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Friday, April 2, 2010

EDITORIAL 01.04.10

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month april 01, edition 000470, collected & managed by durgesh kumar mishra, published by – manish manjul


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In awarding the death sentence to five people for the murder of a Haryana couple, victims of a so-called 'honour killing' in 2007, a Delhi court has taken the first step towards delegitimising khap panchayats. The incident in question involved a young woman and a man who chose to marry each other, despite the absence of community sanction since they belonged to the same gotra (sub-caste). The local khap panchayat, a traditional council, pronounced the couple guilty of violating what it interpreted as a moral code. The couple were put to death, killed by their own family members. Any dissent was not possible as families that did not conform to khap panchayat decrees were threatened with excommunication, exile and worse. It has been argued that khap panchayats began as a collective of elders that resolved village disputes and took measures to keep the community safe and cohesive. While this may well have been the original intent, it is very apparent that in the India of 2010 khap panchayats are a crude anachronism, reminiscent of Maoist butchery (following show trials of 'reactionary' individuals) and of Taliban-style 'justice', which believes in beheading its victims amid the bloodthirsty chant of a crowd of thousands. Khap panchayats are no better. To claim they are responsible for social welfare is bunkum. In some form or the other, they exist in areas — Haryana, western Uttar Pradesh, Punjab, as this week's 'honour killing' tragedy reminds us — that are known for hidebound patriarchy, for female infanticide and foeticide, and for appalling social indices particularly for the girl child. They constitute a scar on the face of India. To defend them is not just illogical, it is downright sinful. Traditional practice and living heritage are all very well but these cannot be allowed to persist in the face of natural justice and commonly-held beliefs of decency, democracy and free choice. If this were not so, then William Bentinck would not have been right in abolishing sati two centuries ago.

No civilised society can live with a matrix of private courts, private executioners and a private criminal justice system. These are the prerogative of the state — unless outsourced to tribunals and other grievance redressal mechanisms in the case of consumer complaints or business disputes — and this principle is non-negotiable. The khap panchayats seek to undermine the law and the constitutional rights of Indian citizens. As such, they cannot be allowed to go on. A crackdown and even a ban on such panchayats, at any rate severe restrictions on their mandate and the monitoring of their conduct by independent authorities — not local policemen who may fall prey to the same community pressure — is necessary. Immediately, the State Government in Haryana has a duty to perform here and it cannot run away from it.

As Parliament reconvenes after its post-Budget break, it will once more engross itself in the passage of the Women's Reservation Bill and of setting aside a third of seats in the Lok Sabha and State Assemblies for female candidates. This is being proposed as a measure to empower women. Given this sentiment, it would be appropriate if both Houses adopted a resolution denouncing khap panchayats and calling for remedial action by individual State Governments. This is an issue beyond politics and sectional or caste-based appeal. It is a test of India's commitment to modernity.







It has been touted as the largest scientific experiment of our times. But the Large Hadron Collider and its operators at the European Organisation for Nuclear Research or CERN have had anything but a smooth sailing. After its inaugural run in September 2008, the massive particle accelerator housed in a 27 kilometre long tunnel, 300 feet below the French-Swiss border, had to be shut down for repairs. It was only in November last year that the scientists were able to bring the machine around and have it running smoothly. But it was not until Tuesday that beams of protons moving almost at the speed of light were made to collide. The aim of the project is to re-create conditions — at a sub-atomic level — that existed seconds after the cosmic phenomenon that is popularly known as the Big Bang, which is supposed to have given rise to the universe and everything in it. For, the Big Bang theory is precisely that; a theory. We have no empirical data to corroborate the actual sequence of events that would have taken place at the time of the birth of the universe, if at all it was created through a Big Bang. But by studying the sub-atomic particles in the LHC we could finally have some insight into the origins of the cosmos. This, however, would be a very simplistic overview of the aim of the $ 10 billion project. There are hundreds of supplementary experiments that will be carried out over the course of the next few years. So far, scientists have only been able to scratch the surface of particle physics. And given the fact that things behave very differently at a sub-atomic level as compared to large-massed bodies, there is literally no end to the discoveries that we can make with the LHC experiment. One thing that the scientists are looking forward to is the confirmation of the existence of a hypothetical particle called the Higgs Boson. This particle is supposed to give mass to matter and, therefore, confirmation of its existence will be a huge breakthrough to understanding the basic building blocks of the universe.

All of this proves how advanced scientific technology has become. Today there is no limit to the boundaries of science. We can question everything and actively pursue the answers to the mysteries of life. That said, we need to guard against using high science for destructive purposes. The last century was witness to several scientific discoveries and inventions such as the atomic bomb that led to the loss of thousands of lives and untold miseries. This is not to say that we should restrict scientific experimentation in any way. It is the application of high technology that we need to be careful about. Science should aim at improving our lives and not be used for evil designs.



            THE PIONEER




Nothing exposes the gullibility of sections of the Indian elite more than their illusion that our American 'strategic partners' will rein in the sponsors of terrorism in Pakistan. They seem to have forgotten that our American friends did little to rein in Pakistan-sponsored terrorism after the Kargil intrusion, the December 13, 2001 attack on Parliament House, or the 26/11 outrage in Mumbai. While the Western world and our own 'liberals' shower praises on our leaders for their 'statesmanship' and 'restraint' in the face of provocation, each such capitulation only invites ridicule at India being a country incapable of responding swiftly and decisively to terrorist provocations. The latest example of Indian gullibility is the moaning one hears at Daood Sayed Gilani (half brother of a Press adviser to Pakistan's Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani) aka David Coleman Headley being let off the hook with a plea bargain by a Chicago court, combined with the US's refusal to extradite this conspirator in the killing of 166 Indians while stalling on giving Indian interrogators unhindered access to him.

American behaviour in dealing with ISI activities directed against India has been consistent. The Clinton Administration knew that the 1993 Mumbai bombings were masterminded by then Director-General of the ISI, Lt General Javed Nasir, with the approval of then Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, but refused to share intelligence implicating the ISI. Realistically, the US is only interested in getting at terrorist groups that harm its interests, while showing little regard for terrorist threats countries like India face. Moreover, issues become murkier when individuals and groups turn out to be double or even triple agents. A recent instance of such American behaviour is the case of British national of Pakistani origin Omar Saeed Sheikh. Sheikh was arrested near Delhi in 1994 while attempting to kidnap British and American nationals. He was released and handed over to Taliban Foreign Minister Wakil Ahmed Mutawakil in Kandahar during the IC 814 hijacking. Mutawakil assisted the hijackers of IC 814 and even helped them to unload their baggage into his own car — for which he has been charged in an Indian court.

But the Obama Administration believes that Mutawakil cannot be handed over to India to face trial because he is a 'moderate' Taliban, vital for American efforts at reconciliation with the jihadis! India should, therefore, be prepared to pay a price for the Obama Administration's determination to beat a hasty retreat from Afghanistan. Omar Sheikh is known to have been in touch with an ISI official, Brigadier Ejaz Shah (later Gen Pervez Musharraf's Director of Intelligence Bureau). It has been established that aided by Lieutenant General Mehmood Ahmed, then Director-General of the ISI, Sheikh wire transferred $ 100,000 through Dubai to the leader of the 9/11 hijackers, Mohammed Atta. He, thereafter, confessed to the brutal beheading of American journalist Daniel Pearl and was sentenced to death in 2002. Interestingly, this sentence has not been carried out and Sheikh leads a relaxed life behind bars in Hyderabad (Sind) and even has access to mobile telephones with British SIM cards.

There is credible evidence indicating that Omar Sheikh commenced his intelligence links as an agent of the British MI 6 to wage war, together with international jihadis, against the Serbs in the Balkans. He was, thereafter, co-opted by the ISI to wage jihad against India and for securing the release of Maulana Masood Azhar. Responding to the million dollar question as to why the CIA has not demanded Sheikh's execution for the beheading of an American national, the Pittsburgh Tribune noted: "There are many in the Musharraf Government that believe that Saeed Sheikh's power comes not from the ISI, but from his connections with our own CIA."

It is likewise known that David Headley was recruited by the US Drug Enforcement Agency in 2001 — after his early release from imprisonment for drug smuggling — in order to act as an informant on drug smuggling from Pakistan. Yet, by 2003, he was undergoing intense training in camps of the Lashkar-e-Tayyeba on close combat, weapons and explosives. This was around the same time that the Bush Administration had declared the LeT a terrorist organisation. The natural inference is that apart from working as an agent of the DEA, Headley was used by the CIA to penetrate the LeT. But given the widespread support for jihad within Pakistan, Headley became an active supporter of the Lashkar, even when on the payroll of American agencies.


Another instance of the Obama Administration's propensity to clutch at straws as it prepares for a hasty withdrawal from Afghanistan has been its illusion that there has been a 'turnaround' in Pakistani policies of supporting the Taliban because of the arrest of Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, the second-ranked Taliban leader, by a joint team of the CIA and ISI in Karachi. The reality appears to be that the CIA stumbled upon a Taliban hideout in Karachi and the arrest of Baradar was purely coincidental. More important, his arrest was an embarrassment, as Baradar was secretly —and unknown to the Pakistanis — in touch with Afghan President Hamid Karzai and a UN Envoy.

Both Mr Karzai and Baradar are Durrani Pashtuns, sharing common tribal loyalties. An infuriated Karzai now finds his reconciliation efforts with the Taliban undermined, with the Pakistanis procrastinating on his demand for the extradition of Baradar to Afghanistan. Pakistan, which for years has denied the presence of the Mullah Omar-led 'Quetta shura' on its soil, now brazenly demands that it should be the prime intermediary in any process of reconciliation with the Taliban — a demand the Obama Administration appears to be meekly succumbing to.

It is obvious that the Obama Administration has no intention of bringing the real perpetrators of the 26/11 Mumbai carnage to justice. Lobbying with the Indian community and the US Congress is necessary to get the Administration to act against those responsible for the carnage. New Delhi should also approach civil society organisations in the US, apart from the relatives of the American nationals brutally murdered in Mumbai and the pro-Israel Jewish organisations outraged by the targeted killing of Jews in Chabad House. Moreover, approaches to formally interrogate Headley should be supplemented with legal action seeking his extradition..






The aam admi is the most privileged entity at the time of elections. But the moment elections are over, it is the aam admi that bears the brunt of skewed Government policies. Just over a year ago, when Delhi was to go for Assembly polls, the Congress Government appeared to be extremely generous towards the aam admi. It issued provisional certificates to the residents of more than 1,600 unauthorised colonies, announced the Rajiv Ratan Awas Yojna scheme under which houses were to be provided to the economically weaker sections of the society, retained subsidies on power and LPG, and did not levy any new taxes.

But with no elections in the near future, the same State Government appears to have forgotten the aam admi. It has already clarified that out of the 1,600 unauthorised colonies only 600 will be regularised. In the meantime, not a single house has been allotted to those belonging to the economically weaker sections of the society. The power subsidy has been withdrawn while the subsidy on LPG cylinders has been partially rolled back. Plus, the aam admi has been hit hard with the increase in VAT on several items.

On the Commonwealth Games, the State Government is simply taking the people for a ride. It is no more a secret that crores of rupees have been spent on various Games-related projects. Yet the Government says that crores more are required to get the capital ready for the mega sporting event. The truth is the Government has indulged in unimaginable wasteful expenditures. But instead of keeping a check on its spending, the Government is burdening the aam admi with all kinds of taxes.


The Delhi Government's recent budgetary proposals reflect the fact that it has become arrogant and has started to take the people for granted. But this experience also has implications for our polity as a whole. Although coalition Governments are frowned upon for being unstable and full of contradictions, they do keep a check on the excesses of the Government. Whereas in case of single-party rule, this safety net does not exit. Meanwhile, all that the aam admi can do is wait for the next election.








Russia, China, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan and Tajikistan have been closely monitoring the activities of various pro-Al Qaeda groups operating in Xinjiang, the Central Asian Republics, Chechnya and Dagestan in Russia. Recent reports indicate that the Uzbecks, Chechens and Uighurs trained in Al Qaeda training camps in North Waziristan have started moving towards their home bases in order to step up their jihad against the Governments of these countries and to disrupt the movement of logistic supplies to the United States and other Nato troops through their territory. It is the assessment of well-informed Pakistani police sources in the Pashtun areas that during the last two weeks there has been a decrease in the activities of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan in the Federally-Administered Tribal Areas of Pakistan because trained TTP elements have been moving into Afghanistan to help the Afghan Taliban in its operations against the US-UK offensive in Helmand province of Afghanistan. The TTP cadre are going in replacement of the Uighurs, Uzbeks and Chechens who are being moved towards Central Asia, Xinjiang and Chechnya. This also suits the Pakistani Army since it relieves pressure on it. An upsurge in acts of terrorism in this region is apprehended. Russia cannot afford to be complacent over the situation in Chechnya and Dagestan. As the fighting in Afghanistan escalates, reprisal attacks by Al Qaeda and pro-Al Qaeda organisations in areas such as South-East, South and Central Asia and in the Muslim majority regions of Russia is a possibility to be reckoned with."

— Extract from my article published on August 4, 2009

The CNN of the US has reported that a Website associated with Chechen separatists has claimed responsibility for the two explosions in two subway stations of central Moscow on the morning of March 29 which resulted in the death of at least 37 persons. While the authenticity of the claim is yet to be established, jihadi terrorists from Chechnya trained in the past by Al Qaeda and the Afghan Taliban had till 2004 exhibited a capability for mass casualty suicide or suicidal terrorism in the heart of Moscow.

A month before the Madrid blasts of March 2004 by pro-Al Qaeda elements, pro-Al Qaeda Chechens had killed 39 persons by planting an improvised explosive device in a Moscow metro station. This was followed by a suspected suicide bombing in the Moscow metro in August 2004 in which 10 persons died. In November 2004, a Chechen-trained jihadi group from the Caucasian region of Russia planted an IED in an inter-city train from Moscow to St Petersburg killing 29 persons.


While the Russian authorities had claimed to have neutralised the jihadi groups operating in Chechnya and restored normalcy there, Chechens of Afghanistan vintage operating from sanctuaries in the North Waziristan area of Pakistan had maintained their capability for acts of terrorism. Many of them work as instructors in the training camps of different pro-Al Qaeda organisations in the North Waziristan area, including in the training camps of the anti-Shia Lashkar-e-Jhangvi,the so-called Brigade 313 of Ilyas Kashmiri, one of the handling officers of David Coleman Headley of the Chicago cell of the Lashkar-e-Tayyeba, and the Islamic Jihad Union also known as the Islamic Jihad Group, a splinter group of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan.

Since the Uighur uprising in Xinjiang province of China in July 2009, there were reports from reliable sources that Al Qaeda and its associates have been targeting Russia and the Central Asian Republics as a reprisal for their agreement to allow logistic supplies for the Nato forces in Afghanistan to move through their territory.

The Chechens — the pro-Al Qaeda jihadis as well as separatists not associated with Al Qaeda — have also been wanting to prove wrong Russian security agencies, which have been claiming to have crushed the Chechen separatists and restored normalcy in Chechnya. But reports from the Caucasian region of Russia have been indicating that jihadi terrorists continue to be active in the Ingushetia region. In February, at least 20 insurgents were reportedly killed in an operation by Russian security forces in Ingushetia.

Many Chechens work as security guards and manual labour in the commercial establishments of Moscow. Often, pro-Al Qaeda Chechens use them for creating sleeper cells in Moscow.

If it is established that pro-Al Qaeda Chechens have staged a come-back by organising the two suicide explosions of March 29 in the Moscow metro, it should be a matter of concern not only to the Russian security agencies, but also to those of the CARs and the Xinjiang province of China. Likelihood of threats to the security of the forthcoming Shanghai Expo from pro-Al Qaeda Chechens or Uighurs or Uzbecks would increase. This has to be factored into in the security drill not only at the expo, but also in Xinjiang.

The writer, a former senior official with R&AW, is a noted security expert.








Paranoia over stray dogs in a section of its population is a feature of Delhi's life. One hears periodically that these canines are growing uncontrollably in number because the animal birth control programme for dogs has floundered. The fact is that Delhi's canine population has not been growing. A survey by the Wildlife SOS, under an MoU with the Municipal Corporation of Delhi in 2009, put the number of stray dogs in Delhi at 2,62,740, plus-minus 18,343. If this figure is even approximately correct, then there has actually been a very significant decline in the population of stray dogs which was estimated at 5,00,000 some years ago. People can argue that the Wilfdlife SOS's figure is not an actual count but an estimate based on distance sampling and transect monitoring and hence, as in all such cases, provides no more than a rough idea.

Even if one concedes this, one can at most dispute the quantum of decline and not talk of an increase in the number of stray dogs. Besides, the implementation of the ABC programme should be considered a success even if the number of stray dogs has remained stable. This is because, as the Guidelines for Dog Population Management, jointly issued by the World Health Organisation and the World Society for the Protection of Animals in 1990, point out, each habitat has a specific carrying capacity for each species, including higher vertebrates like dogs. This capacity is determined by the "availability, distribution and quality of resources (food, shelter, water) for the species concerned."

Efficient garbage removal will eliminate an important source of food for stray dogs. The guidelines recommend the fencing of dumps and enforcement of civic regulations where waste and garbage are concentrated in locations like markets, dumps, and camping grounds. These also recommend organisation of garbage disposal, education of people and enforcement of regulations, where the presence of waste and garbage is widespread over the entire human habitation area.

The 2001 census of India put the population of the National Capital Territory of Delhi at 13,782,976. In 2004, the population was estimated to have increased to 15,270,000 and by 2009, to 21,500,000. One result of this massive rise of nearly eight million in population in nine years, has been a huge increase in the quantity of garbage generated, putting a heavy strain on civic arrangements for garbage management. Not surprisingly one often finds large piles of uncleared garbage lying over vast tracts of the National Capital Territory's urban and rural areas and urban villages.

Hence the quantity of food available for stray dogs has increased enormously. A decline in their population, even if marginal, indicates the effectiveness of the ABC programme as a method because it had lacked systematic implementation, resources and infrastructure for the first 10 years after it was started in 1993. Things began picking up only in 2003 when the Stray Canine Birth Control Society was formed by the MCD. It was followed by a similar body set up by the New Delhi Municipal Council. Both have executed MoUs with the Animal Welfare Board of India which now contributes 50 per cent of the cost of each sterilisation.

There has been significant progress. The 12 months between April 2008 and March 2009 saw 31,959 sterilisation surgeries by NGOs against a target of 39,460. The six months between April to December 2009 saw 28,540 surgeries — close to the figure for the whole of previous 12 months — against a target of 41,700. The final figures for December 2009-March 2010 have yet to be compiled. If the progress has been the same as during the previous six months, one can expect over 56,000 sterilisations during April 2009-March 2010, nearly double the figure for April 2008-March 2009. Given the attention the ABC programme is now receiving, the rate is bound to go up, covering Delhi's entire stray dog population over the next four to five years. The population of stray dogs would decline steeply as the sterilised dogs live out their biological spans of life. Meanwhile, dogs from areas witnessing construction activity for Delhi metro and the Commonwealth Games are moving into other areas, which experience a sudden increase in the population of stray dogs. Things will settle down once the constructions and the Games are over.







The search engine giant's crusade against censorship has nothing to do with freedom of speech on the web. Rather, it seems it has more to do with weakening of the dollar

The Google affair was expected to be resolved in China this week. But there is no resolution in sight and still nothing is clear, although a great many interesting facts have come to light and a great many important statements have been made.

Google and its search engine plus e-mail service were expected either to leave China in the next couple of days or to make up with the authorities. Neither came to pass.

The dispute began when Google's e-mail service was hacked in December, allegedly by the Government in order to read the correspondence between prominent Chinese dissidents. The American Internet giant failed to prove what cannot be proved — that the Chinese Government is responsible. Then Google raised the banner against web censorship and announced that it could not abide by Chinese censorship laws.

It would be logical for a company that does not want to follow the laws of a country to leave. But Google did not leave. It would be equally logical for a company to try to negotiate with the authorities if it has problems and does not want to leave. But Google did not try to negotiate either. So, what did Google do?

In a nutshell, Google tried to provoke the Chinese Government and put it in a bind. On Monday, Google cunningly redirected web users from China to its Hong Kong page. Hong Kong is also part of China, but it has its own laws and does not censor the web. Beijing will have to surmount many legal obstacles in order to get out of this bind.

However, the Chinese Government is well on its way. It's hitting Google where it hurts most — the wallet. The Chinese advertising market grew by $ 3 billion last year, ie during the crisis. But several Chinese advertisers have recently announced that they will not award contracts to Google for its violations (or rather, circumvention) of Chinese law. However, Beijing has so far stopped short of kicking Google out of China, even though it seems like the American Internet giant is daring China to.

Why? This dispute brought many interesting facts to light. Some of them concern Google's overall financial health, while others have to do with its success or failure in China. It brings to mind that Russian cult classic about Stierlitz, the Soviet spy working in Hitler's Berlin. At one point Stierlitz realises that he would be better off provoking an argument with Gestapo boss Muller. In that case everyone would think that Muller was after him because of the argument, and no one would believe Muller when he claimed Stierlitz was a Soviet spy. Maybe Google planned the whole thing, just like Stierlitz.

It seems that freedom of speech on the web had nothing to do with the dispute. You can't say absolutely everything you want in most of the world, be it on the web or a city square. Some countries have laws against it, like China, whereas others have more sophisticated and effective ways to restrict speech, like political correctness in the US, where no one dares say "Negro" or even "black", "American Indian", or "invalids", in effect creating a new language. You are not allowed to draw cartoons of Prophet Muhammad in Muslim countries (and some others). You are not allowed to promote racial hatred in any multi-ethnic country. China, in fact, has recently seen two acts of provocation — ethnic pogroms, really — in which Han Chinese were assaulted in Tibet and Xingjian.

So what is going on? First, it seems that the new US Administration is raising the stakes in anticipation of the "strategic US-Chinese dialogue", which will be held in Beijing in May. Apparently, everything will be on the table there, first and foremost, who is devaluing their currency to boost exports? China or the United States? For the time being, China seems to have the upper hand. By weakening the dollar, the Obama Administration avoided many of the upheavals of the crisis, but now...

It would be unrealistic to expect China to consolidate its influence without any obstacles. Google's crusade against censorship is understandable under the circumstances. These tactics are a hallmark of Democratic Administrations in the US. The Republicans would simply declare China 'an evil empire' and fight out in the open (the Bush Administration did not do this, but that's another matter). It would be interesting to know what the great Henry Kissinger was doing recently in Beijing and to see how the two key powers are sorting out their relationship.

It is a subtle dance. The Washington Post observed recently that the atmosphere between foreign business and the Chinese Government has been changing. Indeed, 480 of the Fortune 500 companies have invested in China. Now up to eight-nine billion dollars flow into China every month. Isn't that a bit excessive? And what about China's complicated relationship with intellectual property rights? China is not always right. Sometimes it is wrong, even very wrong. Google's well-orchestrated revolt may even prove useful here.

The writer is a political affairs columnist based in Moscow.







Bhareva in the local dialect means those who fill. Over centuries the Bharevas living in Betul district of Madhya Pradesh have honed and nurtured the craft of metal casting using the age-old filling method. The tradition of Bhareva metal craft is derived from and is an intrinsic part of the rituals and customs of the Bharevas, a sub-tribe of Gond tribe.

The oral tradition handed down from one generation to the next is replete with mythology of the origin of deities on earth. The objects of worship, the images of gods and goddesses provide them artistic motivation which then takes the form of metalwork.

Approaching the Bharevas to sculpt deities is regarded imperative for any couple beginning their life's journey and deciding to live in a separate establishment. Without enshrining deities in their new home, their beginning is incomplete and the importance of the role of the metal caster within the community becomes amply evident.

Ornaments like rings and daggers are essentials in the marriage rituals in the Gond tribe. The Bhagats or the spiritual heads of the community wear specially designed jewellery like wristlets and armlets. The range includes numerous utility items like lamps, bells, mirror frames as well as decorative art pieces like bullock carts, peacocks, horses and elephants.

From the local to the global, the Bhareva art form has found its way, albeit in a limited way, into the international craft market. Most of this has happened through State-sponsored craft fairs where the Bhareva artistes are invited to display their works. International art dealers scout such fairs and linkages are made for commissioning specific pieces.

Yet the Bharevas are conscious of a perceptible threat to their traditional art form. "First of all, the couples of Gond tribe have stopped wearing ornaments designed by us because of the availability of comparatively affordable artificial jewellery." According to Sukhlal, a craftsman in Chuna Hujuri village, the cost of raw material for Bhareva jewellery has gone up phenomenally. Brass is priced at Rs 250 per kg and natural wax is Rs 200 to Rs 250 per kg.

"Though, regular weekly markets in tribal pockets witness a brisk business. But sale of such art pieces is seasonal as many cheaper alternatives are available," says Mahesh Chandra Shandilya, Programme Officer with Madhya Pradesh Academy for Tribal Folk Arts, an autonomous body under Department of Culture, Madhya Pradesh Government.

Craftsmen like Imrat Rawat of Sita Makat village for whom metal casting is the only means of livelihood are deeply concerned. "I have nothing but an ancestral house with less than half-an-acre patch. If Gond tribal families stop using the crafts items, I will have to think of other options", he worries.

Of the 50 families settled in 10 villages in Betul district, only 15 practice this unique art. "Many of us have already stopped the practice. Half-a-dozen households of the Bharevas have turned into daily wage earners. They work either as farm labour or get work under Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme," rues Sahablal of Sita Kamat village.

Acknowledging the availability of viable job openings to the Bharevas, Sukhram, a distinguished metal-caster says, "This sophisticated artistry takes years of painstaking effort to acquire. Once the tribe distances itself from the process, it will take years to regain the same mastery."

While many of his community members have taken up other viable livelihoods options, his family continues to keeps its efforts and hopes aloft. "I run a Bhareva Shilpa Kala Kendra at Betul for tribal children, but I am not sure of its sustainability", Sukhram's son Baldeo laments.

Baldeo's pride and his anguish are both symbolic of a clash of value as defined by the all-pervasive market forces and value that represents the human artistic endeavour. But, whether to lose one's heritage or lose one's livelihood is a hard choice to make.








THERE is every reason to hail the verdict of a Haryana court sentencing to death five people who killed a young couple, Manoj and Babli, for their marrying each other despite belonging to the same gotra ( kin group). The judgment ought to send out a stern message to khap ( caste) panchayats of northwest India that their medieval ideas have no place in modern society. As needs no iteration, ' honour killings' have become a monstrous social evil in states like Haryana. So, even as we hail the latest verdict, we have a report that another young couple, who had married against the wishes of their family members, have been gunned down near Amritsar. Nearly a 100 young men and women are estimated to lose their lives this way every year.


The Union government must quickly pass a law against such ' honour killings'. The idea of holding the entire panchayat responsible for any heinous crime arising out of its verdict should act as a deterrent, as should the proposal to put the onus of proving themselves innocent on the accused, as is the case in the anti- dowry law.


But just as the anti- dowry law has not eradicated the evil of dowry deaths, legislation alone will not suffice here. As the nomenclature makes clear, ' honour killings' constitute a peculiar category of crime where the murderers are driven by a perverted sense of righteousness.


It is for this reason that the guilty individuals are generally related to the boy or the girl, as happened in the case before us.


This makes ' honour killings' a reflection of the atavism that still afflicts rural communities in large swathes of northern India. Eradication of these practices requires the combined efforts of the political and intellectual leaders of the community, as well as of its religious leaders.


The politicians will do a lot if they can get the police to take a tough line with the khap panchayats' unlawful activities. Otherwise we will continue to face the ugly spectacle of the very policemen charged with protecting a couple turning them in to their murderous kin, as happened with the hapless Manoj and Babli in 2007.







THE state and Union governments need to take urgent action against the illegal activities of miners in Bellary. A three- part M AIL T ODAY expose has revealed the high price that the state and the environment are paying for the actions of the Reddy brothers— Janardhana, Karunakara and Somshekara— of whom two are key ministers in the Bharatiya Janata Party- led ministry in Karnataka. The Reddys operate a number of licensed mines in the district, but these also provide cover for a large number of illegal mining operations. Alarmingly, these are often carried out in the reserve forests, some on the Andhra Pradesh- Karnataka border.


The Supreme Court's order to curb the Obalapuram Mining Company's activities in this area has made little dent in the business run by the powerful Reddy brothers.


The Karnataka state government run by B. S. Yeddyurppa has proved to be ineffective in checking the power of the brothers who have powerful connections with the party's high command in New Delhi. As a result, the entire state machinery has been subverted to enable the mining of iron ore and its export from the Karwar and Mangalore ports.


Recently government officials found that the trucks carrying the ore had forged government documents and no objection certificates to get through the check posts of the forest and transportation departments.


As it is, the palms of the officials are well greased and they are not inclined to stand in the way of the mining mafia. The racket is obviously well organised as evidenced by the coded slips that enable the thousands of trucks to go past the check posts without any hassle.


The consequences of this large scale racket are baleful : First, the environment is severely degraded, leading to the loss of invaluable flora and fauna. Second, the state loses revenue through the illegal movement of the illegally mined ore. Third, the wealth generated by the mining activity undermines democracy and the rule of law in the state. The price of these actions will be paid by the future generations of the people of the state and the country.








MARCH 31 marks the end of the financial year not only for the central government, but state governments as well.


Yet, while the man in the street is acutely aware that April 1 also sees the start of a new financial regime, including new taxes, what happens at the state level goes virtually unnoticed.


Except, of course, when there are unpleasant surprises packed in a state budget, when it enjoys a brief Indian summer of notoriety.


Delhi is a good example. If the state government hadn't suddenly hit citizens where it hurt by announcing sweeping tax increases on everything from diesel to CNG and cooking gas to registering a new automobile or a piece of property, citizens of the national capital might not have even noticed that their state government goes through the same kind of annual financial exercise as the central government.




India, as such, has had a pretty good crisis so far. Economic growth did suffer a slight hiccup, but is back on track within a year. While the government is budgeting for 8 per cent plus growth this fiscal, the actual figure may nudge 9 per cent, especially if the weather gods are kind and the monsoons give agriculture a fillip.


While even some relatively advanced members of the European Union are staring at the spectre of bankruptcy and calling for an international bailout, our finance minister is talking of winding down stimulus expenditure and bringing down the deficit to more ' normal' levels.


This talk was enough to spur global credit rating agencies into revising their outlook for India upwards, from ' negative' to ' stable.' The stock markets, optimistic and forward looking by nature, have already discounted this future wellbeing into current high prices for stocks.


So much so, that the Sensex has hit a two- year high. It is as if the global financial meltdown and the subsequent worldwide economic crisis, the trillions lost in asset prices and the hardships caused by millions of job losses, had all never happened.


Philosopher- economist and risk engineer Nassim Nicholas Taleb says governments everywhere have not learnt any lessons from the financial crisis. Far from teaching them new — and better — fiscal habits, he argues, the crisis has only served as a handy excuse to reinforce old, bad ones. Taleb is admittedly something of an extremist on any kind of debt, whether incurred by individuals or governments, but he does have a point.


The ' L' shaped recession — a precipitous fall in growth, followed by a long period of stagnation — predicted by another professional pessimist, Nouriel Roubini, has


turned out to be a ' U' and even suspiciously like a ' V'. And governments everywhere appear to be snapping back towards old expenditure habits, quickly forgetting self- proclaimed vows of discipline.


When this is the state of affairs with national governments, it hardly comes as a surprise to see that the financial crisis does not even appear to have registered with our state governments. While the union Budget, and the state of the national economy enjoy widespread awareness, thanks to saturation coverage in the media, the state of the economy at the state level, as well as the condition of state finances, hardly get noticed.


Lay citizens may be forgiven this general indifference, but can one afford to be equally generous with those charged with the responsibility of managing finances at the state level? The Delhi government's budget is a perfect example of the schizophrenic divide which exists between the Centre and the states on the issue of fiscal responsibility.


At a time when rising inflation is threatening threatening to derail the fragile economic recovery under way, it is hugely counterintuitive, to say the least, to go and increase the cost of something as basic as energy.


While the government at the central level is at least seized of the problem, the state governments continue to behave as if none exist.


Recession? That's for the Centre to sort out. Inflation? Let the RBI and the finance ministry fix it. Job losses? The private sector needs to stand up and be counted.




There is little or no evidence that states also recognise it as a local problem which needs a local solution. As for fiscal responsibility, the real or perceived inequities in the financial devolution formula for dividing up central tax collections between the Centre and the states devised by successive finance commissions provides a convenient excuse for dodging debate on more uncomfortable issues, like fiscal responsibility and budget management.


The 13th Finance Commission, headed by Vijay Kelkar, had specifically stated that states need to adopt " zero revenue deficit" as the " golden rule." The reality is starkly different. According to the RBI's report on state finances released in February, as many as 23 states are expected to show an increased revenue deficit for the financial year ending March 31, 2010. Only six states have a gross fiscal deficit to gross state domestic product ratio of 3 per cent or less, the stipulated norm.


The combined fiscal deficit of the Centre and the states — which is what credit rating agencies look at while assessing public debt, for example — is nudging 10 per cent at the moment ( actually higher, if off- budget items like oil bonds are added). The Centre says it will try and do its part to bring this down to 8.3 per cent in 2010- 11.



But this can happen only if the states also co- operate. West Bengal, for instance, which is one of the very few states which failed to pass a fiscal responsibility bill, has a debt burden of Rs 1,62,000 crore, declining tax revenues since 1999- 2000 and uses more than a third of its revenues to meet interest payments on past debt. Tamil Nadu's revenue deficit for 2009- 10 has increased more than fivefold over the target, a fact which its chief minister Dr. M. Karunanidhi explained away by blaming – you guessed it, the global recession and the central government! No state has seriously acknowledged the problem of managing its deficit, leave alone come up with a credible, long- term plan to keep expenditure in check. When pushed to the wall, like the Delhi government was by the Centre's refusal to cough up Rs 2,000 crore extra to cover expenditure which allegedly needed to be incurred on account of the forthcoming Commonwealth Games, they turn around and tax whatever they can, with little regard for the consequences for the economy at large.


Past attempts to work out some kind of binding agreement on expenditure and deficit have either been

scuppered on the grounds of states' autonomy, or have simply been ignored. Given the increased turbulence in domestic politics, with the life expectancy of elected governments reducing with every election, the temptation to put populism over public finance has proven well nigh irresistible for our politicians. Understandably so, since electorates in India seldom punish politicians for fiscal irresponsibility.Which is why we end up with statues instead of schools.








WHEN the two proton beams traveling almost at the speed of light collided in the Large Hadron Collider ( LHC) near Geneva this week, scientists of several nationalities including Indians were present in the CERN Control Center to be a part of this historic moment for science.


This was not a mere coincidence. All these scientists from different countries have been working on various experiments of LHC for more than a decade now. Funding for this $ 10 billion mega venture has come from different countries.


Many like India have contributed in the form of hardware. All this makes LHC a truly collaborative and international scientific experiment. Internationality is central to LHC. As an insider commented, the polyglot restaurants at


CERN seem to be as important as the big accelerators.


Big science involves big money and scientific agencies often find it difficult to convince politicians to shell out mega funds. It is difficult for politicians too to justify funding for projects that are aimed at fundamental discoveries and not utilitarian science.


Lack of appropriate funding delays big science projects, making it more difficult for governments to support them, and providing much needed ammunition to skeptics.


Hopefully, the success of LHC is going to change all this and money is going to flow to other big science

projects under way.



REGIONAL level cooperation in science still seems a far cry.

Despite sharing a large ecological and biodiversity space with its neighbours, India has no worthwhile scientific collaboration in the region. A group of scientists from India, China and the US have recently pointed out that some of the most pressing environmental problems of Asia such as climate change, threat to biodiversity and water shortage can be solved if India and China actively collaborate for ecological research in the Himalayas.


Some of the disputed areas or the areas where Indian and Chinese armies are stationed are fragile alpine zones in the Himalayas. These very areas are ideal for conversion to transboundary protected areas or peace parks, the scientists wrote in Science on Friday.


The creation of such peace parks could not only protect biodiversity and help mitigate climate change, but also help peaceful resolution of the border dispute, says Kamaljit Bawa, president of Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and the Environment, and lead author of the paper.


A similar proposal to set up K- 2– Siachen Peace Park between India and Pakistan, floated a few years back, has died a natural death.




THE Indian National Science Academy ( INSA) has released a draft vision document for Indian science, which talks about, among other things, greater role for science in public policy making as well as increasing public engagement with science.


Given the fact that a number of public policies are indeed science- based such as those relating to GM foods, climate change, food safety, and stem cell therapy, the recommendations are significant. Leading science academies of the world have position documents on all such issues and do not wait for policy makers to consult them.


The vision document has been prepared by a group of young and mid- career scientists and has a certain freshness about it. " Most recommendations echo similar feelings expressed earlier in different contexts. This is a comprehensive document touching all aspects of academia", points out L S Shashidhara of Indian Institute of Science Education and Research, who was the convener of the group which drafted the document. But he says it is a document owned by all in the academia and is evolving through a democratic process. Let's hope the academy takes the exercise to its logical end.







IT HAS been 26 years since the original people's car rolled out on the streets of Delhi. On December 14, 1983, then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi handed over the keys of the first Maruti 800 to Harpal Singh, a flight operations officer in the Indian Airlines.


Bigger and faster cars have since zoomed past the Maruti 800, but its charms have remained undiminished.


Be it mileage, reliability, an extensive service network or its high resale value, the Maruti 800 has been the popular choice for years.


And just as Singh is remembered as the first owner, so would be 36- year- old Abbas Ahmed.


On Wednesday, he became the last owner of the car in the Capital. A dealer in steel cupboards, Ahmed desperately wanted a Maruti 800 — not to be a part of history, he mentioned.


He had moved the bank seeking a loan to buy the car but when he realised that it will take time and that the car would not be available from Thursday, he borrowed money from friends and relatives and bought the car on Wednesday evening. Ahmed bought the standard model of the car which comes without air- conditioning.


" In the morning I had no idea that the car won't be available in the market from tomorrow. But when I came to know that the loan would take a few days to be sanctioned by which time I would lose the opportunity to buy the car, I decided to buy the car today itself," said Ahmed. His reason for buying the car was no different from the thousands of owners who found the car — priced at Rs 2.06 lakh ( ex- showroom on Wednesday) — to be within their budget.


Thursday onwards, 13 cities, including the NCR, Mumbai, Kolkata, Chennai and Bangalore, will switch over to Bharat Stage- IV emission norms.


The company chose not to upgrade Maruti 800 to the new norms and has instead decided to phase out the car in the metropolitan cities. In the rest of the country, the car will be available for a while longer before they adopt BS- III norms from October.


As the curtains come down on the earliest exponent of the small car segment, it also brings to end an era where a Maruti 800 meant more than just a car.


It was a friend, as middle- class India found out over two decades.


Talking about the Maruti 800, car designer Dilip Chhabria said, " The Maruti 800 revolutionised the car market in the country. However, the sales had come down in the recent years and a phase- out was imminent. The introduction of BS- IV in metropolitan cities only sped up the process of phasing out.


There's a lot of sentiment attached to the car which succeeded and gave the car market a new direction in the country." Shaheed, who works as an adviser at a car showroom, has been associated with Maruti since 1984. Having joined the company a year after the car was launched, Shaheed has witnessed its journey through the years.


" Maruti has stopped making cars like the Zen but there's still a huge demand for these cars in the market. The same would be the case for the Maruti 800.


Any Maruti 800 car would fetch a high resale value," Shaheed said.


Now 82, Singh, the car's first owner doesn't remember much about the historic occasion. But his wife Gursharanbir Kaur said, " Our car never failed us.


We still own the car and it has never shut down on the road. We bought this car for Rs 54,000 and it was the best investment we made."





SOON after BJP president Nitin Gadkari announced his new team of office- bearers, Shahnawaz Hussain developed dard- e- dil ( pain in the heart). The prime reason for this sudden manifestation of an illness that is largely being perceived as " psychosomatic" was the denial of the general secretary's post to the Bhagalpur MP. He has persisted with the " illness" for over two weeks now but the BJP seems to be in no mood to find a cure.

The party has not taken kindly to the fact that while other new spokespersons appointed alongside Hussain, including a sulking Rajiv Pratap Rudy, have taken their responsibilities so seriously as to address a press conference every day, he has not bothered to show up at the BJP headquarters even once since his appointment as a spokesperson. A senior leader has apparently advised him to cut short his " convalescence" and make an appearance soon if he does not want to lose the post he has been allotted.



RJD SUPREMO Lalu Prasad feels attempts to ensure the passage of the women's reservation Bill in its present form would lead to the downfall of the UPA government. " I am sure the government won't be able to complete its full term," Prasad said.


Asked how he would be able to topple the government with just four MPs, Prasad replied: " I want to tell them only four persons are required to carry a body to a funeral. I can also claim at this stage that I alone am sufficient to pull down the government." Prasad expressed apprehension that there would be no seat left for men after three or four elections were held to the Lok Sabha and state assemblies if the Bill was implemented in its present form.



MAHARASHTRA Congress leaders, including chief minister Ashok Chavan, are trying their best to avoid sharing the stage with Amitabh Bachchan. But leaders of Congress's alliance partner NCP have no qualms about inviting the superstar for events.


NCP leader and Maharashtra rural development minister Jayant Patil wrote to Bachchan, informing him that a municipal council was ready to readjust the date of an event to suit the actor's convenience. Patil had invited Bachchan last December to inaugurate a theatre in Sangli district. On March 11, Patil sent another letter to the actor, saying the Islampur municipal council wanted to open the theatre through Bachchan's " auspicious hands". The minister recently extended the invitation afresh.


" The Congress should not misunderstand the offer because it is an invitation to an artiste and has nothing to do with politics," Patil added.



IN TAMIL Nadu, an undeclared turf war is going on between Union minister for shipping G. K. Vasan and Kartik, son of home minister P. Chidambaram.


While Chidambaram Jr is trying to emerge as a youth leader, the young Vasan is no pushover either.


Son of the late G. K. Moopanar, who had left the Congress, formed the Tamil Maanila Congress and returned to the Congress, Vasan is keen to return to Chennai as the TNCC president. He seems to have the upper hand in the battle. In the recent delegate elections to the Indian Youth Congress, the Vasan camp got 100 delegates, while Kartik could manage only 20. May the best man win.








