions that the Israeli prime minister is their political rival. But the 300 members of Congress from both parties who sent a pro-Israel missive to U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton barely addressed the significance of building in East Jerusalem, focusing their questions merely on the manners and protocol of U.S.-Israel relations.
Even if George W. Bush - the first president to speak of a Palestinian state and the one who forced Ariel Sharon to give his blessing - or John McCain were now sitting in the White House, the U.S. government would still not have any other policy. Ronald Reagan, of the 1982 "Reagan Plan" for the Middle East, was a Republican, as were Henry Kissinger, Reagan's successor, George H.W. Bush, and James Baker. For those interested in peace, a peace dependent mainly but not exclusively on Arab acceptance of Israel, the basis always was and remains the Green Line. The only question was whether to wait for peace to come without exerting any effort, or to let the settlements remain "facts on the ground" to lower the odds of it ever actually happening.
Obama will not give up. He has no time. He aims to be an exceptional president, not just one among many. He is shaking up the world order, setting goals and sparing no effort to meet them. Regarding the Middle East, his stance is in line with his stated goal of maintaining Israel's security. But Obama's position is different from that held by Moshe Feiglin and the settlers, without whom Netanyahu would have no party, and from that of Sara Netanyahu.
It's not Obama, it's Netanyahu. Barak appointed himself as their transformer - the device that converts Netanyahu's 220 volts to Obama's 110. A year has passed and it's now apparent that Barak has no chance of achieving that. One side is bound to short-circuit, taking with it the converter itself. When the situation is so volatile, when the differences between fantasy and reality run so deep, Barak's effectiveness in his post vanishes - he simply watches from his office and fights the force of gravity pinning him to his chair, underneath a portrait of Ben-Gurion. This week we'll finally see him begin to rise - and we can only hope to return to the same place in a different government, one more circumspect in showing real concern for Israel's security.
AN IMPASSE WITH WASHINGTON
BY MOSHE ARENS
As Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was leaving Washington, after undergoing a series of what seemed like deliberate humiliations by the White House, he said he had found the golden middle way between U.S. President Barack Obama's demands and Israel's positions. But he will quickly find out that there is no middle way - Obama wants to go all the way. He may be prepared to nibble away at Israel's positions one nibble at a time, but he knows exactly where he wants to go.
It all started with Obama's speech in Cairo last June. Pulling no punches, and for the first time since 1957 during the Eisenhower administration, the president raised in public a difference of opinion between the United States and Israel that had existed for many years but had in the past been relegated to discreet discussions between officials of the two governments. Israel would have to stop building settlements in the West Bank, he told the audience at Cairo University. You did not have to be very smart to know that when he said West Bank he did not mean only Judea and Samaria, but rather anything that was located beyond the 1949 armistice lines (the Green Line). And that also included the areas of Jerusalem beyond the Green Line.
Rather than stating clearly that this demand contradicted Israel's basic rights and therefore could not be met, the Israeli government adopted a tactic of making partial accommodations to Obama's demands and stalling for time. First came Netanyahu's speech at Bar-Ilan University agreeing, with some reservations, to the establishment of a Palestinian state. Then came the government's decision to freeze construction in the settlements in Judea and Samaria for 10 months. When U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton praised Israel for this unprecedented decision - and it really was unprecedented - the Israeli government thought it had appeased Washington's demands, when in reality it was being told by Washington: "So far so good, but you still have a long way to go."
Vice President Joe Biden's arrival in Israel, on what was trumpeted as a goodwill visit, became an opportunity to turn the decision by a low-grade civil servant on the Jerusalem District Planning and Building Committee into an "insult" to the United States of America. The prime minister and government spokesmen took this farce seriously and apologized over and over. It was an unfortunate mistake in "timing" they said, not realizing that the United States objected not to the timing but to any construction in areas of Jerusalem beyond the Green Line.
To make things crystal clear to this slow learner came the humiliations during Netanyahu's visit to Washington and the insistent demands made of him. Make no mistake about it, the Americans have decided on exactly the conditions Israel has to meet to bring Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to the negotiating table and do not intend to compromise on them.
As a matter of fact, having already communicated these conditions to Abbas, they cannot now move away from them. It should be clear that the Americans also have some very definite ideas on what the final Israeli-Palestinian agreement should look like, and they plan on making Israel sign such an agreement within the next two years. They will not listen to experienced voices saying that this is no way to bring peace to the region.
When officials in the Obama administration are not using strong-arm tactics, they are appealing to the good sense of the Israeli public and the prime minister. The status quo is unsustainable, they say. This simple phrase in incorrect Latin (Menachem Begin, who knew Latin, used to insist that one should say status quo ante, not status quo) seems to have an overpowering effect on audiences. It was used by Biden in his speech at Tel Aviv University, to loud applause, and by Clinton at the AIPAC conference, to somewhat more subdued applause. Even a member of the Netanyahu government has repeated it on occasion.
It is the equivalent of saying "Do something! Do anything! Anything would be better than the current situation." Now that, Israelis well know, is not true. The current situation is far from perfect, like just about everything in the Middle East. But when it is suggested that nothing could be worse, Israelis, who have unfortunately seen worse, and even much worse, find it hard to accept. What Washington is now trying to push down Israel's throat may lead to much worse.
HAPPY FESTIVAL OF FREEDOM
BY MERAV MICHAELI
Around here, when we talk about Passover as the holiday of freedom, we talk about freedom for the Palestinians, foreign workers, contractors' workers and others. Others, especially. Not ourselves. We perceive ourselves as free.
Not only have we left slavery for freedom, and not only are the Israeli people dwelling securely in their home, we are also living in an age of freedom. There is the freedom to vote and freedom to be elected, a free economy, free religion, freedom of speech, freedom of occupation, the freedom to marry and the freedom to unionize. Freedom of thought. There is the right to dignity, personal security, privacy, property rights, the right to a fair trial and of course the right to equality.
But this is not exactly the way things are. Today freedom - as it has always been - is in the hands of those who have power. More precisely, freedom is in the hands of those who have money. The possessors of this liberal freedom find it convenient to assume that the principle of freedom means that everyone has the same freedom: No matter what their starting point, everyone competes under the same conditions.
In this situation, freedom belongs to the strong and crushes the freedom of others. The wealthy person's unrestrained right to property crushes the right of others to own property of their own and makes them servants of the wealthy. The white male's freedom of occupation blocks women and others from the possibility of redressing discrimination and blocks the freedom of occupation from women in significant positions of power. Racist, chauvinist and pornographic freedom of speech forces women, children and also men to live a life of repression, humiliation and slavery.
We are not free at many levels, starting with the obligation to serve in the oppressive institution of the army, to jobs with exploitative employers to brainwashing by advertising, which is nearly impossible to escape. Using advertising, the wealthy condition the way we perceive ourselves - who we are, what we eat, how we look and think.
Those who exercise freedom of speech and assembly to protest against the occupation are persecuted by the police and Shin Bet security service. The right to marry is reserved for kosher Jews marrying kosher Jewesses, and the right to divorce is reserved for men. The right to a decent life is not yet recognized, there is no freedom of religion and no freedom to be an Arab nation with a narrative of its own.
But the language of freedom transforms the discrimination, oppression and obstructions into a glass ceiling. The illusion that we really are all equal and everything is possible is very effectively reinforced by those for whom this pays off. Thus it is harder to combat discrimination and oppression and rise up against them, because it is not clear what should be combated.
So what if as a woman you earn half of what a man earns? So what if there is sexual harassment in the workplace? So what if you won't know what to do with the children and how you will manage with what you get for maternity leave? And so what if you need to invest money and time in your diet, clothing, makeup and hair every morning?
Nevertheless, it annoys us to think we aren't free. Every time someone tries to show us the sophisticated way they keep us in our place, accept conventions, buy and consume, we resist and object. And we are convinced we are making a free choice and doing things "because they are good for us." Not, heaven forbid, because somebody has directed us to them because it's good for him and not for us.
It's interesting to observe ourselves and see how it's more important to us to cling to the position that we are free than it's important to really be free. This insistence prevents us from looking at the world with our eyes open, to examine what really is good and what isn't, to act accordingly and not be exploiters or exploited.
In every fight against oppression, some of the oppressed oppose liberation, as in the fight against slavery in the United States and the suffragettes' fight to win the right to vote. Both women and blacks opposed the very idea of their own liberation, internalized the position of repression and thought it was good for them that way. Maybe this, too, is a stage and one day we will cease to fear freedom.
Imagine what a civilized and wonderful world we will have then. Happy festival of freedom.
WHERE'S THE SOLIDARITY?
BY SHLOMO AVINERI
Greece's severe financial crisis is the focus of a series of complex discussions in Europe - at institutions of the European Union, among governments and in the media.
These discussions are surprising on two levels: First, the extent of the crisis, which stems partly from false reports by the previous conservative government in Athens, intended to pave the way for Greece's entry to the eurozone; and second, the magnitude of anti-Greek feelings, especially strong in Germany, which shows that beyond the rhetoric that accompanied the creation of the EU, there is still no sense of European citizenship and cross-border solidarity. In a time of crisis, national interests and awareness are much stronger than the high - but abstract - idea of a united European nation. The decision in principle made last week to help Greece could not counter the sense that pan-European solidarity is weak.
While signs of this weakness have existed in recent years, the Greek crisis has highlighted them. Objections to the Treaty of Lisbon, which was aimed at strengthening the EU's institutions, led to difficulties in ratifying it. The Irish rejected the treaty in their first referendum, and the Czech Republic's obstinate president, Vaclav Klaus, was roundly criticized for refusing to sign the treaty even after it was ratified by parliament in Prague.
