media watch with peoples input an organization of rastriya abhyudaya
month april 02, edition 000471, collected & managed by durgesh kumar mishra, published by manish manjul
Editorial is syndication of all daily- published newspaper's Editorial at one place.
For ENGLISH EDITORIAL http://editorialsamarth.blogspot.com
For TELUGU EDITORIAL http://editorial-telugu-samarth.blogspot.com
- SINISTER PATTERN EMERGES
- UNSAFE ON HIGH SEA
- ABSENT TEACHERS, BOGUS SCHOOLS - JS RAJPUT
- WATCH OUT FOR BABA RAMDEV - SHRIDHAR PANT
- WHISTLING AWAY YOUR LIFE - SHAILAJA CHANDRA
- WEAKENING DEMOCRACY - ANURADHA DUTT
- NAC AS A SUPER CABINET - KALYANI SHANKAR
- MOVE BEYOND POLITICS OF VICTIMHOOD - CP BHAMBHRI
- RTE IS OUR LONG OVERDUE TRYST WITH THE FUTURE
- PENALISING SEXUAL ASSAULT
- WHY WE LOSE THE AESTHETIC SCHEME - BY GAUTAM BHATIA
- STAY TUNED FOR POLITICAL TURMOIL - BY NAJAM SETHI
- FEAR OF BYPOLL LOSS HAUNTS CM SOREN - BY SAIFUL HAQUE IN RANCHI
- AMARINDER ' CHICKENS OUT' OF BOOK LAUNCH IN PAKISTAN - BY NEHA TARA MEHTA IN NEW DELHI
THE TIMES OF INDIA
- BACK TO THE PRESENT
- DON'T JUST LEGISLATE
- KEEPING THE POOR ALIVE - DIPANKAR GUPTA
- 'FLAMENCO IS NECESSARY TO EXPRESS THE SUFFERINGS OF GYPSIES' - FAIZAL KHAN
- BAIGUN DAYS - JUG SURAIYA
- A MIRROR IMAGE
- GIVE THOUGHT TO AFTER-SALES
- IT'S A TWO-WAY STREET - ANIL DHARKER
- FACE THE NATION - RAJDEEP SARDESAI
- RED SUNSET
- LIABILITY SHARING
- MAYAWATI, REFORMER!
- THE LIVING DEBT - ILA PATNAIK
- AWAITING ORDERS - C. RAJA MOHAN
- GROWING AN IVY LEAGUE AT HOME - DAVIDFINEGOLD
- JUST DEAL WITH IT - G BALACHANDRAN
- HOW THE PICTURES GOT SMALL - HARNEET SINGH
- COUNTING INDIA
- ORE BY THE QUARTER
- SOVEREIGN DEBT: SHOULD WE WORRY? - TARUN RAMADORAI
- BRIEF HISTORY OF CENSUS IN INDIA - P RAGHAVAN
- REAPING DIVIDENDS - SAIKAT NEOGI
- GREAT DAY FOR SCIENCE
- IRAQ'S POST-ELECTION CHALLENGES
- WHEN WILL THE MISTRUST END? - SREEMATI CHAKRABARTI
- POLITICS OF HOPE IN MAURITIUS - PRANAY GUPTE
- ICC AUTHORISES INQUIRY INTO KENYAN CLASHES - MARLISE SIMONS
- WHERE WIDENING DISPARITY STRAINS TRADITIONAL BONDS - THOMAS FULLER
- THE TROUBLE WITH EXISTENTIALISM - LYNSEY HANLEY
- ASEAN RIGHTS MEET DISCUSSES ROADMAP OF PROGRAMMES
- RIGHT TO EDUCATION
- A BLOW FOR JUSTICE
- BYPASSING PARLIAMENT - BRAHMA CHELLANEY
- POLITICIANS ARE HARDLY A JUDGE OF BEAUTY - FARRUKH DHONDY
- N-LIABILITY BILL A MUST
- AVOIDABLE CONFUSION
- JUDICIAL SHELTER
- OBAMA'S SURPRISE DASH TO KABUL - BY INDER MALHOTRA
- HIDDEN WORLD - BY RAVIA GUPTA
- BETTER DEAL FOR A FEW? - BY INDU SWAMI
- A LIFE DEVOTED TO WORDS - BY NONIKA SINGH
- CHENNAI DIARY
- HISTORY IN EVERY CORNER
- THOUGHT FOR FOOD
- JOINING GLOBAL CAPITAL MARKETS
- SHADES OF ENRON
- THE ECOSYSTEM OF A PRODUCT - MADHUKAR SABNAVIS
- POLMAN'S SALARY FORMULA - SHYAMAL MAJUMDAR
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
- ADIEU, MARUTI 800
- A BAD MOVE
- NOT BY LAW ALONE
- THE SORRY STATE OF PUBLIC HEALTH - RAGHU DAYAL
- THE GROUND BENEATH OUR MORALITY - MUKUL SHARMA
- CASTE DISCRIMINATION HAS RACIAL OVERTONES
- YES, IT'S TIME TO ACCEPT REALITY
- CENTRE OPEN TO RETAIL FDI, BUT WANTS BACKEND BEEFED UP FIRST: ANAND SHARMA - ROHINI SINGH
- CREDIT FLOW REACHING PRE-CRISIS LEVELS: STANDARD CHARTERERD BANK - TAPASH TALUKDAR
- A GREAT LEAP AHEAD, BUT STILL A LOT TO DO
- QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS - BY BALBIR K. PUNJ
- GOOGLE, CHINA AND A STORY OF CONCUBINES - BY NICHOLAS D. KRISTOF
- WHY VICTIMS TURN KILLERS - BY MAHESH RANGARAJAN
- SUFFERING CAN BE PURIFYING - BY DOMINIC EMMANUEL
- VATICAN IN TROUBLE - BY MAUREEN DOWD
- SIXTY YEARS AFTER
- HIJACKED DHOWS
- WHISKY SOUR
- SUPPING WITH THE DRAGON - BY RAJINDER PURI
- NO ANSWER TO THE POPULATION CRISIS - PARTHASARATHI CHAKRABORTY
- PRIDE OF PETTY JOBS - AC TULI
- POWER SHIFTS
- LONG FIGHT
- WITHOUT BALANCE - SWAPAN DASGUPTA
- TIME TO GET TOUGH - MALVIKA SINGH
- RECREATING BANG
- MIXED SIGNAL
- DEPENDENCE SYNDROME - BY DEVINDER SHARMA
- NEED TO FOCUS ON FOOD CRISIS - BY SUPACHAI PANITCHPAKDI, IPS
- CHEERS TO CHAPATTIS - BY LEELA RAMASWAMY
- INTERNATIONAL PUSH FOR IRAN SANCTIONS IS TOO LITTLE, TOO LATE
- OBAMA DOESN'T HAVE TO BE AN ISRAEL-HATER TO BE ANGRY WITH NETANYAHU - BY YOEL MARCUS
- WE LOOK AT IRAN AND SEE OURSELVES - BY AVNER COHEN
- SILENCE, MIRE - BY YOSSI SARID
- MUZZLING ISRAEL'S LEFT ONLY HARMS ITS DEMOCRACY - BY CARLO STRENGER
- THE FOUR-FOLD IRANIAN THREAT - BY IRWIN COTLER
- AFFIRMING AFFIRMATIVE ACTION - BY MOHAMMAD DARAWSHE
- INDEPENDENT AND INTERDEPENDENT - BY SAM BAHOUR AND BERNARD AVISHAI
- KEEPING THE FAITH - BY DON FUTTERMAN
THE NEW YORK TIMES
- ON THE FRONT LINE
- EVERYBODY WINS
- THIS TIME, LISTEN
- SOMEONE NEW IS WATCHING
- FINANCIAL REFORM 101 - BY PAUL KRUGMAN
- THE ECSTASY OF FISCAL POLICY - BY DAVID BROOKS
- SERBIA'S HONEST APOLOGY - BY TIM JUDAH
- THE MYTH OF MEAN GIRLS - BY MIKE MALES AND MEDA-CHESNEY LIND
- CELEBRATING CHANGE
- PATIENT STABLE?
- THANK GOD FOR SMALL MERCIES - AYAZ AMIR
- ALMOST TOO GOOD TO BE TRUE - DR MUZAFFAR IQBAL
- HOW THE (MORE THAN)OTHER HALF LIVES - AHMAD RAFAY ALAM
- AUTISM -- OBSESSION INEXPLICABLE - SADAF SHAHID
- STATE, POLITICS AND MASS MEDIA - SHAFQAT MAHMOOD
- SIDE-EFFECT - HARRIS KHALIQUE
- DEMOCRACY MOVES ON
- GOVT TOTALLY UNMINDFUL OF PEOPLE'S WOES
- NO IMMEDIATE THREAT TO OUR SOVEREIGN RATING!
- INDIA PREPARES FOR AFGHAN WINTER - M D NALAPAT
- INDO-US HEADLEY CONNECTION - S M HALI
- IMPORTANCE OF ZAKAT - SHUJA ABBASI
- INDIA'S WATER TERRORISM - LUBNA UMAR
- INDO-PAK FEUD OVER INDUS WATERS - AMOL SHARMA
- CAPITAL DREDGING
- WATER PROBLEM
- GOD SENT HIS SON..!
- ABUL AHSAN BECOMES FOREIGN SECRETARY - M. SERAJUL ISLAM
- EMPLOYMENT: NEED TO ACCELERATE GROWTH
- SCHOOL BUILDING SHAPES AS A BIGGER DEBACLE THAN BATTS
- DOWN THE TOILET WITH BARNABY?
- A DANGEROUS DUMBING-DOWN
THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD
- EASTER FAITH: A REASON FOR BELIEVING
- RAIL STRIKE: SHARP END OF THE LAW
- IN PRAISE OF ... CARMEN REINHART
- LIBEL LAWS: JUDGING THE TRUTH
THE KOREA HERALD
- USUAL SUSPECT
- ALARM OVER DEBT
- WOMEN AND EUROPEAN IMMIGRATION - NAOMI WOLF
- WHY DO JEWISH PEOPLE SUCCEED? STUDY THEIR HISTORY - JERRY Z. MULLER
- HOPES FOR NUCLEAR SUMMIT
- US PATCHING THINGS UP
- MORE INFLATION SPARKS
- US CAN'T BE LONE RANGER IN AFGHANISTAN - BY YANG HONGXI (CHINA DAILY)
- WEST MUST REFLECT ON RIO AFTERMATH - BY MEI XINYU (CHINA DAILY)
- PUTIN'S PATIENCE AND TERRORISM
- DEMOCRATS OR DEMOC-RATS?
SINISTER PATTERN EMERGES
MUSLIMS RUN RIOT DURING HINDU FESTIVALS
A pattern has begun to emerge from the incidents of communal violence that have been witnessed at Meraj in Maharashtra, Bareilly in Uttar Pradesh and, most recently, Hyderabad in Andhra Pradesh. In all these places, fanatical Muslims went on the rampage to prevent Hindus from observing their religious festivals or behaved in the most obnoxious manner to turn festivities into mourning. At Meraj, Ganesh mandaps were set upon and ransacked by belligerent Muslims with the clear intention of scaring away Hindus, forcing a curfew and thereby disallowing the majority community from observing an important religious festival. At Bareilly, Muslims led by a local mullah, whose deeds are far removed from his avowed profession, went on the rampage to prevent Hindus from taking out the traditional Ram Baraat. In Hyderabad, Muslims, egged on by the MIM, a rank communal organisation whose leaders spit venom, refused to take down their banners and buntings put up on the occasion of a long over festival with the malicious intent of provoking Hindus and triggering violence on Hanuman Jayanti. In all three places, Muslims bent upon creating discord have been successful, with more than a little help from the respective State Governments: Neither the Congress (or its ally, the NCP) nor the BSP is keen to rein in hoodlums lest it be construed as acting against the 'sentiments' of the minority community. Hence, it is not surprising that rioting mobs have had their way as the police have stood on the sidelines, twiddling their thumbs. The pattern of Muslim-instigated violence is highlighted by the manner in which mullahs incited Muslims to run amok in Karnataka; had the State Government not acted with a firm hand, full-scale rioting would have followed.
These and other facts have been skilfully suppressed by those sections of the media which mistakenly believe that reporting Muslim belligerence aimed at violating the law of the land would be considered as showing the least of all minorities in a poor light. That's balderdash. First, the principles of fair reportage demand that the real reasons behind any incident of communal violence should be brought to light irrespective of the community or communities involved. Second, while it is true that not all Muslims participate in such misdeeds indeed, the majority of them steer clear of rabble-rousing mullahs and aspire to live peacefully with Hindus it would be self-defeating not to identify the culprits. Those who violate the law and indulge in criminal acts must not be allowed to escape punishment. Third, the velvet glove approach has not worked, nor shall it help tame fanatics who revel in bloodshed. We could manufacture a million reasons to justify the belligerence of Muslims who run riot, but that neither does credit to the community nor does it help Muslims in the long run.
Meanwhile, the community would do well to ponder over whether it serves its interest to prevent Hindus from observing their festivals in those cities, towns and villages which have a sizeable Muslim population. Retaliatory violence, no matter how undesirable, is something that cannot be wished away. Of course, sanity must prevail and Hindus should not step into the trap laid by Muslim fanatics; a vicious cycle of violence and counter-violence will only result in innocent people, both Hindus and Muslims, paying a terrible price. Restraint must be exercised in the face of extreme provocation.
UNSAFE ON HIGH SEA
PIRATES CONTINUE TO HAVE THEIR WAY
The hijacking of eight Indian ships off the coast of east Africa last week once again highlights the menace of piracy that has come to grip the sea-lanes near the Gulf of Aden. It is believed that as many as a 100 Indian sailors have been taken hostage by pirates who are supposed to be of Somali origin. Although there is already an Indian Navy warship INS Beas that has been deployed in the piracy-infested waters to escort Indian merchant ships, small dhows, like the ones that have been hijacked, do not enjoy such protection. Nonetheless, many of these wooden boats regularly ferry cargo between east African countries and those in the Persian Gulf. And they do so without much of supervision or monitoring. Thus, it is difficult to ascertain how many of these dhows are currently out in the sea. There are essentially two aspects to this issue. First, piracy in the waters off the coast of east Africa is a direct result of the chaotic socio-political situation in Somalia. The civil war-torn country is in a shambles with little or no governance to speak of. And this combined with crushing poverty makes piracy an attractive vocation for many Somali youth. In fact, within Somalia, the pirates are not seen as anti-social elements but those who take huge risks to afford for themselves a life of luxury. They are literally the Somali equivalent of daring entrepreneurs. Plus, the Islamist forces in that country those who are fighting the UN-backed Government and are responsible for the civil strife regularly lean on the pirates to fund their jihad. This situation is unlikely to improve unless and until there is a stable Government in Somalia. An international maritime force is already in operation in the Gulf of Aden to thwart piracy. But it will be unrealistic to expect the warships that are part of this effort to provide protection to each and every vessel in the region.
The second part of the problem specifically relates to India's national security. It will be recalled that the 26/11 attacks on Mumbai were carried out by terrorists who had managed to hijack an Indian boat not very far from our coastal waters. The jihadis were able to stealthily commandeer this boat into Mumbai harbour before coming ashore and unleashing their reign of terror. More than a year after the attacks, we still have small dhows freely operating without any mechanism to effectively track them. The Indian Navy has repeatedly asked the Government to devise a system to keep a check on these small boats. Yet, little has been done in this regard. One wonders how long it will take the jihadis to figure out that one of these Indian dhows captured by Somali pirates can be used to repeat 26/11. Hopefully, our authorities will wake from their slumber and put in place strict monitoring mechanisms to prevent another disaster from happening
ABSENT TEACHERS, BOGUS SCHOOLS
In their deliberations, policymakers and experts invariably highlight various aspects of access to education and its expansion by focussing on issues like whom to teach, what to teach, and how to teach. Every country has its own concerns regarding education that centre on these issues. In India, there is serious concern about the erosion of credibility of public-funded schools.
The fact that such schools were in a state of utter neglect was deliberated upon in 1985-1986. The Union Government launched a massive scheme called 'Operation Blackboard' to assist every public-funded primary school in the country after adopting the National Policy on Education. The number of schools at that stage was over five lakh.
But the massive Central funding could not achieve the delineated objectives as the work culture and the motivation at the level of implementation were poor. In a shocking observation, it was noted that all the 208 teachers appointed in a block as second teachers in single-teacher schools were posted at places of their choice. As a result, the single-teacher schools continued to languish as before. But on record everything was in order. The pressing concern is nobody cares about teacher numbers in Government schools.
The malaise affects all States and extends right from primary schools to universities. Even the IIMs and the IITs are affected by this problem. There is a huge shortage of teachers all around. This is in spite of the fact that there are hundreds of trained teachers who are currently unemployed.
It should not be difficult to guess why the Right to Education Act, which has come into force from April 1, has not created a sense of excitement and enthusiasm among the stakeholders and the functionaries of the system. We are now legally bound to make every school function and perform, but nothing has been done to address the apathy in running our schools. If the Right to Education Act is to be implemented in letter and spirit, the estimated number of new teachers that we would require is more than 12 lakh.
Further, there are over seven lakh under-qualified and untrained educational functionaries waiting to take the place of regular teachers. Vacancies for school teachers in the States run into lakhs. On March 9, the Supreme Court pronounced its views on the subject of thousands of school teacher posts under the Delhi Government lying vacant for years together.
Taking serious exception to the contradiction between the implementation of the Fundamental Right to Education on one hand and the apathy of Government officials in not filling the vacant posts on the other, the apex court said, "The incompetence of the system and its functionaries leaves no scope for any doubt when one notices the number of vacant posts in Delhi Government schools 392 laboratory assistants; 72 domestic science teachers; 5,485 trained graduate teachers; and 529 post-graduate teachers." Worse, 251 schools have no head of institution.
This apathy is the result of an inbuilt assurance among Government officials that accountability is never fixed and that no one has ever been punished for inefficiency, incompetence or lack of application of mind. If the Education Department behaves in such a manner, how can anyone blame teachers for non-performance? If domestic science laboratories don't function, how can one claim to being sensitive about retaining girls and boys in schools and motivating them to go for higher studies?
People often hear of great achievements of the Delhi Government in improving school education. But the real deficiencies are covered up using statistical jugglery. The victim is the credibility of Government-run schools. The weaker sections of the society, the minorities, and all those who cannot afford expensive private schools suffer the most. This leaves a free-for-all playing field for those entrepreneurs who have the resources to establish and operate English medium private schools.
There is a strong feeling of resentment growing in the country that in spite of several schemes and increased allocations for elementary education, the national mission for secondary education and other initiatives, the neglect of school education in the Government sector continues unchecked.
On the other hand, private educational institutions are just interested in minting money. There are a few exceptions, but that barely makes a difference to the overall scenario. Several activists are now openly alleging that there is a conspiracy to keep the weaker sections of society away from meaningful education and ensure that only the affluent and the rich have access to good schools.
Those responsible for the implementation of Central schemes and for upgrading the standards of Government schools have no problems with their own wards as public schools are affordable to them, Central schools are there in any case, and model schools are coming up in a big way. So why bother about the fate of village primary schools in Koraput, Jhabua or Kalahandi?
Delhi itself is a good example of how Government schools are not allowed to function at the optimal level. If the Government cannot even provide teachers and principals for these schools, it is useless pointing out the absence of fans, drinking water, toilets, books, school uniforms, etc. Therefore, it is hardly a wonder that many people are now listening to the conspiracy theories being promoted by Maoist sympathisers. These are alarming trends and highlight the need for urgent remedial action in effectively universalising education.
Though the Supreme Court judgement is in the specific context of Delhi, it would be in the fitness of things if the Union Government were to take note of it, take up the issue with the State Governments and monitor the progress of recruitment of teachers on a monthly basis. It could even reward the States that fill up more than 95 per cent of the vacancies. Plus, the recruitment procedures need to be modernised to eliminate corruption and ensure that only deserving candidates are selected.
A culture of alertness, activity and action is a pre-requisite for successful implementation of any scheme. The Ministry of Human Resource Development would do well to devote some time and attention to these and related issues.
WATCH OUT FOR BABA RAMDEV
This refers to the article, "From Pranayam to politics" by Kalyani Shankar (March 25). The columnist's comparison of Baba Ramdev with Karpatri Maharaj, who floated the Ram Rajya Parishad in the 1950s, is completely misplaced. Swami Karpatri contested elections against freedom fighters, honest and well-respected persons. The society, in those days, was very different from today. Baba Ramdev's candidates will fight election against the most corrupt bunch of politicians. Plus, the common man today faces the worst time in independent India. He is up against widespread corruption and all sorts of criminal activities. Worse, the national pride quotient, which was high at the time of Swami Karpatri, is today at an all-time low. The nation, particularly the Hindu dharma and its followers, are under attack. Baba Ramdev is a living symbol of patriotism and national self-esteem.
Swami Karpatri had a limited number of followers. But Baba Ramdev commands the trust of millions. Perhaps no Indian has ever commanded a following as large as Baba Ramdev's. His disciples are widely dispersed all over the country. It is true that Baba Ramdev also faces great hurdles. Organising a political party and providing the right leadership are no mean tasks.
During the treta yug while there were pious and brave men like Dashrath and Janaka, yet Ravan and his hordes were terrorising the country. It was Lord Ram who, after preparing the countrymen for many years, killed Ravan and uprooted his regime. Similarly, in dwapar yug, honest and brave men like the Pandavs suffered and Dhritrashtra and Duryodhan gained through deception. It was only after a long exile and guidance of Lord Krishna that they recovered their kingdom. However, in both cases a righteous war had to be waged after offers of peace had been spurned at.
The columnist says that it will be difficult to find suitable candidates for fighting the next election in just three years. But it is not impossible. There are a large number of honest people. If Baba Ramdev works sincerely for the welfare of the people he will surely succeed.
WHISTLING AWAY YOUR LIFE
Whistle-blowing in India is likely to be rendered comatose unless it is enabled differently. An independent body, which does not have to depend on Government for either funds or staff, with the authority and the means to extend legal protection to whistleblowers, is needed
An empowered group of Ministers is reported to be finalising the Whistleblowers Bill with the intention of tabling it in the Budget session of Parliament. This article recounts how 29 other countries encourage whistle-blowing. Second it explains why whistle-blowing in India is likely to be rendered comatose unless it is enabled differently.
Whistle-blowing essentially belongs to a culture where public officials have confidence in the system and feel motivated and fearless enough to report their concerns. In most OECD countries, public officials are now obligated by law to report suspected misconduct and corruption. In effect this places the onus on the bureaucracy to proactively report instances of corruption coming to notice. The French Penal Procedure Code even makes it compulsory for public officials to report suspected cases to the Public Prosecutor. In return all OECD countries extend legal protection, anonymity and safeguards against retaliation to the whistleblower. Some countries like Korea also give financial incentives to encourage whistle-blowing.
The trouble with the Indian system is that even the Supreme Court could unearth the Central Vigilance Commission as the best available repository to handle whistleblowers grievances for the time being. This despite the CVC having no counterpart agency at the State level, exposing the whistleblower to divulge volatile information to a faceless, Delhi-based organisation. Added to this is the fact that CVC does not have the authority or the means to investigate and launch prosecution and has perforce to depend on an agency like CBI, the Central Ministries and the State Governments. This exposes the whistleblower to either a generally suspicious and unsympathetic police mindset or the ambivalence that typifies the reaction of Government Ministries where fear of political ramifications take precedence over all else.
If Satyendra Dubey instead of writing to the Prime Minister, had written to any of the watchdog agencies of the Government, his letter would have been marked 'down' with a curt 'confidential, process urgently' scribbled on it. But nothing in the system would have required anyone to actually 'process' anything, until the paper had found its way, first down, then up the organisational hierarchy, transcribed on to green Government stationery and submitted 'for orders'. On the upward journey, several questions would no doubt get raised about the credentials of the writer, his own reputation and the unkindest cut of all what's in it for him making these complaints?
Seeking comments from State Government is an even more futile exercise. Serious complaints are usually addressed to the Chief Secretary of the State who, despite commanding vast paraphernalia of officers has no way of giving an opinion, except by seeking the comments from the very organisation reported against. If the complaint involves a political functionary, the answers would take that much longer to be sent. Consultations with the political executive (Chief Minister) would definitely take place having their own ramifications. This makes a mockery of the poor whistleblower's efforts and prevents others who might be inclined to place the public interest before everything else, from ever taking up cudgels.
If the proposed Whistleblowers Act or what the Law Commission called the Public Interest Disclosure (Protection of Informer's) Bill 2002 is to have real teeth, it would have to be implemented not just by a Government created 'competent authority' but by an independent body which does not have to depend on Government for either funds or personnel. The structure of the organisation should necessarily be different from all other constitutional and statutory bodies because of the highly personalised and dangerous ground it is expected to cover.
First, the selection of the chairman and members of the organisation should be through a process of nomination by civil society organisations that have worked in the area of exposing corruption, assisted by the Central Vigilance Commission in narrowing down the selection. Ten names should be presented before a multi-party committee of Parliament which should select five, including the chairman, to function for a five year term-extendable only by the Parliamentary Committee.
Second, the organisation should have the authority to investigate and prosecute independent of any Government organisation.
Third, the organisation should have the authority and the means to extend legal protection to the whistleblower and where necessary, police protection to the whole family.
Fourth, the members should not be answerable to the income tax authorities, RTI, the C&AG or CVC for the limited period of five years. Accountability should, however, lie to an oversight committee appointed by the Supreme Court but to no one else. However, since taxpayers money would be used, the chairman and members should remain accountable for expenditure related decisions for five years after completion of their tenures. On all other matters they should be immune from investigation.
To avoid even the smallest revolving door from opening, members should be debarred from public office and acceptance of private employment should be open to public scrutiny wherever conflict of interest is alleged.
What's the need for this extraordinary dispensation as yet unavailable in the annals of our institutions? Only because, to quote Thomas M Devine, "Whistleblowers protection is a policy that all Government leaders support in public but few in power tolerate in private."
SHAME AND SHUN DIVISIVE POLITICS IN GUISE OF QUOTAS
One of the quirks of post-independence India is that while abolishing untouchability, the Constitution also provides for reservations in Government jobs and higher education institutions for untouchables (present-day Scheduled Castes), along with Scheduled Tribes. It thereby perpetuates the very practice of social discrimination that it purports to outlaw. To quote the relevant proviso, Article 17 states: " 'Untouchability' is abolished and its practice in any form is forbidden. . .". Extending the formula of reservations further, the Congress and other parties which spout secular and democratic jargon ad nauseum, have acted untiringly to keep social stigmas, hinging on caste, jati and religion, alive by striving to bring newer and newer categories within the ambit of quotas.
Thus, other backward classes, a nebulous category of land-owning and livestock-rearing communities, which are not oppressed or poor, manouevered their way into the quota basket to grab a share, larger than that given to the original allottees. They got 27.5 per cent in Government jobs and educational institutions, as compared to 22.5 per cent for SCs/STs. Then, cleverly circumventing the Supreme Court's ruling against members of 'the creamy layer' that is, high-income OBCs appropriating reservation benefits, their leaders managed to get the income ceiling, defining creamy layer, raised to Rs 4.5 lakh and above a year from Rs 2 to 5 lakh and above a year.
It is the old hierarchical system but in a new guise, cunningly camouflaged by the pretence at affirmative action. However, nothing has changed on the ground, with allied social groups continuing to marry and break bread among themselves while excluding others. In fact, the bait of quotas effectively ensures the continued survival, even growth of all kinds of prejudices and taboos in a nation, hoping to become a world leader in a few decades. So divided itself, it seems to have negated totally the ancient Sanskrit adage, 'Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam' (The world is one family) given in the Upanishads, since its own people are being fragmented by the compulsions of real politik.
The latest development in this ongoing saga of caste and religion-specific policy-making is the Supreme Court's interim order, upholding four per cent quota for socially and educationally backward Muslims in Government jobs and educational institutions in Andhra Pradesh. It sets aside the Andhra Pradesh High Court's stay on implementation of this policy. The High Court held the Andhra Pradesh Reservation in Favour of Socially and Educationally Backward Classes of Muslims Act to be violative of Article 14 (equality before law), and other provisions, forbidding discrimination by the State on grounds of religion, race, caste, sex or place of birth. Four judges of the seven-judge Bench stated that the law, being religion-specific, could encourage conversions, and so was unsustainable. Moreover, determination of Muslim backwardness was flawed. A subsequent 2007 Government order, setting aside four per cent reservation for Muslim groups in educational institutions and jobs, was also stayed.
The apex court's interim order may clear the way for the West Bengal Communist Government to allocate a 10 per cent quota in jobs for Muslims as Assembly polls draw near. Muslims apparently constitute about 25 per cent of the population of the State. The situation there is dicey in view of the fact that it is impossible to sift India-born residents from illegal Bangladeshi migrants, who have voter identity cards, rations cards and other markings of Indian citizenship, even if their loyalties lie elsewhere. To defend the move, Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee has been invoking Article 16(4) of the Constitution that refers to the socially and educationally backward category. However, it is easy to gauge his intention as the quota will not be extended to non-Muslims. This shows the egalitarian Marxist credo to be a complete sham.
As the quota juggernaut rolls on, gathering momentum and flattening whatever vestiges remain of the democratic ideal, policy-makers as much as the people they purport to represent, would do well halt it while there is still time. Erstwhile Samajwadi Party leader Amar Singh has intimated that after parting ways with his OBC compatriots, in his new avatar as a Rajput leader, he plans to lobby for a 'Kshatriya' quota. Others have been raising the demand for a 'Brahmin' quota. As the very rationale for having reservations gets obscured by political machinations, the goal of affirmative action can be attained only if economic criteria, how poor and backward persons and groups are, determine worthiness of beneficiaries. Then, caste, jati and religion would be of no consequence.
NAC AS A SUPER CABINET
THE REVIVAL OF THE NATIONAL ADVISORY COUNCIL WITH SONIA GANDHI AS ITS HEAD MAY AUGUR WELL FOR THE CONGRESS BUT THERE ARE GENUINE CONCERNS
The National Advisory Council, which functioned as a super Government in many ways since its inception in 2004 till 2006 during UPA 1.0, will have yet another stint with Congress president Sonia Gandhi its chairperson.
The NAC is not one of the 180 odd committees and commissions set up by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in past six years. This Government-funded council was the top policy advising body overriding the importance of all other institutions, including the Planning Commission, during UPA 1.0. Eyebrows are raised at the timing of its revival.
The term of the first NAC ended on March 2008 after Ms Sonia Gandhi had quit in 2006 as the NAC chairperson following the office of profit controversy. She had also resigned from her Lok Sabha seat. The same year she was re-elected to the Lok Sabha from her Rae Bareli constituency with record majority. Subsequently, in 2006 the Government passed a Bill exempting 56 posts, including that of the chairperson of the NAC, from the office of profit amidst walkout by the BJP in Parliament. Though bungalow no. 2, Motilal Nehru Marg, office for the NAC, was not vacated, it was assumed that the chapter is closed.
However, the revival of the NAC is not only welcome but also necessary. The NAC during UPA 1.0 not only functioned as a super policy-maker but also pushed through some important legislation like the NREGA and the Right to Information. Moreover, there are not too many think-tank panels in the country that could independently propose path-breaking policies. Moreover, the timing of NAC's revival is quite significant.
Right now the Congress is under the attacks from Opposition on the issue of price rise and inflation. Even congressmen are concerned about it. How could they explain to the aam admi on whose support the Congress came to power about the spiralling price rise?
First of all, the appointment of Ms Gandhi as the NAC chairman will ensure her an institutional platform to promote UPA policies, particularly those of the Congress, on the social and economic reforms. With no coordination committee of the UPA and no Left parties to function as a pressure group, the NAC's role in boosting Government's functioning will be crucial.
Second, the NAC, with its track record, may prove to be effective with its NGO members. The NREGA and the Right to Information Act were conceived by the NAC.
Third, some see that the revival of the NAC is a signal that Ms Gandhi wants to ensure her stamp on the Government policies especially when elections are due in Bihar later this year and in Uttar Pradesh next year. The Congress cannot be complacent about this. As the new NAC chief with a Cabinet rank, Ms Gandhi will be in a position to interact with the Government directly and not through remote control.
Fourth, measures like the crucial Food Security Bill, which is one of the party's poll promises, need to be addressed. Food security is more important than other measures and it will be a feather in the cap if a law is enacted in a country where 70 per cent of the population is poor. In fact, the new census beginning this year should be able to estimate the number of those living below the poverty line.
The draft Food Security Bill is quite different from the one sent by Ms Gandhi to the Prime Minister in June 2009. Insiders say that there are some differences over its provisions like reduction of food grains to the poor to 25 kg while the recommendation was for 35 kg. With the revival of the NAC, this Bill may undergo some amendments just as it happened in the case of the NREGA and the RTI. For UPA 2.0 Food Security Bill could prove to be what NREGA and the Right to Information were for UPA 1.0.
However, the Prime Minister and the Finance Minister are not too enthusiastic about spending another Rs 30,000 to Rs 40,000 crore on food security when the Government is already battling to cut the subsidy and the rising fiscal deficit. Hence there is a clash between the Government and the party. But if the push comes to the shove by the Congress president, the task will be accomplished. At the same time, the NAC cannot ignore fiscal problems being faced by the Government as it would not be prudent for the Government to spend more than it could.
The Government and the NAC must work in tandem to chart welfare path for the nation.
MOVE BEYOND POLITICS OF VICTIMHOOD
IT'S TIME MAYAWATI TAKES UP POLITICAL ISSUES THAT MATTER, WRITES CP BHAMBHRI
Simplistic categories of analysis and interpretation cannot help in capturing the complexities and contradictions of BSP chief Mayawati's political and personal qualities and angularities. She is a bundle of contradictions which gets revealed and reflected in her personal responses in public life.
It deserves to be clearly stated that the chief ministership of Uttar Pradesh is the most coveted political office because a mix of myth and reality had been built around persons who became Chief Ministers of such a crucial State beginning with Govind Ballabh Pant who dominated the State politics and exercised power at the Centre.
After Pant, every Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh had a dream to graduate from State politics to national politics. Mr Narain Dutt Tiwari, Mr HN Bahuguna and Mr Mulayam Singh Yadav had the dream of becoming Prime Minster of India. After the Lok Sabha election of 2009 Ms Mayawati too cherished the same dream. Though her dream didn't fulfil, she got a prized catch in the form of chief ministership of Uttar Pradesh and that too because of the sole effort of her party.
Ms Mayawati came to power in alliance with the Samajwadi Party in 1993-95 and the BJP in 1995, 1997, 2002-2003. Unfortunately, these short-lived coalition Governments in Uttar Pradesh were setbacks to Ms Mayawati's strategies of alliance formation. She claimed, even asserted, that all allies during the elections took advantage of "her Dalit vote-Bank" but their vote-banks did not transfer to the BSP. She was losing in alliance politics but at the same time consolidating her own Dalit vote-bank. Only Dalit vote-bank could not bring real and decisive electoral victory to Mayawati in Uttar Pradesh. Hence, on the eve of 2007 State Assembly elections, she created a bloc of Dalits and Brahmins and out of 403 total seats in the State Assembly, she for the first time won 206 seats leaving her political rivals red-faced.
However, she did not learn any relevant lesson from her unquestioned victory of 2007 State Assembly elections. On March 15, during silver jubilee celebrations of the BSP, she earned herself the name daulat ke beti (daughter of wealth) by accepting currency garlands. On the other hand, attacking Congress general secretary Rahul Gandhi, who is trying to emerge as an alternative Dalit icon, shows that Ms Mayawati is feeling the heat. Her speech on March15, besides flaying Mr Gandhi, clearly tried to convince people that she was the only authentic leader of the Dalit castes and other backward castes.
Mayawati's insecurities and anxieties have started haunting her and she has shown nervousness because a large State like Uttar Pradesh consisting of 71 districts is full of problems and difficulties, and it seems that her strategy of building statues and monuments is gradually not able to pay political dividends. This deserves to be clearly stated that Ms Mayawati has strong and staunch defenders and they have very aggressively maintained that her display of 'currency garland' is not at all vulgar or unheard in Indian politics because other political leaders too have been decorated in similar manner by their supporters.
Ms Mayawati has claimed that she has been victimised and flayed because her critics view her as Dalit. Is Chief Minister of a formidable State a victim of the past? The answer is a big no. Therefore, the story of victimhood cannot be carried beyond a point and Ms Mayawati should fight politics on the basis of alternative political issues.
RTE IS OUR LONG OVERDUE TRYST WITH THE FUTURE
LOOKED at any way, the coming into force on Thursday of the Right to Education ( RTE) Act is a major watershed for the nation. It has been sixty years since the Constitution's directive principles affirmed that " The State shall endeavour to provide, within a period of ten years from the commencement of the Constitution, for free and compulsory education for all children until they complete the age of fourteen years." Yet, despite all the plans and expenditure, the 2001 Census found that as much as 35 per cent of the population of the country remained illiterate.
The RTE Act is a bold, direct, albeit delayed step, to live up to the constitutional directive given by the founders of the republic. The very scope of the Act makes its implementation a gigantic endeavour, one that requires a great deal of managerial skill and effort of the kind that governments at the state and the Centre have not quite revealed so far. Besides marshalling funds which could be of the order of Rs 1.71 lakh crore for five years, it would require the construction and upgrading of existing schools, and training an army of teachers.
In his Thursday morning address to the nation, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh emphasised the need to make the requirements of disadvantaged persons, girls, adivasis and Dalits a focus in implementing the Act. This is important because it is clear that the persistence of illiteracy in the country has structural roots, viz. those disadvantaged are so because they belong to a particular gender or caste.
Indeed, an enterprise such as this requires the combined efforts of all the sections of society. It is in this spirit that the government and private school managements must see the provision of 25 per cent reservation for children of the disadvantaged sections of society in such schools. Any effort to ram the provision down the throat of schools will be counter- productive. It would only be fair for the government to bear part, or the entire, financial burden that may arise from the implementation of the quota.
In touching every child, in the words of Dr Singh, " by the light of education" in the coming decade, the RTE
Act will ensure that the spurt in the proportion of young people in the population of India in the coming decades will become an asset instead of being condemned to remain a liability.
PENALISING SEXUAL ASSAULT
THE Union Home Ministry's decision to amend the law with regard to rape was long overdue and promises to bring the legal status of the crime in India on a par with that in developed countries. The narrow construction of " rape" made out under Section 375 of the Indian Penal Code with sexual intercourse involving penile penetration of the vagina being read as a necessary criterion has ensured that countless perpetrators of sexual assault have escaped the stringent punishment that a case made out as rape would entail.
By replacing the term ' rape' with ' sexual assault' and bringing under its ambit acts like oral sex or insertion of an object into a woman's body without her consent, we will no longer have the unseemly situation of anything that is not ' rape' seeing the rather mild Section 354 of the IPC relating to assault with an intent to outrage a woman's modesty being invoked.
Just as welcome is the move to introduce a new section Section 376 C( 1) to protect minors from sexual abuse, which is rampant in India. Making this provision gender neutral should ensure that even abuse of male children gets suitably punished.
In this connection, increasing the minimum punishment when the accused is a relative or a person in a position of trust or authority to 10 years' imprisonment will hopefully act as a sufficient deterrent.
Increasing the age of sexual consent for girls to 18, regardless of their marital state, too is a forward- looking proposal. By laying down that policemen who fail to properly investigate sexual assault cases can be imprisoned for a year, hopes have been raised that what transpired with Ruchika Girhotra will not be repeated.
It is now for the government to get the proposals enacted as law without delay.
WHY WE LOSE THE AESTHETIC SCHEME
BY GAUTAM BHATIA
COWS sit in the fast lane; people urinate on the sidewalk; buildings shove, extend, encroach and usurp land. Wherever you are, burgeoning metropolis, moufissil city, or industrial town the environment is in continuous flux: a new building is rising, an old one is being torn down, a house is acquiring a second floor, a barsati being refurbished, telephone lines dug, construction material lies on the road. Bazaars overflow onto arcades, wares spill on sidewalks; people jostle for space on the road. Drive into a parking space in a residential area and the house owner pulls out his gun. Everything about the Indian city is unfriendly and hostile.
In a place where everything is shoulder to shoulder, cheek by jowl, what does it take to get people to think beyond the selfish interests of my space, my house, my land Is it too much to ask people to share their city with others? And for city authorities to create conditions where this can happen? The application of an urban graciousness to daily actions is the hallmark of cultures that seek sensory appeal in ordinary life. Just look at planter boxes along a Dutch street. They are maintained by private homes and are often not even visible to the owners, but are appreciated by people on the street. In Bologna, houses along busy streets, build arcades for pedestrians, an idea that wasn't dictated by ordinance, but merely grew out of a desire to provide shade. Today people know Bologna by its arcades.