If there's one strong message that was sent out by Tuesday's judgement and sentencing of five people for the murder of a couple, it is that community traditions and personal laws cannot be above the law. The Haryana court that found six people from the Jat community guilty of committing 'honour killings' was rightly unswayed by the legal relativism that is all too often brought as defence to protect perpetrators of a 'tradition-backed' crime. The murder of Manoj and Babli, who had 'violated' tradition and thus 'besmirched family honour' by eloping to get married, was not only heinous but also barbaric. It also highlighted the dangers and shameful blindness involved in perpetuating caste divisions in a country where we have a history of such categorisations leading to outright irrational floutings of the law. What was the couple's crime? That being from the same 'gotra' (sharing a common ancestor according to caste traditions), they had got 'married'.

At the root of the murder was the 'khap panchayat' (caste council) of the village that sanctioned — nay, ordered — the murders. Too many times have upholders of the law looked the other way when dealing with members of communities using 'customs' as an excuse to perpetuate practices that are directly in conflict with our Constitution and human values. One simple rule must kick in each time a person or a community quotes 'tradition' to commit a crime: personal laws can only exist within the secular law of the State. If sati (widow immolation) was a Hindu custom, it was a barbaric one that needed to be exterminated. The law of the land did exactly that. If paying alimony to a divorced woman by her husband is not standard practice according to some interpretation of Muslim law, then the law is well within its right to overwhelm such a sanctioned act of omission and impose its writ. One can't hide behind 'cultural practices' and get away with anything.

Cultural relativism — even in multi-cultural India, especially in multi-cultural India — can only go so far. A murder is a murder is a murder. No amount of theology or anthropology can be brought on to the table explain it away. It's bad enough that crimes in India manage to 'de-criminalise' themselves with the help of power and pelf. We enter another level of shame when arguments condoning crimes like 'honour killing' or 'ritual murder' come in the form of 'tradition'. The fact that the lives of two youngsters could have been saved if the police had provided the couple with security after they complained that their lives were under threat is truly tragic. Let the law that has been laid down by the court now do its job unobstructed.






One of the mysteries confronting humankind has been figuring out how the European Organisation for Nuclear Research got the name 'CERN'. Going by usual practice, the Organisation Européenne pour la Recherche Nucléaire would have been OERN, not CERN. But in the fascinatingly strange world of quantum physics nomenclature, 'CERN' is the conflation of the name of the original council that set up, well, CERN: Conseil Européen pour la Recherche Nucléaire (European Council for Nuclear Research). The name has since stuck like gluon interactions that bind protons and neutrons in the nuclei of atoms.

Such semantically-driven PR operations are just part of the arsenal that scientists and scientific fund-raisers use to convince a general public uninterested in science — unless, of course, it can come up with a better version of the iPhone — that expensive experiments like the one involving the Large Hadron Collider conducted on Tuesday at CERN have a purpose.

Tell the public that by smashing sub-atomic particles one can recreate the beginnings of the universe and thereby explain the existence of mass (a remarkably rare entity in the universe), and you're likely to get a stifled yawn. Tell them that you may get proof of the existence of the 'God particle' -- the legendary 'Higgs-Boson particle', named after physicists Peter Higgs and Satyendra Nath Bose — and they may just sit up. It's not too different from politics. To unlock a great human endeavour, you got to sell the mob some shiny trinkets.






Today, the day on which the Right to Education (RTE) is being notified and will become a legally enforceable right, there is one group that is uncomfortable. For many decades now NGOs have been running night schools and non-formal centres in this country. Many of these so-called schools run for a couple of hours and children — mostly very poor, especially girls — attend when they are through with work.

Well-known philanthropies and donor agencies support such initiatives in the name of promoting education. In the last few months, I have had the opportunity to attend meetings where donors and NGOs met to understand the implications of RTE. In more than one instance, organisations running non-formal centres and night schools have expressed their displeasure at closing down such schools as they will lose money.

The RTE not only gives every child the right to be educated, but also clearly lays down what a school is supposed to be. Any centre that runs for a few hours will no longer be recognised as  a school. More importantly, it is now mandatory for every single school to acquire a certificate of recognition after complying  with norms and standards specified in the act. Donors and recipients alike have known for a long time — at least since 2003 when the 86th Constitutional Amendment was passed — that the right to education essentially means that  every child has the right to a proper school. In other words, a school that functions for five-six hours a day, where there is one teacher for every 30 children, where children have access to textbooks and learning material, where  they get a mid-day meal and a place where children are with other children of their age.

Furthermore,  the Act stipulates that "where a child is directly admitted in a class appropriate to his or her age, then he or she shall, in order to be at par with others, have a right to receive special training, in such a manner,  and within such time limits, as may be prescribed… further that a child so admitted to  elementary education shall be entitled to free education till completion of elementary education even after 14 years…". The administration is expected to maintain records of children up to the age of 14 residing within its jurisdiction. The onus of ensuring compliance lies with the administration.

We all have known for a long time that night schools and non-formal centres are apologies for schools and that children who go to these centres for a few hours barely learn  beyond basic alphabets and numbers.

Way back in the mid-1980s, there was compelling evidence about the dismal failure of  the government's non-formal education (NFE) programme. Subsequently, due to the tireless work done by people like Shanta Sinha, the government withdrew the NFE scheme and started advocating full-time schooling as a right of every child.

This was also the time when research-based evidence pointed out that poverty is not the only reason for non-enrolment or for children dropping out. A range of in-school factors like availability of teachers who actually attend school everyday and teach, non-discriminatory environment in school, absence of verbal or physical punishment and abuse, basic facilities, availability of teaching and learning material — all determine the ability of children to be retained and to learn.

The time has come for donors and the larger NGO community to introspect and ask if the centres they support or run actually benefit children. Equally, the media and the larger education community should join hands with local authorities to ensure that children can realise their rights. Maybe we need to start with educating our peers about the right and why it is important to comply with it.

No right, however just and timely, can become a reality unless societies as whole and interested actors in particular make an effort to educate and enforce. The Right to Information would have remained in the statute books but for the tireless work of hundreds of activists. A similar movement is called for if RTE has to become a reality.

Vimala Ramachandran is Director, Educational Resource Unit, New Delhi. The views expressed by the author are personal.







Bharti made Indian business history when it acquired the African mobile networks of Kuwait's largest public co

mpany, Zain, in a $10.7 billion deal. It will now be Africa's second largest mobile operator (ironically, right behind MTN), with a firm grip on 15 African countries. This makes Bharti the fifth largest firm by user-base, and gives other Indian companies a new measure for success, with its purchase of a global behemoth. It has not only enlarged the arena for itself, but also significantly boosted India's cred in Africa and the world.


Despite our long history of commerce and exchange with Africa, China has far outpaced India, aiming to reach $100 billion in trade this year, while recent figures peg India's trade with Africa at about $39 billion. Indian industry is only gingerly stepping into this vast frontier — but instead of a purely extractive, profit-seeking agenda, they have focused on capacity-building and training as well as private entrepreneurship. Africa's share of India's total FDI outflows, which hovered around 8.6 per cent in the early '90s, has recently climbed to 13.5 per cent — and most of this has been led by small and medium investors.


Now, thanks to the telecom giant, India will loom much larger in the continent.


Africa is one of the most vibrant mobile markets in the world, with much to share with South Asia. From ringtones to financial services and crop price data, every segment of the telecom sector there is buzzing, and has had a transformative impact on the continent. Indian companies like Bharti, with their tremendous experience in rural India and strong management cadre, are uniquely positioned to provide these services. What's more, to be associated with this purely enabling technology is good for India, and a far cry from the days when Air India was the only lacklustre face we presented to the world. After decades of near-invisibility in the international market, companies like Bharti and Tata are acquiring a whole new name-recall in the rest of the world, and some of that shine also spills over to Brand India. These companies have that intangible "grrr factor" — a mix of ambition, confidence and intensity that is only now beginning to rub off on India's public image.








Can all small things be made big with the right dose of advertising? Perhaps not. Especially when the small keeps shrinking. Yet that seems to be the rationale underpinning the Union government's decision to relax the rules that govern the allocation of office space to political parties in Lutyens' Delhi, the centre of the nation's political universe. The Congress, at the helm of the ruling UPA, appears to be telling small parties that the smaller they become, the further it will shrink the universe to fit them, to keep them close.


The lowering of the threshold from seven seats in both Houses of Parliament to four will ensure that a number of regional parties qualify for an office in Lutyens' or remain entitled to the space they already have, even if some them are staring at a further thinning of their


parliamentary presence. Thus the National Conference and Janata Dal (S) with five MPs each or RLD with six will be happy. Lalu Prasad, likely to lose some Rajya Sabha seats soon, will be relieved. Perhaps the Congress feels that the help of smaller parties (those within the UPA, those sitting on the fence), which may be required in cushioning the passage of crucial legislation, calls for a generous gesture.


This apparent tailoring of norms to boost the self-esteem of regional parties has occurred in the midst of what, for a while now, has been demonstrated in elections as a general drift away from smaller parties, from their political plots


increasingly perceived to be out-of-sync with the aspirational politics across the country. Unsurprisingly, leaders of smaller parties are insecure, scared of losing not only their political importance but also the importance of their physical space. What may be a tangible token to symbolise the Congress's appreciation (or placation), is a tangible need for smaller parties to maintain the stature of what they symbolise. Advertising must be kept up even as the product vanishes.







A few weeks ago, during his Budget speech, Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee announced that the UPA intended t

o ensure that, in its current term, all places with more than 2,000 residents would have some sort of access to banking facilities. Financial inclusion of that order requires some pretty ambitious plans from individual corporations: and hence the statement by the chairman of the State Bank of India (SBI) to Wednesday's Financial Express that the SBI is planning to massively increase the number of banking correspondents, or BCs, on its rolls. BCs are individuals or small enterprises that will accept deposits and remit money on behalf of the bank, as well as serving as local providers for the bank's basic financial schemes — for example, insurance plans.


The SBI plans to add 15,000 new BCs over this financial year. To say that this is a substantial increase is something of an understatement: the number that the SBI currently has on its rolls is negligible. But we could very well be at the threshold of a transformative moment: a sign marking an SBI "franchisee" might become, soon, as ubiquitous in our villages as the yellow sign for an STD/ ISD PCO became in the '90s. And as revolutionary, too, as were those PCOs. This goes beyond the oft-mentioned hope that increasing the number of accounts will aid in the payment of NREGA wages, or in keeping tabs on the leakage in other social sector schemes; no, the prospect here is that the smallest of enterprises or the poor, self-employed Indian will fundamentally alter the way they manage their risk or pay their creditors.


Most crucially, as the Raghuram Rajan report on financial inclusion pointed out, increasing the size of the formal banking sector will aid in the process of creating a coherent structure within which credit history is built up — meaning that disbursement of credit can become more efficient and targeted. But the state's pushing of its own banks can only go so far. What is needed is for it to aid private banks into the sector: their cost-cutting ethic is precisely what this sort of no-frills expansion will require.








The size of public debt is one of the biggest challenges facing the Indian government today. There is a danger that we draw comparisons with the US, UK and some European countries, and get lulled into complacency about the large fiscal deficits we are running. We can also get into endless arguments about how much the deficit matters for inflation, interest rates or crowding out of private investment. This is a risk we must avoid. Implementation of the FRBM-II and an independent fiscal council must be given top priority.


India has had a record of not defaulting on its public debt. Also, most government debt in India is rupee denominated and held by residents, primarily with banks acting as intermediaries. Banking regulations require banks to hold government bonds, thus creating a captive market for them. As a consequence, in the past, an increase in the size of the government borrowing programme has not created much concern. It appears to have been absorbed somewhat silently by the system.


The increase in the fiscal deficit since Budget 2009 has, however, not been absorbed that quietly. There has been a sharp and steady increase in the yields on government bonds. Bond-holders, including now even the captive public sector banks, demand a larger premium for holding more government bonds. There can be a long debate about the extent to which this could hurt private investment, and this debate is unlikely to be conclusive. But what there can be little disagreement about is that larger interest rates today mean larger interest payments tomorrow. This is not to say that no growth enhancing infrastructural investments can be made by the government. But that the level of borrowing today has to take into account future growth rates and interest rates to arrive at sustainable debt/ deficit numbers. Today, with rising interest rates on government bonds, the need for the government's commitment to fiscal consolidation is more urgent than ever.


The inadequacies in the Fiscal Responsibility and Budgetary Management Act (FRBM) became apparent with the rise in oil prices that created a large off-budget deficit. Following that, the Sixth Pay Commission, farmer debt waiver and social sector spending like the NREGA, ended all semblance of fiscal consolidation. The cut in taxes following the global crisis added to the deficit. Despite the high growth rate witnessed over the last decade, the ratios of fiscal deficit to GDP and debt to GDP rose sharply.


The Thirteenth Finance Commission was given the task of recommending a revised roadmap for fiscal consolidation, or an FRBM-II. Among its recommendations the commission suggested a target for the debt-GDP ratio: a combined level of 68 per cent for Centre and states. This level was 82 per cent in 2008-09. This means that today's level of debt is not sustainable. Reaching the sustainable target will require a reduction in borrowing by both Centre and states. An essential element of the roadmap for consolidation includes a golden rule, under which no one should borrow for current expenditure. This translates into a zero revenue deficit and a 3 per cent fiscal deficit by 2013-14.


The process by which these would be achieved is envisaged to be a significant improvement over how the first FRBM was done. The commission recommends, first, that there needs to be much greater transparency and detail to make the FRBM effective. A medium-term fiscal plan should be put in place containing three-year ahead detailed estimates of revenues and expenditures with explanations of how these estimates were arrived at. Recommendations on how to make the fiscal consolidation process transparent include spelling out contingent liabilities of public-private partnerships, revenue consequences of capital expenditures, separate statements of Central transfers to states, reporting of compliance costs of major tax proposals, moving all disinvestment receipts to the consolidated fund of India to enable the use of these funds as part of the medium-term fiscal planning exercise and the maintenance of inventories (at market prices) of land and building held by government departments.


The second significant change in the FRBM is recommended to be sensitivity to business cycles. In the present downturn, the path of fiscal correction was reversed when the government undertook measures to provide a fiscal stimulus. While this was done in an ad hoc manner, the commission has recommended that the medium-term fiscal policy should lay down rules for relaxation of fiscal targets. It should specify the bands within which fiscal targets can be changed. Counter-cyclical fiscal policy is needed sometimes, but it should not put an end to the path of fiscal correction.


Finally, the commission has recommended independent review and monitoring of the implementation of the FRBM. Committees for such review have been set up in the past by some state governments and should now be set up by the Centre. There should be a Fiscal Council that acts as an autonomous body reporting to the finance ministry, which should report to Parliament. The role of such an institution will become more important as the size and complexity of the Indian economy evolves. It should help the government in a transparent and professional manner. Countries such as Brazil, Japan, Korea, Mexico and Sweden have such institutions. In today's environment of high public debt and rising deficits, such an institution can play an important role not only in assisting the government in the task of fiscal consolidation, but it can also add integrity to the government's medium-term plans for fiscal consolidation.


Moving away from the one-size-fits-all path of fiscal consolidation recommended for states earlier, the recommendations differ according to the growth and fiscal condition of each state. This would work towards preventing contractionary fiscal consolidation in states. A suitable path to consolidation, combined with state-level fiscal councils, would help in achieving the goal of reducing the state debt to 25 per cent of GDP over five years.


The writer is a professor at the National Institute of Public


Finance and Policy, Delhi <>/b>








The Supreme Court order vacating the stay on the Andhra Pradesh government's move to implement reservation for certain Muslim groups deserves applause for many reasons. Contrary to being a sanction for a religion-specific "Muslim quota" as some would like to project it — it, in fact, achieves exactly the opposite. By identifying "caste" groups among Muslims, it complicates the prevailing thesis of Muslim backwardness which hinges on the myth of a community immune to social differentiation.


Thus, the government order of July 2007 while recognising occupational and artisan castes such as Muslim Dhobi, Garadi Muslim or Kani-kattuvallu, Labbi, Turaka Kasha, Gosangi Muslim or Phakeer Sayebulu as socially and educationally backward, excludes the erstwhile nobility: the Syeds, Pathans, Mughals, Cutchi Memons and Bohras. This expulsion of the "ashraf" from the discourse on backwardness becomes even more significant when juxtaposed against the revelations of the Sachar Committee. A nuanced reading of the report substantiates the inequality that exists between the ashrafs and the middle and lower castes. If employment in railways is taken as a case in point, Muslim OBCs whose population share was estimated by the NSSO as nearly 40 per cent (this is only an expanding category as self-reporting is directly related to status awareness) had a share of only 0.4 per cent when compared with the ashrafs whose participation was recorded ten times higher, at 4.5 per cent. This story is echoed in all other sectors, such as central PSUs (2.7 per cent vs 0.6 per cent), university faculty (3.9 per cent vs 1.4 per cent) and university non-teaching staff (3 per cent vs 1.7 per cent).


In all amelioration strategies formulated by the Muslim elite so far, this persisting social hierarchy is overlooked. Instead, the community in its entirety is portrayed as backward, and a case thus made for its classification as an SEBC (socially and educationally backward classes) under Article 16 (4) of the Constitution. Pursuing this course, the apex body of Muslim organisations, the All India Muslim Majlis-e-Mushawarat in one of its resolutions declared the entire Muslim community, irrespective of the stratification within, as a backward class. Only a couple of weeks back, a national convention of Muslim organisations resolved to get Muslims declared as a backward class. This claim is disputed by the backward Muslims who resist any attempt at the "bundling of unequals". For political parties though, the former has held out the promise of political dividends. No wonder then that the Congress government in Andhra Pradesh first tried to push for an all-Muslim quota — impelled to shift to the caste model only when the court rebuffed its attempt to invoke religion-based reservation. This move, therefore bears the potential to mark a departure from the existing plunge to 'minorityism' so far as the government's handling of the "Muslim question" is concerned, to those of concerns for distributive justice.


In fact, by seeing some merit in the caste model, the court has only been consistent with its earlier pronouncements on disputes related to the definition of backward class, a category left ambiguous by the Constitution-makers. The courts, in the final analysis, have come around to uphold "caste" as a significant basis of classification. One of the earliest interventions, Ramkrishna Singh vs State of Mysore (1960), the Mysore high court equated caste with class under certain circumstances. The Supreme Court, in its celebrated Indira Sawhney vs the Union of India (1992), popularly called the Mandal case, endorsed the view: "A caste can be and quite often is a social class in India. If it is backward socially, it would be a backward class for the purposes of Article 16(4)". Referring to the caste structure among Muslims, the court suggested the identification of Muslim OBCs by their occupations: "The social groups following different occupations are known among Hindus by the castes named after the occupations and among non-Hindus by occupational names. Hence, for identifying the backward classes among the non-Hindus, their occupations can furnish a valid test." Rather than sensationalist cries of "Muslim reservation", it is time to acknowledge that it is precisely these occupational groups that have been marked out separately in the Andhra scheme, in tandem with the national resolution of backward class reservation.


For long, reservations have propelled the politics of the country. The potential of reservations to prop up communities as political actors is indisputable. Thus, the Nitish Kumar government could throw up a Mahadalit formula regardless of the SC list being a central prerogative. The Marxists of West Bengal, faced with a fast eroding social base, could suddenly realise the potential of a hitherto unutilised backward category, solely for Muslim groups. State politics, however, over the years, has produced various models of intervention. Karnataka and Kerala, in continuation with the policy of the colonial period, invoke the category of religion to include all Muslims as beneficiaries of reservation. In Tamil Nadu, where Muslim Tamils were intrinsic to the backward class mobilisation, no separate quota for Muslims or Muslim castes exists, and yet, almost all Muslim groups are included among backward classes. Bihar offers yet another model, where the bifurcation of the backward category into advanced and most backward seems to have helped the Muslim caste groups, most of whom, given their state of deprivation, find place among the Muslim backward castes.


In the given situation, the Andhra scheme holds the promise of being a much more effective tool. While being well within the ambit of the national policy of caste-based quota, the possibility of its acceptance, both in the courts as much as in the public domain is much greater. However, by creating a sub-quota specifically for Muslim groups it does invoke religion to some extent. It simultaneously recognises intra-group inequality among Muslims while ensuring that backward Muslims are protected from the monopoly of the relatively advanced backward castes such as Kalingas, Mudirajs, Koppulavellamas and others in the state. Consistent with the recommendation of the Ranganath Mishra Commission, armed with the approval from the court, and in tune with the principles of social justice, the Andhra scheme could be a valuable tool to address Muslim under-representation in public institutions.


The writer teaches at Jamia Millia Islamia university, New Delhi and was a member of the Sachar Committee reporting to the prime minister on the social, economic and educational state of Indian Muslims.










Organiser, the RSS mouthpiece in English, carries a news report called "Anti-Modi, anti-Hindu charade" on its front page, along with a picture of Modi, while the editorial is titled "Media and anti-Hindu canard". It reproduces Modi's "open letter" posted on his blog, saying "how a section of the media was bent upon demonising him and has been putting out the falsehood that he was summoned by the SIT on March 21". It argues that "demonising the Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi is a favourite pastime of a section of the media and pro-Islamist activist groups" and that "it is also a hugely profitable business". "Why are they picking on Modi, despite the fact that by general consent he is the most popular and equally the most successful chief minister the country has ever had," asks the RSS mouthpiece. It also links the 2002 riots with the 1984 riots. "If Modi is culpable because he was chief minister at the time of the 2002 riots, why is the media not holding the late Rajiv Gandhi responsible for the 1984 anti-Sikh pogrom, which by all records was more widespread, bloody and brutal and planned — and Rajiv Gandhi even tried to justify and made political capital," says the RSS mouthpiece. It says that the "country has got used to the cynical game being played by a motivated group of activists and their cohorts in the media".



A news item titled "Total integration of Kashmir is the real issue" in the latest issue of the RSS mouthpiece talks about a recent RSS function attended by Akhil Bharatiya Prachar Pramukh, Madan Das, leader of opposition in the Rajya Sabha, Arun Jaitley, and former Jammu and Kashmir Governor Jagmohan, calling for "complete integration" of the state of Jammu and Kashmir "with the rest of the country". The item quotes Das saying that "separatism in Kashmir has increased to the proportion that the real issue today is total integration of the region with rest of the country and not special status granted through Article 370. The whole country needs to work for total integration of Kashmir today". He is further quoted as having said that "Kashmir was a man-made problem, and that the country suffered the most because of wrong policies of Pt Nehru" and that "such policies should not continue". Jaitley is quoted as "having come down heavily on the Working Group on Jammu and Kashmir, constituted under Justice Sageer Ahmed" by the prime minister, and having added that "the group promoted the feeling of separatism and disintegration" and that the "honesty of the government itself appeared suspicious (on the issue)".



In an opinion piece titled "Parliament: disgrace abounds" M.V. Kamath discusses the Women's Reservation Bill and describes the recent act witnessed in Rajya Sabha, wherein a copy of the bill was snatched and torn by a handful of MPs. Kamath says the act reflected their upbringing in a decadent society. He argues that this should be no reason to put the bill in the cold storage. "They (that handful of MPs) should be treated as men of no consequence. But apparently they have put the fear of political loss in the Congress. And the latter succumbed to it". "That the bill for politically apparent reason will be held in limbo till 2014 tells us of the prevalent culture in this ancient land. That it was passed in the Rajya Sabha with some forty odd MPs abstentions tell sits own story".







The New York Times carried a very troubling article 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 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 noted that "according to Afghan associates, 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 US 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 November 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 defence, governance or development. He and much of his circle do not want the US 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 US 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-US 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 the article noted, "During the recent American-dominated military offensive in the town of Marja — the largest of the war — 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 US 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 US soldier. And once we clear, hold and build Afghanistan for him, he is going to break our hearts.








This is the week that wasn't. That's how Cyrus Broacha may have described the last week on television, seeing how unbelievable it was.


For the first time in its brief history of sex, love, hate and betrayal, Emotional Atyachar (Bindass) featured a boy who does not double cross his girl friend despite the irresistible inducements of a beautiful seductress. She offers him her body and her sole (feet first!), he kicks up his heels and runs back to his Peeping Tom girlfriend, who instead of knocking him silly for his two-timing ways (which is what usually occurs), goes down on bended knee to welcome him back.


If this carries on, the show will lose its thematic USP and its catchy title. Don't know why people watch it anyway, since we all know what will happen at the end of each episode — a couple will part company after an emotional pickle (atyachar, got it?) — even before it has begun.


Another thing: at least 50 per cent of the characters in TV soaps were happy. They could not stop smiling. Normally, a full episode would be devoted to a character like Bebo (Sabki Laadli Bebo, Star Plus), in tears as she recalled what had happened to her before her lookalike Rano killed her and she defied death to return to her home and remember the injustices which had blighted her life, her happiness, etcetera. But now she is joyous, her Prince Charming loves her, his family and her family adore her and so does the evil Rano whom she has forgiven. All is well.


All is exceedingly well for Ichcha too (Uttaran, Colors). She is reunited with her beloved Veer, Tapasya has

stepped outside the triangle of love so that they may live out their fairytale romance and she, meanwhile, learns to do the dishes instead of Ichcha's mother who has been slaving in the kitchen for so long, her expression is as grey as the utensils.


And did you see how loving Dadisa is towards our beloved Anandi (Balika Vadhu)? She is positively glowing at her like the model's skin does after a week of fairness cream.


Is Ponds the latest?


After weeks of wallowing in terrible events — Jagdish being kidnapped, Anandi surviving bullets, the family surviving her survival struggles — everyone looks so happy and together. It was too much. We've got accustomed to everything getting much, much worse just when it seems that it might get better. Definitely time to switch channels. But then Parvati appeared on the scene or rather the actress Sakshi Tanwar did, and given her propensity for suffering after years on Kahani Ghar Ghar Ki, expect things to get worse now.


Switched channels. News TV. No re-runs of serials or jhalaks of films stars dancing. All of them were lighting up Superstar Ka Jalwa (Star Plus). No frills, no fights, just straight news. Arnab Goswami wasn't yelling at someone to his far right whom he could see but we couldn't, Navjot Singh Sidhu wasn't dressed in different shades of the same colour from head to toe. Nor was he talking faster than a speed train. What's going on here?


More followed: in discussions on NDTV 24x7 and CNN-IBN, Congress spokesperson Manish Tewari was heard agreeing with BJP's Ravi Shankar Prasad. The BJP said M.F. Husain should be the brand ambassador for the Commonwealth Games. The Congress agreed and we looked forward to a happy ending, when Mr Husain refused, saying that he doesn't like to travel. After the court cases against him in India, he said his movements had been restricted to brush strokes on canvas (NDTV 24x7). Huh?


How about this then? On Tuesday afternoon came news that Amitabh Bachchan and Rahul Gandhi were going to be the joint chief guests at the inauguration of the next stretch of the Bandra-Worli Sea link.


Can you believe it? Any of it? Of course not. Nor should you. Not on April Fools' Day. Now, if only it would really happen?.







There are two ways to scan the infrastructure finance story in India. One is the pace at which projects are taking off as developers sew up funds. The most recent is the approval for the country's first fully private sector-operated rail project due to come up in Gurgaon. The developers expect to complete work on the 6.1 km project by May 2012. The second is the interminable shuffle between government agencies to work out long-term funding for projects. The best example of that is the delay in financing the norms for takeout financing to help borrowers raise funds at reasonable costs. The plan has been in the works for more than a year. But, as reported in FE, the finance ministry has agreed to a Planning Commission suggestion to put in place a running cap of Rs 25,000 crore on the total worth of projects that India Infrastructure Finance Company Ltd can finance under this scheme. The sum is not meagre. For the banks, the prospect of a takeout support is extremely welcome to match their short-term loans with the long-term requirements of infra projects to prevent any asset-liability mismatch. Takeout financing is a globally accepted financing tool to provide funds for long-duration projects by banks. In this scheme the loan amount is taken out of the books of the financing bank within the pre-fixed period, by another institution. The contracts are typically booked by the banks in advance before financial closure of infrastructure projects with long gestation periods. In the past, Infrastructure Development Finance Company and State Bank of India (SBI) have devised different takeout financing structures to suit the requirements of various banks that address issues such as liquidity, asset-liability mismatches, and availability of project appraisal skills. But it made no major headway. In fact, in the mid-90s, SBI did a couple of transactions of takeout financing, but then kept out because of the risk perception.


The reasons are obvious. There is no market for the takeout financier to lessen his risk. The reluctance to let the financial markets develop their own tools means as of now only a government supported entity can take the risk of failure. As long as the market forces of demand and supply do not operate, this state of affairs is unlikely to improve. There is a market to finance infrastructure projects as shown by the Japan Bank for International Cooperation to finance the Delhi Mumbai Industrial Corridor despite all obstacles. Insurance companies from India and global pension funds all want to be a part of the action. The solutions are, therefore, not difficult to find.







As reported in FE on Wednesday, SBI chairman OP Bhatt said that India's largest bank has decided to hire 15,000 new banking correspondents (BCs) in 2010-11. Intended to specifically expand rural banking, the move is the latest in a series of welcome commitments being announced to enhance financial inclusion across the country. Budget 2010-11 laid out the goal of providing banking facilities, including insurance and other services, to all habitations having a population in excess of 2,000, by March 2012. Given the cost-return equations associated with brick-and-mortar bank branches, alternative delivery mechanisms deserve increasing attention. In creating more cost-effective linkages between banks and people in remote areas, such mechanisms will also have to innovate as far as delivery partners are concerned. FE has reported that starting with India Post, SBI has roped in pan-India organisations like ITC and Reliance Dairy Foods. Going forward, it will also be roping in petrol pump operators, rural kirana shops, retired teachers and agents of small saving scheme as BCs. We call this nothing short of radical. The attractiveness of this delivery mechanism is obvious, given that in just two years, total deposits from BC accounts have risen from Rs 13 lakh to Rs 6.29 crore.


Beyond financial inclusion, benefits can be gauged by the fact that SBI is already channelising NREG and other social security payments through its BC system in six states—a service whose expansion to other states is very much in the pipeline. The Economic Survey 2009-10 took special pains to emphasise that if social sector interventions are to actually meet their target of inclusive growth and increased outlays are to equal increased deliveries, leakages have to be controlled and mechanisms for ensuring that benefits reach intended individuals, improved. Increased banking access is a necessary component of all possible roadmaps in this direction. To state the obvious, the expansion of banking into rural hinterlands will help reduce fraudulent activities as well as dependence on moneylenders, not to mention reducing the cost of transmitting remittances—an activity that is entirely dependent on exploitative, informal channels across large parts of the country. BCs are not a substitute but rather a complement for the liberalisation of bank licensing norms, so that bank branches, too, can reach smaller towns and villages. RBI must hasten the process of giving more licences. After all, RBI governor D Subbarao doesn't tire of saying that India simply cannot achieve double-digit growth as long as half its population has no access to financial services.







There was a time when fee hikes at the country's premier business schools hogged the headlines. They still make news, but only just. In fact, the last time Indian Institute of Management (IIM) fee hikes created ripples were a couple of years ago when, breaking free from the oppressive shackles of government-imposed fee control, the IIMs decided to re-structure their fee scales. That was then.


This year, too, almost all seven IIMs are proposing hefty fee hikes. But the din has been pretty much lost amidst the cacophony created by the Foreign Educational Institution (Regulation of Entry and Operation) Bill, 2010. Or perhaps those opposed to fee hikes by the country's premier management institutions have realised the futility of their protests. This is largely because the days of holding on to the fee line of institutions of excellence are well and truly over.


That the IIMs and other institutions of excellence were being forced to subsidise quality higher education at the cost of their expansion, research and faculty salaries is now a well-documented fact. Fees, which are the largest corpus for most institutions, cannot and should not be under the domain of the whims and fancies of the government in power, or else this will lead to dwindling corpuses and stunted growth.


At a time like now, when the government has thrown open the doors for foreign universities to step in, it is imperative that IIMs be allowed to decide on fee structures. These not only do away with subsidisation, at least for affluent students, but also aid the growth and expansion of these world-class institutions, both in the face of doubling of capacities to accommodate the strain put on them by the OBC quotas and also in the face of the undoubtedly stiff competition that they will face from their foreign counterparts.


It is in this context that many among the IIMs, including IIM Kolkata, held on to the fee line in 2008 instead of effecting major hikes in fee structures. And IIM Ahmedabad is only too willing to increase fees for the forthcoming academic session.







Carlos Slim Helú, the Mexican business magnate, weathered the global financial crisis pretty well. Early in March, Forbes reported his family net worth at $53.5 billion, back from $35 billion in 2009, if still down from the bubble-induced $60 billion of 2008. He has finally overtaken Bill Gates to become the richest man in the world. Is this a sign of the dynamism of developing country markets or of the power of oligarchic capitalism to extract monopoly rents?


Billionaires from emerging markets are indeed rising in importance in the Forbes list. Mukesh Ambani comes in at fourth richest in the world with $29 billion. Lakshmi Mittal is fifth, just behind Ambani, though he is based in the UK. Brazilian Eike Batista is eighth with $27 billion. There are some five Russians around the $10-billion mark. Particularly striking has been the rise in the numbers of billionaires from China and India. In 2005, China had only one billionaire; in 2010 it has 72. In the same period, the number in India rose from 6 to 47. In terms of the sheer volume of billionaire wealth, India stands out, and especially so for a relatively poor country. The ratio of the total net worth of all billionaires-to-GDP is over 14%, comparable to Chile, Russia and Saudi Arabia, and substantially above Mexico or the US. This ratio is still less than 3% in China.


So let's return to the question at stake. Capitalist wealth can drive overall innovation and investment. But capitalists also like to protect their positions. Big capitalists are more likely to have the market power and influence over the state to do this. Two questions are of particular interest. How was the wealth gained? And does extreme, concentrated wealth impose costs?


The story of Carlos Slim's wealth is telling. The big break occurred when President Salinas privatised various state-owned industries 20 years ago. This helped create many of today's Mexican billionaires. Slim did particularly well with his 1990 acquisition of the public telecom company, Telmex. The new private owners got several years of monopoly before facing competition, supposedly to allow time for restructuring. They did make the company a lot more efficient. But they also entrenched their market power. By the time competitors were allowed in, Telmex could effectively protect its dominant market position, including against Mexico's regulatory structures. The Mexican competition authority brought cases of anti-competitive behaviour against the company, but Telmex used the courts and legal staying orders to render this largely irrelevant—the legal review process can take years (as in India). With respect to the telecoms regulator, there is evidence of bias in favour of Telmex, suggesting regulatory capture.


These anti-competitive strategies are part of a broader phenomenon in Mexico. Statistical work has found that billionaire-controlled companies were more likely to be subject to cases being brought against them by the competition authority, but also more likely to use the technique of a legal stay to make this tool ineffective.


Telmex's behaviour has imposed costs on Mexico. The company has behaved like a classic monopolist—coverage is relatively low, and prices are very high by international standards, hurting Mexico's competitiveness. This is not because the company is badly run—it is up to global industry standards, and this allows it to deliver unusually high profits.


Carlos Slim has strong links with the major political parties and has been known to advocate low taxes, this in the context of an absurdly low tax effort of some 12% of GDP. Meanwhile, Slim has been highly effective internationally, using the rich profits from Telmex as a base for expansion. His company América Móvil was recognised in the top 25 global champions by AT Kearney, earlier this year.


The issue is not that Slim is a bad oligarchic capitalist and Gates a good dynamic entrepreneur (now re-born a philanthropist). Both are clearly highly effective entrepreneurs. But both work within a broader system. Gates' Microsoft has also been subject to vigorous action by the US and European competition authorities—and has vigorously fought this.


Are there broader lessons here? Take India. The billionaires are a mixed group. Some clearly built their wealth

through creation of new activities—in IT and pharmaceuticals, for example. Many others emerged in areas thick with economic rents and connections, notably in land, construction and natural resources. The biggest strategic question for the future is of imbalance between extraordinary concentrations of wealth and a relatively weak state. This combination has long-run dangers. Global reach and success are not sources of comfort. As the case of Carlos Slim shows, companies can become dynamic multinationals even as they distort domestic markets and state functioning, whilst creating high levels of inequality.


The author is at the Harvard Kennedy School and the Centre for Policy Research







The idea of a national population register (NPR) isn't new. It has been floating around since the multipurpose national identity card (MNIC) idea was proposed in 2002 along with the subsequent amendment of the Citizenship Act (and rules), which provides mandatory registration and provision of identity cards. Subsequently, in 2009, MNIC was subsumed and overtaken by Nandan Nilekani's national unique identity (NUID). The advantages of NPR and NUID are obvious.


First, e-governance can improve, subsidies targeted better and leakage reduced in the public delivery of goods and services. Second, eliminating the need for multiple identity proofs can slash transaction costs, which are often not distributionally neutral since they hurt the poor more. Therefore, reduced transaction costs also help in curbing exclusion. Third, security concerns become easier to address, including concerns connected with illegal migration. As Nandan Nilekani has often said, these objectives require laying a complete pipeline where NUID is only the first length of pipe. For instance, NUID will provide a 16-digit identity numbers to all residents, not all Indians. It will not issue cards. It will not identify below poverty line (BPL) households for us. How it takes off is contingent on how much demand there is, and this is also relevant for inclusiveness. On NUID, there are some immediate concerns, like the right to privacy and individual security, or supply-side systemic problems on biometry delivery and reading.


The Cabinet has now approved the creation of NPR to complement NUID. Now we are talking about several different lengths of pipe. First, there is NUID for residents, and this includes citizens and non-citizens. At some stage, someone (home ministry?) has to take a call on who the citizens are. That's a political hot potato, but it isn't an issue that can be ducked. Once that is done, we can have a national register for Indian citizens and another national register for non-citizens, both issued with multi-purpose national identity cards. Once that is done, citizens can be divided into BPL and APL. That's a political hot potato, too, and someone (rural development ministry?) will have to take a call on identifying the poor. It cannot be the Planning Commission because the National Sample Survey (NSS) will not be acceptable. Apart from other reservations, it is a sample, not a census. In July 2009, in the President's address to Parliament, which is like the new National Common Minimum Programme (NCMP) for UPA-2, the government effectively opted for the decentralised identification of BPL. While these principles are clear, there doesn't seem to be great deal of clarity on what is going on. At one point, the home minister gave us the impression that NPR would be spliced with Census 2011. That is, the Registrar General of India will develop NPR with more fields than those in NUID, and NPR would then be sent to the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIAI) to eliminate multiplicity. Therefore, by 2011-12, we should be in a position to resolve the citizen/non-citizen issue, though not the BPL/APL one.


The new Cabinet approval suggests a different route. We won't wait for Census 2011. Instead, NPR will effectively be independent of the census and this seems to be a take-off on the pilot projects undertaken for MNIC by the home ministry. For instance, data has been collected on some coastal states and union territories. There will also be a House Listing and Housing Census from April to September 2010, followed by Census 2011, canvassing information on NPR. To make things fuzzier, NPR will list 'usual residents', not residents. That information, with biometric information, will be placed in the public domain for raising objections, including by third parties. There is a decentralised vetting idea there, too, through gram sabhas and local bodies. While it is clear how this will work for rural India (assuming gram sabhas meet), it is not quite obvious how one makes it workable in urban areas, with large chunks of casual and unskilled migration.


Interestingly, no one seems to trust the electoral database. Looked at differently, the MNIC/UID/NPR idea originally emanated from two different sources—security/illegal migration and targeting (subsidies) and delivery of public goods and services. The former is the home ministry's turf (less so MEA) and the latter, the Planning Commission/rural development ministry's turf. Though UIAI is located in the Planning Commission, the latter idea of targeting subsidies seems to be stuck, with four different sets (Planning Commission, Arjun Sengupta, Suresh Tendulkar and NC Saxena) of poverty numbers floating around. But with the new home minister, the ministry seems to have woken from its somnolence and that's one way to interpret what is going on. There is no monolithic, homogenous and cohesive government. Instead, there are several different government ministries and departments, often wishing to pass the hot potato around. With some ministries more interested than others, little bits of the jigsaw are falling into place.


The author is a noted economist







Tamil Nadu saw an unusually high number of by-elections in the four years of the current Legislative Assembly: 11. Some were necessitated by the death of MLAs, some others by the resignation of members consequent on their defection to the ruling Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam. But what was even more unusual was that all of them were won either by the DMK or by its ally, the Congress. With the latest win in Pennagaram, the DMK seems well on course to meet any challenge in the next Assembly election, which is due by May 2011. Although charges of electoral malpractices and use of money power were traded in all the by-elections, prompting the Election Commission of India to take up a hawkish monitoring of the poll process in some cases, the DMK-led alliance was a clear winner every time. No 'election malpractice' can explain such a strong, consistent performance. Four years after returning to power in 2006, Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi is riding the crest of a wave of popularity. The victories have not come from any one region: the 11 constituencies are spread across the State, some of them in areas considered to be strongholds of the principal opposition party, the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam. In Pennagaram, the DMK had an extra reason to rejoice as the Pattali Makkal Katchi, a sub-regional casteist party, finished second, and the AIADMK candidate forfeited his deposit.

Far from being handicapped by any anti-incumbency factor, the DMK government is approaching each election with a list of its achievements. Going beyond distribution of free goods such as colour television sets and cooking gas connections as promised in the DMK election manifesto, the government introduced a health insurance scheme in partnership with a private insurance company, and announced a housing project to replace all huts. Through all this, the State witnessed no increase in power tariffs or bus fares. In a hugely popular move, the price of rice supplied through the Public Distribution System was cut down to just Re. one a kg. Although the State's revenues took a hit during the economic downturn, the welfare schemes and development projects continued in full steam. The shortcomings, if any, were in the delivery of services, not in their pricing. People were ready to forgive erratic power supply and diversion of PDS commodities so long as the prices and tariffs were in check. Whether sustainable or not in the long run, these welfare measures have given the DMK government a new sheen. To retain that over the next several months, with the patriarch at the helm and the succession clearly worked out, should not be too difficult a task.






Google's move to redirect visitors from its China website to a new service in Hong Kong, where they can access uncensored search results may be significant more for its long-term commercial impact than for its political overtones. A loss of revenue from China at current levels should not be a cause for worry, given that it is only a small percentage of the whole. Yet the comments made by Google co-founder Sergey Brin after his company decided to stop filtering search results on its China website are important. He described services and information as America's most successful exports, and sought the Obama administration's intervention to ensure that these are allowed to flow without any barriers. In any case, there has been no closure of operations by Google in China. It is also not a market that it is likely to ignore in the future. There is genuine worry, though, that Google's decision to stop filtering search results (required by Chinese law) and to relocate its service to Hong Kong may politicise commercial issues. Clearly, China's importance on the online landscape cannot be exaggerated. As a country with 385 million Internet users, most of them having access to broadband (minimally defined), and the world's biggest mobile phone market with nearly 750 million connections, it offers great value to business. Foreign companies offering online services acknowledge it and have refrained from disengaging from this fast-emerging economy over political issues. Moreover, it is relevant to point out that, although advocates of freedom justifiably demand unfettered access to everything on the Internet, oversight and some level of governmental control is maintained.