Even when it seemed that the ratification process had overcome the bumps in the road and the time had come to choose the officials whose posts the treaty had created - president and foreign minister - European governments did not pick strong and prominent figures like Tony Blair or Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt. Rather, two colorless public figures were chosen whose names even those in the know have trouble pronouncing. Once again it turned out that national sovereignty outweighs noble ideas about developing a unified European identity. Just as countries do not tend to give up territory, they do not tend to give up powers.
However, hesitation about helping Greece has a deeper dimension. Opponents argue that the European Central Bank, which with the euro has replaced the central banks of the eurozone, does not have the power to help an individual country. In fact, Clause 125 of the Treaty on European Union states that neither the European Union as a whole nor the member countries will be responsible for the debts of individual governments. Formally this is true, but the newspapers stress other reasons. For example, the question arises on why citizens of Germany, who have submitted to economic edicts to prevent fiscal collapse in their country, should have to subsidize the Greeks' wasteful lifestyle. These arguments reiterate intimations about the lifestyle and rationale of the northern countries as opposed to the lack of responsibility and wastefulness of "the Mediterranean" (the fact that Spain and Portugal are facing similar difficulties underscores this approach). This is not exactly a racist argument, but it comes dangerously close, and even labor union activists are among its supporters.
Thus, despite the rhetoric of officials in Brussels and academics in think tanks, a European demos has not yet come into being. After all, such a thing could not happen internally. If a certain district in a certain country were suffering from an economic crisis, similar arguments would not be made; that is the test of solidarity.
It's clearly easier for the EU to rule in conflicts that are beyond its borders (the Palestinian issue is not the only one that has drawn European rhetoric), but it's harder to identify and show support when it comes to Europe's various components. Lacking the anti-Soviet adhesive that brought the Germans and French together and created an impressive sense of shared destiny, it's harder to persuade good European citizens to identify with the citizens of another European country when it comes to their pockets or well-being.
******************************************************************************************THE NEW YORK TIMES
WISHING DOESN'T MAKE IT LAW
When noncitizens are convicted of aggravated felonies, federal law makes it relatively easy to remove them from the country and it should. But the law is not a weapon for overzealous immigration officials who want to deny immigrants fair deportation hearings.
The Supreme Court hears arguments on Wednesday about the removal of one such immigrant, who committed a couple of minor drug offenses but was treated as if he had committed an aggravated drug felony. The court should use the case of Carachuri-Rosendo v. Holder to put an end to this unfair practice.
Jose Angel Carachuri-Rosendo, a native of Mexico, was a lawful permanent resident of the United States living in Texas. He was engaged to an American citizen, and had four children who are American citizens. In 2004, he pleaded guilty to misdemeanor marijuana possession and was sentenced to 20 days in jail. A year later, he pleaded no contest to misdemeanor possession of a single Xanax anti-anxiety pill without a prescription, and was sentenced to 10 days in prison.
The government notified Mr. Carachuri-Rosendo in 2006 that he was removable from the United States because of his Xanax plea. The Immigration and Nationality Act allows a noncitizen facing removal to seek discretionary cancellation, which lets an immigration judge consider all of the circumstances of the applicant's life, but this option is not available to noncitizens who have been convicted of an "aggravated felony."
In Mr. Carachuri-Rosendo's case, the judge decided that his two misdemeanors taken together constituted an aggravated felony because he could have been prosecuted for recidivist possession, which is a felony. That made it possible to deny Mr. Carachuri-Rosendo a hearing, even though he was never charged with recidivism or any other felony.
Immigration officials across the country have used this twisted logic to fast-track the deportation of many noncitizens who should be given a shot at discretionary cancellation. Most appeals courts that have considered the question ruled that immigration officials cannot do this, but Mr. Carachuri-Rosendo's appeal was heard by the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, in New Orleans, one of two federal appeals courts that approve of the practice.
This should not be a hard case. Federal law makes noncitizens eligible to seek discretionary cancellation of their removal as long as they have not been convicted of an aggravated felony. Mr. Carachuri-Rosendo was not convicted of a felony, and no amount of conjecture about what might have happened changes that.
If the government believes noncitizens should lose their right to seek discretionary cancellation after being convicted of multiple misdemeanors, it should try to persuade Congress to change the law. The justice system is diminished when the government tries to enforce the law it wishes for, instead of the law that exists.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
THE MOSCOW BOMBINGS
Russians, and all of the world, were reminded again of the cruelty and senselessness of terrorism on Monday morning after two rush-hour bombings on the Moscow subway killed 39 people and injured more than 70 others. We share the horror and remember our own anguish. Nearly 10 years after the 9/11 attacks, the memory of innocent lives taken in the midst of a morning's routine moments has not faded.
No one has claimed responsibility. But two female suicide bombers are believed to have set off the explosions in two subway stations, including Lubyanka near the Russian security service headquarters. The brazenness raised fears that, after six years of relative calm, the country may be facing a renewed campaign of attacks by extremists from the Caucasus.
Russia's leaders have an obligation to protect their people. And President Obama was right to offer American assistance as Russian authorities work to track down the organizers behind these cowardly acts. We are concerned, however, that Prime Minister Vladimir Putin will use Monday's horror as another excuse to further consolidate his authoritarian control of the country.
After extremists from Chechnya executed a series of bloody attacks in 2004, then-President Putin pushed through "reforms" supposedly intended to improve Russians' security. Their effect was to hand the Kremlin, Mr. Putin and the state security services, from which he came, far too much power to silence a free press and undercut nearly all political challengers.
Relying overwhelmingly on brute force and repression, Mr. Putin staked his reputation on ending the conflict in Chechnya. And he persuaded Russians, who have little access to independent reporting, that he had broken the back of the resistance. What he failed to tell them was that the violence in Chechnya ignited again last year and has spread to neighboring republics.
If Russia is to have any hope of defeating extremism, Mr. Putin is going to have to focus less on promoting his own power and more on the root causes of the conflicts in the Caucasus. He can start by heeding his protégé, Dmitri Medvedev, the current president who has urged that the Kremlin address the underlying inequities that feed militancy, including poverty, joblessness and official corruption. Brute force alone will not work this time either.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
ENFORCING SCHOOL STANDARDS, AT LAST
Washington has historically talked tough about requiring the states to reform their school systems in exchange for federal aid, and then caved in to the status quo when it came time to enforce the deal. The Obama administration broke with that tradition this week.
It announced that only two states Delaware and Tennessee would receive first-round grants under the $4.3 billion Race to the Top iniative, which is intended to support ambitious school reforms at the state and local levels. The remaining states will need to retool their applications and raise their sights or risk being shut out of the next round.
That includes New York State, which ranked a sad 15th out of 16 finalists.
The Education Department evaluated grant application from 40 states and the District of Columbia, based on how they planned to meet more than three dozen goals.
To get the maximum number of points, states needed to show that they could build a clear consensus among unions and school districts for programs that would improve training for teachers and principals, turn around failing schools, encourage the creation of high-performing charter schools, create data-driven instructional systems and promote high-quality science instruction.
Beyond that, the education secretary, Arne Duncan, made clear from the start that the process would favor states that proposed ways of taking student achievement into account in teacher evaluations.
The politically powerful teachers' unions reacted fiercely and predictably to this provision. But the two winning states dispensed with the issue with strong teacher effectiveness laws. The Delaware plan requires teachers and principals to show growth in student achievement as a condition of receiving favorable ratings and allows schools to remove "ineffective" teachers from the classroom. Tennessee passed a strong law mandating that 50 percent of a teacher's or principal's evaluation be based on student achievement data.
By passing these laws, the winning states made clear that the political leaders intended to move forward with reform whether or not localities and unions objected. Rather than be left behind, both parties supported the state's application. Some states that had strong applications, including Louisiana, were shut out partly because of weak proposals in science or other areas.
New York lost a lot of ground because the Legislature failed to lift the cap on the number of charter schools, which are run with public money but are often exempt from many union and curricular rules. The state also passed an ill-advised law precluding districts from taking test scores into account in teacher tenure decisions. New York seems to have done a particularly poor job of articulating and gathering statewide support for the reform agenda laid out in its application.
Like the other finalists that fell short, New York has a great deal to do before submitting its next application. That is due on June 1.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
LO-SWEET, LO-FAT, LO-SALT
PepsiCo has an intriguing new approach to salt. It has reportedly designed a powdery salt crystal that dissolves more efficiently on the tongue, releasing more of its saltiness before it's swallowed. The company hopes that that will allow it to reduce by a quarter the amount of salt it puts on its Lay's potato chips.
We're not against applying technology to improve our nutrition. But we can't help thinking about how skinny we were before the advent of Sweet'N Low.
When saccharin first came on the market in the late 1950s, fewer than 14 percent of American adults were obese. Today, the annual per capita consumption of low-calorie "high-intensity sweeteners" the pink pouch now competes with, among others, NutraSweet and Equal is up to 30 pounds a year. The obesity rate for American adults has soared to more than 30 percent.
Correlation doesn't imply causation. But these statistics suggest that at the very least technology hasn't helped much in our war on calories. At worst, it is leading us the wrong way giving us license to indulge one more brownie and an extra bag of potato chips.
Indeed, even as we've grown fond of low-calorie sugar substitutes, we haven't lost our taste for the real thing. Today, it is estimated that we eat and drink on average 20 pounds more "caloric sweeteners" a year meaning sugar, corn syrup and the like than we did 30 years ago. And while it's hard to get through a meal without encountering a low-fat dish, per capita consumption of fat has risen about 10 percent over the past two decades.
Although some scientists dispute the findings, a study by researchers at Stanford, Columbia and the University of California, San Francisco, found that, over all, cutting our intake of salt by 3 grams a day could prevent tens of thousands of heart attacks, strokes and cases of heart disease.