Most Indian places suffer from a complete lack of cultural identity. How do the new airports in Mumbai and Bangalore give evidence to their presence in India? Show someone a photo of the new terminal in Delhi, he would not be too far off in identifying it as a hospital in Rio. By contrast, movement through the international terminal at Jakarta is, well, unique to Jakarta. Accentuated by courtyards of tropical plants, it is an experience that is not only visually gratifying but is a conscious reminder of the difference between landing in the Far East, as opposed to Scandinavia. Such an attribute, though not a requirement of efficient airport design, leaves a vivid and coherent impression of the place.
With Delhi looking to alter its image with the Commonwealth Games, the city is in a desperate surge of self promotion. Having given up its status as a garden city, the multitude of new stadia, flyovers, rail and air terminals will push it into the class of an anonymous world city. Australian, German and American architects mingle with Korean management teams to ensure that the new structures will be compliant with standards of design and construction established in their own countries.
It is seen as a big step for India to come up to their level. Yet this sellout to technology comes at a gigantic cultural cost.
It ensures that the organic appreciation of places and their unique identities are in the hands of people who have no cultural interest or local connection. The Delhi railway station has been merely
retrofitted with a gleaming glass façade; the idea that Indian railway platforms are home to thousands of families on the move, has not even been considered in the planning. Connaught Place is similarly being restored like a piece of 19th century colonial furniture, without any of the serious considerations of an urban setting besieged by 21st century problems of traffic congestion and pollution.
As if in a living structure a nostalgic view of the place can be artificially created complete with vintage cars and pedestrians in sola topees.
Is this the way to solve the crisis of the city? Perhaps. For a bureaucratic culture used to trivial acts of beautification, a face lift becomes more crucial than seeking a cure for a sick underbelly.
So much has been said of the Indian BRT, that on a recent trip to Jakarta, it was hard not to take note of the city's much older original BRT. Entirely separate from the roadway, the system was approached through underpasses, designed like gardens that linked to the bus loading area above. Waiting passengers were seated within glass enclosures, surrounded by lily patches and ice cream kiosks. So clearly outside the messy reality of boarding buses in Delhi or Mumbai, the experience was akin to an urban picnic.
Along the old waterfront in Shanghai, the city gleams with sidewalks so broad, it is an invitation to the elderly to walk, sit, practice tai- chi. The sidewalks are not merely a requirement of moving pedestrians, but an act of magnanimity.
Similarly, boxes of gardenias are placed along the courts at Wimbledon. Their presence is not essential to the quality of tennis at the tournament; but the scattering of colour within the monochromatic green of the enclosures, is a visual uplift of the spirit.
As a culture we remain entirely oblivious to any such form of spontaneous visual action. A Delhi flower seller provides an array of colours tulips from Holland, purple gladiolas from Himachal, white hibiscus from Bangalore, all seeded and grafted from the world's most delicate hybrids. But the sale occurs against the stench- filled wall of a suburban market's urinal. Aspects of beauty mingle freely with waste and decay. It strikes neither the middleclass housewife buying flowers for the Puja Room, nor the shop owner using the urinal, that the proximity of their actions contaminates the other.
Along tiresome stretches of road outside the cities, the welcoming dhaba turns a blind eye to the endless beautiful stretches of wheat fields behind, and serves food instead facing the front, towards the truck fumes and muddy roads. The refusal to acknowledge the difference between the two scenes is a form of cultural myopia hard to comprehend.
Obviously, cynics will say that poverty and population breed squalor and ugliness, but the view is debunked by the small towns of our northern neighbour and numerous African cities on the Mediterranean, where public areas are lovingly cared for by private home owners.
For all its large scale projects and grandiose plans, th e Indian city offers no selfless acts of generosity or gifts to the spirit. No surprise gardens hidden behind walls, no water courses or arcades built for no reason at all. No maze where citizens can lose themselves. No urban recognition of seasonal variations, no monsoon greens or summer gardens. No flights of fancy, nothing Just a vast relentless canvas of broken and stifling rules, where decisions are made by a powerful few artists, sculptors, architects, bureaucrats people endowed by their background to give professional expressions to urban ideas.
A vintage Connaught Place, Baroque houses, or pieces of public sculpture are sadly only formal distractions, and contribute merely to the collective ugliness of the places we make. Aesthetic ideals are culturally complex, their resolution delicate, and in places so despairingly lost to self- consciousness, best left to the fleeting private moments behind closed doors.
The writer is an architect
STAY TUNED FOR POLITICAL TURMOIL
BY NAJAM SETHI
TWO sudden developments have raised the political temperature in the country and created further uncertainty and instability. First, opposition leader Nawaz Sharif's nth minute U- turn Wednesday 24 March on the proposed 18th constitutional amendment bill has stunned friends and foes alike, jeopardised an all- party, all province, consensus on key issues, and fueled conspiracy theories of regime change. Second, the Supreme Court's ( SC) aggressive revival of the National Reconciliation Ordinance ( NRO) cases March 26 against President Asif Zardari and his cronies has led pundits to conclude that the two developments are linked to his fate.
Mr Sharif cited two reasons for pulling out: a lack of agreement between his Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz ( PMLN) and the Awami National Party ( ANP) on a new name for the North West Frontier Province ( NWFP); and a lack of " consultation" between the government and the Chief Justice of Pakistan ( CJP), Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry, on the proposed method for selection and appointment of judges in the future. Neither explanation is valid.
The consensus parliamentary committee that gave the green light for the proposed changes included Mr Sharif's right- hand man, Ishaq Dar, and both PMLN and ANP had separately confirmed that the matter of renaming the NWFP had also been settled. Any formal " consultation" between the parliamentary committee and the CJP is also a non- starter because it would tie the hands of the judiciary from fulfilling its constitutional right to review the law after it has been passed.
ON March 30, as if to deflect media attention from the beleaguered Sharif for allegedly doing its bidding and to make its intentions clear, the SC dealt a blow to the Zardari regime. It ordered the chief of the National Accountability Bureau ( NAB) to ask the Swiss government to reopen a money laundering case against President Zardari closed on the basis of the NRO two years ago, or face imprisonment for disobeying its orders.
It summarily ordered the imprisonment of Sheikh Riaz, a senior FIA official and Zardari crony, on corruption charges.
And it ordered NAB to produce a former Attorney General of Pakistan, Malik Qayyum, to explain why and under what law he had ordered the closure of the Swiss case against Mr Zardari, scaring him into fleeing from the country on March 31.
Most ominous of all, the SC has refused to accept NAB's plea that President Zardari has constitutional immunity from prosecution. The question of constitutional immunity for the President is
dogged by the distinction between cases lodged before his election as President and cases lodged during his Presidential term. The Lahore High Court is already seized with a petition that challenges Mr Zardari's right to be both President and head of the Peoples Party.
Faced with loss of support from the main opposition party and a visible direct assault by the SC, President Zardari has three options. He can either wring his hands in despair and allow the SC to target and knock out his leading political cronies one by one, thereby isolating him and setting him up for the final heave- ho. The list includes the current law minister, interior minister, agriculture minister, commerce minister, attorney- general and some key presidential and prime ministerial advisors and ambassadors.
Or he can read the writing on the wall and decide to retire from the presidency in exchange for some personal guarantees from the two other key players in the power game, the Pakistan army which underpins national security and the USA which funds and props up Pakistan's military and economy, enabling his PPP prime minister Yousaf Raza Gilani to continue leading the coalition government with key changes in the cabinet proposed by the army chief and judiciary.
Or he can dig his heels in and fight back.
Chances are he will mix and match tactics for strategic survival. He will not directly oppose the SC's orders but he will indirectly thwart them at every turn because the executive is in his hands.
H E may also whip up sentiment against the SC and the PMLN in the other provinces after all, the PMLN is predominantly a Punjab based party ( unlike the PPP which is represented in all four provinces) and the SC doesn't have a single ethnic Sindhi or Baloch judge on its benches even as it is widely perceived to be hounding the PPP for corruption to the exclusion of the PMLN and PMLQ whose track record is only marginally less provocative.
As the scene unfurls, two other factors will weigh into the equation in the next two or three months. The first is the public mood. This is turning ugly because of double digit inflation, acute power shortages that are hurting industry and becoming unbearable as temperatures soar, and belt- tightening, IMF- dictated, fiscal and monetary policies. Across the urban areas of the country, spontaneous mobs are gathering to launch violent protests on one count or another and provincial governments are constantly having to fire- fight. The second is the rising status and credibility of the army chief, General Ashfaq Kayani, whose ability and willingness to pull strings in private and public is increasing by the day. Having won kudos from the public and media and opposition last year for nudging President Zardari to restore the rebellious judges to office, he is now savouring the sweet smell of success in military operations against the Taliban in Swat and Waziristan and laudatory support from the international community and USA following his masterly and leading role in the " strategic dialogue" between Pakistan and USA that concluded in Washington last week.
An all- parties agreement on the renaming of the NWFP is at hand. Mr Zardari is also amenable to conceding more leverage to the CJP on the question of the appointment of judges. But, going by past practice, neither concession to the PMLN or the CJP is likely to get him off the hook.
Both want Asif Zardari to go one way or another, sooner than later. As always in Pakistan's turbulent history, the army chief's vote will decide what happens to whom, when and why while the Americans offer a studied silence. So stay tuned for more action to follow.
The writer is the editor of The Friday Times ( Lahore)
AL- KING sent Nubian slave to ask me that why brother, you have caused so much confuyion? What for you are doing these salts of the summer? I sent latter in Arabic via Nubian slave because I don't want faujis to read it.
" Mostly receptacle and respectable brother Al- King, king of kings, thing of things, sting of stings, bring of brangs, fing of fangs, ding of dangs, nob of noobs, bob of boobs. Rather it is Qa'ana and Qay'ana. Truth to tell, 18th Am- endment was Al- most passeth and then I am receiving an Al- arming phoon call. Al- arm is ringing in my empty head. Rrrrrrrrrrringgggggg! Is it Al- ibaba and Forty Thieves? Noooooo, said Woice at the other end of phoon, don't be Al- armist, be Al- ert. I have something very important to tell you. Bbbbbut if not your real name at least tell me your Al- ibi, I stammered.
WHAT DO YOU MEANNNN, asked minn- acing Woice. I I I mmmean, what is your Al- ias? Mand your own business, said Woice, do you want to Al- ign with us or do you want that Hurr- able example should be made of you like Al- Asif Al- Zardari- un? I thought maybe it is some Al- coholic. So I shotted OH ZHOU SHET UP and slammed phoon. It again rang. DON'T Al- ienate us, Woice said again. You will Al- ways remain in opposition if you do. You don't want us to treat you Al- ike with Al- Asif, do you? No, no, no! Shukran, shukran, I stammered.
They warned that all my Al- imony cases would be opened and I would soon be a faqir. Fuqran, fuqran, I stammered. Back away from 18th Amendment, Woice said. Yes, yes, I will mukran, mukran, I stammered.
" Then I said Al- lah Hafiz but I didn't disconnect phoon.
Woice thought I had gone. It kept talking to someone else. ' Hello? Qay'ana? No need to prosecute him now.
But it is too soon to Ac- quit. He has sought Ad- journment.
We will wait and see if he is Ad- versary before we Ad- judicate'. Qay'ana said, ' Well done, Qa'ana. You followed SOP as instructed. If not Daffadar, let's hope he is not Duffer. He once told me that the Pentagon is a pair of disappeared trousers. And what about the ORs or Other Ranks?' Qa'ana said, ' I have Af- fidavits from All.
They are all Am- icus Curiea, friends of the court'. Then Qay'ana said, ' Don't believe everything they say. They are good at Inter Services Public Relations. They have to act like our Special Services Group'. Qa'ana replied, ' I hold no brief for them. But they are not yet in breach of contract'. ' Al- ways remember' Qay'ana said ' there can only be a tactical, not strategic Al- liance with these ruddy civilians'. ' Yes, yes', Qa'ana Ad- mitted readily, ' that is our ex parte deciyion'." NS
FEAR OF BYPOLL LOSS HAUNTS CM SOREN
BY SAIFUL HAQUE IN RANCHI
TIME is ticking by for Shibu Soren, the three- time Jharkhand chief minister who has never been an MLA in the state.
The Constitution makes it mandatory for a chief minister to be an elected member of the state assembly. And Soren has three more months to get himself elected.
Failure to do so will have him vacating his post. And with the party yet to finalise a seat for the chief minister, that spectre only rises.
The first time Soren became the chief minister was in March 2005, after the state elections threw up a hung assembly.
The Jharkhand Mukti Morcha ( JMM) leader, who was a Lok Sabha member then, did not get the chance to contest for an assembly seat as he had to quit nine days later, having failed to prove his majority.
Soren was presented with another chance when he replaced Independent MLA Madhu Koda to become the chief minister for the second time in August 2008.
He had to become an MLA within six months to stay in the job.
Soren contested the Tamar assembly bypoll last January but was defeated by Independent candidate Gopal Krishna
Patar, popularly known as Raja Patar, by over 10,000 votes.
Three days later Soren resigned from the chief minister's post and with no party coming forward to form the government, Jharkhand was put under President's rule.
This time, though, the party is making sure Soren gets through without a hitch.
" We have not yet decided a seat for Guru ji ( Soren), but in all likelihood he will contest from the Santhal Pargana region ( which has 18 seats)," JMM spokesman Ramesh Hansda said.
Sources said Soren was playing his cards cautiously and is expected to choose between Dumka and Jama seats, both JMM strongholds.
Dumka is represented by his son Hemant, who is being projected as Soren's successor after the death of his elder son Durga last year. Daughter- inlaw Sita is an MLA from Jama.
The chief minister said he was planning to contest the bypoll from Dumka.
Hemant was prompt to announce that he would vacate the seat if his father decides to contest from there.
Sita, Durga's widow, too said she would vacate the Jama assembly seat in favour of her father- in- law.
But reports suggest that Hemant is unwilling to vacate his seat and Sita is being pressured by the family to do so.
Sita has, however, denied the story.
Family apart, Jamtara legislator Vishnu Bhaiya too has announced he is ready to vacate his seat for Soren.
With all 81 assembly seats booked for the moment, someone in the JMM or in its coalition will have to vacate a
seat to enable Soren to contest the bypoll.
And it will have to be done soon.
AMARINDER ' CHICKENS OUT' OF BOOK LAUNCH IN PAKISTAN
BY NEHA TARA MEHTA IN NEW DELHI
FOR former Punjab chief minister Capt.
Amarinder Singh, Lahore is like a bone stuck in his throat.
Back in 2004- 05, Pakistan's government did not allow him to go through the Lahore Fort archives for his latest book, The Last Sunset: The Rise & Fall of the Lahore Durbar ( Roli). And last Friday, he cancelled a high- profile launch of his book in Lahore in view of the bomb blasts that rocked the city on March 12.
The March- 26 book launch was to be high profile. The list of invitees included Pakistan's former prime minister and leader of the Pakistan Muslim League ( N) Nawaz Sharif, his brother and Punjab CM Shahbaz Sharif and Punjab governor Salmaan Taseer.
One of Singh's hosts in Lahore was to be Aitzaz Ahsan. He had led the lawyers' agitation in 2007 protesting against Gen. Pervez Musharraf's sacking of chief justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry.
" What militants really want is headlines," says Singh, who was to be accorded state guest status in the city that was once the centre of the vast kingdom of the captain's subject, Maharaja Ranjit Singh. " They could not have got bigger headlines than if they had targeted us. I decided to cancel the launch until things get better in Lahore." The historian- politician's entourage was to include well- known journalists, eight MLAs and two MPs from Punjab.
Singh in 2004- 05 had secured the Punjab chief secretary's permission to go through the Lahore Fort archives.
Everything was in place when Islamabad pulled the plug on his plans at the last minute. " Not that I had asked for any sensitive information," Singh says.
The book launch was scheduled to take place at Aitchison College, one of Lahore's leading schools. The principal, Fakir Aijazuddin, whose ancestors were ministers in Ranjit Singh's court, was to be one of the speakers.
" The launch was to be held in the auditorium and it could have been an easy target for militants," Singh says, adding that he was drawing on his experience of two decades of militancy in Punjab.
" People who were to be at the launch were disappointed, but I took the decision in the interest of those who were accompanying me from India," he says.
Roli Books publisher P. Kapoor and Singh have decided not to relocate the launch to Islamabad or Karachi ( where a literary festival was held recently).
Singh will now take his story to Jalandhar, Amritsar, Canada, the US and the UK.
' A THIRD COUNTRY CAN'T AFFECT TIES OF INDIA & CHINA'
DIPANJAN ROY CHAUDHURY/ NEW DELHI
NATIONAL Security Adviser ( NSA) Shiv Shankar Menon said on Thursday that India and China cooperate and compete at the same time because of their interests and the way they perceive the balance of power and the situation around them.
The remark came on a day that marked 60 years of Sino- Indian diplomatic ties.
Menon was explaining the complexities of the ties between the neighbours ahead of foreign minister S. M. Krishna's fourday trip to China, beginning Monday.
" As India and China continue to pursue their interests, so long as their preoccupation remains their domestic transformation and both understand that the goal requires a peaceful periphery,... the elements of competition in the bilateral relationship can be managed and the elements of congruence can be built upon," he said.
Menon was speaking at a seminar, India and China: Public Diplomacy, Building Understanding, in New Delhi.
In an oblique reference to the impact of the US and Pakistan on Sino- Indian ties, he said, " We have shown through practice that our bilateral relations are too important to be affected by our relations with any third country." The NSA, however, cautioned against misperceptions of policy caused by a lack of understanding of each other's compulsions and policy processes.
At the event, Chinese ambassador to India Zhang Yan said attempts should be made by both China and India to properly handle public opinion. " The two countries should provide correct guidance to public opinion and avoid a war of words," he said.
Zhang noted that the neighbours should enhance trust otherwise " there can be no sustained and meaningful cooperation".
THE thin majority of the UPA government in the ongoing budget session has the parliamentary affairs floor managers working overtime to woo the Independent MPs and members of smaller parties. And what better way to woo the MPs than foreign junkets.
No wonder a 12- member delegation of MPs visiting Europe, led by Union parliamentary affairs minister Pawan Bansal and his deputy V. Narayanswamy, has half its strength drawn from the Independents.
The government is perhaps hoping that the cool climes of Switzerland and France will motivate the Independent MPs to back the UPA government if SP chief Mulayam Singh Yadav opts for a cut motion on the crucial finance Bill.
ENVIRONMENT and forests minister Jairam Ramesh is one Union minister who is a picture of humility.
At times Ramesh does not even bother about protocol, unlike others who follow it like a rulebook.
Officials in the Prime Minister's Office ( PMO) can't help gushing about the minister's unassuming and easy manner when he is around. Apparently, Ramesh has a friend in the PMO and often drops in to meet him. The minister sits like any other visitor facing the bureaucrat.
Old timers recall that they have not seen such an unassuming Union minister in a long time.
CONGRESS president Sonia Gandhi's move to return as the chief of the National Advisory Council ( NAC) has pleased many academicians, analysts and civil rights activists. But the Leftinclined intellectuals are a bit wary.
Though they are keen to be part of the Sonia think- tank, they do not want to lobby for a position. At the same time, they express the apprehension that some " pedestrian thinkers" may find a berth in the council instead of them.
The Prime Minister's Office is not excited over the prospects either.
Hence, there is a feeling within the babudom that the council appointments would keep the bureaucracy on tenterhooks.
BJP chief Nitish Gadkari is facing a challenging task these days in appointing party unit chiefs for Uttar Pradesh, Delhi, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Bihar.
Like his predecessors, the BJP president is under pressure from the RSS to give preference to its candidates while the saffron party's old guard has its favourites in almost all of these states. In this tug- o- war between the Sangh and the BJP old hands, the party chief's own preference for credible, grassroot- level leaders is getting buried.
IT HAS been less than a year since the general elections and already as many as 68 MPs, including Union ministers, have carried out " unauthorised" constructions in their residential premises.
The ministerial bungalows fall within the Lutyens zone. This league of MPs cuts across party lines with notables such as Shahnawaz Hussain, Kailash Joshi and Navin Jindal. The MPs, however, deny playing with the Lutyens design, pointing out that temporary construction of ' shades' is not prohibited.
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BACK TO THE PRESENT
A group of leading Muslim scholars has put its weight behind the increasing chorus of voices demanding that those who use Islam to justify terror be isolated. Islamic scholars, who had gathered in Turkey, have disputed a 14th century fatwa that divides the world into the abode of Islam (dar-ul-Islam) and abode of war (dar-ul-harb) and is a favourite of Osama bin Laden. Instead they demanded that the entire world be declared a place of tolerance and coexistence. They also discredited the notion of waging jihad against non-believers. This is a welcome move to distance mainstream Islam from radical groups such as al-Qaeda that have used religion to justify terrorist acts.
In India, too, we have seen a vigorous condemnation of groups that use Islam to justify terror. In 2008, the influential Darul Uloom Deoband had declared that Islam teaches its followers to treat all mankind with tolerance and condemns all kinds of violence. Later in 2009, Deoband declared India as dar-ul-aman or abode of peace. The statements by Indian clerics and international Islamic scholars are not academic exercises. By identifying terror attacks as "un-Islamic", the religious legitimacy that the terrorists seek to bring to their violent acts is undermined.
The proclamations by the multinational group of Islamic scholars gathered in Turkey or the clerics of the Deoband school are very much a part of the process of interpretation of Islamic law, which has been going on over a long time. It's a common error to regard Islamic law as unchanging. Though the Quran and the practice and sayings of the Prophet are the primary sources of Islamic law, there is also a place for ijma (consensus), qiyas (analogical thinking) and ijtihad (systematic original thinking). These traditions must be revived if Islam is to be forward-looking and progressive. It is the only way fatwas given several centuries earlier can be overturned and discredited.
At a time when al-Qaeda and its hate-filled agenda are increasingly losing popularity, interpretations of Islam that are in tune with contemporary reality must be encouraged and taken forward. That is precisely what the scholars at the Turkish conclave have done. It is appropriate that the declaration was made in Turkey since it is one Islamic country where Islam and secularism coexist. There are examples of revisionist thinking in other parts of the Islamic world too. These interpretations could very well have no impact on terror groups, but at least they would provide the ideological firepower to ordinary Muslims to counter radical and medievalist strains of Islam.
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DON'T JUST LEGISLATE
Governments, both present and past, have excelled at privileging symbol over substance. We sincerely hope the Right to Education (RTE) Act, which came into force yesterday, contravenes this spirit. That the prime minister used the occasion to make a special address to the nation indicates that the government gives high priority to education. But the government's commitment will be tested in implementation. Its record of delivery, as opposed to the expression of good intentions, is shoddy. The Act makes the right to education a fundamental right. The government is legally bound to provide free education to children between the age of six and 14. But the challenges are enormous. Over 1.7 lakh crore rupees are needed in the next five years to make this possible. Thousands of qualified teachers need to be recruited across the country. Many of the available teachers have to be trained or retrained. The Union government has prepared guidelines for the implementation of the RTE and has promised to meet 65 per cent of the cost.
However, state governments will be responsible for the work on the ground. They must come on board now. State governments have to build effective mechanisms to ensure that the RTE budget is put to good use. Panchayati Raj institutions could be entrusted with the task of tackling last mile problems. The RTE's suggestion to include parents in the running of schools must be taken seriously. Grave issues like lack of teachers, books and buildings, and teacher absenteeism could be tackled better if all the stakeholders are involved in school management. The real work begins now.
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KEEPING THE POOR ALIVE
Poverty attracts two kinds of policy interventions. The first hopes to eradicate it and the second wants to keep the poor alive. In India, our prime effort has always been, right from the days of antodaya, to somehow keep the poor ticking, even at the lowest levels of subsistence. The NREGA scheme saves the impoverished from starvation on a six-monthly basis. We see the same mindset at work in the way the national health insurance policy, the Rashtra Swasthya Bima Yojana (RSBY), has been devised. Here again the target group is below poverty line (BPL) families and the relief given is inadequate.
To make sense of RSBY's drawbacks, we need to compare it with the health insurance Bill that Obama recently introduced in America. Of course, the easy way out is to say India is not America and can you compare apples with oranges, or an Apollo with an orangutan? But in both instances, we are talking about human beings and, in both continents, the aim is to help the poor. The trick lies here: do we want to eliminate poverty, or just alleviate it?
The American health policy exemplifies the drive to eradicate poverty. It gives comprehensive coverage to all, thus allowing the poor equal access as the rich to medical facilities. There is no upper limit in terms of health expenses for claiming insurance benefits in America.
In India, on the contrary, as RSBY is designed only to keep the very poor alive, its cap is at Rs 30,000 per annum for a family of five. You have a sixth member, say, your aged parent, and you wish he were dead. Also, can one legislate that the poor should only have ailments that cost no more than Rs 30,000 a year? In other words, are there diseases of the rich and those of the poor? Can we categorise heart and cancer as status markers that separate the well-to-do from the rest?
This is not a tactic in scare-mongering but national figures suggest that, in the realm of non-communicable diseases, after heart ailments, most adults die of cancer. So if a BPL family member gets any of these two illnesses, will RSBY shut its door on that person? Or take a simpler case. If there are complications arising out of child delivery, what happens then? Interestingly, the American health Bill will cover maternity and new-born cases by 2014, maybe earlier. It already takes care of preventive health, for which there are no deductibles, no co-payment.
Incidentally, in India, all expenses arising out of OPD consultations are not covered by RSBY. OPD consultations are free, but a cancer patient's pathology tests and blood work have to be done frequently. They alone add up to thousands of rupees and we have not come to the medicines yet. Further, our RSBY only allows for hospital procedure "which can be provided on a day care basis". What then happens to those who need prolonged hospitalisation? Once Rs 30,000 is up, the meter stops and out they go.
The American health Bill does not limit itself to the very poor, or near-starvation families. The governing assumption of the Obama plan is that the rich and the poor suffer similar ailments requiring more or less identical treatments. Its scope is truly universal for it plans to assist families who earn up to $88,000 per annum with their insurance premiums. To get a perspective: most university professors in the US would be happy if they got $88,000 as their yearly pay packet.
In India, it is just the six crore BPL families that are eligible for RSBY. Is this category a satisfying one? If one exceeds the BPL line by a few rupees, does that make the person "not poor"? The Arjun Sengupta-headed National Commission for Enterprises in the Unorganised Sector argues that 44 per cent of the country is poor and about 77 per cent are vulnerable.
Before somebody raises objections to these numbers, note that this commission used National Sample Survey figures which are uniformly accorded academic and state respect. RSBY's rationale then is to help those in extreme poverty, eliminating millions of others who fall outside the BPL net even by a whisker. This is truly frightening, given the fact that after agricultural inputs the next major reason for rural indebtedness is health.
If RSBY is a stop-gap measure, pending a more comprehensive policy, one could find excuses for its inadequacies. But there is very little chance that it will grow up to look like Obama's health plan one day. With RSBY, India could have deviated from its past approaches towards poverty, but our administrators are not even aware of this need. As long as the poor are alive and can drag themselves to the voting booth periodically, all is well with the state.
Had RSBY made the rich and the poor indistinguishable, at least in the field of health, that would have amounted to a policy breakthrough. In the same vein, the right to education should eliminate the distinction, at least the egregious ones, between schools facilities for the rich and the poor. Can we look that far ahead?
The writer is a former professor, JNU.
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'FLAMENCO IS NECESSARY TO EXPRESS THE SUFFERINGS OF GYPSIES'
Flamenco is a popular form of music and dance performed primarily by gypsies of the Andalusian region of Spain. One of its finest practitioners, Antonio Carmona , the former lead singer of Spanish flamenco music group Ketama, broke away from tradition in the early 1980s to create an entirely new flamenco upsetting followers of the genre and his own family. Carmona, who calls himself a 'gypsy from Granada', tells Faizal Khan after a recent concert tour of India that flamenco music is needed today to express the 'hard life and happiness' of the gypsies:
What is new flamenco?
Flamenco is deep-rooted in tradition. It is not easy to come out of it. Twenty-five years ago, we started a band called 'Ketama' and mixed flamenco with music from Africa, India and Latin America along with pop and jazz. It was like opening up a new road in music. It was also a way to make flamenco popular in Spain. We were the first to introduce other instruments like violin, cajon, flute and drums to flamenco, which only had guitar until then. Cajon, a percussion instrument from Peru, later became the best instrument to be adapted for flamenco.
What was the influence behind creation of new flamenco?
In my home in Granada, i used to hear a lot of music from other countries along with gypsy music. My father, a famous flamenco musician, would bring home music from different parts of the world after his visits abroad. Once he came back with music composed by Ravi Shankar. When i heard the tabla, i knew it was my culture, because i knew that my ancestors were from Rajasthan. When you hear different kinds of music, you start to open up.
Did the audience accept your fusion music?
No. In the beginning the audiences were hostile. We couldn't perform even in our native town. It took us a decade to get recognition from the traditionalists. The people who didn't like us then are proud of us today. Later, flamenco came to be heard more on radio and TV and went to the rest of Europe and the US. We brought flamenco to the mainstream.
Is flamenco popular in Spain today?
There is no platform for flamenco in Spain today. It is more a music for export than for performances inside Spain. The new generation is interested in styles like gypsy rap. Flamenco is appreciated more outside Spain. It is also a huge success in Latin America.
What kind of flamenco would you prefer yourself?
I would like to keep flamenco in the purest state. There is more merit in what my father, a traditional musician, does. Pure flamenco singers can take a piece of music, which is a century old, and make it relevant even today. But there should also be space for new styles. Both have to exist together.
What is the future of flamenco?
It is necessary to express what the gypsies had suffered in Spain xenophobia and dictatorship. Gypsies were persecuted and killed. But they never turned to violence. We need flamenco to express that hard life of the gypsies. We also need flamenco to express the happiness the gypsies are naturally endowed with. It's what makes us gypsies hard life and happiness.
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The Bt brinjal has been put into cold storage, and i have mixed feelings about this. Food prices being as high as they are, anything that promised an increase in the supply of foodstuffs - as the Bt brinjal did - might be deemed to be no bad thing. On the hand, however, why a Bt brinjal? Why not a Bt potato, or a Bt onion, or almost any other veggie?
On my list of most hated veggies, brinjal ranks third. The first is karela. With its thick, scaly, warty skin it looks and tastes like the Great Horned Toad, found in the deserts of Arizona and New Mexico. No, i've never been to the deserts of Arizona and New Mexico. Nor have i ever seen a Great Horned Toad, much less eaten one. But the karela looks, and tastes like what i think a Great Horned Toad should look and taste like, were you to eat one in preference to the karela. Toss a coin. Heads toad, tails karela. Second on my list of villainous vegetables is the tinda. I have never eaten a tinda in my life. The sight of it is enough. Lightly sauteed, with a touch of haldi and dhania, it exudes the gelatinous squidginess of partly congealed phlegm. Yuck time.
Third comes the brinjal. Bulbous and purple black - the colour of midnight conspiracy and brooding stratagems - there is something profoundly sinister about the brinjal. Its aspect is that of a vegetable with a deep and dire secret, a vegetable whose malevolent visage might well adorn Wanted posters. For one thing there's the spooky business of its many aliases. Why does a vegetable have to have so many names? It's like those terrorist bods who call themselves al-Qaeda one day, LeT the next, and IM the third day, to keep one step ahead of not only the long arm of the law, but the even longer arm of their moms who don't know who or what the heck they are any more.
The brinjal is like that, boasting more names than the Yellow Pages does under the listing for 'Groups, Jehadi'. In English the brinjal is also known as aubergine. In Hindi it is baigun. In Bengali, baygoon. In Kutchi and Gujarati it is ringro. In its albino avatar, when it is white and elongated, it becomes an eggplant. Why would anyone in their right minds trust a vegetable with so many different identities? What's the damn thing trying to hide anyway?
Despite these many question marks that loom over it, our genetic scientists for some strange reason chose the brinjal as the subject of their experimentation, like latter-day Dr Frankensteins trying to create a monstrous baigun to end all baiguns. The unleashing of the Bt brinjal on the baigun-eating citizenry has been deferred, perhaps wisely. But before the Bt brinjal is let loose on us it is best to give a thought as to what we are going to do with it. In what form are people going to eat it? This could have many social and cultural ramifications. For instance, the Bengalis eat baigun as baygoon bhaja, deep fried in mustard oil. There is a theory that it is the repeated ingestion of baygoon bhaja which gave birth to the dyspeptic melancholy of Rabindra sangeet, one of whose famous songs is called 'Baygoonair Parosmoni' and goes 'Ai baygoon purno koro, ai baygoon purno koro' (finish this baigun, finish this baigun).
But perhaps the most acceptable form of the vegetable is in that of the Punjabi baigun bharta. A baigun is smoked on a fire. Chopped onion and spices added, the baigun has the living bejesus beaten out of it. This is ostensibly to soften it, but the real reason is to make sure it knows who's boss. Whipped into submission, the baigun is made to know its place in the order of things.
So roll on the Bt brinjal revolution, whenever it comes. India that is Bharta will be ready for it.
A MIRROR IMAGE
For those of us who suffer dread a visit to the hospital for health checks, there is now good news. According to a report, homes of the future will feature bathroom mirrors that will study you while you brush your teeth and measure your blood pressure, heart rate and send them on to your doctor. You can also enjoy a broadband-connected bath which you can text and instruct it to add more hot water or bubbles.
It now becomes very possible to stay at home and never venture out at all. Which in a place like Delhi may be a good thing until the Commonwealth Games are over. Interpersonal relationships will also change. You might just decide that the mirror on the bathroom wall is a lot more congenial than a nagging partner. However, to those of us who are sociable, the thought of a mirror telling you intimate details when you are brushing your teeth is a little frightening. The last thing we want when we lurch bleary-eyed into the bathroom is for a mirror to tell us all that's wrong with us. For hypochondriac, however, this could mean a lovefest with the mirror.
Imagine how different the story of Snowhite would have turned out if when the wicked queen had uttered the words, "Mirror, mirror on the wall. Who's the fairest of us all"? the new-age mirror would have first given her all her vital signs before uttering the name of her stepdaughter. That probably would have stopped her in her tracks and the poisoned apple may never have happened. All we editorial writers now need is a mirror which rattles out edits while we put up our feet. That would really mirror our aspirations to get away with as little work as possible.
GIVE THOUGHT TO AFTER-SALES
In its second-term in office, the UPA has the mandate to sell off bits and pieces of the businesses the state has come to own since independence. UPA II has lost little time in unlocking a significant revenue stream over the next five years to fund its ambitious social security agenda. The 13th Finance Commission has valued public undertakings in India at close to $400 billion, while independent estimates, although less optimistic, reckon their combined worth is at around $150 billion. Around 60 state-owned companies that make the cut for stake sales could fetch the UPA Rs 150,000 crore over five years, helping to bridge a yawning fiscal deficit.
The exchequer is targeting revenues of Rs 40,000 crore this year through minority stake sales in Coal India, Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited and Steel Authority of India among others. But private investors both retail and institutions have not shown big interest in the issues undertaken thus far, leaving state-owned insurers and banks to pick up the lion's share of what is on offer. National Hydroelectric Power Corporation, Oil India, National Thermal Power Corporation, Rural Electrification Corporation and National Mineral Development Corporation have been sold at prices fund managers and the individual investors find steep. This makes for sound revenue generation from the government's standpoint but leaves unanswered the issue of widening the gains of India's growth story. The overarching opposition to disinvestment by the Left may have yielded to individual instances where UPA allies feel their constituencies are threatened. The Congress must, however, apply its mind to resolving the revenue-social equity trade-off if disinvestment is to become broader acceptable State policy.
Purists might argue that the disinvestment being undertaken is faux privatisation the managerial efficiencies built into the latter do not obtain in the former. But public enterprises stand to gain from even minority stake sales. Listing requires quarterly disclosure, a more accountable way of doing business than the annual statements presented by these companies to their single shareholder. The tighter scrutiny of market players, both local and global, imposes a higher discipline in boardrooms and makes political interference a shade less pervasive. Tied to a move to have more floating stock from private as well as state-owned companies, disinvestment dons an impervious market-reform halo. More floating stock makes for deeper capital markets and the government must lead India Inc by example to spread the gains of rapid growth to a wider section of society.
IT'S A TWO-WAY STREET
On April 6, 1998, Sonia Gandhi was unanimously elected the Congress president. The intervening 12 years have seen huge changes. In Gandhi herself and in the way we see her.
Soon after taking over the Congress presidency, Gandhi visited, Mumbai. Murli Deora, then the head of the state Congress, hosted a lunch to introduce her to the media and prominent people. With her was Manmohan Singh. When she sat down for lunch and was asked a question about politics, her response was to look at Singh and say, "Manmohanji aap hi boliye." The diffident manner may still be much in evidence, but the diffidence itself has long since gone. Gandhi's unsure outward manner, in fact, hides a remarkable metamorphosis, one through which a simple, uncomplicated homemaker unfamiliar with India's intricate social structure and its complex political nuances of caste and region, has become adept at handling them with consummate ease.
This personal transformation has taken place undeterred by the hostility she faced from the chattering classes. It's difficult to imagine that just 12 years ago, a vast majority of India's educated elite disliked the very idea of Sonia Gandhi. They resented the fact that a foreigner was elevated to such an important post, sniggered at her unimpressive academic qualifications and mocked her political naiveté. Many of those critics have now become admirers, others converts to her cause.
If she weathered this disparagement it was because Gandhi's instincts must have told her that their disapproval didn't matter. What mattered was the affection with which the poor of India welcomed her, evident in the 'huge' or 'frenzied' or 'rousing' election rallies.
Why was there such a diametrically opposite response to one individual? The poor of India weren't put off by her foreign identity because they saw that she had embraced an Indian one: in clothes, in deportment, in language and in family values.
Why did India's upper classes take a dozen years see what the poor and illiterate masses saw instinctively? There is a simple explanation for it, so simple in fact that we may be tempted to reject it. That explanation is this: the educated elite has over the years become cynical.
So cynical, in fact, that it fails to see the possibility of good in others. Not good as in good, better, best which it understands, but good as in morally right and virtuous, as in a person of noble character, which its cynicism won't allow it to accept.
This is the reason why the educated elite was unable to comprehend Gandhi's turning down of the prime ministership in 2004. They invented 'reasons' for her refusal: that the president advised her to do so because there would be constitutional objections to her foreign origins (Rashtrapati Bhavan denied this). Some said she was afraid for her life, a ridiculous statement when you considered the openness of her election campaign.
The 'inner voice' she referred to had advised her earlier too: first when she refused the Congress presidency which came as an emotional response to Rajiv Gandhi's assassination in 1991, and seven years later in 1998 when she relented and accepted the job reluctantly. The cynicism of the chatterati made them think she did so because of ambition; what they were unable to see is that she did so from a sense of duty to save the Congress from the oblivion it was hurtling to under the 'leadership' of the likes of Sitaram Kesri and Arjun Singh, Sharad Pawar and N.D. Tiwari. That sense of duty, born of being a part of the Nehru-Gandhi family from the age of 24, was so strong that it overrode her shyness and the horror of living through the assassinations of Indira and Rajiv.
That sense of duty to the Congress and the nation now also drives Gandhi's aggressive pursuit of social legislation: against poverty (National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme and farm debt waiver), against corruption (Right to Information Act), against gender inequality (Women's Bill). This continues the tradition of legislation brought in by the Nehru-Gandhi family: Jawaharlal Nehru's 'temples of modern India' and 'commanding heights' of socialism, Indira Gandhi's abolition of privy purses and bank nationalisation, Rajiv Gandhi's panchayati raj and communication network to rural and small town India. In retrospect, not all these ideas stand the test of time, but their intention was always for the greater good of the majority. In short, the intention was always and there's that word again noble.
It takes some effort to use that word. It probably makes some of you cringe to read it. But when you think about it, the fact that it lacks currency in today's world is a sad reflection on our times and the people who occupy our public space. If Sonia Gandhi and her steadfast ally Manmohan Singh restore it and give it back to us so we can use it without self-consciousness, they will have given to our national life something far greater than all the bills and legislations put together. But they need us to meet them half away; they need us to let go of our
Anil Dharker is a Mumbai-based writer. The views expressed by the author are personal.
FACE THE NATION
On the face of it, a Narendra Modi's politics is as different from Mayawati's as a Gujarati dhokla is from a Lucknowi seekh kebab. One is a Hindutva icon, the other is the Dalit mascot. One is a chief minister of a fast-track state, the other of a state still struggling to catch up with the rest. One prides himself on being a CEO-like politician, the other is credited with a transferable votebank. One is trying to live down his image as a hate figure for minorities, the other is trying to live up to her status as a symbol of caste empowerment. But there is a stark similarity between Modi and Mayawati: they are both authoritarian leaders whose identity is shaped by the politics of 'victimhood'.