As the Internet evolves, governments are challenged to respond to the new information culture without curbing free speech. From a time when relatively few producers generated content for a large number of consumers, the world has come a long way and is now a networked web of people who themselves produce and share content. The explosive growth in the use of mobile devices to create and share text, pictures and videos via the Internet has added a potent dimension to this ongoing revolution. Yet nothing of what is produced is really shielded from scrutiny. It is well known that governments can and do access and monitor the enormous amounts of data that flow through digital pipes including e-mails. Google services are no exception. What governments need to acknowledge is that the mindset of traditional controls on the movement of goods and services across borders is outdated, because information moves across national borders instantaneously.










Today, we have reached a historic milestone in our country's struggle for children's right to education. The Constitution (86th Amendment) Act, 2002, making elementary education a Fundamental Right, and its consequential legislation, the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education (RTE) Act, 2009, comes into force today. The enforcement of this right represents a momentous step forward in our 100-year struggle for universalising elementary education.


Over the years, the demand for children's education has grown by leaps and bounds — everybody, from the poorest of the poor to the well off, acknowledges the value of education in the overall development of children. For many years now, the discourse on elementary education has been conducted at many levels. Administrators focus on enrolment, availability of schools within walking distance, provisioning for infrastructure, and deployment of teachers. Educationists are concerned about whether and how children learn, and the burden of the syllabi, which is passed on to tuition centres or parents. Development professionals discuss the impact of the number of years of schooling, for example, on the age of marriage and family size. Economists talk about the economic returns on investment in education. Parents too have expectations from the education system — that it should equip their children for gainful employment and economic well-being. The enforcement of the Fundamental Right to Education provides us a unique opportunity to mount a mission encompassing all the above discourses, to fulfil our goal of universal elementary education.


The RTE Act is clear: it provides for children's right to free and compulsory admission, attendance and completion of elementary education. Undoubtedly, much progress has occurred over the last six decades since our Independence, and many more children from very diverse backgrounds are accessing school. Our gross enrolment data reveal that over 100 per cent children are in school; 98 per cent of our habitations have a primary school within one kilometre, and 92 per cent have an upper primary school within three kilometres. Transition rates from primary to upper primary levels have improved substantially. Yet there are "invisible" children — children bonded to work with an employer, young boys grazing cattle or working in dhabas, girls working in the fields or as domestic help, or caring for younger siblings, and children being subjected to early marriage. Many of these children are formally enrolled in a school, but have either dropped out or have never been there. Many others, such as migrant and street children, live in extremely vulnerable conditions; denying them education is against the universal nature of human rights.


It is no longer enough for us to talk about providing for universal access. Making available schooling facilities is an essential pre-requisite, but is insufficient to ensure that all children attend school and participate in the learning process. The school may be there, but children may not attend or they may drop out after a few months. Through school and social mapping, we must address the entire gamut of social, economic, cultural, and indeed linguistic and pedagogic issues, factors that prevent children from weaker sections and disadvantaged groups, as also girls, from regularly attending and completing elementary education. The focus must be on the poorest and most vulnerable since these groups are the most disempowered and at the greatest risk of violation or denial of their right to education.


The right to education goes beyond free and compulsory education to include quality education for all. Quality is an integral part of the right to education. If the education process lacks quality, children are being denied their right. The Act lays down that the curriculum should provide for learning through activities, exploration and discovery. This places an obligation on us to change our perception of children as passive receivers of knowledge, and to move beyond the convention of using textbooks as the basis of examinations. The teaching-learning process must become stress-free, and a massive programme for curricular reform be initiated to provide for a child friendly learning system, that is at once relevant and empowering. Teacher accountability systems and processes must ensure that children are learning, and that their right to learn in a child friendly environment is not violated. Testing and assessment systems must be re-examined and redesigned to ensure that these do not force children to struggle between school and tuition centres, and bypass childhood.


We must view the Act from the perspective of children. It mandates children's right to an education that is free from fear, stress and anxiety. There are several provisions in the Act, including provisions prohibiting corporal punishment, detention and expulsion, which require us to revisit conventional notions of discipline and control, and explore alternative approaches to classroom management, including peer behaviour, teacher-child and teacher-parent relationships.


The direct responsibility to provide schools, infrastructure, trained teachers, curriculum and teaching-learning material, and mid-day meal undoubtedly lies with the Education Departments of the Central and State governments. But the factors that contribute to the achievement of the overall goal of universalising elementary education as a fundamental right requires action on the part of the whole government. A well coordinated mechanism is needed for inter-sectoral collaboration and convergence. The Finance Departments must provide adequate and appropriate financial allocations and timely releases of funds at all levels. The Public Works Departments need to re-conceptualise and re-design school spaces from the pedagogic perspective, and address issues of inclusion for children with disabilities through barrier free access. The Departments of Science and Technology should provide geo-spatial technologies for school mapping and location to supplement social mapping exercises at the grassroots level. Programmes for water and sanitation must ensure access to adequate and safe drinking water, and accessible and adequate sanitation facilities especially for girls in schools. The RTE Act mandates that every child must be in school; this pre-supposes that child labour will be eliminated. The Labour Departments must align their policies with the RTE Act so that all children participate in the schooling process regularly.


The immense relevance of inclusive education, particularly of disadvantaged groups, demands vibrant partnerships with the departments and organisations concerned with children of the Scheduled Castes, the Scheduled Tribes and educationally backward minorities. We will need to set up systems for equal opportunity for children with special needs. The Rural Development and Panchayati Raj Departments would need to accelerate poverty reduction programmes, so that children are freed from domestic chores and wage-earning responsibilities. State governments must simultaneously ensure that the Panchayati Raj institutions get appropriately involved so that "local authorities" can discharge their functions under the RTE Act. There is need for close cooperation with the NCPCR/SCPCR and the Departments of Women and Child Development to ensure that children get their rights under the RTE Act.


Programmes under the National Rural Health Mission must take up school health programmes, including de-worming and micro-nutrient supplementation, with special attention to vulnerable groups, especially girls approaching adolescence. The Sports Departments would need to build in physical education for the overall physical, social, emotional and mental development of the child.


Above all, people's groups, civil society organisations and voluntary agencies will play a crucial role in the implementation of RTE. This will help build a new perspective on inclusiveness, encompassing gender and social inclusion, and ensure that these become integral and cross-cutting concerns informing different aspects like training, curriculum and classroom transaction. A vibrant civil society movement can ensure that the rights of the child are not violated; it can amplify the voice of the disadvantaged and weaker sections of society. It can also improve programme outcomes by contributing local knowledge and technical expertise, and bringing innovative ideas and solutions to the challenges ahead.


The 86th Constitution Amendment and the RTE Act have provided us the tools to provide quality education to all our children. It is now imperative that we, the people of India, join hands to ensure the implementation of this law in its true spirit. The government is committed to this task though real change will happen only through collective action.


(The author is the Minister of Human Resource Development, Government of India.)








An official photograph of a B-52 bomber at Barksdale Air Base in Louisiana shows it with a formidable arsenal of nuclear weapons it can carry all at once — 14 air-launched cruise missiles, four B61-7 gravity bombs and two B83 gravity bombs.


But when it comes to the new arms control treaty to be signed next month by the United States and Russia, those 20 warheads count as just one.


The history of arms control is replete with quirky counting rules that do not easily correspond to reality on the ground, and the "New START'' treaty completed last week is no different. In this case, independent experts said, each side will be able to comply with the treaty while cutting fewer nuclear weapons than it might appear on paper.


In fact, by some estimates, the United States and Russia together could still deploy some 1,300 warheads beyond the 3,100 ceiling imposed on the two countries by the new treaty. Under some configurations, experts argued, the two sides could deploy nearly as many warheads as permitted by the treaty signed in 2002 by President George W. Bush that will be superseded by this new pact.


"It's creative accounting," said Pavel Podvig, a longtime arms researcher from Russia who is now on leave from Stanford University. "They found a way of making reductions without actually making them, and they were happy to accept that because nobody wanted to go to more serious measures."


The Obama administration rejected that interpretation, saying that the arms experts themselves were using creative accounting to argue for deeper cuts and that the numbers they cite are not complete — that the real figures are classified. In any case, they said, the important thing to focus on was the legal limit to be imposed by the new treaty, which brings down the binding cap on deployed warheads by 30 per cent.


"We think that is a very significant reduction," said Tommy Vietor, a White House spokesman.


A senior administration official involved in the talks said that was the lowest Russia would go. "We wanted to go lower," the official said on the condition of anonymity because of White House restrictions. "This was a negotiation with the Russians, not the Arms Control Association."


To be sure, this treaty was never supposed to be about deep reductions. From the start, the administration's main goal was to extend and update a verification, inspection and monitoring regime from the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty of 1991, or START, that expired in December, and to build the foundation for a better relationship between the United States and Russia that could lead to deeper reductions later.


Still, when President Barack Obama and President Dmitri A. Medvedev of Russia announced their agreement on Friday, the White House emphasised the reductions. The limit on deployed strategic warheads in the new treaty will be set at 1,550 for each country, down from 2,200 in the Treaty of Moscow signed by Bush. But it may not mean that many warheads will have to be cut to meet that limit.


"On paper, the White House has been saying it's a 30 per cent cut in warheads," said Kingston Reif, deputy director of the Centre for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation, a non-profit research organisation based in Washington. "Well, it is on paper. But when you break it down, you see that the cut isn't quite as significant."


The nub is how to count warheads. While the treaty will count the actual number of warheads deployed on land- and sea-based ballistic missiles, it will count each heavy bomber as a single warhead, even though they can carry far more.


"It's nuts," said Hans M. Kristensen, an expert at the Federation of American Scientists. "It's totally nuts."


Although the United States now has about 2,100 deployed strategic warheads, about 450 would not be counted, Kristensen estimated. Similarly, 860 of Russia's 2,600 warheads would not count. To meet the treaty limit, he said the United States would need to cut just 100 warheads and Russia just 190.


That means that while some conservatives like Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., express concern that the treaty cuts too much, others, like former Ambassador John R. Bolton, suggested the administration might be overstating the impact.

"If tomorrow after this treaty is ratified we're still basically at the level we were at yesterday before it was ratified, what does it do for all our soaring rhetoric about getting rid of nuclear weapons and getting others to do the same?" asked Bolton, who negotiated the Treaty of Moscow for Bush. "You can't have it both ways."


Of course, the Moscow treaty did not have firm counting rules, so the United States counted bombers by the number of warheads stationed with them while Russia did not count bombers at all.


Obama administration officials say the new rule is a distinct improvement and, moreover, bombers are not the most important part of arms control since they are not destabilising first-strike weapons. The arms control experts who said the treaty would not impose deep reductions emphasized that they still support it because it extends verification and should lead to more ambitious cuts. "Confidence-building, that's what it's about," Kristensen said. "This is a step that will help repair relations." —©2010 New York Times News Service









As the algorithm partly uses what was already written, what happens with copyright?


Journalistic texts are characterised by a certain structure that algorithms can be programmed to imitate. The first tests still read or hear like early prototypes, but they're already around in sports journalism, with finance or local news to come next.


In the U.S., two different projects have started work on algorithm produced journalism. Last week the sports statistics website StatSheet announced a plan to produce completely automated sports content as of this summer. The algorithm produced content will take the form of blogs, with a target that at least 90 per cent of the readers should think the content was created by a human.


And in a partnership with the Medill school of journalism, the Intelligent Information Laboratory of the McCormick School of Engineering at Northwestern University has developed an algorithm called StatsMonkey that publishes game stories.


Automated journalism can basically be understood as search algorithms programmed to look out for certain key findings. then to put them into a certain structure. For a report on a football game for example, the StatsMonkey calculates the narrative based on the numerical data.


Using the score, the algorithm captures the overall dynamic of the game, highlights the key plays and key players, looks for quotes, and generates a text out of these elements. In addition, it configures an appropriate headline and a photo of the most important player in the game — and there goes a very rough sketch of a sports article.


Thus: Michigan State silences Notre Dame, 3-0 SOUTH BEND, Ind.— Tony Bucciferro put the Michigan State Spartans on his back Sunday and spurred them to a 3-0 win over the Notre Dame Fighting Irish (7-11) at Frank Eck Stadium.


Bucciferro kept the Fighting Irish off the board during his nine innings of work for Michigan State (12-4). He struck out five and allowed one walk and three hits.


Senior Matt Grosso was not able to take advantage of a big opportunity for the Irish in the ninth inning.


After freshman Frank Desico walked, Ryne Intlekofer doubled and Ryan Connolly was hit by a pitch, the Fighting Irish were trailing by three when Grosso came to the plate against Bucciferro with one out and the bases loaded, but he flew out.


Brandon Eckerle was perfect at the plate for the Spartans. He went 4-4 at the dish. Eckerle singled in the first, third, fifth and ninth innings and walked in the seventh inning.


Michigan State scored in two innings to claim the victory. The Spartans scored one run in the first and two runs in the third. In the first, senior Eric Maust gave up one run on a double by Jeff Holm. In the third, Maust gave up one run on a single by Holm. Later that inning, a run came in when Bo Felt reached on a fielding error by third baseman Adam Norton.


Maust took the loss for Notre Dame. He went six innings, gave up one walk, struck out three, and allowed three runs. Michigan State's next game is on Friday, March 26 at Oakland.


As programming semantics got better and better in the recent years, automated journalism will become more widely available.


"Sports is an unbelievable ground for this because it's data intensive," says Kristian Hammond, co-director of Intelligent Information Laboratory in Illinois. "The system knows how to go off and find information, it knows how to find quotes, it knows how to collect data, but then a traditional journalist has to bring his or her perspective to that story. It will only provide journalists with a starting point." Both projects emphasise that they are working in areas where journalists aren't working.


The Lab in Illinois for example is testing its StatsMonkey algorithm in a pilot with The Big Ten Network which is dedicated to covering college and university sport. "We are the premier publisher of women softball stories," says Hammond.


The Intelligence Information Laboratory is also interested in programming algorithms to cover local stories. As the local news outlets are struggling to stay alive, they might have better chances if they can expand their news coverage, to additionally expand their advertising, Hammond says. "We see it as an engine that is increasing the scope what is out there and what is publishable." Apart from StatsMonkey, which is focused on data-intensive information, the lab also programmed a system that automatically generates a virtual show designed to be funny, focusing on light news like celebrity gossip or movie reviews. The system, supported by the National Science Foundation, collects, parses, edits and organizes news stories and then passes the formatted content to artificial anchors for presentation.


The outcome is sometimes barely comprehensible, but gives a rough idea of what is possible. Picking up opinions using the comments of people, the anchors have a dialogue to balance the pros and cons. If everybody likes the film, they talk about different aspects of it.


The programs are just early prototypes, but will improve quickly with the further development of intelligent

semantics. The team of the Intelligence Information Lab is already working on a couple of related projects —

Brussell, for example, helps people track developments in ongoing news situations, and Beyond Broadcast is

watching television with the user to be able to search for deeper content when asked.


"We know enough intelligent semantics to guide intelligent information systems. We don't want to give them a list of links, so we started working on machine generated content. The next step is finance where we are often looking at data and raw numbers. You can create a graph, or you can write a story out of that," says Hammond.


While the first prototypes stutter a lot, it is likely that algorithms will change journalistic tasks in the long term, although they won't replace journalists, just as much as spell-checking programmes haven't replaced anybody.


"As far as I can tell, journalists are terrified and needlessly so," says Hammond.


In the future, writing might not be something anymore that is entirely done by humans, which will surely be debated — and necessarily so.


Apart from the man v machine issue, there are a lot of topics on the table. Should it be made transparent if a text is written by a human or an algorithm? Who controls what the algorithms finds? Is an algorithm more or less open to influence than a journalist? And as the algorithm partly uses what was already written, what happens with copyright? And last but not least, assumed the programming is getting better: do algorithms steal the work of journalists — or help them to cope with information overload? — © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2010








Perhaps some 60 years too late, as one commentator noted, but at last Westminster has got round to recognising the reality behind the myth of Britain's much-vaunted "special relationship" with America though even now it is not certain that the British government will bite the bullet.


In arguably the most frank assessment of British-U.S. relations to come out of Westminster in a long time, an influential cross-party parliamentary committee has said that there is nothing "special" about this relationship and the government should stop using the term because it doesn't reflect the real state of play between London and Washington and is "potentially misleading."


In a hard-hitting report, the Commons Foreign Affairs Committee, chaired by Labour MP Mike Gape, says that the phrase "special relationship" has come to be identified too closely with British-American invasion of Iraq and conjures up the image of a "subservient" Britain behaving like an American "poodle."


"The perception that the British government was a subservient 'poodle' to the U.S. administration leading up to the period of the invasion of Iraq and its aftermath is widespread both among the British public and overseas. This perception, whatever its relation to reality, is deeply damaging to the reputation and interests of the U.K.," the report points out.


Arguing that the idea of a special relationship, envisaged by Winston Churchill and Franklin Roosevelt in the Second World War, is dead in the waters, the committee says "The use of the phrase 'special' in its historical sense, to describe the totality of the ever-evolving U.K.-U.S. relationship, is potentially misleading, and we recommend that its use should be avoided. The overuse of the phrase by some politicians and many in the media serves simultaneously to devalue its meaning and to raise unrealistic expectations about the benefits the relationship can deliver to the U.K."


In a swipe that will particularly embarrass Downing Street, the committee urges the government to be "less deferential and more willing to say 'no' to the U.S." where its own interests are at stake. Echoing the widely held view that it is too much of a one-sided affair with Britain doing all the heavy-lifting to please the Americans, it calls for a "more hard-headed political approach" and pointedly refers to instances where Americans have taken unfair advantage of Britain's supine attitude. These include CIA's allegedly clandestine use of British territory for transporting terror suspects to torture cells in third countries — the so-called "extraordinary rendition" of prisoners.


"We recommend that the government should establish a comprehensive review of the current arrangements governing U.S. military use of facilities within the U.K. and in British overseas territories," it says.


Actually, the report merely confirms what has been common knowledge since Dwight Eisenhower was said to have questioned the idea of a special relationship as far back as the early 1950s calling it a hangover from the past.


Few other "special" relationships have been as unequal as the one between Britain and America. To most Britons, the term reminds them of Tony Blair slavishly taking orders from George W. Bush , and Gordon Brown chasing Barack Obama through the United Nations kitchens last autumn to catch his attention after the U.S. President reportedly turned down no fewer than five requests for a bilateral meeting.

Americans — ever the pragmatists with little time for sentimentality — have never really cared how the relationship is characterised so long as they get the Brits to do their bidding. To keep visiting British prime ministers in good humour, their American hosts go through the motions of referring to the "historic" ties between their two countries and invoking the "spirit" of Churchill-Roosevelt partnership but that is where it ends.


Ewen MacAskill of The Guardian says this "excruciating ritual" has a long history dating back "at least" to the Conservative Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. And this is how it went: "... lobby journalists accompanying her on a trip to Washington would ask the President of the day or his officials about the 'special relationship.' Briefed in advance by the British embassy or U.S. State Department about this peculiar cultural tic, the Americans would happily confirm it was still in place. It did not cost them anything. To this day, any deviation is treated by the British media as a snub."


Under the Obama administration which is more keen on cultivating China and other emerging powers than collecting brownie points from a has-been colonial power even this pretence at humouring the British has stopped, often causing much anguish in London. Britain is yet to "get it" that times have changed and feels slighted when Washington doesn't give the importance that it believes it is entitled to by virtue of their special relationship. Even small issues like President Obama not holding a full-scale press conference with Mr. Brown, as happened when he visited Washington last year, are blown up and portrayed as a "snub"— forgetting as Mr. MacAskill pointed out that a "visit by Gordon Brown to the White House is no more important than that of, say, the Israeli prime minister" and certainly "it is not as important as a visit by the Chinese president...."


Judging from the Foreign Affairs Committee's report, the penny appears to have dropped finally. And though — as John Charmley, professor of modern history at the University of East Anglia, pointed out in The Times — it has taken British MPs "60-odd years" to realise the myth of Britain's "special" relationship, better late than never.









Work on India's 2011 Census — the 15th one since the exercise began in 1872 and the seventh one since Independence — will begin today. It will involve the literal enumeration of about 1.2 billion people. The 2001 figure was 1.02 billion. It is a fascinating statistical exercise in itself — geographic and demographic. Even if there was no other use for this data — and that is not the case by any means — it would be inherently interesting. Call it a salad bowl or melting pot or plain bouquet, India's population is the perfect brain-teaser for a social science researcher. The question that arises is not whether the census exercise is to be lauded or berated, but about its larger relevance. A decadal counting of heads looks obsolescent when data can be, and needs to be, updated every instant, given the elaborate and sophisticated communication apparatus we have on hand. To be sure, policies cannot be formulated on the basis of an ever-changing baseline. That is why the decadal count is both necessary and useful.


What needs to be asked is whether there is a need to get more out of the counting exercise without throwing overboard the existing parameters. The additional information that is being promised to be sought in this census is about holding a bank account, owning of a mobile phone and access to the Internet.


This would, of course, diversify the population profile but perhaps there is need to ask for something more to get an accurate picture of the people and society.


Caste is one such issue. Home secretary GK Pillai has firmly ruled out including information about caste, except that of scheduled castes (SCs) and scheduled tribes (STs). It looks like an enlightened position, but caste still seems to be a huge fact in society, not only among the Hindus but also Sikhs, Christians and Buddhists.


Muslim society is also riddled with caste distinctions. If caste numbers are not used as criterion for entitlements, it could be a useful social feature of the census.


Similarly, it will be useful and rewarding to know the tremendous heterogeneity in terms of sects and sub-sects within each faith group. In short, the census need not be reduced to a monotonous exercise in counting. It can be mined for richer social detail.







Our life appears to be dominated by technology but science is humankind's most powerful vehicle on our onward journey. The successful attempt to recreate the conditions at the beginning of the universe — or the Big Bang — by the European Centre for Nuclear Research (CERN) at the French-Swiss border marks a major step in our quest to find new frontiers. The Large Hadron Collider, as it is known, was used to smash protons to make sub-atomic particles while travelling at just short of the speed of light. These particles, scientists feel, hold the key to the mystery of the universe.

This search for the "god" particle, or the Higgs boson, did fill some with fear — feeling that humans were interfering with matters beyond their understanding. When the Hadron Collider failed because of faulty parts a year-and-a-half ago, it allayed fears of a possible creation of a black hole caused by this crashing of protons and also of us discovering "too much". Both fears, it turns out, were unnecessary. The scientists at CERN instead have on their hands an enormous opportunity to understand how the mass of the universe came into being, leading to the creation of stars, planets and possibly even life.


Without doubt this is one of the biggest — if not the biggest — experiments that we have carried out so far.


It is also heartening that this is an effort undertaken by scientists from all over the world. Whatever our political and local differences, when it comes to answering questions about our origins and our future, we have to do it together. Although, unfortunately it does happen all too often, science is best when it happens with minimal boundaries and restrictions.


Many other exciting discoveries may be possible now — the search for "dark" materials, the search for other dimensions — and it is likely that as a result of these discoveries conventional physics as we know it will change forever. This experiment was 16 years in the making and cost over $10 billion. But its origins lie much further back in the human imagination and in much painstaking research and theorising. The idea of the Higgs boson particle lies in the Bose-Einstein condensate (after Satyendranath Bose and Albert Einstein) and was later worked on by a number of scientists, notably Peter Higgs.


As we stand on this threshold, we need to applaud not just human imagination and ingenuity but also our courage, curiosity and collaborative skill. The truth may no longer be "out there" but discoverable within our own minds.







Recent media coverage of Narendra Modi's interrogation by the Special Investigation Team (SIT) and the Amitabh Bachchan controversy constitute further evidence of the emptiness of Indian secularism. By gloating over the simple fact that Modi was called by the SIT for questioning, and then fulminating over his non-appearance on March 21, the secularists have proved that what they care about is not justice, but their own vanity.


India's humbug secularists have personalised the definition of secularism for narrow political ends. It corresponds to no dictionary meaning of the word. Secularism is defined as the opposite of what the Sangh parivar stands for. Like Pakistan defining itself as "not India," secularists define themselves as "not the Sangh parivar". The Sangh is the unspeakable "other", the demon they are trying to exorcise in themselves. And in Modi they have found the perfect personification of all that they hate in themselves.


Modi has often been accused — and legitimately — of equating his state's interests with his own. But his detractors are playing into his hands. When Amitabh Bachchan is asked to be the state's brand ambassador for tourism, he is pilloried for his impertinence. Modi may have had his own agenda in inviting him to promote Gujarat's cause, but isn't that what politicians do anyway? Why is anyone who promotes Gujarat an instant target for secularists? This is ideological tyranny.


If Modi is wrapping himself in the state's colours, the secularists are helping him do so through sheer stupidity. By blasting anyone who is hired by the state, they are effectively saying that working for Gujarat is the same as working for Modi. So when Modi says the secularists are trampling on Gujarati asmita, it is entirely believable.


Blind hatred cannot lead to any good. Before the Gujarat elections in 2007, Jairam Ramesh made out a case suggesting that the state's economic success under Modi was less due to him than the Gujarati's business instincts — which may be partly true. But this no different from saying that the UPA's economic performance is due to India's demographic bulge driven by George Bush's global growth engine — which was equally the case. Being a supporter of dynasty, Ramesh, of course, won't have the guts to acknowledge this. But Modi's achievements are worth sullying.


It is also sickening to see secularists salivating at the prospect of Modi's humiliation — when justice is the priority. No one noted that Rajiv Gandhi was never called to answer questions on Bofors when it was more than clear that he and his nominees were the unstated suspects. The Swedish prosecutor in the Bofors case expressed surprise why Sonia Gandhi was not quizzed in the scam — when she is also the obvious link to Ottavio Quattrochi. Is it any surprise that Quattrochi gets a quiet exit during the UPA regime?


Much is also being made of the fact that the Congress expressed regrets for the anti-Sikh riots of 1984 while Modi has kept mum. Ask yourself: is the apology of a Sikh prime minister for his party's anti-Sikh pogrom really worth taking at face value? Not that apologies make any difference. LK Advani's belated "saddest day of my life" apology was not good enough for the secularists to forgive him for the Babri demolition, but Manmohan Singh's apology 20 years after 1984 is a wonderful example of contrition!


As for the Bachchan episode, he has no chance of being excused by the secular cabal. In fact, he is doubly guilty. His first crime was, of course, related to the fact that he had the temerity to bat for Gujarat. His second crime was that he had fallen foul of the Gandhi family. Combine the two, and he had no chance of being left alone. This is why Congress party buffoons are busy demanding all kinds of explanations from him when Ratan Tata, Mukesh Ambani and Anil Ambani — all businessmen who showered praise on Modi directly —got away unnoticed, as Amitabh pointed out in his blogs.


It is not anybody's case that Modi should not be punished or tried for whatever he did or didn't do in 2002. But we have already tried him in the media and convicted him. Even assuming this is poetic justice for a man who let unspeakable things happen in his state eight years ago, it is no excuse for one-sided secularism.


In Hans Christian Andersen's immortal tale, it took the innocence of a child to tell the emperor that he was wearing no clothes. The emperor's tailors had told him that the invisible clothes they had made for him would not be seen by anyone who was "just hopelessly stupid." Since the emperor did not want to be labelled stupid, he pretended to wear the clothes when he was really walking stark naked.


It seems our secularists are also running stark naked — and they don't seem to know it.







Yup, we need a Nope. A nun who is pope. The Catholic Church can never recover as long as its Holy Shepherd is seen as a black sheep in the ever-darkening sex abuse scandal.

Now we learn the sickening news that cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, nicknamed "God's Rottweiler" when he was the church's enforcer on matters of faith and sin, ignored repeated warnings and looked away in the case of the Reverend Lawrence C Murphy, a Wisconsin priest who molested as many as 200 deaf boys.

The church has been tone deaf and dumb on the scandal for so long that it's shocking, but not surprising, to learn from The Times's Laurie Goodstein that a group of deaf former students spent 30 years trying to get church leaders to pay attention.

"Victims give similar accounts of Father Murphy's pulling down their pants and touching them in his office, his car, his mother's country house, on class excursions and fund-raising trips and in their dormitory beds at night," Goodstein wrote. "Arthur Budzinski said he was first molested when he went to Father Murphy for confession when he was about 12, in 1960."

It was only when the sanctity of the confessional was breached that an archbishop in Wisconsin (who later had to resign when it turned out he used church money to pay off a male lover) wrote to Cardinal Ratzinger at the Vatican to request that Father Murphy be defrocked.

The cardinal did not answer. The archbishop wrote to a different Vatican official, but Father Murphy appealed to Cardinal Ratzinger for leniency and got it, partly because of the church's statute of limitations. Since when does sin have a statute of limitations?

The pope is in too deep. He has proved himself anything but infallible. And now he claims he was uninformed on the matter of an infamous German pedophile priest. A spokesman for the Munich archdiocese said on Friday that Ratzinger, running the diocese three decades ago, would not have read the memo sent to him about Father Peter Hullermann's getting cycled back into work with children because between 700 to 1,000 memos go to the archbishop each year.

Let's see. That's two or three memos a day. And Ratzinger was renowned at the Vatican for poring through voluminous, recondite theological treatises.

Because he did not defrock the demented Father Murphy, it's time to bring in the frocks.

Pope Benedict has continued the church's ban on female priests and is adamant against priests' having wives. He has started two investigations of American nuns to check on their "quality of life" — code for seeing if they've grown too independent. As a cardinal he wrote a Vatican document urging women to be submissive partners and not take on adversarial roles toward men. But the completely paternalistic and autocratic culture of Il Papa led to an insular, exclusionary system that failed to police itself, and that became a corrosive shelter for secrets and shame.

If the church could throw open its stained glass windows and let in some air, invite women to be priests, nuns to be more emancipated and priests to marry, if it could banish criminal priests and end the sordid culture of men protecting men who attack children, it might survive. It could be an encouraging sign of humility and repentance, a surrender of arrogance, both moving and meaningful.

Decade after decade, the church hid its sordid crimes, enabling the collared perpetrators instead of letting the police collar them.

The nuns have historically cleaned up the messes of priests. And this is a historic mess. Benedict should go home to Bavaria. And the cardinals should send the white smoke up the chimney, proclaiming "Habemus Mama." —NYT









THE hijacking of seven Indian vessels with around 100 sailors by Somali pirates off the Gulf of Aden has once again highlighted the growing threat to international trade. It is still not known when exactly the vessels were seized by the pirates. The incident came to light last Saturday after a UAE vessel was set free by the criminals. India has immediately banned the movement of its vessels on the pirate-infested route to Africa, including the Gulf of Aden. The menace has acquired alarming proportions for the past few years. Vessels belonging to many other countries have also been attacked by Somali pirates, but the international community has not been able to do much to bring the problem to an end.


According to experts, sea pirates operate with a vast network of informers. They have acquired advanced weapons and communication and navigation gadgets. Somalis, suffering from abysmal poverty, are increasingly taking to sea piracy because of high returns at a comparatively low investment. The failure of the affected countries to forge a common anti-piracy front has made the task of these criminals easy. Law in the European countries indirectly favours sea pirates as they have an opportunity to settle in the country where they are imprisoned. European seafarers are prohibited by law to hand over any captured pirate to an Arab country where he can be punished with death penalty.


A sharp rise in sea piracy cases poses a major challenge to India because a large percentage of Indian imports and exports pass through the Gulf of Aden. At least 24 merchant ships from India transit through this key route every month. Some time ago India and Russia had agreed to launch joint anti-piracy operations, which involved the use of warships. The idea was to escort all the merchant ships cruising through the Gulf of Aden. Perhaps, this has proved to be unworkable. NATO countries have their own separate arrangements to meet the threat from sea pirates. However, the time has come for the international community to find a collective answer to the growing problem.








THE tragic murder of yet another couple at Patti in Tarn Taran district of Punjab on Tuesday, hours after a sessions court in Haryana sentenced five people to death for abducting and killing a couple who had dared to elope, serves as a grim reminder of the remnants of feudalism which still survive in the two states. Both the couples, Babli and Manoj from Haryana and Prabhjot and Pardeep from Punjab, were killed despite the court having granted them police protection. While the Haryana policemen have been indicted by the court for dereliction of duty, even collusion with the culprits, the 'harmless' homeguards deployed for the security of the Punjab couple were actually overpowered by the miscreants. In both cases miscreants managed to escape without any resistance from onlookers.


The trend among people in this region of taking the law into their own hands is fairly well-entrenched. People are prone to flaunt their firearms and open fire at the slightest provocation. The incidence of violence related to road rage and violence prompted by an exaggerated sense of the so-called family-honour remains alarmingly high. And yet conviction rates continue to be abysmally low in such cases. Exemplary punishment is even more rare. Campaigns by the police against the flourishing illegal trade in firearms also seem to be sporadic at best. It is sad when the state fails to protect life and liberty of citizens. While the culprits, who in this case may well be mercenaries, need to be booked and made to pay for their crime, civil society in Punjab must also rise to oppose the feudal mindset that promotes medieval ideas like family vendetta and honour killing.


Such alarming signs of a society in transition, or could it be a crumbling society, should make people sit up and take notice. The basic issues of disputed marriages on the ground of caste, gotra, social and economic disparities, age etc. need to be addressed even as the law takes its course. The Punjab government must also take urgent steps to control the deteriorating law and order situation which is increasingly encouraging people to defy law with impunity.








Scientists the world over are celebrating the success of the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) which smashed protons together to create a record-shattering 7-trillion-electron-volt (TeV) collision. The LHC, also called 'atom smasher' or 'big bang machine', is a super-cooled particle accelerator built in a 27-kilometre tunnel under the Swiss-French border near Geneva. Many nations, including India, have contributed to the effort, and the scientists expect to reap rich data from what is said to be the most expensive experiment in the world. The LHC is run by the European Organisation for Nuclear Research (CERN). First launched in September 2008, the LHC worked only for nine days when a badly soldered connection forced the scientists to shut down the machine through which they seek to understand the beginning of the universe.


In the latest experiment, the scientists reproduced conditions that prevailed less than a billionth of a second after the Big Bang. As the sub-atomic particles collide, they split into elementary particles. The LHC is expected to show evidence of dark invisible matter, that scientists believe makes up some 25 per cent of the universe. Physicists also expect to find evidence of a theoretical particle which is thought to be responsible for mass in the universe — the so-called God particle.


The LHC will gather data for two years. This data will have to be processed by scientists worldwide and scientists have set up the Grid. This sophisticated global network of more than 140 major computing centres will handle the roughly 15 million gigabytes of data expected to be generated annually. Over 100,000 scientists will analyse this data. The Grid is the biggest development in global communication since the World Wide Web, which too was developed by CERN. While it is too early to determine what exactly the LCH will accomplish, there are high expectations and the scientists deserve accolades for the successful experiment. No doubt it will trigger off much research and throw open a number of theories, conclusions and other spin-off that we will benefit from in years to come.
















Nothing exposes the gullibility of sections of the Indian elite more than their illusion that our American "strategic partners" will rein in the sponsors of terrorism in Pakistan. They seem to have forgotten that our American friends did little to stamp out Pakistan-sponsored terrorism after the Kargil intrusion, the December 2001 Parliament attack, or the 26/11 massacre in Mumbai. While the Western world and our own "liberals" shower praises on our leaders for their "statesmanship" and "restraint" in the face of provocation, each such capitulation only invites ridicule at India being a country incapable of responding "swiftly and decisively" to terrorist provocations.


The latest example of Indian gullibility is the moaning one hears at Daood Gilani (half brother of a Press Adviser to Pakistan's Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani), aka David Coleman Headley, being let of the hook with a plea bargain in a Chicago court, combined with a bland American refusal to extradite to India the man who conspired in the killing of 166 Indians while denying Indian interrogators unhindered access to the arrested terrorist.


There has been a remarkable consistency in American behaviour when it comes to dealing with ISI activities directed against India. The Clinton Administration knew that the mastermind behind the Mumbai bomb blasts of 1993 was the then Director-General of the ISI, Lt-Gen Javed Nasir, with the approval of then Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, but refused to share intelligence implicating the ISI with us.


One seems to forget that the US is primarily interested in eliminating the terrorist groups that harm its interests while showing little regard for the terrorist threats countries like India face. Moreover, issues become murkier when individuals and groups turn out to be double or even triple agents. A recent instance of such American behaviour has been the case of British national of Pakistani origin Omar Saeed Sheikh. The Sheikh was arrested near Delhi in 1994 while attempting to kidnap British and American nationals.


He was, however, released and handed over to Taliban Foreign Minister Wakil Ahmed Mutawakkil in Kandahar during the hijacking of IC 814. Mutawakkil assisted the hijackers of IC 814 and even helped them to unload their baggage into his own car, for which he has been charged in an Indian court.


But the Obama administration proclaims that Mutawakkil cannot be handed over to India to face trial because he is a "moderate" Taliban, vital for American efforts for "reconciliation" with the Taliban! India should, therefore, be prepared to pay the price for the Obama administration's determination to beat a hasty retreat from Afghanistan.


Omar Sheikh's case is even weirder than that of Mutawakkil. He is known to have been touch in Lahore with an ISI official, Brigadier Ejaz Shah, later appointed General Musharraf's Director of the Intelligence Bureau. It has been established that aided by Lt-Gen Mehmood Ahmed, then Director- General of the ISI, the Sheikh wire-transferred $100,000 to the leader of the 9/11 hijackers Mohammed Atta. He, thereafter, confessed to the brutal beheading of American journalist Daniel Pearl and was sentenced to death in 2002. Interestingly, this sentence has not been carried out and the Sheikh leads a relaxed life behind bars in Hyderabad (Sind) and even has access to mobile telephones with British SIM cards.


The Sheikh is an interesting case study of the murky world of agencies like the CIA and the ISI. Credible reports suggest that he began his intelligence links as an agent of the British MI 6 to wage war together with international jihadis against the Serbs in the Balkans. He was, thereafter, coopted by the ISI to wage jihad against India and secure the release of Maulana Masood Azhar. Responding to the million-dollar question of why the CIA has not demanded the Sheikh's execution for the beheading of an American national, the Pittsburgh Tribune noted: "There are many in the Musharraf government that believe that Saeed Sheikh's power comes not from the ISI, but from his connections with our own CIA."


It is well established that David Headley was recruited by the US Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) around 2001 after his early release was secured from imprisonment for drug smuggling from Pakistan, in order to act as an informer on drug smuggling from Pakistan. Yet, by 2003, he was undergoing intensive training in Lashkar-e- Toiba (LeT) camps on close combat, weapons and explosives. This was around the same time that the Bush Administration had declared the LeT a terrorist organisation. The natural inference is that apart from working as an agent of the DEA, Headley was used by the CIA to penetrate the LeT. It is a different matter that given the widespread support for jihad within Pakistan, he became an active supporter of the Lashkar even when on the payroll of American agencies.


Another instance of the Obama administration's propensity to clutch at straws as it prepares for a hasty withdrawal from Afghanistan has been its illusion that there has been a "turnaround" in Pakistan's policy of supporting the Taliban because of the arrest of Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, the second ranking Taliban leader, by a joint team of the CIA and the ISI in Karachi. The reality appears to be that the CIA stumbled upon a Taliban hideout in Karachi and the arrest of Baradar was purely coincidental.


More importantly, his arrest was an embarrassment, as Baradar was secretly, unknown to the Pakistanis, in touch with President Karzai and a UN envoy. Both Karzai and Baradar are Durrani Pashtuns, sharing common tribal loyalties. An infuriated President Karzai has found his "reconciliation" efforts with the Taliban now undermined, with the Pakistanis procrastinating on his demand for the extradition of Baradar to Afghanistan. Pakistan, which for years has denied the presence of the Mullah Omar-led Quetta Shura on its soil, now brazenly demands that it will be the prime intermediary in any process of reconciliation with the Taliban — a demand the Obama administration appears to be meekly succumbing to.


It is obvious that the Obama administration has no intention of bringing the real perpetrators of the 26/11 Mumbai carnage to justice. Lobbying with the Indian community and the US Congress is necessary to get the US administration to act against those responsible for the carnage. New Delhi should also approach civil society organisations in the US, apart from the relatives of the American nationals brutally murdered in Mumbai and pro-Israeli Jewish organisations outraged by the targeted killing of Jews in Chabad House, to join this effort. Moreover, approaches to formally interrogate Headley should be supplemented with legal action seeking his extradition.









AS officers of the Indian Revenue Service, we were trained in the art of search and seizure. During mock drills conducted at the parent academy we were taught not only the intricacies of law but also management of the assessee (tax-payer) and tax-evader.


So, armed with freshly garnered knowledge and skills I confidently went for my first search operation. Our team entered a residential premises and began a physical search.


I was asked by the members of the household if they could send their five-year-old daughter to school. Keeping in mind the spiel on "rights of assessee" during our training, I assented to their demand. As a matter of abundant precaution, however, we checked the child's bag which contained a few books, a tiffin and a water bottle.


Alerted by the surreptitious looks passing between members of the household, an alert and enterprising official in my team emptied out the tiffin and water-bottle. And guess what? The water bottle spewed out water along with bank locker keys.


This was my first "field" lesson in "assessee" management. But there were more such lessons in the offing. My next search was even more dramatic. Every time we attempted to search the main bedroom, the owner convincingly clutched at his heart and complained of shooting pain. Not wanting to take a chance, we requested a cardiac specialist to examine the "assessee".


After the physical examination, a discomfited doctor came to me and timorously handed a nondescript notebook that detailed undisclosed transactions in crores. Apparently, the heart-clutching was simply a ruse to remove the incriminating note book from the bedroom before the search party found it.


On another search, the lady of the house put a spanner in the works by alleging that the policewoman accompanying the search party had "picked" up her "Soltaires". It turned out that the lady herself had hidden the solitaires in the pocket of her dressing gown.


In another such search, the "assessee" kept up a running commentary about how, during the last search, he had locked the search party in the outhouse and had his henchmen beat the daylights out of them. This vitriolic commentary against a backdrop of "goons" hovering near the gate did nothing for our peace of mind. But, thankfully the commentary did not translate into a re-run of the previous search.


One desperate tax-evader even let loose canine power to deter the search party. Before we could use a sedating dart, the bloodhound had taken a bite out of an official. These tax-evaders, in a short span of time, taught me what our mentors at the academy could not. This training "sans" mentors honed my assessee-management skills in ways no mock-drills could.