Most of the salt we eat comes in processed foods, so PepsiCo's new product might help. But it's not going to bring everyone's blood pressure down. It's not enough for snacks to have artificial sugar and new-fangled salt. High-tech or not, we also have to eat less of them.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
WHAT MAKES CHECHEN WOMEN SO DANGEROUS?
BY ROBERT A. PAPE, LINDSEY O'ROURKE AND JENNA MCDERMIT
ALMOST every month for the past two years, Chechen suicide bombers have struck. Their targets can be anything from Russian soldiers to Chechen police officers to the innocent civilians who were killed on the subway in Moscow this week. We all know the horror that people willing to kill themselves can inflict. But do we really understand what drives young women and men to strap explosives on their bodies and deliberately kill themselves in order to murder dozens of people going about their daily lives?
Chechen suicide attackers do not fit popular stereotypes, contrary to the Russian government's efforts to pigeonhole them. For years, Moscow has routinely portrayed Chechen bombers as Islamic extremists, many of them foreign, who want to make Islam the world's dominant religion. Yet however much Russia may want to convince the West that this battle is part of a global war on terrorism, the facts about who becomes a Chechen suicide attacker male or female reveal otherwise.
The three of us, in our work for the Chicago Project on Security and Terrorism, have analyzed every Chechen suicide attack since they began in 2000, 42 separate incidents involving 63 people who killed themselves. Many Chechen separatists are Muslim, but few of the suicide bombers profess religious motives. The majority are male, but a huge fraction over 40 percent are women. Although foreign suicide attackers are not unheard of in Chechnya, of the 42 for whom we can determine place of birth, 38 were from the Caucasus. Something is driving Chechen suicide bombers, but it is hardly global jihad.
As we have discovered in our research on Lebanon, the West Bank, Iraq, Afghanistan, Sri Lanka and elsewhere, suicide terrorist campaigns are almost always a last resort against foreign military occupation. Chechnya is a powerful demonstration of this phenomenon at work.
In the 1990s, the rebels kicked out tens of thousands of Russian troops who had been sent to the region to prevent Chechnya, a republic within the Russian Federation, from declaring independence. In 1999, the Russians came back this time with more than 90,000 troops and waged a well-documented scorched-earth campaign, killing an estimated 30,000 to 40,000 civilians out of a population of about 1 million. Ordinary guerrilla tactics and hostage-taking the keys to ousting the Russians the first time now got the rebels nowhere. New tactics were employed and women were central from the start.
On June 7, 2000, two Chechen women, Khava Barayeva and Luiza Magomadova, drove a truck laden with explosives into a Russian special forces building in Alkhan-Yurt, Chechnya; while the Russians insist only two soldiers were killed, the Chechen rebel claim of more than two dozen fatalities seems more likely.
This was the first Chechen suicide attack and showed the many advantages of female suicide bombers. They were deadly, as Chechen female attackers generally are, killing an average of 21 people per attack compared to 13 for males. Perhaps far more important, they could inspire others to follow in their footsteps, women and men alike.
Ms. Barayeva made a martyr video, as many suicide bombers do before their attacks. While warning Russia that she was attacking for Chechen independence, she also directed a powerful message clearly meant to provoke men to make similar sacrifices out of a sense of honor. She pleaded for Chechen men to "not take the woman's role by staying at home"; so far, 32 men have answered her call.
Just as important, Ms. Barayeva is considered responsible for inspiring a movement of "black widows" women who have lost a husband, child or close relative to the "occupation" and killed themselves on missions to even the score. In total, 24 Chechen females ranging in age from 15 to 37 have carried out suicide attacks, including the most deadly the coordinated bombings of two passenger flights in August 2004 that caused 90 deaths and (according to Russian authorities) the subway blasts on Monday that killed nearly 40.
The bombers' motives spring directly from their experiences with Russian troops, according to Abu al-Walid, a rebel leader who was killed in 2004. "These women, particularly the wives of the mujahedeen who were martyred, are being threatened in their homes, their honor [is] being threatened," he explained in a video that appeared on Al Jazeera. "They do not accept being humiliated and living under occupation."
And female suicide attackers have one more advantage: They can often travel inconspicuously to their targets. A July 2003 investigative report by the Russian news magazine Kommersant-Vlast found that a potential female suicide bomber could easily avoid public suspicion. Just days after a Chechen suicide bomber, Zarema Muzhakhoyeva, tried but failed to blow up a Moscow cafe in 2003, one of the magazine's journalists wearing a niqab, tightly clutching a black satchel to her chest, and behaving in a nervous manner was able to get a table at the same cafe without ever being questioned. Perhaps not surprisingly, Chechen women have carried out 8 of the 10 suicide attacks in Moscow.
Although we are still learning the details of Monday's bombings, there were warnings that a major attack in Russia was coming. Twice this year one of Chechnya's leading rebel commanders, Doku Umarov, issued video statements warning of attacks in Russia proper. "The Russians think the war is distant," he said. "Blood will not only spill in our towns and villages but also it will spill in their towns ... our military operations will encompass the entirety of Russia." He also made clear that his campaign was not about restoring any Islamic caliphate, but about Chechen independence: "This is the land of our brothers and it is our sacred duty to liberate these lands."
With so many Chechen suicide attacks, one could easily be forgiven for being skeptical about the prospects for a lasting peace. Yet, a closer examination of the conflict's history suggests solutions that both sides may be able to accept.
The trajectory of Chechnya's suicide campaign reveals a stark pattern: 27 attacks from June 2000 to November 2004, no attacks until October 2007, and 18 since. What explains the three-year pause?
The answer is loss of public support in Chechnya for the rebellion, for two reasons. The first was revulsion against the 2004 Beslan school massacre in which Chechen rebels murdered hundreds of Russian children. "A bigger blow could not have been dealt on us," one of the separatists' spokesmen said at the time. "People around the world will think that Chechens are beasts and monsters if they could attack children." Second, the Russians pursued a robust hearts-and-minds program to win over the war-torn population. Military operations killed significantly fewer civilians. Amnesty was granted to rebel fighters and nearly 600 Chechen separatists surrendered in 2006 alone.
Unfortunately, the Russians then over-reached. Starting in late 2007, Moscow pressured the pro-Russian Chechen government of Ramzan Kadyrov to stamp out the remaining militants. It complied, pursuing an ambitious counterterrorism offensive with notably harsh measures of its own.
Suspected rebels were abducted and imprisoned, their families' houses were burned, and there were widespread accusations of forced confessions and coerced testimony in trials. An investigation by The Times in February 2009 reported claims of extensive torture and executions under the Kadyrov administration, and detailed "efforts by Chechnya's government to suppress knowledge of its policies through official lies, obstruction and witness intimidation." There is one more riddle to explain: Why did the current wave of Chechen suicide attacks gain force in the spring of 2009 after Russia announced an end of all its military operations in Chechnya? Because the Kadyrov government's counterterrorism measures had grown so harsh that some had actually begun to view Moscow as a moderating force in the region.
Still, the picture is clear: Chechen suicide terrorism is strongly motivated by both direct military occupation by Russia and by indirect military occupation by pro-Russia Chechen security forces. Building on the more moderate policies of 2005 to 2007 might not end every attack, but it could well reduce violence to a level both sides can live with.
Because the new wave of Chechen separatists see President Kadyrov as a puppet of the Kremlin, any realistic solution must improve the legitimacy of Chechnya's core social institutions. An initial step would be holding free and fair elections. Others would include adopting internationally accepted standards of humane conduct among the security forces and equally distributing the region's oil revenues so that Chechnya's Muslims benefit from their own resources.
No political solution would resolve every issue. But the subway attacks should make clear to Russia that quelling the rebellion with diplomacy is in its security interests. As long as Chechens feel themselves under occupation either directly by Russian troops or by their proxies the cycle of violence will continue wreaking havoc across Russia.
Robert A. Pape is a professor of political science at the University of Chicago. Lindsey O'Rourke is a doctoral student there, and Jenna McDermit is an undergraduate majoring in anthropology.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
SHOULD THERE BE AN INQUISITION FOR THE POPE?
BY MAUREEN DOWD
It doesn't seem right that the Catholic Church is spending Holy Week practicing the unholy art of spin.
Complete with crown-of-thorns imagery, the church has started an Easter public relations blitz defending a pope who went along with the perverse culture of protecting molesters and the church's reputation rather than abused and sometimes disabled and disadvantaged children.
The church gave up its credibility for Lent. Holy Thursday and Good Friday are now becoming Cover-Up Thursday and Blame-Others Friday.
This week of special confessions and penance services is unfolding as the pope resists pressure from Catholics around the globe for his own confession and penance about the cascade of child sexual abuse cases that were ignored, even by a German diocese and Vatican office he ran.
If church fund-raising and contributions dry up, Benedict's P.R. handlers may yet have to stage a photo-op where he steps out of the priest's side of the confessional and enters the side where the rest of his fallible flock goes.
Or maybe 30-second spots defending the pope with Benedict's voice intoning at the end: "I am infallible, and I approve this message."
Canon 1404 states that "The First See is judged by no one." But Jesus, Mary and Joseph, as my dad used to say. Somebody has to tell the First See when it's blind and mute to deaf children in America and Italy.
The Vatican is surprised to find itself in this sort of trouble. Officials there could have easily known what was going on all along; archbishops visiting Rome gossip like a sewing circle. The cynical Vatican just didn't want to deal with it.
And now the church continues to hide behind its mystique. Putting down the catechism, it picked up the Washington P.R. handbook for political sins.
First: Declare any new revelation old and unimportant.
At Palm Sunday Mass at St. Patrick's, Archbishop Timothy Dolan of New York bemoaned that the "recent tidal wave of headlines about abuse of minors by some few priests, this time in Ireland, Germany, and a re-run of an old story from Wisconsin, has knocked us to our knees once again."