Central to the imagery of the politician as 'victim' is the role of the media, in particular the English language media, as a seemingly 'hostile' force. For Mayawati, the media is manuwadi, an upper caste, upper class dominated elite group that cannot stomach the idea of a Dalit woman in power. For Modi, the media is a collection of secular fundamentalists who are anti-Gujarat, anti-Hindu, and by extension, anti-national.
When Mayawati was encircled by the cash garland controversy two weeks ago, her reaction was to lash out at her critics by claiming that she was a 'Dalit ki beti' who was being targeted by upper caste conspirators. When there was an error made over the date on which Modi was to appear before a Special Investigating Team inquiring into the 2002 Gujarat riots, the CM was quick to denounce his opponents for allegedly engaging in a campaign to defame him and Gujarat. In both instances, the CM was projected as the 'victim', while the villain was not so much political opposition, but the media.
Let's be honest: Mayawati and Modi attract strong reactions. The media, in a sense, is unable to extricate itself from this climate of divisiveness, making it almost impossible to have a dispassionate dialogue on these leaders. Why, for example, should every criticism of Mayawati's alleged disproportionate assets be seen through the prism of caste, or any reference to the Gujarat riots be seen as an indictment of Modi? Conversely, can we not praise Gujarat's economic growth without being accused of being an apologist for the CM? Unfortunately, a rising intolerance has shaped the media debate on these leaders, raising professional challenges.
In particular, the stereotyping of the media as being anti-Mayawati or anti-Modi has been used as a successful propaganda weapon by its proponents to push the media on the defensive. In the case of Mayawati, she has almost made her refusal to engage with the media a badge of honour. She will rarely speak to journalists, and even when she does, the interaction is confined to a monologue. For Mayawati's core constituency of Dalits, their leader's contemptuous treatment of the media only reinforces their faith in her larger-than-life image.
In Modi's case, the media is divided into an 'us' versus 'them' categorisation. Only those who will toe the CM's line are granted an audience, the rest are boycotted. It's an attitude that is endorsed by the CM's supporters on the ground, and in cyberspace too. Log on to a social networking site and piles of abuse await the journalist who might dare raise discomfiting questions for the Gujarat CM.
But why single out Modi and Mayawati alone? Across the political spectrum, senior politicians are unwilling to subject themselves to rigorous media scrutiny. After a decade in politics, Sonia Gandhi has only done a handful of soft focus interviews, with scarcely a tough question being asked. Rahul Gandhi has stuck to gentle, well-choreographed press conferences rather than engaging in robust debate. The PM rarely interacts on national issues with the media and even his annual press conferences no longer take place. Even L.K. Advani, who was once a rare high-profile politician who never hesitated from doing candid interviews, appears to have decided to go into hibernation.
Part of the problem lies with us in the media too. Where once the media thrived on its anti-establishment image, a number of influential journalists are now footsoldiers of the political class. Facts have been replaced by propaganda even as the creeping power of the public relations machine threatens journalism. Unfortunately, the changing nature of the politician-journalist relationship means that the space for independent journalism that can hold the politician accountable is shrinking. Access is now regulated, determined not by professional integrity, but individual loyalties. Asking uncomfortable questions to our netas, or expressing a strong opinion is confused with media hyper-activism, or worse, bias.
In the circumstances, when politicians claim they are the victims of media campaigns, it strikes one as a bit odd. Surely, it's the media which is being treated with a mix of disdain and condescension that has far greater reason to complain.
Post-script: a few weeks ago, British PM Gordon Brown was on BBC being subject to relentless questioning by the anchor and the audience. Just wonder when a top Indian politician will agree to a similar interrogation without claiming to be victimised?
Rajdeep Sardesai is Editor-in-Chief , IBN Network
The views expressed by the author are personal.
The "people's car" is not a staid object of history, never mind the permanent association of its origins with a state-owned project begun on the wishes of Adolf Hitler in the late '30s. Except that, Volkswagen was not the first to try, and it would not be the last to succeed. For more than two decades before the conception of the Tata Nano, a little car that had rolled out of Maruti Suzuki India's Gurgaon plant on December 14, 1983, had been India's original and ultimate people's car. Frighteningly diminutive, shockingly red, wobbling over potholes that punctuated the roads of unreformed India, the Maruti 800 came at a then-princely sum of a little over Rs 40,000 and quickly built itself into an icon of middle-class aspiration. Our original hatchback, it also unleashed a deluge of colours on the road. Even as Maruti prepared to celebrate rolling out its millionth vehicle in a single financial year last month, the M800 remained the instant signifier of the Maruti brand.
So there's nostalgia for this 796cc icon, which will no longer be sold in 13 major cities as BS-IV emission norms come into effect. That in itself is a mark of the distance we've travelled when emission controls constantly remind us of climate change, our own death-in-life. But in preferring business logic to sentiment, Maruti Suzuki also demonstrates the inexorable laws of life and economics: it's no longer feasible to upgrade the M800, especially when its sales have been falling for five-plus years. In 2015-16, when BS-IV norms begin applying to the rest of the country, the M800 will finally ride into its sunset.
Offering the practical manna of low cost, light weight, fuel efficiency (and once-high resale value), the M800 encouraged people to experiment, to aspire, to dare. Somewhere along the way, it laid the basis for the Rs 150,000 crore Indian automobile industry of today, with a dozen manufacturers and more than 50 car models
In a sudden climbdown, Manmohan Singh has indicated that his government is ready to retrace its steps on the civil nuclear liability bill. The bill is now being seen as too hot to handle, with clauses that appear to unfairly cushion American suppliers and place most of the burden of legal liability, in case of an accident, on the government. Opposition parties have been relentless in their attack, and a cowed UPA could not even introduce it in Parliament.
Without his party's solid backing, the prime minister risks appearing like a feather for every wind that blows. "It should go to the standing committee where all possible divergence of opinion can be resolved," said Manmohan Singh. In effect, the bill will be put on ice for another session. Harmonising opinion is a fine thought, but one that the Congress has traditionally sucked at. The party's discomfort with the opposition is palpable. It holds them at a stiff distance instead of drawing them into consequential conversations on policy that matters. After all, if properly handled, the nuclear liability bill is a purely technical issue, with little room for ideological polarisation. Instead of putting in the political legwork to share the bill's contents with the opposition and persuade them of the patent need to push it through, the Congress dithers and stalls. By forcing the PM into this embarrassing two-step, it undermines his office. After all, this bill would finally cap Manmohan Singh's biggest labour, the Indo-US civil nuclear deal that he staked his government on. Surely it was worth expending some political capital to ensure that the nuclear liability bill doesn't lose momentum at this last stage.
There was reason to expect that things should be different with UPA-II, with its clear mandate. The PM, however, looks even more tremulous and cautious this time (unlike that display of steel during the nuclear bill). Manmohan Singh can no longer get away with appearing to constantly defer to
his party's political calculus. This backtracking has made him look as bad as his party.
Torrent Power Limited, a private sector power distribution company that runs networks in several cities mainly in Gujarat and Maharashtra has now added one more to its stable: Agra. Uttar Pradesh, the casual reader might think, is not a Gujarat or Maharashtra, not the first state
in which one would think that processes to rationalise urban India's public utilities would be put in place. But that is a crucial narrative of UP under the Bahujan Samaj Party lost in the all-encompassing din that's born of reflexive negativity about Chief Minister Mayawati's malas and memorials. Agra is but the first town in a comprehensive attempt initiated in November 2008 to privatise UP electricity delivery, in order to cut down on theft and depoliticise the collection of user fees. But most of the other towns have not yet had enough reasonable bidders for the process to move forward.
This is but one of the occasions in which the reformist instincts of the UP government have neither been sufficiently acknowledged in our public discourse nor have they been supported by other players to the extent they should have been. The focus on the social churning that the BSP represents is, of course, convenient for those who would like to think of its autocratic leader as a potential figurehead for a mushy, regionalist, anti-progressive "third front"-kind of force; the crucial glue in any such doomed enterprise, the Left, has every incentive to shut its eyes to any reformist, pragmatic instincts that Mayawati might demonstrate.
It's less clear, however, why attempts by a state government to push its administration towards effectiveness, to create vital growth-supporting infrastructure, should be ignored by those with a stake in making that happen. On March 23, the UP government put out a very unusual press release. It wasn't one that asked for more Central funds. It didn't accuse the Centre of pushing it into reform that it didn't want. Instead, the statement listed what the state government wanted to get built: coal power plants; widening of highways; private participation in education; new airports. And, instead of demanding handouts, it asked for clearances and approvals from Central ministries. Such urgency is welcome but as the UP government pushes ahead with these projects, it should remember that key to the success of refom are accountability, transparency and best practices, three attributes so far quite alien to Lucknow. These need to take roots in Agra for the state government's reform programme to appear credible and sustainable.
THE LIVING DEBT
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
C. RAJA MOHAN
As he takes charge of the Indian army, General Vijay Kumar Singh will find any number of challenges that demand urgent attention. But the first and foremost task of the new army chief is not difficult to discern. It is to restore the image of the army that has taken a battering in recent years amidst the many serious charges of corruption.
As the GOC-in-C of Eastern Command, General V.K. Singh squarely confronted a major scandal the Sukna landscam case and prevailed on the establishment to do the right thing. As chief, he must now initiate steps that will significantly dampen if not eliminate the sources of corruption in the Indian army.
To be sure, no institution can be immune to the larger trend of declining ethical standards around it. Yet there is a strong case for ensuring that the armed forces, responsible for the defence of the country, are as insulated as possible from negative trends in the rest of the nation.
As the ultimate instrument of protection for the republic from threats abroad and at home, the Indian army enjoys a very special respect and legitimacy. Delhi can't afford to lose the people's trust in the army. This in turn will require not only systemic reforms, that will take time to implement, but also immediate measures that can reinforce public confidence in the army and its leadership.
A second task for General Singh is to make the army an attractive career for young men and women. Unless it takes urgent and special steps, the army's officer shortage, now said to be running at more than 11,000, will only grow. The traditional regional and social catchment areas of the Indian army officer corps have long since begun to dry up. The army must thus find ways to reach out to new sources. One possible approach might be to take the Sainik schools to regions and communities that have had little exposure to career possibilities with the army. By providing the opportunity to, as well as imparting the capability to, compete for positions in the armed forces, a targeted expansion of the Sainik school system could at once help spread the roots of the Indian army as well as make it an attractive vehicle of social mobility for many marginal sections of society.
A third task for the army leadership is to develop more effective ways of intervening in policy debates within the government and improving its outreach to the public. The tendency for the chiefs to make impromptu pronouncements to reporters and TV crews has landed some of Singh's predecessors in political trouble.
Meanwhile, resentment within the army and the other armed services is mounting at the perennial short shrift they get from the civilian bureaucracy, where the capacity to manage the nation's military appears to be eroding rapidly. The answer to this lies in the army improving its institutional capacity to frame policy issues, to engage other governmental agencies, and to better communicate with the public rather than the occasional public venting by the chief.
The biggest challenge, however, is the urgency of rapid modernisation. It won't be long before Singh finds himself as frustrated as his predecessors in the army and colleagues in the air force and the navy by the "masterly inactivity" that has now enveloped the defence ministry. So long as Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Congress President Sonia Gandhi are willing to tolerate the current drift in the ministry of defence, which returns year after year money meant for weapon purchases and undermines the efforts to build a modern defence industrial base, it would seem there is little anyone can do.
But it behoves the new army chief, after he reviews the state of affairs on the needs of the army, to point to the dangers to national security from further delays in the modernisation of the armed forces. Civilian primacy over the military in our democracy does not mean that the chiefs of our armed forces have to be mute in the face of persistent neglect of national defence by incompetent bureaucrats and indifferent ministers.
If he can make the army's case calmly and in a sustained fashion, within the government and to the public, the new chief can make a huge difference to the national discourse on defence policy. And that surely is the least we should expect from the head of an institution that is among the oldest and the most professional the nation has had.
GROWING AN IVY LEAGUE AT HOME
Human Resources Development Minister Kapil Sibal and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh are leading a bold effort to improve key aspects of the Indian education and training system. An important element of their reform agenda is the Foreign University Bill now being debated.
Initiatives to improve the quality and quantity of Indian higher education are desperately needed. India's growing population has recognised that an entire family's life chances can be transformed if one child obtains a world-class degree, and a huge increase in capacity is required to meet their demands. The existing system isn't up to this task: far too many graduates are investing life savings to get a degree and then ending up unemployed, and research suggests that 80 per cent or more of them are not employable by companies seeking to compete in global markets.
Unfortunately, the proposed legislation to encourage the leading universities from around the world to set up campuses in India is unlikely to achieve the desired objectives. Below are 10 reasons why these top universities are not likely to come in the numbers projected, one possible exception to this scenario, and a suggested alternative approach to reform that could meet the desired objective more quickly.
Problems outside India
The timing of the bill could not have been worse for encouraging the world's best universities to invest in creating new campuses. The global financial crisis, whose worst effects India has admirably avoided, has had devastating effects on the best research universities in the US and UK. The leading private universities have seen the value of their endowments fall 20-40 per cent, while virtually all of the major public universities are now facing major cutbacks in government funding as policymakers seek to close growing budget deficits. Even Harvard, the world's richest university, has been forced to scale back on its ambitious expansion plans adjacent to its Cambridge, MA campus. In this climate, they are likely to focus any expansion efforts on strategies that will yield immediate new student revenue, not ones that will require significant up-front investment.
When Sibal toured the US in the fall of 2009 to recruit the leading private universities, part of his pitch was they should follow the lead of IT and business service multinationals and come to India because it offers a source of high-quality, low-cost talent. The problem with this analogy is that leading universities are not driven by a desire to lower labour costs or increase profits; indeed, most of them lose money on every undergraduate student. This rationale is even more suspect for the top public universities in the main countries India is seeking to attract (US, UK, Australia or Canada), because it would be hard for them to justify use of taxpayer dollars to make this investment. Rather, India should appeal to their desire to attract the world's most able students, an increasing percentage of which will come from India's vast pool of English-speaking talent, and the chance to be part of solving some of the world's most challenging and important problems.
The bill likewise misunderstands the motives of many of the Indian students now travelling abroad to obtain their degrees. It assumes that India can retain much of the more than $4 billion that these students now spend abroad by offering them a comparable degree that is cheaper and more convenient. This ignores the reality that, even with the huge growth in opportunities in the Indian economy, an equal or greater part of students' motivation for studying abroad is the chance to get a job in that country after graduation.
Bigger isn't always better
As India itself has seen through the success of the IITs and IIMs, bigger is often not better when it comes to élite higher education institutions. With a few notable exceptions e.g. Wharton's decision to create a small campus in Silicon Valley, the recent forays into Dubai and Singapore most of the universities that India is seeking to recruit have resisted the temptation to grow for centuries, focusing instead on maintaining research excellence and a low faculty-to-student ratio. And some of the most innovative approaches to globalisation, like MIT's OpenCourseware initiative, involve free sharing of curriculum, while further raising the value of the core educational experience at MIT's main campus.
Bureaucracy and costs
Although the government is striving hard in the bill to open up the Indian higher education market to the best foreign universities, a number of factors may discourage them from investing in India: the requirement to post an $11 million bond to establish a university; the steps that will be required to get planning permission for a new campus; the uncertainty about the new body that will govern all higher education and many other forms of regulation in this sector; and the stipulation that they cannot transfer any surplus generated out of India. All of these concerns are compounded by the risk that a change in government could potentially affect their ability to operate in India.
As a subset of these universities looks to establish foreign campuses, they are likely to be most attracted to those countries which offer them generous incentives that both reduce upfront costs and the risks associated with global expansion. Countries like South Korea, Singapore, and the United Arab Emirates have all been offering such incentive packages. Even with these, many foreign universities have thus far struggled to attract world-class faculty and to build a sustainable business model. India is not proposing any such financial inducements.
India's domestic higher education market has historically charged a very low rate of tuition, because of a combination of government subsidies and the limited ability of most Indian students to pay. This is likely to place significant downward pressure on what foreign universities can charge, and hence reduce their ability to build high-quality, sustainable business models in India. While there is clearly a significant group of India's rising middle and upper class who are willing to pay for a top foreign degree, it is not clear whether they will view a new campus in India as of comparable value.
Competing with themselves
Even if foreign universities were able to create viable programmes at a significantly lower tuition level in India, they would be in a quandary: should they offer an education of comparable quality and thus risk competing with their existing campus for Indian and global students, or a lower-quality offering that may threaten the high-status educational brand they have created? One approach that some may adopt is to concentrate their offerings on high-demand professional degrees in small, satellite campuses that don't require the full research and support infrastructure of a comprehensive university.
Shortage of faculty talent
One of the biggest issues facing India as it expands its higher education system is the shortage of world-class professors to staff these new institutions. Top new graduates with a master's degree from the leading Indian universities can already earn several times what a senior professor makes, so it is hard to convince the most able young people to consider an academic career or to retain top young faculty. And those who opt for a PhD and are able to publish in the top academic journals in their field the talent pool that would interest leading foreign universities are in demand in a global labour market that enables them to work anywhere in the world. Attracting them or their peers from other countries to campuses in India would mean paying competitive salaries that would erase India's cost advantage. There is a large pool of highly talented Indian-born academics scattered in top universities around the world who may be interested in returning to India, but attracting many of them back will require offering comparable conditions in terms of living conditions and opportunities for research to what they have elsewhere.
Will take too much time
Creating any new institution, whether domestic or foreign-run, is time-consuming. It would be especially so to create a large number of high-quality new universities, particularly for institutions not already deeply familiar with the Indian context. And the difficulty is that, with 550 million people under the age of 25, it is not clear this is an approach that will be able to meet a very high percentage of the growing demand for a college education.
Attract the wrong players
The combined effect of the above factors is that those institutions which are most likely to be attracted to the Indian market are those that the Indian government least wants: the lower-quality providers that treat higher education as a way to make money, rather than focusing on world-class research and the quality of the learning experience. It is predominantly this type of private domestic college that has grown in the last decade to fill the growing demand for higher education, offering a low-quality product that risks undermining India's global reputation for producing well-qualified graduates.
Possible exception: Indian philanthropists
One attractive option for a few of the leading foreign universities might be the endowment of an Indian campus by a wealthy individual (perhaps one of their alumni) and/or corporation. This was the way in which many of India's most respected private higher education institutions were first created i.e. the Tata Institutes in different disciplines and The Indian School of Business and how many of the leading private US universities (Stanford, Carnegie Mellon, University of Chicago, Duke) came into being. A key element that enabled these institutions to become and remain world-class, however, was that the founding individual/family gave the resources with relatively few strings attached, and allowed the university to govern itself, rather than the much more hands-on approach of many of the universities created more recently by Indian industrialists.
A better way
It is clear that there are many obstacles to attracting more than a handful of top global universities to establish campuses in India. However, an alternative strategy is already working. It promises to expand the quality and quantity of Indian higher education and provide greater benefits to the foreign universities. This strategy encourages the formation of more dual- or joint-degree partnerships between Indian and foreign institutions. Part II of this article will explore the advantages of this approach in more detail.
The writer is dean of the School of Management and Labor Relations at Rutgers University. He and colleagues are conducting research for a book on "Developing the Skills of the 21st Century Workforce: Comparing the Education and Training Systems of India and China." This is exclusive to The Indian Express
(To be continued)
JUST DEAL WITH IT
Notwithstanding the hype about a possible US-Pakistan nuclear deal similar to the US-India deal that was touted before the recent US-Pakistan strategic dialogue, the final outcome was along expected lines with the US listening to Pakistan's request without making any commitment. As a noted Pakistani analyst commented, "the expectations raised by both sides about the fourth round had exceeded what was achieved in the two-day talks." That was not surprising considering the fact a US-Pakistan nuclear deal has to overcome a lot of obstacles on both sides before it can fructify. What are the obstacles?
Those on the American side are well known. The US Atomic Energy Act, doubts about Pakistani commitment to non-proliferation given its past record, convincing NSG members to make another exception, etc. In case of the US-India nuclear deal, both sides had made certain commitments which required them to give up some elements of their past policies to accommodate the other's requirements. The US was required to make an exception to its policy of requiring fullscope safeguards for nuclear commerce. India, meanwhile, was required to (i) place under IAEA safeguards a number of indigenous reactors that were otherwise free from such safeguards; and (ii) conclude an additional protocol that required India to notify IAEA about future Indian nuclear-related exports. This was especially important to NSG members since India is the only country with full industrial capabilities in the full range of nuclear fuel cycle activities, which was not a member of NSG and also not an NPT member.
Subsequently, India offered to place a large number of civilian reactors under IAEA safeguards eight out of the 16 indigenous reactors as well as three heavy water plants. Unfortunately Pakistan has no such civilian facility reactors or heavy water plants to offer to place under safeguards. All of its current nuclear facilities of importance reactors, heavy water plants and reprocessing plants that are currently not under safeguards cannot be offered since they are all engaged in Pakistan's strategic programme. Nor does it have any such programme underway, which it can offer for IAEA safeguards. In short , neither the US nor the international community will get any benefit from having any additional Pakistan nuclear reactors or other significant nuclear facilities under safeguards as a result of a nuclear deal with Pakistan.
There is another equally significant factor that makes such a deal unlikely. India's record on non-proliferation is highly commendable. And its addditional protocol with IAEA only added to the international community's comfort level with India. However, the case of Pakistan is entirely different. The history of A.Q. Khan network with its multi-country links China, North Korea, Iran, Libya and god knows who else needs no elaboration. However, from the international community's perspective, A.Q.Khan has been protected by the Pakistani state from giving any information about the network to either IAEA or anybody else from the international community. It is highly unlikely that any of the parties that need to agree to a US-Pakistan nuclear deal the US itself, NSG, IAEA would even agree to consider the merits of such a deal unless Pakistan agrees to make A.Q. Khan available for questioning by one of more of these parties. Pakistan has so far steadfastly opposed making him available for questioning by any non-Pakistani agency. This is, of course, for two major reasons first, it will embarrass its partners in proliferation and secondly, because Pakistan is still engaged in clandestine procurement of prohibited items in the international market and its strategic program will be compromised if A.Q.Khan the father of the Pakistani clandestine procurement network is exposed to international interrogation. As is well known, Pakistan is building two additional reactors for its strategic programme, quite possibly with assistance from one or more of its proliferation partners. It cannot afford to have these compromised. It is also engaged in clandestine imports of fissile material to operate its nuclear reactors and enrichment facilities. Although Pakistan does not reveal its production of indigenously mined natural uranium, estimates of Pakistan's annual production, by the IAEA/OECD Red Book on Uranium reveals that it will not be sufficient to operate KANUPP power reactors, the three strategic programme production reactors and its two uranium enrichment facilities. There have been unconfirmed reports that China supplied Pakistan with 300 tones of natural uranium in the past without any safeguards to support its strategic programme and may well be still be continuing to supply such fissile material to Pakistan without any safeguard. Any close examination of Pakistan's external nuclear commerce will seriously jeopardise both Pakistan's strategic program as well its relation with the suppliers.
In short, for any US-Pakistan nuclear deal, the US as well as the NSG and IAEA have to be convinced about Pakistan's sincerity about non-proliferation and the cessation of its clandestine procurement activities. That cannot be done without making A.Q.Khan available for interrogation by the US, NSG and IAEA. Any such interrogation will not only expose the activities of Pakistan's proliferation partners in the past, it will also expose its current procurement activities with serious consequences for its strategic programme. Pakistan, therefore, cannot afford to make such a concession. In the absence of which, there will be consensus on the difficulty of offering Pakistan a nuclear deal similar to one that was offered to India.
The writer is visiting fellow at IDSA and National Maritime Foundation
HOW THE PICTURES GOT SMALL
Traditionally March is not a film friendly month, owing to the final examinations. This time round, a certain thing called the IPL also affected the business. In fact last month's film trends can best be summarised as the 'IPL ke side effects'.
Here's a lowdown:
Cricket slays the box office
The effect of the IPL fever can be felt in a theatre near you. The collection of evening shows has been seriously affected. When you have the likes of Sachin Tendulkar and Mahendra Singh Dhoni sharing space with Shah Rukh Khan, Preity Zinta, Shilpa Shetty and their various celebrity friends on a television screen in the comfort of one's home, then that is to be expected. The marriage of cricket and Bollywood continues with multiplexes telecasting the IPL matches live on the big screen. The digital distribution company, UFO Moviez, that holds the rights for IPL cinema screenings have tied up with 750 screens. Though the experiment has not quite yielded house full signs, the theatre owners are hopeful that the matches will pick momentum from the quarter finals.
LSD- the new cult in town
Dibakar Banerjee's Love Sex Aur Dhoka is quite literally the new cult in town. The digitally shot-low budget-minus any big name- film managed to break through the IPL haze. Smartly marketed by producer Ekta Kapoor (yes she of the Tulsi-Parvati bandwagon), LSD is a multiplex money churner. The week one net haul from 489 screens is estimated around Rs 6.40 crore, which is almost double of its production cost. Banerjee's unflinching portrayal of the dysfunctional and voyeuristic tendencies of the New Young India shocks, disturbs yet entertains. The city audience is lovin' it.
Small films, no audience
While biggies like the Akshay Kumar-Deepika Padukone-Arjun Rampal starrer Housefull and Hrithik Roshan's Kites have pushed their release to post-IPL, the advantage of empty screens was seized by the producers of a bevy of small films. And so we got a chance to sample films like Right Yaaa Wrong, Hide & Seek, Na Ghar Ke Na Ghaat Ke, Road Movie, Rokkk, Thanks Maa, Hum Tum Aur Ghost, Well Done Abba, Shaapit, Lahore, Mittal v/s Mittal. While these smallies got the screens, they could not get the audience in. Out of the lot, only Vikram Bhatt's Shaapit (which marks the debut of singer Udit Narayan's son, Aditya) created some ripples at the single screens and Shyam Benegal's Well Done Abba found some critical appreciation.
Ajay Devgn- the new comic superstar
Surprise, surprise. He made a grand entry in Bollywood as an action star with the iconic bike split scene in Phool Aur Kaante, but the audience seems to like Ajay Devgn (yes that's how he spells it now) in comedies. The two time National Award winning actor (Zakhm and The Legend of Bhagat Singh) discovered his comic timing in pal Rohit Shetty's Golmaal. With the surprise hit Atithi Tum Kab Jaoge? in which he co-starred with Konkona Sen Sharma and Paresh Rawal, Devgn completes a hat-trick of comedy blockbusters after Golmaal Returns and All The Best: Fun Begins. There's more good news for Devgn's fans. The actor starts shooting the third instalment of Golmaal titled Golmaal 3 in Goa soon. Kareena Kapoor is paired opposite Devgn while franchise regulars Arshad Warsi, Sharman Joshi, Tusshar Kapoor and Shreyas Talpade reprise their roles.
The home minister has called the 15th Indian census, which will be accompanied by the creation of the National Population Register (NPR) and the delivery of the national unique identity (NUID) thereafter, the biggest exercise since humankind came into existence. This is no exaggeration. Census 2011 will cover 1.2 billion people, with 2.5 million people being deployed to track them. There will be tabulation under the usual categoriessuch as housing and electricity, literacy and fertility, marital status and mortality. But to track the impact of the past decade's economic boom and the resulting transformation in India's socio-economic landscape, there will also be an assessment of how many households possess mobile phones, Internet connections, bank accounts and the like. The widened range of data being gathered is in interesting contrast to developments in some other parts of the world. As an extremely different case, the Netherlands has actually scrapped its census. Privacy concerns aside, the thinking there is that all the data that's worth knowing is already being tracked via computers in banks, government departments and similar agencies. In the US, where 120 million census forms are currently being mailed out, queries have been pared down to a record ten. India has good reasons for moving in the opposite direction.
As our columnist emphasised yesterday, 1) additional data will help improve subsidy targeting while reducing leakages in the public delivery of goods and services, 2) eliminating the need for multiple identity proofs will help slash transaction costs and 3) internal security concerns will become easier to address. The biometric goal of photographing and fingerprinting all Indian adults is unprecedently ambitious. Holding on to such ambitions in the face of formidable challenges ranging from geographical and linguistic diversity (the census work will endure across 12,000 tonnes of paper and be printed in 18 languages) to left-wing extremism (violent campaigns on government officials have been stepped up). Special efforts are also being made to include groups that are usually left out of the census processlike the disabled, the nomads and the homeless millions who can be found sleeping on railway platforms, in parks, etc. Such exhaustiveness should ensure that India finally has a workable poverty estimate instead of a confusing varietythink Planning Commission, Arjun Sengupta, Suresh Tendulkar and NC Saxena. Beyond making for better delivery of government schemes, this should also help businesses out. When the 2000 US Census showed that Indians were the fastest-growing Asian group in the country, MTV immediately launched a channel for them and Wells Fargo started sponsoring Bollywood concerts. We expect that the 15th Indian census will also help our businesses connect better with the country's hinterlands.
ORE BY THE QUARTER
The replacement of the 40-year-old practice of annual price contracts for iron ore with quarterly contracts marks a radical departure in pricing patterns in the global iron ore markets. The move to quarterly contracts will likely improve the price discovery for a raw material in great demand, especially in fast growing emerging economies like China and India. Of these two countries, India is placed to reap greater gains from the change as the country is a net exporter of iron ore, supplying more than 100 million tonnes of iron ore to global markets, especially China. In fact, 50% of the value of India's exports to China consists of iron ore. Of course, Indian steel producers will be affected by this change in pricing policy, which will lead not just to a rise in input prices but also potential volatility in prices. However, its impact can be limited to some extent if the steel producers hedge risks through sophisticated financial instruments. In any case, artificially suppressing prices of inputs to favour certain producers is bad economics. And it is only reasonable that iron ore prices are fixed on a quarterly, not annual basisin recent times the annual price has in a lot of cases been well below the spot market price. Price volatility of inputs is a problem faced by a number of industries, but that is never a sufficient reason for attempting some kind of price control.
Of course, there are concerns that a majority of global iron ore reserves are controlled by a cartel of three major suppliersVale, Rio Tinto and BHP Billitonwhich between them account for two-thirds of global iron ore exports. Relevant competition authorities must ensure that prices set on a quarterly basis do not become exorbitant, cartelised prices. But this is not reason enough to block the move to a quarterly contract system. If anything, there is a need to move to a more transparent system of allotting iron ore mines, both to steel mills and mining companies across the world. In many countries, this process continues to be opaque with most governments providing licences on a first-come first-served basis, often giving preference to applicants who would provide larger value addition by setting up processing units within their borders. So, pricing reform, while welcome, should also be accompanied by policy steps that ensure greater competition in iron ore mining in major producing states.
SOVEREIGN DEBT: SHOULD WE WORRY?
Greece is on the verge of default on its external debt obligations, and Portugal's credit rating has been downgraded to AA- from AA by Fitch. While actions have recently been taken by the less-besieged members of the Eurozone to put together a package for Greece, there is still intense worrying and speculation in the press about the spectre of sovereign default. What are we to make of all this?
Ken Rogoff at Harvard and Carmen Reinhart at Maryland have written a series of papers (and a book) on the subject, using a comprehensive dataset of 70 countries over two centuries. They measure countries' external and internal debt levels, and identify debt and banking crises, as well as episodes of hyperinflation and currency crashes. The sample is small (290 banking crises and 209 sovereign defaults in 14,700 country-years of data), and there are some issues surrounding the somewhat ad-hoc way that the authors classify episodes of hyperinflation and currency crashes. However, the fact that it encapsulates virtually all modern experiences with sovereign defaults makes it an interesting exercise, and one worth treating seriously as a guide to what we might expect.
The analysis yields several answers about sovereign debt, all of which generate concerns about the current state of the world economy. To begin with, prior to the onset of banking crises (such as the one that the US, Europe and the UK have just experienced), the external indebtedness of nations undergoes sudden 'surges'. These surges are mostly in private debt (capital inflows, banking sector debt), and in short-term debt, although these liabilities seem to be converted into government liabilities pretty soon after the crisis. This happens for two main reasons: first, governments often bail out private participants, as we have seen in the most recent case. Second, tax receipts fall sharply in the aftermath of crises (more on this later). This finding on its own is not very worrying, although it does tell us that high debt levels in countries are perhaps a useful warning indicator for prospective banking crises.
More worrying are two related findings. The first is that banking crises tend to precede sovereign debt crises. This makes sense, given the earlier-mentioned tendency of government liabilities to rise on account of banking crises. It is also possible that this tendency arises because of currency depreciations that accompany banking crises, which in turn result in governments' net foreign currency-denominated liabilities becoming larger. This suggests that the furore over the banking crises that we have just been through might be intensified if sovereign defaults materialise as they have in the past.
The second worrisome finding pertains to the nasty consequences of financial crises, namely housing price collapses, significant declines in GDP and high levels of unemployment. To be more specific, the numbers cited are average real house price declines of 35%, reductions in output from peak to trough of 9%, and rises in unemployment of around 7% over four years. These numbers are staggering by any measure. If we were to take these statistics at face value, we would have real reasons to be concerned about the likelihood of sovereign defaults and the economic destruction that would invariably ensue.
My reading of the situation, however, is that it is not necessarily all doom and gloom. The sample of defaults that we can study is relatively small, and times (and policies) have changed significantly over the last two centuries. We have more flexible monetary policy in many parts of the world and it has become a relatively powerful instrument of macroeconomic policy. This is also important in light of the fact that the findings that I discussed earlier are not conditioned on the specific policy responses that were implemented during any of the crises. It could very well be the case that conditional on appropriate policy responses, declines in output are much smaller, and unemployment doesn't increase quite as much as the unconditional numbers cited above. Finally, global policy coordination has definitely been better this time around than, for example, during the Great Depression when the imposition of the trade-crippling Smoot-Hawley tariffs by the US that exacerbated the length and depth of the prevailing crisis.
All of these mitigating factors lead to more benign predictions about the consequences of the current banking crisis. It is by no means certain that sovereign defaults will materialise, and even if they do, the resultant output reductions could be much less pernicious than we have seen in the past. The bottom line? Don't panic yet, and hope for the best.
The author is a financial economist at Saïd Business School, University of Oxford
BRIEF HISTORY OF CENSUS IN INDIA
The population census is an activity that dates back to ancient city-states and has a significant profile, even in the most recent times. Perhaps the best example of this is the Census of India 2011, which kicked off on April 1. What makes the current census different from the 14 other decennial censuses conducted since 1881 is the simultaneous preparation of a National Population Register that would identify the usual residents of the country, so that it can be used as a comprehensive identity database to help meet the political objectives of improved targeting of social welfare schemes, and also internal security.
Even though the census is basically a demographic exercise in India, it has been influenced by political developments and has, in turn, heavily impacted national and state politics. While the first such effort in 1861 was postponed due to the dislocations caused by the First War of Independence (the great rebellion of 1857-59), the second one, in 1871, was spread out over two years due to political reasons and financial constraints. Later, the 1921 and 1931 censuses were affected by the non-cooperation movement and sporadic political unrest during the period that curtailed data collection to some extent. Similarly, the 1941 census operations were affected by World War II. In Independent India, too, political disturbances led to the exclusion of Assam from the 1981 census and Jammu and Kashmir from the 1991 census.
In turn, the censuses have also played an even greater role in influencing politics. For instance, census numbers played an important role in two great partitions; first, in Bengal partition, the 1872 census identified the large Muslim population in the state, and then that of India in 1947. Similarly, census data played a prominent role in the linguistic reorganisation of Indian states in 1956 and also in the more recent ones like Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand and Uttaranchal. Census data also influences the political representation; as the number of elected representatives in the Lok Sabha and state legislatures are apportioned on the basis of the population estimated in the 1971 census so that the states that have curtailed population growth are not disadvantaged.
Apart from politics, the census has also played a prominent role in identifying social and economic trends for almost a century and a half. For instance, the first census in 1872 highlighted how low literacy and social attitudes limited the ability to recall age, as most people preferred to round up the number either to 0 or to 5. In fact, as much as 56% of the reported ages in the 1901 census ended in 0, 2 or 5. And it was the 1871-72 census that first laid bare the extensive prevalence of female infanticide and the highly skewed sex population ratio, especially in the north and west of India.
To understand the great changes in Indian consumption patterns, we need only to take a peep into the census volumes. Highlighting the frugal assets and lifestyles in some Indian households, the 1881 census pointed out that "as for furniture the Hindoos may said to have none. They have no chairs and tables and chests, nor any of the other things that are seen in the houses of Europeans. Only things they have are boxes or round baskets with covers and locks to keep their clothes and jewels. Even the wealthy Hindoos, who are possessed of hundreds of thousands of rupees, have no more than this".
The 2001 census shows how asset ownership has been transformed over 130-odd years. While the bicycle was the most popular asset owned by 43% of Indian households in 2001, the second important durable asset was the radioavailable in 35.1% of the houses. Next was TV, which had a penetration of 31.6%, followed by scooters, motorcycles and mopeds (11.5%), telephones (9.1%) and cars, jeeps and vans (2.5%). This census also highlighted for the first time that only about a third of the households could avail of banking services.
The 2001 census also provides us with rich insights into the growing mobility of the population. The census defines a migrant in very broad terms and includes all those who are enumerated at a different location than his/her birth place. By this definition, close to a third of the population (300 million) can be labelled as migrants.
However, most of the migration was within states, as 259 million had migrated from their place of birth in one part of their state to another. Of these, as many as 182 million migrants only moved within the districts they were born into, while the remaining 77 million migrated to other districts within the same state. Inter-state migration, which recently caused upheavals in Maharashtra and the Northeastern states, was only 42 million. The 2011 census is bound to shed greater light on the changes that have taken place in the decade of rapid growth that are the 2000s.
Hero Honda, the world's largest two-wheeler maker by volume, created a record in corporate India by paying a 4000% interim dividend of Rs 80 on each share with a face value of Rs 2. In sheer percentage terms, it is the highest payout by an Indian company, ever. In fact, the Munjal family-controlled Hero Group and Japan's Honda Motor Co has been handsomely rewarding its shareholders even in the past. In 2002, it paid 850% dividend, which was about 76% of its net profits. A year later, it further announced a 900% dividend, which was again more than two-thirds of its net profits. From 2003-04 to 2005-06, the company has paid a 1000% dividend for the third consecutive year.
The company has cash reserves of Rs 5,400 crore and the cash outgo of the company because of the 4000% interim dividend paid would be around Rs 1,869 crore. The company's net profits rose 78.3% to Rs 535.77 crore for the quarter ended December 2009, as compared to the same period in 2008.
Although no other company can match the 4000% dividends paid by Hero Honda, the closest is Monsanto India, which paid a 2000% dividend in 2007-08, and Colgate-Palmolive and Tata Consultancy Services, which paid a dividend of 1,500% each in 2008-09. Even Larsen & Toubro paid a dividend of 1000% to its investors in 2005-06.
While high dividends are attractive for investors as it is tax-free income, analysts say it may not be good for a company in the long run since it reduces cash flow of a company and may affect its investment and expansion plans in the future.
In the past, multinational companies used to pay hefty dividends and investors took a fancy for MNC stocks. But now, even domestic companies led by banks, PSU oil companies and FMCG companies have caught up with the trend. PSU companies pay high dividends because the majority shareholder happens to be the government.
GREAT DAY FOR SCIENCE
After a few anxious hours of delay following some electrical glitches, the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) got off to a glorious start on its research programme at an unprecedented realm of energy towards our understanding of the universe. Around 4.30 pm IST on March 30, the two counter-rotating beams of protons in the 27-km-long underground ringed particle accelerator at the European Centre for Nuclear Research (CERN) in Geneva attained the intended peak energy of 3.5 trillion (tera) electron-Volt (TeV) each and were successfully brought to collide against each other. The LHC suffered a mishap soon after its commissioning in September 2008, so the success must taste the sweeter for the accelerator physicists and engineers who have toiled to get it up and running. It was a great day for particle physicists round the world. This breakthrough has set the stage for a potentially rich harvest of new physics during the LHC's scheduled continuous run for 18-24 months at a record-shattering total available collision energy of 7 TeV, which is 3.5 times the energy reached so far at the Tevatron accelerator at Fermilab, USA. This will do no less than recreate the conditions of the early universe. Although the intensity of the beams during the first collisions was kept at orders of magnitude below the designed value, at its peak value the collision rate will be hundreds of millions of events per second as against 50-100 per second seen in the first run that lasted about three-and-a-half hours. But these hundreds of thousands of collisions recorded on Day One by the six experiments located around the accelerator circumference will keep the scientists busy. They may already harbour new physics to answer some of the questions that physicists are asking.