NOT too long ago, five armed men barged into the house of 22-week pregnant Sunita and her lover Jasbir Singh, strangling them to death. Moments later, the couple's half-stripped bodies stood displayed at the entrance to Sunita's paternal home in Karnal, her father winning applause from the community for having restored the family's honour. The day was May 16, 2008.


Two years on, Karnal is back in the news. Karnal Sessions Judge Vani Gopal Sharma on Tuesday awarded the death sentence to five of the seven accused persons for the "honour killing" of a young couple – Manoj and Babli – who had married in the same gotra defying a khap panchayat.


The moment is euphoric. It sends the message that the diktats of the caste (khap) panchayats will no longer be tolerated and the rule of law will apply, irrespective of the social and political patronage the khaps may enjoy.


"Among the Jats of Haryana and other northern states, people of the same village are considered siblings and their marriage is treated as incest. The case in point was shocking. None of the ruling party politicians condemned the killings.


"Kisan leader Mohinder Singh Tikait publicly threatened anyone who dared to lodge an FIR. Full political and other support was extended to the killers following the khap's verdict," recalls Javeed Alam, chairman of the Indian Council of Social Science Research.


From where do the khaps then derive their powers? The question has bothered sociologists who agree that the khaps existed in the pre-modern times to enforce social norms, especially those concerning marriage.


"The khap panchayats have revived themselves in the past 20 years following the opening up of rural societies which have seen the movement of people across regions, castes and sub-castes," explains Prof Surender Jodka of Jawaharlal Nehru University.


"They were not discouraged as much as they should have been. Till the time society was closed – until about 20 years ago – the Jats were fine. But when girls began to exercise their personal choices, the khaps became uncomfortable and felt pressured to preserve the purity of the clan. That's when they started reconsolidating," Jodka adds, describing the Karnal court judgment as historic – one that will send a strong message that extra-constitutional bodies have no room in a civilised democratic set-up.


The judgment has been widely appreciated. National Commission for Women Chairperson Girija Vyas says the laws need to be strengthened further to deal with honour crimes as murders.


Ranjana Kumari, head of the Centre for Social Research, which was at the forefront of the domestic violence prevention movement, says the verdict will teach a lesson to everyone who treats women as commodities and indulges in mass brutality in the name of honour.


One of the cases that awaits a verdict relates to 21-year-old Ved Pal of Singhwal village in Haryana. Vedpal was abducted from under the nose of policemen by members of the khap panchayat while he was on his way to meet his wife Sonia.


The couple was murdered in July, 2009. After executing the death sentence awarded by the caste panchayat, a 500-strong mob displayed the victims' scarred bodies as a mark of victory in the battle of honour. The two belonged to the same gotra.


Hundreds of such cases surface every year in the Rajasthan-Delhi-Haryana-Uttar Pradesh-Bihar belt, where caste equations remain dominant. Honour killings continue to be perpetuated largely because the khaps view marriage within the gotra as incest. Even the Hindu Marriage Act of 1954 bars marriage within the third generation in the line of ascent through the mother, and the fifth generation in the line of ascent through the father. It further bars marriage between certain degrees of prohibited relationships, including brothers and sisters.








UPON petitioning the Punjab and Haryana High Court in Chandigarh, the London Borough of Ealing was very recently successful in securing an emergency travel document for 12-year-old Gurinderjit Singh abandoned on the streets of Southall in the UK two years ago.


Sadly, he was a victim of illegal immigration as those who deserted him preferred to remain in hiding to stay in the UK to conceal their wrongful immigration status. Perhaps, they harboured a belief that deserting the boy would lead to the regularisation of his immigration status in the UK. This did not happen. The Borough through the British courts became the boy's guardian and moved for his repatriation.


Fortunately, the boy was reunited with his extended family to celebrate his 12th birthday at home in his village in Punjab. Gurinderjit was happily back home on March 29, 2010, after the Guardian Judge took a decision on his custody.


At a recent seminar in Chandigarh of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Organised Crime (UNODC), it was revealed in a report that 20,000 persons from Punjab try to migrate abroad illegally every year.


It was also reported that over one lakh persons who migrated illegally landed up behind bars. Many languish in jails abroad with no hope of return. Others, who stay on for economic and social reasons, are compelled to remain away from their homeland forever to keep their illegal status intact. Their return becomes a myth. No wonder, human trafficking agents thrive.


The Passports Act, 1967, and the Passports Rules, 1980, recognise the grant of emergency travel certificates authorising persons to enter India. Citizens of India abroad whose passports are lost, stolen or damaged and who cannot be issued a new passport without verification and persons who produce insufficient evidence to justify Indian citizenship, as also Indian citizens whose passports have been impounded, revoked or refused or have to be repatriated to India qualify for the grant of emergency travel certificates.


The Indian missions abroad within whose jurisdiction such Indian citizens exist are competent to issue emergency travel certificates. However, neither the law nor any policy actually helps the illegal immigrants who attempt to return home in desperation abroad. The procedure for obtaining an emergency travel certificate is cumbersome and technical.


Proving Indian nationality for an Indian citizen in the absence of any documentation can be difficult. The verification of antecedents in India by the Indian mission abroad as a precondition poses a major challenge.


The result: a large number of Indian nationals languish in jails abroad. Communication problems, lack of money and an inhospitable climate abroad can perpetuate their agony. Such hapless Indian citizens are a condemned lot.


Perhaps, the best possible solution to commence the return procedure is for every state government to ask the Central government to request all foreign embassies and high commissions in New Delhi to give them a list of all Indian nationals detained in their respective countries on account of illegal immigration.


Thereafter, the Centre can pass on such lists to the states to which illegal immigrants belong. Once the antecedents of such Indian nationals are verified, emergency travel certificates can be issued to them through the Indian missions abroad.


Leaving things in a flux and carrying on with the status quo will not help. As of now, the inclination, initiative and incentive to adopt a positive path seem to be lacking. States will have to prompt the Centre to start a fast-track process for the return of illegal immigrants. Once immigrants start returning home, their cases would deter others who wish to go abroad illegally. The enactment of a deterrent law may also help.


The writer, a practising lawyer, handled Gurinderjit's case









Bollywood star Deepika Padukone may be a glamorous brand ambassador for Royal Challengers Bangalore, but the team's high-profile owner Vijay Mallya wants Lord Venkateswara of Tirumala to be the spiritual ambassador to guide its victory in the ongoing IPL T-20 cricket tournament.


Mallya, an ardent devotee, visited the hill shrine recently and offered special prayers for the success of his team. The liquor baron and owner of Kingfisher Airlines also made a hefty donation of Rs 6 crore for the temple's ambitious Rs 1,000 crore project to gold-plate the inner walls of the sanctum sanctorum.


A deeply religious Mallya makes it a point to visit Tirumala, the country's richest temple, and seeks the Lord's blessings whenever he takes up a new project. He had paid $ 111.6 million for RCB, next only to Mukesh Ambani's Reliance Industries which bid $ 111.9 million for Mumbai Indians.


Farewell to alms


It is time to log off for beggars in the IT-savvy Andhra Pradesh. Seeking alms in public places has been banned in AP, a state that revels in projecting a progressive and reforms-oriented image.


Any person found begging on the streets can be arrested without any warrant. As per the new rules framed for implementing the Prevention of Begging Act, seeking alms at public places, including traffic junctions, bus and railway stations, will be treated as an offence.


The arrested beggars will be produced in courts. After ascertaining their medical condition, the courts will order their detention in a work-house for a maximum period of three years. During this period, the beggars will be required to work for six hours a day and the wages thus earned will be returned to them on their release.

After the completion of the term, the "convict" will be released only after obtaining a written undertaking that he will not repeat the offence.


According to a survey, there are an estimated 12,000 beggars in Hyderabad alone, collectively earning about Rs.15 crore per annum through alms.


Love beyond border


In an atmosphere of mutual distrust between India and Pakistan over terrorism, a sub-continental love story involving tennis star Sania Mirza and Pakistani cricketer Shoaib Malik has come as a whiff of fresh air. Will the union of sporting icons achieve what political rulers could not? Several Hyderabadis feel that the impending marriage will go a long way in strengthening the bonds between peoples of the two countries.


Ever since Pakistani channel Geo TV broke the story about wedding plans, the air here is thick with excitement. Sania has a huge fan following in her home town. Shoaib is no stranger to Hyderabad, though his earlier tryst with the city was controversial. The Pakistani captain was involved in a marriage dispute with city girl Ayesha. He had reportedly exchanged marriage vows over telephone in 2002 but backed out later.


Sania, whose international ranking has been plummeting over the last few months, had called off her engagement with a city-based businessman Sohrab Mirza in January on grounds of incompatibility.

The tennis star's family announced that her marriage with Shoaib will take place an April 15. After the marriage, the couple would shift to Dubai and pursue their respective careers.









How do people who speak more than one language function in terms of language? Do they use one language in preference to the other in certain situations? Is there a hierarchy of languages in the mind? How do poets, novelists and playwrights who use more than one language decide in which one they are going to write a particular poem or novel? These are questions that are constantly being asked (in the space of a month two events and a book address the subject), but I am not sure we are close enough yet to convincing answers.
Arvind Krishna Mehrotra was in Oxford, London, and Leicester recently talking about these subjects with special reference to Kipling, Kabir, Arun Kolatkar and A K Ramanujan. At the end of March, Faber and Faber will conduct a workshop on similar themes in Geneva: How do we write in languages that we choose, or that choose us, but that are not the languages of our birth? How do we write in our adopted language and still remain true to our own culture? Is there such a thing as authenticity, and what is it? Thank goodness these discussions are not being conducted in India where simplistic opponents of English fixed their positions 200 years ago and have never got around to examining them.

I've just been sent a book by Katherine Russell Rich, (Indian edition Tranquebar 2010), an American journalist, called Dreaming in Hindi, about her experience of trying to learn a second language, and immerse herself in a completely alien culture. The text is a mix of personal experience and discussions with or quotes from linguists concerned with second language acquisition.

 She interviewed Michel Paradis, a neurolinguist in Montreal, who explained various cases to her. Rich writes, "What happens with bilinguals, Paradis observed, is that people can lose one tongue and not the other, for a time, to a degree, or completely… Following a head injury, an Austrian commander, once fluent in German and Italian, was able to speak to his wife only in the remnants of his Italian, to his doctors only in what was left of his German… One patient, a Moroccan nun born to French parents, had slammed her head when her moped crashed into a car. Afterward, she could still speak French and Arabic, but only on alternate days."

The language school at which Rich chose to study Hindi was in Udaipur, a beautiful if strange location, as she tended to hear mainly Mewari spoken. The Hindi taught by Swamiji was heavily Sanskritised. When she asked the teacher how to say "I am confused" he told her to say, "Main brahm mein hoon." It was not till she got back to the States that she learned the exact meaning of the word: Illusion.

The school seemed to believe in "immersion," so Rich was placed with a family, the Jains. She has problems "calculating how many of them there were - they always appeared in either fives or tens." They also talked to her at the same time. In school, representative members of the community were invited. With one, a housewife, the vocabulary list handed out indicated at a life spent in drudgery, "but the actual housewife, when she appeared, did not look downtrodden. She had the pep and lip liner of a talk show host."

At some point, Ms Rich was invited to teach some village women near Udaipur English. '"My name is Kathy," I began. "My name is Kathy," everyone repeated. The women in front were grinning shyly. "No, my name is Kathy," I said, tapping my chest. "No, my name is Kathy," they all boomed back."'


The American Centre is organising an event with Katherine Russell Rich on April 22.








Apart from the fact that this is the first time since independence that a new fundamental right — Right to Education (RTE) — has been added to the Constitution, it is also true that the educational empowerment has been a cause close to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's heart. A beneficiary of scholarships and good education, the PM began his professional life as a teacher and his last non-political job was that of chairman, University Grants Commission. So, it is not surprising that he has chosen to address the nation on the day the RTE comes into effect. The move, along with other programmes such as the Right to Information, the Women's Reservation Bill and the MNREGA are all part of the UPA's ambitious social sector agenda, but more than any other programme, the RTE has the biggest potential to be a game-changer. There are enough data that show wage levels rise with education levels, so apart from how the industrial and service sector will benefit from a better-educated work force, there are huge anti-poverty aspects to the RTE.

 That said, there are important lessons the UPA must learn while implementing the RTE. The part of the RTE that says private schools have to reserve a fourth of their seats for the poor and other categories of children has got disparate responses — while the better-recognised private schools are terrified of what this will do to their ability to function freely as well as to their bottom lines, several others are licking their chops at the thought of another government-sponsored expenditure programme since government-payments for these 25 per cent students opens up an entirely new avenue of corruption and palm-greasing. The other provision of the RTE that has wider ramifications is the one which says all schools will now have to be "recognised" — the "unrecognised" schools have three to five years to comply. To be "recognised", schools will have to meet certain infrastructure needs and their teachers will also need to have specified educational qualifications and must get paid a salary to be stipulated by the government. Whatever the merits or demerits of this proposal, the UPA would do well to look at various studies on "para-teachers" — teachers generally hired on contracts, usually answerable to the local panchayat/administration and at salaries around a fourth those of regular government teachers. Data from the District Information System on Education which is collected from the million-plus elementary schools in the country shows that para-teachers tend to have higher educational qualifications than regular teachers. Studies in Uttar Pradesh (UP) and Bihar by Kingdon and Banerji, as well as others, show that the absenteeism by para-teachers is much less. It is around half that of regular teachers in UP— there is little difference in Bihar though, possibly since para-teachers there are appointed for life and are not necessarily local to the panchayat. These studies also show that children taught by para-teachers are as good if not better than those taught by regular teachers — once again, the difference is high in UP, but isn't in Bihar since para-teacher absenteeism in the state is quite high. Since the Right to Education is irrelevant if the government chooses not to deliver it, anything which lowers the cost of delivery without compromising on the quality of education (and may even improve it) is important.






It will be interesting to hear what Prime Minister Manmohan Singh says when he addresses the valedictory event of the Reserve Bank of India's (RBI) platinum jubilee celebrations in Mumbai on the first day of the new financial year. Will Dr Singh stick to the framework of his remarks last week at the Planning Commission where he said one should not take return to the high growth path of the past few years for granted. If he repeats the message he gave to the planners with the central bankers, he would be urging the RBI to keep its fingers on the inflation pulse. If you cannot take growth for granted, you can much less take price stability for granted. If the planners have to work hard to step up growth, the central bank will have to work hard to keep inflation under control. Expect a further hike in policy rates on April 20. There should be one more policy parameter on the prime minister's mind when he speaks at the RBI, namely the rupee's exchange rate. In the past few days, even as the world has been focusing on China's yuan and awaiting with bated breath the next move of the US government on China's exchange rate policy, the Indian rupee has exhibited signs of appreciation. If capital inflows into India continue at the pace witnessed in recent weeks, the rupee could be expected to come under upward pressure. This will be good for inflation control but not so good for exports. How much of a deterioration in the current account deficit will India be willing to live with? Should the RBI signal a view? The former governor of the RBI, Dr Y Venugopal Reddy has come out in favour of an Indian version of the Tobin tax. Even a hint that it is an idea worth considering from official quarters will have an impact on the markets. Clearly, sustaining growth while restraining inflation and ensuring exchange rate stability is going to be a tough task for the central bank and the nation's macroeconomic authorities this fiscal.

 The prime minister will also be expected to air his views on the finance ministry's proposal for a Financial Stability and Development Council. Whatever the merits of such a Council that includes all the financial sector regulators and is chaired by the finance minister, the idea that there should be a full-time secretariat to service the council is at best hare-brained and at worst diabolical. It would end up creating a new super-finance ministry with the official running that office stepping on the toes of all the regulators, including the central bank, and his own parent ministry, the finance ministry. None of this is needed at this time. Even if there is merit in the idea of such a Council, like the National Development Council, it should meet once a year and remain a forum for discussion. There is no need for a fulltime secretariat that would step on all toes. The prime minister would be well advised to calm nerves in Mumbai by speaking like a former central bank governor and former finance minister who has keenly preserved the integrity of institutions of economic governance.







Not all state governments have been kind to the global seed giant Monsanto. And cotton farmers have been less than grateful for the genetically modified (GM) technology that is said to have changed their fortunes dramatically. Since it launched its genetically modified Bt cotton in 2002, the company has been fighting a number of state governments over the prices it charges for its Bt cotton brands, Bollgard and Bollgard II, the first a single-gene technology that heralded the entry of GM crops in the country and latter a two-protein technology introduced in 2006.

The most troublesome has been Andhra Pradesh which, in 2006, was the first to challenge in the Monopolies and Restrictive Trade Practices Commission (MRTPC) the high price that Monsanto was charging for its Bt cotton seeds. At that time, Bollgard was selling at Rs 1,800 for a packet of 425 gm (plus 125 gm of refugia), a price that the state government described as exorbitant and unjustified after a leading farmers' association protested against the jacked-up prices. The high price was on account of the royalty or trait fee — so called because of the protein trait in the GM cotton — that accounted for as much as two-thirds of the cost at Rs 1,200 per packet.

Much to the shock of Monsanto and its Indian arms, the nearly moribund MRTPC came to life and declared that the price was indeed, too high and asked the company's India distributors to keep the prices on par with those prevailing in China. Bollgard brands are marketed by Mahyco Monsanto Biotech (India) Limited (MMB), a 50:50 partnership between the US multinational's wholly-owned India arm, Monsanto Holdings Private Limited (MHPL), and the Jalna-based Mahyco, a seed company in which Monsanto also holds 26 per cent equity. Now that may seem like too much detail here but it is important to understand how the technology part is handled by the biotech behemoth.

MMB promptly challenged this decision in the Supreme Court contending that MRTPC had no jurisdiction on prices but only in preventing unfair trade practices. But by then, the AP's commissioner of agriculture had brought down prices dramatically in stages to Rs 750 per packet — thereby reducing the trait fee to Rs 150. It is an open secret that Indian partners of Monsanto companies were behind the campaign to get trait fees reduced because it was reducing their margins. Their gripe was that they were also paying an upfront royalty fee of Rs 50 lakh each for the Bt technology as part of their licensing contract.

MMB did not get much comfort from the Supreme Court — not on the agriculture commissioner's order, or on the MRTPC's directive. The court did, however, say that the company could approach it if the costs were not covered. Following Andhra Pradesh's success in getting prices slashed, several other governments followed suit, using the Essential Commodities Act (ESA) to fix rates at a much lower rate. Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Karnataka and Maharashtra did manage to bring down the price of Bollgard seeds but were challenged by MMB. It managed to win against Madhya Pradesh because the government had failed to enact a law that would have enabled it to fix prices.

Now the prices of the two brands have come down further and in 2009 kharif, the prices ranged between Rs 650 and Rs 750 for Bollgard and Rs 750-925 per packet for Bollgard II. And how much of this goes towards trait fees? Monsanto is not telling. A company spokesman says that under its contractual obligations, it cannot share "competitive information such as royalty fees". But quoting from a report of the International Cotton Advisory Council (ICAC) Report 2009, it claims the technology fee charged in India is the lowest in the world.

That claim needs to be validated. According to seed industry sources, the trait fee charged in the southern states — the governments of Punjab, Rajasthan and Haryana allowed higher rates — is close to Rs 100 for Bollgard and around Rs 180 for Bollgard II. But with companies now clamouring for an increase in seed prices, this could change in coming days. MMB has, therefore, moved swiftly to pre-empt the Andhra government from doing a replay of 2006. Last week, it filed an appeal in the AP High Court asking it to restrain the state government from determining or interfering with the trait value it charges. That was clearly a pre-emptive measure since there has been talk that the government intends to ensure higher margins for seed companies by bring down trait fees further.

MMB contends that its licence agreement with seed companies is a private one and that the government has no role in regulating the royalty. MMB is bolstering its argument with a new weapon — a patent that it holds in India for its Bt technology. The patent, granted in 2008, will run till 2019. Will this have any bearing on the case? What is certain is that the court's response will have significant consequences for the Indian farmer and Indian agriculture in general.








Just five years ago, Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd (BSNL) was India's second most profitable company, with net profit of nearly Rs 6,000 crore — nearly equal to Hindustan Unilever's revenues — with over Rs 36,000 crore in revenues. By March 31, 2010, BSNL expects a big loss, while a competitor, Bharti, with revenues of only Rs 8,000 crore then, has caught up in revenues and is far more profitable. Mahaganar Telephone Nigam Ltd (MTNL), too, is struggling to stay profitable.

While these public sector giants are in a graveyard spiral, they still have valuable assets in their reach and their networks of hundreds of thousands of kilometres. They also have a corps of technical professionals, with unmet user needs burgeoning in cities, towns, and all over India's hinterland.

How can BSNL/MTNL be extricated from their predicament, and built up to become more like a State Bank of India, instead of a moribund Air India and the once-dominant Indian Airlines? Consider the present and future possibilities.

The pertinent facts are:

  • The network and capacity are valuable assets for operations, provided services are rationalised and extended in commercially sound ways.
  • Neither BSNL nor MTNL has been able to successfully capitalise on its headstart in WiMAX and 3G.
  • Given present trends, both will run up mounting losses.

All management and employees, including the Indian Telecom Service (ITS) officers, will have to engage in radical changes voluntarily. This is why all stakeholders, including the government, have to seek collaborative solutions, to resolve anachronistic legacy situations that cannot continue on terms as fair as possible, including a VRS, and possibly pay cuts for deferred profit-sharing. The alternative is losing a strategic backbone network-operating capability, something India needs, with the associated hardship for so many employees.

Dire prospects

The outlook for both BSNL and MTNL shows in their performance (Figures 1 and 2).

For BSNL and MTNL, increased employee costs after the Pay Commission recommendations, together with declining fixed-line revenues, led to deteriorating profits. Meanwhile, years of stalled procurement, decreasing earnings and a recommendation to divest 30 per cent have all led to a stand-off at BSNL, with a threatened strike. Whether in public or private sector, there have to be good services with good profits; otherwise, competitors will devour them.

Doing the unthinkable

Are there ways out? Can these investments in equipment and people be resuscitated by some miracle of management and IT engineering to be at the heart of the country's expanding communications services? Can their personnel pull together?

That magic could come about if individuals and interest groups rise above themselves, avoiding opportunistic self-enrichment, and approach problems collaboratively instead of antagonistically, and if the government can abjure misguided fiscal zeal.

  • Instead of divesting a stake as a one-shot, revenue-raising deal, induct a strong partner to build services and revenues.
  • Serve user needs, instead of offering "products" with some internal geographic or technological definitions that are not easily understood.
  • Rationalise services like EVDO cards (broadband data cards) that are not customer-centric, because if they work in the rest of the country, they don't in Delhi and Mumbai, and vice versa.
  • BSNL and MTNL could go for collaborative data-streaming with 2.4 Mbps EVDO cards usable everywhere, offered with a service level and style that can only come with a hands-on partner changing the off-putting way BSNL and MTNL treat customers.
  • Get politicians out of procurement, and induct technology like wireless corDECT at 512 Kbps for rural areas if appropriate, even if it is "old" and not state-of-the-art, instead of waiting for years for alternatives that aren't there of 3G or LTE (Long-Term Evolution or 4G), and will cost much more.
  • Move up to 3G/LTE after some years of generating profits.
  • Work with India's technology companies to build local equivalents of Huwaei and ZTE, with India's assured markets. (This requires policies far beyond the ambit of the DOT, as in the way China has nurtured Huawei/ZTE for years.)

Put the whole package together, end-to-end, and BSNL/MTNL could be winners, as would the public.* Private operators will face competition if this happens, but they can gain from the rise in business levels.

These are big issues for immediate consideration and action. Such challenges are best addressed collaboratively. Although collaboration seems far removed, notable exceptions like Amul, Operation Flood, the Sirmour farmers' cooperatives for irrigation, SEWA (Self-Employed Women's Association) and Infosys prove that it is feasible.

Problem-solving vs confrontation and attrition

Thinking and acting in our collective interests require making hard choices after cost-benefit analyses. From this perspective, we should address BSNL and MTNL from an assessment of India's needs and available alternatives, rather than only as a historical mess. True, the mess has to be dealt with, but with forward-looking considerations of public benefits for the common good. Employees need to recognise this, juxtaposed with the consequences of unyielding self-interest. We need problem-solving, not battles of attrition from hardened, silo positions of unions, government, and management, or ITS versus the rest, or any entrenched interest group. These legacy positions are "dug in", and perpetual confrontation leads to desecration: of service capability, of competitive staying power, productivity and of sheer employability. There is so much more they could do for a potential one billion users.

It isn't that self-improvement is not being attempted, like the Sanchar Nigam Executives Association (SNEA) addressing processes such as Call Detail Record (CDR) systems for customer care and billing, or Managed Services and Managed Capacity, Bharti's innovations in outsourcing not only development and maintenance, but even procurement to Ericsson, as recommended by the Pitroda committee.** The change that is required is for all groups to pull together, however simplistic it may sound. Then, these national assets — the networks and human resources — can be leveraged to compete effectively with private operators.

*We have to execute integrated solutions without omitting critical aspects. For example, of the three prerequisites for eradicating polio, India has focused on vaccines, ignoring clean water and sanitation (see: "Infectious Diseases and the Colonised Mind", K S Jacob:
**See and








Fiscal challenges have resurfaced, not only in India but all over the world. This time, fiscal stress in most countries, particularly the developed ones, is far more severe than in India. Unlike many other countries, in targeting a lower fiscal deficit at 5.5 per cent of GDP for 2010-11, the government has already signalled the beginning of fiscal consolidation.

 Fiscal concerns typically get suppressed during cyclical upturns, and amplified during phases of low growth. For example, during the high growth phases of 1992-93 to 1996-97 and 2003-04 to 2007-08, there was a proportionate reduction, in relation to the size of the economy, in both the deficit and debt. And during the low growth phase of 1997-98 to 2002-03 and, more recently, in the period beginning 2008-09, the deficits rose. At a very basic level, the relationship between growth and fiscal variables is not difficult to understand. The fiscal health of the economy at any given point is a function of its revenue and expenditure. A large part of government expenditure is generally committed in nature and hence inflexible even during an economic downturn.

In contrast to government spending, government revenues mimic economic cycles, rising sharply during an upturn and slowing down during a downturn. Higher economic growth, especially if propelled by industrial growth, has yielded increased tax collections for the government in the past. Whether this higher growth translates into adequately high tax revenue is measured by tax buoyancy. A tax-buoyancy greater than unity implies that growth in tax collections is higher than GDP growth. The chart traces the tax buoyancy in India during the recent upturns and downturns. It clearly shows that revenue buoyancy has a non-linear relationship with growth — being higher in an upturn and lower in a downturn. With inflexibility in expenditures, reduced revenue buoyancy accentuates fiscal stress during an economic downturn — this is what happened in the last two years when matters got aggravated with the government having to spend more to fight the impact of global recession and some profligate steps like farm loan waiver etc.

Going ahead, a return to higher growth trajectory will reduce the fiscal stress as it did during 2003-04 to 2007-08. Another comfort factor for India vis-à-vis many developed nations is that it does not face the fiscal burden of an ageing population. Its favourable population dynamics suggest that its fiscal health is unlikely to be burdened by an ageing population in the next few decades. Even though India has a high debt-to-GDP ratio of about 80 per cent of GDP, it is largely domestic debt. This does not expose India to the kind of external debt vulnerabilities that countries such as Greece, Portugal and Spain are currently facing.

Despite these apparent advantages, there is no room for complacency as far as India's fiscal health is concerned. Some of the concerns are as follow. The first relates to slippage in growth. The fiscal targets are riding on the assumption of high growth and if the growth slips, the fiscal scenario is bound to deteriorate. The probability of the occurrence of this event is low at this juncture but it is a risk nevertheless.

The second factor of discomfort is the rather unimpressive medium-term tax targets set out in the recent Budget. The gross tax/GDP of the Central government is budgeted at 11.9 per cent of GDP by 2012-13, which is lower than the 12 per cent achieved in 2007-08. This means the revenue booster to India's fiscal health witnessed in the previous boom phase will be muted this time. The tax targets presumably do not consider the impact of the implementation of the goods and services tax (GST) and the direct tax code (DTC). It needs no emphasis that successful implementation of the DTC and GST will be critical for pushing the revenue beyond government expectations set out in the most recent Fiscal Responsibility and Budget Management (FRBM). By 2012-13, over 85 per cent of India's GDP will originate in the revenue-yielding non-agricultural sector, compared to 82 per cent in 2007-08. With a structural shift towards revenue-generating non-agricultural sectors, keeping the tax/GDP in 2012-13 lower than 2007-08 is akin to lowering the bar on the tax collection front.

In the last 20 years, India has witnessed spurts of high growth. It, however, has not been able to sustain it over an extended period of time. India's stature as well as growth expectations today are undoubtedly higher than what they were when it began the reforms in the early 1990s. Today, India benchmarks its economic performance against the near 9 per cent growth rate achieved during the five years preceding the global economic crisis. What India needs is not the spurts of high growth but sustained high growth for the next few decades to reduce poverty and catch up with its fast-growing east Asian neighbours. In addition to further economic reforms, on the government finances front, this will take both fiscal prudence and right fiscal choices. This brings in the importance of pending expenditure reforms, which should cut expenditures in less productive areas and reallocate these to more productive ones. It is well understood that the government investment in infrastructure, education and health has a high multiplier effect on the economy than general consumption expenditure. And these are the areas where we have a lot of ground to cover. Infrastructure constraints and skill mismatches that amplified during the previous upturn will continue to plague us in future. The government has an important role in addressing these constraints.

In the absence of expenditure reforms, the fiscal space needed for spending in these critical areas may simply be absent if numerical fiscal targets are to be adhered to. The fiscal space will shrink further if the growth momentum is derailed for some reason. Together with expenditure reforms, the government needs to be more aggressive with its tax targets than it has been in the recent Budget. Without these measures, the absence of fiscal leeway for investment in human development and infrastructure can emerge as a risk to sustained high growth. The fiscal challenge, therefore, is not merely to bring down the debt and deficit. We have achieved that in past cyclical upturns and will achieve if we get another spurt of high growth. What we have not achieved is fiscal flexibility to address vital constraints that the economy faces today. And that is the fundamental fiscal challenge for India.

The author is chief economist, Crisil

The views expressed are personal








At age 11, I decided to publish a family "newspaper". The motivation was less filial affection than an urgent need to augment frugal monthly pocket money. Fashioned out of the middle pages torn from a geography exercise book, it was a no-cost operation in which the roles of editor, publisher, reporter and designer were vested in myself.

The content included a front page of "news" and a smorgasbord of excruciating "poetry", and worse "art". The lead item was: "S B Datta flies to Delhi" and the second lead: "Goonda ill, visits vet".

This was, of course, an appalling display of news sense. My dad's trips to Delhi were a routine occurrence whereas any visit by Goonda, the kooky black Labrador, to the vet was a momentous family occasion, so he deserved lead billing.

But I had cunningly prioritised the news to suit my needs. The business model was predicated on a pay-per-read basis, the calculation being that a high paid readership would buy me two packets of chilli chips or a bilious pastry from Kalimpong Homes. S B Datta could pay for the publicity he received whereas Goonda couldn't.

As it turned out, S B Datta parsimoniously paid 50 paise to cover the read by both him and my mother, and my sisters basely read it without paying at all. After this single edition, the paper folded.

Many years later, starting out as a professional journalist I was told of dizzying potential rewards from writing, not writing or placing angled reports — houses, cars, champagne (all hard-to-access commodities in pre-liberalisation India), gold, watches, overseas trips. But in the lefty world of Kolkata newspapering, where fast-growing business journalism was viewed with suspicion, the practice attracted enough opprobrium to detract most. And company policy, in keeping with most media houses, strictly disallowed gift-taking.

Later in Delhi, a reporter wrote a factual, front-paged account of a businessman who distributed gold coins to journalists covering a press conference on an IPO for a doubtful project. The next day the entrepreneur concerned wrote a matter-of-fact rejoinder saying he'd been advised to do so by his public relations company.

The concept of paid coverage has, of course, been around as long as the profession. But in the past, the motivation has been mostly ideology. Any history of the KGB or CIA is replete with accounts of how much money was paid to this or that journalist to write slanted reports or opeds (KGB archives display a touching partiality for India because of ridiculously cheap rates for such services). For the most part, however, it remained a small, informal market. This businessman's letter suggested that paid information had acquired a mainstream, amoral dimension.

Newspapers have always served conflicting sets of customers: readers and advertisers. Growing competition saw subscription rates stagnating — they have been unchanged for over a decade — so the pressure on advertising revenues grew acute. A media baron once said no one owned a newspaper to make profit. By the nineties, though, some proprietors started referring to their publications as "products" and viewing information as marketable entertainment. Their need to make money converged with economic liberalisation that saw the rise of the stock markets where a growing number of companies were headed to raise money for all manner of industrial projects.

So it was perhaps almost inevitable that the paid news practice was extended to contractual ads- and/or equity-for-favourable-stories swap deals, transforming the gains of individual journalists into institutional profits. In some regional media houses, journalists often double as space sellers.

Judging from the surging circulation many media houses proudly publicise every year, the growing trend towards paid news is less of an issue with readers than its anti-campaigners make out. According to the latest KPMG-Ficci survey, the print media grew 8 per cent between 2006 and 2009 and is expected to grow 9 per cent in the period till 2014. These are respectable numbers in a business that is dwindling elsewhere.

The trouble is, in going down this road of easy money, the print media is missing a unique long-term opportunity. The dynamics of the information business are changing swiftly; "consumers" are increasingly being hit by TV, blogs, tweets and fly-by-night websites where authenticity is always in question. In this maelstrom, the print media has a unique opportunity to provide reliable reporting by accredited journalists. That's an ethical way to build the business but, as always, it will be the tougher way.







If logiciel and mondialisation can roll off the average Francophone's tongue as vernacular alternatives to the linguistic imperialism of English terms like software and globalisation, what prevents Hindi from following suit?

Yet, try as it might, the language spoken by some 400 million Indians has not been able to find Hindi substitutes for modern English workplace words. Even if Internet has antarjaal as a nominal Hindi synonym, it is doubtful many people use it; ditto for computer, which goes by the moniker sanganak.

This is in keeping with the glorious tradition set by concocted Hindi words such as doorbhash for telephone, vatanukool for air-conditioners, and bhumigath-paidal-paarpath for undergound crossings; these and other gobbledygook remain confined to officialese. Cellphone, broadband, text message, cyberspace, call centre and other cyber-age words have no easily-recognised Hindi avatar yet.

Sanskritised or otherwise unpronounceable formulations, however, probably lurk in the recesses of some central government department. India should take a leaf from France's book on this. A quintet of easy-to-pronounce 'French sounding' replacements for overused Anglicisms have been arrived at by throwing open the renaming game to school and college students instead of depending on just crusty academics.

From their entries, a jury of eminent French-speakers have homed in on éblabla or tchatche for chat, infolettre for newsletter, le bolidage from le bolide or comet (a colloquial term for a supercar) for tuning and le ramdam for buzz, as even an Arabic word is more acceptable than English!

A few of such official constructs do get accepted by the French, such as voyagiste for tour operator, but the fact that les sacs gonflables did not deflate the use of les airbags shows that if it's not simple, it's not accepted. That is an axiom that Hindi's guardians may like to adopt.







Bharti chairman and managing director Sunil Mittal is confident that the outsourcing model that he pioneered for telecom services will work in the case of newly-acquired Zain as well in Africa. We wish Bharti success in its foreign venture.

Zain's success as a division of Bharti matters not just to Bharti shareholders, however. A branded Indian presence in 15 foreign countries that the Bharti-Zain deal brings about has positive externalities for both business and strategic reach.

This matters in an increasingly globalised world in which India's role, both as an engine of economic growth and as a provider of geopolitical stability, is growing faster than many people realise, in India and outside. The global policymaking community accepts China as a very, very important player.

India is seen as a benign presence, but somewhere on the margins (except in trade talks, where India has acquired a decisive presence). One way in which this perception will change is for more and more Indian companies to become visible in markets around the world, directly touching the lives of consumers, acquiring companies, raising capital, negotiating with regulators, innovating advertising, even forcing changes in the cuisines that hotels offer, as they vie to cater to ever increasing numbers of Indian executive travellers.

The larger this collective Indian global presence, the easier it becomes for individual Indian businesses to go about their own transactions abroad. The positive image of India as a country of successful businesses and reliable business partners would do half the job for an Indian company when it seeks to strike a deal with a foreign counterpart that has little direct knowledge of the Indian company. For this, it is important that high-profile Indian acquisitions abroad turn out successful.

The government of India has a role to play in this process, even if it would be spearheaded by companies. Unhindered access to India's large and growing market is a powerful bargaining chip that goes underutilised. Sometimes, soft power needs a hard push.







The continuing communal clashes in Hyderabad highlight how political machinations and administrative and police inefficiency can quickly lead to this sore erupting again. The Andhra Pradesh government must quickly move to not only quell the rioting but actively bring the planners and perpetrators to book.

Given our sorry history of such disturbances, it would have been logical to expect local and state machinery to be alert in sensitive areas. But there seems to have been total failure in clamping down hard at the first signs of trouble and cutting short certain processions, further inflaming the situation.

It is an Indian adage that communal riots almost always never just happen spontaneously, but are engineered. And it is a moot point why, after a long hiatus, we are again witnessing communal clashes in different states. There is little doubt that, as usual, some planning and organisation went into armed mobs being able to go on the rampage. And that posits the failure of the local administration to detect and prevent trouble, compounded by failure to act swiftly enough, say, by deploying an adequate number of policemen.

There are enough examples to prove that given a strong, unbiased administration, which can rope in local community members, potentially explosive situations can be defused. For, even as communal riots often pivot around rumours or disputes over processions, they invariably translate into organised attacks on the lives and property of communities.

And often it is non-locals who end up targeting the economic interests of the 'other' side. As Gujarat in 2002 showed, riots are also about deliberately destroying local economies. And the people directly affected, across communities, always would be the first to seek to prevent and contain the violence.

There is a wider problem of a brand of politics that sustains on religious strife and competitive identity management. Communal strife will continue to plague India until that politics is challenged and delegitimised. But at a local level, heightened community policing and participation in dispute resolution can prove effective in averting such conflagrations.








What will we know from the $10-billion Big Bang? Do we need to know how we arrived — kicking, crying — into this big world? Do we really need to know how our existence — squalid and sordid for most and salubrious for some — came about? Do we need to know whether Adam and Eve existed?

Pullman is pulling down Jesus, the son of God and is being pulled down himself by the existence-defining Church. Do we, by this Big Bang, need to know whether God existed? Are we trying to nullify the Bible, Koran, Gita: Void religions and religious scriptures? The original Big Bang, we all remember, was a prototype of clean slate. We all are an agglomeration of atoms and by crashing atom against atom we are only trying to prove that all religious tomes gypped us with Genesis.

Well, the $10-billion question is heading for a swift resolution, at the speed of light, phew! — somewhere beneath the salutary Alps. Pure surroundings to crack the impure riddle of life. The next billion will be spent on discovering happiness; the next on sadness and, finally, a heap will be sunk, literally, on boredom. Happiness, perhaps somewhere in the Nordic ; sadness in America and boredom — where else — in India.

Huge tunnels will be dug up. Earth will be blown up, ripped apart and then, infrastructure in place, sutured. In India, we perhaps will not have a Commonwealth stadium for archery but down and deep we surely would go into the depths of the Himalayas, taut like a bow and ready the hit the target — an all-time cure for boredom — like an arrow.

Greens will cry hoarse, Patkar may leave everything and rush there, Arundhati may write a philippic, but nothing will deter us. We are tenacious in boredom and will not hesitate to ferret out a cure for it with the same steely determination. Boredom is a national disease, mutating faster than H1b, and has to be controlled, come hell or Himalayas. The Americans will go to the same place where they corralled some of their top scientists to make that nasty bomb to destroy civilisation with a Big Bang.

But the new Big Bang, happening in the long and dollared tunnel of sadness, will not leave the scientists who work on it. They will feel elated if a cure comes through all that underground toil: a cure that America can spread to all corners of the flat world. Like Hollywood, it will be journey the world as a one-stop marque cure for sadness and its attendant diseases.

All disorder, mental and physical, restored to order. The Nordic will call it the Bergman tunnel. After all, no one searched for happiness harder than the great filmmaker. The names he gave to his films (Persona, Through a Glass Darkly) clearly show that he was afflicted with anxiety in a region always voted by those billion-dollar pollsters as a haven for happiness. They will place their tunnel below some fjord to show to the world that all the tensions and jolts do not disturb the still and happy surface of the water.

Whatever the glass-clinking scientists find from the tunnels of Geneva (or wherever) will not improve the tunnel vision of many people in the world. Of course, they — after the experiment concludes successfully and proves without doubt that we all came swirling out of a black hole — will stop calling this world by that name. They will call it something different and maybe spend another pile on that.

Something different, something weird. Black hole: Tut-tut. Hole: No. Just black: Yes, perhaps. But will all the shebang cure our diseases? Not ailments of the body but wounds of the soul. Deep, bitter wounds that man gives to man with the same speed at which those underground atoms hurtle towards each other. Let's hope that these subterranean collisions end our surface clashes.








The Foreign Universities Bill was approved recently by the Cabinet and is to be tabled in Parliament soon. Some hope that the entry of foreign universities will lead to dramatically improved standards in higher education. Others fear that the coming of foreign universities will sound the death-knell of India's educational institutions, including our elite institutions.

These hopes and fears are both misplaced . Opening up to foreign universities is certainly desirable and some good institutions may come in. But, in the foreseeable future, it is unlikely that a large number of quality institutions will set up full-fledged universities or even colleges in India.

In higher education, as in defence, the US leads the rest of the world by a wide margin. US firms in manufacturing and services other education may be keen to get into India but US universities are not. American firms face slow growth in the US and Europe and need rapidly growing markets such as India and China.

But this does not apply to US or other foreign universities. The top US universities, such as Harvard, Yale, and Princeton, do not lack finances. They are supported by enormous funding from private sources. They can attract some of the best faculty and students from all over the world to the US. Why would they want to set up shop in India? Oxford lacks the stature of the best US universities. Its vice-chancellor told the Times of India last weekend that Oxford has no plans for coming to India.

It is not just that the top US universities lack the incentives to come to India. If they did come, it would be difficult for them to be viable while maintaining quality. Quality in education comes from having the best infrastructure , the best faculty and the best students. Foreign universities will find it difficult to achieve this mix in India.

Even if land is made available to foreign universities at a concessional price, the start-up costs for a university or even for a full-fledged college would be large. Having the best faculty would mean bringing in a sizeable number from abroad. This would be an expensive proposition, of course, but even paying dollar salaries may not suffice to get faculty to relocate to India.