A few priests? At this point, it feels like an international battalion.
A re-run of an old story? So sorry to remind you, Archbishop, that one priest, Father Lawrence Murphy, who showed no remorse and suffered no punishment from "Rottweiler" Ratzinger, abused as many as 200 deaf children in Wisconsin.
Archbishop Dolan compared the pope to Jesus, saying he was "now suffering some of the same unjust accusations, shouts of the mob, and scourging at the pillar," and "being daily crowned with thorns by groundless innuendo."
Second: Blame somebody else even if it's this pope's popular predecessor, on the fast track to sainthood.
Vienna's Cardinal Christoph Schönborn defended Pope Benedict this week, saying that then-Cardinal Ratzinger's attempt in 1995 to investigate the former archbishop of Vienna for allegedly molesting youths in a monastery was barred by advisers close to Pope John Paul II.
Third: Say black is white.
In his blog, Archbishop Dolan blasted church critics while stating: "The Church needs criticism; we want it; we welcome it; we do a good bit of it ourselves," adding: "We do not expect any special treatment. ...so bring it on." Right.
Fourth: Demonize gays, as Karl Rove did in 2004.
In an ad in The Times on Tuesday, Bill Donohue, the Catholic League president, offered this illumination: "The Times continues to editorialize about the 'pedophilia crisis,' when all along it's been a homosexual crisis. Eighty percent of the victims of priestly sexual abuse are male and most of them are post-pubescent. While homosexuality does not cause predatory behavior, and most gay priests are not molesters, most of the molesters have been gay."
Donohue is still talking about the problem as an indiscretion rather than a crime. If it mostly involves men and boys, that's partly because priests for many years had unquestioned access to boys.
Fifth: Blame the victims.
"Fr. Lawrence Murphy apparently began his predatory behavior in Wisconsin in the 1950s," Donohue protested, "yet the victims' families never contacted the police until the mid-1970s."
Sixth: Throw gorilla dust.
Donohue asserts that "the common response of all organizations, secular as well as religious," to abuse cases "was to access therapy and reinstate the patient." Really? Where in heaven's name does that information come from? It's absurd.
And finally, seventh: Use the Cheney omnipotence defense, most famously employed in the Valerie Plame case. Vice President Cheney claimed that his lofty position meant that the very act of spilling a secret, even with dastardly intent, declassified it.
Vatican lawyers will argue in negligence cases brought by abuse victims that the pope has immunity as a head of state and that bishops who allowed an abuse culture, endlessly recirculating like dirty fountain water, were not Vatican employees.
Maybe they worked for Enron.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
THIS TIME WE REALLY MEAN IT
BY THOMAS L. FRIEDMAN
This newspaper carried a very troubling article on the front page on Monday. It detailed how President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan had invited Iran's president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, to Kabul in order to stick a thumb in the eye of the Obama administration after the White House had rescinded an invitation to Mr. Karzai to come to Washington because the Afghan president had gutted an independent panel that had discovered widespread fraud in his re-election last year.
The article, written by two of our best reporters, Dexter Filkins and Mark Landler, noted that "according to Afghan associates, Mr. Karzai recently told lunch guests at the presidential palace that he believes the Americans are in Afghanistan because they want to dominate his country and the region, and that they pose an obstacle to striking a peace deal with the Taliban."
The article added about Karzai: " 'He has developed a complete theory of American power,' said an Afghan who attended the lunch and who spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of retribution. 'He believes that America is trying to dominate the region, and that he is the only one who can stand up to them.' "
That is what we're getting for risking thousands of U.S. soldiers and having spent $200 billion already. This news is a flashing red light, warning that the Obama team is violating at least three cardinal rules of Middle East diplomacy.
Rule No. 1: When you don't call things by their real name, you always get in trouble. Karzai brazenly stole last year's presidential election. But the Obama foreign policy team turned a blind eye, basically saying, he's the best we could get, so just let it go. See dictionary for Vietnam: Air Marshal Nguyen Cao Ky.
When you can steal an election, you can steal anything. How will we get this guy to curb corruption when his whole election, and previous tour in office, were built on corruption? How can we be operating a clear, build-and-hold strategy that depends on us bringing good governance to Afghans when the head of the government is so duplicitous?
Our envoy in Kabul warned us of this before the election, but in his case, too, we were told to look the other way. On Nov. 6, the ambassador, Karl Eikenberry, wrote to Washington in a cable that was leaked: "President Karzai is not an adequate strategic partner," he warned. "Karzai continues to shun responsibility for any sovereign burden, whether defense, governance or development. He and much of his circle do not want the U.S. to leave and are only too happy to see us invest further. They assume we covet their territory for a never-ending 'war on terror' and for military bases to use against surrounding powers."
One reason you violate Rule No. 1 is because you've already violated Rule No. 2: "Never want it more than they do."
If we want good governance in Afghanistan more than Karzai, he will sell us that carpet over and over. How many U.S. officials have flown to Kabul the latest being President Obama himself to lecture Karzai on the need to root out corruption in his administration? Do we think he has a hearing problem? Or do we think he believes he has us over a barrel and, in the end, he can and will do whatever serves his personal power needs because he believes that we believe that he is indispensable for confronting Al Qaeda?
This rule applies equally to the Israeli prime minister, Bibi Netanyahu, and the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas. There is something wrong when we are chasing them two men who live in biking distance from one another begging, cajoling and pressuring them to come to a peace negotiation that should ostensibly serve their interests as much as our own.
Which leads to Rule No. 3: In the Middle East, what leaders tell you in private in English is irrelevant. All that matters is what they will defend in public in their own language.
When Karzai believes that the way to punish America for snubbing him is by inviting Iran's president to Kabul who delivered a virulently anti-U.S. speech from inside the presidential palace you have to pay close attention to that. It means Karzai must think that anti-Americanism plays well on the streets of Afghanistan and that by dabbling in it himself as he did during his presidential campaign he will strengthen himself politically. That is not a good sign.
As Filkins and Landler noted, "During the recent American-dominated military offensive in the town of Marja the largest of the war Mr. Karzai stood mostly in the shadows." And if Karzai behaves like this when he needs us, when we're there fighting for him, how is he going to treat our interests when we're gone?
We have thousands of U.S. troops on the ground in Afghanistan and more heading there. Love it or hate it, we're now deep in it, so you have to want our engagement there to build something that is both decent and self-sustaining so we can get out. But I still fear that Karzai is ready to fight to the last U.S. soldier. And once we clear, hold and build Afghanistan for him, he is going to break our hearts.
******************************************************************************************I. THE NEWS
DUNGEONS AND DRAGONS
Like a dragon unleashed, the Supreme Court is breathing fire. It has quite evidently lost all patience with the constant foot-dragging by the executive on the NRO and the blatant flouting of the apex court verdict. The promotion of Ahmed Riaz Sheikh, a man convicted in 2001 and removed from service in 2002 as FIA's additional director general, even after the NRO was declared null and void, appeared to be the action that particularly infuriated the court. Certainly it demonstrated total disrespect for the verdict. Sheikh had previously been among those reinstated under the terms of the NRO. As a result of their failure to offer a satisfactory reply to the six-member bench, which had made it clear it was in no mood to be trifled with, the chairman and the acting chairman of NAB were warned that they would be sent behind bars for failing in their duty to comply with the orders of the court. Notices requiring their compliance had been issued to them the previous day; and the failure to comply constituted contempt of court. Eventually, with the threat of incarceration hanging over them, the court gave the chairman and the acting chairman of NAB twenty-four hours to comply. The chief justice pointed out to the NAB chairman that he had already had 80 days to comply with the ruling but instead had chosen to go on leave something the bench clearly took a dim view of.
The Supreme Court is determined to ensure that its orders are implemented, and this is indeed what it must do. It has asked pointed questions why the Swiss millions remain un-recovered or what guarantees there are that the documents pertaining to the cases will not be tampered with. As to the issue of presidential immunity, the bench has suggested the court could sort out any confusion on this count. These words alone should cause some tremors within the presidential palace. The message from the court is quite clear. No one is above the law. There is anger that the executive appears to consider itself above court orders and the strong signal sent out by the court makes it clear that this is unacceptable. A further indication of the determination of the court to see the rule of law ascendant was the sight of Ahmed Riaz Sheikh leaving the court flanked by police officers, loaded into the back of a police truck and taken away, back to the prison he thought he had cheated courtesy of the NRO.
What will happen next? The political temperature in the country has been rising consistently for some time now. It is hard to believe that the boiling point will not be reached soon. The clash between institutions that we had hoped had been fended off or at least deferred looms ever closer. There is in this an inherent danger for the whole country. What we see today is the outcome of stubbornness and sheer folly. In any democracy, the law applies with equal force to everyone. The attempt by some individuals to flout it in order to retain their own hold on power has inflicted terrible damage. The fact is that to have any kind of working system, respect for the law is paramount. This is a basic principle. Interfering with judicial working to avoid this simply aggravates matters. The Supreme Court is clearly determined to drive home its message. It is to be seen now if the message is taken heed of at the places that matter before a still graver situation engulfs us all.
I. THE NEWS
NOT SO 'SPECIAL'
Were we to seek an example of a shift in the tectonics of geopolitics we need look no further than the Foreign Affairs Committee which sits in the British House of Commons. The MPs who make up the committee have said that the UK needs to be "less deferential" towards Washington and more willing to say 'no'. It is no longer appropriate to speak of the "special relationship" with the US although the MPs did acknowledge that the linkage between the two states was "profound and valuable". Adding a little detail to what by any standards is a significant perceptual shift it was felt that the phrase "the special relationship" was not a proper reflection of the modern Anglo-American relationship. The 'special relationship' was forged at the outset of the Cold War, a war which effectively ended with the collapse of the Soviet Union. With that the world became unipolar with America the only superpower, but in the years since other powers have begun to wax whilst there are the beginnings of a perceptible wane in the power of America. The rise of China and India, and the change in the nature and quality of America's relations with its near-continental neighbours to the south are all indicators of a profound geopolitical change.