Is the hypothetical Higgs Boson for real? The Standard Model, an otherwise highly successful theory of matter and forces at lower energies, requires this elusive particle to explain the origin of mass to all matter. Is physics at terascale energies governed by supersymmetry? Are quarks and leptons the fundamental constituents of matter, as it seems at lower energies? Does the universe have curled up higher dimensions beyond the four that we see? Visible matter the stars and the galaxies is believed to make up only five per cent of the universe. What constitutes dark matter and dark energy, which account for the rest? The LHC has thus embarked on a new journey of discovery. In realising this, the 50 Indian physicists participating in the experiments have played a significant role. In the months to come, thousands of scientists around the world will be poring over petabytes of data that could reveal completely unexpected physics beyond the known and the expected.
IRAQ'S POST-ELECTION CHALLENGES
The Iraqi general election has ended in a narrow 'victory' for the former Prime Minister, Ayad Allawi. His secular-nationalist Iraqiya List alliance has won 91 seats in the 325-member Council of Representatives, two more than incumbent Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's State of Law coalition. The Independent High Electoral Commission has deemed the election to be free and fair and the head of the United Nations Assistance Mission to Iraq, Ed Melkart, has found both the process and the outcome to be "credible." Overall, on a turnout of 60 per cent, numbering 12 million voters, two other formations have done well and they hold the key to the new government. These are the Kurdish Alliance, Kurdistania, which bagged 43 seats, and the Iraqi National Alliance, the resurgent Shia-majority bloc which took 70 seats, including 38 for the cleric Muqtada al-Sadr's Al-Ahrar Party. Whether Mr. Allawi succeeds in his efforts to put together the 163 seats needed for a majority will depend on how astutely he negotiates with the other leaders and, as importantly, on the fairness of the post-electoral rules.
The initial problems have to do with the conduct of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, whose first response to the result was to demand a recount. A day before the results were announced, he persuaded Iraq's Supreme Court to rule that the government would be formed by the leader of the bloc that has the largest number when parliament convenes, which will probably be in June. In a manoeuvre that smacked of electoral fraud, officials of the Accountability and Justice Commission, who are involved in removing former members of Saddam Hussein's Baath Party from public posts, banned six candidates, including three from Mr. Allawi's party, on the eve of the March 7 election. Iraqiya will appeal the bans in the courts. Mr. Allawi's track record of working for British intelligence and of being cultivated by the U.S. does pose a political problem. Including the Sadrist grouping in government would help reflect the spread of support in the election. The Sadrists campaigned for the early departure of U.S. forces, and have since strengthened their stand in keeping with the desire of the Iraqi people to free themselves from foreign occupation and interference. A national unity government led by the Shia parties, with Mr. Allawi's Iraqia acting as a counterweight to Shia extremism, would be a reasonable outcome. But achieving this will test Mr. Allawi's political skills severely.
LEADER PAGE ARTICLES
WHEN WILL THE MISTRUST END?
SIXTY YEARS AFTER THE TWO COUNTRIES ESTABLISHED DIPLOMATIC RELATIONS, INDIANS AND CHINESE NEED TO BREAK THE MENTAL BARRIER AND BEGIN TO TRUST ONE ANOTHER. HERE'S HOW THE TRUST DEFICIT CAN BE OVERCOME.
On April 1, 2010 India and China observed 60 years of their diplomatic relations. On this day in 1950 India took the world by surprise when it decided to recognise the government of the People's Republic of China headed by Mao Zedong and led by the Communist Party of China, which had brought the Chinese mainland under its control after defeating Chiang Kai-shek's army. This was a bold decision by the Indian government the government of a newly independent country. It obviously displeased the western powers who went along with Chiang Kai-shek's view that mainland China had been occupied only temporarily by 'communist bandits' who would soon be overthrown. Indian foreign-policy makers, led by the brilliant and far-sighted K.P.S. Menon, gave sensible advice to Prime Minister Nehru. This led to the recognition of the new government established in Beijing on October 1 1949.
The first decade of the relationship saw some very important developments like the signing of the Panchsheel (the Five Principles of Peaceful Co-existence, which later became the official basis of Chinese foreign policy) in 1954, and the Bandung Conference a year later, where both Nehru and Zhou Enlai were elevated to the status of icons for the nations of Asia and Africa struggling for liberation and independence. Cultural and educational exchanges between India and China took place at more than a modest level.
This congenial relationship was upset by the Tibetan Rebellion with the Dalai Lama fleeing to India and eventually setting up a 'government-in-exile.' The Chinese strongly resented Nehru's trip to Darjeeling to formally welcome the Tibetan leader. The border issue then came to the forefront and disagreement on it further embittered relations, leading to the unfortunate border war between the two young nations. Nehru called it "Chinese aggression" and "betrayal by the Chinese": these two expressions have been repeated a million times in India mainly through the media despite the fact that all the facts behind the border war have not yet come out in the open. Similarly in China, India was labelled as "expansionist" desperate to grab the territories of its neighbours. The Indian government was accused of being a "stooge of western imperialism."
Nearly half a century has lapsed since the 1962 war but some kind of an inbuilt mistrust between the two persists. It often comes out in the open as has been seen recently in the media of the two countries indulging in meaningless mutual accusations. Those in India who feel the border dispute must be resolved before China can be trusted fail to understand the complexities of the issue. Two civilisations have co-existed without any evidence of confrontation for several centuries, when they had no border a line separating two countries was then an alien idea. It was only after colonialism arrived that the civilisations developed the nation-state mentality and mindset where a single line was to divide the two civilisations. If such a line never existed, it has not been easy to invent one.
Yet another fact of history not known to many Indians who love to demonise China is that the Chinese people and state have been subjected to humiliation and exploitation for more than a century by the western imperialist powers. The Chinese people have always held the government's weakness as the primary cause of its subjugation. Revolutionaries from Sun Yat-sen to Mao Zedong succeeded in mobilising people on the grounds that a government that is completely weak vis-à-vis the foreign powers must go. Up to this day, therefore, the Chinese government is determined not to be seen as weak by its own people. It is this image of a strong government that gives the Communist Party of China legitimacy to rule.
Misperceptions among the Chinese about India are equally unrealistic. They need to understand that India does not covet the land of others nor is it waiting to 'play the Tibet Card' at an opportune moment. Accepting Tibet as part of China is convenient for India or else an independent 'Greater Tibet' brings to dispute the status of Sikkim, which has in the past, for centuries, been a vassal-state of Tibet. During my trips to China, both during formal and informal discussions, I have found that the Chinese are far more concerned about India's unpredictability in its Tibet policy than anything else. The Chinese must understand, notwithstanding what some pro-Tibetan independence groups do in India, that this country has nothing to gain by splitting Tibet from China.
Since Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi's deadlock-breaking visit in 1988-89, there have been many positive developments in bilateral relations. Trade has gone up at an exceedingly fast rate to the extent that today China has become India's largest trading partner. Tourism is on the rise, and with the opening of more consulates and the beginning of direct flights between different cities of India and China, this is likely to increase further.
Educational and cultural exchanges are taking place at an impressive level. According to unconfirmed but reliable reports, 4000 Indian students are studying in China today. The numbers coming from China are far less, thanks to our Home Ministry's visa policy. Even Chinese academics who are invited by our universities to teach the Chinese language to Indian students (due to a huge demand for it) find it very difficult to obtain visas. Both Delhi University's East Asian Studies Department and Santiniketan's Cheena Bhawan have suffered on account of this rigidity, which is the result of mistrust.
I do not subscribe to the view that two rising powers cannot peacefully co-exist. Indeed, some major path-breaking steps have to be taken by both sides to make sure that Cold War II or as some call it, an Asian Cold War does not happen. A resurgent Asia surely does not deserve it. However, Indians and Chinese need to break the mental barrier and begin to trust one another.
How can this trust deficit be overcome?
First, forget the border issue. Not solving it is not hurting either India or China in any way economically, socially, culturally, or politically. It is too complicated.
Secondly, China is quite sensitive to the 'Tibet Issue.' With the Dalai Lama and over 100,000 followers living in India, New Delhi needs constantly to renew its commitment on curbing Tibetan separatist actions on its soil so as to mitigate suspicion that it might intend to 'play the Tibet Card.'
Thirdly, both sides must open up border trade at many points the border people have been the worst victims of Sino-Indian hostilities, and develop province-to-province economic relations. The recent K2K (Kolkata to Kunming) Initiative is an encouraging development.
Finally, only large-scale people-to-people contacts can wipe out this trust deficit. Exchanges in the fields of education, sports, culture, science, and technology need to be greatly enhanced. Despite being neighbours, we know and understand very little of each other. On the 60th anniversary of their diplomatic relations, cannot India and China make a new beginning?
(The author is Director of the Institute of Chinese Studies, Delhi and Professor of Chinese Studies at the Department of East Asian Studies, University of Delhi.)
POLITICS OF HOPE IN MAURITIUS
CREATING WIDER ECONOMIC OPPORTUNITIES FOR ALL IS THE BEST INSURANCE THAT ANY LEADER CAN BUY AGAINST SOCIAL UPHEAVAL.
When Prime Minister Navin Ramgoolam of Mauritius dissolved the island-state's 70-member National Assembly late Wednesday evening and called for new elections on May 5, there seemed to be an element of political drama to his announcement.
The drama, of course, was deliberate, but it had little to do with the election announcement itself: everybody in Mauritius knew that polls would be held soon, not the least because Dr. Ramgoolam is widely perceived as an effective leader. He has brought record foreign direct investment to his Indian Ocean country; he attracted more than 9,000 offshore entities, and he has engendered progress in information technology, health care, and telecommunications.
It was natural, therefore, that the 65-year-old prime minister who is also the leader of the Mauritius Labour Party would want consolidate his political position and focus on what he has increasingly said in recent weeks would be his new mantra for governance: "Unity, Equality, Modernity."
Who could quarrel with such a sweeping and benign mantra? But there's more to it than bromides that almost any developing-country leader could adopt without spawning controversy. The subtext of Dr. Ramgoolam's election slogan reflects the ethnic composition of Mauritius, a country of barely 1.3 million people: Hindus are in a majority, followed by Christians, Muslims, and Creoles; Mauritians of French origin are the biggest landowners, sugarcane plantations cover 25 per cent of the island's 2,000 square kilometres, and the Francos as they are called in Port Louis own a significant portion of that coveted land.
Political parties tend to reflect this ethnic composition, as does the grumbling and grousing of some communities: Muslims and Creoles legitimately complain that they aren't adequately represented in the country's civil service, let alone government. The French continue to have an economic grip that began when they arrived here nearly 300 years ago; but political power for them ended just prior independence from the British in 1968.
Few politicians in Mauritius are as shrewd as Dr. Ramgoolam. Politics, after all, is in his blood, as is medicine his late father, Sir Seewoosagur Rangoolam, was also a physician, and was the country's first prime minister and founder. And so in making the election announcement, Navin Ramgoolam demonstrated that he was being both a formidable political player and an emollient political physician.
As a political player, he understood that his Labour Party needed key allies in order to secure victory in the country's 20 constituencies and thereby obtain a second five-year as prime minister of this 42-year-old nation. So he's brought in the Mouvement Socialiste Militant and the Parti Mauricien Social Democrate into his grouping for the elections. "This alliance represents stability at this juncture," Dr. Ramgoolam said on Wednesday, tacking on generous words about some allies who'd been his opponents in the recent past.
Those words can certainly be interpreted as emollient. Dr. Ramgoolam knows that in order for the country to address its 8 per cent unemployment rate despite ostensibly being one of Africa's most successful economies, with a GDP of nearly $10 billion it needs to build new bridges to both Africa and Asia, and to strengthen its economic ties to France, traditionally the biggest trading partner of the only country where the now-extinct dodo bird was sighted by early Dutch settlers.
That bridge building means enhancing the financial-services and insurance sectors. It means serving as a platform for investments in the huge markets of Africa and Asia. It means attracting financial interest from the petrodollar countries of the Middle East. It means streamlining traditional industries such as hospitality, and encouraging new ones such as health tourism. One recent example of Dr. Ramgoolam's bridge building is the new Apollo-Bramwell Centre, an Indo-Mauritian venture that's universally seen as a model for attracting patients from the region and from afar who seek medical care amidst a bucolic environment.
The bridge building also means carving a niche for Mauritius in the knowledge economy of the global commons. There are those who have suggested that the country's location, its healthful climate and its non-ideological foreign policy make it ideal to serve as an incubator for a centre for education concerning strategic communications and for generating fresh ideas and solutions concerning intercultural understanding.
But Dr. Ramgoolam also recognises that his new mantra may well be dismissed as being one of political expediency if he does not deal forthrightly with the politically troubling ethnic divisions that have long characterized Mauritian society. He recognizes that, with the exception of Paul Berenger, a politician of French origin, the other three prime ministers of Mauritius himself included have been Hindus. And he recognises that minority ethnic communities cannot be relegated to traditional cultural or socio-economic roles in a country that wishes to accelerate its development in a world of galloping globalisation.
Such recognition hasn't come about through osmosis. Beyond his own intuitiveness, and his own sense of history, Prime Minister Navin Ramgoolam is fortunate to have the benefit of canny counsel from people of various communities, including his deputy prime minister, Dr. Rashid Beebeejaun, a Muslim. They have emphasised that taking pre-emptive steps through the creation of wider economic opportunities for all is the best insurance that any leader can buy against social upheaval.
By signing on to this sensibility, Navin Ramgoolam has shown that he is much more than his father's son he's a leader of rare political enlightenment in a world that's marked far too frequently by the politics of cynicism. He wants to establish a legacy that will far outlive his next administration, and he knows that for that to happen he needs to create afresh the politics of hope in Mauritius.
( Pranay Gupte's next book is on India and the Middle East.)
ICC AUTHORISES INQUIRY INTO KENYAN CLASHES
TWO JUDGES SAID THE CLASHES COULD AMOUNT TO CRIMES AGAINST HUMANITY.
The International Criminal Court (ICC) has given the green light to open formal criminal investigations of the political leaders who organised the violence that shook Kenya after its disputed election in 2007, the court announced on Wednesday. Two of three court judges said the clashes, which left more than 1,100 people dead and drove hundreds of thousands from their homes, could amount to crimes against humanity. The judges' decision will now allow the prosecution to bring a case.
Kenyan groups and Western governments called for the international court in The Hague to step in after the country's political leaders refused to set up a special tribunal to prosecute those responsible for the killings, saying they would rely on Kenya's existing courts to handle the cases instead.
But several of the suspects accused by human rights groups of masterminding the violence are high-ranking government Ministers, prompting widespread criticism that they would not be held accountable by the nation's ineffective courts.
The prosecutor has not identified anyone he intends to prosecute. But now that international criminal proceedings will begin, supporters of the process hope that they will help break the pattern of political violence that accompanied not only the recent election in Kenya, but also voting in 1992 and 1997.
"The potential impact of meaningful trials can be huge if they can restore confidence in Kenya that elections don't have to turn into bloodbaths,'' said Richard Dicker, a director of Human Rights Watch. "But the sad lesson here is that an international court has to step in when the political elite cannot muster the will to see justice done at home.''
For the international court, which has 110 member nations, the Kenyan case adds a new layer to its caseload. Until now, the court, which was created by the Rome Treaty of 1998 and opened its doors for business in 2002, has dealt with violent conflicts involving governments and rebel groups. These cases had all been brought by governments, or in the case of the conflict in Sudan, by the U.N. Security Council.
But Kenya is the first case in which the prosecutor - spurred by Kofi Annan, who helped broker a peace deal to end the violence - decided to investigate on his own authority. He has stepped carefully, though, aware that critics of the court, including the United States, which is not a member, have been wary of actions by an aggressive, independent prosecutor.
In a statement Wednesday, Louis Moreno-Ocampo, the prosecutor, said that the court would work "for and with the Kenyans'' and that others, including political, religious, business and ethnic leaders would have to play a role in acknowledging what happened in their country and making sure it did not happen again.
The prosecutor's office has been looking into Kenya since early 2008. Its hand was strengthened by an international commission of inquiry, the so-called Waki commission, established by the Kenyan government.
The commission's findings, boxes full of documents, were handed over to the prosecutor. He also received a list of names of politicians held most responsible for inciting militia gangs to go on a rampage and attack political rivals from other ethnic groups. The list has not been published.
But the prosecutor's actions may not mean that Kenyan suspects will arrive at the court anytime soon. If any arrest warrants are issued, the court will depend on Kenya to detain and hand over the individuals.
Witnesses who will be asked to testify may be at risk, and some may be too fearful to cooperate. Several witnesses who had spoken to the Waki commission reported that they had received death threats and had to go into hiding after their names had been leaked. ©2010 New York Times News Service
WHERE WIDENING DISPARITY STRAINS TRADITIONAL BONDS
Thailand is a country of 145,000 Mercedes-Benz sedans and about 75,000 villages, many of them hamlets afflicted by poverty.
During nearly three weeks of mass anti-government demonstrations here, luxury cars have had to share the streets of Bangkok with the blaring megaphones of rural discontent.
Standing in the back of a pickup truck and shaded by a wide-brimmed hat was Thanida Paveen, a 43-year-old mother of two who explained the epiphany that brought her to the demonstration.
"I used to think we were born poor and that was that," said Thanida, who grew up in the provinces but now lives in Bangkok and rents out rooms to factory workers in the city's industrial outskirts. "I have opened my mind to a new way of thinking: We need to change from the rule of the aristocracy to a real democracy."
The Thailand of today is not quite the France of 1789 there is no history of major tensions between rich and poor here, and most of the country is peaceful despite the noisy protests. But more than ever Thailand's underprivileged are less inclined to quietly accept their station in life as past generations did and are voicing anger about wide disparities in wealth, about shakedowns by the police and what they see as the long-standing condescension in Bangkok toward people who speak provincial dialects, especially from the northeast.
The deference, gentility and graciousness that have helped anchor the social hierarchy here for centuries are fraying, analysts say, as poorer Thais become more assertive, discarding long-held taboos that discouraged confrontation.
The haves in Thailand have a lot the country has one of the most inequitable income distributions in Asia, a wider gap between rich and poor than in China, Malaysia, the Philippines or Vietnam, according to a World Bank report.
Four years of political turmoil have heightened divisions between wealthy families and their domestic staff, between the patrons of expensive restaurants and the waiters who serve them, between golfing businessmen and the legions of caddies who carry their bags.
"This is a newfound consciousness of a previously neglected part of Thai society," said Thitinan Pongsudhirak, one of the country's leading political scientists and a visiting scholar at Stanford University's FSI-Humanities Centre. "In the past they were upset, but they weren't cohesive as a force and coherent in their agenda. New technologies have enabled them to unify their disparate voices of dissatisfaction."
Role of technology
The role of technology in bringing together the protesters has been crucial. The leaders of the protest movement have used community radio stations, cell phone messaging and the Internet to forge an identity for lower-income Thais and connect a vast constellation of people in villages and towns.
At times the protests in Bangkok could be described as flash mobs of the disaffected. Protesters, who wear their trademark red shirts, have converged on government buildings, banks and military bases guided by text messages.
"This would not have been possible 10 years ago," said Thanida, who was returning from military barracks in Bangkok where protesters had demanded that soldiers leave. The army acquiesced
The leaders of the red-shirted protesters have advertised the current round of protests as class warfare and describe themselves as defenders of the "prai," a feudal word meaning commoner or lower-class citizen. "The blood of the prai is worth nothing," is a phrase now affixed on bumper stickers and T-shirts.
That may be overblown. There are many stories of upward mobility, and, despite the presence of tens of thousands of protesters, the anger has not translated into personal attacks on the wealthy.
The main target of the protesters' ire seems to be the system: the perception that bureaucrats and the military serve the elite at the expense of the poor. The protesters bewail the 2006 coup that removed Thaksin Shinawatra, the tycoon turned prime minister who focused his policies on rural areas. And they question the fairness of a judicial system that removed two subsequent prime ministers who were allied with Thaksin.
To many outsiders, Thaksin's role is puzzling. The notion that a billionaire is leading Thailand's disaffected to rebellion verges on the absurd. It also infuriates the Bangkok elite, who see Thaksin's role as largely self-serving. Thaksin, most analysts agree, was hardly a paragon of democratic values during his five years in power. He intimidated the media, stripped institutions like the anti-corruption commission of their independence and mixed his business interests with those of the government.
However, many protesters, as well as associates of Thaksin, say the protest movement has taken on much larger dimensions than just a battle between Thaksin and his political rivals. ©2010 New York Times News Service
THE TROUBLE WITH EXISTENTIALISM
IT'S NOT EASY BEING AN EXISTENTIALIST IN TODAY'S MORAL GREYSCALE.
Jean-Paul Sartre, the most famous proponent of the principles of existentialism, believed that hell was other people; but I've found that hell is being a person trying to live life according to existentialist principles: taking responsibility for yourself, acting decisively without procrastinating, and committing yourself to a course of action without denying the consequences.
I'm clearly not alone in finding such an approach difficult in a culture of least resistance. In his book The Age of Absurdity, Michael Foley identifies many of the existential problems of a society in which stimulation is so easy to come by that there's little need to challenge yourself or others. At the same time, Gary Cox's recent book How to Be an Existentialist, bracingly subtitled How to Get Real, Get a Grip and Stop Making Excuses, claims that "people who reject existentialism tend to do so not because they don't understand it but because they can't face it." If there's one thing worse than being a philistine, it's being a sissy. Being an existentialist requires being satisfied with the absurd and random nature of events, freeing you to create your own life in circumstances that aren't of your own making.
According to Cox's no-nonsense criteria I'm a kind of existential softy, in sympathy with Alan Bennett, who classified himself as being on the political "soft centre". I'd like to be an existentialist in the sense of wanting to approach life as though I were a mind-body battering ram, but tend instead to hover at obstacles wondering what the best course of action would be from every possible angle, knowing really that there is no best or worst, simply what is, and must be, dealt with.
At the centre of this philosophy is the insistence that, while you must think, there's a time when you have to act on what you've been thinking about. At a pub quiz a few weeks ago I hesitated to hand in the answer correct, as it transpired to a tie-break question in case it was wrong, causing our team to lose the £50 jackpot. My hesitation seemed to be born of the belief that the sky would fall in if I didn't get the answer right. If I'd acted decisively (tuts coach Sartre) we'd at least have had half a chance. The tenets of existentialism, or rather their absence, can be witnessed in everyday life which is why, unlike Cox, I think it's perfectly possible to be an existentialist without first studying Nietszche.
Bad faith and wilful ignorance are everywhere present in public discourse, such as in wanting cheap goods while blaming migrants for low wages, in spouting populist opinions and then berating politicians for the consequences of populist policies, in blaming cakes for obesity and guns for murder. But here again my inner softy counsels caution. We can't reject the loop-like nature of how individual actions contribute to social effects, which in turn influence individual actions.
You can't eat a hamburger by osmosis, but it would be stubborn to deny that capitalism has an interest in getting you to eat more of them than is healthy.
There are some unfortunate proponents of the law of individual responsibility, who corrupt the essentially optimistic nature of existentialism. The writings of doctor and professional cynic Theodore Dalrymple never fail to read the weakest motives into any individual action and make one feel as though life is wasted on those who don't know the one correct way in which to live.
It's not so much that existentialist thinking can't be applied to life's moral greyscale. It's more that the problem with maintaining, or at least refusing to challenge, a popular political culture based on denial and hysteria is that it requires regarding people who are not like you as simultaneously less than human and superhuman. Only the deserving get to be simply human. © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2010
ASEAN RIGHTS MEET DISCUSSES ROADMAP OF PROGRAMMES
The ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights (AICHR) convened its first meeting from March 28 to April 1 at the ASEAN Secretariat in the Indonesian capital of Jakarta, a press statement said here on Thursday.
During the meeting, representatives had extensive discussions among themselves and with other relevant ASEAN bodies on how to ensure its effective operations as the overarching human rights institution in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.
The meeting discussed, among others, the formulation of the rules of procedure which will lay down the operational guidelines for the conduct of AICHR's work in all aspects. It also discussed the development of the five-year work plan to provide a comprehensive roadmap of programmes and activities to be undertaken by AICHR in the next five years. It is expected that the rules of procedure and the 5-year plan will be completed in time to be submitted to the 43rd ASEAN Ministerial Meeting (AMM) in July 2010 for adoption.
The AICHR representatives also had fruitful consultations with the relevant ASEAN sectoral bodies, including the Committee of Permanent Representatives to ASEAN (CPR), the Senior Officials Meeting on Social Welfare and Development (SOMSWD) and the ASEAN Committee on Women (ACW). Of notable importance was the agreement reached among AICHR and SOMSWD and ACW on the necessary steps to ensure the proper alignment of the would-be ASEAN Commission on the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Women and Children (ACWC) with AICHR.
The Second Meeting of AICHR will be held from June 28 to July 2 in Vietnam. The ASEAN groups Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam. Xinhua
RIGHT TO EDUCATION
Education has, after our 62-year tryst with sovereign democracy, only now become a fundamental right. In this, presumably, we have reached a landmark of sorts and need to pat ourselves on the back. Education for all was promised in the directive principles, which were supposed to work as guiding lights, to steer the nation in the direction in which it ought to go.Yet, it is also true that for all our many successful battles won and others lost, education has been our most neglected and dismal failure. We paid lip service to the concept, but allowed political interference, budgetary neglect and social indifference to lead us to a dead end where millions of children get no education at all. The Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act, 2009, will attempt to redress some of these wrongs by providing free and compulsory education to children between the ages of 5 and 14. It will not, as human resources minister Kapil Sibal is quick to point out, immediately provide free education to those currently deprived. There aren't enough schools or teachers to offer even rudimentary education to all those who want it. But the Act marks the beginning of an important journey towards education for all. The right is now constitutional and therefore protected by law.
Education is a tricky subject in our country mainly because both the Centre and states have jurisdiction over it. It is also susceptible to manipulation because of our many issues with language, medium of instruction, type of syllabus and board of examinations. The Right to Education will have to manoeuvre that minefield if it is to succeed. In the new set-up, the Centre and the states will share the bill in the ratio of 55:45. The states get Rs25,000 crore from the finance commission to implement the act while the Centre has set aside Rs15,000 crore for the current year. The money will no doubt be inadequate, but the important thing is to get going.
There have been objections to the Act from some NGOs which have focused on the age limit and on the lack of provision for differently-abled children. However, this may appear to be nitpicking when we are facing a much larger issue of inadequate schooling for the population at large. The Act at least attempts to start at the bottom and work upwards there will be time to sort out the kinks.
A BLOW FOR JUSTICE
The trial of Ajmal Kasab, the lone surviving terrorist who was part of the November 2008 attacks on Mumbai, and three others, has ended in a year. The verdict will be read out by the judge ML Tahiliyani on May 3 and so the much-needed closure to those horrific attacks is not far away. The pace of the trial one year, 191 hearings and 653 witnesses examined by the prosecution ought to be salutary for courts all over the country. The long and tedious journey to justice in this country has long been our bane and also a matter of shame. By stark contrast, the trial into the 1993 serial bomb blasts in Mumbai took 13 years. It can be hoped that the Kasab trial, as it is known, provides some solutions about how to conduct a meticulous trial without losing the freshness of the evidence due to delays. Justice delayed is justice denied is not just a cliché. In this case justice would have been denied to the people of Mumbai and India had the trial been delayed.
There are 86 charges which were framed against the accused Kasab, Fahim Ansari and Shahabuddin which include waging war and criminal conspiracy. The entire trial has been followed by the clamour for immediate justice from some sections of the public. But the government has been firm in its commitment to the foundations of jurisprudence and has shown meticulous concern for a due process, which goes to its credit. Kangaroo courts may appease public sentiment but they cannot be the basis of our judicial process if we followed them we would be no better than the arbitrary and brutal Taliban or the khap panchayats which have recently been found guilty by the courts.
The trial, however, has not been without its share of controversies. Getting a legal representative for Kasab was a major sticking point at one stage. Public opinion, political parties and the requirements of the law all played a role here. The judge also had to intervene and change lawyers when he was not satisfied with the defence and its methods.
Kasab himself changed his position from guilty to innocent to guilty, which led to some consternation in the public mind about the final outcome of the trial. However, the evidence against Kasab remains, regardless of his own pleas. The maximum penalty which he faces is death. We will only know the verdict when the judge pronounces it. But we can take some satisfaction in the timing and the manner in which the trial was conducted.
One more accord has been concluded under the much-trumpeted Indo-US nuclear deal. But like the previous two the 123 bilateral agreement with the US and the safeguards accord with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) the latest agreement, too, will escape scrutiny by the Indian Parliament. The newest agreement involves US consent to India to reprocess spent fuel of American origin.
Is it a good advertisement for the world's most-populous democracy that while the American president will submit the reprocessing agreement to the US Congress for scrutiny, the Indian Parliament will again be shut out from playing any role on this latest accord? How can there be effective checks and balances in a democracy if the executive branch insists that the national legislature has no role to play in any international agreement?
It is only on the nuclear-accident liability issue that the government is coming to Parliament because that involves passing a new law. In fact, it wants Parliament to pass a law that limits liability to a pittance, overturning the doctrine of absolute liability that the Supreme Court has set in response to the Bhopal gas disaster.
The result of blocking Parliament from scrutinising the nuclear deal is that India is now saddled with a deal that does not adequately protect its interests. India has got no legally binding fuel-supply guarantee to avert a Tarapur-style fuel cutoff, and no right to withdraw from its obligations under any circumstance, although the US has reserved the right for itself to suspend or terminate the arrangements.
The terms of the latest reprocessing agreement are in continuation of what the US was able to extract in the 123 bilateral agreement. The US has retained the right to unilaterally suspend its grant of reprocessing consent to India. This is an extension of its right, incorporated in the 123 agreement, to unilaterally suspend or terminate fuel supply to India. That is exactly what the US did in the mid-70s under its previous 123 agreement with India dating back to 1963. As a result, the twin-reactor, US-built Tarapur nuclear power plant near Mumbai, was left high and dry.
In the newest 123 agreement, the US has retained the legal right to unilaterally terminate cooperation but provided political assurances to India that such a right will be exercised only in extraordinary circumstances. A similar approach is mirrored in the reprocessing accord.
Under article 7 of the reprocessing accord, the reprocessing consent can be suspended on grounds of "national security" or a "serious threat to the physical protection of the facility or of the nuclear material at the facility," and if the party determines "that suspension is an unavoidable measure." So the US right to suspend reprocessing consent is unfettered.
Still, the agreement's article 7 and the accompanying "agreed minute" record political assurances to India that such a right shall be exercised only in special circumstances and after careful thought. But such assurances hold little value when the legal right to suspend reprocessing consent is explicitly recorded in the text.
The actual implementation of the reprocessing agreement is years away, even though US-origin spent fuel has been accumulating in India for nearly 40 years at Tarapur.
India will not be able to reprocess that spent fuel until it has built at least one new dedicated reprocessing facility a process that will take a number of years. Article 1(3) specifies that the US consent relates to "two new national reprocessing facilities established by the government of India." Only in those new facilities, approved by the IAEA, can India reprocess the discharged fuel under international inspection. Any additional reprocessing facility can be added only with prior US agreement.
Another feature of the agreement is that it amplifies India's reprocessing obligations with the IAEA, including to provide facility-design information in advance and to allow unhindered international monitoring and verification (article 2). But in addition, the accompanying "agreed minute" obligates India to permit US "consultations visits" to each dedicated reprocessing facility. Every "visiting team of not more than 10 persons" will be permitted onsite access "at a time and duration mutually agreed by the parties."
It is thus apparent that the US has got what it wanted. For example, the state department had earlier notified the US Congress in writing that "the proposed arrangements and procedures with India will provide for withdrawal of reprocessing consent" by the US. That is exactly what the text of the accord provides. Also by providing for US "consultations visits," it effectively permits IAEA-plus inspections.
Had the Parliament been allowed to play a role, the government would have been able to leverage that to fight back one-sided provisions.
POLITICIANS ARE HARDLY A JUDGE OF BEAUTY
A friend sends me an e-mail with a picture of Rabby Tagore and of our national flag. The caption says Unesco has declared the Indian national anthem to be the world's most beautiful. I expect the newspapers of India and possibly some neighbours picked up the story, but in England it's pure e-mail material, junk mail in a cause exhorting Indians to be proud. Well, yes! I suppose one should allow a little bit of the pre-lapsarian emotion in, but with caveats and reservations.
The first being that one can rarely trust political organisations to be judges of beauty. The critical judgement of those who attain high political office is also mostly questionable. I read somewhere that three presidents of the United States admitted that JD Salinger was their favourite writer I could rest my case. And what of the Ayatollah Khomeini's extreme literary judgement on our genius Salman? I supposed at the time the fatwa was pronounced that the 'Tollah had been reading Shakespeare's Julius Caesar in which the mob pursues the wrong Cinna who then protests that he is not Cinna the Conspirator but Cinna the Poet and the mob shouts "kill him for his bad verses!"The first literary-capital fatwa and that too recorded by Shakespeare?
Unesco's extra-political judgements have been suspect since the day at breakfast in the hill top hotel of Neemrana outside Delhi where I had been invited for a literary conference, Tarun Tejpal read to the assembled eaters an extract from the daily papers which said that Unesco had composed a graded list of the 'happiest' countries in the world. Tarun asked us which country he thought came second on the list. The guesses ranged from Sweden and the USA to Papua New Guinea. The real answer, as revealed to the mistaken and subsequently incredulous, was 'Bangladesh'!
The article didn't say how Unesco had arrived at this conclusion. Bangladesh had, in recent years been hit by floods and had suffered drought and food shortages but somebody sitting in Zurich had added up points on a bizarre statistical index and pronounced them happy.
Beauty is, on balance, a less arbitrary quality than happiness which is by definition subjective; whereas beauty has always been known to belong in the eye, or in this case the ear and mind of the beholder/listener.
Malcolm Sargent, the conductor of the London Symphony was rehearsing the Indian national anthem for some state occasion and remarked that the piece had the most unusual and disconcerting cadence at the end. It goes "Jaya, jaya, jaya, jaya hey!" with the last two notes being the third and fourth of the major scale: 'mi-fa' in Western nomenclature, 'ga - ma' in the Indian.
Until Sir Malcolm pointed it out, I hadn't realised why several of my generation of schoolchildren persisted in singing an extra phrase after the 'jaya-hey' climax. The phrase "Bharat Bhagya Vidhata" belonged to the original composition but had been cut out when it was adopted as the anthem. And yet whenever the anthem was sung, a number of voices would inevitably, after the last note was supposed to have carried the melody to this inconclusive height, sing "Bha..." as a start to the expunged phrase. On occasion it made for disrespectful merriment.
Turning to the words, which will not have eluded Islamabad and Karachi, is that our national anthem, in preservation of the integrity of Tagore's verse, still claims Sind as part of India. If one is philosophical rather than territorial about anthems and views the inclusion of Sind as representing the numerous and valuable Sindhi population of India rather than a piece of soil, it is supremely legitimate. It could of course be seen by the unbending, pedantic and hopelessly literal as an act of aggression. But let that pass the Dhondy family motto: the intelligent must make concessions.
N-LIABILITY BILL A MUST
THERE'S A WAY TO REMOVE SHORTCOMINGS
Those opposed to the introduction of the Civil Liabilities for Nuclear Damages Bill in Parliament appear to have little justification for sticking to their stand after what Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said on the sidelines of a function at Rashtrapati Bhawan on Wednesday. He categorically stated, "We have an open mind. If there are any deficiencies in the Bill we can discuss them." Moreover, it can go to the relevant parliamentary standing committee "where all differences can be sorted out", as Dr Manmohan Singh clarified. The Bill cannot be stalled forever, as the country needs the law to facilitate the entry of foreign firms in India's nuclear energy sector. This is in India's own interest, too, as we require the latest nuclear reactors and enriched uranium for generating enough nuclear power to meet the country's fast rising energy demand.
The Opposition, particularly the BJP and the Left parties, came in the way of the introduction of the Bill earlier saying that it unfairly limited the compensation claim of the victims of a nuclear accident to Rs 500 crore, and the liability was only of the operator, which meant the government as the situation existed today. There was no liability fixed for nuclear reactor suppliers, as the critics of the Bill pointed out. Actually, the Bill has an arrangement for compensation to victims from three sources. First of all, it is the nuclear operator whose liability is fixed at Rs 500 crore. The Opposition is justified in demanding that there should be no cap on the operator's liability. After all, the nuclear energy sector may soon have private operators too.
However, there should be no objection to the government having a Rs 2,133 crore fund to come to the aid of the affected people. There will be no dearth of compensation money once India becomes a contributing member of the International Convention on Supplementary Compensation. In any case, the critics of the Bill must keep in mind that we should do all we can to remove the shortcomings in this crucial piece of legislation, but it must be allowed to become an Act. The country cannot afford to delay the law.
PUNJAB'S RETIREMENT POLICY FALLS FLAT
The Punjab government has a penchant for creating problems for itself. In January when it decided to give one-time, one-year extension to its employees retiring on or before December 31, 2010, the decision invited ridicule and was widely debunked as discriminatory. About 25,000 employees stood to benefit and the government hoped to save Rs 800 crore. But knowing its propensity to slip up, few were surprised when the Punjab and Haryana High Court struck it down on Wednesday. What did come as a surprise was how the expected decision left a bewildered government unprepared to deal with the situation. Some 2,000 employees were hurriedly and unceremoniously retired on March 31.
To add to the confusion, newspapers quoted the Chief Minister as saying that the Cabinet would discuss the issue on April 14-15 and if the retirement age was raised to 60, the retired employees could rejoin duty. The Cabinet itself is divided over the issue. The resource mobilisation committee comprising Deputy Chief Minister Sukhbir Singh Badal and Industry Minister Manoranjan Kalia had suggested 60 as the age of retirement so that the payment of the retirees' dues could be deferred. Finance Minister Manpreet Singh Badal, however, opposed the idea, saying it would not go down well with the unemployed. Moreover, the administration, he argued, needed young blood.
As a way out, the government thoughtlessly decided on one-year extension applicable only to one category of the retiring staff. It, perhaps, did not seek prior legal advice on the issue. After the announcement was made, the Advocate General's office told the government that the retiring PCS officers to be re-employed on one-year contract could not be given statutory or quasi-judicial powers. The government, therefore, knew well in advance that it had messed up the whole issue. Instead of taking quick remedial measures, the government has chosen to prolong the state of confusion, perhaps waiting for the return of Badal junior from his private trip abroad. This is no way to govern.
RUNAWAY COUPLES NEED COMPASSION
In most Indian families, a girl and a boy are supposed to marry according to the convenience and approval of their parents, relatives, neighbours and, at times, even of those who are total strangers to them. In short, everyone's opinion matters, except that of the would-be brides and grooms. Most take this tyranny lying down. A rare few rebel. They have to face the wrath of society and pay a heavy price, as if they have committed a crime. The family members can commit what have come to be known as "honour killings". If somehow the relatives relent, there are community kangaroo courts called khap panchayats, which can either tell them to annul their marriage and live as brothers and sisters or socially ostracise them or kill them, as it happened in the case of Manoj and Babli of Karoran village in Haryana. Such runaway couples have no option except to appeal to the High Court for protection. The travesty is that many of them have been abducted or beaten up right while going to or returning from the state capital where the high courts are located.
Moved by their sorry plight, the Punjab and Haryana High Court has now empowered district and sessions judges of all districts of Haryana, Punjab and Chandigarh to provide security to such runaway couples. This will not only save them from undertaking the long, hazardous journey, but would also reduce the burden on the High Court.
However, the major concern remains: what about providing them security while going to district courts? Those bent on harming them can attack them there as well. Such couples can breathe easy only if the government, society and NGOs join hands and come to their rescue whole-heartedly. While it is necessary to persuade those with medieval mindset to treat those wanting to marry by listening to their own hearts with compassion, it is also necessary to tell them in no uncertain terms that law would brook no violence.
OBAMA'S SURPRISE DASH TO KABUL
HE MUST KEEP HIS PROMISES
BY INDER MALHOTRA
President Barak Obama's sudden visit to Kabul his first to Afghanistan during the 14 months since he moved into the White House was surprising. It was also short, but its outcome could be significant and lasting. Indeed, the immediate impact of his pronouncements in Afghanistan and his meeting with the Afghan President, Mr Hamid Karzai, has been to dissipate the widespread impression that the Obama administration's top priority in Af-Pak was a hasty exit, even if it meant a compromise with a section of the Taliban.
The recent London conference on Afghanistan, by deciding on "reintegration" of, and "reconciliation" with, those Taliban who were willing to say farewell to arms and become part of the Afghan political process, had strengthened the belief in Washington's "defeatism". Pakistan felt greatly encouraged for two reasons: it rejoiced over the "rejection" of the Indian view that there were no "good or bad" Taliban; and it crowed that, after the London resolve, the US would need it even more than before.