The best colleges in Europe, Canada and Hong Kong have for long tried to attract faculty from the US by offering a premium over what US schools pay. They have had little success. To be out of the US is to be cut off from the research network and to lose out on the ability to publish. Being in the US is, therefore, something that faculty greatly value. This would also apply to European faculty evaluating relocation to India.

High infrastructure and faculty costs will translate into high fees. A top US B-school charges about Rs 45 lakh for a two year programme. Even this fee contains an element of subsidy that is covered by endowments. In India, one can expect the fee to be somewhere in the range of Rs 25-30 lakh.

A fee of this order would mean catering only to the upper income groups. It would mean shutting out talent from the mass market, which is where the strengths of the IITs and IIMs lie. When you cannot attract the best students, you cannot have the best quality of output.

Thus, the economics of higher education militates against the entry of the best foreign universities. Foreign firms in manufacturing or services other than education can adapt to Indian conditions by hiring local talent, using technology and tapping the export market. None of these is open to a foreign university. The university is one field where technology has remained largely unchanged for centuries: Nobody has found a superior alternative to faculty and students coming together in classrooms.

This explains why markets with a higher per capita income than India, such as Singapore, Israel and China, have not been able to interest top universities. It is naïve to suppose that standards in higher education in India can be miraculously enhanced by opening up to foreign universities. There is no alternative to the hard grind: improved funding for government institutions, better governance and greater domestic competition.

Foreign universities can contribute at the margin through mentoring of Indian institutions and by sparing faculty for limited assignments. This happened at the older IITs and IIMs at their inception and it did deliver results. IIM-A and IIM-C benefited from their collaboration with Harvard and MIT respectively. The expenses were underwritten by the Ford Foundation. The collaboration was for a period of about five years, by which time IIM-A and IIM-C had acquired a certain momentum.

Yale university is said to be willing to mentor the 14 innovation universities planned. This may well be the way to go. The government would have to pay the fee for such collaborations. This would be worthwhile provided there is a clear plan for assimilation on the Indian side. Mentoring and collaboration hold out more promise than full-fledged entry by foreign universities.

A large number of quality institutions are unlikely to set up full-fledged universities Quality in education comes from having the best infrastructure, faculty and students. Foreign universities will find it difficult to achieve this mix in India. Mentoring and collaboration hold out more promise than full-fledged entry by foreign universities








Raimon Panikkar, the 92-year-old mysticmaster of comparative religions who lives in Spain is the son of a Hindu Indian father and a Roman Catholic Spanish mother. He's been described as a living monument to inter-religious dialogue. Panikkar studied science and philosophy at university and was ordained as a Catholic priest in 1946. Thereafter he left Europe to pursue religious studies in India at a number of places and eventually went over to teach in America starting from Harvard University and retired as emeritus professor at University of California, Santa Barbara.

"Everything he's written has been an attempt to clarify, first to himself and then also to his friends and readers, the insights and experiences he's had of reality," writes Milena Carrara in the celebratory volume Fullness of Life saluting Panikkar's seminal, multilingual contributions to a wide range of fields. "Reality which is always seen in its trinitarian aspect he calls cosmotheandric — that is, God, world and man. He insists that these are not separate entities but are common invariants that form one fundamental unity in radical relativity."

When Panikkar speaks of the experience of life, he does not mean the experience of his own life but life "that is not mine yet which lives within; which the Vedas say never dies; which some call divine" .

Not being a specialisation, the mystical experience of life is open to all mankind, he adds; "Every man is a mystic to the extent in which he is aware of the life which flows within him: his greatness lies in this awareness."

In Worship and Secular Man, Panikkar goes on to clarify that "only worship can prevent secularisation from becoming inhuman; and only secularisation can save worship from becoming meaningless. "Western culture is attracted by the world of things as they reveal to us the transcendence of reality," Panikkar writes, "while eastern culture is attracted by the world of the subject, which reveals to us the impermanence of that very reality. Both are preoccupied with the problem of 'ultimacy,' which many traditions have called God."

He then goes on to offer nine ways in which one may not speak of God for every attempt to absolutise the symbol 'God' destroys links not only with the divine mystery but also with people of those cultures that do not feel the necessity of this symbol.

As Shankara says, Neti, Neti.







Merger control is one of the foundation stones on which a healthy economy can develop, while allowing growth but ensuring the competitive fabric of the marketplace that spurs innovation and increases customer choice. Unchecked inorganic growth could lead to concentration of economic strength among a few leading players, making the industry and consumers susceptible to abuse by such players.

The underlying purpose of the merger control provisions under the Competition Act, 2002, is the same. The Act came into force partially (sections 3 and 4) last year, but as with any legislation, it should be implemented in its entirety to achieve its object.

It is time for the government to introduce merger control. After almost a year of handling cases under sections 3 and 4, the Competition Commission of India (CCI) has reasonable experience of dealing with diverse and complex competition issues.

It has been hiring and training staff to gear up to deal with the increased workload. It may also be worthwhile for the CCI to consider hiring a couple of experts from another competition regulator in order to assist them in the early days of merger control.

The uncertainty surrounding merger control has led to ambiguities and difficulties for transactions that meet the relevant thresholds under the Act that would, if merger control were in force or is brought into force, require prior notification. It is pertinent to note that even in the absence of merger control, the CCI has the power to review acquisitions and agreements under section 3 — even after the transaction is completed — which is not ideal.

As is the case in a majority of foreign jurisdictions, the Indian merger control regime gives the CCI the ability, rightly, to approve or prohibit transactions in advance of completion, thereby giving parties certainty that once the deal is done and the merging companies have integrated, the parties don't have to unscramble a scrambled egg! It is perhaps only because sections 5 and 6 are expected soon that the CCI has not reviewed any merger/acquisition agreements under section 3 of the Act to date.

Industry is still apprehensive as there are several grey areas under the Act, many of which can be taken care of in the implement regulations that will be issued by the CCI. For example, the apprehension of suspending the deal for 210 days can be tackled by a two-phase review such that most deals are cleared in phase I with only a few deals going into a phase-II review; providing for pre-notification consultation; clarifying whether it is the acquisition of de facto or de jure control of the target that is relevant for notification; defining the triggering event more carefully etc.

It is understood that the CCI is framing and finalising the regulations and will make the revised draft available for public consultation, take comments from all stakeholders and then finalise them, which is encouraging.

What, however, will be important is transparency and efficiency of the review process so that parties know early if there is a problem and there are no surprises at the end. This is critical in ensuring that deal-making is not hampered and merger control is viewed as a tool in encouraging economic growth.


Given the composition of the CCI and its track record over the past year, CCI would handle the merger control process keeping in mind the commercial considerations of the parties, the costs involved in delays in deal timelines and the interest of the economy.

It is important that merger control is brought into force sooner than later.

(Co-authored by Shweta Shroff Chopra, senior associate with Amarchand & Mangaldas)







Competition, per se, promotes consumer welfare and prevents concentration of economic power. From that point of view, CII was a proponent of a competition law in India and has, therefore, welcomed the setting up of the Competition Commission of India (CCI). We have always believed that competition is an important means of increasing efficiency in the economy.

The setting up of an institutional mechanism to regulate competition in India comes when the domestic industry is undergoing a transition. Over the last decade, Indian companies have expanded their footprint globally on an unprecedented scale. Thanks to hectic activity in cross-border transactions leading to emergence of the Indian MNC, Indian companies have become a force to reckon with. This expansion is fuelled by inorganic growth and, therefore, companies would need to be supported to continue their expansion plans.

Before merger scrutiny is implemented, some issues need to be resolved, such as the concept of group, assets/turnover criteria, threshold requirements, length of the review period, cross-border transactions with insignificant local nexus, and so on. A group often comprises diversified business enterprises. If the concept of group is followed for merger review, the number of companies impacted would be large. To be rational in the context of competition law, associated companies in a group must have 'commonality of product markets being serviced'.

Also, capital-intensive industries necessitate huge capital expenditure. Requirement of aggregating the turnover of the group would mean that all combinations in such industries would be subject to regulatory review — even though the real impact of the transaction may be insignificant in the market. Size per se should not be regarded as the criterion for determination of dominance in the market. The relevant criteria for regulating combinations would be asset/ turnover threshold combined with dominance in the market.

On these issues, CII has had positive consultations with the government and the CCI. It is our belief that these matters would be dealt with appropriately. However, trying to assuage through regulations may not be the best method. Regulations can be amended or completely withdrawn by a notification at any time.

Mergers and acquisitions are mostly driven by strategic considerations, where speed and certainty are at a premium. While the review period under the Act may vary, a proposed merger transaction may only come into effect when CCI has approved it or 210 days after notification to CCI. The draft regulations propose to reduce the review period and hold out that a decision would be reached within 30-60 days if there are no competition concerns. The uncertainty of a notification being considered for anywhere from 30-210 days could discourage investment in the country. This is because global business environment could undergo dramatic shifts in a period of up to seven months.

In addition, we often see companies seeking to enter new lines of business by acquiring small, underperforming companies. Under the merger-control regime, it would first need CCI approval for the transaction. Instead, it may decide to take up the easier route and set up the business on its own. In the process, industry would be denied the opportunity of reviving failing enterprises and utilising existing capacities. This too merits thought.

In the current stage of the country's economic growth, introduction of a mandatory pre-merger notification regime will present several complications. CII hopes that the government and the CCI would see it as such.







If logiciel and mondialisation can roll off the average Francophone's tongue as vernacular alternatives to the linguistic imperialism of English terms like software and globalisation, what prevents Hindi from following suit?

Yet, try as it might, the language spoken by some 400 million Indians has not been able to find Hindi substitutes for modern English workplace words. Even if Internet has antarjaal as a nominal Hindi synonym, it is doubtful many people use it; ditto for computer, which goes by the moniker sanganak.

This is in keeping with the glorious tradition set by concocted Hindi words such as doorbhash for telephone, vatanukool for air-conditioners, and bhumigath-paidal-paarpath for undergound crossings; these and other gobbledygook remain confined to officialese. Cellphone, broadband, text message, cyberspace, call centre and other cyber-age words have no easily-recognised Hindi avatar yet.

Sanskritised or otherwise unpronounceable formulations, however, probably lurk in the recesses of some central government department. India should take a leaf from France's book on this. A quintet of easy-to-pronounce 'French sounding' replacements for overused Anglicisms have been arrived at by throwing open the renaming game to school and college students instead of depending on just crusty academics.

From their entries, a jury of eminent French-speakers have homed in on éblabla or tchatche for chat, infolettre for newsletter, le bolidage from le bolide or comet (a colloquial term for a supercar) for tuning and le ramdam for buzz, as even an Arabic word is more acceptable than English!

A few of such official constructs do get accepted by the French, such as voyagiste for tour operator, but the fact that les sacs gonflables did not deflate the use of les airbags shows that if it's not simple, it's not accepted. That is an axiom that Hindi's guardians may like to adopt.








Bharti chairman and managing director Sunil Mittal is confident that the outsourcing model that he pioneered for telecom services will work in the case of newly-acquired Zain as well in Africa. We wish Bharti success in its foreign venture.

Zain's success as a division of Bharti matters not just to Bharti shareholders, however. A branded Indian presence in 15 foreign countries that the Bharti-Zain deal brings about has positive externalities for both business and strategic reach.

This matters in an increasingly globalised world in which India's role, both as an engine of economic growth and as a provider of geopolitical stability, is growing faster than many people realise, in India and outside. The global policymaking community accepts China as a very, very important player.

India is seen as a benign presence, but somewhere on the margins (except in trade talks, where India has acquired a decisive presence). One way in which this perception will change is for more and more Indian companies to become visible in markets around the world, directly touching the lives of consumers, acquiring companies, raising capital, negotiating with regulators, innovating advertising, even forcing changes in the cuisines that hotels offer, as they vie to cater to ever increasing numbers of Indian executive travellers.

The larger this collective Indian global presence, the easier it becomes for individual Indian businesses to go about their own transactions abroad. The positive image of India as a country of successful businesses and reliable business partners would do half the job for an Indian company when it seeks to strike a deal with a foreign counterpart that has little direct knowledge of the Indian company. For this, it is important that high-profile Indian acquisitions abroad turn out successful.

The government of India has a role to play in this process, even if it would be spearheaded by companies. Unhindered access to India's large and growing market is a powerful bargaining chip that goes underutilised. Sometimes, soft power needs a hard push.







The continuing communal clashes in Hyderabad highlight how political machinations and administrative and police inefficiency can quickly lead to this sore erupting again. The Andhra Pradesh government must quickly move to not only quell the rioting but actively bring the planners and perpetrators to book.

Given our sorry history of such disturbances, it would have been logical to expect local and state machinery to be alert in sensitive areas. But there seems to have been total failure in clamping down hard at the first signs of trouble and cutting short certain processions, further inflaming the situation.

It is an Indian adage that communal riots almost always never just happen spontaneously, but are engineered. And it is a moot point why, after a long hiatus, we are again witnessing communal clashes in different states. There is little doubt that, as usual, some planning and organisation went into armed mobs being able to go on the rampage. And that posits the failure of the local administration to detect and prevent trouble, compounded by failure to act swiftly enough, say, by deploying an adequate number of policemen.

There are enough examples to prove that given a strong, unbiased administration, which can rope in local community members, potentially explosive situations can be defused. For, even as communal riots often pivot around rumours or disputes over processions, they invariably translate into organised attacks on the lives and property of communities.

And often it is non-locals who end up targeting the economic interests of the 'other' side. As Gujarat in 2002 showed, riots are also about deliberately destroying local economies. And the people directly affected, across communities, always would be the first to seek to prevent and contain the violence.

There is a wider problem of a brand of politics that sustains on religious strife and competitive identity management. Communal strife will continue to plague India until that politics is challenged and delegitimised. But at a local level, heightened community policing and participation in dispute resolution can prove effective in averting such conflagrations.








The tragedy about data collection in India is that by the time primary data is converted into useable information, it may be too late to aid policy intervention. This is true of data collected by not just government agencies such as the National Sample Survey Organisation but also think tanks such as National Council for Applied Economic Research (NCAER).

One of the criticisms of Human Development in India: Challenges for a Society in Transition — a report put together by NCAER and Institute of Maryland, US — is that it is based on data collected in 2004-05, and it does not capture the impact of the changes of the past few years when the economy grew at more than 8% on an average every year.

That, however, should not mean that the report should be dismissed. It brings out various dimensions of human development to understand social inequalities, based on survey of 41,554 households in 1,503 villages and 971 urban blocks across 33 states and Union territories. Many of its findings are an eye-opener, while some others a reaffirmation of conclusion of other independent studies.

Consider social inequities and income disparity. Conventional belief holds that growth has percolated to the lowest denominator. But this was not so, at least five years ago, when the survey was conducted. The disadvantaged continued to suffer. This was seen in the disparities based on caste, ethnicity and religion. It was found that Dalits and adivasis continued to be at the bottom of most indicators of well being, Muslims and other backward classes (OBCs) in the middle, and forward caste Hindus and other minority religions at the top.

Indicators used to measure development were household incomes and poverty rates, land ownership and agriculture incomes, health and education. In terms of household incomes, adivasis and Dalits were the worst off with annual incomes of Rs 20,000 and Rs 22,800 respectively. OBCs and Muslim households were slightly better off, while forward castes and other minorities (Jains, Sikhs and Christians) had median incomes of Rs 48,000 and Rs 52,000, respectively.

Disparities between social groups can be attributed mostly to historical reasons, as also to difference in access to livelihood. Salaried jobs traditionally pay better than casual labour or farming. But permanent jobs elude the disadvantaged classes for reasons ranging from living in rural areas, lower education and fewer connections for job search.

Affirmative actions such as reservation in colleges have not helped the disadvantaged to join the mainstream due to inequities at the primary school level.

So, it is not surprising that forward castes dominate salaried jobs. The report illustrates this: more than three out of 10 men from forward caste and minority religions (other than Muslims) have salaried jobs against about two out of 10 Muslims, OBCs and Dalit men. The disadvantages classes — Dalits, adivasis and Muslims — have fewer social network ties, and this gets translated into lower access to education and jobs.

Efforts at inclusive growth had not really paid off, seen from the continuing regional and gender inequalities. Women earned less than men for the same job, and the inequality was more accentuated in rural areas. For instance, a woman in rural areas earned 54 paise for every rupee earned by a man and in urban areas, a woman earned 68 paise.

Many indicators would have improved by now, particularly as GDP and per-capita income have almost doubled since the survey. But disparity is unlikely to have narrowed much. Policymakers could draw inference from the findings to improve targeting of programmes aimed at inclusive growth.








HSBC IS aiming to grow its India business along with its offshore interests, says John Flint, chief executive, HSBC Global Asset Management which manages about $427 billion worldwide, which includes $90 billion for emerging markets. Terming India a growth market, his plans for the country include developing new investment products. Excerpts from the interview with ET and ET NOW:

Time and again, there has been speculation that HSBC wants to exit its India asset management business.

We are not looking to exit India. HSBC has a good distribution platform, branch network and we have an emerging market product offering for the international market. We have a terrific India product which we run from Singapore and which has significant traction. In due course, as regulations are relaxed, we want to bring other offshore products to the domestic investor base in India.

We have closed in on a couple of ideas but it would be premature to talk about it till such time we get regulatory approval. We are looking to sell India into Japan and Brazil. That's one nexus I am very excited about. We are looking to connect growth markets with each other.

How do you see Sebi's recent fiat for AMC affecting the way you do business in India?

All developments have speed bumps on them. Regulatory changes do not change the long-term opportunities in the market. They definitely do not change our outlook. Front-end loads are being challenged all across the world. Why should there be commission paid to access a market? As value providers we are supposed to be providing retail investors market access. I don't think it's reasonable to have entry loads.

Asian markets have rallied in the past couple of months. Do you expect the momentum to sustain?

The markets have been pre-occupied with sovereign risk in the western world, especially in the Eurozone and revaluation of sovereign debt in the UK and the US. This situation is the consequence of the government response to the crisis where risk was transferred from the financial sector to the public sector. This also means the growth expectation and the return expectation of the western market are more muted now than they have been in the past.

So the investors in the West are trying to balance out their portfolio and look to generate higher return to meet their liability profile, so increasingly they are looking towards growth markets like Asia. I think that shift in the market sentiment and dynamics are in place for a while. So, yes my sense is the momentum should remain intact.

How do you see inflows into emerging markets?

My expectation is that the flows should remain strong. But towards the end of the year we may see an acceleration of the withdrawal of some of the accommodative policy in some of the developed markets, whether that has a short-term impact on the flows remains to be seen. My sense is that it should not have a sustainable impact. I think the world is increasingly aware of the self-sustaining growth dynamics of some of the growth markets of which India is an important one.

There are concerns that emerging markets, including India are overvalued, and that a correction could be around the corner.

Globally, I am not anticipating a correction in the near term. The issue with the public sector in the developed world will play out over a long period of time. Public sector spending will have to be curtailed, which will impact growth and consumer spending and this will be a drag on return expectation of all markets.

We are at a point where the pool of investible assets in the West is recognising its constraints and that return expectation should be moderated. There is a requirement to generate returns to meet this liability. This will encourage a shift away from asset allocation in the developed world to the emerging world and that will potentially support valuations in growth markets.

Why are endowment funds and pension funds not investing into growth markets like India?

The governance process around pension funds in the developed world is very heavy and process-driven. They work with the perspective that if we have come to a decision and it doesn't work out they have to be able to say that they have done their due diligence and it did not work out. But we are starting to see some shift into growth markets, partly driven by the reality of what we have been through and the reality of the economic shift.








In two years, Citi India lost two CEOs. It grappled with mounting customer defaults on personal loans and credit cards, nervous depositors and a bad press. But despite the turmoil and near shutdown of the consumer finance arm, there was no exodus of junior and mid managers, and the US bank managed to keep its house in order — something even Citi's rivals admit. While the worst may be behind Citi India, it won't be an easy job for Pramit Jhaveri — the star deal maker who took charge as Citi Country Officer (CCO) on Monday. Jhaveri is the quintessential Citi banker, who is quick to counter criticism of the bank. "We have infused capital, hired people, and been at the forefront of financing activity...How can you say Citi is no longer what it was," shot back the Citi veteran in an interface with ET. In the course of the conversation, Jhaveri's boss and Citi Asia-Pacific CEO Shirish Apte also shared his views on a few issues. Excerpts:

It's difficult to think of Pramit Jhaveri doing bread and butter banking. Everyone thinks of you as a dealmaker. How excited are you by the new responsibility?

Parmit Jhaveri: Sure, I have spent most of my time over the past few years doing investment banking. But I started my career as a management associate 23 years ago and for the first 15 years of my career, investment banking was not part of my beat. At the end of the day, it is fortunate that we have a balance between what one defines as bread and butter business and investment banking. Very few institutions have both. This is a great source of strength for our global banking platform — one buffers the other in times of volatility, it's a good mix between episodic and annuity business. Our banking businesses in India, whether cash management or treasury or credit cards are world class businesses.

The exit of Sanjay and Mark did not send the right signal. Perhaps, in a way it reflects that Citi's commitment to India is not very high...

Parmit Jhaveri: On March 5, we infused fresh capital of $250 million into the country. For several years now there has been no repatriation of profits. Our investment in India today stands at over $3.8 billion. No foreign financial institution in the country can claim that. We were very fortunate to have been at the forefront of several major financings.

We have tried very hard to support all clients and it was business as usual in India at a time when the parent was going through some amount of change. When you look at the big picture, I would disagree.... we have shown increased commitment to this country, which is one of the most important things for Citi globally.

Shirish Apte: Sanjay Nayar (former CEO) had been here for a very long time. He moved out because he got a great opportunity with KKR. It was naturally a disappointment but he is now a client. Mark Robinson (outgoing country head who came in after Sanjay) is leaving us for personal reasons. He hails from New Zealand and sees this new assignment with ANZ as a possible prospect to eventually move back to his home country at some point in time, which we respect. He too will be working for a client of ours.

The decision was made quickly because Pramit was always a CEO in waiting. The team that we have here is already very strong with over 100 years of combined experience. We have a strong person in markets under Srikanth, Ravi Kapoor leads our Capital Markets business, Tashwinder Singh runs our private bank. We have Anuratna Chadha, who works on strategic projects initiatives and GTS is managed by Sudeep Yadav. Rajashekaran runs our consumer business. There are many others that make Citi India a very unique franchise.

After the 2008 crisis, Citi in India has shrunk...

Parmit Jhaveri: Our last publicly declared results for FY09 will show that there has been no shrinkage. In consumer finance, the Indian markets experienced some difficulties from an NPA perspective that was faced by all market players. This we believe is pretty much behind us now.

However, it is very important that Citi in India, or anywhere else, is looked at from a holistic and cumulative perspective across all our business corporate and consumer class and you will see that very few institutions have the benefit of the entire spectrum of financial services like we have. I would also add that our corporate and investment banking businesses have done extremely well in India both during and after the global financial crisis.

So, you think Citi still has the power to attract the best talent?

Parmit Jhaveri: Yes and we are. We have made some high quality senior hires in India across platforms in the past 2-3 years. We have multiple sources of talent — one is a pool of successful Indians working in other parts of the world in Citi and are eager to come back. The senior hires we make in India are the second source of talent. At the end of the day, we are in an industry where there is some amount of churn, but we have not had a problem in attracting good talent. We hired about 50 management associates from business schools this year and additionally nine senior professionals in our equities team in the past six months.

What are the lessons you have learnt in the consumer lending business? Will you be growing the business again?
Shirish Apte: Notwithstanding the experience people have had in consumer lending, it is going to remain fundamental to the financial services industry. Clearly people have learned lessons and we are going to continue to play a role in consumer lending. We have a large customer base and growth is going to come from the domestic side.

However, we believe there are a couple of things which we collectively as an industry have to do and one of them is to infuse a strong credit bureau culture. We also need to have the ability to enforce that financial institutions use the credit bureau and share information. We can't ill afford another 'consumer' issue because it hurts the economy.

We need consumer spending and consumer lending but we also need discipline. The ability of financial institutions to access a credible bureau and get quality information is going to be important. Regulators, as always, play an active role in creating and supervising this discipline.

During the crisis Citibank, there was a flight of deposits. How badly did it affect you?

Shirish Apte: Even during the most difficult days for the industry, the loyalty and deposit strength that we had was extraordinary. There may have been a few weeks when we saw a decline in 2008 but in 2009 and 2010 we have seen very strong deposit growth... we actually grew deposits in 2009 by over 10% in our retail business to over $90 billion and our institutional deposits topped $100 billion in Asia for the first time in 2009.

Citi India suffered because of the bad press the parent bank got. There is also a feeling that the brand has lost some of its lustre.

Parmit Jhaveri: We feel quite strongly that our brand has not lost its lustre. And the clients who give us the privilege of doing business with them are usually the best testimony. If you take a look at the marquis corporate names that we were fortunate enough to do business with and be at the forefront or large and complex financings within 2008 and 2009, you will see that quite clearly. This at a time when the financial services industry was extremely challenged globally and when corporate India had its share of challenges too. Finally, take a look at some of our external recognition and awards during this period.

Post Lehman, many foreign banks are no longer as vibrant as they were. Has it made Citi less aggressive in chasing big deals and financing cross-border acquisitions? As far as overseas deals go, banks like StanChart are beginning to take over the space that once belonged to Citi.

Parmit Jhaveri: Our performance over the last five years speaks for itself. We have been involved with some of the biggest cross-border acquisitions that Indian companies have done during this period, including financing several of these deals. Corus, JLR, Hindalco, United Spirits, Ballarpur, Vedanta, Reliance....This is a client financing list that we are extremely proud of and often receive compliments even from the competition.

Honestly, there is no institution that has done more than us during this period. When you take into consideration the financing, including loans, take outs, bonds, restructuring and the equities that comes along. Last year, we did 26 equity and equity-linked deals, the highest by any bank. You have to take a slightly holistic view and you would realise our commitment and passion to grow.

So, what are the opportunities now?

Parmit Jhaveri: There are tremendous domestic growth opportunities led by domestic consumption, capital formation, institutional flows and FDI flows. We have a well-balanced portfolio — investment banking and corporate finance on one side and retail banking on the other.

We have played a leading role in helping Indian domestic champions become global champions and are committed to playing a leading role in the next wave of such transformational transactions. We have India's version of Fortune 500 companies, middle market, corporate clients; then you go to Citigold, private banking and high net worth clients and all the way into cards and mortgages, each one of these in our eyes is a growing segment.

Competition will also come from some of the new private banks like HDFC Bank and Axis.

Parmit Jhaveri: You have some extraordinarily good private institutions which are relatively new and some which have been around for 10-15 years. But at the end of the day, you have to look at it in the context of the market GDP, which is growing at over 7.5% per annum. When you overlay that with the financial services industry, which is growing at 15-20% a year, you figure that there is sufficient room for several players to co-exist.

We will compete with different institutions in different parts of financial services value chain. Some of the companies in the private sector will be compete with us across certain products, but some will also be our clients.

What do you plan to do with your stake in HDFC?

Shiarish Apte: We have repeatedly said we do not want to sell our stake in HDFC. This is a strategic investment for Citi. HDFC is an extremely well-managed company and its results speak for themselves. We work with it in a number of areas and this is very important to us.








With a worldwide browser market share of around 7% and an India market share of about 13%, Google's Chrome has already ignited the browser war with Mozilla's Firefox and Microsoft's Internet Explorer within two years of its launch. In many ways, Chrome allows Google to open a new battlefront with Microsoft when it comes to the operating system market.

Ian Fette, product manager of Chrome browser at Google , talks to Harsimran Julka about Google's strategy for Chrome and innovations ahead . Excerpts:


What is Google's strategy for Chrome? Does the browser generate any revenues?

Google developed Chrome because it saw that users were spending most of their time on a browser. Chrome itself is not monetised right now. We believe that enabling a faster and more secure access to internet will help expand the global internet user base, which will eventually help Google. Of course, one can attach monetisable applications to a browser, but that's not the business philosophy that Google wants to follow.

Slow connectivity is the basic issue with most popular browsers. How is Google trying to address it?

We have built a brand new JavaScript engine called V8. JavaScript engines do the heavy processing in the back-end. Chrome executes the compiler for a particular tab only once. Else, it stores the last record, so that compiling is not done always. This makes the browser very fast. We've also designed each tab as a standalone browser. So, if one has lots of tabs open at once, and one of them crashes, the whole browser will not go down.

Often browser itself becomes compromised. How is Google making the Chrome secure?

Unlike other browsers, Chrome will not connect to the internet automatically unless asked by the user. Compromised browsers can start sending information to hackers whenever a user logs in. To prevent this, Chrome is made not to auto connect to a PC's registry or its hard disk drive. Google has also compiled a long list of websites, which we think are dangerous. We have incorporated that blacklist in Chrome.


Which new applications on Chrome should users expect this year?

This summer, we will launch 3D apps via Chrome. Thus users will not have to download a 3D platform to play or view 3D games. Just visiting a website via Chrome will do the job. Air Support is another feature we have already launched. It helps one access Gmail and social networks while on a flight. Thus one can tweet, search mail and even compose and save drafts while offline. Now, one can directly drag an image in Chrome to open it.

We are also going to introduce bi-directional chat features. Chrome extensions (tools) can be used to translate whole websites into a particular language... We are working with social networks to see how we can leverage Chrome's new capabilities to help its users.

Do you think operating system (OS) providers should bundle software with their browsers? Will Google also follow the same strategy, now that Chrome OS will be launched this year?

I can't comment on that.








He is one of Silicon Valley's most successful venture capitalists finding mention in the Forbes Midas List of top investors for nine years in succession. In India, Promod Haque has led investments in over half-a-dozen India-based start-ups, including software product company Persistent Systems , travel portal Yatra, classifieds company Sulekha and Appnomic Systems . Earlier on Wednesday, Norwest Venture Partners (NVP), the 49-year-old investment firm, in which Mr Haque is a managing partner , made the lead investment in a $6-million round of funding in internet classifieds company Quikr. NVP has also co-invested in a $425-million investment round in Asian Genco, a Singapore- based infrastructure firm that builds power plants and has engineering services businesses in India. More such investments are on the anvil, said Mr Haque, who lists clean technology, India's booming micro-finance sector and capital intensive businesses, such as roads and ports, as the focus area for the firm's private equity portfolio in India. In an exclusive conversation with Archana Rai, he explained why growing inflation in the country will spur new development as companies increasingly use technology to increase productivity and offset rising costs.

What are the main trends in investing in 2010, as firms try to recover momentum lost due to the global slowdown in the past year?

We invested about $150 million in India through 2009 across six or seven deals. And, in December 2009, Norwest Venture raised its largest-ever fund of $1.2 billion to expand our portfolio across three broad areas. We are expanding across sectors and we have added on medical devices. In India, NVP will invest in areas such as infrastructure, telecom, banking and financial services. We are also investing across geographies — while a lot of investments will continue in the US, we will also invest in India, China and Israel. We are also expanding investments across stages, from early stage venture capital to growth stage and low-end private equity investment deals as well.

What are the reasons for this three-fold expansion?

It is about diversifying the portfolio. Also, from a return-on-investment perspective, it is good for the firm to have a portfolio with early stage, as well as PE investments. The risk-return equation is high for early stage and the risk is somewhat less in late stage investments, although it does exist. And, we will pick industry sectors based on specific markets. For instance, while infrastructure is a focus in India, in the US, we are not investing in this space.

What is NVP's investment plan for India in 2010?

We will invest across sectors. In March, we closed a deal where we co-invested in power infrastructure company Asian Genco. We will look at more such deals in capital-intensive areas such as ports, roads and power. BFSI and telecom are also areas we will look at. We will continue to invest in technology start-ups.

So, will you invest in India's micro-finance sector? Or in companies that address markets at the bottom of the pyramid?

Yes, we will look at the micro-finance sector as part of the BFSI focus. Innovations for the bottom of the pyramid are really about large volumes. Typically, these are not venture capital plays. Clean technology is another major focus area. Segments like energy grid management, energy efficiency solutions, smart grids and managing data centres are all areas that we will look at in India.

How will you manage a dual investing portfolio looking at both early stage and growth investing that require different focus ?

Early stage companies require investor attention, but growth companies do not require as much work, it is more capital. So, that works well. And, from an investor perspective, growth stage companies offer the chance of relatively quick exits compared with early stage firms, where we have to remain invested for longer, sometimes six- seven years.


Actually, what we worry about is domain skills. For example, investing in technology and investing in pharma are two different things. The challenge as an investor is about having the right domain skills across different industry sectors.

As a long-term technology inve-stor, how do you view India's technology product space?

Tech entrepreneurs in India have major challenges. India's IT expenditure is still at $20 billion, compared with IT spend of $500 billion in the US. So, when a start-up is building products here, the users are still 12,000 miles away. We are talking to a Delhi-based start-up that is in the transportation space and its customers are in the US. So, reaching them is possible only through networks that a start-up has to acquire.

But, this will change as more large companies in India adopt technology to increase productivity. They have to do this to offset rising costs fuelled by high inflation. They really have no choice. For instance, we had an investment in a US-based start-up that had a video conferencing product, some of its largest customers were Indian companies, such as Reliance. Such adoption of technology will create a market for tech start-ups and it will drive innovation.

When will India become an early adaptor for new technology? What is the time frame you foresee?

This a trend that happened 50 years ago in the US where companies used technology to increase productivity. I see India being an early adaptor of new technology in the next five to ten years.

From an entrepreneur perspective, what is the benefit in raising capital from global funds such as NVP?

In areas such as web products, retail and internet products, India is where the US was a decade ago. So, in investments such as Yatra, an online portal, NVP has a lot of learning to offer. Also, in technology where start-ups are looking at global markets, we bring a huge amount of contacts and networks like the Global Entrepreneurship Programme at IBM. We now invest in cross-border companies where the front office is located in the US and the development is done in India.

So, will there be more private equity funds moving to technology start-ups in India as the sector matures?

NVP has invested in late stage technology start-ups, but typically software technology is not a capital-intensive sector. And, India does not have huge capabilities in hardware, so I see technology investing in India as largely a venture capital play.




                                                                                                               DECCAN CHRONICAL



A sessions court in Haryana's Karnal district struck a blow for individual liberties on Tuesday when it sentenced to death five members of a girl's family who had murdered her and her husband because the young couple had broken time-honoured custom and married within their "gotra", the conglomerate of extended consanguinity within a Hindu caste. The murders had been committed in 2007 following a decision of the "khap" panchayat, an institution of Jats spread across several north Indian states which rests on linkages determined by "gotra". As in this case, the harsh rules and punishments for transgressions prescribed by "khap" panchayats militate against the laws of the land. "Khap" rules that frequently operate around the concept of family or gotra "honour" fail to appreciate that a murder is a murder even if sanctioned by family or caste elders, and that a "khap" council is not a duly constituted court of law in this country. While there have reportedly been innumerable cases of "khap" councils sanctioning murder and sometimes even rape as punishment, honour killings (unrelated to "khap" affairs) that supposedly uphold caste or family prestige also appear to be fairly widespread in many parts of the country. They have been coming to light on a regular basis for the past decade or so on account of the growing reach of media coverage. It is also noteworthy that many more young people these days choose to dare the barbaric rules endorsed by medieval tradition and risk actions that would invite punishments which are distinctly out of step with the times we live in. This certainly appears to a sign of assertion of the autonomy of the individual in a society moving away from group-ordained prescriptions, although that movement can be painfully slow. In Haryana, western Uttar Pradesh and parts of Rajasthan, the "khaps" also exert a fair amount of political influence on account of their considerable following. This is part of the reason why the Taliban-like codes of conduct sought to be enforced by "khaps" have generally gone without challenge from established modern institutions such as political parties and the police, which is a part of the justice system. Given the existing state of affairs, district and sessions judge Vani Gopal Sharma deserves commendation for her bold order in the Karnal case. If her verdict stands in the high court — should it be challenged — it would have set off a social revolution. It could have a deterrent effect in future not only on "khap" councils but also on families that dare to contemplate murder or other heinous crimes in order to protect their so-called honour. As is generally the case, in this instance too the first moves toward social reform start with courageous individuals who rise above their circumstances. The mother of the girl who was killed along with her husband stood up in her village to "khap" humiliations and boycott but persisted with the legal process to gain justice for her deceased daughter and son-in-law. While the Karnal ruling is to be greatly lauded as a forerunner to change, it cannot be emphasised enough that social and political pressures also need to be kept up in favour of the desired change. Effecting institutional transformation cannot be the work of governments. The Centre is said to be giving thought to toughening the law to deal with "khaps" and other similar bodies. This is to be welcomed.






Today, April 1, 2010, the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act, 2010 — a historic step — will become a reality. Each one of us must welcome this constitutional mandate that guarantees education to children of our country as a fundamental right. The act makes it a compulsion on the state to guarantee right to education and "ensure compulsory admission, attendance, and completion of elementary education by every child of six to 14 years". By implication, the state is violating the law if any child is out of school, or is a school dropout. The act promises free education, which means that no financial constraints can "prevent" a child from completing elementary education. In other words, if a child lives in a remote area, providing free transportation (or residential facility or some other facility) will be part of the child's entitlement to education. These include special aids for children with disabilities. The act paves the way for bringing equity and social justice and enhancing the democratic texture of India's society and polity.

Defining standards and norms

It is necessary to highlight some of the rights of children as spelt out under the act. The act provides for school teachers at 1:30 teacher-pupil ratio at the primary school level and 1:35 at the upper primary school level within six months and insists on having only trained school teachers in five years' time. Indeed, there is a detailed schedule of standards and norms for schools in the act — one room for every teacher, subject-wise teachers, toilets and drinking water, a library, and a playground among other. These entitlements have to be met within three years.

Sensitivity to first-generation learner

The act is important because it recognises the difficulties faced by poor children and first-generation learners and makes it easy for them to continue in school without disruption. The provisions in the act ensuring that no child is pushed out of school for want of birth certificate, transfer certificate or other admission procedures are to be internalised by the entire system and its functionaries. This means that children — street children, child labour, whether rural, urban or domestic, or others — can no more be deprived of education, whatever the situation: migration, being in areas of civil unrest, being displaced due to natural calamities, or being caught in the illegal nexuses of drugs and other illicit activities. This implies that children must be in schools and that schools are safe zones for children where they enjoy childhood. To meet the challenge of the huge backlog of out of school children and school dropouts, the act mandates that the schools prepare children to an age-appropriate class through special trainings. This means that a 10-year-old child is not just admitted to school but is also guaranteed that s/he would catch up with his/her peers.

Local communities have been given a sense of ownership of the mission through the mandated school management committees.

Quality education

When every child enjoys the right to education, the challenge is in providing quality education that must have equal standards, regardless of diversities in location, culture, or levels of development a particular society is embedded in. Many debates, such as what kind of education, how much of standardised curriculum, the medium of instruction, and the need for local-specific knowledge to comfort the children and enhance their horizons become real issues of discussion. The act provides for quality of education and ensures that children are not detained in the same class. Evaluation of children is to be on "comprehensive" performance of a child, reflecting all facets and talents of the child and not be based on just a few subject areas. This continuous evaluation must include music, theatre, leadership skills, social skills etc, as well.

What is to be done?

The challenge is really in believing that it is possible to achieve this goal, especially since it resonates with the yearnings and aspirations of millions of poor parents in our country who want to educate their children. When utmost faith in the community is reposed by the state, local actions emerge which often go beyond the expectations of the government. In fact, it has been seen time and again how a community can take ownership of the idea, spread its wings and offer all that it has to make education happen, including breaking down many exclusionary barriers, as if it was waiting for this call from its government leaders.

Since several of these ideas challenge normative ways of thinking and doing things, they do question the existing social and cultural hierarchies and power structures. It seems that at this point taking sides becomes inevitable. Active support from one and all to local consensus building in favour of the democratisation of schools is necessary at this juncture. All of us, rich and poor, must join together in taking such movements forward and help in institutionalising the ground swell of local action.

We must question in an institutionalised fashion all violations of children's rights and create energy for the state to respond to avoid ad hoc schemes and commit to long-term inter-generational policies. We must think beyond the family and our immediate circle and stand by the right of all children to education.
It must be an ethical leap of faith and an arousing of national conscience where we take pride in what we have attained for our children in full awareness that every right attained sets new norms, new cultures and traditions, new experiences, and increases our ability to empathise across social classes — and in actualising the fact that "we are all equal" — a principle that is coterminous with democracy.

* Shantha Sinha an anti-child labour activist of international reputation and currently, heads the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights






The New York times 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 Mr 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 US 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 West Asian diplomacy.

Rule No. 1: When you don't call things by their real name, you always get in trouble. Mr 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 November 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 defence, governance or development. He and much of his circle do not want the US 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 Mr Karzai, he will sell us that carpet over and over. How many US officials have flown to Kabul — the latest being US President Barack Obama himself — to lecture Mr 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 West Asia, 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 Mr Karzai believes that the way to punish America for snubbing him is by inviting Iran's President to Kabul — who delivered a virulently anti-US speech from inside the Presidential Palace — you have to pay close attention to that. It means Mr Karzai must think that anti-Americanism plays well on the streets of Afghanistan and that by dabbling in it — 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 Mr 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 US troops 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 decent and self-sustaining — so we can get out. But I fear that Mr Karzai is ready to fight to the last US soldier. And once we clear, hold and build Afghanistan for him, he is going to break our hearts.








The target is achievable. In fact, more than the one trillion dollar the Prime Minister is talking about is possible. A number of fundamental reforms have already been implemented and the government is aware of the need for more reforms and has embarked on steps in this direction. There is already talk of the private sector being permitted to issue infrastructure bonds. This will create the right kind of atmosphere for the private sector to raise money. They are talking of private-public partnership and 50 per cent of the money is expected to be contributed by the private sector.

Currently money is raised only through equity and banks. There is no long term debt market. Rules and regulations need to be changed to create the right atmosphere for such a market. The gamut of instruments required to raise debt is not there. We still believe in the old socialist order that only banks can lend, and there is a cap on their lending. We need a debt market with a default support system and a regulator. This calls for a fresh set of reforms to create the atmosphere for the private sector to raise both equity and debt. The third is the procurement process. It has to be more transparent at the state level. At the Central level things are far better, but at the state level the situation is appalling. You need more transparency for speedy implementation of projects to raise money because banks also ask questions. 

In our own way we — the industry — raised $500 billion in the 11th plan and we have spent $150 billion. This is five times more than we have ever spent. This is why I say the figure the Prime Minister has mentioned is well below what is possible if the above reforms are undertaken.