It is also significant that the British are acknowledging that the 'special relationship' connection may in these polarised days carry with it a degree of toxicity. America is deeply unpopular in many parts of the world, and the depth of anti-Americanism here in Pakistan grows almost by the day. That may change (but not quickly) as our relations with Uncle Sam warm up, but for the British, whose relationship with the US is far older than it is with modern Pakistan, there is a danger in that the two nations are conflated in the minds of many. The UK is often perceived as 'America's poodle' and the average citizen of Pakistan would probably assume that America and the UK had very similar, if not identical, foreign policy goals and strategic objectives. They don't, and a redefinition of the relationship, an adjustment of nuance, comes at a time when the UK would like to demonstrate that there is clear blue water between it and America. A timely, perhaps opportune, adjustment to international relations.
I. THE NEWS
THE SKY IS NOT FALLING, IT'S JUST DEMOCRACY
Panic has struck once again as consensus has broken down among the major political parties in parliament over the proposed 18th Amendment. Serious objections have been raised to the recommendations of the Parliamentary Committee on Constitutional Reform (PCCR). Accusations and counter-accusations are flying back and forth between politicians while the media surreptitiously fans the flames of controversy. Everyone should just calm down. There is no need to raise alarm or run for the hills. The sky is not falling. This is democracy in action, which is what we wanted.
We clamour for democracy but lack the stomach to put up with the noise and commotion that defines it. Democracy is not some fairy tale but comes laden with a whole lot of sound and fury. Some of us mistakenly identify democracy with consensus, or 'mufahimat', and are even willing to put up with crooks and charlatans for its continuation. But that is not democracy. To the contrary, a genuine, effective and durable democratic system is rooted in ideological conflict so that all views are represented. The curse of 'mufahimat' is the very antithesis of democracy because it seeks to build a phony consensus for the sake of expediency and convenience of the ruling party, whose interests lie in eliminating any effective opposition so that no one may rock its boat. Such an engineered consensus cannot claim to represent the society because a society is composed of a wide mosaic of views, a vast majority of which remain unrepresented under 'mufahimat'.
If consensus can be achieved on some issues, then that is great. But we should not expect or demand consensus on every issue. That is impossible. If there was consensus on all issues then what difference would there be between the treasury and the opposition? There would be no need for an opposition. In fact, there would be no need for the plethora of political parties we now have. We could make do with a one-party system like the old USSR. But that would not be democracy. Democracy cannot function without a vibrant and forceful opposition representing dissenting views. Different political parties contested elections on different platforms and manifestoes which they must adhere to. Submitting to an expedient consensus would amount to a betrayal of their mandate and a serious fraud with the people. Of course, many have not allowed such ethical considerations to deter them in their rush to enjoy a slice of the power pie in the name of 'mufahimat'.
How often do the Labor and Conservative parties of the United Kingdom reach consensus on any issue? How often do the Democrat and Republican parties of the United States of America find themselves on the same side of the fence? The fact is that in democracy, for better or for worse, disagreement is the norm whereas consensus is the occasional welcomed exception. This is routine practice in the established democracies of Europe and America which the rest of the world seeks to emulate. Also, the nature of democracy is such that it easily lends itself to a variety of charades. As a student in America in the 1980s, I watched Congressional proceedings on television with amusement as the opposition often exercised its democratic right of filibuster, with opposition members, one after the other, taking it upon themselves to read out, on the floor of the House and Senate, material as irrelevant to the issue at hand as the Complete Works of William Shakespeare and Leo Tolstoy's War and Peace from beginning to end to stall and hinder debate and passage of a bill until their views were given due consideration and incorporated into the bill. Nobody accuses them of throwing a spanner in the works or letting down the nation.
It is also not uncommon, particularly in parliaments where the treasury enjoys a narrow majority and requires the cooperation of the opposition to pass legislation, for the opposition to incorporate their agenda into treasury bills that are totally irrelevant to the bill itself. For instance, if the treasury moves a finance bill, the opposition might negotiate to lend the treasury its support in passing the bill if it agrees to make certain unrelated education or healthcare reforms part and parcel of the bill. That is how the wheels are greased and objectives obtained in democratic systems. If democracy is what we really want, then we have to put up with all the fun and games that are part of the system rather than expect everyone to obediently tow the official line.
Of course, once in a while, there comes up an issue of critical national importance that transcends party politics on which a wide consensus naturally emerges. The PML-N is being chastised for withdrawing their support for the 18th Amendment as recommended by the PCCR, but how conveniently it is overlooked that they have already acceded to the most vital of the PCCR recommendations, i.e. the repeal of Musharraf's draconian 17th Amendment and Article 58-(2)(B). There is no debate on that. But the new proposed formula for judicial appointments is controversial at best. Why should the PML-N accept that? If objections exist to some of the recommendations of the PCCR then why should they be swept under the rug to present a fake veneer of consensus? Viewed in the light of the government's confrontation with the judiciary on this issue, the objections raised by the PML-N in this regard are quite sound.
If there is anything the PML-N deserves to be castigated for, it is their initial endorsement of the PCCR proposal on this issue, not their demand to review it. Politically motivated appointments in the judiciary by the government have seriously diminished judicial independence and the courts' ability to uphold the law. The less say the government has in the appointment of judges the better. A number of recent rulings of the Supreme Court have already chalked out a fair and workable procedure for judicial appointments that really does not require further tampering. There is no need to reinvent the wheel. Any attempt to do so will be viewed as a government ploy to have its way in the matter, which is what it tried to achieve recently before being forced into a humiliating retreat.
By and large, the 18th Amendment package prepared by the PCCR is a good body of work. Musharraf's laws must be repealed forthwith. On this, unwavering consensus exists. There is no need to scrap the whole package just because a difference of opinion has reared its head on a few points. If further discussion and debate is needed on the formula for the judicial appointments and renaming the NWFP, then there should be no loss of face in returning to the negotiating table. But to make consensus on these issues a prerequisite for the repeal of the 17th Amendment and Article 58-(2)(B) is totally unnecessary and absurd. The government must present those recommendations of the PCCR on which consensus exists in the form of the 18th Amendment while continuing work on the remaining recommendations.
Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto spoilt the nation by getting the 1973 Constitution passed through parliament unanimously. Maybe that is why we now expect everything to be done by consensus. But that was the outcome of the genius as well as strong and sincere leadership of a giant among men. Expecting the insignificant self-styled politicians who now happen to occupy his seat because of a tragic kink of history, and who have their own personal agendas, to perform the same miracles is a joke.
The writer is vice-chairman of Sindh National Front and a former MPA from Ratodero. He has degrees from the University of Buckingham and Cambridge University.
I. THE NEWS
BOMB WITH THE FUSE LIT
Once upon a time to get on in Pakistan religion did not matter. On the other hand, a criminal record did not help. Today, by the looks of it, one can have a criminal record and still actually occupy sensitive positions in government or industry. Religion, though, continues to be immaterial; mostly because there is only one religion in Pakistan, the others are extinct, except statistically. But what does count is sect, so much so that one's livelihood, nay, life, may depend on it.
From courageous and outspoken publications that dot the media landscape, amidst much trash, we learn that there are as many as 269 sects and sub-sects in Pakistan. And that since 1989 sectarian disputes have thus far accounted for 5,400 killed. We owe this malady to the fundamentalism injected into our politics by Ziaul Haq and his Salafist backers. It is not only Shias and Sunnis killing each other but, more so, sub-groups within sects that are likewise engaged in slaughter.
Religious sects and their custom-designed versions of paradise have also proliferated because of the impotence or indifference of the authorities. So much so that their members roam armed and unmolested, no one caring what they may be up to, which is mostly murder and mayhem. Some consider such ideological laissez faire as our sovereign right and take umbrage when others protest. More foolishly, others think that a use can be found for such peddlers of hate.
But, then, violence is common to Muslim political culture. Fourteen out of 37 caliphs were assassinated from 755 to 1258 AD, which is often described as the "golden age of Islam." In fact, according to a revealing article published in the Friday Times (March 26), "ninety years of Ummayyad rule witnessed hundreds of skirmishes between rival Muslim armies. These included the armed invasions of Medina and Mecca by Umayyad armies, when rocks and flaming arrows were rained upon the Holy Ka'aba until it collapsed". The fact that such data has been collated by Muslim scholars bothers some, because otherwise they could have dismissed it as "infidel" cant.
Look no further than the condition of the Ummah today, where unity is a fantasy. Of course, the best example is Afghanistan where devastating civil wars among rival Muslim ethnic groups have pushed that area from the Palaeolithic to the Stone Age. And what is one to make of the report, published in Der Spiegel, that the Saudis are so keen that Iran not acquire nuclear weapons that they have consented to a Zionist entity overflying their territory and bombing an Islamic republic?
Having attended two Islamic summits of yore, where intrigue and hostility were rife and the final communiqués filled with pristine hot air, one can personally vouch for the phantom unity among the Ummah. And one learns from former colleagues that privately many delegates to these conferences view Pakistan as they would a schizoid with a loaded gun. Certainly, no one who has had the opportunity of trailing behind a Pakistani prime minister visiting Muslim monarchs and presidents and canvassing for support for a cause as morally just as Kashmir, can deny how excruciatingly difficult it was to persuade them to agree. But now, of course, in their neighbourhoods Pakistanis themselves can bear living witness to just how little love lost there is among Muslims, notwithstanding their common nationality.