The Pakistan Army Chief, General Ashfaq Kiyani, after a meeting with the NATO top brass at Brussels, had declared publicly that his country alone was in a position to broker a deal between the US and the Taliban. And he had made no bones about the quid pro quo for this service: Pakistan's "primacy" in the post-War Afghanistan and India's exclusion from that country so that it can at last attain the "strategic depth" vis-a-vis India.
Just before Mr Obama's unannounced and super-secret visit to the Afghan capital, there had taken place in Washington the much-hyped US-Pakistan strategic dialogue during which, incidentally, General Kiyani was the dominant figure on the Pakistani side even though the delegation was nominally led by Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi who was visibly ecstatic at the end of the talks. Even while President Obama was flying to Kabul, Mr Qureshi was announcing in Islamabad that the dialogue was "more successful than expected". The moot question now is whether this euphoric mood can survive the dramatic Obama visit to Afghanistan.
For, the US President categorically declared: "If the Taliban can take over again and Al-Qaeda is able to act freely, the homeland security of America would be threatened and the world would be less secure than now. This, as your commander-in-chief, I would not permit." This reaffirmed that the US would not leave in haste but would stay the course till the twin-objectives of not letting the Taliban prevail and of destroying Al-Qaeda were achieved.
Of course, there are those who believe that since Mr Obama was addressing the US troops fighting in Afghanistan his brave words might be no more than overblown rhetoric meant only for his immediate audience. This skepticism is uncalled for. In the first place, no American President can indulge in such theatrics and that, too, on so important an occasion. Secondly, it seems entirely logical that having won a long and hard struggle over healthcare at home, Mr Obama realises that he needs to repeat this in other struggles, too. Doubtless, his priorities are domestic. But Afghanistan, or rather Af-Pak, takes precedence in the realm of foreign policy. Iraq, despite its disputes over the just completed elections, casts no shadow on homeland security but Af-Pak does. So, it stands to reason that as a "chess grandmaster" (Henry Kissinger's description of him), Mr Obama should complete the moves he has already made in and in relation to Afghanistan.
To this country, as to the rest of the region, the American decision to stay the course cannot but be welcome. Countries like China may formally demand that American and NATO troops should quit Afghanistan immediately but they don't really want this to happen. Russia's approach is hardheaded. It does not want Islamic extremism to infect its southern neighbourhood in Central Asia, and it wants the problem of narcotics, which are finding their way into Russia and causing havoc there, to be sorted out as part of a settlement on Afghanistan. Other regional countries have to be on board at the time of devising a solution for the Afghan problem. These include Iran, and this may be problematic for the US.
Mr Obama used his brief sojourn in Kabul to make two other crucial announcements. The first related to President Karzai. After the fraud-ridden Afghan elections last year there was no doubt about America's and the UN mission's deep antipathy to him. These feelings changed later when the Afghan President asserted himself in more ways than one. After the London conference, however, the talk was that the US was not averse to a deal with the Taliban even "at the cost of (Mr) Karzai".
President Obama has put paid to it. "The American people," he said, "are impressed by the progress that has been made. I hope to see more improvement in governance, anti-corruption and judicial process". More importantly, Mr Obama invited Mr Karzai to Washington on May 12. It is possible that countervailing measures to secure his position that Mr Karzai took such as his visits to China and Iran have also influenced the change in America's stance.
The second message of importance the US President delivered was that he intended not only to continue but also to enhance Drone (pilotless) attacks on Al-Qaeda and Taliban leaders in their sanctuaries in Pakistan. "We have", he said, "struck blows against the Al-Qaeda leadership as well as the Taliban's. They are hunkered down. They are worried about their own safety. It is harder for them to move and to train and to plot and to attack. All of that makes America safer, and we are going to keep them on the run". What Pakistan makes of this would be interesting to watch. Up to now its policy has been tacitly to let the Americans go ahead with the Drone and Predator strikes. So far retaliatory attacks on Pakistani cities and military installations have been limited. But will this situation last?
That is where a critically important question comes in. Under American pressure, Pakistan's army and the government have started acting against Al-Qaeda and the Afghan Taliban in South Waziristan and adjoining tribal areas. The Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) they had to take on because it attacks the Pakistani state itself. But so far there has been no Pakistani action against the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) that primarily targets India and also imperils US homeland security and American interests abroad. Why?
BY RAVIA GUPTA
Away from home, in the lonely dark room of hostel, where everyone was trying to "let loose" and vent out childhood trauma and emotional suffering, I was part of the grief of almost seven hostel roommates (and I am sure many more) who had one common pain to share and that pain was of being an Indian woman.
It indeed is painful and for sure a curse to be a woman and then to be born into an Indian joint family where the innocence of a girl child in most cases is attacked by the "known devils".
I had no idea that child sexual abuse was so deep rooted in many so-called culturally rich Indian families and that almost every Indian girl (Hindu, Muslim, Sikh or Christian) that I have ever come across had at one point or the other paid a price for being a helpless and defenceless woman.
It was not on TV or in newspapers where such cases are being reported almost every day; it was in my hostel room with the girls I was staying 24/7, sharing my belongings, eating and hanging out together, with them now I am also sharing the "common abuse".
God knows how in the world we all just broke the ice and decided to share our past. It was not easy to give words to those horrendous experiences which were not understood earlier and now when we understand, we still decide to remain silent and move on.
But as rightly said: "Behind each human face is a hidden world that no one can see. We cannot continue to seek outside ourselves for the things we need from within. The demons will haunt us if we remain afraid. Silence is one of the great victims of modern culture."
But then what else can the childhood abuse victims do? According to a recently released 13-state National Study on Child Sexual Abuse conducted by the Ministry of Women and Child Development, UNICEF and Save The Children, abuse is a startling, everyday reality for as many as half of the country's children.
I wonder if going by the way of law or going by the way of humanity would help us in putting an end to this unabated crime, which is beyond physical abuse or rather an irreparable loss, which most of just decide to bury and then move on, but for how long, is a question for which we all need to find an answer.
BETTER DEAL FOR A FEW?
WOMEN MPS HAVE NOT MADE ANY MARK
BY INDU SWAMI
Whether the Women's Reservation Bill serves the purpose of promoting gender equality is a moot point. Will it actually make a difference to the overall empowerment of ordinary women, and not just those who are able to get voted into Parliament? Or will it be largely symbolic in its impact on the condition of most women in the country?
Why should it make a difference? After all, we cannot really claim that so far all the women who have managed to achieve a certain position of leadership in national politics have really differentiated themselves by highlighting and championing the issues important for women. In fact, aside from some very inspiring exceptions, many elected women MPs have not made much of a mark in any major respect; leave aside the particular concerns of women.
But that is not really an argument because it is well known that there is a dynamic that can be set in motion by sheer numbers. Currently, women constitute only 8.2 per cent of the MPs which makes them a potentially lonely minority in a context where raising issues from a women's perspective or demanding that laws and policies be more gender aware can be an isolating experience if there is not enough support from other members.
But when the numbers increase beyond such a small minority, things tend to change. It has been found in many countries where women are substantially represented in legislative bodies that such a presence increases the likelihood of more gender sensitive legislation as well as the culture of the House, empowering individual women to speak up more and be heard, and generating many more women leaders who are then taken seriously across the political spectrum.
This does not simply mean a better deal for the few women who are able to get elected it is likely to translate to a different focus on policies and programmes that may help the majority of women in the country. The significant effects of the 73rd and 74th Amendments on the empowerment of rural women through the reservation of seats in the local bodies are still being realised. And this is likely at the national level as well.
The Indian problem really lies in the fact that women do not make proper use of the existing legal and political rights and facilities. There are several reasons for this. Most women are not yet fully aware of their new rights and opportunities. The bureaucracy they must deal with in order to exercise these rights, or to obtain redress for grievances is too complex, too slow, too distant and even too expensive for them to use.
If a cross-cultural or multi-national analysis of legal provisions for women is made, India is likely to emerge as one of the most progressive countries. There are lots of provisions in the legal and political structures of the country that affirm and reaffirm the equality of the sexes. But are these laws utilised by those women really in need of them?
Women's poor utilisation of voting rights is primarily due to their low level of political awareness and sense of political efficacy. They do not yet appreciate their potential power and political leverage as citizens of a democracy. They are ignorant of issues, and are not encouraged to become interested. Even educated women are apathetic.
On the other hand, political parties consider women candidates a risk and are unwilling to invest in them. Women themselves find that an active political career is difficult to combine with home-making. Thus, women who are active in politics are either the wives or daughters of politicians, or women who have entered politics as social workers or as students.
Women's failure to exercise their employment rights is due to quite another set of reasons. Poverty compels women in the country to take up any available work. Because unemployment is high, they are obliged to accept the terms of the employers, who often evade the requirements of the law.
Women are particularly vulnerable to exploitation because they are too timid to argue. They suffer from the additional limitation of having to accept work that fits in with their obligations as wives, mothers and home-makers.
By far the most serious tragedies that occur dowry deaths, suicide and impoverishment of widows arise out of women's failure to use the legal safeguards and redress provisions with reference to marriage, divorce, dowry and property. Their general inability to use the law is further aggravated in situations in which they have to fight a husband or a father. In the role allocation within Indian culture, these are the persons upon whom women normally depend to handle court matters.
It appears that very few of those unfortunate women mainly of the rural areas, and of the lower classes who suffer maximum discrimination are aware of the existence of laws in their favour. It seems more important for the government now to create awareness among the masses, focus on cultivating the attitudes required for building the necessary public commitment, pin-pointing at the same time the punishment due in cases of malpractice, rather than to concentrate only on framing measures and laws. The fact is that all these legal and constitutional provisions are futile unless they are backed by appropriate attitudes and public commitments.
A LIFE DEVOTED TO WORDS
BY NONIKA SINGH
When the going gets tough the tough get going . So was the mettle of Dr Jagtar, an eminent poet whose voice may have fallen silent but certainly not his poetry. As he breathed his last on March 30, he leaves behind a rich poetic legacy, particularly in the realm of Punjabi ghazals and nazms, that is hard to match and is likely to inspire many generations to come.
In fact, fully conversant with Persian and Urdu, Dr Jagtar is deemed by many as a ustaad shayar from whom significant lessons on poetic craftsmanship can be learnt. When it came to metre, behar, his understanding and application were faultless.
In constant touch with poets from Pakistan, he wrote on the legendary Sufi poet Bulle Shah too and his most recent published work is a travelogue titled "Peshawar taun Sind tak".
Writer and academician Niranjan Tasneem, who first heard him way back in 1963 at a mushaira in Muktsar, thinks that his singularly distinctive feature was that on the one hand he imbibed the best of classical tradition of ghazal writing and on the other he breathed fresh vision that was without doubt progressive and humanistic. In fact, the poet himself believed that contemporary ghazal is not merely a dialogue with women nor an ode to husan- ishq.
In the preface of his book Akhhan Waliyan Paidaan he quotes Aal Ahmed Saroors's couplet ghazal mein jaat bhi hai aur kaynaat vhi hai, tumhari baat bhi hai aur hamari baat vhi hai' to reiterate what ghazal writing is really all about.
Dr Gurbachan, editor and publisher of literary journal Filhaal, says, "See there are three significant parameters of a good poet his literary experience, his linguistic experience and lessons drawn from life. He excelled in all three."
Dr Atamjit hails his poetry for sincerity, brevity and seriousness. Too serious and pessimistic? Well the thread of disenchantment, often despair too was predominant, writ in thoughts such as aaa gaya Jagtar aisa zindagi da hai mukaam, na kite zulfan di chaan, na kise aanchal di yaad'.
However, Dr Surjit Patar, who remembers many of his verses by heart, remarks, " By no stretch of imagination can you say his was poetry of hopelessness." Indeed, lines like har mod te saleeban, har pair vich hanera, phir vi asi ruke na, saada vi dekh jera' depict his indomitable courage and tenacity to fight against all odds.
Yet there was an element of negation. Dr Atamjit calls him, "A poet of fluctuating moods" and elaborates "One moment he would dwell on loneliness as in tanhaai ne hi mera aakhir nu hath phadeya and then echoed desire to traverse the expanse baajan ne udna ambar taun vhi age. But then these changing shades are a reflection of our vacillating times."
Nods Patar, "Without doubt he captured the pulse of the times." Actually, his poetry moved with movements like that of the Naxalites. Yet as one browses through lines like ghar de darwaaze taun, apne naa di takhti utaar, is vich khatre chhupe hoe ne, aj kal beshumaar and manjil te jo na pahunche, parte na jo gharan nu, raahavan ne khaa leya hai kam-dil musafiran nu ring out a universal appeal and could apply to many situations, not just to a particular period in response to which he might have expressed himself so.
Often his poetry has been laced with sardonic sarcasm as underlined in verses such as ' kaun jashan vich kisse nu chit dhare chete kare, zindagi vich jad kade talkhi wadhe taan khat likhi .
A subaltern writer, his poetry, feel critics, brims with agony of the deprived and the dispossessed. What made him a cut above the rest was that he didn't nurse any bourgeoisie yearnings and wasn't a sham.
Gurbachan says that he was markedly different from the popular mode of ghazal writers. Actually he derided poets who hang on patrons and critics. Ironically, in his later days he felt he was unsung. Yes the Sahitya Akademy Award did come to him. Perhaps, he deserved greater honours.
Indeed, overwhelming popularity may have eluded him, but then he didn't really hanker after it and believed that populist ways that most poets resort to, spell disaster in the long run.
Few grudge or deny his greatness that is imprinted in several compilations like Chunkari Shaam, Sheeshe Da Jungle, Chaangeya Rukh and Jugnu Deeva te Darya.
While history will judge his final place, he himself implored I dedicated my life to words . What I gained and lost . You judge. But then assessing the poet who felt ' parat jaayega alochak pair zakhmi hon te, mein ate meri ghazal haan patharan te chal rahe' is no mean task and requires the same acumen and sterling qualities that he possessed.
LTTE chief Velupillai Prabhakaran symbolises different things for different people. Strangely, for actor-turned-politician Vijaykanth, the Tiger leader's name symbolises success.
After naming his first child as Prabhakaran, the actor's hundredth film was given the title "Captain Prabhakaran". The action film was a box-office bonanza, marking a major turn in his film career. Vijaykanth himself earned the nickname "Captain".
Now, the Captain is launching a new TV channel. No marks for guessing the first film to be telecast by the channel. It will be "Captain Prabhakaran". Vijaykanth believes that the channel started with a film named after Prabhakaran will change the fortunes of his party, which is not doing well at present. Will the Tiger sentiment click this time?
Another captain, MS Dhoni, has promised to attend the function.
SMS FOR LOVE
How will a son of a Union minister and the grandson of a Chief Minister convey his love? The latest love story
doing the rounds is that of Durai Dayanidhi, son of Union minister MK Alagiri.
Dayanidhi was not able to meet his lady love, in public places, since it could get media attention. The girl, Anusha, could not be asked to meet him in private without knowing her mind.
Finally, he decided to express his love by sending a hundred messages through mobile. All the hundred messages contained the same words: "I love you". One day he got a similar reply. Now, their love is known to their parents and the date for their marriage is to be fixed soon.
Alagiri's marriage was also arranged by his father and Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M Karunanidhi, after the latter came to know about his son's love.
Punjab, beware of Vaas
Lankan speedster Chaminda Vaas is eagerly awaiting his next match with Kings XI Punjab. While Gilchrist and his men who arrived in Chennai for a match with the Chennai Super Kings were seen in a relaxed and jolly mood, Chaminda Vaas was tense and moody.
"This is no time to relax", he confided to a few friends. "I want to prove myself and get into the Lankan team for the T20 World Cup. I am waiting for the next match against Punjab, when I will get a chance to bowl at the island captain Kumar Sangakkara", he said.
He was confident that he would be able to get his captain out cheaply and get a berth for the T20 World Cup.
Sri Lankan spinner Muthaiah Muralidharan, playing for the Chennai Super Kings had the last laugh over his
captain Sangakkara, who got out to one of Murali's superb deliveries. "The next time, when we meet in the same dressing room, I will remind Sangakkara about it", Murali said in a lighter vein.
No jeans, please
The Chennai Police Commissionerate has come out with a new rule that bans policemen from wearing casual wear jeans and T-shirts on its premises. Whether they are on duty or off-duty, whether they are higher or lower rank, the prohibition applies.
Police constables will not be allowed to wear 'objectionable' outfits like jeans inside the Commissioner's office as such garments invite unnecessary attention. A proper dress code will be in keeping with the formal atmosphere, officials say.
HISTORY IN EVERY CORNER
THE BUILDINGS AROUND THE BSE, SUCH AS THE TOWN HALL, WHICH IS HOME TO THE ASIATIC SOCIETY OF MUMBAI, ARE SOUTH MUMBAI LANDMARKS THAT EPITOMISE THE CITY'S CULTURAL HERITAGE
The entire Fountain area is surrounded by chunks of history in various forms whether it is the Art Deco district of Kala Ghoda, or the historical Horniman Circle, and not to forget the Bombay Samachar Press. The list could go on. Every historical landmark has its own stories and anecdotes. Digging slightly below the surface can lead to absolutely fascinating vignettes and would make one realise how priceless these landmarks are and is at the same time, a humbling and gratifying experience. The colossal structure of the Town Hall (called "Tondal" in the 19th century), which houses the Asiatic Society of Bombay (and also a small museum), is not only a historical landmark (it's located just opposite Horniman Circle and is a stone's throw away from the Reserve Bank of India), but also swathes the entire surroundings in imperial elegance, which is probably reminiscent of the grandeur of Greco Roman architecture.
The Town Hall is simply a visual treat with exquisite marble statues of the fathers of the city of Mumbai; beautiful spiral staircases, wrought iron loggias and old parquet floors and is one of the most regal looking heritage structures in the city.
James McKintosh, the Recorder of Bombay in 1811 and founder of the Literary Society of Bombay, rekindled an earlier suggestion of having a town hall for the city. The society intended that the proposed building should not only house civic offices about also a library and a museum and a sum of Rs 10,000 was raised through a lottery. Since the money raised was not enough, the society took upon itself the onerous task of convincing the government to make a contribution towards the construction cost and this whole process took 10 years to complete.
The building was designed by Colonel Thomas Cowper of the Bombay Engineers, but was finally completed in
1833 after Cowper's death.
The pillared monument has three porticos faced by eight Doric pillars while there is a flight of 30 steps that one needs to take to reach the building. Sir John Malcom, the Governor of Bombay in 1930, said, "It is the most magnificent structure that taste and munificence combined have as yet erected in India."
The Literary Society of Bombay first met on November 26, 1804, but later become affiliated with the Royal Asiatic Society (established in London in 1823) and was known as the Bombay Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society since 1830. Intrigue doesn't end here, the Bombay Geographical Society merged with it in 1873 followed by the Anthropological Society in 1896 this entire merged entity was renamed as the Asiatic Society of Bombay in 1954, finally renamed in 2002 after Bombay become Mumbai and is funded by the government of India.
The library has more than one lakh books (15,000 of which are rare), priceless articles and over three thousand manuscripts in Persian, Sanskrit and Prakrit. Its priceless works include one of the two known original copies of Dante's Divine Comedy which was donated by Mountstuart Elphinstone (governor of Bombay and President of the Society from 1819-1827) while Mussolini unsuccessfully offered to buy it for £10 lakh in 1930 from the society. Another priceless text is the 12th century Vasupujyacharita, the Shahnama of Firdausi (1853) written in Persian, the Aranyakaparvan written in the 16th century, five Buddhist caskets excavated at Sopara (an ancient port), more than a thousand ancient coins and a rare gold coin belonging the Mughal emperor Akbar.
Obviously, seeing is believing, and it's absolutely a must to visit this imposing structure and soak in its every historical nook and cranny or just simply marvel at its sheer understated elegance.
Next Week The second part of a close look at some of the historical landmarks near the BSE.
THOUGHT FOR FOOD
STILL WAITING FOR SECOND GREEN REVOLUTION
The Planning Commission has offered an objective assessment of the unsatisfactory situation as far as Indian agriculture is concerned in its mid-term appraisal of the 11th Five-Year Plan. The commission has done well to remind us that the farm sector is still subject to strangulating controls that dissuade private investment in key areas, including logistics and storage. The government's agricultural pricing policies, which have rendered minimum support prices (MSPs) the de-facto procurement prices, have also come in for sharp criticism for discouraging farmers from diversifying into high-value crops even while failing to keep food-price inflation down. What should cause concern is that the challenge of food security continues to stare us in the face despite the generous funding of the agriculture and irrigation sectors, where Plan outlays have more than doubled in the 11th Plan compared to the 10th Plan. Though agriculture accounts only for less than one-fifth of the country's gross domestic product (GDP), it still supports over 60 per cent of the nation's population. Only in the first year of the current Plan did the agriculture sector grow at a healthy 4.9 per cent. Growth fell to 1.6 per cent in the second year and is projected to be around minus 0.2 per cent in the current year. There have been years of good performance, but it is unclear as to how much of this was due to good monsoons and how much was due to public and private investment.
It is in recognition of these facts that the prime minister has repeatedly called for a second green revolution and the government has spoken eloquently about investing more in agriculture. Yet, the gap between performance and promise remains wide as the Planning Commission has once again shown. The mid-term appraisal document puts out a wide range of policy options on the menu like making the agricultural pricing system more market- oriented by delinking MSPs from procurement prices to abolition of levies, stock limits and curbs on export of farm goods. Unhindered movement of agro-products across the country can help achieve the objective of creating an all-India single open market for agriculture as envisaged in the National Agriculture Policy adopted by Parliament during the previous term of the United Progressive Alliance (UPA). In any case, the MSP system, as also the official grain procurement policy, is confined to a few states (where the public grain purchase network is in place) and to a few crops, chiefly wheat and rice. For other crops, the MSPs are irrelevant. Thus, farmers in most parts of the country do not get remunerative prices for their produce. The 11th Plan's basic strategy for boosting agricultural output, as outlined in the original approach paper, envisaged improving farmers' access to technology and diversification towards higher value crops and livestock. It had also stressed rationalisation of farm subsidies and efficiency-enhancement of public investments in the agricultural sector. None of this has actually happened. A major policy correction seems imperative.
JOINING GLOBAL CAPITAL MARKETS
DEPOSITORY RECEIPTS CAN ADD VALUE
Indian depository receipts (IDR) are set to get going after a long gestation period of six years with Standard Chartered Bank filing a red herring prospectus to raise up to $750 million. It took this long because the stringent Indian regulations made it possible only for large global companies to come. This, along with the tough disclosure and corporate governance norms stipulated made it easier and cheaper for medium-sized companies to list in Luxemburg, or the Alternative Investment Market in London or Dubai. Some initial rules have been eased for members of the International Organisation of Securities Commissions who have signed the multilateral memorandum, thus requiring an issuer company to follow only its own country regulations. But even now, there are things you cannot do with IDRs which you can do with say ADRs, their American counterparts, like free fungibility between ADRs and the underlying shares to seek an arbitrage opportunity. Also, IDRs do not have the same capital gains tax advantage that ordinary Indian shares do, although IDR holders have the same rights as ordinary shareholders of the foreign company.
IDRs are seen as part of the internationalisation of securities markets which opens up markets to foreign investors and removes restrictions on citizens keen on investing abroad. The tough Indian regulations were initially seen as a roadblock in the way of India emerging as a regional financial centre. But the global financial crisis has changed perspectives, and regulatory conservatism is now seen as a good thing. Some of the shine of a financial hub has rubbed off. Among other negatives, financial hubs create a class of very highly-paid managers which upsets the incentives balance within a society, making even good science graduates opt for a career in financial engineering rather than in R&D. Besides, the IDR issuer takes out of the country the entire issue proceeds, causing some to argue that, given India's need for investment, incentives should favour savings being deployed here. But this argument no longer holds, what with a Bharti or a Tata Motors making large acquisitions overseas.
It is not as if, on the balance, IDRs are not a good thing. The decision of Standard Chartered indicates the enormous attractiveness of the Indian market and its future. IDRs also give Indian investors a chance to invest in well-known global companies with no more hassles than in picking up pure Indian paper. Further, an IDR issue by an MNC with a large presence in India can not only bring to India the disclosure levels of well-regulated markets but also help us know more about what the company is doing in India. In fact, the government should make IDRs attractive for issuers without relaxing disclosure requirements. One way is not to make it obligatory for outward remittance of the issue proceeds. This helps the company to fund its Indian investment from Indian resources; derive any arbitrage benefit that may be possible between the cost of Indian and foreign funds, and save the cost of converting from rupee to foreign currency to rupee again. The gain for India is better disclosure by MNCs which have a large presence here but don't really care as they are not listed here.
SHADES OF ENRON
JAMAL MECKLAI / NEW DELHI APRIL 02, 2010, 0:30 IST
In a hard-hitting article, Bloomberg columnist Jonathan Weil has detailed some of the more egregious "lapses" by Lehman's auditors, E&Y, which were uncovered by the examiner investigating the investment bank's collapse. He enumerates some of the audit firm's other failures and fines and ends the article with a shocking comment: "With that kind of track record, it's a wonder anyone would accept anything this firm says at face value again." Given that audit firms live and die by what they say, this is as deep a wound as anyone could imagine. It brings back Arthur Andersen and Enron and, indeed, the failure of regulators at the time (and since) to effectively address the obvious conflict of interest issue in the audit business model. Permitting audit companies (or, anyone for that matter) to police themselves is a recipe for crisis, even assuming best intentions and spotless integrity.
At the time (January 2002), I had written an article, part of which is excerpted below
" It's so obvious it's amazing that it needs to be said. Everybody should pay his/her own costs investors should pay for information if they need it (to, say, take decisions on what to buy (or sell) and at what price). And they should, of course, be free to choose which sources of information they are comfortable with.
...So where will investors get their information? And, if they cannot find adequate comfort, will they not invest? Will risk capital dry up? Will the exchanges have to close? What will happen to financial markets?
Tough questions. But and I'm sure that all the ex-employees of Enron [Lehman] would agree ones that should have been asked some years ago.
One possible solution would be for the securities exchanges to pay for the audits of companies who's securities they list and recover these costs through a fee charged on, say, all buy side transactions Perhaps a bit complex to implement, but contemporary transaction technology will probably have the issue solved even as we think of it. While this may not be the optimal solution, it at least has the advantage that value is paid for by the value buyer."
The issue remained live for a few years with other companies' audits turning sour. Lots of ideas were tossed around, including, no doubt, some version of the one I had mentioned. Indeed, I remember that around 2004, I met Jim Turley, then the global head of guess who? E&Y, when he was visiting India who, at least in a short conference-edge chat, seemed to think the idea did have some merit. In the event, however, US regulators, unable to come up with a better-structured solution, and, no doubt, influenced by the audit companies themselves, came up with a "tighter self-regulatory" process.
Fast forward to 2008-09, and here we go again.
Another service industry that "suffers" under a similar business model is credit ratings. Credit rating agencies, too, have come under increased scrutiny after the North Atlantic crisis of 2008-09, and our own Ministry of Finance set up a committee to think about whether and how the business model of credit rating agencies (CRA's) should be changed.
In assessing alternative business models, I was delighted to see that, in addition to issuer pays (current) and regulator (or the government) pays, the committee included the exchange pays model that I have outlined above and that I had discussed a couple of years ago with Dr Krishnan, who was the head of the committee.
While the report was quite exhaustive, there were, in my opinion, a few lacunae. First off, it did not address the sustained high profit margins enjoyed by CRA's, both globally and domestically. This suggests that barriers to entry are too high and/or the fact that CRA's high margins are related to near-zero marketing costs since regulations often require credit ratings for capital adequacy calculations etc. This would argue in favor of the regulator pays model, contrary as it "feels" to the still free marketer in me.
Another argument that was apparently accepted by the committee was that the existing model (issuer pays) resulted in lower rating costs. To my mind, the goal of regulation should not be about lowering cost but about ensuring that costs are correct and are borne by the right parties.
And while I was pleased that the exchange pays model was discussed, I was disappointed that the committee appeared to address this only cursorily.
Perhaps these new if unsurprising revelations about E&Y and Lehman will inspire the government to reopen the subject for more radical change.
THE ECOSYSTEM OF A PRODUCT
IT'S ABOUT DOING EVERYTHING FROM THE CUSTOMER'S POINT OF VIEW
Customer centricity is a word bandied around the most across conference rooms and in business discussions. Yet most debates in boardrooms focus on either product centricity (what are the strengths of our product and how do we make it relevant to consumers?) or competition centricity (how can we make our product look and feel better than the competition?). While there is a focus on the customer's view in such discussions, everything starts either from inside (our product) or from the world immediately outside us (other products). The customer exists only for us to make the sale to. Most customer researches also reflect the same bias. The research either explores the relevance of our product in customers' lives or explores how our product (and its communication) is being perceived vis-a-vis competition. So, how much of business thinking is truly customer-centric? The Japanese school of TQM (Total Quality Management) ensures that every product that comes off a production line is defect-free. This reflects the Japanese penchant for "perfection in everything". It helps increase production efficiency and ensures nothing needs to be reworked. It helps the customer get high-quality, reliable products. But was TQM an outcome of customer centricity or a by-product of cultural attitude and production excellence coming together?
Many brands, especially in the fast-moving consumer goods category, have offered product in different pack sizes and forms to enable the consumer to buy more of it. Is this customer-centric thinking or still inside-out thinking, that is, business generation thinking? How can we get more revenue from the customer by making the product more accessible, convenient for her to buy it more times?
Customer centricity is about understanding the ecosystem in which a product is operating in the customer's life and working towards making every element of the ecosystem friendly and enjoyable to the customer. It is about understanding the category and product journey from the time of purchase to consumption and ensuring everything in its experience is so positive that the customer comes back over and over again.
The importance of customer-centric thinking gets heightened when you think of services. Unlike product brands where the actual item transacted is tangible, service products are forced to think more holistically of the customer's ecosystem to deliver real value. For Starbucks, the cup of coffee is only one element of the customer-brand transaction. Everything from the environment to the seating to the barista and even the coffee machine and the crowd around make the customer pay a premium for the cup (which could cost quarter the price in a shop down the road) and get her to come again and again.
Similarly, in the case of a bank, the money transaction is only one element of the relationship. The actual office, the executive and, if there is web and phone banking, the actual experience of transacting electronically make for the total experience. Customer centricity is about understanding expectations at each point of contact and making it most efficient and comfortable. Interestingly, every "product" brand is also a service, the only difference being that the service is done by someone else, often the customer herself! This means that for many product brands, the service is not within the control of manufacturers and marketers!
In this context, the evolution of Asian Paints as a brand is instructive. Over the last two decades, it has evolved from being a brand in a "paint can" as it was in the 80s, to striving to be a "paint service" brand with a helpline, a home solutions offering and a signature store in Mumbai where customers can come in and experience first-hand the process of selecting shades and being advised about the same. This evolution has been guided by the brand's philosophy of "taking pain out of painting". This philosophy is built on the understanding of customer's painting ecosystem. While paint is a small component of the whole painting process, the painting cycle is painful and if a paint brand needs to grow and remain relevant to a customer, it needs to address this pain!
Traditionally, marketing has been seen as the custodian of the customer. However, to be truly customer-centric, it needs to go beyond marketing. It's a philosophy that needs to be embedded within the culture of an organisation. There is merit in the Japanese pursuit of perfection in the factory line because that's a requirement to give a hassle-free product to the customer. However, it should even extend backwards into R&D functionally and aesthetically. It should be extended to purchase and post-purchase points of contact including packaging and complaint handling. This means every person in a business must be aligned to brand vision and customer expectations and work towards delivering it. The R&D needs to develop products with customer delight in mind; just as much as tele-callers need to say that every query or complaint needs to be handled satisfactorily and completely, and the R&D must be empowered to do so too!
The implication of communication is interesting. Traditionally, marketers have seen brand-building communication as an activity that is aimed at the outside world to get customers to see their brand in a positive light vis a vis competition. As we move forward, there is perhaps an equal need for internal communication which ensures internal audiences do everything keeping the customer in mind. Even traditional external brand messages need to be more sensitive to customer mindsets. Magnifying the same message across different customer points of contact, insensitivity to customer messaging needs at that point of contact is not only ineffective but also displays a lack of customer centricity.
In sum, as we move towards making customer centricity the core of an organisation, it is important that every member of the business is a custodian of the customer and everyone understands the ecosystem in which the product is consumed.
Something worth thinking about.
firstname.lastname@example.org Views expressed are personal
POLMAN'S SALARY FORMULA
HUL IS PRACTISING HARD WHAT ITS GLOBAL CEO IS PREACHING, BUT IMPLEMENTATION IS THE KEY
Unilever is taking performance-linked pay to a different level altogether. Its CEO Paul Polman received a pay packet of more than £3 million in his first full year as chief executive after the company hit a number of its financial targets.
According to the Anglo-Dutch fast-moving consumer goods major's annual report, Polman's basic salary was just a third (£1.03 million) of his overall salary of £3.12 million. The balance amount came from what the company calls bonus payment and other allowances.
Unilever is doing several other things as well to attract and retain top talent. For example, "Golden hellos" the signing-on packages offered to leading executives when they move companies.
Its Chief Financial Officer Jean-Marc Huet, who joined the company in February this year, is receiving a bonus of £3.28 million in cash and shares to compensate for the loss of incentives at his previous employer, Bristol-Myers Squibb. The cash award was paid when Huet joined the company, while the share award will vest over the next three years.
In its annual report, Unilever also said it will change the bonus incentives for executive directors and replace the underlying sales growth with underlying volumes growth as a driver for the business performance for the annual bonus from 2010 onwards.
Apart from the package, Huet will receive a salary of £680,000, a bonus of up to 150 per cent of his salary and shares.
Predictably, Polman says he is a strong believer in the variable pay model. After inaugurating the spanking new headquarters of Hindustan Unilever in Mumbai a couple of days ago, Polman said the plan was not to give any hike in the basic pay of top employees. "Extraordinary pay should be reserved only for extraordinary performance and compensation should be structured to reward outstanding, not average performance," he said.
HUL is obviously practising hard what its global CEO is preaching. The company has already moved away from a market-linked Esops programme to a performance-based share grant scheme and is significantly increasing the proportion of variable pay in the overall compensation structure. The annual bonus to employees is now linked to sales growth, profit and individual contribution. One of the key performance parameters also is how externally-oriented an employee is the accent being on the speed at which a trend is spotted.
HUL isn't alone. A Mercer Consulting study showed that all Asian companies are laying greater emphasis on variable pay and linking increments to individual performance as economies recover from the global slowdown.
Sixty-five per cent of respondents in Mercer's "Asia Executive Remuneration Snapshot Survey" said they planned to provide salary increases for executives in 2010, compared with just 30 per cent in 2009. But 30-40 per cent of an executive's total pay package is linked to variable pay which depends on his/her performance regardless of the type of organisation s/he belongs to. Individual performance is the most commonly used measure to assess performance among surveyed companies today, followed by profit-based and revenue/sales growth-based measures.
Other studies have shown that Indian companies still have a long way to go as the variable component in salaries in US companies has gone up to an average of 75 per cent. But quite a few in India Inc are making up for lost time in many cases, this has moved up to 50 per cent. This was just around 5 per cent five years ago.
But while variable pay is surely back on top of the agenda of companies all over the world, the jury is still out on its effectiveness. Many say implementation of a variable pay model can often be extremely complex. For example, a problem with pure pay incentives is that they raise the risk of employees driving corporate growth for the sake of the personal reward they bring, rather than for what is best for the company. Another question that arises from this strategy is what the company should be measuring effort or performance; the individual or the team?
There are many examples of how variable pay plans can backfire if they don't consider worker motivation in a realistic fashion. For example, a Harvard Business Review study titled "Pay for performance doesn't always pay off," author Martha Lagace gives Hewlett Packard's example of how the best-intentioned variable pay plans can go wrong if not thought through properly.
Managers at one of the HP units launched a programme of team goals coupled with team-based pay with three possible levels of reward. The scheme worked well initially, but the complaints started to pour in soon. The teams were frustrated as factors such as the delivery of parts affected their work and went out of their control.
The high-performance teams often refused to admit people whom they thought were below their level of expertise, leading to disparities among the teams. Mobility between teams was reduced, preventing the transfer of learning across teams. The lifestyle of employees now revolved around higher pay scales, and this led to anger when they could not achieve it consistently.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
ADIEU, MARUTI 800
If one spans eras and nations, the Maruti 800 could be called the actual Volkswagen. More than the German model, this one actually seemed to be truly for the volk, the common people. And on its peppy little wheels, with a build that made the old ambassadors seem like tanks, India for the first time learnt how to zip around. The name became the brand, the whole idea itself.
And the way it was pronounced announced its national status and acceptance, its seeping into the collective consciousness, be it the Punjabi Mrutti or the Kashmiri Maarvati. And then the affluent culture it spawned finally made it passé. Its later cousins, the newer models, better, sleeker, more expensive.
So, after 27 years, a bit like the family member who's increasingly becoming shabby and irrelevant, the Maruti 800 is being phased out. It's a bit like calling a favourite childhood toy obsolete. Or maybe the immutable law of time and change has had its effect. The 800, simply, can't cope anymore. And the company has decided that it's just not worth it to upgrade the model to meet stiffer pollution norms. Aaptly, April fool's day was chosen as the cut off date.
Sure, it's not going to become extinct just yet. It's just not going to be sold anymore in 13 cities, including the fout metros. The plan is to phase it out completely in around five years. Perhaps it was also the nano effect. And the great middle class car finding itself, class-less, sort of. What with the new battleground being in the more expensive model segment and the emerging contest at the nano-level. The 800, then, had by now become a car that just didn't fit in somehow. In such obsolescence of what once was the face of modernity, India affirms its own shift in gears. Ride safely into the sunset, good old 800!
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
A BAD MOVE
Taxmen should go after the big fish with big incomes who swim safely outside the tax net, instead of squeezing incremental amounts from those whose incomes already leave audit trails followed by the tax authorities.
The Centre's decision to deduct a mandatory 20% tax at source from those who fail to furnish their permanent account number (PAN) is only an incremental step. It shows that the Centre continues to act under the delusion that widening the tax base means collecting more money from the middle class. The new rule will be a hassle for senior citizens who do not have tax-dues but have not obtained a PAN.
The new law would make sense once the government has made getting a PAN and a tax refund as easy as, say sending a letter by registered post. That is far from the case right now. Many people cannot claim refunds. The social cost of the penal measure could outweigh the benefit in the form of extra tax collections. It is not fair to penalise senior citizens.
However, PAN is a unique identifier of the tax department. It helps establish an audit trail of financial transactions. Ideally, everyone should have a PAN. The tax administration should focus on making it easy for people to get a PAN. In the past, the one-by-six scheme induced scores of people to file tax returns. But they yielded small amounts of tax, too small to justify the administrative cost involved. The tax administration is now well equipped to go after the big fish, with the tax information network that gathers information on large financial transactions.
High net-worth individuals today constitute only a fraction of the 3.3 crore tax-payers in the country. This is unacceptable. Focus on them, not all people whose incomes are liable to deduction of tax at source. The more robust the tax information network, the less dependent the government would be on the information provided by citizens through their returns. It would make sense to focus on a smaller number of high-net worth individuals rather than to fritter away administrative energies on many tax returns yielding small amounts of tax. What matters is the amount of tax collected, not the number of returns filed.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
NOT BY LAW ALONE
We appreciate the passion and feeling with which Prime Minister Manmohan Singh dedicated the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act to the nation, through an exceptional address to the nation on Thursday. All the same, we have to point out that this new fundamental right falls short of a revolution in primary education. Such a right is neither sufficient nor necessary to achieve the goal of getting all children educated.
In India, custom still prevails over the law, in most matters. The ability of the state to enforce its laws has been quite dismal in very many parts of India, when it comes to the rights of disempowered sections of society. There is little reason to believe things would be otherwise with this particular law. Attempts to enforce the right through courts have the potential to add, significantly, to the burden of litigation on the judicial system. If an unenforced right to education prolongs the litigation for enforcing an unimplemented provision of the Forest Rights Act, for example, because both cases have to be handled by the same courts already creaking under the weight of never-ending cases, that would be irony, not emancipation.
The only set of conditions under which the law would deliver, would be one in which the right is actively enforced by the people, motivated and mobilised to get their young educated. Rights, in other words, are not passively dispensed by an enlightened administration to a supine populace, but actively enforced by citizens in exercise of their political agency. When people have such agency, they get educated, in any case, as Kerala's experience shows. Another concern is the finding of recent research that the battle for equality between the children of the haves and the have-nots is already lost by the time they reach school: deprived children have a fraction of the vocabulary of their counterparts from well-off families. Intervention at an earlier age, to provide nutrition and mental stimulation to the infants of the deprived, can, however, be a great leveller.