If we did not have reforms in the financial sector and the stock markets in the 90s, we would never have been able to achieve this .

We also need a standard bidding procedure. The documents must be accepted by all, just like the World Bank documents are. And lastly, the most important thing that any investor needs is a low steady interest rate regime. We have a high domestic savings rate which could help create a low and steady interest regime. The RBI must try and let the currency find its own level. This will help control inflation and attract huge investments and more than one trillion dollars will flow in.

(As told to Olga Tellis)

— Ajit Gulabchand, chairman and managing director, Hindustan Construction Company

India doesn't have 'bankable' projects

By Nitin Bhasin

Achieving the ambitious $1 trillion horizon for investment in infrastructure the Prime Minister recently spoke about will be a difficult task for the Government of India (GoI) as it increases its dependence on the private sector (50 per cent share in 1st plan compared to 30 per cent in the 11th plan). We believe GoI needs to fill critical gaps in planning, policies and procedures before such magical numbers can be hit. Political and bureaucratic challenges relating to "capacity" and "knowledge" in the project planning cells, and coordination between the Centre and the states, are key issues impinging upon the infrastructure sector.
In our recent interactions, capital providers have emphasised that India is behind its infrastructure development targets not for the lack of capital but for the lack of a meaningful supply of bankable projects — projects with proper identification and allocation of risks amongst various stakeholders. Limited supply and a lack of a robust pipeline of such bankable projects leads to aggressive bidding amongst the large number of developers. As a result, returns for capital providers go down.

Further, the lack of transparency in the bidding and awarding processes of public-private partnership projects, and oft-repeated tales of delays in regulatory and land clearances, highlight the number of challenges the GoI needs to address immediately in order to get closer to the $1 trillion target.

There are further challenges such as the availability of the right kind of long-term debt, and regressive taxation policies. India not only lacks a deep and robust long-term corporate bond market but also lacks pure project finance (of a "non-recourse" nature). Loans with regular resets, and for smaller durations than the concession period, only increase commercial risks for private participants. Regressive taxation policies, like the dividend distribution tax on infrastructure, Special Purpose Vehicles and Minimum Alternative Tax (which has increased twice in the last three years) during the tax holiday period also impact the private sector.
Unless these challenges are addressed, $1 trillion for infrastructure may remain a dream, just like the poor progress in sectors such as power and roads in the current five-year plan. Investment in roads remains behind target due to lack of private participation which was expected to account for 34 per cent of the total investment of Rs 280,000 crores ($61 billion). It is now expected to account only for 16 per cent in the current five-year plan.

 Nitin Bhasin, Infrastructure Analyst, Execution Noble







Christmas is arguably the most celebrative feast in the Christian calendar. Who can beat dear 'ole Santa Claus journeying in his sleigh — perhaps drawn by Rudolf the red-nose reindeer — giving gifts with his cheery "Ho, Ho, Ho!" greeting? Christmas symbols of stars and bells evoke joie de vivre in most people. By contrast, it's tough to understand Christ's Cross. Yet, for Christians, the Cross is not only the symbol of Jesus' death, but, of life. The twin feasts of Good Friday and Easter (Sunday) cannot be understood in isolation — they are two sides of the same coin.

To grasp the mystery of the Cross, place it in the setting of Jesus' time. The Biblical book of Deuteronomy says: "God's curse rests on him who hangs on a tree" (21:23). The penalty of crucifixion was reserved for the worst of crimes, like murder and treason. Yet, Jesus' earthly life ended in crucifixion not because he loved death and loathed life, but precisely because sacrificial death is the only doorway to everlasting life. In John's Gospel, Jesus proclaims: "I came that you may have life, and have it abundantly" (10:10).

Look at life. Suppose caterpillars refuse to let go of life, will we have butterflies? If grains of wheat choose to exist eternally, who will reap golden harvests? What will happen to newborn babies if their mothers decide to enjoy life selfishly? And if Indian soldiers opt to play safe, would we have safe national borders? Caterpillars, grains of wheat, caring mothers and daring soldiers choose life, not death. But, in the process of producing and preserving life, they defy death. This is the sum and substance of true sacrifice, epitomised by Christ's Cross.
All religions somehow espouse sacrifice. Indian languages stemming from Sanskrit have two words for sacrifice: yagña and tyaga. While yagña refers to cultic or ritual sacrifices, tyaga pertains to sacrifices at the existential level, which complement the cultic and complete them. Many believers today meticulously observe the rubrics of rites and rituals (yagña). But what about the deeper demands of sacrifice (tyaga)? The power of sacrifice can only be unleashed when one seeks to fulfil the demands of both, yagña and tyaga.
In the Purusa-Sukta narrative of the Rig Veda (10.90), the Creator offers himself as libation (ahuti) — a primordial sacrifice that provides the rationale for all other sacrifices by humans. Likewise, the Ho tribals of Chotanagpur believe that the Divine Being, Singbonga, appeared as a boy, Toro Kora, who sacrificed himself to save humankind from the greed of the Asurs. The story of the near-sacrifice of a son Isaac (Ishmael) by his father Abraham (Ibrahim) is popular in Judaism, Christianity and Islam.

Good Friday is "good" not because death is good; it is not! But because the selfless tyaga of loving and caring people will not go unrewarded. Because of his selfless sacrifice, Jesus is raised to life; death is defeated, truth triumphs, the victim is vindicated. Easter celebrates life. Easter promises life to those who dare walk the perilous paths of truth, justice and peace.

Way back in the 4th century BC, philosopher Plato wrote in his Republic: "The just man will be scourged, tortured, and imprisoned, and after enduring every humiliation he will be crucified". Plato's prediction came true for Jesus. Today, many who strive for truth, justice and peace draw hope from the Cross of Christ. Even if one does not believe in heaven, surely, the "crossroad" of sacrificial love must open out to highways of hope.

— Francis Gonsalves is the principal of the Vidyajyoti College of Theology, Delhi. He is involved in interfaith dialogue and peoples' initiatives for fostering justice, harmony and peace. He can be
contacted at [1]







Ten years ago Manipuri activist Irom Sharmila began a "fast-unto-death", protesting against the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA).

Among other things, this controversial legislation empowers Army personnel, down to non-commissioned officers, to use force after giving due warning, "even to the causing of death", if they are convinced that it is necessary to do so for the "maintenance of public order". Besides, it allows them to enter premises, search and arrest without a warrant. The act has been under the microscope for some years now. But recent developments suggest that Irom Sharmila's fast is unlikely to end any time soon.

The AFSPA attracted public attention following the abduction and killing of Sharmila's fellow Manipuri, Thangjam Manorama, in 2004. Faced with concerted protests, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh announced that he would consider replacing the AFSPA with a more humane legislation. Soon after, the government appointed a committee headed by Justice B.P. Jeevan Reddy.

The committee was mandated to advise on whether the act should be amended or replaced. The committee submitted its report in June 2005. It recommended repealing the AFSPA. The Administrative Reforms Commission, too, recommended scrapping the act.

The government, however, took a long time to make up its mind. This was mainly because of institutional resistance from the Army. Eventually, the government decided to take the easy way out by amending the AFSPA rather than scrapping it. Last October, the home minister announced that the amendments had been finalised and were being submitted to the Cabinet for approval.

But it now appears that Army remains dissatisfied with the proposed amendments. The Army Chief designate, Lt. Gen. V.K. Singh, stated recently that the AFSPA was not a "draconian" legislation: it was being "demonised". A senior Army official was quoted as saying that the proposed changes mean "asking us to fight with our hands tied". The government, for its part, feels that the changes cannot be moved in the face of opposition from the Army.

To be sure, the Army has genuine concerns about legal protection against prosecution for its personnel operating in areas beset with insurgencies. In fact, the Jeevan Reddy Commission took on board the Army's view, but observed that Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act provided adequate safeguards against prosecution for Army personnel acting in good faith. If anything, this act needed to be modified, by inserting safeguards to prevent abuse of human rights. In this situation, the stances adopted both by the government and the Army are deeply problematic.

The government is concerned to avoid meddling in issues that are related to operational matters. This has been a longstanding trend in Indian civil-military relations. But the AFSPA is not simply an operational issue. Given the widespread revulsion against its provisions in all regions falling under the act, the question of repealing it has become a political one. Hence, the Army's view cannot be the deciding factor. In any case, there is no reason why the political leadership should feel unduly constrained by the Army's stance. The chain of accountability is clear: the military is responsible to the political leadership, who in turn are answerable to the people. The Army must also realise that the line between advising against a course of action and resisting civilian efforts to pursue it is rather a thin one.

The Army's stance is also problematic in its own terms. The underlying issue is a conceptual and doctrinal confusion over dealing with insurgencies. At one level, the Army considerably emphasises the importance of winning "hearts and minds" of the local population. For instance, under Operation Sadbhavana in Jammu and Kashmir, the Army has spent crores of rupees on a variety of projects.

At another level, though, it tends to view this as a supporting activity to defeat the insurgents rather than the main aim itself. The Army has been unable to grasp that in an insurgency the overall objective is capturing the will of the populace. Hence, all activities, including military operations, must be undertaken in such a way that they support this objective.

The Army's counter-insurgency doctrine rightly identifies the military's role as "creating conditions that are conducive to the attainment of political objectives". At one point, it goes as far as to state that population is the "strategic centre of gravity".

Yet a clear distinction is made between military operations aimed at "neutralising all hostile elements in the conflict zone" and the efforts towards "transforming the will and attitudes of the people". Indeed, the doctrine explicitly states that former is the more important task: "Efforts employed on civic action projects should not be at the expense of primary task of neutralising terrorists and their supporters".

This disjunction between military operations and "hearts and minds" efforts is incorrect and indeed counter-productive. This underlying dichotomy explains why the Army is institutionally unable to recognise the benefits that will accrue from getting rid of the AFSPA.

Furthermore, the Army should pay greater attention to legal and moral issues in handling insurgencies. In the battle for the people's will a sense of right and wrong is critical. Counter-insurgency efforts will be credible only if the Army's actions are consonant with the norms and values cherished by the people.

But, as yet, legal and ethical questions do not significantly feature in the training of its officers, let alone that of soldiers. To be sure, the Army Headquarters has issued a list of "dos and don'ts" in this regard. But these do scant justice to the legal and moral complexities confronting troops on the ground.

Scrapping the AFSPA may, in the short-term, pose some operational constraints for the Army. But these should be weighed against the advantages of avoiding divisive domestic debates and being able to tap into wider bases of support. The case for removing the AFSPA stems from strategic as well as legal and moral considerations. For ultimately the challenge of counter-insurgency is in the cognitive domain.

* Srinath Raghavan is a Senior Fellow at the Centre for Policy Research, New Delhi








THE approach is a little presumptuous and the exercise far from inclusive. The 2011 census, scheduled to begin this week, has been orchestrated as "the largest census attempted in the history of mankind" even before the first headcount has been made. Members of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes are to be enumerated; but the fundamental flaw that hobbles the reservation regime ~ the fixed element of the public policy template ~ may well persist. Other castes, let alone OBCs, will not be enumerated and no reason has been advanced save the purely idealistic. The authorities appear to be driven by the decidedly Utopian presumption of the Union home secretary that the government plans to ensure a "casteless society in the future". That comforting thought is illusory at best and far removed from reality at worst. Misgivings of the government that there will be no proof of a person's claim to a particular caste are not wholly unfounded. If indeed the census figures throw up a distorted version of the caste structure, it begs the question as to how quotas were calibrated over the decades. The very formula is now open to question, and a "distorted version" is almost inevitable. Implicit is the acknowledgment that OBC figures for jobs and education are based on the 1931 census, the last time that castes were enumerated. Clearly, the reservation policy per se is not based on a foolproof foundation. Altogether, it confirms the increasing perception that quotas are merely an expression of ad hocism embedded in political expediency. The essential prerequisite of a comprehensive database is consciously being given the short shrift. The primary objective of a census operation is to update the database. And a halfbaked endeavour will scarcely help the government to realise its utopian fancy of a society without castes. In societal terms, contemporary India is in certain vital respects a swingback to the social structuralism of the 19th century. 
For the first time, the Union home ministry's blueprint has made a critical distinction between a "citizen" and a "usual resident" ~ one who has stayed in a place for at least six months. Both categories are to be covered by this census. One can almost visualise the tens of thousands of illegal migrants from Bangladesh gloating over the move. This will reinforce the identity card that the ministry had offered to both the genuine and the fake in the border states. In no other country can an exodus from across the border turn out to be so beneficial in the end. Well and truly has the national government thrown in the towel. The census will be "historic" indeed.  








WHEN Muhammad Ali visited India three decades ago he iterated that he was The Greatest, but added that he would back-off from trading punches with "that guy who fights tigers". The reference to a scene from an Amitabh Bachchan film confirmed the continuing PR skills of the chap who first drew attention as the "Louisville Lip". Now the wheel would appear to have turned full circle ~ Big B has joined the campaign to preserve what was once popularly called Mr Stripes, the now-threatened maharaja of the Indian jungle. The appeal of the superstar could certainly pay dividends, as it has in social welfare drives such as blood donation and honouring the girl-child. In roping in sports personalities and Bollywood stars, in addition to other reputed folk, the TV campaign would certainly have a positive impact. However, recent "developments" in which the Congress party has exhibited a puerile, jealous and vindictive streak ~ not to mention the competitive chamchagiri of its spokesmen serving to stir up memories of the infamous Emergency ~ could throw that campaign off-track. After all what is more important: preserving the tiger or projecting the sentiments of the UPA supremo? There are reports of some "shooting" for the campaign having been completed but, since they are yet to be aired apprehensions are also being expressed that politics could dictate pressing the delete key. Petty thoughts admittedly, but pettiness and domestic politics have ever overlapped. Will our netas and their minions take a cue from Jim Corbett's lauding the tiger as a "big-hearted gentleman"?

While wishing the campaign all success, it would be critical to assess if messages on urban-oriented TV actually trickle down to the jungle where the tiger is battling for survival. Will the poachers, and those who deal in the tiger's skin and body parts who make poaching so profitable be enlightened by the small screen? Will tribal communities be persuaded to abandon the hunting that has sustained them for generations? Will people living in villages in the game parks be persuaded to relocate? All that is a tall order. But maybe, just maybe, TV could convince the money bags that "holidaying" in tiger country disturbs the tranquility of an already troubled existence.









THE Centre has no financial stranglehold on states' spending and until the mandatory downsizing of ministries in 2005, most North-east ministries involved jumbo cabinets. At one point of time in Meghalaya, as many as 38 of 60 legislators were either ministers or deputies. Those left out were made heads of state-run corporations with attractive salaries and perks. That was the best medicine to apply for a politically-unstable state. Interestingly, in Meghalaya ~ where once a chief minister was selected by the toss of a coin and where today there are four that enjoy the same status with no eyebrows raised ~anything is possible. So it causes little surprise if MLAs and ministers take the poor and ignorant for a ride. An article in this newspaper, citing the 2006 Comptroller and Auditor-General's report ~ the Congress-led coalition government under DD Lapang was in power then ~ said that in October that year 15 Meghalaya legislators, including the Speaker and two officials, went to London to watch proceedings in the House of Commons. With the one-day objective achieved, and becoming a little wiser perhaps, they should have returned home promptly, but that was not to be. They spent 10 more days visiting  the Netherlands, France and Italy, and since they were not paying from their pockets, each reportedly pampered himself, to the extent of hiring a taxi costing Rs 45,000 per day!

Back home, the Speaker reportedly set up a gym and had his official residence furnished with furniture and fixtures that included LCD, CCTV, air-conditioners and carpets worth Rs 2.59 crore. And what is shocking was that when he vacated the house not a single item was found. Unfortunately, the CAG reports come years after the change of government, by which time official corruption is either forgotten or kept under wraps. But the same Speaker is today a minister in the DD Lapang-led coalition government. The chief minister dare not touch him because he belongs to the United  Democratic Party, with whose support he limps along!









THE film, Slumdog Millionaire, graphically illustrates the lives of the countless children who live on the streets of India with only one concern: "How will I manage to find enough to eat today so that I'll be alive tomorrow?"
Beggars are ubiquitous. Begging is a way of life for religious mendicants. Giving alms to the needy was part of the socio-religious fabric ~ whether it was the bhikshu ideal in Hinduism, or zakat in Islam, or the Christian ideal of charity. The social support structure took care of vagrancy and needs.  

Under colonial law, a beggar is punishable for his condition. This attitude persisted in independent India. The government today has adopted a couldn't-care-less attitude. The middle class regards them as a nuisance. Begging is a disapproved, if tolerated, form of social behaviour. It is essentially a social problem and implies that the country's existing human resources are not being utilised. It is not a matter of offering support to a marginalised segment of the population; at stake is the level of health and the state of the economy. The biggest problem arises with the recurrent changes in the attitude towards beggars and their rehabilitation.
Just as the economy is growing faster than ever, so too are income inequalities. According to a recent survey by the Delhi School of Social Work (DSSW), there has been a phenomenal increase in the number of beggars all over the country. In the last decade, their number has gone up by almost a lakh. According to the 2001 Census, there are about 627,688 beggars all over the country ~ 60,000 in Delhi, over 300,000 in Mumbai, close to 75,000 in Kolkata and 56,000 in Bangalore. In Hyderabad, one out of every 354 people is engaged in begging, according to the 2005 report of the Council of Human Welfare.


Lucrative racket

ACCORDING to the Maharashtra government, the state's beggars are worth Rs 180 crore a year. Their daily income ranges from Rs 20 to Rs 80. Almost every survey profiles beggars as a largely contented lot, unwilling to take up honest labour. A study published in the International Journal of Psychological Rehabilitation by Dr Yogesh Thakker revealed that 39 per cent of the 49 beggars surveyed in Gujarat's Baroda district suffered from psychiatric illness. Over 68 per cent admitted to a feeling of shame and loss of self-esteem, 25 per cent to guilt, four per cent to suicidal tendencies and eight per cent to anti-social activities.

Child beggars are part of an organised racket that is rooted in kidnapping. Society doesn't seem to be sufficiently aware of this scourge. Begging has become a profession for some, a way of life for others, and more horrific still, a lucrative racket for unscrupulous and ruthless operators, who have spawned a virtual "beggar mafia". The raw materials are the poor, destitute and helpless. Children are trained how to carry crutches to look disabled; they are later paid a commission out of their daily earnings.

The Indian Penal Code (Section 363A) deals with the kidnapping and maiming of a minor for the purpose of begging. The police hardly arrest people who maim or coerce children and who live off their earnings.  Beggars constitute a large chunk of the population; yet they don't have unions, they are no party's vote-bank and the majority of the privileged simply detest them. Governments have never been known to consider the problem with the seriousness it deserves. There is no comprehensive welfare system to keep millions of people out of desperate poverty, a premise of beggary.

India's beggary laws are a throwback to the centuries' old European vagrancy laws. Far from addressing the socio-economic issues, the poor are made criminally responsible for their plight. The definition of a beggar in law is synonymous with anyone who appears to be poor. The anti-beggar legislation is aimed at removing the poor from the face of the city. The beggars, who have spent years on the street, find it very difficult to live in confined space. However, as the moral basis of traditional society crumbles, responsibility towards the needy is shifted to state welfare schemes. There are provisions for vocational training in the government-run homes. But these are worse than jails.

Inadequate measures

THE law against beggary lumps together various categories of people, including street performers, mendicants and small vendors who might solicit alms "indirectly", as beggars. In the Beggar Prevention Acts implemented in many cities and states, "beggars" have been described as people "having no visible means of subsistence and are wandering about, or remaining in any public place in such condition or manner as makes it likely that the person doing so exists by soliciting or receiving alms." This single clause goes against anyone who appears poor and destitute. Thus a ragpicker or a migrant labourer, who may never have begged in his or her life, can be picked up and confined to a beggars' home for up to three years.

Statutory institutions were set up for the prevention of begging. The law provides for the detention, training and employment of beggars and the custody, trial and punishment of offenders. The anti-beggary law does not draw any distinction between organised begging, where one or more persons are compelled to beg by force, and people who beg to sustain themselves. People who are driven to begging because of age, physical disability, or drug addiction are destined to wallow in the mire.

The measures to tackle the phenomenon have been inadequate, let alone effective.  There should be a complete ban on begging in any form. A rehabilitation programme should take care of children, women, the handicapped and the diseased so that they can be aware of their full potential and growth. This will call for comprehensive programmes, including post-institutional care and follow-up services. The government can always seek the assistance of NGOs, social workers and civic bodies.  Doling out of alms will only encourage begging. Finally, beggars who come from other states must be sent back through a system of repatriation.

The writer is with the Eastern Institute for Integrated Learning in Management, Kolkata







How much I wished to have a more steady life. To be at one place for a full two or three months! But this remains a dream. This or the other makes me move on. Recently, I spent some time in Kerala. It was a visit to the green coconut-groves that I remember from earlier trips. Part of the joys of increasing age is that wherever you go and whatever you do, the memory of similar experiences or activities accompany and deepen your present experience. You can compare constantly and are able, if you want, to live in two worlds.

Hardly back from Kerala to Santiniketan, I had to pack my suitcase for an urgent trip to Germany necessitated by official engagements. Again goodbye, again a departure and an arrival. I do not, however, allow these goings and comings to unsettle me or, worse, to become a boring routine. They are, by necessity, so much a part of my life that I wish to make them a part of my life's meaning as well.

A week before a departure, I begin to prepare by putting into my suitcase, item by item, whatever comes to mind. In this way I am sure not to forget anything essential, and in this way I make my departure a celebration. Haste and confusion would be the death of any celebration. Celebrating a departure essentially means the confirmation of human relationships, of their strength and loyalty and beauty. In daily life we interact with many persons, both within the family and outside it, as a matter of course. When we depart we suddenly understand how much these relationships support and nourish us, how we depend on many of them for our mental and emotional health.

When we leave all these persons behind, a feeling of gratitude emerges within us. How could we feel the pain of departure if that gratitude did not exist? Yet, this pain is also assuaged by the realization that our best relationships will not weaken or change in quality through our absence.

I love being given a farewell at home or at the railway station in Bolpur, or to be accompanied to Kolkata. I love being received at my destination. In India, friends have the leisure and the sense to make every farewell an event. They used to meet me at the railway station in throngs. But, please, do not discuss problems and difficulties just before leaving! I pleaded with them. It has often happened that discussions about our village work would continue on the railway platform right till the train began to move. This was painful for me, because I could not concentrate on the event of changing my mental dispositions. Meanwhile, my senior village friends have become self-assured and confident and would give me the mental space I need.
Even after 45 years of flying, I still get excited about it. I remember when, as a boy of 16 years, I first flew to the United States of America. I had been awarded a scholarship to attend an American High School. With a small group of European boys and girls who had been chosen as well, I climbed into the turbo-propeller machine. Even in the 1960s, the plane was already old, and the flight from Luxembourg to New York took us twenty hours, including a stop-over in Reykjavik on Iceland. As far as I was concerned, the flight could have taken twenty more hours. I enjoyed every minute of it, my eyes glued to the window, and my pen recording everything I saw and noticed. We flew low and slow, so it felt like an exploration. Even today I am awed by the feeling of flying, that is, by the experience of living up in the air inside a giant steel-cage which hurtles along at break-neck speed.

I attempt to be conscientiously friendly to the people I last see in India and the first I meet in Europe. In Kolkata I make it a point to greet the people at the airlines counter whose business it is, of course, to greet back. Officials at the immigration counter or at the security, however, often hardly look at me. Only if they realize that I address them in Bengali do they pause for a chat and ask me where I live and what I do. In Frankfurt, the immigration officers invariably greet back - they have probably been trained to do so - but never would they get involved in curious and friendly questions. Baring a few times, there has never been anybody to pick me up at Frankfurt airport. Even then, without expecting anybody, I catch myself looking around whether there is somebody to meet me. Each time there is a quick moment of disappointment.

When my mother died a little over two years ago, I was in Kalimpong and had to return to Santiniketan hurriedly. Arriving at three o'clock at night, I saw two friends waiting for me. They had sacrificed their sleep to receive me and soften that painful moment of my life. When I proceeded to my German home town, nobody was there to receive me at the Airport or at the railway station. I took a taxi to my small flat, took out my keys and entered an empty room. I then understood much better why in India being alone is considered a curse. Indeed, it should not be part of normal life. I understood why social life is often richer in India. Arrival should not become a manifestation of loneliness. Therefore, on the first day I often visit a favourite restaurant or coffee-house or take a ride on my bicycle along a route I enjoy. This is well and good, but re-connecting to a place, first and foremost means connecting with people, not with landscapes or atmospheres.
When I leave for India, friends in Europe ask: "Are you glad to go back home?" When I leave for Germany, friends in India ask: "Are you glad to go back home?" I am dumbfounded by these questions. Where and what is "home"? Wherever you have good and loyal friends, is home, I often pronounce. Yet, I am unsure whether that is all it needs to have a "home". I am confused.

The definitions of home (desh) and alien country (bidesh) become all the more blurred in the age of mobile phones and the internet. These two devices have the one stupefying quality of doing their work without fixed pace. Your messages reach no matter from where you send them and where the receiver is located. With a complicated history of letters being addressed and re-addressed, forewarded and getting lost behind me, I marvel at the convenience of mobile phones and e-mails. Due to them, I remain "connected" with my Indian friends wherever I may be. No need for the celebrations of departure and arrivals anymore, then?
The celebrations are more necessary than ever! They must remain to assert the importance of the real over the virtual world. The virtual world allows you to send across your voice or your words, but not your body, not your living presence. In India the presence of a human being continues to be of paramount importance. You visit the person to whom you extent a marriage invitation! You visit the person you wish to console after a bereavement! Phone calls will not do. So, celebrations of departure and arrival remain important.
The writer is a German scholar, based in Santiniketan







Details concerning the mounting financial crisis facing the Queen have been disclosed after ministers agreed to hand over secret correspondence between Buckingham Palace and the Government. The documents reveal that at the same time the Queen was requesting more public money to pay for the upkeep of her crumbling palaces she was allowing minor royals and courtiers to live in rent-free accommodation. They show that as early as 2004 Sir Alan Reid, the Keeper of the Privy Purse, had unsuccessfully put the case to the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) for a substantial increase in the £ 15m a year public funding.
But by 2005, the papers reveal, there was mounting pressure from the Commons Public Accounts Committee for the Queen's aides to come clean about the extent of the grace-and-favour schemes being operated by the Palace. One letter shows that among the royals living rent-free in Kensington Palace and St James's Palace are the Duke and Duchess of Gloucester, the Duke and Duchess of Kent and Princess Alexandra.
Some of the most sensitive and embarrassing documents still remain under wraps. Today's disclosure amounts to more than 100 letters, emails, memos and other documents.

The future funding of the Royal Family will be an issue facing whichever party wins the general election. Under a constitutional arrangement from 1991, the Civil List, which pays the Queen to perform her duties as head of state, must be renegotiated by the end of the year. At the moment it is an annual payment of £7.9m and the Palace is pressing hard for it to be increased.

Secret memos also show how the Palace planned to go ahead with refurbishing and renting Princess Diana's apartment at Kensington Palace after it had lain empty since her death in 1997. In an email on 28 June 2005 the Palace informed the DCMS that the Royal Household intended to rent out Diana's rooms, anonymously known as Apartment 8-9. Having previously complained that public funds were insufficient to refurbish the rooms, the royal courtier wrote: "We have now decided that Apartment 8 will play an important role for temporary office accommodation".

But the Government was concerned about the public reaction to this re-use of Diana's apartment after it had remained empty for so long: "Apartment 8 is, of course, more difficult and I must be guided by you on how much we can say," said the DCMS official. "My view is that we should be as open as possible on the difficulties in finding an economic use for the apartment. This is an issue which is likely to attract attention and comment". It later emerged that Buckingham Palace had rented the apartment to Prince Charles's charities.
A series of emails between the Royal Household and the DCMS also illustrate the lengths to which the Queen has gone to cut her bills. In September 2005 the Queen's advisers complained to the Government that the "commercial market price for utilities has become untenable with price rises of over 50 per cent". They suggest a switch to a wholesale provider of gas and electricity and plump for Inenco which also serves the Prison Service and Channel 4.

The switch is approved by the DCMS officials who accept that the Queen has been "hard hit" by the cost of energy. But if the Royal Household had acted sooner Palace documents show that the Queen would have made a saving of £142,000 between 2004 and 2006.

Other documents reflect wrangles between the Palace and the Government over financing of the occupied palaces. In October 2004 a senior official at the DCMS wrote to Sir Alan Reid taking issue with him over who has the rightful claim over the £2.5m proceeds from the sale of land from the Royal Garden Hotel in Kensingtion. The official wrote: "We agreed that the receipt of £2.5m could affect any increased allocation which the Secretary of State is able to give to the Royal Household as result of the Spending Review. I have to say that the settlement is very tight and Ministers are not confident of being able to offer increased funding in all areas given the competing demands of the relatively small increase in the DCMS's budget".
He later adds: "That makes it more important to agree how we handle the £2.5m receipt. I cannot concede that it automatically belongs to the Royal Household. The receipts from the hereditary lands are surrendered to the Consolidated Fund (money held in the Government's bank account. I hope we can come to an agreement on apportioning the receipt".

In further documents it transpires that the Treasury and DCMS have rejected requests for an increase to the grant-in-aid, taxpayers' money which finances the upkeep of the occupied palace. Today Royal aides say the backlog of property repairs stands at £32m which will rise to £40m in the next decade, prompting fears of a future public funding crisis.

The funding of the Royal Family is a complex formula comprising government grants and Civil List payments agreed by Parliament. Much of what is perceived to be part of the Queen's fortune is not hers at all, but held in trust by her for the nation. This includes the Crown Jewels, Titians, Caravaggios, and many other priceless items.

In the low-inflation 1990s, however, the Queen was able to put some £35m to one side from the Civil List and it was then agreed that her payment would be frozen. Over the past decade, Civil List expenditure has spiralled, meaning that she has been forced to take more money out of that fund each year. Assuming the current pattern continues, the fund will be wiped out by the time of her Diamond Jubilee in 2012. She is still believed, however, to possess private wealth last estimated to be more than £ 90m.

Soon the debate over the escalating costs of the Royal Family will come to a head as the Queen is forced to go cap-in-hand to ministers for more cash to protect her constitutional position as head of state. Palace aides have told Whitehall officials they need the extra money to offset the expense of maintaining the Royal Estate of palaces and to pay for increased staffing costs. But in the current financial climate any increase in the annual £ 35m state subsidy is politically sensitive.

Both sides are now engaged in a public relations battle as time runs out on negotiations that must settle the matter by the end of next year when the present deal on the Civil List expires. A second deal on the £15m paid in grants for the upkeep of the palaces is due to be finalised in 2011. Royal aides contend the Queen's accommodation is in a parlous state and point to 2007, when Princess Anne had a narrow escape after some loose masonry was dislodged from the roof on Buckingham Palace. Another piece fell last year, missing a police officer who was on duty.

An email and letter exchange reveals a tussle over who has control of £2.5m gained from the sale of Kensington Palace land in 2004. Ministers say it belongs to the state, while Buckingham Palace maintains it belongs to the Queen. There was a £40,000 overspend in the refurbishment of the kitchen and coffee room of Windsor Castle. The kitchen is used to prepare hot drinks for the Queen and her household. The workmen uncovered voids under the floors which might provide "rat runs". The refurbishment of York House (St James's Palace) led to an overspend of £99,000.

Secret memos shine a light on plans to refurbish and rent out Princess Diana's apartment at Kensington Palace after it had laid empty since her death in 1997. After the work was completed, Apartment 8, as it is refered to by Palace aides, was controversially leased to Prince Charles's charities. The memos warn that plans for the future use of these apartments are "more difficult and an issue likely to attract attention and comment".
In 2005 the Palace was asked to declare which Royals and which courtiers were not paying any rent for their accommodation in the Royal Palaces. The Palace duly obliged by naming Prince Charles, Princess Anne, the Duke and Duchess of Gloucester, the Duke and Duchess of Kent and Princess Alexandra. Six members of the Royal household, including the Mistress of the Robes and Surveyor of the Queen's Pictures, had acquired similar grace and favour status. Their names were disclosed following pressure from the Commons Public Accounts Committee.

The Independent


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Women certainly have their uses. One of these is their function as a pretext for other people to feel virtuous. The whole country is busy feeling virtuous over the passage in the Upper House of the bill for the reservation of one-third seats for women in legislative bodies. Among politicians, there are some who are feeling more virtuous than others, having opposed the bill because it would cheat underprivileged women by the implementation of a 'general' one-third quota. The Union government has not stopped at that. The Congress-led United Progressive Alliance would like to see 50 per cent reservations for women in panchayats and urban local bodies. States are falling over each other to grant this new quota; for example, Tripura has already made the necessary amendments to make this happen, Orissa is ready too, and Karnataka had gone up to 40 per cent long ago. After all, it was at the panchayats that the one-third reservations took off. Local governments provide a useful space for testing the waters: will anyone notice the slow overtaking of democratic principles by undemocratic gender-quotas or will it simply make the government more popular?


No state government, and no political party would like to lose out on popularity — in case that is to be the outcome — but few come close to the Left Front government in West Bengal in the matter of feeling virtuous while doing exactly nothing. It has announced that the policy of 50 per cent quota for women will be implemented in the 2013 panchayat elections. But 2013 will come after the assembly elections in 2011 — of course the state government knows how to count. So it is the new government that will have to see that the policy is carried out. In other words, the present government need not do a thing but merely announce the policy intention to get brownie points. Amending the necessary law can be done later — the panchayat minister is "hoping" there will be time for that. Meanwhile, there has been no mention of the imminent municipal elections. Neither has there been a reference to the fact that this change is taking place countrywide. The idea is to harvest popularity and a virtuous air with spectacular moves that will obscure the fact that real efforts to secure justice and ensure empowerment for women are decreasing rather than growing. India believes that quotas are the panacea for all ills.









Even the worst dictators love to put up democracy shows. Aung San Suu Kyi would have been the last person in Myanmar to be misled by the junta's seven-point "roadmap to democracy". Few would, therefore, be surprised by her decision to boycott the elections that the country's military regime is planning to hold later this year. The new constitution of the country and the election laws, both fabricated to suit the junta's agenda, made it impossible for Ms Suu Kyi and the National League for Democracy to decide otherwise. The constitution, born of a fraudulent referendum in 2008, is clearly a tool for legitimizing the army's rule. It reserves 25 per cent of the seats in parliament for the army and makes the army chief the real power even in an elected government. The laws practically exclude all critics of the regime from the poll process. They bar anyone serving a prison term or with a criminal conviction from contesting the polls. That keeps Ms Suu Kyi, and thousands of political activists languishing in the prisons, out of the process. Also, the ban on members of religious orders is aimed at keeping out the Buddhist monks who have been among the most vocal critics as well as the worst victims of the regime. The laws thus rob the polls of any legitimacy even before they are held.


However, some pro-democracy activists and even a small section within the NLD wonder if the party's decision is a bad move. The NLD will cease to exist as a political party because of its decision to not register with the election commission. Those who resent the NLD's decision also argue that it should not have missed this opportunity to play its part in the long-delayed rebirth of democracy in Myanmar. After all, these will be the first elections in the country since 1990. The last time Myanmar had a parliament session was in 1962. Some form of democracy, these sections argue, would have been better than none at all. This wishful thinking is clearly born of a desperation to see the end of a long, brutal regime. But, if the NLD had decided to take part in the polls, it would have meant surrendering to the regime and accepting its annulment of the 1990 elections, which the NLD won by a landslide. Worst of all, it would have meant accepting the junta's terms of keeping Ms Suu Kyi out of the elections. The free world too must call the junta's bluff and see the planned polls for what they really are.









In our 63rd year of Independence, the Right to Education Act comes into effect on April 1. On the eve of its launch, the Union education minister has balanced our perspective by another resolve. India's enrolment rate for higher education is around 12 per cent. He would increase this to 30 per cent, in line with the advanced nations.


There is only one snag. Unlike in advanced countries, one Indian in three is illiterate. Ten million Indian children have never entered school. Among those who have, the dropout rate is appalling. Only 5-6 per cent of our school population (not the total population of the relevant age group) is enrolled in Classes XI and XII — in other words, can even think of higher education.


The last-announced deadline for full enrolment up to Class VIII was 2020. (How does this square with the Right to Education Act?) Higher enrolment at the tertiary level seems a matter of more urgency. The general seats balancing the other backward classes quota have swollen the intake at all Central institutions. Eight new Indian institutes of technology, seven new Indian institutes of management and 16 new Central universities are coming up. Foreign institutions are being wooed. There is heady talk of 14 'innovation universities'. The sums allocated are beyond the wildest dreams of education budgets in the past. Thanks to the education cess, the Union government is sitting on a cash mountain earmarked for education. How will it spend that money?


There is gross disproportion between the government's plans for higher and 'lower' education. Let us eschew ideals and sentiment. In dispassionate terms, what does the mismatch mean for the nation's hard welfare?


By an optimistic tally, only two-thirds of our population is literate. Hence a 30 per cent enrolment in higher education translates into 45 per cent of the actual base. It is an unreal goal for India to set itself. Seen against India's record of school enrolment, this is utterly warped. It signals that the nation is only committed to a proper education for a fraction of its people.


The Right to Education Act might make a difference, or it might not. Responsibility for the poor child is being partly diverted to private schools: a perfectly fair bid for social cross-subsidy, but likely to be scuttled through the recalcitrance of those schools. Some have gone to court, with arguments dripping concern for poor children — manipulated to ensure that no such child enters their gates. At the same time, the inadequacies of government schools have been newly exposed in the build-up to the Rashtriya Madhyamik Shiksha Abhiyan. Illustrating the chasm between ideology and performance, the inadequacy reaches a unique extent in West Bengal, calling for special measures here alone. Leftist teachers' unions have demonstrated in Calcutta against the Right to Education Act. They feel it will threaten their jobs. Their leaders' comments on television indicate they are uninformed about the provisions of the act.


At the other end of the spectrum, the mismatch between school and tertiary education is leading to a piquant outcome. At present, the most prized schools are almost all private and increasingly expensive. They reach their acme in a topping of 'world-class' outfits which essentially offer to adapt children to gift-wrapped lives abroad by making them unfit to live in India. If the present plans take shape, we will have a tier of colleges and universities to match these schools in price and image. The two will flourish symbiotically, in happy exclusion from the soil they grow in.


Or will they? However India's super-middle class might prosper, there is a limit to its size. From matching Canada's population, it can at most double to overtake Britain's. Hence the clientele for such institutions will soon peak, having first diluted standards through over-intake from a narrow base of entrants chosen by affluence rather than merit.


Of Indians who have enjoyed tertiary education, only 30 per cent are judged to have the skills demanded of a knowledge economy. Clearly, the first need is to improve the existing system radically. Further enrolment without strengthening the catchment area in school education would mean admitting more and more of weaker and weaker students — that is, lowering the already low real output of our colleges and universities. The proportion of effectively trained graduates might fall to 15 per cent or less.


From where will the extra students come? The new institutions are likely to be still costlier than the already costly ones accounting for the most recent expansion. Higher education for the poor will be relegated to the janata system inherited from an age of innocence. Even that may often be priced upward: the Union government is drastically reducing the revenue budgets of Central universities, to be compensated for by the institution's own earnings (read fees). Yet the Union is showering other grants on them, whereby they are developing disproportionately to the fund-starved state universities. Centrally funded institutions are forming a privileged 'creamy layer' as they did not do even 10 years ago. We are now looking for a privileged class of students to patronize them.


Only a very short-sighted forecast could see such a policy as maximizing India's knowledge resources for a growing economy. The children of a lesser Saraswati will lack access to that knowledge, hence to that economy. (Let us have no cant about education loans. Such loans ease middle-class cash flow problems; they are barred to persons who have no surety to offer.) They will not be empowered to contribute to India's economic growth: that is to say, India will deny itself the greater part of its potential skilled workforce. Simultaneously, this group's meagre skills and income will cap its purchasing power at or below subsistence level: its members will not generate the consumer demand needed to boost production.


We are planning a short-term spurt in our knowledge resources to feed the high-profile, high-yielding sectors of the economy and gratify the career-hunger of middle-class individuals. In the process, we are blocking the development of a human resource base to harness knowledge for long-term economic growth. We are treating knowledge as a commodity and not as infrastructure, as buying a car rather than building a road.


The 'knowledge as commodity' charge has been discredited by fatuous defenders of 10-rupee fees on derelict campuses. Infrastructure also carries a price: we pay electricity bills and road tolls. But the real return from a road or a power plant is not the gain to the holding company: it is the enabling of other productive activities. So with education. The direct return it yields is less important than the returns it ensures in other ways. An institution set up as a business is unlikely to offer quality education towards the nation's growth. At best, it may train its students to participate in that growth for their private gain. Conversely, an institution that does not pay its way might be making an immense economic contribution to society.


In fact, the two educational sectors most crucial to the economy are, at their opposite poles, precisely the two that need to absorb huge funds with no direct return: basic school education and fundamental research. For a nation so entranced with the United States of America, it has strangely escaped us that these are two areas where, respectively, the American State and American business sink large sums of money. Not for nothing is the US the world's undisputed knowledge hub. That fact should disturb us and make us think of an alternative hub on our own soil that might even attract other nations. Bollywood has done more for India's prestige and prosperity in this way than our knowledge establishment.


Instead, like magpies, we are littering our classrooms with the shiny bric-a-brac of the Western academic order. We might focus instead on its basic structure and rationale. We need not clone it, but the exercise will help us create a structure and rationale of our own. Indian education deserves no less. Nor does the Indian economy.


The author is professor of English, Jadavpur University, Calcutta









The Western media have been singing dirges to freedom in China ever since Google's departure seemed certain. But surprise, surprise, the impulse for freedom continues to exist in this communist dictatorship, Google or no Google. Just four days back, at an IT summit in Shenzhen, the CEOs of China's leading IT firms demanded a "censorship-free zone", and suggested Shenzhen, which was created as a special economic zone in the 1980s, as the ideal place for it. Overwhelming internet controls, they said, were preventing their industry's growth. China's 400 million netizens needed monitoring, said the CEO of, but the internet needed to be "revolutionary, a continually innovating industry.'' It must be allowed to make mistakes, added another CEO. Only a censorship-free zone would allow everyone to find out what would really happen if the internet was free, and thereafter a more rational censorship policy could be evolved.


Not surprisingly, these comments were deleted from the internet portal that reported them. But the print media took them up. Chang Fing, writing in the Chinese Financial Times, pointed out the contradiction that the Chinese government is finding so difficult to handle: "(it is) strictly controlling politics, while being tolerant in economics. But the creativity of a society is its integral unity. If one board in a barrel is short, then the whole barrel will leak...."