Of course, intra-religious hostility is not a phenomenon confined to Muslims. Christians have an even bloodier history of such wars. As for Hindus the caste system is, in a sense, the institutionalisation of social hatreds. Therefore, why, one may ask, does one need to state the obvious? Because, in Pakistan the obvious is often overlooked or, when discovered belatedly, dismissed as hostile anti-Islamic propaganda.
With evidence staring us in the face that Punjab is riddled with terrorist outfits, some of which are actually fighting the Pakistani army in Waziristan and elsewhere, we nevertheless deny that decisive action against them, much like that against extremists in the Frontier, is the need of the hour. And that is mostly because closet fundos, like, for example, the Sharif brothers, are often blind to reality. It is impossible for them to accept that many of those who they claim are well wishers are actually of that species against whom they are sworn to protect the populace.
They prefer to believe that extremists are merely misguided overenthusiastic supporters who can be brought around by appeals to common sense and an offer of a dialogue and, when that fails, pathetic pleas for restraint on the grounds that they are essentially of the same ilk as themselves. Such grovelling by men, who would be atheists if they could be kings, is a sad reflection of the pass we have reached.
The time has come to act against extremists, wherever they may be located, with far greater determination than at present. And if the will is not there, for fear of the consequences, then a pause to examine the consequences will reveal that courage had better be summoned, or else the Pakistan that our parents traversed blood-soaked paddy and wheat fields to reach, with nothing but hope to urge them on, won't survive.
For if truth be told, the rot that threatens to consume Pakistan has spread not exclusively from the foothills of the Hindu Kush to Punjab but also from the Punjab plains and deserts of Multan and Bahawalpur to the Himalayas and beyond. Tackling the challenge posed at the periphery of the country while ignoring that in the heart of the nation, is myopic. Eliminating the poison without shutting down the factories producing the deadly potion is asinine. It is worse than the labours of Sisyphus because he only had to contend with a stone that constantly rolled back; in our case it is a self-proliferating bomb with the fuse lit.
But lest the malaise of extremism spread, causing the plummeting economy to worsen, and more businessmen to relocate, capital to flee and joblessness and crime become endemic, it is perhaps best to bite the bullet. It would be a pity if we stood aside tilting at tribals and attempting to secure the edges of the country while the centre was left unguarded.
The writer is a former ambassador. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
I. THE NEWS
JUDICIARY, JUSTICE AND THE PUBLIC
DR A Q KHAN
Justice (insaaf) is the definition of honest, correct decisions on quarrels, any difference between two parties or a breach of law. The final dispenser of justice, or adl, is Allah Almighty. He is the Real Munsif and His justice will culminate on the Day of Judgement. However, bickering humanity needs it now and complains about its delay.
That justice is a divine inspiration is evident and its violation is a serious crime inviting Allah's chastisement. Problems involving quarrels and differences for which justice is sought have always been there and all civilisations have evolved methods of settling disputes. In the olden days on the subcontinent, a few respected elders were chosen to mediate. They were known as "Panj" or "Parmeshva" because everyone believed in their honesty and neutrality. Their decision was neutral and binding on both parties. If either party refused to accept the decision, they were boycotted by the community. The famous writer Munshi Prem Chand wrote a story 75 years ago entitled "Panj Parmeshwar." In it he described them as divine souls, and the story became very popular.
In our tribal areas a similar tradition has been in vogue for centuries and is known as "jirga." Its effectiveness and utility prompted the British to devise and promulgate the Village Panchayat Act, making the decision of the Panchayat mandatory. When the kings and rajas started ruling, a noted scholar was usually appointed as the dispenser of justice. Maharaja Vikra Madattya, who ruled 300 years ago and had his capital at Ujjain, was regarded as an exemplary, honest ruler. Nausherwan-e-Adil of Iran had a similar reputation.
During Muslim rule, qazis (judges passing judgement according to Shariah) were appointed. They commanded such respect that they could call caliphs and rulers to court if there were any complaints against them.
The justice meted out during the periods of Hazrat Umar (RA) and Hazrat Umar bin Abdul Aziz (RA) was exemplary and of such fame that their reigns were known as golden chapters in Islamic history. In Islam the sanctity of justice can be judged from the fact that a poor, old, arrogant adulterer, a mushrik (someone who associates other deities with Allah) and a murderer of innocent Muslims are the most hated persons and will go to hell. A judge not dispensing justice honestly will, according to our Holy Prophet (PBUH), also dwell in hell for ever.
Justice is a decision based on honesty and facts given on a dispute between two or more parties. The problem is that the person/party receiving the negative decision is not pleased. In modern law procedures, the aggrieved party can appeal in two or three higher courts. Since rulers and their cronies are unwilling to abide by any decision that goes against them, they have always tried to have a subservient judiciary. This results in the appointment of judges favoured by them or the blackmailing, pressurising, etc., of judges.
In the olden days, some caliphs, kings and sultans had qazis whipped for not giving them a favourable judgement. The goal is the same today, only the methods differ. Many means of forcing judges to oblige have been applied. The most recent and striking example was the case of Gen Musharraf trying to bully Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry into submission. In India, Indira Gandhi had appointed Justice Chajed as chief justice, superseding four senior judges. Those four judges resigned en bloc but Indira got her way. She later greatly benefited when Justice Chajed came to her rescue and overruled Sinha's judgement. In our country, for their illegal and unconstitutional acts, Gen Ziaul Haq used judge Anwarul Haq and Gen Musharraf used judges Irshad Hasan Khan and Dogar as rubberstamps.
In Islam, great emphasis is laid on justice, which has been made mandatory for all social, financial and moral aspects of life. The following verses from the Holy Quran stress this point:
1. Allah loves those who judge in equity. (5:42)
2. O you who believe! Stand out firmly as witness to Allah, even as against yourselves or your parents or your kin, and whether it be against rich or poor, for Allah can test and protect both. Follow not the lusts of your hearts, lest you swerve, and if you distort justice or decline to do justice, verily Allah is well-acquainted with all that you do. (4:135)
3. O you who believe! Stand out firmly for Allah's witnesses to fair dealing and let not the hatred of others to you make you swerve to wrong and depart from justice. Be just, that is next to piety, and fear Allah, for Allah is well-acquainted with all that you do. (5:8)
4. Whenever you speak, speak justly, even if a near relative is concerned. (6:152)
5. Say (O Mohammad), My Lord has commanded justice. (7:29)
6. Allah commands justice...and He forbids all shameful deeds and injustice. (16:90)
7. Say (O Mohammad), I am commanded to judge justly between you. (42:15)
8. But if the transgressor (between the two parties) complies (to make peace), then make peace between them with justice and be fair, for Allah loves those who are fair and just. (49:9)
We have a very defective legal system and the law enforcing agencies have a lion's share in this. The police have a free playing field with few controls. They register false cases, implicate innocent people and take bribes. Sometimes a whole case is built on a false FIR, concocted evidence and/or admissions obtained by torture and in the end the court passes judgement on this false evidence. Unfortunately, lower courts are quite easily influenced and many innocent people are convicted for crimes not committed or cases drag on for years.
Under British rule a commissioner or deputy commissioner ran an efficient administration only with the help of locals. One of the main reasons for this success was the deployment of officers and staff in their own localities. Nowadays in Pakistan we have a topsy-turvy system. A man from Mianwali is posted in Karachi; the one from Karachi in Quetta; the one from Quetta in Peshawar. and so on. They do not know the local people, good or bad, and are not bothered to get to know them since they know they will soon be posted somewhere else. Sometimes they are more interested in making money than in good governance.
Courts decide cases on the merit of the evidence presented to them. People often forget this and cast doubts on the impartiality of the judge and lose faith in the courts. Lawyers play a crucial role here. They present the evidence and can cause undue delays. Courts too delay hearings and judgements, sometimes for years.
In most cases it is possible for a sharp sub-Inspector (SHO) to determine, within a day or two, who the accused (mulzim) and/or the criminal (mujrim) is. The same goes for judges. Within two or three hearings he often knows the truth of the case. If both these institutions were to work efficiently and honestly, then most cases could be decided quickly. I have seen this happening in China, where cases seldom continue for more than a few days and justice is immediately dispensed.
A heavy responsibility lies on the shoulders of the law-enforcing agencies and the lower courts to perform their duties with honesty and efficiently in accordance with the law and in compliance with the commands of our Holy Prophet (PBU) and Almighty Allah.
I. THE NEWS
THE TALE OF MISSING CONSULATES
M SAEED KHALID
World War I and World War II ended more than ninety and sixty years ago respectively, but the victors continue to celebrate their anniversaries. Not much is known about the way the vanquished remember their defeats. The consolation is that the victors and the vanquished have found ways of peaceful cooperation and competition of which the European Union is the prime example. The new battle grounds in the Europe are confined mostly to conference rooms and the weapons employed no more lethal than arguments based on dossiers in innocuous-looking briefcases.
There exists a South Asian parallel in the wars between India and Pakistan. But the two nations refuse to renounce violence and channel their energies into peaceful competition. The status quo based approach may be helpful to the ruling elites or the security establishment but deprives the people of both countries of numerous opportunities to improve their lives. The masses appear destined to a long wait before the leaders realise that in counting the trees, they might have lost view of the forest.
The particular episode of the 1971 War illustrates how the status quo can become frozen, leaving a trail of repercussions for the citizens of Pakistan and India. Indeed, sane minds would be baffled at the inability of the two governments to deal with the after-effects of a single action. Pakistan had broken off diplomatic relations with India in the early days of the war but the two high commissions were eventually reopened on the resumption of diplomatic relations. Back in 1971, Pakistan had a deputy high commissioner's office in Calcutta while India maintained a similar mission in Karachi. The Calcutta office was mostly manned by East Pakistanis who lost no time in pledging their allegiance to Bangladesh and hoisting its flag in place of Pakistan's flag.