So is this law completely futile? Far from it. The point is, the law should be seen as a means of mobilising and empowering the people, rather than as an act of emancipation in itself.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
THE SORRY STATE OF PUBLIC HEALTH
While US President Barack Obama has given top legislative priority to health insurance reform to enable Americans to have quality and affordable healthcare, Indians have little hope of deliverance from an increasingly-unaffordable health regime.
India's primary healthcare system is based on primary health centre (PHC) and its attached sub-centres, each of which covers 3-4 villages. The Economic Survey, 2009-10, highlights a shortage of 20,486 sub-centres, 4,477 PHCs and 2,337 community health centres (CHCs) based on 2001 population norm. Only 13% of rural residents have access to a PHC, 33% to a sub-centre, 9.6% to a hospital and 28.3% to a dispensary or clinic. About two-thirds of country's registered hospitals are private.
A recent countrywide survey of PHCs revealed average vacancies at 18% for doctors, 15% for nurses and 30% for paramedics. Absenteeism rates in this sector average 40% across the country. A study on competence level of doctors in the PHCs found, in treating diarrhoea, that a typical doctor often recommended harmful therapies. According to a 2005 Transparency International study, healthcare services account for 27% of the bribes paid for public services in the country. Again, if public doctors miss their clinic opening timings or render poor service, they still get their salary.
The National Rural Health Mission, launched on April 12, 2005, with an annual allocation of Rs 12,000 crore - increased by Rs 2,057 crore in 2009-10 - aims at providing accessible health services to the poorest households in the remotest regions of the country. The Rashtriya Swasthya Bima Yojana claims to have covered 4.5 million below-poverty-line families by issuing biometric cards. In reality, the programmes deliver far short of their avowed claims. Public health services suffer from widespread absenteeism and indifference among doctors and paramedics in the PHCs, shortages of medicines, unhygienic conditions, complaints of rude health workers, patients compelled to make informal payments, lack of supervision and accountability, and rural folk compelled to gravitate to local private practitioners, many of them unregistered and unqualified.
Against such a pathetic supply side, the demand for medicare is enormous. Over 17 lakh children in the country die annually before reaching their first birthday. India accounts for a fifth of the global disease burden: 23% of child deaths, 20% of maternal deaths, 30% of tuberculosis cases, 68% of leprosy cases and 14% of HIV cases. Tuberculosis kills around 2 million people a year around the world; in India, the disease takes a toll of 4,21,000 lives.
The spread of Malaria was brought down to negligible proportions in the 1960s, but it struck back with 6.47 million cases in 1976; and still accounts for 2-3 million cases annually. India has a disproportionately high per-capita rate of acute respiratory infections and diarrheal diseases than the rest of the world. The infant mortality rate (IMR) per 1,000 live births was 80 in 1990, which dropped only to 66 in 2000 against proportionate Millennium Development Goals (MDG) target of 57.
With almost a third of the country's population living in cities - more than half the number in 23 metropolitan areas - the healthcare infrastructure is far too inadequate. While there is need to raise the availability of doctors from 6,00,000 to 20,00,000 and nurses from 16,00,000 to 44,00,000, some 165 medical colleges annually turn out only about 16,000 doctors in the country.
The number of physicians per 1,000 population for the world is 1.5; for India, it is 0.6. Against a world average of 3.98 hospital beds per 1,000 population, Russia has 9.7, Brazil 2.6, China 2.5, and India 0.9. Per-capita per-year in-patient admissions for India aggregate 1.7 compared to 9 for the world and 5.5 in low income countries.
A clear message in these depressing figures is of serious sickness afflicting the country. The UN Human Development Report, 2007, brings to the fore the country's abysmal record in education and health; here, India is in the same league as Ethiopia, Burundi and Chad. India remains mired in hunger and poverty, home to a third of the world's poor, its human capital severely impaired by grossly inadequate healthcare infrastructure strained by steady urbanisation, epidemiological transition to chronic and non-communicable diseases, poorly regulated private sector and poor management of public sector facilities.
Total annual per-capita state and Central government spending on public healthcare services is $2-3. A sub-group on healthcare financing and insurance recommended public expenditure on health to be not less than 2.5% of GDP. The UPA government had us believe that this will be raised to 3%. Public health expenditure in the country has been only about 0.9% of GDP - central government 0.29% and state governments 0.61% - which is below the low-income countries' average of 1%, and even sub-Saharan Africa's 1.7%. These are distressing figures.
As much as 63% of the entire spending goes to wages and salaries, leaving meagre resources for drugs, supplies, equipment, infrastructure and maintenance. Moreover, there are significant inter-state differences in per-capita spending on health services: in 2004-05, it ranged from Rs 100 in Bihar and Rs 156 in Uttar Pradesh to Rs 448 in Tamil Nadu and Rs 354 in Kerala. The country's health system is afflicted with inequities. An NCAER study reveals that the richest 20% enjoy three times the share of public subsidy for health.
A working paper by the Centre on Globalisation and Sustainable Development (CGSD) terms India's primary healthcare system dysfunctional: the system has failed to deliver basic health services to the poor, notwithstanding numerous schemes launched with fanfare, including the Rashtriya Swasthya Bima Yojana and Health For All. Amidst its emphatic avowals of a new deal for aam aadmi, the government has a challenging task to face, rising above the rhetoric of grandiose plans and policies.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
THE GROUND BENEATH OUR MORALITY
At first sight it would seem like the high moral ground so prized by ethicists, believers and moral philosophers just got its foundation rocked by a high Richter. It appears that some deep questions concerning our rules of conduct and ability to judge the goodness or badness of other's actions depend at least partly if not significantly (or, indeed, totally) on how optimally our physical brains are functioning. Simply put, neuroscientists at MIT have recently shown they can change people's moral judgements by disrupting the normal activity of a specific area of the brain with magnetic pulses lasting as little as 500 milliseconds.
For example, after volunteers had been subjected to this noninvasive procedure they were presented with the following query: How acceptable is it for a man to let his girlfriend walk across a bridge he knows is unsafe if, after crossing it, the structure remains intact and she's unharmed? Almost all subjects answered that the boyfriend would not have done anything wrong. In effect, they were unable to make moral judgements that require an understanding of other people's intentions and, instead, were judging solely on the basis of the action's outcome. It also means that such people comprising a jury would acquit a person who had shot to kill but missed.
The study's findings will undoubtedly come as a huge bonanza for defenders of the unfaith who are sure to pounce upon them to further what they've been saying all along namely, morality is not dependent on or guided by some first moral cause. Rather it's just a function of the way a bunch of nerve bundles are arranged in some part of the brain. Tinker with them a little and the whole human edifice of right and wrong, good and bad, values , principles and notions of justice comes toppling down in a broken heap of artificial constructs with zilch truth value.
And they would be right. In other instances too when the brain's ability to function in the way it's supposed to is disrupted perhaps through trauma, accident , disease or birth defect people's powers of higher reasoning frequently get affected and they don't behave normally . But that doesn't alter the fact that when, as in the overwhelming majority of cases, the brain does behave the way it's meant to the way it's designed by evolution the higher moral ground, for whatever it's worth, is preserved.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
CASTE DISCRIMINATION HAS RACIAL OVERTONES
It is ironical that in 21st century, New Delhi is not ready to concede that descent-based discrimination is a social curse in India. It is a signal that no degree of modernisation can change the upper caste mindset and exclusionary governing culture in the country.
In Durban in 2001, the clamour of several Dalit groups to take up the issue with the UN in its conference against racism (WCAR) was turned down for want of empirical evidence to treat caste as a form of discrimination. Curiously, the so-called Indian delegation of 'courtier' MPs (reportedly all Dalits) also certified the GoI stand that there was no caste discrimination per seand the government was sensitive to address Dalit issues through legislative mechanisms and affirmative action. Nevertheless, the UN appointed a Special Rapportuer to India to explore the nature and extent of discrimination in caste hierarchy.
Subsequently, there were extensive research activities and, today, a plethora of empirical evidence on descent-based discrimination is available in organisations like the Indian Institute of Dalit Studies and National Campaign on Dalit Human Rights. What else is left for policy officials to debate further? How many more generations will it take to introduce correctives in the tradition of hierarchical domination?
Those viewing equation of caste with race as a chimera will agree that they coalesce when it comes to practice, be it exclusion, inequality, institutionalised prejudices or discrimination. Sixty-five years are proof that the menace of caste discrimination cannot be fought locally as it is getting fattened while cannibalising on the very notions and institutions that were believed would weaken and eliminate it.
Caste discrimination has acquired racial connotations blatantly violating human rights, therefore, it needs to be addressed. As a large secular democracy committed to social justice and as a signatory to a number of UN human rights agreements; it is morally and legally binding on New Delhi to accept responsibility, at the international forum, for the continuing discrimination against Dalits and its failure to dispense them due justice.
(The writer is Director at Dr KR Narayanan Centre for Dalit and Minorities Studies)
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
YES, IT'S TIME TO ACCEPT REALITY
The government of India is once again rehashing an old debate, stubbornly refusing to recognise it has been long resolved. It refuses to report to UN human rights monitoring committees on caste-based discrimination, and is now repeating its long-held stand that caste is not included in the mandate of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD).
This is a wholly inaccurate reading of settled international human rights standards. Numerous authoritative sources at the UN explicitly recognise caste-based discrimination as a form of racial discrimination. This position was also taken by the Indian National Human Rights Commission at the 2001 World Conference against Racism in Durban.
In 1965, after the intervention of the Indian delegate, the term 'descent' was included in the CERD definition of racial discrimination. Padoxically, it was this input from India that eventually made it possible to include caste in the CERD mandate.
Moving ahead from 1965 to 2002, the CERD committee confirmed the legal interpretation of the term descent and explicitly brought caste-based discrimination within the scope of racial discrimination as defined in the convention. The committee states, "Discrimination based on 'descent' includes discrimination against members of communities based on forms of social stratification such as caste and analogous systems of inherited status which nullify or impair their equal enjoyment of human rights..."
India is wrong to oppose clear international standards and perpetuate worthless semantic debates. Our government should ensure that all forces are brought together at both national and international levels towards eradication of caste-based discrimination. The scale of human rights violations as a direct result of caste-based discrimination demands a vigorous response. This is what prompted our PM to equate castebased discrimination to apartheid.
A first step for India would be to drop its defensive posturing and join hands with the international community, as it did on apartheid, to eradicate caste-based discrimination.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
CENTRE OPEN TO RETAIL FDI, BUT WANTS BACKEND BEEFED UP FIRST: ANAND SHARMA
ROHINI SINGH, AMITI SEN AND VINEY PANDEY
The government is not against allowing foreign investment in multi-brand retail, but would like to consolidate the backend of the industry first though roubst investment in wholesale trading. The government on Wednesday issued guidelines indicating clearly what constituted wholesale trading. This follows allegations that foreign investment in multi-brand retailing could come in the garb of cash and carry. Foreign retailers like Wal-Mart and Carrefour have been batting for opening up front-end retail. While India allows up to 51% foreign investment in single-brand retail, it has, so far resisted any move to open up multi-brand retail. Commerce Minister Anand Sharma feels the UPA government's policy on retail trade is highly misunderstood. In India, economic decision-making needs to be endorsed by national consensus. Large retail players need to step up local procurement and when the benefits get reflected in the economy, they will gain acceptance, Mr Sharma said in an interaction with ET. Excerpts:
What was the idea behind the norm for wholesale trading?
There was a blurred line between wholesale trading and retail. We have brought clarity in the definition of wholesale trader. It reflects the government's commitment to encourage investment in wholesale trading. When I am looking at industry and talking of investments, our mind is also connected to the farmer and the unemployed. We have identified who can be the users of wholesale trading, whether it is a retailer, an institution or those with permits and VAT numbers. We have also included hawkers because they are also retailers. It is a question of approach.
Since you have issued a clarification on the definition of wholesale trade, does it mean that the government is not interested in allowing FDI in retail?
I have never said that. All I am saying is that there should not be policy subversion or violation. The retail sector is a big social security net for the country. At present, we need to further consolidate the backend - from farm to cash and carry. First the benefits have to get reflected. More investments have to come into wholesale trade. It has to have kind of a ripple effect and there has to be greater acceptability.
The next step will be more than what it is today. Policies are getting evolved in a forward looking and incremental manner. It is a dynamic process. The next step will be more than what it is today. I think I have given a broad hint that we are moving in that direction, but first this has to be consolidated. People who are opposing (FDI in retail) are not realising this. Look at the way farmers are benefiting from organised retail and not only through FDI. They are getting a better price. This is a message we would like to spread. In a democracy, decision making process is sometimes slow but it has a powerful backing of national consensus. We know where we have to reach.
What about companies like Ikea which are interested in India? What is your message for them?
They must invest. There is a bright prospect for them. Single brand retail is good enough since single brand isn't single product. Ikea can come in as a single brand. However, it must also have procurement (local) in-built in its policy. I would like procurement from India to go up so that it gainfully employs people. Some local sourcing and procurement is a must and there is much wisdom in that.
Does the government have plans of making local procurement mandatory?
I think this is for all of them (foreign investors) to consider and then they can discuss it with us. I see much business wisdom in this.
Why are there no clarifications on Press Notes 2, 3, and 4 of 2009, especially since banks have raised an issue over the definition of ownership and control?
Let us be very clear. We have to look at the larger picture. We can't approach this from a narrow prism. For the first time ownership and control has been defined. I was part of the empowered group of ministers that cleared these decisions. So I am party to these decisions. Entities that have 51% stake and control are Indian. In the sensitive sectors we have further said that the 51% control must be with a single entity not a bunch of Indian investors.
Now when it comes to this gray area of private banks... that's only a couple of banks where the ownership is with the foreign investors or institutions but the control is with Indian entities. Consultations are going on but I don't think that's a large enough issue to reflect on the entire policy regime. I don't think there is any anxiety on this issue.
So is there a chance that private banks could be excluded from the policy?
Of course not. As far as present is concerned and that is the policy. I feel that this policy has done well.
Are you looking at liberalising more sectors? What about defence production?
As I said, this is a dynamic process and we keep moving forward. Naturally it will happen. We have had discussions (on defence). We have to take on board the sensitivities of the defence establishment but it is equally important for India to attract the technologies. Defence is a sector which has dual use technology. India has perhaps one of the world's best PSUs and they need technologies. There is also huge land resources they have. At the same time we are a big importers of defence products. This is very which within the realm of active consultations. I have had talks with many of the global majors and asked them what prevents them from tying up with Indian entities.
Is the government thinking in terms of allowing foreign airlines to pick up stake in domestic carriers?
There have been some discussions, but I am not in a position to speak about it. The process of formal discussion hasn't started though.
At one point of time, the government also seemed keen on getting foreign investment in agriculture...
That is an area where the ball rolls back and forth mainly because agriculture growth is important and we need to take growth rate to a minimum of 4%. We need more investment in technologies and crop diversification. There are various suggestions on agriculture. One is that in a controlled environment, which is greenhouse production, investments should come in. But no final view has come so far. Senior officials are in consultations.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
CREDIT FLOW REACHING PRE-CRISIS LEVELS: STANDARD CHARTERERD BANK
Standard Chartered Bank considers India as one of the biggest small and medium enterprise (SME) markets in the world. It is one of the largest international banks in the country and is focusing on emerging SME clusters to provide them with timely credit as well as help small firms in tapping growth opportunities in the exports sector. ET speaks with Som Subroto, global head (SME) at Standard Chartered Bank, about the bank's vision on the sector. Excerpts:
Has credit flow to SMEs improved this year?
We have witnessed a growth of over 15% in lending to SMEs over the last 12 months. This year, we are expecting to grow at over 25%. The market was uncertain for most part of last year and therefore institutions were being extra vigilant when lending. As the confidence returns, credit flow is beginning to reach levels that existed before the crisis.
What has been the nature of borrowing by SMEs in the recent past?
Last year, we saw a large number of export-oriented SMEs diversifying into domestic trade and services. Export-oriented businesses saw a drop in orders. Many went in for restructuring of loans last year to tide over the delays in realisations from clients and cancellations of previously confirmed orders. The restructuring helped them survive through the 8-12-month period. Now, with the crisis abating, new orders are back and firms are coming forward for more borrowings to set up enhanced facilities.
Will a rate hike impact lending to SMEs?
The way the Indian central bank has helped our economy weather the global credit crisis has given enormous confidence to all about its good intentions. The rise in interest rates are not expected to be severe. The rise is expected to tame inflationary pressures. It will not curtail demand or push things to a slow down. As a bank, we are therefore not unduly concerned on this front. A hike in the interest rates generally reflects a growing economy trying to avoid high inflation.
Which are the focus segments for you?
We have identified a few key sectors which we feel are the sunrise sectors for the SME segment. We are looking at focusing on these industries and providing industry-specific offerings and services. There is an increased focus on the supply chain front, targeting vendors and distributors of large corporations.
We want to provide customers with export solutions to help them explore new markets. Further, SMEs are expanding not only within the domestic boundary but also across borders. Given our international presence and comprehensive cross-border solutions, this area will be a key focus for us in the years ahead.
Has the external credit rating helped banks in lending to SMEs?
The credit rating of SMEs has certainly helped banks in lending, as a lot of the smaller banks can rely on these ratings to rate and price the customers. It is also a benchmark for the banks to compare to their own credit assessment.
A GREAT LEAP AHEAD, BUT STILL A LOT TO DO
It has been delayed, but it has at last arrived. April 1, 2010 will be remembered as the historic day when the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act 2009 kicked in. The Directive Principles of State Policy enshrined in our Constitution had visualised such a law to take effect within 10 years of the founding of the republic that is 1960. Clearly, we are half a century behind schedule. It is likely that the founding fathers were starry-eyed and idealistic and had not done the sums, for the stumbling block in making education available to all children is the expense. To give an idea of what this means, back in 1999 the Tapas Majmdar Committee had envisaged an expenditure of Rs 1, 37,000 crore over a 10-year period to secure free and compulsory education for children. A few years later, the 11th Five-Year Plan allocated Rs 2,75,000 crore for education, of which a good chunk was to be claimed by school-level learning. As the law became effective on Thursday, the Finance Commission has given Rs 25,000 crore to the states to implement the new legislation. The Centre has approved an outlay of Rs 15,000 crore for 2010-2011 for the purpose. Even adjusting for inflation and population growth over the past 50 years, equivalent sums were perhaps out of India's reach to enable all children to go to school in 1960. Fortunately, India is today able to command the resources that may help it ensure that all children are able to get quality education, which will emancipate them and make them fit for higher productivity as economic agents. This is truly a great leap forward. It means that the entitlement of every child in the country between the ages of six and 14 to be in school in a class appropriate to his/her age, and to receive quality education, has been recognised. Since a very large number of children in this group never go to school or drop out early as they must work in the vast informal sector to supplement family incomes (including sometimes by begging), the implication of the compulsory education law is that circumstances will be created for poor people to earn enough to run their family so that a child need not be obliged to work and attend school instead for the desired number of years. Seen in this light, we are looking at the possibility of a veritable revolution. In the words of the HRD minister, Mr Kapil Sibal, this is our "tryst with destiny" moment in the field of education. But surely it is more, for that tryst can be kept only if all children are freed of the burden to work to add to their family earnings. Government estimates indicate that there are 92 lakh children in the country who have never been to school or have dropped out (mainly due to family pressures), although they are all officially enrolled in schools. Mr Sibal noted in a newspaper article that our gross enrolment data reveal over 100 per cent children are in school; that 98 per cent of our habitations have a primary school within the range of a kilometre, and that 92 per cent of them have an upper primary school not more than 3 km away. And yet, there are the "invisible" children. This tells us something about the extensive scope of the work that remains to be done. This is without questioning the figure of 92 lakh thought to be out of school. Such a number suggests kids missing from the education process are less than one per cent of population.
QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS
BY BALBIR K. PUNJ
It seems that the Gujarat Chief Minister, Mr Narendra Modi, has deprived the so-called secularists of a golden opportunity they were looking for. Now they are a disappointed lot. That explains their ridiculous demand of asking the Chief Justice of India, K.G. Balakrishnan, not to share the dais with Mr Modi at the first convocation ceremony of Gujarat National Law University in Ahmedabad. The CJI gave a reply to these desperate people by attending the function and sharing the dais with Mr Modi. This came as a big blow to the self-styled secularists who had created a huge brouhaha around the CJI's visit using US-based children of former Congress MP Ehsan Jafri, who was killed in Gulberg Society massacre. These "secularists" had characterised Mr Modi as a "modern day Nero" and even claimed that the CJI sharing the dais with him would be interpreted as him supporting Mr Modi who is "being examined under the directives of the Supreme Court for his alleged role in the killing of innocent people".
At the function, the CJI gave no opportunity to the "secular pack" to get a quote from him against Mr Modi and the chief minister himself did not utter a word. Interestingly, Zimbabwe's former Chief Justice Ahmed Musa Ebrahim, who also spoke at the meeting, gave a fitting reply to the pack. He lauded Mr Modi for attending the Special Investigation Team (SIT) enquiry as a witness and for pointing out that nobody is above the law and the Constitution.
Earlier reports about the SIT asking Mr Modi to appear before it for questioning had given the "secular pack" an opportunity for their usual anti-Modi flagellation. But Mr Modi disappointed them by going through a nine-hour-long grilling. Against the impression several newspaper reports gave of Mr Modi being an accused, the SIT chief R.K. Raghavan was very clear-headed. Referring to a possible recall of the chief minister for further questioning, he told the press: "This applies to every witness. If I find there are some gaps, the SIT has a right to recall any witness". This way Mr Raghavan clarified that Mr Modi was present before it as a witness and not as an accused.
Instead of standing on what could be termed as an "executive privilege" of a chief minister, Mr Modi decided to submit to the rule of law. By appearing before the SIT, like any other witness, he underlined not just that no one was above the law, but that those in power had the additional responsibility to lead the way in submitting to the majesty of the law and the Constitution.
Now compare Mr Modi's response to what Indira Gandhi and her son Sanjay Gandhi did in 1978. Sanjay Gandhi, the undeclared heir to the Nehru-Gandhi legacy, had his goons disturb the proceedings of the Justice Shah Commission that was enquiring into his misdeeds during the Emergency. And Indira Gandhi, in fact, refused to answer any questions of the commission claiming "executive privilege" as Prime Minister. Justice Shah, a former CJI, pointed out that at the time of questioning Indira Gandhi was out of power and, therefore, could not avail the privilege and that the commission had, in fact, been set up to look specifically into complaints of misuse of power by her and her regime. Indira Gandhi didn't budge and this prompted the commission to instruct the government to prosecute her for refusing to testify, as all citizens are required to appear if called upon by a court or a commission instituted under the Commissions of Enquiry Act.
When the government decided to take action, Indira Gandhi created another political drama instead of submitting to law or defending herself legally. At every step, she (and Sanjay Gandhi) placed herself above the law. It must be recalled in this context that the constitutional amendment which her government had pushed through in Parliament during Emergency actually specified that she would be above all accusations and all action taken previously, like nullifying her election by the Allahabad high court bench, would be annulled.
The 1976 Amendment placed her on a pedestal above all restrictions and obligations that the law places on every citizen. And this was done when she had misused the Constitution to deny all citizens even the primary right to life and work.
When some Congress leaders railed against Mr Modi, expecting him to follow in Indira Gandhi's footsteps in responding to the SIT's summons, they thought that they have got yet another opportunity for Modi-bashing. When Mr Modi went for the enquiry and answered the SIT's questions for as long as nine hours, disappointment was evident on their faces.
The "secular pack" has now resorted to attacking the SIT itself. When they went to the Supreme Court with Mrs Jafri's petition, they were talking of law and justice. Now that the apex court has set up the SIT, headed by a former CBI director, the attack is on the team itself, alleging that some of its members are from Gujarat. The aim is very clear: They are preparing for the day when, and if, the SIT finds that the truth of the incidents it is looking into is far from what the secular pack has been claiming.
The accusation against the SIT is also an outcome of the secular pack's disappointment that the SIT did not condemn Mr Modi but only called him as a witness, for merely finding out and not for cross-examining as courts do. The petition to the CJI that he refuse to share the dais with the Gujarat chief minister was yet another attempt to get an official condemnation of Mr Modi even before the facts have been found out.
* Balbir K. Punj can be contacted at email@example.com 
GOOGLE, CHINA AND A STORY OF CONCUBINES
BY NICHOLAS D. KRISTOF
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, organising 180 of the king's beautiful young women into two companies. He made the king's two favourite 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 favourite 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 omelettes will require breaking eggs.
So look out.
One of the most important diplomatic relationships in the world is between China and the US, 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 per cent 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 patronised 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.
WHY VICTIMS TURN KILLERS
BY MAHESH RANGARAJAN
News of animal-human conflict in India easily makes headlines. Two young tigers, sub-adults both, poisoned to death in the Ranthambhore Tiger Reserve by irate Gujjar herders who were losing cattle. More unusually, a lion was killed by villagers near the Gir Forest, Gujarat, when it mauled a man.
It is easy to take sides and sometimes necessary to do so. Large mammals have little standing roam or shelter in a subcontinent where they have been crowded out not only by the sheer weight of human numbers but also by the cumulative impact of our ways of living. Rice paddies and wheat fields, and now mined moonscapes and highways, obliterate or bisect habitats.
Conversely, those who grow crops in areas where large herbivores are in the vicinity often suffer serious loss of life, limb or livelihood. Elephants account for over 300 lives lost a year.
Crop losses are not all. The death of domestic livestock by predator attacks can be a major burden too. A study by two leading biologists, Dr M.D. Madhusudan and Dr Charudutt Mishra of the Nature Conservation Foundation, Mysore, put together a mosaic of carnivore-cattle conflicts. They reckon as much as a third of large carnivore diets in India consists of domestic livestock.
On both counts, whether of rare animals endangered by human retaliation or of people whose work and livelihood brings them into direct conflict, there is need for redress, mitigation and, where needed, recompense. Nobody can possibly want an India bereft of its mega fauna, but fewer still would want those at the edge of the bread line to bear the cost of saving a natural heritage.
There have been not one but two kinds of responses to such conflict. One, widespread over the last two centuries, has been simply to rid the land of the animal. Few realise that lions were hunted in the grasslands of Haryana just 200 years ago. They were killed off for rewards to safeguard herds of milch and draught cattle.
The other response over the last century, especially towards its dying years, was to set aside refugia where large animals prey predator, mega herbivore and all could live in relative seclusion. If at all India still has viable populations of tigers, rhinos or elephants, it is thanks to such reserves.
That is why a set of parks, including Bandipur and Mudumalai, has the world's largest populations of Asian elephants. Yesterday's tiger shooting blocks or princely hunting grounds are today's nature reserve. This is also why Kaziranga in Assam is still wet savannah grassland with rice paddy.
But animals do not recognise the boundaries of such protected zones. When newspapers report that a tiger has "strayed from a park" or that an elephant "wandered into the fields", they reflect a sad poverty of understanding.
These animals do not have permanent abodes the way we humans do. Only in films and stories do tigers live in caves and elephants reside on a particular hill.
Perhaps this belief is rooted in human portrayals of nature. The wolf or the lion were known in Sanskrit literature as guhasaya or the ones that live in caves. They may use hollows to have and shelter young but this is not an address on their calling cards.
At times human impacts are not uniformly negative and may create new spaces for forage or predation. Wolves have preyed on sheep and goats for centuries, with shepherds evolving strategies to protect their herds. Elephants may find fields of ripening grain a better bet in calories and nutrition than grazing over vast swathes of forest.
Animals also move for a host of reasons. Sub-adult carnivores walk huge distances trying to carve out territories. Drought, if it lasts over a year in a monsoonal climate, may make elephants traverse into human-dominated zones in search of water. When floods inundate the Brahmaputra plains, rhinos and wild buffalo trek to the Karbi Aglong hills.
Reserves are, therefore, part of a larger mosaic of landscapes that cannot be left alone but still need their basic integrity to be kept intact. While in a nature park preservation is the key, in adjacent lands it cannot be a hands-off nature policy. It has to retain the routes for movement and avoid activity that can rip apart the land and waterscape.
Keeping the mosaic means a series of do's and don'ts. Mines, huge highways and infrastructure must be diverted or kept out, even as horticulture or agriculture, herding or forestry continues. This wider logic underlay the labelling of "tiger landscapes" after the Tiger Task Force Report of 2005. In a sense, this larger approach has to be equally sensitive to legitimate human aspirations. Cultivators need protection from crop raids, whether it is insurance or a more proactive preventive measure. Livestock compensation is another must. People on the margins of wealth and power can only then be allies, not adversaries of conservation.
To do this requires a recasting of not just protection or conservation but the ways in which development now works. It seems a daunting task but India is a country with a host of approaches and models, some of which have worked well in specific settings.
Both Dr Madhusudan and Dr Mishra, mentioned above, have such working approaches in place. Each has separately won the coveted Whitely Award for pioneering new conservation methods. The former has worked with cultivators at the edge of Bandipur fencing fields to keep out elephants and boars. This in itself is not novel, but the cooperation and maintenance by the farmers is. The fenced-in fields are close to a well-protected national park. Fences guard the crop, the park and the wildlife.
Dr Mishra has been in a vastly different landscape, in Kibber valley, Himachal Pradesh, setting up insurance for those who lose stock to snow leopards and wolves. In Kibber, villagers were compensated for loss of grazing, following which they set aside some of their grazing land for wild sheep and goats.
In both cases, it is patient long-term work that looked at both the biology of the wildlife and the livelihood concerns of the residents. It then sought to transform a problem into an opportunity, to defuse a conflict of interests by mitigating loss. Both have ties to traditional conservation.
Whether such approaches can work will have much to do with whether or not India has a future for both humans and its rich array of wildlife. There can still be no substitute for parks. But living with nature is about much more than parks. It also calls for innovation that reduces risk and loss for those at the edge of conflict.
It is true that such working models are few and far between. Can their logic be extended? Will they work without such dedicated personnel? There are still miles to go. But there is that old Indian saying, that it is better to light a candle than to curse the darkness. Hope now lies in the day when a hundred, a thousand and more such candles glow. It would put an end to the day when victims turn killers.
* Mahesh Rangarajan is an environmental historian and co-editor of the book Making Conservation Work
SUFFERING CAN BE PURIFYING
BY DOMINIC EMMANUEL
Today is Good Friday, a day when Christians all over the world commemorate the painful saga of Jesus' death on the Cross at Mount Calvary.
Jesus died a humiliating death. Those who intently look at the life-size crucifix of Jesus for the first time, hanging with a loin cloth wrapped round his waist, blood dripping from his head and side, hands and feet nailed to the wood and a crown of thorns on the head are truly stunned by the sight. This happened on a Friday which, for Christian believers, provided the passage from death to life. Jesus had to go through it in order to fulfil his mission of being the saviour of the world. The Bible says, "God so loved the world that He sent His only Son (Jesus) to be our saviour (John 3:16)".
The two things don't seem to gel well. How could Jesus be the saviour of the world when He could not save Himself from such a shameful death? In the eyes of the world He was an utter failure. Hence the questions that spring up forcefully in one's mind are: If God wanted to save the world, could He have not found another way to do it? Why did He have to subject Jesus to such an ordeal of insults, pain and eventual death? Or does the death of Jesus, accompanied by all that horrible experience of rejection and abuse, indicate to something else, something that, perhaps, our minds do not immediately grasp?
It is through the Good Friday event that God wishes to communicate with us the meaning of suffering and pain. I am inclined to believe (and this is something that Christianity also teaches) that if God did not spare his own son from such excruciating pain and crucifixion it means that suffering has an important place in human life. We often hear people praying that their sufferings be taken away. We visit temples, mosques, gurdwaras and churches to perform rituals and pray that sufferings are kept furthest from us. If, despite that, we continue to suffer, we never tire of questioning God as to why we have been subjected to endless misery.
I recall a man who lived near my house in Ajmer. I saw him performing his religious duties very faithfully at a Lord Shiva temple daily. One day, unfortunately, his only son was bitten by a snake and despite all their best efforts, he died. The man was never seen again ringing bells at the temple. He just could not accept the fact that God could snatch his young son from him though he had done everything to please God and had lived an honest life. There are any number of such incidents, of greater or lesser intensity, which have completely shaken people's faith in God. The tragedy often appears to strike those who seem to be faithful in their religious practices and frequent holy places of worship. They feel totally betrayed by God. For such people it would be worth looking at Jesus, for, while hanging on the Cross and in pain, as if feeling betrayed, He cried out, "O God, why have you forsaken me?" Being the Son of God, He felt forsaken and probably even let down. And God apparently remained silent to His cry for help.
Does this mean that God was helpless and could not avoid the fateful death of Jesus on the Cross? Similar painful enquiries are made to the Divine every other day by millions of people who have no other option but to suffer. Sometimes they suffer from hunger or from physical or emotional pain like my friends whose only child was hit by a speeding local train in Mumbai and died on the spot. The list of suffering can indeed be endless. In fact, few hours before being arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus prayed to God, "Father, if it is possible, take this cup of suffering away from me", though he soon added, "not my will, but yours be done (Luke, 22: 42)".
It was too painful for Jesus to go through the event of Good Friday. Despite Jesus praying to God to take away the cup of suffering from him, God did not oblige him. Should we expect God to take away our sufferings or can we relate it to the meaning of Good Friday that suffering has a meaning in life and that God always has a plan for us which we may not grasp at that moment. In addition, suffering can act as a purifier of our motives and attitudes just as gold is purified in fire.
Father Dominic Emmanuel, a founder-member of Parliament of Religions, is currently the
director of communication of the DelhiCatholic Church. He was awarded theNational Communal Harmony Award 2008by the Government of India.
VATICAN IN TROUBLE
BY MAUREEN DOWD
It doesn't seem right that the Catholic Church is spending Holy Week practicing the unholy art of spin.
Complete with crown-of-thorns imagery, the church has started an Easter public relations blitz defending a Pope who went along with the perverse culture of protecting molesters and the church's reputation rather than abused and sometimes disabled and disadvantaged children.
Holy Thursday and Good Friday are now becoming Cover-Up Thursday and Blame-Others Friday.
This week of special confessions and penance services is unfolding as the Pope resists pressure from Catholics around the globe for his own confession and penance about the cascade of child sexual abuse cases that were ignored, even by a German diocese and Vatican office he ran.
If church fund-raising and contributions dry up, Benedict's PR handlers may yet have to stage a photo-op where he steps out of the priest's side of the confessional and enters the side where the rest of his fallible flock goes.
Or maybe 30-second spots defending the Pope with Benedict's voice intoning at the end: "I am infallible, and I approve this message".
Canon 1404 states that "The First See is judged by no one".
But Jesus, Mary and Joseph, as my dad used to say.
Somebody has to tell the First See when it's blind and mute to deaf children in America and Italy.
The Vatican is surprised to find itself in this sort of trouble. Officials there could have easily known what was going on all along; archbishops visiting Rome gossip like a sewing circle. The cynical Vatican just didn't want to deal with it.
And now the church continues to hide behind its mystique. Putting down the catechism, it picked up the Washington PR handbook for political sins.
First: Declare any new revelation old and unimportant.
At Palm Sunday Mass at St. Patrick's, Archbishop Timothy Dolan of New York bemoaned that the "recent tidal wave of headlines about abuse of minors by some few priests, this time in Ireland, Germany, and a re-run of an old story from Wisconsin, has knocked us to our knees once again".
A few priests? At this point, it feels like an international battalion.
A re-run of an old story? So sorry to remind you, Archbishop, that one priest, Father Lawrence Murphy, who showed no remorse and suffered no punishment from "Rottweiler" Ratzinger, abused as many as 200 deaf children in Wisconsin.
Archbishop Dolan compared the Pope to Jesus, saying he was "now suffering some of the same unjust accusations, shouts of the mob, and scourging at the pillar", and "being daily crowned with thorns by groundless innuendo".
Second: Blame somebody else even if it's this Pope's popular predecessor, on the fast track to sainthood.
Vienna's Cardinal Christoph Schönborn defended Pope Benedict this week, saying that then-Cardinal Ratzinger's attempt in 1995 to investigate the former archbishop of Vienna for allegedly molesting youths in a monastery was barred by advisers close to Pope John Paul II.
Third: Say black is white.
In his blog, Archbishop Dolan blasted church critics while stating: "The Church needs criticism; we want it; we welcome it; we do a good bit of it ourselves", adding: "We do not expect any special treatment. ...So bring it on". Right.
Fourth: Demonise gays, as Karl Rove did in 2004.
In an ad in the New York Times on Tuesday, Bill Donohue, the Catholic League president, offered this illumination: "The Times continues to editorialise about the 'paedophilia crisis', when all along it's been a homosexual crisis. Eighty per cent of the victims of priestly sexual abuse are male and most of them are post-pubescent. While homosexuality does not cause predatory behaviour, and most gay priests are not molesters, most of the molesters have been gay".
Donohue is still talking about the problem as an indiscretion rather than a crime.
If it mostly involves men and boys, that's partly because priests for many years had unquestioned access to boys.
Fifth: Blame the victims.
"Fr. Lawrence Murphy apparently began his predatory behaviour in Wisconsin in the 1950s", Donohue protested, "yet the victims' families never contacted the police until the mid-1970s".
Sixth: Throw gorilla dust.
Donohue asserts that "the common response of all organisations, secular as well as religious", to abuse cases "was to access therapy and reinstate the patient". Really? Where in heaven's name does that information come from? It's absurd.
And finally, seventh: Use the Cheney omnipotence defence, most famously employed in the Valerie Plame case. US vice-president Dick Cheney claimed that his lofty position meant that the very act of spilling a secret, even with dastardly intent, declassified it.
Vatican lawyers will argue in negligence cases brought by abuse victims that the Pope has immunity as a head of state and that bishops who allowed an abuse culture, endlessly recirculating like dirty fountain water, were not Vatican employees.
Maybe they worked for Enron.
By arrangement withthe New York Times
SIXTY YEARS AFTER
THE BUMPY ROAD TO SCHOOL
IT is as mildly comical as it is bitterly ironical that one's entitlement to education has become a fundamental right on All Fools' Day. The child in search of learning has had to wait for 60 years since a raft of other rights were made fundamental with the adoption of the Constitution. More the pity, therefore, that the right of a six-year-old to demand schooling should, almost as a matter of policy, be now reduced to a subject of unparalleled grandstanding, never mind the crudity manifest in orchestrating the signal of intent through television channels, both sarkari and private. The latter has even agreed to perform for free. Well may the message be put across, but unintelligible it would be, one could argue, to the overwhelming majority of the 6-14 age group. The national government will have to go beyond the sheer symbolism of the publicity blitz and the Prime Minister's address to the nation. The vital mechanism to implement the law will have to be in place, of which there was little or no indication on April 1.
The bar on schools to scrutinise students, punitive action for seeking donations and for the mental aberration of assaulting children, quality scrutiny of schools, automatic promotion till Class 8, a 25 per cent reservation for admitting the poor, and an increasing role for the "neighbourhood community" and the "local authority" are ostensibly in accord with a welfare State that isn't. Yet the saccharine proposals can yet be hobbled by the red herrings on the trail. While the Central rules will be reserved for Union Territories, the task of defining the "neighbourhood" and the "local authority" has been left to the states. While this may mirror the true spirit of federalism, there is not a single state that has yet notified the rules of engagement.
Still more contentious will be the pattern of funding, one that ought to have been finalised when the legislation was being drafted. The Centre has set an outlay of Rs 171,000 crore, an amount that will have to be shared by the states. The uncertainty deepens with the states reluctant to bear more than ten per cent of the expenditure. It is improbable that the planned 65:35 ratio will work out. Clearly, the states were not consulted on the fiscal commitment just as they were not consulted in the setting up of schools in every neighbourhood. A watershed achievement bristles with thorny issues. After 60 years, the child deserves better. He really does.
NOBODY SEEMS PERTURBED
THAT the plight of those at the lower end of the income-scale seldom raises governmental concerns is evident from the reaction, actually a lack of it, to over 110 Indian sailors and seven or eight dhows having been "taken" by Somali pirates. Imagine the uproar if a commercial airliner that had been hijacked, contrast it with anxieties expressed when a vessel of a regular shipping lane meets a similar fate. True that in the immediate context "quiet" negotiations are probably advisable since there is really nobody in Somalia with whom official interaction is possible, and little scope exists for military intervention, but the overall indifference ~ even in terms of media attention ~ is telling. The afterthought of "closing" a large sea area to the operations of these small-time mercantile mariners is pointless: it will deprive them of their livelihood. As is true of the unorganised sector ashore, the operations of dhows (mostly out of harbours in Gujarat), is a tiny blimp on the sarkari radar screen. It is unlikely that much ransom can be squeezed for the release of vessels and their crew, maybe their cargo will prove more "rewarding". Yet in the larger context of Somali piracy the seizure of the dhows is worrisome ~ they could have been captured for use as "mother ships", which might suggest an impending surge in that menacing activity.