Google's departure has stirred up a lively debate on the nature of freedom in this country. The government has largely succeeded in making it a Chinese-self-respect versus US-imperialism question, but there are enough serious critiques of this theory. The young, popular writer, Han Han, wrote in his usual mocking way that the ideals over which Google has left China — freedom and truth — simply don't matter to the Chinese. The few who do care about them can't move the majority who don't. Money and survival are more important to the latter.


Burning issue


Other commentators are more hopeful. Google's shift to Hong Kong is seen as a clever move, for though the former British colony is a part of China, the Great Firewall does not operate there, thanks to the 'One country, two systems' policy that was adopted during its handover. The Chinese visit Hong Kong all the time; in fact, already, Chinese netizens on the mainland have started using and have found that they can get more than they could from One netizen wrote that mainlanders will soon conclude that the censorship policy is unreasonable, because if the information blocked on the mainland was really dangerous to the Chinese, the Hong Kong authorities would block it too. Mainlanders would soon start demanding that they be allowed to access the same sites, for "Aren't we all Chinese people?"


Some commentators point out that the Chinese internet has become such a strong force that Google should have, in the interest of the very values for which it claims to be leaving China, stayed on and strengthened them. Its going will encourage domestic search engines to become lax since they will now enjoy a monopoly. But given the demands of the IT CEOs at Shenzhen, this seems unlikely. The best comment, however, came from a journalist, Qian Gang, who pointed out that the values for which Google claims to be leaving are being fought for everyday by the Chinese themselves."Google's exit from mainland China is certainly a loss... But there are thousands of journalists in China fighting every day for freedom. They will continue to work, inching ahead, regardless of whether or not topics like June Fourth can be discussed. This is why the flame of professional media in China burns on






Growing public awareness of the benefits of cadaver transplant may help contain the huge racket in live organ sale, writes Chirosree Basu


At the Mohan Foundation office in Chennai, the girls are just back from an organ donation camp they had helped organize at the Marina beach with the sponsorship of a major bicycle brand. For the workers of the Multi Organ Harvesting Aid Network, a non-governmental organization which has been championing the cause of cadaver organ donation since the late 1990s, this was business as usual, even though it was Sunday. But apart from the heat, what had left them a little flustered was the presence of a man who wanted to see pictures of what organs actually looked like. After looking at the picture of the kidneys, the man had lifted his shirt to show a six-inch stitch mark. Then, directing himself at anyone who cared to listen, he had said, "They have taken away my kidney."


It is unlikely that the statement was greeted with anything more than an embarrassed silence. Chennai, in fact the whole of Tamil Nadu, has lived with this ugly truth for years. The highly developed medical industry in the state, which has made possible within it the maximum number of organ transplants in the country, has proved to be a curse for a section of the people who have become vulnerable to the organ racket. The man with the scar symbolizes one kind of reality. That now coexists with another reality of which the organ donation camp by the sea was evidence — the new-found enthusiasm to promote cadaver transplants that is giving the state and its people a chance to look away from ugly truths and reach for a moral high never experienced before.


Cadaver transplants — the retrieval of all major organs from the bodies of the brain-dead and their transplantation to patients who need them — has picked up in a major way in Chennai over the past two years. In 2008, there were 30 cadaver transplants in the city and 59 in 2009. In February this year, a milestone was reached when five transplantation surgeries were carried out in two government hospitals. What brought these developments to national notice was the transplantation of the kidneys of a five-year-old accident victim on to her father. For the city, however, this was another emotional high point since a donation two years ago helped the state government's cadaver transplant programme get off the ground.


In September 2008, Pushpanjali Ashokan and her husband, both doctors, donated the organs of their teenage son, Hithendran, who died in a motorcycle accident. This was in no way a unique case, but somehow it captured the public imagination. Days after they had made their choice, the Ashokans were explaining to others, in schools and clubs in the neighbourhood and in seminars beyond, that it was 'possible' to make this difficult choice in the most difficult time in one's life. Since then, they have had many emulators.


The motivation for donor families is to give a second life to others. That is the issue around which all promotion revolves. That this act can also help stop the organ racket is a point still missing in public discourse. But the latter has always been one of the major principles behind pro-cadaver transplant activism. It was initiated and sustained by members of the medical community and promoted by some private hospitals to which cadaver transplantation also made sound business sense. Since the Transplantation of Human Organs Act of 1994 defined brain death, NGOs like Mohan tried to create public awareness and even managed to build a network of hospitals which could carry out cadaver transplantation. When the state government stepped in in 2008, it did so with the precise objective of busting the live organ sale racket. The website of the cadaver transplant programme of Tamil Nadu specifically mentions the tsunami kidney sale scandal of 2007 as being one of the reasons which got the government going and J. Amalorpavanathan, a doctor and the convener of the programme, insists that "a growth in cadaver transplant activity would become a disincentive for living donor kidney sale".


Yet, despite its enormous possibilities, the cadaver transplant programme in the state has been left almost entirely to be sustained by NGOs like Mohan, the National Network for Organ Sharing and a few others. The government's entry into this sector, of course, has provided a major impetus. A series of government orders in 2008 laid down the procedure for the declaration of brain death. Mohan's online registry of patients in need of donation was taken over by the government and made into a central registry for private and public hospitals. It also added transparency to a procedure which has been suspect in the public eye. But despite the creation of special wards in some government hospitals (Stanley Medical College, for example), progress in government hospitals, which get the largest number of brain death cases, has been tardy. Amalorpavanathan reasons, "Cadaver transplant is not a widely prevalent activity even in private hospitals. Less than 50 private hospitals have taken approval to do cadaver transplant and only a third of them have done cadaver transplant."


One of the reasons for this, apart from the enormous costs involved in maintaining cadavers for retrieval and their transplant (free in public hospitals), is the divide within the medical community. Sunil Shroff, a doctor and managing trustee of Mohan, says that not all doctors would want to wish the cadaver transplant programme good luck. A well-known nephrologist in Chennai who was arrested in 2007 for his alleged role in a Mumbai kidney scandal, sounded more than eager to slam the government initiative as being too obscurantist, expensive and biased in favour of the rich to be sustainable. The NGOs, he believes, are "publicity-hungry", wasting money that should have gone into prevention of kidney diseases and dialysis.


In a developing country like India with its myriad problems of health and education, there will always be doubts about which programme requires more money than another. The cadaver transplant programme is 'urban' to the core, and will benefit only those who can afford transplant surgery in private hospitals, until cadaver transplants become a routine affair in government hospitals. But there is no doubt that the government-NGO partnership is working wonders in Chennai. If there are doubts, one only needs to see what the Mohan-trained grief counsellor, R. Veena, has accomplished in a little over a month since she took up her post as transplant coordinator at Chennai's Government General Hospital. She has been able to convince five families out of eight to donate the organs of their dear ones. The two back to back surgeries in February, which marked the first breakthrough in the government hospitals, and the more recent case of the five-year-old donor, were cases handled by her.


Like many of the grief counsellors/transplant coordinators (made mandatory by the government in hospitals conducting cadaver transplants), Veena carries tremendous responsibility. No matter what they have heard or read about organ donation, family members of the deceased — to many of whom the concept is completely alien — make the decision in the hospital in the most trying hour of their lives. Many a time it is the treatment the patient has received in the hospital that decides matters. And many a time, it is the personal interaction they have with counsellors like Veena that helps them decide. No matter how efficient the infrastructure, it is this crucial hour that decides, and will continue to decide, the success of the government's cadaver transplant programme and its success in reducing live organ sale. It will also decide how many stories of the heroism of the ordinary reach the front pages of newspapers and keep public emotions running.


Twenty-something Veena was slightly scared by the man at the beach — she thought he would take off all his clothes. She knows that it is people like her who will decide which of the two contending realities in her city — the organ market or the heroism of the ordinary — will push out the other. If the second wins, there will no longer be the need to shut one's eyes.









The Transplantation of Human Organs Act, 1994, is a curious piece of legislation. According to the law in India, in the event of the death of an individual, his family is empowered to prevent the corpse from being handed over to medical institutions for research even though the deceased had pledged to donate his body for that purpose.


This is strange on two counts. First, the law chooses to ignore the voluntary consent of the deceased in the face of opposition from the family. Can this be perceived as an infringement on an individual's rights? Or do such rights cease to matter in the event of death? Second, even if the second possibility is indeed the case, it reveals a glaring inconsistency in the legal rationale, for the law honours certain other kinds of pledges after death. A will, for instance, is legally binding in the sense that in the case of a dispute, a court would expect the claimants to follow the directions given by the deceased regarding the disbursement of property. But a voluntary consent for cadaver donation enjoys no such legal protection. Significantly, in some of the Scandinavian countries, as well as in Israel, after an individual expires, his body is deemed to be State property and donated for medical research even in the absence of written consent.


Law often mirrors societal prejudices. The orthodoxy inherent in the Transplantation of Human Organs Act, therefore, can be traced to Indian society's discomfort with the idea of pledging one's body for medical research. It is this collective conservatism that Ganadarpan, a Calcutta-based social organization, has been fighting for over two decades. Founded in 1977 by a group associated with the People's Theatre movement, it fought to dispel social taboos. In the mid-1980s, realizing how little has been achieved in the field of cadaver donation, Ganadarpan decided to specialize in this sphere of activity.


In a way, Ganadarpan's struggle will determine whether a scientific temper would ultimately prevail over the irrational in our society. The battle is proving to be a long and hard one. The imperfections in the law are perhaps as crippling as societal resistance. There is ample evidence to indicate that even a liberal mind might hesitate to defy the notions of purity and the rituals associated with death. (One of Calcutta's most celebrated poets had pledged his body, but his wish was denied by his equally famous, but unwilling, wife.) The numbers bear testimony to this dismal fact. In West Bengal, of an estimated population of 80.18 million (2001 census figure), merely seven lakh people have pledged to donate their bodies. It is important to remember that not every pledge is likely to be fulfilled. Fourteen thousand donations have actually taken place since 1986.


The pathetic figure is puzzling, given the simple procedure that one has to follow while pledging one's body for medical research. All that is required is to fill up a three-page form giving one's consent. The form is also available online, and there are no charges involved.


Perhaps, more than our love of indolence, it has something to do with the lack of awareness. However, the responsibility of sensitizing people to this noble cause does not rest on social organizations alone. A supposedly atheist government, in power over three decades, has cut a sorry figure in this respect as well. It seems to be content in its belief that the occasional announcements by its leaders that they will donate their bodies will be enough to goad people to emulate them. Unfortunately, citizens can at times prove to be far less disciplined than the cadre. The fact that an inept and conformist bureaucracy often jeopardizes the little good work that is being done has also escaped the government's notice. It is possible that the government's slumber has to do with the fact that some arms of the State — the police, for instance — stand to gain by the lucrative and illegal trade in corpses. A March 30-report in The Telegraph revealed how a desperate father's search for his dead son in Rajasthan led to the horrific discovery of the state police being involved in this nefarious activity. A young man's dead body reportedly fetches 5-6 lakh rupees in the black market. There is no reason to believe that such cartels do not exist in this state.


It is an unequal battle. An inadequate law coupled with an indifferent State and years of accumulated blindness are conspiring against a small clutch of dedicated and progressive thinkers. But the odds have left these pioneers undeterred. For history, they point out, is replete with incidents of equally lopsided encounters that have often yielded unexpected results.











The award of death sentence by a court in Karnal, Haryana, to five people who killed a young couple for marrying against caste norms may be an indication that the judiciary is taking such acts of perverted communal justice more seriously than in the past. Even without endorsing the need for capital punishment, it is easy to understand the strong statement made by the court in support of the law of the land and the freedom of individuals to choose their lives. There have been suggestions in the past that a separate law is needed to deal with various form of the punishment, including honour killings, resorted to by members of the families of young couples, often based on decisions of traditional village panchayats known as khaps. But the union home ministry's view that they can be treated as murder cases is sound and the Haryana case is the first to show that the entire force of law can be brought to bear on the perpetrators of an inhuman and medieval practice.

The young couple who had eloped and got married were kidnapped by their relatives, including the girl's own brother, and brutally killed in 2007. The couple's crime was that they married within their gotra. The sway of khaps is strong in Haryana, Punjab, Rajasthan and parts of UP and a number of honour killings have been reported in the recent past.  Traditional norms of justice and a false sense of honour drive the village communities and families to punish those who violate entrenched practices. Ideas of the rule of law and the rights of people are alien to this milieu and mindset. The strong message sent by the sentence should act as a deterrent in future against resort to such inhuman punishment of those who fall foul of custom on the call of the heart. It is noteworthy that the Karnal case is the first in which the family of a victim of an honour killing had gone to court. That also may be an indication of growing resistance to the interference of khaps in the lives of people.

Enforcement of the law is not enough to stop the practice. Village communities need to be educated about the undesirability of the old custom and their attitudes should be reformed. The police and the politicians are often seen on the side of the offenders for their own reasons. This too should change.








For the fourth day in a row, communal violence is tearing apart Hyderabad's Old City. At least two people have been killed so far and scores injured. It appears that flags and buntings of one religious community were brought down by another. This led to Hindu and Muslim mobs attacking each other's sacred symbols and places of worship. And before long, the communal cauldron was overflowing. Hyderabad was free of communal disturbances for several years.  The current conflagration has shattered a long period of peace. The mass violence in Hyderabad is not spontaneous. Neither is the bunting burning the cause. Reports indicate that it has been engineered by political parties with vested interests in polarising society. It is important to probe and punish those who planned it.

People succumb to the machinations of others because trust between various religious groups has broken down. They are willing to believe the worst of the other; hence their willingness to accept even the most implausible of rumours. This is what has been evident in Hyderabad in recent days and visible in countless other instances of communal violence in various parts of the country.  It is ordinary people who suffer the most in communal violence. Their kith and kin get killed and their businesses, which often depend on cross-community co-operation, suffer grievously. Thus it is they who should actively resist falling prey to incendiary speeches and malicious rumours.


Authorities and civil society groups tend to respond to communal violence after it has erupted. In Hyderabad, the government has deployed paramilitary forces and declared curfew to control the rioting. Civil society groups are providing relief to those hit by the violence. But this is not enough. We need to act to prevent violence, to put in place mechanisms that will identify early warning signs and alert society to intervene in a timely and effective manner. Following the 1992-93 riots in Mumbai, police and civil society groups put in place peace committees in communally-sensitive neighbourhoods. The Mumbai experiment has achieved some success and it could be replicated in other cities and towns as well.  The law deals sternly with those who carry out terrorist attacks. Communal violence that is engineered is no less serious a crime. Those ordering or planning it should be awarded serious punishment.









It seemed outrageous to me 56 years ago to find students sporting 'Kashmir' and 'Hyderabad' on the lapel badges meant to indicate country at the freshers' reception at my university in Britain. Looking back now, I can find it in me to be less censorious about those young Pakistanis asserting what they felt was their primary loyalty.

Race and religion are the prime movers of history, and the burqa controversy in France demonstrates they continue to shape human behaviour. The instinctive contemporary reaction that burqas are medieval means that the garment represents an unfamiliar race and religion. But when president Nicolas Sarkozy denounces the burqa as an affront to French 'values,' he is only upholding a rival form of ethnic nationalism.

The thousands of Asians and Africans who risk their lives every year trying to cross the Mediterranean to reach the shores of Spain or France can testify that Europe does not welcome settlers of alien race or religion. Exclusiveness is rationalised on economic grounds but the barriers are not as high against poor migrants from other European countries. France may have five million Muslims but has many more East Europeans.

Ethnic nationalism

The point is not to condemn Europe as racist but to underscore that ethnic nationalism is not only an Asian or African phenomenon. Europe's 19th century overseas empires took little note of existing demographic differences; so, when the colonial power receded, it was natural for tribal identities to surge back again. Rwanda-Burundi became Rwanda and Burundi; Bangladesh and Timor Leste separated from Pakistan and Indonesia respectively.

 Some artificial unions (the inclusion of the Borneo territories, Sabah and Sarawak, in Malaysia) continue; some minorities made a bid for independence (Biafra) and failed; and some like Katanga became the tools of neocolonial adventurism. Some also -- and the Kashmir Valley must be mentioned -- fear their identity might be swamped in a larger culture.

France's St Bartholomew's night massacre of Protestants and Spain's Inquisition remind us that Europe is no stranger to such passions even if the European Union is held up today as the model superstate that Saarc, Asean and the Gcc should try to emulate.


 Ethnic cleansing began in Europe when Greeks and Turks vacated each other's territory. Spain's Basque nationalists are waging one of the world's oldest guerrilla wars for a homeland, and it's a moot point how long ethnically-split Belgium will survive. Only strict citizenship laws preserve Switzerland's domestic ethnic balance of power.

But erstwhile Yugoslavia points both to the power of ethnic nationalism and the means of containing it. When the Cold War ended, the constituent units lost little time in demonstrating that far from being 'imagined communities' in Benedict Anderson's sense, they were full-fledged muscular nations.

The revelations of Slobodan Milosevic's misdeeds confirm how far the Serbs went to establish the point. But it wasn't only Tito's iron hand that kept Yugoslavia's constituent units together. The kingdom of Yugoslavia was formed as a willing union at the end of the First World War by people who preferred a new monarchy to the old Ottoman or Austro-Hungarian empires.

Monarchical Yugoslavia was a more apposite model for inter-state unity than the European Union with its cumbersome superstructure of bureaucrats and rules creating work for itself like decreeing that British ice-cream has no (or not adequate) milk content.

This fictional unity is part of the make-believe that Europe has exorcised ethnic nationalism which is blamed for two world wars and denounced and denied. Denounce it as much as you will, but to deny it is burying your head in the sand.

 We understand that in India where identity consists of language and religion, with the Indian label tagged on almost as an afterthought. The scholarly journalist, Dr Jay Dubashi, takes this to an extreme in his column when he stakes his claim to Hindu nationality.

What is not clear is whether he calls himself Hindu because he belongs to the land of the Indus or the Sanatan Dharma. If the former, then Muslims are also Hindu, which may not be to their liking. If the latter, then Islam can also be cited as a nationality. Even individual choice has to be exercised with discretion because one decision can impact on another.

Central diktat

Ethno-nationalism cannot be wished away. But it can be subsumed in partnership structures that encourage full cross-border cooperation while respecting the core identity of nation-states. The old Soviet Union failed because the central diktat suppressed its republics. Yugoslavia might have survived if the Soviet collapse had not left Europe in a flush of tribal assertiveness.

Perhaps the most pragmatic and yet idealistic blueprint in this respect was Jawaharlal Nehru's vision of an Indo-Pakistani confederation. He expected a confederation to be the solvent for Kashmiri restiveness and also to pre-empt secessionist sentiment in what was then East Pakistan.

It didn't happen but that doesn't mean it cannot one day, or that the formula should not be tried in other troubled regions where race and religion are at odds with the demands of modern statehood. Confederal states could also provide a partial answer to the challenge of cross-border terrorism.








For a country that aspires to join the ranks of 'great powers' in the not too distant a future, India's prickly reaction to reports and statements that the US could sign a civilian nuclear deal with Pakistan, as well as its quiet satisfaction, if not relief, that no such deal was signed, was quite unnecessary. If anything, it deflected attention from the more substantial aspects of the US-Pakistan relationship which in the near future will impinge upon India's vital security interests.

A cool contemplation of the existing diplomatic and strategic realities should have been enough for Indian policymakers to know that a civilian nuclear deal for Pakistan was not on offer, at least not for the foreseeable future. The only difference was that unlike in the past when Pakistan would have met with a rebuff, this time around the US was willing to hear the Pakistanis out during the latest round of strategic dialogue between the two countries.

Pakistan wants a civilian nuclear deal not because it will solve its debilitating energy crisis, but more because it will fulfil Pakistan's obsessive quest for strategic parity with India by accepting it as a nuclear weapons state. More than anything, it is this strategic dimension of a civilian nuclear deal that Pakistanis hanker for.

It makes very little sense for Pakistan wanting a nuclear deal to get over its massive energy deficit today because, even if the civilian nuclear deal comes through in the next few years, the first nuclear power plant will not become operational for another 10, maybe 15, years.

Overstate and overplay

Quite aside their proclivity to overstate and overplay their strengths, even the most delusional Pakistani would know that a civilian nuclear deal is not quite within reach. Such a deal for Pakistan can neither be justified on economic grounds, nor on strategic grounds and will be very difficult for any US administration to sell politically at home and diplomatically abroad.

Many things could change in the US-Pakistan relationship in this time that could kill the deal. But even if the US stakes in Pakistan remain strong, a civilian nuclear deal will have to traverse through torturous negotiations which will involve some very tough bargaining over very intrusive conditionalities which could serve as deal-breakers.

Worst proliferators

Assuming that the US and Pakistani administration do manage to strike a deal, the agreement will then have to be passed through the US Congress. What are the chances of a country like Pakistan managing to get the Congress to pass a nuclear deal?
Even if the US Congress passes the deal, it will then have to go before IAEA and the NSG. Can Obama afford to expend his personal and political capital in the NSG for rewarding one of the worst proliferators with a nuclear deal?

Apart from proliferation concerns, many NSG countries will also oppose such a deal for Pakistan because there is very little economic incentive for them to sell civilian nuclear equipment to Pakistan. Given the impecunious state of Pakistan's economy, and the spread of Islamic terrorism in that country who, except perhaps the Chinese, will want to sell nuclear equipment or set up a nuclear plant in Pakistan?

Clearly then, while there never was any nuclear deal on offer, by creating hype around their demand for a civilian nuclear deal (which they never expected to come through in the first place), the Pakistani have successfully managed to pressure the Americans into addressing many of their other strategic, economic and military concerns.

 More than the nuclear deal, it is the massive transfers of conventional weapons to the Pakistanis and the other political and diplomatic assurances which the US has made to Pakistan that should worry India.

By bolstering their conventional military capability the US has ended up emboldening Pakistan to think that it can once again ratchet up tension with India by brandishing its newly acquired weapons as well as unleashing the jihadist terror groups. The Pakistan army would now be calculating that the US is so beholden to them that it will turn a complete blind eye to the export of terror into India.

 And, in the event of things getting out of hand, the US will pressure India to back off, like it did in the 1980s when the Pakistanis sponsored terrorism in Indian Punjab. With history repeating itself in Pakistan, the future of Indo-Pak relations seems rather dismal.








In the army, an officer, especially infantry officers form 'posses' to carry out different types of tasks depending on the situation.  Although I remember of many such posses in my career the one I remember vividly is a posse formed for convenience of administration when serving as a rifle company commander in a mountainous border area. It comprised of my orderly, driver, cook, safaiwala, washerman and a runner. In my battalion it was jokingly called, Delta Company Commander's 'secretariat.'

The jawans in my beefed-up company took the information given by the secretariat as authentic; even the battalion headquarters and JCOs , considered the information of this organisation as the official line of Delta Company. The secretariat boys would proudly narrate my visits to pickets under me during the 'lungar gupps' (conversations during lunches).

The secretariat also functioned as a filter for information got by them from the company personnel. The information would reach me in a refined and filtered state, which was not always helpful.


Some times while company commanders' orders or information percolated down the hierarchy, the secretariat boys would add their own stories to it too, which would lead to friendly arguments between them and the concerned jawans. On one such occasion a combatant blacksmith met me and said, "Saabji officer mess cook Banta Singh ne dasya, jeda mein LMG fixed line banaya hun woh thik nahi si" ("Sir, cook Banta Singh said that the LMG fixed line fabricated by me is not ok" -Fixed line is contraption to keep the light machine gun fire at a designated approach of the enemy).

 When I asked him as to where and when the cook said that, the blacksmith said, "Cook ne officers messwich dasya", (Cook has said this in the officer mess).  Now, for the jawans, any place where food for officers was cooked would be labeled the officers' mess. Actually, the place where my food was cooked was a dilapidated bunker located one ledge below the ledge where my living bunker was located.

On another occasion, the jawans in the cookhouse had a guffaw during lungar gupp over a story my driver had narrated about a badakhana (or feast). The feast was organised at a neighbouring infantry battalion in honour of our then prime minister Rajiv Gandhi and I had also been invited for this event.  The feast was arranged with pomp and show, commensurate with the field conditions where the prime minister arrived.

After the pleasantries of protocol, he was taken to have food with jawans in one of the rifle companies. After he shared some food with a sepoy from his plate, the commanding officer requested the VVIP to visit other rifle companies' jawans too. Rajiv Gandhi said, "I will have four Badakhanas today, you can take me anywhere you like!" Those who were present at the spot smiled realising that the VVIP referred to each morsel from the jawan's plate as a badakhana.








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.








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.






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.






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.






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




For years, the debate over offshore drilling for gas and oil has been a war of sound bites between the "drill now, drill everywhere" crowd that dominated the Bush administration and the Republican campaign in 2008, and members of the environmental community who would leave the country's outer continental shelf untouched.


Neither provided a satisfying answer to the twin demands of reducing this country's dependence on foreign oil and protecting precious coastal areas. On Wednesday, President Obama struck a sensible middle ground.


He announced a decision to expand oil and gas exploration in selected areas of America's coastal waters that will satisfy neither extreme but is, on the whole, a careful and useful addition to the steps he has already taken to reduce the nation's energy dependence.


Mr. Obama noted pointedly and correctly that increased oil and gas drilling cannot possibly address the country's long-term energy needs. It should be seen as just one element of his broader energy strategy — including fuel efficiency standards to be announced on Thursday, big investments in alternative fuels in the stimulus package and new loan guarantees for nuclear power.


The new strategy — the result of more than a year of work by Interior Secretary Ken Salazar — also confronts an essential political reality: the Senate will insist on offshore drilling as part of a broader bill, expected after Easter, addressing climate change and other energy-related problems. Mr. Obama is trying to anticipate and shape that discussion by identifying areas that he thinks can responsibly be opened for exploration while quarantining others.


Nearly all of America's coastal waters have been up for grabs since 2008 when President George W. Bush lifted a longstanding presidential moratorium on drilling in the outer continental shelf. A few months later, Congress allowed a parallel Congressional moratorium to expire. Mr. Bush also lifted a separate moratorium on drilling in Alaska's Bristol Bay that was imposed by his father in 1990 after the Exxon Valdez spill. Bristol Bay is home to America's richest fishing grounds and is the main driver of a $2.2 billion regional fishing industry.


Under the Obama administration's plan, Bristol Bay will once again be completely protected, which is wonderful news. Further north in Arctic waters, the plan would allow drilling on existing leases in relatively small areas of the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas to proceed — which seemed inevitable, given legal and economic obstacles to reversing them. It would, however, postpone any further development pending the outcome of detailed scientific and environmental studies. Alaska's environmentalists were encouraged, and they should be.


The rest of the plan is as significant for the areas it protects as for those it opens. Exploration will not be allowed on the Pacific Coast or along the Atlantic Coast north of Delaware. Seismic exploration — which in effect means exploratory drilling — will be allowed along the central and southern Atlantic Coast from Delaware to Florida, but, again, no new leases will be granted until the scoping process and the environmental reviews are finished.


The Interior Department's seismic information is decades old, and one important point of the new plan is to discover what's out there. The department's most optimistic present estimate of the resources in the areas covered by the plan, including the Gulf of Mexico, is 63 billion barrels of economically recoverable oil.

That sounds like a lot, but it isn't, since the United States consumes more than 7 billion barrels each year. As Mr. Obama noted, the basic energy math remains unchanged: a country that consumes one-quarter of the world's oil, but owns about 2 percent of the world's known reserves, cannot drill its way to self-sufficiency.






President Nicolas Sarkozy of France got nearly everything he could have hoped for from his visit to the United States this week. Now he needs to return the favor by significantly increasing French combat strength in Afghanistan.


Coming off low poll numbers and a regional election drubbing, Mr. Sarkozy needed a boost. And he was welcomed as an old and trusted friend in Washington. He and his wife, Carla Bruni-Sarkozy, were treated to a private dinner with the Obamas, which is sure to play well in Paris. He also got a presidential promise of a "free and fair" trans-Atlantic bidding process for the Air Force's new tanker. And President Obama and his aides graciously made no public mention of France's failure to contribute its fair share of troops to fight a common enemy in Afghanistan.


Mr. Sarkozy scored additional political points by telling a Columbia University audience that America needs to "reflect on what it means to be the world's No. 1 power" and be a country "that listens."


That is true. And France needs to be a country that does more than lecture.


When Mr. Obama ordered 30,000 more American troops to Afghanistan, he rightly expected significant increases from European NATO members as well. In particular, he looked to France, with one of Europe's most modern and effective military forces, to send another 1,000 or more troops to the 3,750 it currently has there. That would have added useful military punch and underscored the multinational character of NATO's presence.


Instead, Mr. Sarkozy has offered only 80 more military trainers. Thousands more trainers are needed to transform Afghanistan's underperforming Army and corrupt and brutal National Police into forces capable of maintaining order and legitimacy in areas reclaimed from the Taliban. But while a number of NATO members can provide qualified trainers, France is one of the few that can provide robust and effective combat forces.


Mr. Sarkozy repeatedly declares that he strongly supports the NATO effort in Afghanistan. He said so again this week. The best way to prove that support would be to send more French combat troops.







The Census Bureau — the real Census Bureau — reports the good news that 50 percent of American households have mailed in their decennial head-count forms so far. There's no word on the ersatz "census" forms mailed out this year by the Republican National Committee and the National Republican Congressional Committee as a fund-raising gambit.


"Do Not Destroy" and "Official Document" emblazoned the envelope. Inside, many of the fake census questions seemed intended to reinforce respondents' conservative views — "Do you believe the huge, costly Democrat-passed stimulus bill has been effective in creating jobs or stimulating America's economy?" — before putting the bite on them.


In a show of good sense, both houses of Congress, Republican majorities included, have decided that there ought to be a law against such deceptive mailings. The bill sent last week to President Obama will require any mailing marked "census" to show the sender's true name and address and have a prominent disclaimer that it has nothing whatsoever to do with the Census Bureau.


Violators will face penalties and find their mail undelivered. Considerable embarrassment was the only price the R.N.C. paid under the existing, insufficient law.


Lawmakers were properly concerned that mailings of fraudulent pitches stamped "census" would lead people to toss out the real thing and not fulfill their constitutional duty. If responses are low, the Census Bureau has to spend more time — and money — sending out census-takers to those who missed or ignored the mailed form.


Meanwhile, antigovernment activists propose a boycott of the census as Big Government nosiness. This would be illegal, and it is bad news for states and citizens since an undercount means they could lose out on deserved federal aid dollars or political representation.


Even that logic isn't stopping Representative Michele Bachmann, a Republican of Minnesota. She has been urging a boycott except for the house-count question. Her local newspaper reports that if enough people boycott, the state could lose a Congressional seat in redistricting. So far, 60 percent of Minnesotans have mailed back their forms, faster than the national average.







I owe an almost inexpressible debt to Charles Ryskamp, an extraordinary museum director, literary scholar, and a man of unlimited generosity. When I met him, I was a graduate student in the English department at Princeton University and he was a professor there. He also was the director of the Pierpont Morgan Library.


I joined a couple of his projects — helping him, in very minor ways, to edit the poems of William Collins and William Cowper — and then I went to work at the Morgan Library cataloguing its collection of British literary manuscripts. I, of course, believed that I had somehow earned all this, when, in fact, these were the benefactions of a professor and mentor who never breathed a word of his kindnesses.


Charles, who died last week at the age of 81, was a serious man, but gleeful, and all the more so because he was just slightly unaware of how amusing he could be. To see him in black tie at the opening of a Morgan Library exhibition — or, later, at the Frick Collection, which he led for a decade — was to see a man in rubicund humor. Academically, he was partly a product of the Boswell factory at Yale, the team of scholars editing the trove of James Boswell's journals. His enduring literary project was editing the works of Cowper, one of the major minor poets of the late-18th century; a poet of deep existential crisis and, like Charles, a man of sensibility.


For all his ceremonial qualities, the Charles I knew — C.R., as he was called at the Morgan — was a modest man, delighted by the success of his students and perpetually flushed with enthusiasm.


We sometimes took the same train back to Princeton, and once, on the walk to Penn Station, I confessed that I was staggered to be working at the Morgan. I remember the look he gave me. It was more than complicity. It was an admission that he, too, was in love with his luck, still measuring day by day how far he had come to find himself at home in that glorious world of books and letters and drawings.







Some 2,400 years ago, a Chinese king invited a legendary military strategist named Sun Tzu to give a demonstration in military training — using women from the palace.


Sun Tzu agreed, organizing 180 of the king's beautiful young women into two companies. He made the king's two favorite concubines officers in charge, and explained the principles of marching.


The women treated this as an uproarious joke. An ancient account explains that when Sun Tzu beat the drum to signal "right turn!" "the girls only burst out laughing."


So Sun Tzu patiently repeated the instructions and beat the drum to signal "left turn!" Again, the women simply burst into laughter. So Sun Tzu seized the two favorite concubines, accused them of failing to maintain discipline — and beheaded them. Now the other terrified women followed orders perfectly.


That's the kind of historical tale that members of China's Politburo absorbed while growing up — and reflect today. In battles over Google and the currency exchange rate, they model the hardheaded Sun Tzu, accepting that making omelets will require breaking eggs.


So look out.


One of the most important diplomatic relationships in the world is between China and the U.S., and it is deteriorating sharply. What's more, many experts believe it will get considerably worse over the coming year — and one reason may be that China's leaders seem to feel as if they have their backs to the wall.


We tend to think of China as an invincible force rising up to challenge the West, but today's disputes — and a corresponding domestic crackdown — seem to reflect the leadership's sense of vulnerability. From abroad, we are awed by an economy that sometimes soars at nearly 10 percent a year. At home, the leaders appear to worry about a fragile society and the risk that a rise in unemployment could lead to vast social upheaval.


That's one of the reasons China is adamantly refusing to let the renminbi rise further. There's no question that China's undervalued currency irresponsibly creates global imbalances — but if you're in the Zhongnanhai leadership compound, your concern is just staying in power.


Likewise, I'd bet that it is the government's sense of insecurity — not strength — that has the leadership fulminating about Google. When the Chinese government jostled with Google, young Chinese didn't leave flowers at Zhongnanhai to show support. Rather, they left flowers and supportive notes at Google's headquarters in Beijing.


"Patriotic education" and carefully nurtured nationalism mean that in many disputes between China and the West, the Chinese people and the Chinese government stand together. We in the West see human rights in Tibet as a moral imperative and a rising renminbi as an economic imperative; Chinese citizens and leaders alike see these issues as part of a 200-year-long string of Western imperialist efforts to bully or dismember a fragile China.


But the Internet is different. The Politburo doesn't want a free Internet, and the people do.


Mostly, I think we exaggerate the disaffection of Chinese toward their government. Most Chinese citizens aren't very political and aren't deeply upset by the lack of a ballot — as long as living standards continue to improve. And many Chinese prefer a local search engine, Baidu, to Google.


Still, ordinary Chinese are profoundly irritated by corruption, nepotism, lies, official arrogance — and hassles when they try to use the Internet.


The United States government has been reluctant to support financing for the proxy servers that enable Chinese or Iranians to leap firewalls. That's because the most effective software to evade censorship was devised by Falun Gong, a religious group that is despised by the Chinese government. The fear is that China would be outraged. But we shouldn't let that dissuade us, for we have a powerful interest in chipping away at firewalls that protect dictatorships.


The mood among young Chinese reminds me of Taiwan or South Korea or Indonesia in the 1980s, when an increasingly educated middle class — beneficiaries of enlightened economic policies of oppressive governments — grew to feel stifled and patronized by their governments. Eventually, in each case they upended one-party rule and achieved a democracy.


Chinese leaders surely fear that parallel, and that is likely to be one of the reasons they are cracking down frantically on dissent. But again, all this may be a sign of weakness, not strength.


The Communist Party's greatest success is the extraordinary economic changes it has ushered in over the last three decades with visionary policies and impressive governance. Its greatest failing is its refusal to adjust politically to accommodate the middle class that it created. And its greatest vulnerability is the way it increasingly neither inspires people nor terrifies them, but rather simply annoys them.







I need to apologize to Mitt Romney.

Here I was thinking of him as a failed politician with no discernible core values, who had once driven to Canada with the family dog strapped to the roof of the car.


But it's now becoming clear that he's the man we have to thank for our new national health care law.


"I mean, a lot of commentators have said this is sort of similar to the bill that Mitt Romney, the Republican governor and now presidential candidate, passed in Massachusetts," President Obama told Matt Lauer recently on the "Today" show.


Good work leading the way, Mitt!


We did not actually hear a whole lot about how Obama's health care bill was similar to Romney's during its long, torturous struggle through Congress. Particularly not during the parts that involved placating the Democratic left wing. Do you think Obama mentioned it during his Air Force One courtship of Dennis Kucinich? Possibly not.


But it really does seem as though the two plans are a whole lot alike, and Romney deserves credit for working with the Massachusetts Democrats to get such an ambitious, sweeping reform enacted. However, since most of his party is currently crouched in the basement, waiting for the health care apocalypse to split the earth into smithereens, they're probably not going to be all that impressed.


The Republicans are dying for a disaster, and to be honest, even people who like the new law a lot have been worried that something really strange might be hidden in 2,000 pages of verbiage. (Did you know somebody stuck financing for abstinence education in there?)


This week there was an alarming report that AT&T was going to have to reduce its long-term profit estimates by about $1 billion because of the new law — or, as the House minority leader, John Boehner, put it, the newly enacted "job-killing tax increases." The AT&T charge was for accounting purposes, which is not as much real money as currency-based theology. But still, it did sound bad.


It turned out that the $1 billion goes back to the famous 2003 Medicare prescription drug entitlement passed by a Republican-controlled Congress and paid for through their innovative pretend-it's-not-there financing system.


In order to keep businesses from ending their drug coverage and dumping their retirees on the federal system, Congress provided a 28 percent reimbursement for the benefits. And, the companies got to deduct the entire cost of the drug plans from their taxes. Including the government subsidy.


Yes! The job-killing tax increase in the new law involves no longer allowing big corporations to take a tax deduction for spending money we gave them. Somehow, this doesn't seem to have the makings of a Tea Party rally.


But there's always the insurance mandate. When it comes to roiling right-wing hysteria, nothing whips up a crowd like the law's requirement that everybody get health coverage.


Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter of Idaho, who is definitely the winner of the Most Fun Name for a Governor Award, kicked off the rebellion this week by signing a law requiring the state to sue the federal government over this provision. "If it is the proper role for government to mandate that citizens buy certain products, then I'm going to get potatoes in line for them just as quick as I can," Otter announced.


Idaho, you should not let your elected officials push the potato thing so hard. The state has a lot more to talk about — lovely scenery, great people, the world's largest factory for barrel cheese, the smallest number of doctors per capita in the country. And what about your state fruit, the huckleberry?


About that insurance requirement. Americans pay an estimated $42.7 billion a year in taxes and higher health care premiums because of the cost of medical treatment for the uninsured. So you would think that conservatives in particular would believe that everybody ought to be held responsible for having their own coverage. Unless they're starting a new cutting-edge Let Them Die in a Ditch Movement.


"No more free-riders," Romney said frequently, back when he was a little more vocal about defending the Massachusetts plan. Lately, he's been vaguer on the subject, and when it comes to the new federal law, he's jumped on the repeal bandwagon. When someone from the liberal blog ThinkProgress asked Romney whether he thought the new federal insurance mandate — so very much like the Massachusetts one — was constitutional, he muttered something about it being "a big topic" and ducked into an elevator.


It's possible that he hadn't looked so uncomfortable since the time he was chased by a reporter who wanted to know if he thought Seamus the Irish setter had enjoyed driving to Canada on top of the family car.








LAST month, thieves cut through the roof of an Eli Lilly warehouse in Enfield, Conn., shimmied down a rope, disabled the alarms and made off with $75 million worth of psychiatric drugs, including the antidepressants Prozac and Cymbalta and the antipsychotic Zyprexa. It is thought to have been the largest pharmaceutical theft in history.


News reports expressed some puzzlement over the crime. Why would burglars go after medicines rather than diamonds or art? And when did pharmaceutical thieves graduate from Oxycontin stickups to the big time?


The answers lie in our haphazardly regulated pharmaceutical supply chain and the dangerous gray market that intersects it. As soon as medicines leave manufacturers' loading docks, they enter a market teeming with middlemen, many legitimate but some not. The drugs may move through a dozen hands, through small secondary wholesalers and repackagers. With so many middlemen involved, thieves can easily unload stolen drugs, which may be resold to pharmacies and hospitals and dispensed to you and me.


If the drugs are real, why should we care? Because pharmaceuticals need to be stored properly — generally in dry air at a steady temperature. Thieves — and the secondary wholesalers who buy from them — don't mind keeping their products in hot, humid conditions, which can degrade medicines or even alter their chemical composition.


Last June, after 129,000 vials of Novo Nordisk's long-acting insulin were stolen from a parked truck in North Carolina, the Food and Drug Administration warned diabetes patients not to take drugs with the stolen lot numbers. But it was too late. The vials turned up in a Texas medical center. Because the insulin had not been refrigerated, patients who used it developed unsafe blood-sugar levels. The authorities have recovered only 2 percent of the missing vials.


Vials of stolen or diverted drugs can also wind up in the hands of counterfeiters, who may relabel them or even replace their contents with cheaper ingredients. Such counterfeits also find their way into the legitimate supply. In 2002, Timothy Fagan, a 16-year-old on Long Island, experienced painful spasms after getting a diverted dose of Epogen to treat his anemia after a liver transplant. The drug had been relabeled, stored in the back of a strip club and ultimately resold to a national wholesaler and dispensed by a pharmacy.


In the wake of the Connecticut theft, Eli Lilly tried to reassure consumers by asserting that the American drug distribution system is "tightly controlled and monitored, making it extremely difficult for stolen product to make it to patients through legitimate channels." Yet common sense tells us that you don't steal a big volume of anything unless you know you can resell it.


Pharmaceuticals account for only 5 percent of all cargo thefts, according to FreightWatch International, a freight security company. This is far less than electronics, the most-stolen kind of cargo, which account for almost a fourth. But drugs are in first place in the category of value per incident. Last year, while the average electronics theft amounted to $814,000, the average pharmaceutical theft was worth $4 million. Since 2006, the number of drug thefts has quadrupled.


Consumers could be protected from this. Track-and-trace technology can put a unique code on each bottle, even each pill produced. Unfortunately, Eli Lilly's psychiatric drugs left that Connecticut warehouse with neither. Drug companies are apparently reluctant to pay the nominal cost of tagging pills and bottles (only about 25 cents a bottle, after an initial investment of $1 million to $2 million). Unlike consumers, they are protected from theft by insurance. The F.D.A. should require that drug makers tag every bottle.