The loss of Pakistan's consulate in Calcutta was a minor shock as compared to the country's dismemberment. In geo-political terms, Pakistan tried to readjust its position by forging closer ties with China and the Gulf region. No tears were probably shed over the disappearance of Calcutta from the list of Pakistan's representatives abroad. However, a feeling of unease crept in at the thought that India had reopened its Karachi consulate while Pakistan was without a reciprocal arrangement on the Indian soil.
What followed is generally known but for those readers not familiar with the details, it may be useful to recall that Pakistan eventually decided to open a consulate in Bombay and asked the Indian authorities to render assistance in doing so as stipulated in the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations. The late Shaharyar Rashed, a poet-diplomat was sent as our first consul general in Bombay, only to return home after living and working out of a hotel for two years as the search for suitable premises proved futile.
The failure of Indian authorities to provide a building to the Pakistan consulate was, however, not the only reason for the consul general and his staff to pack their bags and head home. Pakistan felt that the Indian consulate in Karachi was indulging in activities which were incompatible with its consular functions. Islamabad informed New Delhi that Pakistan was closing its consulate in Bombay and asked India to do likewise in Karachi. Sadly, this closure has become quasi permanent with the result that each country remains without a representation in the largest metropolis of the other.
Mumbai and Karachi are such vital economic and commercial centres that most foreign countries have established their consulates in the two cities. Presently, 47 countries have their consulates in Mumbai while Karachi hosts 37 foreign consulates, excluding honorary consulates. The two cities offer tremendous opportunities for business and investment. It is mind-boggling that India and Pakistan are not able to overcome their differences and agree on the rapid revival of their consulates in the two cities.
After years of frustrating efforts, Pakistan has lost hope of getting Jinnah House as the seat of its representation in Mumbai. It remained unsuccessful in finding another suitable building to house the consulate. Pakistan is of the view that considering the principle of reciprocity, the Indian Consulate in Karachi has to wait to reopen till the authorities in Mumbai help Pakistan find proper premises for its consulate as required by the Vienna Convention.
The terrorist attack in Mumbai in November 2008 has dimmed the prospects of resolving the Indo-Pak contentions, but men of wisdom and vision should not be deterred from doing good for the greatest number. By lifting their objections to reopening the two consulates, sticklers on both sides of the border and the proud BJP veterans in Mumbai would bring much needed relief to ordinary citizens as well as business travellers. The reciprocal hoisting of Pakistani and Indian flags in Mumbai and Karachi could very well become the first step in defying the elements who want to scuttle normal relations between the two neighbours forever.
The writer is a former ambassador. Email: email@example.com
I. THE NEWS
THE THIRD SUMMER OF DISCONTENT
The writer is a freelance journalist with over twenty years of experience in national and international reporting
How many more summers of discontent are we to bear? Our rulers have no conscience. Power-cuts don't affect them. Because they don't have power-cuts! The presidency, the PM House, the National Assembly, the MNA hostel, the Diplomatic Enclave, the ministers, judges and generals colonies, and the Embassy Road (did I miss anyone?) are exempt from loadshedding. Additionally, giant generators keep the gaudiness of their chandeliers going and their cooling uninterrupted. So why should they care? Let the citizenry go to hell.
The inhabitants of these hallowed homes are the Capital's Brahmins. The rest of us are the shudras or the untouchables. Our rulers have put a curse on us: to live in the perpetual Stone Age.
It's about time we put a curse on our rulers.
Anywhere else in the world, had the citizens suffered long power outages for 27 non-stop months, the government of that country would have fallen. But not in Pakistan. We are an odd bunch: the rulers and the ruled. While the rulers are made of skins as thick and impenetrable as an elephant's and hearts made of rocks, the ruled are endowed with the limitless patience of Job, the biblical figure who took his sufferings stoically, telling himself 'this too shall pass.'
But don't count on the citizens' patience. It has to run out.
So what's the answer? Hold mass prayers every Friday asking the Almighty to rid us of our corrupt rulers? Hold peaceful protests everyday in different parts of Pakistan showing placards saying 'In the name of God, do something!'? Mobilise civil society to come under one umbrella for the restoration of power, as it did for the restoration of the judiciary? Appeal to America to give us power, not arms?
The man who can save us from eternal darkness (now don't roll your eyes and raise your brows, all you armchair pundits) is Army Chief General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani. "I told Senator John Kerry and Senator Richard Lugar that in order to make sure that Pakistan's economy and energy needs are met, we are willing to forgo the military equipment that we have asked for," he told Pakistani reporters at the end of the strategic dialogue in Washington. "The most important concerns for Pakistan today are economy and energy and we have emphasised that with the American administration that these are the needs that need to be met."
Three cheers for General Kayani! Can the Americans step up to the plate and send us the promised $125 million for energy, urgently? But who will manage the cash once it comes into our central bank? Who will ensure that power generation is distributed equally and fairly across Pakistan? Will it be left to the army chief to monitor? Our rulers can't be relied upon for transparency. A scam a day appears in the media involving cabinet members and others close to the presidency entangled in graft and bribery. Two days ago a scandal broke out regarding the import of LNG (liquefied natural gas). The Petroleum Ministry under the stewardship of Minister Naveed Qamar was found to have awarded the contract to the highest bidder, a French company, instead to the lowest, Fauji Foundation, thereby allegedly causing the government a loss of one billion dollars!
Who pocketed the money?
Raja Pervez Ashraf, the water and power minister who made phoney promises and gave us exact dates when loadshedding would end, is as slick as a second-hand car salesman. Instead of attending to the exigency of power shortage, he's busy constructing real estate in Islamabad. How many homes does he need? According to press reports, last year, he allegedly bought himself a 4.3 million pound flat in London.
The deals the minister for water and power concluded for rental power plants were according to the Asian Development Bank rife with kickbacks. The minister is again making tall promises as we continue to be hit with unscheduled power outages whose duration, instead of decreasing, is on the rise.
Who pocketed the money?
Last week he told the Cabinet Committee on Energy Crisis (CCEC) attended by, don't hold your breath, Information Minister Kaira, Water and Power Adviser Riaz Ahmad Khan, a clutch of federal secretaries along with big shots from the public sector companies dealing with electricity supply. The minister gave the good news that soon the days of load shedding would be over because new IPPs (independent power producers) and rental power plants would come to our rescue.
Who will pocket the money?
At the brainstorming session attended by the CCEC 'dynamos' mentioned above, the minister has once again given a timeline for an end to our nightmare. It's the month of April!
Many Aprils have come and gone but the power outages will not go away.
The joke going around town is the sale of curses available in the market for people to relieve their anger. How else to vent one's frustration against our rulers who are shamelessly enriching themselves at the expense of the masses? You want to abuse and curse Musharraf, Shaukat Aziz and the present gang of thieves for our torture that gets unbearable with the heat of summer staring us. The blackouts have turned this country into Sub-Saharan Africa.
As a friendly warning to the ministers for water and power and petroleum, while their president and prime minister may forgive them for their omissions and commissions, the people of Pakistan will not. I'm not a scaremonger, but the power of a curse can be lethal. When it's collective and comes out of 170 million lips, day and night, imagine its intensity to hurt. For the powerless (a double entendre) this is the only weapon available to them. Dair hai, andhar nahien (there may be a delay in the Court of the Creator, but never injustice).
Imran Khan keeps promising us that he will organise protests against power-cuts. When will that happen? As for Mian Nawaz Sharif and his sweaty henchmen, (did you notice them finishing a box of tissues wiping their sweat at a press conference?) they too must act if they want to avoid the heat. Their dithering and whiffling is dangerous. If they don't move now, it may be too late.
We don't want a revolution-like scenario playing out on the streets. But when the oppression becomes unbearable, mob hysteria breaks out and mayhem follows. We don't want that. What we want instead is an organised protest as a means of creating awareness among the people that it is possible and worthwhile to demand change. For that we need leadership that can act as the catalyst.
"When the conditions are ripe for a revolution, even a small event can act like a spark to start a big fire," say the sane. "If at such time effective leadership comes forward the change may continue effectively. Otherwise energies of people may be frittered away in directionless efforts."
The majority of Pakistanis are resigned to their fate. They are non-violent, peace-loving citizens. A typist at the district courts in Islamabad sits stoically on a broken chair under a burning sun attending to clients wanting him to prepare legal documents. The man knows his job and his typing in English is faultless. But he's using his antique typewriter while his PC sits idle nearby. There is no electricity to run the computer.
"Our rulers want us to stay this way," says the man with a smirk. Be warned, that smirk can be dangerous.
I. THE NEWS
LUBNA JERAR NAQVI
The quiet neighbourhood in Pennsburg, Pennsylvania was shocked to learn that the radical living amongst them was not a turban-wearing, bearded Muslim, but a blonde-haired 46year-old American woman called Colleen LaRose. She had converted to Islam last year.
According to the US Justice Department, Colleen, also known as Jihad Jane or Fatima LaRose, was charged with plotting to kill a Swedish cartoonist and trying to recruit 'fighters' through the internet to commit 'violent attacks overseas'.
Colleen or Jihad Jane moved to Sweden last year to allegedly take part in 'terrorist activities'. The US federal prosecutors claim that Collen had 'posted a comment on YouTube in June 2008' which said she wanted to help 'the suffering Muslim people'. And she had sent emails to unnamed co-conspirators, telling them that she wanted to become a martyr. Interestingly, according to the indictment filed in a federal court in Pennsylvania, she wanted to use her American background to avoid detection. According to court documents, she was arrested in October 2009 for 'theft of a US passport'.