Focus on the difficulties of the dhows must not be lost in the international failure to contain piracy. Just how neglected is that sector is evident from the local authorities in Salaya (Kutch) having no record of the crew, destination, return voyage etc. That dhows have plied their own course for centuries is no explanation, and no alibi is the comment that some of them are engaged in clandestine activity. Even after it was established that a hijacked dhow had been used by the 26/11 terrorists those vessels remain out of the loop. Has any advice been tendered on making their voyages less risky, such as sailing in groups? It might be too much to expect the Indian navy to protect them, but is a lone warship patrolling the Gulf of Aden an adequate projection of Indian interests in those waters? Wonder if any of those thoughts entered the defence minister's mind when a powerful missile destroyer was being launched in Mumbai on Thursday ~ security is not for the most simple of seafarers.
GENERAL WITH A PURITANICAL STREAK
Well may the Taliban militant enjoy a quiet chuckle. In trying to impose a diet regimen on the US and NATO regiments he commands in Afghanistan, General Stanley McChrystal may rather unwittingly be emulating the Spartan lifestyle of the fundamentalist Taliban. With 30,000 additional forces to steer coupled with President Obama's deadline on a pullout, the General seems intent on reinforcing his incredible style of austerity on his men. True, he has stopped short of imposing his personal agenda ~ make do with one meal a day, run 24 km daily and sleep for barely four hours! But much as the troops have been spared such exceptional rigour, the General has been firm on the ban on liquor, ice-cream and fast or junk food, the latter paradoxically an icon of the American way of life. Conventional wisdom would suggest that excessive carbohydrates can sap one's physical stamina; but the assertion of one of McChrystal's aides would suggest that the commander may be as against the fun-and-games culture as is his Taliban adversary. "This is a war zone, not an amusement park." That seeming justification is a faint echo of the fundamentalist militant's perception of life. In tangible terms, Whoppers will be struck off the soldier's menu. The outlets of Burger King and TGI Friday's located in such "war zones" as Badgram and Kandahar will have to down their shutters with immediate effect. As must end the delivery orders over the phone to Pizza Hut. Unwittingly once more, the Taliban may be particularly pleased with General McChrystal's crackdown on creature comforts. For, Kandahar's broadwalk is also set to witness the closure of the Oakley sunglass shop, a sandwich bar and a delicatessen ~ popular hangouts of the stressed-out soldiers, their patience sorely tried since George Bush's abortive endeavour to "smoke out" Osama bin Laden in October 2001. Overall, the orders are said to have appalled the troops stationed in the bases, but to a lesser degree those in the frontline where supplies of fresh food and water can be terribly irregular. It is an open question whether a Spartan regimen will enhance the performance of the Western troops. Or for that matter if the commander has eventually found a "way to do things more efficiently across the battlefield". More's the pity that even ice-cream hasn't survived in another colony of the Pentagon.
SUPPING WITH THE DRAGON
THERE ARE DIPLOMATIC OPTIONS OPEN TO INDIA
BY RAJINDER PURI
Next Monday, Foreign Minister SM Krishna will visit China for four days. He will inaugurate the Festival of India to commemorate 60 years of diplomatic ties between New Delhi and Beijing. Later, President Pratibha Patil will visit China. Ties between India and China appear normal. Appearance belies reality. Things look normal because the Indian government is criminally negligent in safeguarding national interest. Pandit Nehru was negligent before 1962. In 1960 this scribe to no avail advised his resignation. Now it is time for Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to shape up or ship out. The lapses in our China policy have accumulated to dangerous proportions.
The West is greedy and stupid. It has become a hostage to China. That is no reason for India to become the same. The world's mainstream media as the mouthpiece of corporate interests turns a blind eye to China's culpability in fomenting terrorism and proliferating nuclear weapons. That is no reason for India to ignore reality. India should start seeing China without blinkers. Our future depends on it. We should stop focusing only on Pakistan. Islamabad is the mere tentacle of an octopus. Beijing is its head.
There is no need to iterate the substantiated allegations about China making Pakistan a nuclear power, of using it as its instrument for global nuclear proliferation, and of using the ISI as a conduit for spreading subversion and terrorism. India bears the brunt of these policies. Consider instead the larger issue of terrorism. It acquired a global dimension after 9/11. Who was responsible for 9/11? In 2004 this scribe had pointed out the coincidence of China's People's Liberation Army (PLA) signing an MOU with the Taliban government on 9/11/2001 itself to upgrade its telecommunication system. Taliban at that time was heavily financed and influenced by Mullah Omar's son-in-law, Osama bin Laden. Equally significant was the fact that 9/11 occurred just six days before China entered the World Trade Organization (WTO). Until its entry the PLA, biggest exporter to America, could ignore all international trade related laws. But 9/11 could not stop China's entry into WTO. Accepting WTO regulation ill-suited PLA. But 15 years of sustained US pressure prevailed over the PLA's reluctance.
A number of security experts in the US are beginning to conclude that China bore the ultimate responsibility for the 9/11 attack. Experts such as John Caylor, Intelligence analyst attached to FBI, Major-General John K Singlaub (USA/ret.), author Wilson C Lucom, Admiral Thomas Moorer (USN/ret.), and others are convinced about China's complicity in 9/11 as part of Beijing's global agenda to rule the world.
These analysts started linking China to 9/11 because a book, Unrestricted Warfare, authored by two Chinese colonels, Qiao Liang and Wang Xiangsui, was published by the PLA. Three years before 9/11 this book anticipated the 9/11 attack! It predicted that the US military would be unable to cope. The authors wrote: "Whether it be the intrusions of hackers, a major explosion at the World Trade Center, or a bombing attack by Bin Laden, all of these greatly exceed the frequency bandwidths understood by the American military..."
Not surprisingly, Osama bin Laden is repeatedly mentioned in this book. After 9/11 the two PLA authors were hailed as heroes in China. The US establishment declared 9/11 to be the work of a stateless Al Qaida. Subsequently the US military ousted the Taliban government but did not capture Osama bin Laden when it had the opportunity. Instead it went after Saddam Hussein who had no Weapons of Mass Destruction and was opposed to Al Qaida. Nothing could have served China's PLA better.
Unrestricted Warfare describes terrorism as just one tool to destroy enemies. It sanctions all means in warfare.
While America is Beijing's main opponent, India remains its biggest impediment. Before dominating the world China must dominate Asia. Billion strong, nuclear armed India is the only potential nuisance standing in China's way. Unrestricted Warfare suggests plans including cyber attacks, illegal immigration, manipulating the stock markets, and purchasing media influence to demolish enemies. The US establishment does not publicize the book. It protects US-China economic and trade relations. The book is not mere theory. This is evident from one incident.
Chinese firms manufactured fake drugs, shipped them to Nigeria, and pasted 'Made in India' labels on them. Could anything be more diabolical? This was exposed by the Nigerian government. China could not, therefore, deny it. Beijing admitted that the fake drugs originated from China. It promised to punish the guilty. Is it believable that under China's iron rule the guilty firms acted without official knowledge? The Indian government stated: "The Chinese government has promised that suitable action will be taken " That was the last heard of this scam.
Exposures of China's perfidy have made Beijing not defensive but brazen. In April 2005, New Delhi and Beijing signed the Sino-Indian Agreement on the border dispute. Thanks to the exertions of former Foreign Secretary, Shyam Saran, Article VII of the Agreement stated: "In reaching a boundary settlement, the two sides shall safeguard due interests of their settled populations in the border areas." Yet in May 2007, the Chinese Foreign Minister bluntly somersaulted to state that Beijing was no longer bound by Article VII of the Agreement. This was done to harass India on Arunachal Pradesh. Could betrayal of a solemn written commitment have been more brazen?
Contrast this with India's stand on Tibet . The 1954 treaty signed by Pandit Nehru recognizing Tibet as part of China lapsed in 1962. It was never renewed. There is no legal constraint to prevent India from stating that Tibet remains a disputed territory as long as Beijing does not reach a settlement with the Dalai Lama and other Tibetans. Instead, India leans backward to accommodate China's unreasonable demands against Tibetans residing in India .
Perhaps New Delhi is haunted by the memories of 1962. Perish those memories! The humiliation in 1962 was not that India was militarily unprepared. The humiliation arose from India's acceptance of China's unilateral ceasefire. Lacking lines of supply for its occupying troops during the winter months China had to withdraw. Our government lost its nerve.
Subsequently only once did India assert itself against China. In 1986 Chinese troops encroached into Sumdorong Chu in Arunachal Pradesh. The Army Chief, General Sundarji, airlifted an entire brigade in Operation Falcon to counter the Chinese. Deng Xiaoping blustered: "China will teach India a lesson". War clouds gathered. General Sundarji was prepared to quit but not withdraw. New Delhi stopped pressuring him. China quietly buckled down.
The writer is a veteran journalist and cartoonist
So, what does the PMO want? Does it even know what it wants? There are diplomatic options open to India.
NO ANSWER TO THE POPULATION CRISIS
THOUGH THE NATION IS HEADING TOWARDS A POPULATION CRISIS, NO POLITICAL PARTY IS SEEN TO BE TAKING THE ISSUE SERIOUSLY, SAYS PARTHASARATHI CHAKRABORTY
The Union Government has embarked on Census of India 2011. It is for the first time that a National Population Register will be prepared along with the census 2011. The exercise begins this month.
Stabilising population problem, generating employment opportunities and alleviating poverty pose a formidable challenge to India and other developing countries. India has been trying for several decades to cope with the population problem. But almost all the policies formulated have proved ineffective, indeed futile.
According to the United States population reference bureau, population growth in India has assumed alarming proportions. If the present trend continues, India's population would be virtually double in the next 20 years - around two billion. The bureau points out that family planning programme with the slogan of an average of two children per family ("hum do, hamare do'') has achieved miserable results. At present, the number of children per woman in India is 3.4 and there is hardly any sign of a decline in the figure. Malthus had predicted long ago that rising population is the limiting factor in environmental sustainability and also sustainable development. There is a debate even today on Malthus's inference.
World population is also increasing with incredible speed - about 100 million a year. It is estimated that mother earth would embrace ten billion people by 2050. While population growth in India has assumed serious proportions, the picture of Pakistan is more dismal. The number of children per woman is 5.6. The situation in Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and China is also far from satisfactory. According to the UN Commission on Population and Development, India, Pakistan and China are among five countries that account for half the annual growth of the world's population. Indonesia and Nigeria are the other two countries. However, it must be said that China has launched some commendable family planning programmes and has been able to control population growth to a great extent. It is estimated that China's population will increase from the present 1,336 million to approximately 1,500 million in 2025.
India and many other developing countries are lagging far behind in effective family planning programmes. Obviously India's population will cross China's within the first quarter of this millennium, if not controlled. In fact, many demographers predict that India will become the most populous nation by 2040. The question arises: how to manage this population growth? What would be the significance of human rights in 2010 or after that? The USA, Germany, Russia, the UK, France and Japan all have a population growth rate ranging from 0.2 to one per cent. Thailand has 1.5 per cent. This indicates that the more developed regions would remain essentially the same at about 1.2 billion, while the developing poor regions are likely to grow from 4.8 to 7.8 billion. On the other hand, an entire population of Australia is added every year to the population of India. Illegal migration from Bangladesh, Nepal and Pakistan has aggravated the problem.
India's population was 363 million in 1951-52, with estimated food production of 52 million tonnes. Individual calorie consumption per day was about 1,580. During 1985-86, India had a population of 725 million.
Accordingly, food production should have increased to 165 million tonnes to provide an individual consumption of 2,500 calories. The estimated enhanced food production as envisaged was not achieved. In fact, the green revolution is in no way able to feed the most populous country because of top soil erosion and other reasons. Food surplus is nothing but an illusion in the face of population growth. For the first time since the green revolution, the foodgrain output growth has lost the race against population increase.
India's population rose by 21.34 per cent between 1991-2001. The sex ratio (that is, the number of females per thousand males) of the population was 933, rising from 927 as at 1991 census. The percentage of growth during this period: Hindu 20.3 per cent, Muslim 29.5 per cent.
The developing countries, particularly the Third World economically backward states are succumbing in a vicious cycle of poverty, population explosion and environmental degradation. If explosion of population remains uncontrolled and pragmatic strategic action is not taken immediately, how will India promote its public health programme, manage water resources, universalize primary education and implement overall development programmes with a holistic approach? What will happen to India's progress in industrialisation?
It is argued that for rapid industrial growth, the developing poor countries need to take three steps. The first step is population being stabilized when death rates are high. Second, because of improvement of public health engineering and medical science, the death rate may be low but the birth rate increases rapidly, and with it the population. Third, both birth and death rates decline and the country stabilises her population, ensuring social security and economic freedom.
Unfortunately, it transpires that many poor developing countries including India are not in a position to bring about an environment for reaching the third step. India has remained static in the second step which is impeding our development programmes.
The links between health, nutrition, and family planning are strong. The smaller the size of the house, the better is the record in health, and a reduction in the number of births can be expected. The driving force behind improved maternal and infant health and nutrition may be the small size of the family. Poor nutrition may be cited as the major cause for death. The urban poor, particularly in the slum areas, have larger families. These people have more children and have limited access to education, family planning, health and other social services. Inculcating higher levels of education minimises the fertility rate. Therefore, family planning programmes would definitely yield better results if they are reinforced with proper educational programmes. The value of breast feeding, use of balanced and uncontaminated food, clean water and sanitation can only be imparted through education. Education should be regarded as a powerful weapon to combat the increase in the fertility rate, poverty and unemployment. A survey of the United Nations Fund for Population Activities (UNFPA) reveals that urban population growth was slower by 3.09 per cent compared with rural population growth.
Illiterate women comprise the most vulnerable section of society. They live in miserable conditions with little or no medical facilities right from their pregnancy and in the post-natal period. Living with their economic problems, they suffer health hazards and often look for extra hands to maintain the family.
Population control depends on people's participation in the family planning programme and spreading basic education. Educating women and underprivileged weaker and backward sections would go a long way in lowering the fertility rate. It is observed that in Kerala, where the literacy rate is extraordinarily high, there is a simultaneous decline in population growth. Inculcating the scientific attitude would help reduce the fertility rate considerably.
It is deplorable that though the nation is heading towards a population crisis, no political party is seen to be taking the issue seriously. Shall we assume they are inclined to march on with the trump card of poverty? Or is it simply the poverty of politics?
It is true that death rates can be controlled by application of modern medicine or public health initiatives. But birth rates are not so easily affected. It is manifestation of a personal choice in response to a number of social, economical and cultural factors. In his lectures on social opportunities and economic development, Professor Amartya Sen has repeatedly emphasised on the urgent need for women's functional literacy in India.
A shift of gear in contraceptive application is also necessary. That is, the contraceptive research and its long-term effect should be aimed at men rather than women. Unprecedented population pressure requires to be controlled in order to strengthen the existing human resources and to improve its lifestyle. Human population growth must come to a halt to restore the inter-dependence and harmony with other living species.
The writer is a former Reader in Chemistry, Presidency College, and was associated with the University Grants Commission
PRIDE OF PETTY JOBS
Whenever something goes wrong with our household arrangements ~ an electric switch not working, or drainpipe of a wash basin getting choked, or the gas chulha turning defective, or a pelmet coming off the wall, I have to get a man in to mend it. No small task these days, you would agree, for nowadays electricians, plumbers, mechanics and carpenters are an awfully busy lot. These skilled workers always seem to have far more work on hand than they can easily cope with.
Little wonder, therefore, that they take their own time to come and do the job. Therefore, it is no use fuming and fretting when they demand an atrocious sum as their fee for doing a fiddling little job. After all, how can you shut your eyes to the inexorable law of demand and supply that has always governed market economy? I got a taste of this law the other day when the thermostat switch of our refrigerator stopped working. I called in a mechanic. All that he did was to fiddle with the switch for a few seconds, and the thermostat started working. In fact, nothing serious was wrong with the thermostat. But the fellow demanded Rs 200 for this job!
I have often bemoaned my inability to do these petty jobs myself. On my own, I cannot knock a nail straight into the wall, or change a fuse, or make a door stop creaking. Of course, I am not glorying in my inefficiency; in truth, I am suffering under it. However, once in a while I do try my hand at doing these so-called petty jobs, hoping I would learn to do them skilfully with practice. But success, alas, has so far eluded me.
The other day when our electric iron stopped working, my wife asked me to take it to the electrician for repairs. But I thought I could handle this trifling job myself, for an electric iron is a very simple gadget. All that it has in it is a thing called "element" ~ a few turns of tungsten wire sandwiched between two thin sheets of mica. I thought the connecting wires must have got disconnected from the element's terminals, and these just needed to be reconnected again to make the oron work.
"Oh, it's just a minor defect," I told my wife, as I settled down to tackle this job. "Don't worry, I can myself set it right."
I opened the iron and set about my task with all the enthusiasm of a man who is keen on proving his skill in doing things that he mistakenly believes come under the category of petty jobs. I messed around with screw drivers, cutting pliers and wires for upward of a hour, but when even after umpteen attempts I could not make the iron work, my wife said with a note of sarcasm in her voice, "If a profesisonal electrician were to work like you, his family would starve".
Shemefacedly, I had to admit defeat and take the iron to the electrician's shop in our neighbourhood. Surprisingly, that worthy set it right in almost a jiffy ~ and then coolly demanded from me Rs 50 for the services rendered. When I mildly protested that Rs 50 was a trifle too much for such a little job, he retorted, "If it is indeed such a little job as you claim it to be, then, sir, you need not have taken the trouble to come to me".
Nasty fellow! I paid up and left his shop with the mended electric iron.
I really envy people who are good at doing such odd jobs with natural ease. I think they must be a blessed lot. A friend of mine, who is by profession a chartered accountant, has a knack of doing various odd jobs with competence. Of course, he can mend most of the electrical gadgets his wife uses in the kitchen, but it is beyond me how the deuce he learnt to set right overflowing flushing cisterns, fix new washers in leaking faucets, silence noisy ceiling fans by greasing the right parts, fix up framed pictures on the wall, and give such a nice weekly spruce-up to his car so as to make it look as if it had just come from the showroom.
Sometimes I think that maybe some people have it their genes ~ I mean this knack of doing petty jobs which a clumsy fellow like me finds it beyond his ken. There is, however, also a fanciful explanation of this phenomenon.
In my school days, I once heard my teacher say, "When a child is born, good fairies cluster round its cradle, showering it with various blessings ~ wit, beauty, brains, strength, resource, fortitude, skill, etc. But a few wicked fairies also manage to creep to the side of the child to do some mischief. Sometimes these wicked fairies whisper in the child's ear. "You'll be a ham-handed fool and never learn to do little jobs around the house."
But sometimes I wonder if this story is true indeed, then I must have had more than my due share of wicked fairies clustering around my cradle when I was born.
The gradual rise of India and China as major economic and political powers could be "the greatest geopolitical challenge facing the international system in the twenty-first century". So said Ronald Findlay and Kevin O'Rourke in their 2008 book, Power and Plenty: Trade, War, and the World Economy in the Second Millennium. Even before the global financial crisis, others wrote about the shift in economic power from the West to the East. Some of that has been through the acquisition of natural resources globally. China has been acquiring natural resources in Africa, apart from an attempt to buy Rio Tinto, a minerals conglomerate; it is even acquiring what are predominantly Western brands, from IBM's personal computer business to the iconic American sport utility vehicle, the Hummer.
India is, too, even if it has been a late starter. Its companies have acquired coal mines in Indonesia, and also brands: Tata Motors owns Jaguar Land Rover, for instance. Other companies, including large information technology firms, have acquired smaller ones in the United States of America as a way of accessing Western markets. They have been less fortunate with European companies, but even that may be a matter of time. In the last few years, Suzlon acquired REpower, a wind turbine company based in Germany. Vedanta Resources is a minerals company operating out of the United Kingdom, but its principal assets and ownership are Indian.
But all this may be inadequate as proof that a shift in the centre of gravity of economic power has taken place. For one thing, both the Indian and the Chinese economies are a fraction of the US in gross domestic product terms: $1 and $4 trillion (nearly) compared to nearly $15 trillion for the US. The purchasing power of the American public measured as consumption is 70 per cent of GDP. That is, 300 million Americans spend $10 trillion a year compared to over a billion Chinese spending just over $1 trillion and one billion Indians spending $650 billion. The comparison to Europe provides similar results. Most projections say that China will catch up with the US by 2040; India could take much longer, of course, but could get there. But most of these projections tend to bypass the challenges both countries face internally. China will have to balance its heavily export-driven economy towards domestic consumption, and that involves dealing with sensitive political and structural issues. In 2020, India's working-age population will be 900 million, according to the United Nations. Given India's labour market conditions, where will the jobs for that many people come from? Western economies may yet bounce back to their earlier glory, and the Asian century may have to wait. The idea of an economic 'centre' of gravity what the US is now is probably passé. It is only the first among equals for now.
The fight to be civilized is hard and lonely. But Chanderpati was not consciously fighting for civilization in her village in Haryana, she was fighting for justice. Her son and daughter-in-law had been murdered by the girl's relatives on the instructions of the area khap panchayat or caste council, for having married within the same gotra or sub-caste. Ms Chanderpati wanted the law of the land to punish the killers, the law that the khap panchayats active in Haryana, Rajasthan and western Uttar Pradesh completely ignore. This was a historic step, and Ms Chanderpati found almost no one by her side. These self-styled councils are responsible for numerous killings of young couples, for forced separations of man from wife and child from mother, as well as for outlawing and banishing families of those who marry against the panchayat's diktat. Their power derives as much from tradition as from political patronage. It is not difficult to see that political leaders who rely on caste-based voting would nurture such powerful caste groups. The Haryana chief minister calls khap panchayats the repository of tradition and values.
Ms Chanderpati's struggle has culminated in death sentences for the five men who did the actual killing. The panchayat head who ordered the murder has been given a life sentence. But the police, who looked away when the couple was kidnapped and who delayed identification of the bodies, have gone unpunished. Yet the court's verdict comes at a time when the caste councils' activities are drawing attention. The Union home minister has already expressed angry concern, and changes are being proposed to the relevant laws. Death resulting from the dictates of a khap panchayat will be treated as a distinct kind of murder in which everyone taking part in the decision will be regarded as guilty. The change will not be easy, but Ms Chanderpati has set an inspiring example.
THE CONGRESS'S HOSTILITY MAY ADD TO MODI'S POLITICAL STANDING
Indian jurisprudence is based on the presumption of innocence unless proved otherwise by law. In the case of the chief minister of Gujarat, a clutch of determined activists have turned the principle on its head. The starting point of the 'liberal' discourse on Gujarat is that the law is an ass and Narendra Modi is guilty of 'genocide', 'mass murder' and organizing an 'anti-Muslim pogrom' in 2002.
This epidemic of hyperbole would not have mattered had the abuses been confined to routine political sparring. Never mind C-grade politicians who love embellishments, even India's intellectuals have a tradition of overstating their case Lord Curzon once rued it as the Indian penchant for what the English called a 'mare's nest'. "Very often," he noted bitterly, "a whole fabric of hypothesis is built out of nothing at all. Worthy people are extolled as heroes. Political opponents are branded as malefactors. Immoderate adjectives are flung about as though they had no significance. The writer no doubt did not mean to lie As he writes in hyperbole, so he tends to think in hyperbole, and he ends by becoming blind to the truth."
Curzon made that observation to the Calcutta University convocation in 1905. A hundred years later, we had the curious spectacle of one of India's leading historians comparing the Communist Party of India (Marxist)'s high-handedness in Nandigram to the Jallianwala Bagh killings!
The 'truth' that Curzon felt Indians had scant respect for is, of course, a matter of perception. In statecraft, however, there is a wall that separates political rhetoric and the legal process. In the case of Modi, that distinction has been sought to be obliterated by shrill groupthink. Modi may well be politically culpable for the administration's failure to prevent the retaliatory killings of Muslims after the Godhra outrage of February 2002 and this was a subtext of the 2002 and 2007 Gujarat assembly elections but this is different from the unproven assertion that he conspired with the killers.
It is important to distinguish between political failure and criminal conspiracy. The inability of his opponents to defeat Modi electorally on two separate occasions has prompted them to seek legal recourse, using moral indignation and media outrage as pressure points on the judicial system. Modi's detractors failed to influence voting behaviour in Gujarat but they succeeded in creating a polarized environment and unilaterally pronounced him personally guilty of mass murder. Eight years after the riots and despite many of the cases going to the Supreme Court, there is no first information report or charge against Modi. The special investigation team which questioned the chief minister exhaustively last Saturday can, of course, recommend that Modi has a legal case to answer but till that happens and till a court pronounces him guilty, the chief minister is innocent. This fundamental principle of jurisprudence holds good for every citizen of India, however exalted or lofty.
On the other hand, it is entirely possible that the SIT may conclude that there is no evidence to link Modi to a criminal conspiracy. Will that satisfy the activists or his political opponents? The answer is well known. Those who persist in describing Modi as a 'mass murderer' will continue to do so regardless of what the SIT or the courts decide.
The unending abuse of Modi by those who see themselves as enlightened may well be political grandstanding. But through sheer persistence, and some official patronage that began with Atal Bihari Vajpayee and has continued with the United Progressive Alliance, they have distorted the discourse to ensure that everything in Gujarat, including its spectacular economic progress, is viewed through the prism of the 2002 riots. Some non-governmental organizations even invoked the 2002 riots to denounce the Tata decision to shift its Nano manufacturing unit from Singur to Gujarat.
Sanctimonious shrillness, it would seem, has overwhelmed civilized conversation. The incredibly petty blacklisting of Amitabh Bachchan, and even his son Abhishek, by the Congress is in line with this wave of hysteria and intolerance. The owners of the Congress have their personal reasons for shunning the Bachchan family the inside story of the great Gandhi-Bachchan fallout remains a subject of salacious gossip. In the normal course, this feud should be of little concern to the great unwashed. Nor has it affected the fortunes of the two families: both are distinguished in their own spheres. However, when a family feud is cynically linked to the standards of activist-determined correctness, it becomes a source of worry. By charging the brand ambassador for Gujarat tourism with implicitly endorsing the 2002 killings, the Congress has signalled a ban on any association with Gujarat. Despite their personal misgivings, Congress chief ministers have rushed to oblige someone's flight of whimsy.
Conversely, as the Republic Day awards showed, Modi-baiting has become the route to a Padma honour and a compensation for forfeiture of deposits in elections.
The issue is not Bachchan. The Congress has imposed sanctions on a Gujarat that is celebrating the golden jubilee of its statehood. Last week, an attempt was made by activists, with the backing of the Congress, to prevent the Chief Justice of India from sharing the dais with the chief minister. Thankfully it didn't work and constitutional decorum was maintained but the message was unmistakable: any association with Modi's Gujarat will incur the Centre's displeasure. It was a message to the Ambanis, Tatas and Adanis too.
An integral part of India has been declared a rogue state for having the temerity to elect Modi. Bachchan has the standing and perhaps even the self-confidence to withstand official pressure. Given the hostile public reaction to the Congress's churlishness, the controversy may even help him get back some of his sheen. But many lesser beings may wilt under the threat of official pressure. In the liberal discourse on Modi, there is no pretence of balance: the khap panchayat of liberalism has pronounced him guilty. The clamour is for the Indian courts to endorse the verdict; those who resist, risk abuse and accusations of bigotry.
For the indefatigable chief minister, there is a definite sunny side to the Congress's targeting of Big B. By equating the promotion of Gujarat with the deification of Modi, the party has added weight to the chief minister's attempt to become synonymous with his state. An assault on Bachchan is certain to be regarded as an attempt by the Congress to deflate Gujarat. The resulting outburst of regional pride is calculated to give Modi's political standing a further fillip. In the past, he has cleverly translated the 'secular' indignation over the riots into an attack on the self-respect of Gujarat. The Bachchan episode may help the veteran marginally but it has given Modi a brush to paint his opponents as petty and spiteful.
For India, however, there is a heavy price to be paid for the Congress's ham-handed overkill. Competitive politics has hitherto been governed by a set of club rules that the mainstream parties have agreed to follow. The Congress has chosen to break the liberal assumptions of constitutional politics by setting bizarre standards of intolerance. Those with long memories will recall the unwritten ban on broadcasting Kishore Kumar songs during the Emergency because the singer had the temerity to refuse to perform at a Youth Congress rally.
Hostile public reaction may well force the Congress to call off its hounds and allow normal politics to prevail once again. That would be prudent. If nothing else, there is a cruel irony behind embracing the vicious logic of the very rioters who equated the Godhra arsonists with an entire community.
TIME TO GET TOUGH
BONA FIDE - MALVIKA SINGH
The National Advisory Council is back in play, and so it should be. To have this collective of carefully selected advisors, led by Congress President Sonia Gandhi, debate issues that are of primary concern to the citizen, is salutary. There are many critical, tough-to-negotiate issues that tend to get sidelined by the ruling government, egged on by clumsy and self-serving bureaucracy that has rewritten the priorities.
Prioritized listing is, more often than not, skewed. Corroded and corrupt delivery systems are not scrapped and reinvented. Mechanisms that could trigger inclusive growth are non-existent. Over 63 years of Independence, successive governments have perpetuated the leftover colonial norms instead of working out transparent, democratic delivery systems that spell 'good governance'. There is no excuse for the condition of our habitats rural, semi-urban, urban and metropolitan. Properly managed 'scarcity' conditions could keep the dignity of life and living alive if the political class and the civil administration were committed to their mandates and adhered to the rules and laws. Unfortunately, the abysmal national standards that prevail are set by the government and its babus. That is what needs to be radically overhauled first.
The NAC could start pushing the agenda for administrative and police reforms, carefully culled from the large body of work presented to the government by the Veerappa Moily committee. With the chairman himself as the incumbent minister of law, the transition would be far smoother than if another uninitiated person was in the gaddi. This move could shake the government out of its complacence and also make the politician-babu nexus accountable. That lot of privileged 'Indians' have had their day and must be made to stand on their heads. Enough of taking the citizen for granted. Enough of misusing corroded mechanisms to protect personal turfs and fiefdoms.
New way forward
The point-counterpoint, government and NAC, could be a balanced and sensible way of ensuring that social issues concerning those without a voice in Delhi enter the realm of national policy and decision-making. We have a large number of 'liberalizers', advocates of the free market, trumpeters of genetically-modified seeds, proponents of US interventions in foreign policy and civil society issues, well represented in the present dispensation. We now need to have the top heavy, alienated-from-reality administrator and political entity astutely balanced with men and women who comprehend well and have experience of the life and times of the grassroots, where the majority just about survive in this fast-ascending rate-of-growth nation.
It is frightening to see the callous disregard for our true priorities. It is distressing to find that the Vedantas and Adanis of the world see it as their right to break the laws of the land in order to further their projects and are constantly lobbying to have their way. Usually, such determination, backed with financial clout, tends to have its way. The argument put forward is always man or forest. This is a mindless comment because if the mandarins in North and South blocks cannot find alternatives, they are huge failures in their jobs and need to be replaced. Taking the easy option is unacceptable.
Let us hope that the NAC will set new agendas, lobby with the incumbent government for the proposals it believes must be introduced and implemented correctly, according to the laws of the land, and ensure the restructuring of the government to make the administration of India transparent and inclusive. All Indians deserve this minimum dignity for their inexhaustible patience in having lived through the stranglehold of misrule.
''ANSWERS ARE SOUGHT FOR SOME BASIC QUESTIONS.''
The world's largest and most complex machine called the Large Hydron Collider (LHC) has started looking into the mysteries of the universe in a 27-km long underground laboratory near Geneva. After many hiccups for months, scientists at the European Organisation for Nuclear Research (CERN) succeeded in making millions of high-energy proton beams crash into each other on Tuesday in an attempt to simulate the Big Bang from which the universe is thought to have emerged. It is the costliest experiment in human history, with about US $ 10 billion spent on it, and it took about 25 years of science and engineering to put in place. It is the result of an international collaborative effort in which India also has a part.
Scientists hope that the experiment will provide answers to some of the most basic questions about the nature of the universe and test many propositions about it. They expect to find validation of ideas like the existence of dark matter, which is supposed to make up about 25 per cent of the universe, and the presence of the Higgs boson, also called the God particle, which is believed to give mass to all particles. The recreation of creation involves a journey of 13.7 billion years into the past, when space and time had just formed. There are even doubts whether the human mind can ever comprehend the universe.
Philosophy, metaphysics and art have sought answers in various ways and found different explanations. Scientists, through theoretical reasoning and demonstrative experiments, are trying to find the answers and the CERN experiment is an expression of that spirit of exploration, of the yearning to follow knowledge beyond the utmost bound of human thought.
Data has started emerging from the experiment but it will take years for the scientists to study and assess it and form conclusions. Thousands of scientists are poring over the data all over the world. Fears have been expressed about Frankenstein-like consequences emerging from the experiment. But these have been proved to be misplaced.
Questions have also been raised about the need to spend so much money on an experiment. But it is wrong to take a strictly utilitarian view and judge scientific efforts on the basis of their immediate practical results. The experiment may be costly, but it is worth the investment, considering its ambitious aim, which is an understanding of the building blocks of the universe, or a 'multiverse.'
''UNCLEAR VERDICT IN IRAQ COULD TRIGGER VIOLENCE.''
There is good and bad news from Iraq's parliamentary election. The bad news is that no single party or bloc has won a clear mandate from the electorate. No party has won enough seats to form a government on its own. The al-Iraqiyya bloc, which is led by former prime minister Iyad Allawi, has won the most seats - 91 in the 325-member parliament. But the incumbent, prime minister Nouri Maliki's State of Law party is just two-seats behind. It is likely that his two-seat advantage will give Allawi opportunity to make the first stab at government formation.
He has a month to cobble together a coalition. Allawi's return to power is not going to be easy. Maliki could still pip him at the post. He has threatened to challenge the verdict legally. Besides, reports suggest that he is trying to thwart Allawi's chances of heading a coalition government by getting together with radical Shia cleric, Moqtada al-Sadr; so he can still claim to lead the biggest bloc in parliament. Soon after the last general election in 2005, sectarian violence erupted as politicians took months to form a government. The unclear verdict in the just-concluded election could trigger similar violence and political uncertainty.
The good news from the election is that secular forces have received a thumbs-up from the voters. Allawi, a Shia, campaigned on a secular plank. Most of his votes came from Sunni majority areas. His win by however small a margin provides hope that Iraq is slowly overcoming the deep sectarian divisions that came to the fore following the 2003 US invasion.
The US, which has promised to withdraw its troops by end 2011, will be probably use the election to claim that Iraq has been democratised. But holding elections alone does not make a democracy. Democracy involves political pluralism too. In the just-concluded elections scores of candidates with alleged links to Saddam Hussein's Baath Party were not allowed to contest. The US and sections in Iraq might be uncomfortable with the Baath Party but whether they like it or not, it has support among some in Iraq. It does represent a significant section of opinion. Banning the party and not allowing it to contest indicates that Iraq's democracy is hardly democratic or inclusive.
IF THE AMERICAN MODEL OF RESEARCH IS SO GOOD, THEN WHY SHOULD OUR FARMERS BE IN DISTRESS AND AGRICULTURE VIRTUALLY RUINED?
BY DEVINDER SHARMA
Some years back, I was invited to a meeting of the civil society leaders to come out with ways in which the British government could help the developing countries in promoting sustainable agriculture. This meeting was called by the then UK Secretary of State Hilary Benn, and had some 15 people sitting around the table.
After a lot of ideas were put on the table by the British NGOs on how the British DFID could provide consultancies and projects on sustainable agriculture in India (likewise in other developing countries), Hilary Benn asked for my suggestions.
I said: "British agriculture in my opinion is among the most environmentally devastated farming systems anywhere in the world. I don't know how your universities and private institutions are therefore qualified to teach sustainable farming to Indian farmers and NGOs." I argued that if the British universities, who have a degree course in sustainable development, were so good, at least they could have succeeded in resurrecting the island's agriculture.
Benn was visibly taken aback, and asked me to explain then how can the British DFIF be of help. "British government instead should invite farmers from India who have demonstrated excellence in sustainable farming systems, and try to learn from them," I replied. Needless to say, I never heard again on the subject.
Before we start blowing the trumpet on Kapil Sibal's initiative to allow the foreign universities to open up campuses within the country, I want to draw your attention to the damage done by the imported agricultural education and research system. As we know, the first agricultural university under the imported 'land grant' system of education from America was set up at Pantnagar, now in Uttarakhand. Since then more than 50 agricultural universities have come up.
Nothing better illustrates the change in mindset than what has been achieved 50 years later through agricultural research and education. The agricultural research and education system was basically tailored to what America does, not what we do in India. We are told that our agriculture is sub-standard, backward, and inefficient.
This is what we are taught in our agricultural universities, all programmed after the US farm curriculum. If you really want to improve Indian agriculture you have to follow the American model of agriculture. We have learnt it the hard way and no wonder today we are faced with one of the biggest and worst crisis in agriculture.
There would be many who would think that the American agricultural research and education system has done a lot for India. After all, the Green Revolution happened and it has turned the country self-sufficient. While the jury is still out on how successful Green Revolution was, the fact remains that the prevailing farm crisis is also the outcome of the same research and education system.
Whether we accept or not, all that was taught as part of the education system that the US Agency for International Development (USAID) brought into India has actually resulted in an unprecedented blood-bath on the farm. We cannot say that agricultural research and education being conducted in India at present is not in any way responsible for the terrible agrarian crisis that the country is passing through. It is, and let us accept that.
Why is it that in a country, which has the second largest public sector infrastructure in agriculture research in the world, farmers should be dying or wanting to quit agriculture? If the American model of agriculture research and education is so good then why should farmers be in distress and agriculture virtually ruined?
Whether it is agriculture, medical sciences, technology, or management, we are taught that everything we have got is sub-standard, backward and inefficient. We are told there is no escape but to follow the western model of development, including in management.
Our Indian Institute for Management (IIMs) and the Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs) are no better. They use the public money to prepare students for the private sector. I often think that if IIM graduates have to join the corporate world only then why can't the corporate world finance these institutions? Why should tax payers' money be used to fund these institutions?
There is a need for a historic correction here. The agricultural universities as well as the 100-odd national centres of research need to be redesigned to make them more meaningful and appropriate for the domestic farmers, to improve upon the existing sustainable technologies rather than importing risky and unwanted technologies from abroad.
Instead of spending bulk of the research funding on risky GM crops, why can't the Indian Council for Agricultural Research (ICAR) launch a country wide programme on adaptive research and development on the 4,000 traditional technologies that it has documented?
Why can't agricultural research curriculum be so designed that it helps raise farm incomes, lead to long-term sustainability, produce safe food without any pesticides and fertilisers, and does not add onto global warming? Why can't our farm research ensure that no farmer ever commits suicide? We can do that, provided we get out of our obsession with everything alien.
NEED TO FOCUS ON FOOD CRISIS
ADDRESSING THREAT OF FOOD INSECURITY WILL REQUIRE NOTHING SHORT OF ANOTHER GREEN REVOLUTION.
BY SUPACHAI PANITCHPAKDI, IPS
The current financial and economic crisis drew attention away from the food crisis, but the latter still remains a threat to the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and sends a warning of the dangers of low investment and poor policies in the agricultural sector.
The causes of the food crisis lie partially in the specific conditions of the 2008 price spike, which included climatic conditions, such as drought, and widespread speculation in commodity markets. But the food crisis reveals also an underlying and persistent crisis of development in some countries' agricultural sectors. Addressing the long-term threat of food insecurity will require nothing short of anothe green revolution.
Using Africa as a case study, growth in the continent's agricultural sector overall has averaged 2-to-2.5 per cent per annum since the late 1970s, with serious implications for its ability to feed itself: it is a well-known fact that having been a net food exporter until as recently as 1988, the continent is now a net food importer. The situation is compounded by price increases, which have meant that a growing proportion of export earnings is used to feed rapidly expanding populations.
As pressures on land availability grow, countries will have to depend more on yield gains than on the expansion of cultivated land. Yet there is also the potential for rapid increases in yields if better access can be provided to fertilizers and technology -not necessarily sophisticated biotech solutions, such as genetically manipulated plant varieties, but new crop varieties, tractors, ploughs and irrigation systems.