Without track-and-trace technology the only way a manufacturer can retrieve stolen drugs is to recall all the packages in the affected lot number, but that may include thousands when only a few hundred have been stolen. Manufacturers are understandably reluctant to issue such large, costly recalls.


With track-and-trace technology, on the other hand, it is easy to find the packages that are safely in the possession of legitimate wholesalers, hospitals and drugstores. A limited recall is therefore easier. With an Internet connection and an electronic reader, institutions that are licensed to buy drugs would be able to cross-check inventory against a central database to find out if drugs on their shelves had been stolen. And if stolen drugs were that easy to detect, the market for them would quickly shrink.


Katherine Eban is the author of "Dangerous Doses: A True Story of Cops, Counterfeiters and the Contamination of America's Drug Supply." J. Aaron Graham, a former agent for the Food and Drug Administration's Office of Criminal Investigations, was the chief security officer for Purdue Pharma from 2002 to 2008.







Princeton, N.J.

IN the face of rising tensions between the United States and Israel over housing construction in East Jerusalem, the Obama administration has rushed to reassert what Secretary of State Hillary Clinton recently called the "unshakable bond" between the two countries.


No doubt, that relationship rests on enduring foundations, including broad American public sympathy for a besieged democracy, a mutual strategic interest in resisting Arab extremism and a sense of moral duty to preserve the Jewish people after the Holocaust.


But if Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu tries to push his luck on settlements or the peace process, he would do well to remember an unnerving precedent: Israel's loss, in 1967, of what had been a robust alliance with France.


The French-Israeli relationship began in the mid-1950s, when Israel became a major customer for the French arms industry. But the bond was not merely commercial: at the time France was trying to quash a rebellion in Algeria, and it shared with Israel a strategic interest in combating radical Arab nationalism. In 1956, France and Israel even fought together against Egypt in the Suez crisis.


The tacit alliance, championed by Israel's deputy defense minister, Shimon Peres, deepened during the late '50s and early '60s through military cooperation and cultural exchanges. French technical assistance helped Israel get nuclear weapons, and France supplied the advanced military aircraft that became the backbone of the Israeli Air Force.


The relationship only grew warmer when Charles de Gaulle, the World War II hero, took over as French president in 1959. He recognized the historic justice of a Jewish "national home," which he saw "as some compensation for suffering endured through long ages," and he heaped praise on David Ben-Gurion, Israel's founding prime minister, as one of the "greatest leaders in the West."


The bilateral bonds ran outside the government, too, with strongly pro-Israel public opinion, both among French Jews and non-Jews. But with the end of the Algerian war in 1962, de Gaulle began mending France's ties to the Arab world and the relationship came under strain. For a while, France tried to balance its relationships: Israeli officials were heartily welcomed in Paris, and de Gaulle continued to speak of Israel as "the ally and friend" of France.


This double game, however, ended when the Six-Day War in 1967 forced France to pick a side. In a shock to its Israeli allies, it chose the Arab states: despite aggressive moves by Egypt, France imposed a temporary arms embargo on the region — which mostly hurt Israel — and warned senior Israeli officials to avoid hostilities.


When Israel launched a pre-emptive strike on June 5, France condemned it — even as Israel's nearly immediate aerial victory was won largely with French-made aircraft.


A few months later de Gaulle bluntly told reporters that France had "freed itself ... from the very special and very close ties" with Israel, nastily adding that Jews were "an elite people, sure of itself, and dominating."


This was not a sentimental stance: de Gaulle had made a strategic decision to bolster France's stature in the vast Arab world, which in 1967 meant largely abandoning Israel. France proceeded to make the arms embargo on Israel permanent, sought oil deals with the Arab states and adopted increasingly anti-Israel rhetoric.


Of course, American public support for Israel is even more deeply ingrained than it was in France, and it is hard to imagine that anyone in President Obama's staunchly pro-Israel White House is contemplating anything like de Gaulle's sudden reversal.


Still, there are potentially disquieting similarities. Like de Gaulle after Algeria, President Obama understands the strategic importance of improving relations with the Arab and Muslim worlds after years of bloodshed in Iraq and Afghanistan. And so long as the Israeli-Palestinian peace process remains stalled, Washington's relationships with Israel and the Arab states may look to some in the administration like a zero-sum game.


In the same way that many French officials tried to balance France's relationships in the Middle East after the end of the Algerian war, Mr. Obama undoubtedly hopes that he can reach out to the Arab world without damaging ties with Israel. But this history suggests that Mr. Netanyahu would be wise to ease the strain on the alliance before any words are uttered that cannot be unsaid.


Gary J. Bass is a professor of politics and international affairs at Princeton and the author of "Freedom's Battle: The Origins of Humanitarian Intervention."



******************************************************************************************I. THE NEWS




The issue of presidential immunity has surfaced again. The Supreme Court appears to have made it clear that the matter is not as cut and dried as the presidency would have us believe, and that it will, in the final analysis, be decided by the court. There are, after all, many ways of interpreting law and in doing so broader principles sometimes hold sway over specific clauses. One principle we can all agree on is the need to mete out justice evenly and fairly, and ensure that no one in the state is completely above the law. This of course is what all – or almost all – citizens seek. The matter of immunity coincides with key developments on other fronts. The flurry of action we have seen in the past few days, with key officials facing jail and an ultimatum given to NAB, changes the tint of the glasses through which we have been looking at matters. And the Swiss may be looking through a different set of glasses. Late on Wednesday evening the Swiss Prosecutor-General Daniel Zappelli stated that President Zardari as a head of state enjoyed immunity from prosecution and that anyway the Swiss had not, contrary to statements by NAB, received a request from Pakistan to reopen the case. Matters will doubtless clarify in coming days.

All this comes against a distinct background. The fact of the matter is that people, more than anything else, seek good and competent governance. They have seen little of this over the past two years. It is quite true the PPP cannot entirely be blamed for all that has gone wrong; much of the chaos is a legacy of the Musharraf years. But then it is also correct to say that little has been done to amend this. The general impression is one of indifference on the part of leaders to the steadily worsening plight of the people. Citizens attribute this to the focus on making money rather than offering leadership. This too is the reason why the judges, who have attempted to amend the situation, appear as heroes. The situation is not an unprecedented one. We have, sadly, seen similar ones in the past. Corruption is not an unfamiliar scourge. But it is one many would like to confront head-on. The case of the president and the immunity extended to him, without doubt, has legal complexities. There is division among experts on the matter. But there is also no doubt that sorting it out would help clarify matters as they stand and also give a voice to people who demand justice and understand that this is linked to much that they seek in terms of an improvement in their quality of life.













Alice's exclamation 'curiouser and curiouser' was made as she saw her feet recede while she grew to nine feet high during her Adventures in Wonderland. She had just drunk from a bottle labelled 'drink me' not knowing what its contents might do, and we may be similarly wondering just what Mr Zardari thought was going to be in the bottle when he called for a United Nations inquiry into the circumstances surrounding the death of Benazir Bhutto. Two hours before the publication of the report, which had already been delayed by three months, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon acceded to a request from President Zardari that publication be delayed until April 15. The reason for the delay, according to the presidency, is to enable the inquiry commission to question two unnamed heads of state who had warned Benazir Bhutto of the serious threats to her life. One may be forgiven for wondering why this had not already been done in the course of the inquiry and why at this late stage such further inquiry was necessary.

The UN had ordered the closure for three days of all its offices in Pakistan ahead of the publication of the report in anticipation of a possible backlash at its findings, and there are now some immediate questions, foremost being – who owns the report? It was commissioned by the UN at the request of our government and conducted by a reputable international panel. Is the report the property of our government or of the UN and can either or both choose to suppress its contents? Do the people of Pakistan have a right to see the report? Can the UN decide to unilaterally release the contents of the report whether or not our government so wishes? Any definitive truths regarding Ms Bhutto's death were obscured from the outset – by the refusal to allow an autopsy for one and for the swift destruction of evidence at the scene of the crime for another. It could be that the 'missing' evidence is germane to the inquiry and will add to its completion. It may also be that the government has foreknowledge of some or all of the contents and for reasons unknown has chosen to delay its publication. Either way, the curiosity of the world, not just Pakistan, is going to have to wait two more weeks to be satisfied. The Wonderland that Alice travelled through appears relatively normal compared to day-to-day life here.







There is a happy end to the tale of the Iranian commercial attaché kidnapped in 2008 in Peshawar. The diplomat is understood to have returned safely home, where he is no doubt recovering from his ordeal. Iranian agents say they were solely involved in his rescue. It is understood this took place in Afghanistan, though no details are available. It is also believed Pakistani intelligence helped in the mission. It is good that things have ended well, but much could have gone wrong. Even now we do not know if an exchange of prisoners was involved. Pakistani authorities need, once more, to review how the diplomat was whisked out of the country in the first place. Had things ended in a different way, ties with Tehran would have been affected. The impact of terror on Pakistan's relations with its neighbours has been hugely negative. Remedial action is essential before things worsen creating further complications.

Pakistan has already suffered due to strained links with countries in the region. It must work to improve the situation and build trust. Other individuals kidnapped by extremist groups remain missing. One of them is the Greek national taken away by the Taliban from the Kalash valley. Given that tribal elders have since met him, there seems to be little secret about his whereabouts. Pictures have appeared in the press. Pakistani agents then need to take a leaf from their Iranian counterparts and plan a rescue. This is the least we owe a foreign individual who had been selflessly working amongst one of our poorest communities.







Siegfried Engelmann and Elaine Bruner's children story, 'The Pet Goat', may not be very riveting but it was engaging enough to rivet President Bush at an inner-city second-grade classroom in Florida for full seven minutes on September 11, 2001 after he was told that the terrorists had struck. The story is about a girl's pet goat which eats everything in its path. The family wishes to get rid of it but for the child's stout defence of the animal, till one day the goat butts a car-robber and suddenly attains a hero's status.

There is a parallel here as everyone in Pakistan is concerned about the army being heavy on national budget, and wants it to be an apolitical organisation. Its public image was in tatters until recently, but its success against the Taliban has bolstered that image again.

Paradoxically, this restored stature has given rise to worries in some quarters which feel that the army's image was better off tarnished under Musharraf than glowing again under Kayani to discourage any fresh adventurism. The media is generally fascinated with this pet story of fluctuating civil-military relations but rarely goes deeper into the causes of why it is so.


It is the desire of the entire nation that the army stay out of politics but if only the ruling politicians could somehow manage to achieve this cherished objective. Towards this end and in defence of the political institutions, however, it should be stated unambiguously that they have unfortunately been weakened by over four decades of military rule, while the military, over the same period, may well have strengthened itself as an institution.

Let us now examine some recent examples where the civil-military ride got bumpy. A few months ago, President Zardari, the supreme commander of the armed forces, stated that Pakistan did not face any threat from India. This resonated well with the US which had been advising Pakistan against being India-centric and to deploy more forces in the western region against the Taliban, but raised doubts about the supreme commander's regional overview of threat perceptions. The statement did not help the president who, as far as it is known, has not attended any major military briefing or a war game in the last two years to get fully acquainted with the serious external security issues faced by the country.

Both Zardari the politician and Kayani the soldier have their own beans to count. If the president wants to sound musical to the US in the hope of political support in spite of a serious water dispute with India looming over the horizon, then Kayani has to set the record straight due to his own compulsions.

This does not help strengthening the democratic process in the prevailing regional geo-political environments as the US picked up the signals and read the tealeaves differently, culminating eventually in Kayani being the kingpin in the recent Pak-US parleys. Ironical as it may seem but it is more of Musharraf's awkwardly worded dictum of 'keeping the army in, in order to keep it out of politics'; the only problem of course is that once in, the army cannot find its way out.

The issue of no nuclear first strike, likewise, is fundamental to national-security paradigm of the country. Ideally, it is an issue best left untouched, but if indeed a position has to be taken, then it should be at forums like the National Security Council or the Defence Committee of the Cabinet. When this does not happen, and the supreme commander airs his own views on the subject, the institutional force of the army comes into play causing embarrassment all round.

It will be unfair to single out politicians alone for this temptation to speak when silence is the better option. Musharraf, who lacked legitimacy to rule the country by his own admission, harmed the Kashmir cause through his ill-advised, out-of-the-box proposals without an across-the-board national consultative process and consensus. How can illegitimacy ever lend legitimacy to an issue as complicated as the Kashmir dispute?

Intelligence agencies the world over are under civilian control and this will have to be so in Pakistan one day. The government must be aware of the army's reservations in this regard. It was therefore rather strange when the prime minister's office, on the eve of his departure to the US, issued a notification for ISI's placement under the ministry of interior without first resolving the issues involved therein. The notification was eventually cancelled but not before it raised serious questions about mutual trust. In the ensuing debate in the media, more adverse comments on balance were directed towards the GHQ rather than the haste with which the notification was issued and its poor timing.

The ISI may not have done everything right but it is still held in awe and respect by friends and foes alike and is a national asset. If the government is really serious about placing the ISI under the ministry of interior and wants to see it headed by a civilian, it could perhaps set a timeframe, of say five years, within which to address all concerns of the army and achieve this transition smoothly.

The reversal of the government's announcement to send the ISI chief to India in the aftermath of Mumbai's incident has been much cited as erosion of political authority. Ideally, the word of a country's supreme commander should be the last word on such matters. But with that supreme authority also comes an equally awesome and heavy responsibility. If the decision to send or not to send the ISI chief to India had been arrived at after due deliberations, we would have appeared to be a country with a sound decision-making mechanism.

The GHQ's vision of strategic depth in Afghanistan has been made a light matter in some quarters. Such elements would do well to remember that in the 1965 War, PIA aircraft were parked at Iranian airports to escape war damage; surely a strategic depth version of another kind in another era.

The chief of army staff has come under criticism for granting extension to some senior officers. This was quite unwarranted as one only had to look into the relevant clauses of the Pakistan Army Regulations to know that he acted entirely within the powers vested in him by the law. If the law needs to be amended, that is quite another matter.

What hasn't come under much scrutiny in the media are the two seasoned PML-N politicians who in the past had been instrumental in Musharraf's appointment as chief of army staff. Years later, the same duo has again started visiting the Army House under cover of darkness. This is undesirable and hopefully not against democracy. The duo's previous efforts to advance Musharraf's fortunes clearly proved disastrous for the country.

As far as the chief of army staff setting the agenda for the strategic dialogue goes, well, had there been a strong and professionally orientated ministry of foreign affairs, there would have been no need for him to chair a meeting of important federal secretaries in the GHQ. Dictators and civilian rulers alike have filled up the said ministry with their own appointees of every hue. The disillusionment in the Foreign Service cadre's professionals is therefore natural and it affects their work adversely.

The only way to realise the dream of political supremacy over the armed forces will come through strengthening the political institutions and closing of ranks amongst politicians and not by wishful thinking or smoke-and-mirrors performances which no one believes.

Corollary: The goat will go away only when the political institutions outgrow the behemoth in Rawalpindi. There is sadly a long way to go.

The writer is a retired vice admiral and former vice chief of the naval staff, Pakistan Navy. Email: taj







The death toll from the 7.0-magnitude earthquake that flattened the Haitian capital of Port-au-Prince on Jan 12 exceeded 20,000. On Feb 27, an even stronger earthquake, magnitude 8.8, struck Chile. The revised death toll of 279 was down from the initial 802, because a number of missing persons considered dead were found alive. There are many ways to explain this phenomenal difference.

''The reasons are simple," an AP correspondent said. "Chile is wealthier and infinitely better prepared, with strict building codes, robust emergency response and a long history of handling seismic catastrophes. No living Haitian had experienced a quake at home when the Jan 12 disaster crumbled their poorly constructed buildings.'' In Haiti, many people "grabbed cement pillars only to watch them crumble in their hands. Haitians were not schooled in how to react – by sheltering under tables and door frames, and away from glass windows.''

Chileans, on the other hand, "have homes and offices built to ride out quakes, their steel skeletons designed to sway with seismic waves rather than resist them.''

Giving this analogy a neo-liberal twist, Wall Street Journal columnist Bret Stephens pays homage to Milton Friedman whose neo-liberal "spirit was surely hovering protectively over Chile." Because, "thanks largely to him, the country has endured a tragedy that elsewhere would have been an apocalypse… It's not by chance that Chileans were living in houses of brick--and Haitians in houses of straw--when the wolf arrived to try to blow them down."

According to Stephens, the radical free-market policies prescribed to Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet by Milton Friedman and his infamous "Chicago Boys" are the reason Chile is a prosperous nation with "some of the world's strictest building codes."

Having informed his readers how ''in 1973, the year the proto-Chavista government of Salvador Allende was overthrown by Gen Augusto Pinochet, Chile was an economic shambles.'' Stephens discreetly points out: "In left-wing mythology--notably Naomi Klein's tedious 2007 screed The Shock Doctrine--the Chicago Boys weren't just strange bedfellows to Pinochet's dictatorship."

In a stinging rebuttal, Klein sets the record straight. It was Nixon, she reminds, who growled after Allende's 1970 election victory: ''Make the [Chilean] economy scream."

''Chile's modern seismic building code, drafted to resist earthquakes, was adopted in 1972. That year is enormously significant because it was one year before Pinochet seized power in a bloody US-backed coup. That means that, if one person deserves credit for the law, it is not Friedman, or Pinochet, but Salvador Allende, Chile's democratically elected socialist president.'' According to Klein, ''Friedman was ambivalent about building codes, seeing them as yet another infringement on capitalist freedom."

She asserts: ''Pinochet's Friedman-prescribed policies had caused rapid de-industrialisation, a ten-fold increase in unemployment and an explosion of distinctly unstable shantytowns. They also led to a crisis of corruption and debt so severe that, in 1982, Pinochet was forced to fire his key Chicago Boy advisors and nationalise several of the large deregulated financial institutions." (Sounds familiar?)

Before a section of the US media embroiled itself in the Haitian-Chilean analogy, infamous American televangelist Pat Robertson dominated the debate on the Haitian earthquake for a while. He told his viewers on Christian Broadcasting Network a day after the tragedy that he knew the real reason for the Haitian quake: the country's long-standing pact with Satan."Something happened a long time ago in Haiti... They were under the heel of the French, uh, you know, Napoleon the Third, and whatever ... and they got together and swore a pact to the Devil. They said, We will serve you, if you get us free from the Prince. True story," he told his audience.

The pact he was talking about is attributed to Haitian revolution mythology. It is said that one of the revolution's leaders sacrificed a pig in Bois Caïmin in a voodoo ceremony and made a contract with Petwo, Haitian voodoo spirits. It may or may not be true.

Voodoo and Satan, by the way, are not the same thing. However, by invoking Satanism, Robertson offered an explanation that easily gains currency in religious societies like that in the USA.

This is neither new nor unique. Writer James Wood, in an essay in the New York Times, wrote on Jan 25: "Two small shocks in London, in 1750, sent the preachers to their pulpits and pamphlets. The bishop of London blamed Londoners' lewd behaviour; the bishop of Oxford argued that God had woven into his grand design certain incidents to alarm us and shake us out of our sin." Five years later, "when Lisbon was all but demolished by an enormous earthquake, the unholy refrain was heard again -- one preacher even argued that the people of Lisbon had been relatively fortunate, for God had spared more people than he had killed.''

Hence, no wonder when the earthquake struck Kashmir and the Frontier province on Oct 8, 2005, a host of Pakistani mullahs were quick to attribute the death of 80,000 innocent men, women and children to the wrath of Allah.

Fundamentalist leaders and rightwing columnists made nauseating statements. Neo-televangelist Hamid Mir made fun of "secular fundamentalists" who refused to attribute natural catastrophes to God's wrath. The leadership of the now-defunct MMA described the earthquake as a punishment for people's sins (gunahon ki saza). Advising people to seek God's forgiveness, they pinpointed the actual reason for the catastrophe: the un-Islamic ways of Pakistanis and obscenity in the media. Apparently, the only sin the earthquake victims had committed, thereby inviting God's wrath, was to vote the MMA to power in the province. Satan was incensed when Pat Robertson blamed him for the Haitian catastrophe. In a letter to him, via Lily Coyle, editor of the Star-Tribune of Minneapolis-St Paul, Satan harshly reprimanded Robertson in the following words:

Dear Pat Robertson,

I know that you know that all press is good press, so I appreciate the shout-out. [Including that blaming the divine for catastrophes happening to] people when they are down, so I'm all over that action. But when you say that Haiti has made a pact with me, it is totally humiliating. I may be evil incarnate, but I'm no welcher. The way you put it, making a deal with me leaves folks desperate and impoverished. Sure, in the afterlife. But when I strike bargains with people, they first get something here on earth -- glamour, beauty, talent, wealth, fame, glory, a golden fiddle. Those Haitians have nothing, and I mean nothing. And that was before the earthquake. Haven't you seen "Crossroads"? Or "Damn Yankees"? If I had a thing going with Haiti, there'd be lots of banks, skyscrapers, SUVs, exclusive night clubs, Botox -- that kind of thing. An 80-per-cent poverty rate is so not my style. Nothing against it -- I'm just saying: Not how I roll. You're doing great work, Pat, and I don't want to clip your wings – just, come on, you're making me look bad. And not the good kind of bad. Keep blaming God. That's working. But leave me out of it, please. Or we may need to renegotiate your own contract.

The writer is a freelance contributor. Email:







We grope; we guess. We presume; we assume. Only He knows the secrets of the head and heart. – A Sufi maxim

The sudden and spiralling boost in the political career of Asif Zardari after the demise of his wife Benazir Bhutto shows the macho mind of politics in Pakistan. It affirms that ours is a male-dominated society. A woman politician at the helm of affairs was not acceptable to the mullahs and male chauvinists in the country. When Benazir Bhutto was alive and active in politics she was targeted for the misdeeds and omissions of her husband. Now that she is dead and gone, the same politicians, her former foes, have rallied around Zardari, whom they had ridiculed to their hearts' content.

Prior to her gruesome assassination on Dec 27, 2007, Benazir Bhutto had furnished answers to the numerous queries from the media about the mysterious seclusion of her husband, Asif Ali Zardari, now president of Pakistan. She is on record as having remarked that Asif was seriously sick. At times she had elaborated his ailments – he had serious cardiac problems, his painful backbone restrained his movement, he was under constant observation and treatment by his doctors in the US and Dubai. She did not consider him fit enough to cope with the rigours of election campaigns. Thus, he was not given a party ticket for contesting the elections of 2008.

Asif Zardari's enigmatic absence from politics made many people believe he was genuinely ill and he was almost written off. He was not even considered an absentee politician. Prior to the assassination of Benazir Bhutto he was a closed chapter in Pakistani politics. However, the 24 hours following the violent termination of Benazir Bhutto's life, in one of the highest-profile murders in Pakistan, were most perplexing.

Most puzzling was the prompt appearance of a healthy Asif Zardari on the scenario. He did not emerge from the aircraft on a stretcher. Not for a moment was he seen on a wheelchair in the corridors of the airport. He showed no signs of a painful backbone and heart ailment. On the contrary, he had difficulty in concealing his smile, the hallmark of his personality. His physical appearance belied the statements of Benazir about his deteriorating health. He immediately took control of the situation and expedited his slain wife's burial.

An unconfirmed account of a planned assassination of Benazir is an unsolved riddle. Prior to her emergence from the sunroof of the bullet-proof vehicle she had received a call on her cell phone. The caller pleaded that people were eager to catch her glimpse and that she should emerge from the sunroof and wave at them. Benazir obliged the caller, and was targeted with dead accuracy when she had barely appeared. Profusely bleeding from her temple, she collapsed onto her seat. She was rushed to hospital, but by then she had died. Her sudden and violent death bewildered the world. Pakistan plunged into unprecedented chaos and confusion. Who made this call to plead for her appearance from the sunroof? Then her mobile phone disappeared, which made it impossible for investigators to trace the number of her last caller.

Asif Zardari surprised the world by expediting the burial of Benazir Bhutto. The diehard followers of Benazir Bhutto had expected that she would be given a historic burial with a ceremonial funeral procession, as in the case of Indira Gandhi and Mother Teresa in which world leaders or their representatives would pay their homage to the brave lady. Instead, she was hurriedly buried by the side of her two assassinated brothers, and her murdered father, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto.

It remains a mystery what prompted Asif Zardari to ensure her swift burial. Apart from being his wife, Benazir Bhutto was a globally renowned politician. Extended special transmissions beamed her shocking assassination around the world. He surprised observers by refusing the performance of an autopsy to ascertain the cause of her death. No one to this day knows what kind of bullet killed her. Was it fired from a prohibited weapon? Was it a chemical bullet? What was the approximate distance from where she was shot at? Such questions will remain unanswered forever.

The elimination of Benazir Bhutto ensured smooth sailing for Asif Zardari in the politics of Pakistan. His adversaries and former foes rallied round him. Gen Pervez Musharaf gave him a red carpet reception. Once his avowed antagonist, Altaf Hussain proposed that he become the president of Pakistan. Zardari promptly obliged him. Within ten months of the passing away of Benazir Bhutto, her husband whom she had kept at bay in politics, occupied the Presidency.

Chronological happenings in one's life are not recorded on a videotape. You can't rewind it, review it again, and delete the unpleasant events you do not like. You can regret what you ought not to have done. But you can't get rid of your past. It haunts you for the rest of your life. This is how Providence ordains the span between our arrival and departure from this world. We live and die between our deeds and misdeeds, omissions and commissions, and vices and virtues.

Prior to his becoming president, Asif Zardari was not a popular person in Pakistan. Political analysts hold him responsible for Benazir Bhutto's two-time exits from the Prime Minister's House. His unaccounted-for fabulous wealth has contributed to his infamy. After burying his wife he promptly took stock of the political situation in Pakistan.

With an invisible wand he won over his former enemies. He mesmerised politicians like Altaf Hussain, Asfandyar Wali, and Nawaz Sharif. His philosophy of good governance is simple: eliminate the opposition. He buys his adversaries with ministerial postings, advisory consultancies, ministries of state, lucrative postings, fabulous increases in pay, allowances and fringe benefits, allotments, and swollen purses.

He has literally purchased the opposition in Pakistan. What he unfortunately doesn't know is the Sufi view about his dubious philosophy: "One who believes he can buy anything and anybody happens to be a vulnerable commodity for sale."

The writer is a seasoned journalist.







Nawaz Sharif has finally achieved what no one has been able to do in politics for the past two years, which is to make Asif Ali Zardari's PPP look good by comparison. He inadvertently whitewashed them when he decided to skinny-dip in mud and rake it simultaneously over constitutional reforms.

Nawaz's backtracking on the constitutional reforms' issue seemed bizarre when it played itself out and especially insincere by way of his explanations on the reasons for doing so.

Mr Sharif's main objection is rooted in a misunderstanding, probably willful, populist and deceptive, on the nature of government. When he talks about certain permanent institutions and offices, he is speaking of the individuals and not the posts.

First, he has befuddled himself by thinking Dr Babar Awan will be the law minister forever. That "Dr" Babar Awan has made it this far is a miracle considering he has a one-year distance PhD from an institution dissolved and fined for fraud. But, if Nawaz has an objection, he needs to articulate it in terms of the law ministry being involved in the recruitment of judges and not Babar Awan.

Second, in the desire to appease the chief justice on the same issue he makes the same mistake. It rings hollow when he says he wants the office of the chief justice involved, primarily because he doesn't want the chief justice's office, but in a rather sycophant fashion, wants the chief justice himself involved. Had the chief justice been Sajjad Ali Shah or Dogar, Nawaz would be singing a different tune.

For those of us who have been extremely disappointed with the PPP's mismanagement, corruption and cronyism, in addition to their willful delaying tactics to all things related to judges, for the longest time Nawaz seemed like an elder statesman who could eventually take the reigns.

The press in general has fallen into the trap. As long as Nawaz was quiet, the press projected rather flattering presumptions on what motivates the PML-N. But as of late, when the PML-N does speak, most realise they don't like what they hear.

Be it Shahbaz's veiled support for the Taliban, or more currently, Nawaz's obvious shortsightedness and Punjab-centric behaviour. Nawaz does not become a champion of rule of law simply because the current phase of judicial activism has worked in his favour. While Nawaz has been on the right side of history in supporting the lawyer's movement, in reality it is fast becoming evident that it was just an opportunistic coincidence of interests.

Add to it the Pakhtunkhwa issue. The demand for changing the name of the province is not as Nawaz makes it out to be. Any party with an electoral interest in NWFP, but which fails to capture the Pakhtun votes, has sided against this. By simple force of majority, the name ought to be changed, and the reasons for not doing so are easily challenged since they rest on demographics. The Pakhtuns are in the majority, much like the other provinces which are named after the majority ethnic groups. To deny them this is blatantly unfair.

That being said, the macho chest-beating of the ANP's Ghulam Ahmed Bilour's over the issue of Pakhtunkhwa that they may choose the Bengali model evokes some of the unarticulated and historical fears about why the rest of the county may not want the name change. But it's rich posturing from a man whose party's leader fled his hometown to avoid dealing with the Taliban, leaving the residents defenceless, or from a party happy to let the Taliban have Swat so they could keep their heads in the sand. Talk is cheap, but sadly it can be incendiary.

My own preference would have been, on an ideological basis, that the Pakhtuns give up their demands to accommodate a minority in a show of inner federal behaviour, demonstrating that they would not do what the center has historically done to the smaller provinces, and in this case not do to a smaller ethnic group inside the province what has historically been done to them. Sadly that won't happen in Pakistan, at least now.

Anyhow, Nawaz shouldn't worry too much. The microscope is about to be lifted back to Zardari thanks to the delay he requested in announcing the findings of the UN report on the murder of Benazir Bhutto. In an arena of shortsightedness, Nawaz and Zardari are the kings.

The writer is a Rhodes scholar and former academic. Email:







The writer is a freelance columnist and former newspaper editor

There is a reason for the dismal state of affairs we confront today as a nation. The militancy, the growth in unemployment, poverty, illiteracy, the clash among institutions and the power crisis are all the consequence of decades of shoddy – and indifferent – management of national affairs.

In more ways than one, these problems are inter-linked. They are for instance tied in to the consistent failure to allow a democratic system to continue unimpeded by pressures exerted from the outside. The dramatic about-turn by Mian Nawaz Sharif on the proposed 18th constitutional amendment is of course the latest example of this. Suddenly, the statesmanship Mian Sahib claimed to have discovered amidst the sands of Jeddah has vanished. Instead we have a reversion to the ugly 1990s, when the major political parties did all they possibly could to trip each other up – not realising that by doing so, they were also setting themselves up for a fall. There had been some hope that this suicidal tendency had been left behind. Sadly, it appears to have re-emerged.

It is hard – indeed impossible – to believe that Mian Nawaz Sharif acted entirely on his own. There is much conjecture as to who may have spoken to him down the phone line, shortly before his press conference – which left many members of his own party stunned. High-profile events since then provide a hint. It is in many ways typical of the PML-N chief to deny he had erred; through his two tenures in power – which we should remember were dominated by bizarre attempts to subvert the judiciary, pass a 'Shariah' bill which would have elevated Sharif to Amir-ul-Momineen granting him extraordinary powers and by attempts to snuff out media dissent – Sharif was a man known for his stubbornness. Today, members of his party fumble defensively to try and cover up, with much uncertainty visible as to what they should say.

The fact is that, within an hour, Nawaz Sharif, whose popularity had risen to coincide with the slide of the PPP's, has plummeted steeply downwards in terms of public standing. People excited by the prospect of major constitutional amendments that would have gone a long way towards setting straight a document that had lost all balance as a result of the ceaseless tampering with its contents are angry with the PML-N. President Zardari, who for now retains his powers, is no doubt pleased.

The PPP has emerged as the hero in this latest chapter, even if the prime minister's denials that there is any misunderstanding at all are a little unconvincing.

The PML-N's stance over the renaming of NWFP – one of the issues which it now says held up the signing of the agreement on the passage of the 18th Amendment – also exposes once more its damagingly Punjab-centric approach. The appeal by Shahbaz Sharif to the Taliban to avoid targeting that province – while presumably going ahead with activities that involve blowing Pathans, Balochis or Sindhis to miniscule smithereens – was of course another example of this. If allowed to vote, there seems little real doubt the majority of residents of NWFP would opt for the 'Pakhtunkhwa' name for their province championed by the ANP. It is hard to see what all the fuss is about. After all, a specific ethnic group is identified in the names of each of the other provinces. Since Mian Sahib is evidently so concerned about the failure to represent other groups living in the stretch of territory that makes up NWFP, perhaps he should focus his energies on setting an example by renaming Punjab as 'Punjab-Seraikistan' or 'Punjab-Gandhara' or whatever other complex, two-barrelled name strikes his fancy.

There are matters, however, of even greater consequence than the naming of a region that stare us in the face. The clash among institutions is acquiring increasingly dangerous proportions. The about-turn by the PML-N is evidently linked to this. What we have then is a recipe for disaster. The anarchy that swirls around us could increase, worsening the situation – and possibly even paving the way for intervention from beyond parliament. Attempts appear once more to be on to subvert democracy, and we see developments that are in many ways ominously familiar. Predictions that they would unfold this way had been made in some places many months ago.

The problem is that the cauldron bubbling on the burner contains so many unsavoury ingredients – like the unwholesome stew that acted as a key factor in the 1905 mutiny on the Battleship Potemkin – that it is becoming harder and harder to pick them out. Chaos continues in the northwest, where militants remain in control of some areas and wreak havoc on others; people who have returned home face a wasteland of destroyed crops and damaged homes. They have received astonishingly little help. Elsewhere in the country, there is no access to justice for most people. There is also a declining sense of security as crime expands and there is no evidence that state law-enforcers are in any position to check it.

Desperate citizens have taken more and more matters into their own hands, purchasing devices to keep fans running or hiring security guards to keep watch over streets. Instances continue to be reported of these untrained guards shooting dead those who had merely stepped out of homes to run an errand. We live in times where danger lurks everywhere.

It seems quite apparent that the problems we now face are of too great a magnitude for any one party to handle. The measures taken to improve matters – such as attempts to introduce reform in Balochistan – seem like little more than a single drop of rain in a desert. Even as it falls, a new sandstorm blows up to hide all trace of the relief. We need a willingness on the part of the political forces to work together.

Other agendas, imposed from outside parliament, must not play a part in the shaping of events. The new division between major parties brings greater threat with it and reminds us that nothing has been learnt from the past. This augurs ill for us all.








PPP banners on the roadside in Islamabad and state-sponsored advertisements on television extol the achievements of the government over the last two years. Overshadowing its professed achievements is the government's inability to govern and successfully address the genuine day-to-day problems of the masses. Pakistan has been a national security state for decades and, after the Afghan jihad, the ongoing war on terror has yet again provided a justification for the perpetuation of the status quo in the name of national security. The masses do not seem to matter much.

No doubt our military is fighting the terrorists and it needs financial and material assistance from the US. Nonetheless, the recent strategic dialogue with the US is a continuation of the militaristic trend initiated after 1948 whereby an India-centric foreign policy was put into practice with the help of American military aid and economic development was envisioned as a prerequisite for military firepower.

The common man has hardly, if ever, benefited from American aid in the past. A great deal is being said about how this particular dialogue is a new beginning in US-Pakistan relations. The truth is that the nature of this relationship will change only if the Pakistani leadership decides to alter course and make it people-specific.

Over the decades what has passed for governance is nothing more than the manifestation of the feudal mindset. For this particular mindset the only priority is survival through the manipulation of power dynamics. Thus, whenever a civilian setup is in power, a hybrid system of power-sharing gains ground which creates some legroom for the politicians to deal with the issues not directly at variance with the military's views. It suits the military to call the shots on important policy decisions while remaining in the background and it suits the politicians to carry on with their political gimmicks and lucrative projects. The politicians lack the courage and the scruples required to initiate meaningful political change and find it more convenient to acquiesce.

It is, therefore, hardly surprising that despite Pakistan's present status as a theatre of war against terrorism, no civilian counter-terrorism policy is in place. No homeland security bill has ever been tabled or passed by our parliamentarians to cope with the most crucial national issue at hand. Hardly any civilian infrastructure worth its name or any doable plans in this regard are in place to support the military effort in Swat and FATA. This exposes both the inadequacy of the civilian setup as well as the historic legacy of military rule.

Power-sharing between civilian and military structures should gradually ease into a strong democratic dispensation. That said, giving democracy a chance is all very well but giving corrupt feudocracy multiple chances is unproductive as it provides impetus to the politicians-military merry-go-round. Unless genuine grassroots leadership emerges and evolves into a viable alternative supported by committed civil society forces, the people of Pakistan will remain powerless and irrelevant. Welfare of the common man therefore must be included at the very top of the list of national priorities.

Even as the ongoing military action in Pakistan is required to ensure immediate security, it cannot alone arrest the spawning of the terrorist mindset. No strategic dialogue or partnership with other countries can help Pakistan defeat terrorism without a paradigm shift from national security to human security. It is time for the elite to enter into a strategic dialogue with the people of Pakistan.

Email: talatfarooq11@gmail .com







LATE last year, Chief Justice of Pakistan Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry had remarked that the responsibility of the apex court does not end at mere delivering judgements and that the court has the resolve to get its verdicts implemented. He made similar remarks during hearing of several cases including those relating to the infamous NRO. In fact, he also established a mechanism at the Supreme Court in Islamabad for monitoring of the implementation and asked the High Courts to do so as well.

The Supreme Court delivered its epoch-making judgement in the NRO case on December 16, 2009 and repeatedly asked the authorities concerned to move ahead towards its implementation. It is, however, regrettable that after passage of even three and a half months, some aspects of the judgement remained unattended by the relevant governmental circles. An impression has deepened that delaying tactics were being used to undermine the spirit of the NRO verdict but the Supreme Court rightly appears to be determined to ensure its implementation in letter and in spirit. We have been pointing out in these columns that the NRO was the blackest law in the history of the country, which not only amounted to legitimizing the corruption but also tarnished the good image of the country in the comity of nations. The court declared it null and void, making it absolutely clear that all cases across the board stand revived at the stage they were abandoned following promulgation of the National Reconciliation Ordinance. It was, however, extremely disappointing for every segment of the society that the verdict of the court was not being complied with citing this or that loophole or justification and even a novice smell a rat. In this backdrop, the Supreme Court justifiably put its foot down and sent a strong message to all concerned by reviving sentence awarded by Lahore High Court to Additional Director-General FIA Ahmad Riaz Sheikh, who was consequently arrested on Tuesday. This stern action and warning to NAB would surely convey to the relevant authorities that the court means business and they will have to move ahead towards fuller and unconditional implementation of the NRO verdict. In our view, this is how it should be, as the entire system is going to dogs.







THE four-day State visit of Turkish President Abdullah Gul to Pakistan has afforded another opportunity to the two brotherly countries to take their already cordial and close relations to new heights. His engagements in Islamabad, interaction with Pakistani leadership and touching remarks made about Pakistan by the visiting dignitary on Wednesday showed not only his personal keen interest in giving new meaning to bilateral relationship but also desire of his country to help Pakistan overcome multi-dimensional challenges. All this would surely leave indelible imprints on the hearts and minds of Pakistani people.

Pakistan and Turkey have traditionally enjoyed strong ties spanning over political, cultural, commercial, strategic and military cooperation. The founding father of Pakistan, Quaid-i-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah had expressed his desire to follow the Turkish model of modernism and since then every successive government in Pakistan made endeavours to promote ties with Turkey. The brotherly country too has proved to be a sincere and time-tested partner of Pakistan, providing much-needed political, diplomatic and economic support in times of need. The present leadership of Turkey — President Abdullah Gul and Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan evoke special respect in Pakistan because of their love for Pakistani people and also because they are perceived to be working to regain the glory of Turkey as a strong Muslim State. It was in this backdrop that Mr Erdogan was awarded the Nishan-e-Pakistan in October 2009 and became the fourth world leader who spoke to the Pakistani Parliament. The two countries, which signed a treaty of friendship and cooperation way back in 1954, have a strategic relationship. They have marked similarity of views on regional and international issues and it is a matter of pride for every Pakistani that Turkey always provided the much-needed support to Pakistan on Kashmir dispute. Similarly, Pakistan has wholeheartedly supported Turkish position on the issue of Northern Cyprus. While the two countries have enjoyed excellent political relations for several decades now, what is surprising is that these historic ties have not translated into better trade and economic cooperation. Though the two countries have committed to taking the existing $690 million trade to over one billion dollar this year, even this is not commensurate with the potential of their partnership. A large number of Turkish businessmen too are visiting Pakistan along with President Gul and one hopes that in keeping with the global trends, economic interaction will assume centre-stage in relations between the two countries.







THOUGH there is no official announcement, reports trickling down through different sources indicate that the Government was moving towards provision of required incentives to the civil servants in fulfillment of its commitment to make the public sector an employer of choice. According to a report, the Pay and Pension Commission has proposed reduction of pay scales from the existing 22 to 14 and monetisation of perks and privileges of the Government servants.

There's many a slip 'twist the cup and the lip and no one knows to what extent the recommendations of the Commission would be implemented by the Government. In the past too, such committees and commissions made sensible recommendations to mitigate the sufferings of the fixed income groups but the governments in power scuttled their spirit on the pretext of financial crunch that always remain there on such occasions. The present Government too has been making tall claims about improving the lot of the government servants but already the report of the Commission has been delayed for six months and there are references to tightening of the belt due to expenses on war on terror, which are sooner or later reimbursed by the United States. We believe that the price-hike has made life of the fixed income groups miserable and they are unable to lead an honourable living within the meagre pay that the Government provides them at the moment. There is, therefore, a dire need to substantially increase the basic pay as well as allowances of the government servants. This is also because the private sector is offering handsome salary even to new entrants which, in many cases, runs into hundreds of thousands of rupees. The Government too has increased salaries of the Armed Forces personnel, Policemen, FBR and Judiciary and there is no reason that the rest of their fellows in Government jobs should not get the same benefits. It is also time to give practical shape to the oft-repeated proposal, which is opposed by vested interests, to monetise accommodation, conveyance and medical facilities.











US expert David Albright's latest book, 'Peddling Peril' warns that theft of nuclear material by terrorists pose a serious risk to international peace and security. The effort to cope with this enormous global challenge needs not only international co-operation but also appropriate re-direction, proportionate to the risk and relevant to the locations of large nuclear stockpile storage sites and major nuclear technology sources spread in well over 40 countries. At their 2002 summit, G-8 leaders committed to spend $20 billion over a d