After the 9/11 attacks eight years ago and the ensuing attacks by the US on Afghanistan and Iraq and bombing of the western areas of Pakistan to extract terrorists, most of the attacks or threats aimed at the American soil have come from within the country by people who have been brainwashed to radicalism. Why are more and more people opting for the crime of terrorism to help others?
Sure Al Qaeda, the Taliban, and their consorts pose a threat, but these can be labelled as the known enemies. Apart from the audio and sometimes video tapes released every quarter by Osama Bin Laden and the Taliban - blowing up more of their own kind in their own lands - most of the threats posed to the west seems to be springing from within them.
Considering the situation all over the world and all the checks and balances wielded out to them, an average Muslim will try to evade situations where he/she can evoke suspicion. Probably, this makes a good case for recruits from the non-Muslim scion of those societies. But frankly, brainwashing a person from another faith to the extent of convincing him to commit cold-blooded murder makes a case for a criminal profile or psychologists.
Surely there are lapses in these societies which make people leave their cushy lives and go against everything they have been taught throughout their lives. The argument would be easier to make if the concerned people were teens or below or even in their early 20s as is the case in Pakistan where the foot soldier is becoming younger and younger, reaching as low as nine and ten year olds. But Colleen is no teenager; she is a 46year-old woman who cannot be remoulded with ease. There have to be some social lapses in the society these people live in.
What happens to the non-Muslims living thousands of miles away from the war on terror, not experiencing the threat and terror many experience on a day-to-day basis? Why do they take up the line of radicalism for a cause which is apparently not theirs? Surely there is something extremely wrong in their surroundings, in their upbringing and their lives that they change completely, and this is the element that needs to be also looked into.
Having said this, it does not absolve the terrorists. But it sure makes a case for the rest of the Muslim world. These people have been at times stripped of their dignity and humiliated in the name of security. There is a need to spread the word that all Muslims are not terrorists, and all westerners do not hate Muslims. And we can begin a process of understanding and bridging social deterioration on either side and make this world a safer place than it is now.
The writer works for Geo TV.
DR KHAN A FREE MAN
THE nation must have heaved a sigh of relief over judgement of the Lahore High Court declaring legendary nuclear scientist and father of the country's nuclear programme Dr A Q Khan as a free man. While disposing of a petition on the subject, the court observed that he was free to go wherever he wanted as long as the Government was kept informed about his movements.
The highly favourable reaction to the judgement bears testimony to the fact that people of Pakistan are very much concerned about the well-being of Dr Khan, who has rendered enviable services to make the country's defence impregnable. This is despite character assassination by some elements in Pakistan and orchestrated Western propaganda campaign spreading over years to defame and malign him just because he made selfless contribution to the cause of the nation. It would be sheer disappointment for such lobbies that Dr. Khan still rules hearts and minds of the people and the nation is indebted to the man who made Pakistan a nuclear power in the face of various odds. It was indeed injustice and violation of fundamental human rights that a person of the stature of Dr Khan was kept in a state of undeclared house arrest without rhyme or reason. Now that Dr Khan is once again a free man, we are confident that he would revert back to his passion of devoting his time and energy for the spread of education and research and development. It is known to all that Dr Khan played a pivotal role in the establishment and development of the famous Ghulam Ishaq Khan Institute at Topi, which has contributed a lot to the realm of quality higher education. We wish him to revive his plan for establishment of an MIT like university in Pakistan, as the country is still lagging behind in higher education and none of our universities falls in the category of top one hundred institutions of the world. Dr Khan has the capability, vision and the will to make a difference in the field and do something to put Pakistan firmly on the map of higher education. We hope that the entire nation would be at his back and the Government too would be supportive of such an initiative.
INDIA TO BUILD ANOTHER DAM ON CHENAB
AS Pakistan is protesting over frequent Indian violations of the Indus Water Treaty, New Delhi is persisting with its plans to go ahead with more water projects to deprive Pakistan of its due share of water from the Western rivers. Apart from a number of other projects that have become a bone of contention, reports have emerged of another project on river Chenab, called Baglihar-II.
The speed with which India is pursuing such projects can be gauged by the fact that it has plans to complete Baglihar-II, a 450-MW Rs 2470 crore project, just in 30 months with the cooperation of a German firm. This should be an eye-opener not only to the policy makers in Pakistan who are sleeping over vital national interests but also those lobbies which oppose construction of any water reservoir big or small on flimsy and unfounded grounds and fears. It is apprehended that if the authorities concerned failed to pay due attention to this matter of life and death for the economy of the country then the day is not far-off when our agricultural lands in Punjab and Sindh would turn in deserts. Such fears are not baseless as we have witnessed in the recent past that India blocked Pakistan's water when it was badly needed for the crops and according to reports the country's agriculture suffered losses running into several hundred billion rupees. Data also indicates marked reduction in the flow of Western rivers during the last three years and according to knowledgeable sources it is because of the fact that Indians were stealing our water through tunnels, diverting water from apparently run of the river projects built on Western rivers to dams built on other rivers. It is also regrettable that India was not sharing any technical details of water projects in advance with Pakistan in violation of the Indus Basin Treaty. In view of the seriousness of the issue, Pakistan should formulate a comprehensive policy to safeguard its interests including diplomatic onslaught and legal battle.
SBP SEES LIGHT AT THE END OF TUNNEL
THE State Bank of Pakistan has forecast revival of the economic growth during the current fiscal year despite persistent inflationary pressures mainly due to constant rise in energy prices. In its second quarterly report the Bank has however depicted a low GDP growth in the range of 2.5 to 3.5 per cent.
According to report the fiscal deficit would be in the range of 5 to 5.5% of the GDP which is on the higher side and needs to be curtailed. Though the IMF has agreed to the higher deficit target yet that indicates that the spending would be much higher than projected at the time of presentation of the budget. In this situation the Government will have to not only look at ways and means to increase revenue generation but also cut the non-development expenditure. For this the Bank has suggested that the size of the government should be reduced which is constantly inflating despite severe economic constraints. In our view there is a huge jungle of bureaucracy with many unnecessary weeds eating the precious national resources and no constructive job to perform. In the past there had been pressures from the World Bank and the IMF to downsize bureaucracy and an exercise was also carried out to retrench it from dead woods and surplus staff was placed in a pool for absorbing in other departments. After that many more departments were created to provide jobs, as political governments have to satisfy their workers and voters. With the introduction of new NFC Award from next financial year, more resources would go to the Provinces and the Federation would be coming under financial pressure. Therefore we are of the opinion that the Committee formed by the Prime Minister to propose austerity measures should also look at winding up those Ministries and Departments whose main job is being done by the Provincial Governments like education, health and agriculture, to name a few. The SBP projection of revival of economy is like a light at the end of the tunnel yet we should not be complacent and rethink development strategies and policy options to go for higher growth as we are witnessing in our neighbouring countries.
FROM BACKBURNER TO COLD STORAGE!
As one looks at the current status of India-Pakistan relations, several thoughts pass through the mind. One is that there is no congruity between the two sides as regards the scope of the 'talks'. Makes one wonder as to the reason behind the indecent haste to rush to the (Foreign Secretary Level) talks table without bothering to first tie up the loose ends, so to speak!
If one were to put together the recent statements from the Indian side it would appear that all they are interested in is the discussion of the' issue of terrorism', whatever that connotes. Now the Indian leaders once again harp on the mantra of 'cross-border terrorism'. The question that presents itself begging for an answer is: Where does this all take the 'peace process' to, if anywhere? The India-Pakistan peace wagon when it is not struck in the proverbial rut - so far has had a peculiar pace; all its own. Its progress, if any, has certainly not been in the forward direction.
In that classic of humorous literature, Pickwick Papers, Dickens has described the hilarious situation of the progress of the Pickwickians towards Dingley Dell, the estate of the jolly Mr. Wardle. Since the whole party could not be accommodated in the coach, Mr. Winkle, despite "considerable misgivings relative to his equestrian skill", volunteered to ride a horse. With Mr. Winkle in the saddle, the horse in question executed a peculiar maneuver, prompting Mr. Snodgrass to ask the pertinent question: "What makes him go sideways?" This would be an apt description of the progress of the composite dialogue. Whatever progress has been recorded so far has been essentially sideways.
Call it a coincidence but each time a dim light is visible at the end of the tunnel, an 'incident' conveniently occurs, providing India with a ready pretext to stonewall the dialogue. In the present scenario, the Indian side has made no secret of the fact that the peace process will be put in the cold storage till certain conditions are met to India's satisfaction, which would mean indefinitely. Every time India makes a conditional offer to restart the dialogue in a different form, we would need to study the offer carefully rather than resort to our knee-jerk habit of 'hailing' it.
As things stand, India has been stalling progress on the settlement of contentious issues. The undue importance being given to the Confidence Building Measures (CBMs) as against equitable settlement of contentious issues is a case in point. The CBMs, initially justified as essential means to an end, have gradually been allowed to don the mantle of an end in itself. The contentious issues have consistently been pushed towards the backburner. And now does one see the specter of these issues being consigned to the cold-storage? This is the time to be introspective and to look at things in their proper perspective. Pakistan has been clamoring for expeditious settlement of disputes; India remains the 'status quo power'. Who, then, is the beneficiary of the periodic setbacks to the peace process? Why would any one in Pakistan, then, engineer 'incidents' that push the clock back in so far as the peace process is concerned? This is a question that needs to be answered by all the do-gooders who are asking Pakistan to 'act decisively' and to 'do more'. Nothing damages a relationship more than knee-jerk reactions and jumping to hasty conclusions. It is a pity that the Indian establishment had opted for a policy