As is now widely accepted, the relative neglect of the agricultural sector in many developing countries has led to disinvestment in supply capacities, such as extension services and infrastructure. In the past, market reforms, including structural adjustment programmes, have also played a role in undermining agricultural productivity. The role of the state in agricultural development was significantly reduced. The result: private investment, both domestic and foreign, was diverted more into cash crops for export than into food for local consumption.
In poorer economies where domestic investment in agriculture is limited, the potential for increased investment in agriculture relies on either official development assistance (ODA) or the attraction of foreign direct investment (FDI). Yet, multilateral and bilateral ODA for agriculture declined dramatically between 1980 and 2002, by 85 per cent and 39 per cent, respectively.
UNCTAD research has shown that FDI in agriculture (including forestry and fisheries) and food processing (including tobacco) grew more slowly than in other industries from 1990 to 2006, in both flows and stocks. Thus the shares of these industries in total FDI inflows declined during this period by nearly half, and are now insignificant in both developed and developing host countries.
UNCTAD's world investment report 2009 explored the role that FDI can play in helping developing countries fight hunger and develop their agricultural sectors to meet the needs of their people. Between 1990 and 2007, FDI flows into agricultural production tripled from $1 billion to $3 billion a year.
Huge source of finance
Although these flows are quite small in proportion to overall FDI flows, they represent a huge source of finance for many low-income countries. Examples include such countries as Cambodia, Ecuador and Tanzania.
TNCs' participation in agriculture can have both positive and negative effects in developing countries. On the negative side, governments should be especially sensitive to environmental and social concerns associated with their involvement, such as the crowding-out of small farmers that might create job losses, land grab, dispossession of indigenous peoples and an overdependence on TNCs.
On the positive side, TNCs' involvement can result in the transfer of technology, standards and skills, along with jobs and market access -all of which can improve the productivity of the industry, including the farming of staple foods, and the economy as a whole. The contribution of TNCs to food security is not just about supply: they can exploit potential economies of scale that can make food more affordable, and their higher level of conformity with standards enhances food safety. All of these factors depend, however, on host countries adopting the right policies that will maximise benefits and minimise the costs of TNCs' participation.
The 'real' question for most developing countries, then, is not whether to involve TNCs in agriculture and agribusiness value chains, but how to establish a framework and develop national capabilities to best harness their involvement in agriculture.
CHEERS TO CHAPATTIS
IN A GOOD NUMBER OF HOMES, IT TURNS UP EVERY NIGHT AT THE DINNER TABLE.
BY LEELA RAMASWAMY
For sheer versatility, few other food items can rival the chapati. Easy to cook and nutritious, it can take multiple avatars to pamper all palates. Besides this, it is eminently portable. Known as the unleavened bread of the East, its popularity even half a century ago was confined to the North of India. In the 1950's, when I was a child, it was still a novelty in Kerala. It hardly figured in the menu of the die-hard rice-eating southerner, appearing but rarely as a tea-time snack!
I well remember that in the college hostel I stayed in, it was served at dinner once a fortnight. Along with a delicious korma, it seemed a welcome change to me. However, the majority, whose taste-buds it irked if not offended, were up in arms against it and got it scrapped.
The chapati made its first foray into the south after World War II, when rice was in short supply. But what forced its way in remained to please and today it has not merely been accepted but won for itself a place of permanence. In a good number of homes, it turns up every night at the dinner table. Its incarnations are manyfrom the safe and healthy phulka to the robust and filling parantha.
The chapati can also convert a man into a machine. I have watched a roadside vendor tackling a whole heap of rolled out discs with consummate ease. With his right hand he slapped five or six of them onto a hot griddle, while unremittingly his left hand tossed them on to burning coals where they ballooned into a steady stream of ready-to-eat phulkas.
The chapati's popularity knows no borders and it has endeared itself to foreign tongues. In one instance at least, it succeeded in winning friends and influencing people. Work took my sister and her husband to Holland. To their dismay, neighbours treated them with coldness if not hostility.
Determined to win them over, my sister invited them to dinner. One of the items served were chapatis. They were an instant hit especially with the children. Soon they were in and out of the house clamouring for more. The ice was broken and lasting friendships made. What is round, they say, must come around. So it is with the chapati. A silent but strong unifier, it wins its way through the stomach into the heart.
INTERNATIONAL PUSH FOR IRAN SANCTIONS IS TOO LITTLE, TOO LATE
A diplomatic turnaround - however cautious, slow and weak - was made Wednesday with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's announcement that the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, including China, have agreed to discuss a new round of sanctions against Iran.
On Thursday a spokesman for the Chinese Foreign Ministry qualified that statement, noting that Beijing opposes Iran's acquisition of nuclear weapons but did not give its approval for new sanctions.
Either way, the new sanctions have yet to be agreed upon or finalized, and the potential measures do not include the kind of tools that could affect a change in Iranian policy.
Iranian shipping companies will not be blacklisted nor the international assets of Iran frozen, and oil or gas shipments from the Islamic Republic will not be cut, after these proposals were all rejected by Russia or China. It is more accurate to characterize the potential sanctions as a comprehensive warning against doing business with Tehran.
Its omissions cannot come as consolation to those concerned about Iran's development of nuclear technology that could produce weapons of mass destruction.
Still, Wednesday's feat - which must still pass a Security Council vote - is significant in incorporating both Russia and China among those nations which see an Iranian nuclear weapon as a threat, and which are willing to cooperate on finding a solution. Months of negotiation and pressure led by Washington have resulted in a more unified international community even if there is not full consensus over how to confront Tehran.
The accord reached by the Security Council members should give the Barack Obama administration the support needed to impose further sanctions of its own against Iran, and possibly convince several European countries to join the effort, even if only partially.
On the other hand, the fact remains that Iran has been under sanctions for three decades and still managed to develop a formidable technological infrastructure for nuclear power. It's doubtful another round of sanctions will persuade Iran to stop its project, viewed within the country as part of its national defense apparatus and the source of immense national pride.
Absent full agreement on implementing strict sanctions - and presuming that either an Israeli or U.S. military option is unrealistic - it is essential that alongside sanctions, pathways must be found for dialogue with Tehran. The U.S. president believes the window is still open, and he is willing to pursue negotiations at any time.
And Iran, despite the strident tone it takes against the West, has itself not forgone the principle of negotiation. It is possible that China and Russia joining the group of nations threatening sanctions could serve as a springboard to talks.
Having led the international awareness campaign over the Iranian nuclear threat, Israel should be pleased with the current turnaround, even if its results are significantly lower than what it had hoped. At the same time, Israel's call for global cooperation against Iran requires it too act as part of the international community in its policies vis-a-vis the Palestinians and the peace process.
OBAMA DOESN'T HAVE TO BE AN ISRAEL-HATER TO BE ANGRY WITH NETANYAHU
BY YOEL MARCUS
One of Benjamin Netanyahu's most quoted statements is that he wakes up every morning and asks: Who should I be afraid of today? The answer is: He should be afraid of himself. This time he doesn't even have to ask. He's in a panic. I'm relying on the headline in Haaretz on Passover eve, which said U.S. President Barack Obama seeks to impose a permanent settlement on Israel.
"Political sources" have cited that this is "just the tip of the iceberg," underneath which lies a sea change in U.S. policy to exert pressure on Israel and isolate it.
"Sources in Jerusalem" overflowed their own banks with leaks to the media. "Obama is the biggest disaster ever for Israel because of his aspirations to make Netanyahu's life miserable."
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"There has never been such brutal pressure from America on Israel," wrote one well-known commentator, forgetting that President Dwight Eisenhower's America forced us to leave Sinai - what Ben-Gurion dubbed "the third Israeli kingdom" - during the 1956 Sinai Campaign. And we did; we left, pardon my French, on all fours.
While the so-called sources raged, The New York Times published a moderate editorial, calling Obama's involvement "refreshing .... He must also press Palestinians and Arab leaders just as forcefully .... The question is whether Mr. Netanyahu is able or willing to lead his country to a peace deal."
Obama should have been asked why he started his peace initiative campaign in Egypt and skipped Israel. Wouldn't it have been more reasonable to begin the effort in the two strongest countries in the region that have already made peace with each other, despite the rivers of blood spilled on both sides for years? Omitting Israel gave the Arab world the feeling that Obama had changed his point of reference. Netanyahu's promises of two states for two peoples in his Bar-Ilan speech remained just words. He didn't make it any easier for Obama, who was sunk deep in his struggle to pass health care legislation.
Obama doesn't have to be an Israel-hater to be angry with Netanyahu, with his tricks, the continued blockade of Gaza, continued building in the West Bank and the failure to take even one constructive, confidence-building measure toward the Palestinians. Obama doesn't need Jewish advisers to understand that Netanyahu wanted to meet him exactly when the annual AIPAC conference was taking place, in order to say, through the most important Jewish forum, exactly what Obama did not want to hear.
Only former prime minister Menachem Begin was capable of summoning then American ambassador Samuel Lewis and really giving it to him for a series of punishments America meted out to Israel: delay in delivery of F-15 fighter planes because of the Israeli bombing of the Iraqi nuclear reactor; a $100 million cut in aid because of the Israeli bombing of PLO headquarters in Beirut and the passage of a law annexing the Golan Heights. This was the famous conversation in which Begin told the ambassador that we are not American vassals and not a banana republic either. The Israeli nation had lived for 3,700 years and would last another 3,700. But this conversation took place in 1981, three years after Begin received the Nobel Peace Prize.
Netanyahu isn't Begin, and Obama isn't Eisenhower or Jimmy Carter. Netanyahu is a new kind of prime minister, with ambitious agendas he wants to tick off a list. I believe that Obama did not intend to insult Netanyahu personally, but rather wanted to make clear that friendship means telling the truth. But he went too far in his attempt to dictate the process to us. This is why, in light of fears that arose among American Jews, senior White House adviser David Axelrod made clear on CNN that Obama did not intend any insult to Netanyahu: "This was a working meeting among friends. And so there was no snub intended." More friends like this - and we are lost.
But the tension with the American government is significant. First of all, it worsens our international situation. Although Washington reassured us there will not be a veto in the UN Security Council, I would add "for right now." Our government's zigzagging only encourages Obama. Otherwise, how is it possible to explain, when we are on the verge of proximity talks that will quickly turn into direct negotiations, the government brings up the subject that at every step of the history of the conflict has been left for last: Jerusalem. And bringing up the subject of building in Jerusalem at the beginning of Obama's initiative is like throwing a lit match into a reservoir of gas.
Netanyahu lost control at the beginning of the talks, when he said that Jerusalem is no different from Tel Aviv. The Shas party disclosed the plan to build 1,600 apartments, and the Jerusalem municipality its plan for 20. And former army chief of staff Moshe Ya'alon claimed that not one of the seven members of Netanyahu's inner cabinet believes that agreement can be reached with the Palestinians. Netanyahu is counting on the Iranian problem to solve everything, but that's not so. The only solution to this miserable situation is to work wisely, without panic. That is, to establish a peace government with Likud, Kadima and Labor - without Shas and Yisrael Beiteinu.
In the end, we might even find out what Ehud Barak wants.
WE LOOK AT IRAN AND SEE OURSELVES
BY AVNER COHEN
If Israel takes military action against Iran, it will be one of the biggest decisions in the history of the state. The risks involved will make it unprecedented.
There is no comparison between such a decision and the ones that established and implemented the so-called Begin doctrine: the decision by Menachem Begin's government to attack the Osirak reactor in Iraq in 1981 and the attack on the nuclear facility in Syria in 2007. In terms of both the complexity of the military operation and the uncertainty about the consequences and where they may lead, there is a qualitative difference between the legacy of the past and the challenge of the present.
The seriousness of the challenge requires as open and thorough a public discussion as possible. But unfortunately, such a discussion has been virtually nonexistent, even on a basic conceptual level. Instead of a public discussion there has been a belligerent press, which makes demagogic use of statements that intensify the message of the politics of fear. These include expressions such as "Iran is galloping toward a bomb" and a "second Holocaust" that Israel must prevent. Such discourse creates a feeling that if Iran is not attacked, and soon, we have no choice but to accept a nuclear Iran.
It's doubtful whether the people making those statements are capable of giving them a precise (technical and political) interpretation. It's doubtful whether they have a suitable answer to the question: When should Iran be considered a nuclear state? Where exactly is the red line? What is the precise significance of such a line and what makes it red?
One thing is clear: As long as Iran is a member of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, it will not be able to test a nuclear device or declare that it has one. Also, as long as Iran is subject to the treaty, it will not be a nuclear state according to the accepted definition of such a state.
It's true that under cover of the treaty Iran can get very close to the nuclear threshold and still claim - as it claims now - that it is not deviating from its legal obligations under the treaty. Iran as a threshold state can perhaps even position itself a few weeks away from a nuclear test. Such an Iran, despite supervision by the International Atomic Energy Agency, will of necessity be opaque; there will always remain a fear that it is working in secret, including making weapons in secret. But even in such a case, Iran would be considered a threshold state, not an actual nuclear state.
Even those who disparage the practical limitations of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (as Israelis tend to do) must recognize that it is almost impossible for Iran to be a nuclear state in the full sense without withdrawing from the treaty. And even if it is outside the treaty, it will take Iran years, many years, to make the transition from a threshold state to a mature nuclear state. Such a transition is not trivial; certainly it is not inevitable, even if we look at the experience of states that in the past were considered threshold states and were not bound by the treaty's restrictions.
For example, India, which carried out a nuclear test in 1998, is still making this transition slowly, and many experts say it should still not be considered a mature nuclear state. Even Pakistan, whose nuclear path was faster and more purposeful than India's, needed about a generation to become a nuclear state to all extents and purposes. In its nuclear behavior Iran is more like India than Pakistan.
It's ironic that an Iran under attack would probably become more determined and purposeful in its nuclear ambitions. After an attack, Iran would abandon the treaty in protest, declare its right to nuclear arms and almost certainly succeed in implementing it.
The public discussion in Israel about a nuclear Iran is simplistic, inadequate, confused and confusing. It reflects to some degree our own biases. We come from a culture of national security in which nuclear opacity has been exploited to the hilt to create a specific model of deterrence. The result is that when we look at Iran we see ourselves: how we would behave in a similar situation. But Iran is not Israel exactly, and the Israeli experience does not necessarily reflect Iran's behavior. On the contrary, it leads to systematic errors when making assessments.
The writer is the author of the book "Israel and the Bomb." His forthcoming book, "The Worst-Kept Secret," will be published in the United States in September.
BY YOSSI SARID
This column has more than once revealed its sensitivity to noise. According to findings published this week by the World Health Organization, the facts are clear: Noise is the number three cause of morbidity. Only air pollution and smoking are worse. Doctor, I'm ill. And a lot more people are complaining about noise than other blights.
I, too, am among the complainers - not necessarily against my good neighbors, but against our bad government, which is making me deaf. It makes so much noise, but when the commotion dies down a feeling of emptiness prevails. Once again it was a tempest in a teapot, there was no reason for it, nor were there any real results. And only the echoes of the scandal reverberate until the next one arrives.
This is not a new phenomenon; it's as old as the Revisionist stream in the gathering waters of Zionism. Even Ze'ev Jabotinsky, a gifted man who himself was quite noisy, was disturbed by his successor's screaming speeches, which he compared to "the useless screeching of a door."
And Jabotinsky, make no mistake, was actually in favor of sounds of breakdown and collapse, in favor of noise as ideology. But Menachem Begin was too grating and cacophonous for his taste.
The current government is a dry grapevine that has long since ceased to produce juice, and it's going to rule over the trees. This is a government of midgets - noise and commotion - headed by Commander Tom Thumb; a small prime minister from Jerusalem who meets with a great president from Washington. One heals 40 million Americans who have no health insurance should they fall ill, and the other harms tens of thousands of Israelis who have no missile-proof hospitals for times of trouble. One fought against Republicans and even several Democrats and was victorious. But our Bibi didn't fight with his ministers - not with Eli Yishai and not with Avigdor Lieberman. And even Yaakov Litzman was too much for him. No, Bibi can't.
There are toxins the body has difficulty removing. And anyone who imbibed the toxic glory of Yodfat, Beitar and Masada with his mother's milk - die or conquer the mountain - will not soon get rid of his suicidal urges.
The terrible words that Jabo wrote about the race that will arise in blood and sweat are what Benjamin Netanyahu and Benny Begin were brought up on. They're sons in the shadow of their Good Soldier Schweik-like fathers - brave and clownish soldiers in the same pressed uniforms. According to these early teachings, there must not be a moment of quiet, "Because the spirit to overcome all obstacles and hindrances/ Whether you succeed or falter/ In the flame of revolt/ Carry the flame to kindle/ For silence is mire/ Sacrifice blood and soul/For the sake of the hidden glory."
"Carry the flame to kindle" - and they do so successfully. Blessed are the matches that ignite any incidental puddle and turn it into a sea of flames.
The Environmental Protection Ministry published new noise-prevention rules this month. If the Beitar minister knew all the words of the Beitar hymn by heart, he would issue contrary regulations - to prevent quiet and by doing so reduce the mire. Not one quiet moment, please.
MUZZLING ISRAEL'S LEFT ONLY HARMS ITS DEMOCRACY
BY CARLO STRENGER
The last year has been very difficult for Israel internationally. All indicators show that its international standing is worse than ever; research shows that a number of delegitimization campaigns are active against the State of Israel. The question of what to do about this is serious and has been preoccupying Israel's politicians and diplomats as well as many Jews around the world who want to be of help.
In this time of rising anxiety Israel's political echelon has taken a number of steps toward undermining Israel's sometimes flawed but always vibrant democracy. The Knesset's shameful passing of Yisrael Beiteinu's so-called Nakba Law in a first reading is a dangerous precedent: Once freedom of expression starts to be curtailed, a state enters a slippery slope and nobody can know where it ends. The Israel Defense Forces' declaring Bil'in a closed military area is an active step against political freedom and a way to undercut decisions taken by Israel's Supreme Court.
This tendency is reflected in developments in world Jewry. The new pro-Israel, pro-peace lobby J Street has been critical of many of Israel's actions, particularly settlement expansion and construction in East Jerusalem. Many reactions have been dismaying: Instead of engaging with J Street, Israel's ambassador to the United States chose not to attend its first convention because he believes that it endangers Israel's interests. Others again have argued that J Street misrepresents its position by calling itself pro-Israel and is another instance of Jewish self-hatred.
This profoundly worrying delegitimization campaign against Jewish and Israeli liberals is taking many forms: A number of Web sites track anti-Israeli activities and positions among Israeli academics. The sites' tone is remarkably reminiscent of the style of Joseph McCarthy's investigations into "un-American activities" in the 1950s, a stain in the history of the world's leading democracy. In some of the cases the coverage is formulated in inflammatory language, in others it is highly inexact.
A good example is the vicious campaign that has been launched against Tel Aviv University historian Shlomo Sand, who wrote a book arguing that Israel needs to move from an ethnocentric to a liberal model of democracy. Sand has been called anti-Semitic and a "self-hating Jew" - even though it seems from the utter inexactness of some of the claims on these Web sites that few of the delegitimizers have actually read the book. As a result, these attacks completely miss the simple point that Sand's goal is precisely to ensure the existence of Israel as a democratic state with a Jewish majority!
To restate the obvious: In a democracy, every public statement that does not incite violence or actively promote hatred is legitimate. The essence of democracy is that the public domain is open to conflicting opinions. This is why, in a truly democratic regime, there is always an opposition. Only in pseudo-democracies like Syria is the president elected unanimously, and only the government's line is allowed. John Stuart Mill, the classic theorist of liberal democracy, has argued forcefully that no democracy can allow itself to shut up dissent, and his argument is valid to this day.
It is necessary to restate the obvious because many well-meaning Diaspora Jews feel that the only way to be loyal to Israel is to support its policies, no matter what they are. They often take their cues from one-sided, unreliable sources, and have taken the line that all criticism emanating from Jews, whether in Israel or the Diaspora, reflects disloyalty to both Jewry and Israel. Such an approach is both undemocratic and opposed to the Jewish ethos of incisive and trenchant argument.
It is also profoundly counterproductive: No group should claim the prerogative of having a monopoly on what it means to be a good Jew or to act in Israel's interest. Trenchant argument is of vital importance at all times, but even more so in this time of crisis. Trying to shut up those who disagree with you by delegitimizing them is morally wrong, politically dangerous and inexpedient because it doesn't allow for the critical discussion sorely needed.
Behind all this highly charged and often inflammatory rhetoric is a deep sentiment of anxiety. We are all worried about Israel's standing in the world, and we all care about its safety. I emphasize "we all": This includes both the right, with which I disagree but which I don't delegitimize, and the liberal camp, to which I belong, even though I disagree with the lines of action and argument of some of its members.
Both sides believe that they have the correct views about what is good for Israel in the short and long term. But those on the right who, however well-meaning, try to delegitimize the liberal camp may end up unintentionally harming one of Israel's greatest assets: its democracy.
The writer is chair of the Clinical Graduate Program at Tel Aviv University. His recent paper "Knowledge-Nation Israel: A New Unifying Vision" has been published by Azure.
THE FOUR-FOLD IRANIAN THREAT
BY IRWIN COTLER
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's Iran - as distinguished from the people of Iran, the objects of massive domestic repression - has emerged as a clear and present danger to international peace and security, regional stability and, increasingly and alarmingly, its own people.
We are witnessing the toxic convergence of four distinct but interrelated threats: the nuclear threat; state-sanctioned incitement to genocide; state sponsorship of international terror; and a persistent, pervasive assault on the rights of its own citizens.
Recent developments have only exposed and magnified this threat at its tipping point. Iran is ramping up uranium enrichment to weapons-grade capability, in defiance of the international community. Moreover, both the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei and President Ahmadinejad have reaffirmed their incendiary threats to "obliterate" Israel.
The country's domestic human rights violations have only intensified since the fraudulent June 12 election, with arrests, disappearances, beatings, torture, extra-judicial killings - replete with Stalinist show-trials and coerced confessions. Indeed, Iran has now jailed more journalists than any other country in the world; arrested thousands of protesters; continues persecuting members of religious minorities, especially the Baha'i; seeks to intimidate and repress students and women's rights activists. Over the past three years it has executed more prisoners in absolute terms, including juvenile offenders, than any country other than China.
Let there be no mistake about it: Iran is in standing violation - and mocking defiance of - international legal prohibitions, including UN Security Council resolutions and the IAEA regime against the development and production of nuclear weapons. In the last year alone - U.S. President Barack Obama's year of engagement - Iran has trumpeted higher-grade enrichment capabilities and facilities, tested enhanced long-range missile technology, and begun construction of more lethal centrifuges.
Iran has already committed incitement to genocide, prohibited under the Genocide Convention and international law. Indeed, as one who as Canada's minister of justice and attorney general prosecuted Rwandans for incitement, I can say that the aggregate of incitement precursors in Ahmadinejad's Iran parallels the state-sanctioned incitement in Rwanda.
Iran has appointed as its minister of defense, overseeing its nuclear program and weapons development, Ahmad Vahidi, wanted under an Interpol arrest warrant for his role in the greatest terrorist attack in Argentina since the end of World War II - the 1994 bombing of the AMIA Jewish Community Center.
The question is then: What is to be done?
While I supported the concept of the year of engagement, the 2009 end-of-year deadline for Iranian compliance has come and gone. Obama's extended hand was met with a clenched iron fist; there can be no more "business as usual."
What is needed now, as Obama acknowledged this week, are targeted, calibrated and consequential sanctions. The focus hitherto on the nuclear threat, while understandable and necessary, should not thereby overshadow, marginalize or sanitize the other three menaces described above. the fourfold threat must be responded to with a comprehensive set of remedies.
These should begin with generic sanctions that target the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and those who do business with them; target gasoline and other refined petroleum imports to Iran - its economic Achilles' heel - and the shipping and insurance industries that facilitate them; curb investment in Iran's energy sector and give companies incentives for not doing so; monitor and enforce arms embargoes; target the Central Bank of Iran, the nerve center of the banking industry; sanction companies that enable Iranian domestic repression; and deny landing rights to the Iranian transportation industry.
Additional threat-specific measures should also be implemented. Regarding human rights violations, governments should regularly condemn actions by the Iranian leadership; provide moral and diplomatic support for the democratic movement in Iran; impose limits and travel restrictions on Iranian officials engaged in repression; keep the issue on the international agenda and in any and all bilateral meetings with Iran; hold Iran accountable before the UN Human Rights Council (which, incredibly, has not passed a single resolution condemning Iran); and work to ensure Iran is not elected to the Council next month.
Regarding incitement to genocide, state parties to the Genocide Convention - such as Canada and the United States - should refer the matter to the UN Security Council for deliberation and accountability - a modest remedy that astonishingly has yet to be taken; initiate an inter-state complaint before the International Court of Justice against Iran, also a state party to the Genocide Convention; and ask the UN Security Council to refer the case to the International Criminal Court for investigation and possible prosecution.
To date, the necessary action has not been forthcoming. As of this writing - as incredible as this is - the sanctioning of the Iranian threats has yet to even be referred to the UN Security Council or any other international agency; indeed, it is not even on the Security Council's agenda, thereby fostering a culture of impunity for Iran. One can only hope that the supposed agreement of Russia and China to new sanctions, as reported this week, will be realized, and that the sanctions will indeed be comprehensive and consequential.
The time has come - indeed it has passed - to sound the alarm for the international community. Silence is not an option. Action to hold Ahmadinejad's Iran to account is not simply a policy option, but an international legal obligation of the first order.
The integrity of our commitments to the rule of law and international peace and security - and to the rights of the Iranian people - are at stake. If not us, who? If not now, when?
Irwin Cotler is a Canadian member of parliament and special counsel on international justice and human rights for the Liberal Party. He is a professor of law (on leave) at McGill University, and a former minister of justice and attorney general of Canada.
AFFIRMING AFFIRMATIVE ACTION
BY MOHAMMAD DARAWSHE
Last week the cabinet approved an investment of more than $210 million in the economic development of the Arab community over the next five years. This is considered the largest such investment ever in this population, and is intended to strengthen the economy through construction and expansion of industrial areas, creation of administrative institutions, development of professional and academic training programs, and improvement of the police force, as well as infrastructure, tourism, transportation and day-care services.
The path to social inclusion and a shared future lies in dramatically reducing socioeconomic gaps between the Jewish and Arab sectors, and the decision constitutes a significant and welcome step in this direction. It is an affirmation that the well-being of the one-fifth of the country's population that is Arab is in Israel's general interest, and deserving of official attention.
There have been other well-intended programs in the past, but their execution was problematic. The reasons for this are varied, but include a negligent government approach toward Arab society, and lack of proper follow-up, implementation and enforcement.
In 2008, for example, the government of Ehud Olmert decided that by 2013, 10 percent of the country's civil-service positions were to be allocated to Arab citizens. Even today, however, these citizens comprise only 6.5 percent, despite the fact that they are 20 percent of the population. During Ehud Barak's term as premier (1999-2001), the government earmarked NIS 4 billion for development of the Arab sector, but little of that sum was actually spent.
The two most recent decisions are the closest the government has come to the U.S. affirmative-action policies of the late 1960s and early '70s, which aimed to combat institutional discrimination against African-Americans. Unfortunately, the scope of the Israeli government decisions falls far short of the broad policies and actions taken by the U.S. government in those years.
The new five-year economic scheme is intended to create new industrial zones that will enable more Arab citizens to pursue careers in high-tech; to link Arab towns and villages to the country's main transportation networks; and to expand the municipal boundaries of the 13 towns included in the program. This in turn should help about one-third of the country's Arab population move closer to mainstream Israeli social-economic reality.
Still, what are the other two-thirds of Israel's Arab population supposed to do? Will they be left to slip further into poverty, continuing the downward slide of the last 15 years? Will the same ministers who voted for the plan assume responsibility for equivalent appropriations to Arab towns in the future? Or will they use the recent decision as an excuse to relinquish any further responsibility for Israel's 1.2 million Arab citizens? It is to be hoped that these ministers will continue to act in the spirit of the plan, allocating more money from their regular budgets to foster equality.
Aiman Seif, head of the Authority for Economic Development of the Arab sector, perhaps fearing that some might feel exempted from this duty, asked the ministers to guarantee that their staffs adopt the principle of equality in appropriation and distribution of budgetary funding.
Instead of recognizing their responsibility for creating this gap, and the potential of Arab society to contribute to the growth of the Israeli economy as a whole, past governments have tended to blamed Arab society, labeling it a burden on the economy that prevents higher growth rates. Future governments need to look at the plan as a corrective measure that aims to close the gaps inherited from their predecessors.
In addition, the incumbent and future governments should assume responsibility to eliminate budgetary discrimination, sooner rather than later. Yet, if the government is sincere about closing social and economic gaps, it is not enough to deal with the past injustices: It must guarantee that from now on, equal distribution of esources will be the norm - rather than a one-off event.
Symbolically and politically, this decision reflects recognition that the Arab community is in dire need of government assistance. Its economy is largely separate from the generally booming Israeli economy, and thus more closely resembles the developing world than the thriving conditions of Tel Aviv and Ramat Hasharon.
The government may be hoping to turn the Arab economy into a growth factor for Israel nationally. Many leading economists, including the OECD and researchers at the Reut Institute, argue that Israel will not experience healthy economic development as long as it has a weak sub-economy that is not completely integrated into the broader, national one.
If there is a problem with the recent decision, it's the fear that it is only a partial step, one that will not finish the job. The initiative needs to be expanded sooner rather than later, to allow political buy-in from a broader swathe of Arab society. It's no surprise that the majority of the country's Arab towns that have been left out are unhappy with the plan. The government needs to consider their needs as well and devise appropriate, even if more modest, schemes that will include as broad a spectrum of Arab society as possible.
Social and economic inclusion of Arab society in Israel will contribute to creating true equality, the foundation stone for building a shared society - a declared, key goal of MK Avishay Braverman, the minister of minority affairs. Let's hope the plan succeeds, and impels us to move in the right direction.
Mohammad Darawshe is co-executive director of the Abraham Fund Initiatives (www.abrahamfund.org).
INDEPENDENT AND INTERDEPENDENT
BY SAM BAHOUR AND BERNARD AVISHAI
The latest rift between the United States and Israel, which began with Israel's announcement of more planned construction planned in Ramat Shlomo - a Jewish-only neighborhood - that would further separate East Jerusalem from the rest of a future Palestinian state, distracts from the larger, even more inhumane separation that must be reversed if the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has any chance of being resolved peacefully. This is the separation between Israel and Palestine themselves.
The parties to this conflict must recognize that their futures are inevitably linked, in peace even more than in war, and that they already can establish cooperation, as equals under international law, with international partners, without forgoing national sovereignty. America's commitment to "confidence building" begins here.
Yes, negotiations cannot take place unless the sides are each attributed the right to self-determination; each side will exercise sovereignty after any agreement is concluded. But self-determination never meant that a nation does whatever it wants, without regard for the interests of others. In this context, the need for cooperation is especially urgent. The shared territory is very small, and more like one big megalopolis than two hermetically sealed states.
The need for mutual accommodation usually comes up when discussing security arrangements: demilitarization, safe passage to Gaza, and so forth. But this is only the beginning. There are scarce resources to be shared: water, the electromagnetic spectrum, natural gas reserves. Tourists will travel around what they'll need to see as a borderless territory. There will have to be reciprocal agreements on currency and labor law. There will be investments in what will seem like a common business ecosystem.
This is why the United States should seek to use its leverage to reduce tensions and mitigate grievances now, in advance of any final-status agreement, by reinforcing international conventions regulating state-to-state relations. These conventions would enable Palestinians and Israelis to advance their economies through a joint planning process. Why not establish an equitable foundation now in areas where progress is possible? Why shouldn't Palestine already enjoy the prerogatives of a sovereign state in fields that do not pose a security threat to Israel, especially where international conventions and bilateral modalities are clear?
Water is an ideal place to start, given its strategic importance in the region. What is keeping Palestinians and Israelis from applying international water treaties to water allocation? Israel already recognized Palestinian water rights as part of the Oslo II Interim Agreement. However, it has not implemented that agreement, and continues to deprive Palestinians of their fair share of water. On average, Palestinians receive less than 100 liters per capita per day, far less than the minimum availability of 150 liters recommended by the World Health Organization. The average Israeli uses 353 liters of water per day, while the average Israeli settler in the territories uses up to nine times what's available to a Palestinian. If the international community is sincere about incubating an independent and sovereign Palestinian state, why should this issue be deferred to political negotiations later on?
The same is true of electromagnetic spectrum. Visit Palestine's $350-million cell-phone company, Jawwal, which now faces legal competition from Wataniya Mobile, a joint venture of the Palestine Investment Fund and Wataniya Telecom from Kuwait and Qatar. From the roof of Jawwal's modern headquarters in Ramallah, what you see is disturbing. On one hill to the north is an Israeli settlement in Area C, with a cellular tower for Israeli operator Cellcom. To the south is another settlement with another tower. Cellcom gets about 10.5 megahertz of spectrum; Jawwal, 4.8. To get 3G and continuous coverage, which is what every Palestinian entrepreneur needs, you need an Israeli carrier. This conflict over bandwidth should be negotiated away now, and subject to the rules of the United Nations International Telecommunications Union - of which Israel is a member.
There are other ways of untangling the web of military occupation, including free trade zones, postal services and environmental protection. These should all be managed based on tested international models, such as the European Union's. Most important, perhaps, is access for Palestinian talent and foreign intellectual capital (such
as investors, educators and doctors) to, and movement throughout, the occupied territory.
If progress is made on things like bandwidth, movement and access, will the classification of territory into areas A, B and C not seem obsolete? Moreover, if Israel and Palestine can build trust as two sovereign entities, will Hamas be enough of a reason to maintain the siege on Gaza, especially as Palestinian entrepreneurs from the West Bank prove able to bring hope there?
The challenge, in short, is to create dignified ways of becoming equals and partners in each other's lives. Postponing this invites new violence that will rip apart the fabric of both Palestinian and Israeli society. And who knows how the violence will spread? Rather, we must shrink the negotiating agenda to a manageable scale, whose end game is clear: two independent but interdependent states, living side by side. The United States, for its part, should build on its condemnation of settlements and establish international law as a reference point for immediate changes.
Sam Bahour is a management consultant and entrepreneur living in Ramallah. He blogs at www.epalestine.com. Bernard Avishai is an author and management consultant living in Jerusalem. He blogs at www.bernardavishai.com. (Published in conjunction with Common Ground News Service.)
KEEPING THE FAITH
BY DON FUTTERMAN
It was 9:49 P.M. on a Thursday night when Robinson Cano flipped the ball to Mark Texeira and the New York Yankees won their 27th World Championship. We were holding hands - my wife and I, and our 12 year-old twins - all of us but our 6-year-old daughter, who had cheered herself into exhaustion and fallen asleep. Even our dog, Yankee, was excited.
But there were no cheers coming from our neighbors that evening last October. We were, after all, in Israel, watching the replay of a baseball game that had actually finished 15 hours earlier. This gathering was part of my life-long campaign to turn my sabra children into Yankee fans.
I know the odds are against me, an immigrant fan in exile, living in a country mad for soccer and basketball. My children will never learn about turns-at-bat through kickball, or running bases by playing punchball. My boys will never hone their aim by pitching at a rectangle chalked on the side of a building. No popular Israeli sport involves throwing in its pure form.
Despite hosting the original David vs. Goliath, and embracing individualism with the passion of converted collectivists, Israelis appear disinclined to fall in love with the pitcher vs. batter, one-on-one combat at the center of this team sport. Perhaps in 2010, we prefer to disappear into the national consensus, or bask in solo success, but not to do both at the same time. Fulfilling the Zionist dream has left us in a baseball wilderness.
My boys found no companions among their friends, non-Anglos one and all, to explore the modest little league that operates locally. We tried the Israel Baseball League, a semi-pro affair that lasted one summer season. We were so close we could feel the backstop rattle, but the highlight for my sons was to join a pack of feral boys storming the sidelines to retrieve foul balls. The Tel Aviv Lightning, with its English name and exclusively American fans, seemed only to highlight baseball's foreignness.
This is nothing like how I grew up in Queens, watching the 20 games broadcast annually on WPIX, or with my radio pinned to my ear, to follow the rest. I read the paper every day to check how my two teams - the Yankees and the State of Israel - were doing.
To cultivate Yankee loyalty in my own children, we watch videotapes of the occasional Fox or ESPN broadcast, the VCR set for the middle of the night, when the Yankees play back home. To maintain the requisite suspense, I impose a news blackout on game day - no sports channels, no on-line newspapers, and no reading of e-mails from fellow fans in the States until after the game.
I stop the tape to lecture my boys on working the count, the set-up man and the home-run wind tunnel. Their baseball knowledge has evolved from hits to RBIs, and soon we will tackle ERA. In our house, at least, I have become the world's greatest baseball authority.
I teach my kids to cheer, because watching without rooting is a passionless exercise.Now, when I give my daughter the signal, she yells, "Go Yankees! Get 100 runs!"
The 2009 season was perfect for a tutorial in pinstripe worship. Last year, my boys learned to recognize our new star pitcher, CC Sabathia, and to trust that our new power combo, A-Rod and Texeira, would always come through (or if they didn't, that little Nick Swisher would do the job). My twins longed for the ritual pie-in-the-face after walk-off wins, and loved saying "Swiiiish-er."
There is one thing missing, however: anticipation. Baseball yearning is a skill that demands practice. I want my children to care about what happens, not just to understand. But my sons don't sulk for hours when we lose. How complete is the thrill of a comeback victory if you've never felt the despair of letting one slip away?
With this season's opening day 48 hours away, I wonder about my need to transform my kids into Yankee fans. I worry that by teaching them the ways of the old country, I am implanting my own homesickness in them. And perhaps it is futile to hope my children will live or die with each game the way I did at their age. They do care - they hopped around the room screaming when the Yankees won the Series last fall - but I know they really watch the Yankees to be with me.
Despite globalization, baseball has never penetrated the consciousness of America's closest ally. Perhaps Israel's frenetic anxiety cannot adjust to baseball's erratic but leisurely rhythm. Maybe it is impossible to carve out space for the optimistic uplift of the Babe and the Mick and the Luckiest Man on the Face of the Earth in a mythic universe so crowded, ancient and tragic.
Yankee lore may be an escape, but it also provides some balance; for once we can hope for a victory with no tears, and feel good about rooting for the top dog. If my Israeli children don't suffer in every Yankee defeat, I will be content with their cheering.
Don Futterman is a Yankee fan and the program director for Israel of the Moriah Fund.
******************************************************************************************THE NEW YORK TIMES
ON THE FRONT LINE
Passing health care reform was only half of the job. It is just as important likely just as politically difficult to quickly and smoothly carry out the reforms. Republican critics have made clear that they are not going to stop fighting just because comprehensive reform has become the law of the land.
One of the first things the Obama administration and Congress must do is put in a strong chief for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, which runs the public insurance programs that serve nearly a third of Americans. It has been without an administrator since October 2006. That is well before President Obama took office, but we are astonished he has left the job open for so long.
Officials say the president has finally settled on Dr. Donald Berwick. He is a professor of pediatrics and health care policy at the Harvard Medical School, renowned for his efforts to improve the quality and efficiency of health care two goals of effective reform.
You may have never heard of the agency that he would lead, but it is the largest buyer of health care in the country and has a huge influence on medical care through its interactions with hospitals, doctors and private health plans. It will have a major role in getting reform right.
The Medicare program that insures older and disabled Americans will be testing new payment mechanisms and delivery reforms that are supposed to slow the relentless rise in health care costs while also improving quality. Pilot programs in Medicare, for example, will reward doctors for the quality, not quantity, of care they deliver and will encourage greater coordination among doctors and institutions that typically work in isolation.
To help finance coverage of the uninsured, Medicare will also have to absorb large cuts and find productivity savings. Those changes will need to be carefully supervised to avoid harm to patients.
The agency also oversees the joint federal-state Medicaid program that insures the poor. As part of the reform, it will need to draft regulations to guide a big expansion in enrollment. Some states have already signaled their resistance to taking on those added costs. That means the agency, and its new leader, will have to come up with strategies to help states move vigorously on expansion and goad any laggards.
Dr. Berwick looks like a very solid choice for these tasks. In addition to his clinical and professorial duties, he co-founded and serves as president of the Institute for Healthcare Improvement, a consulting and analytical organization that promotes measures to improve the quality and safety of health care while reducing its costs.
He has a demonstrated ability to enlist hospitals, doctors and other health care professionals in the cause of reforming their practices.
The agency will need a sustained infusion of money from Congress and talented staff members to bring complicated reforms to fruition. Dr. Berwick's main potential weakness is a lack of experience in running a very large organization, especially one that will have to operate in a high-charged political environment.
If Dr. Berwick is nominated, he would have to be confirmed by the Senate. Senators from both sides of the debate will need to press him on how he might backstop his lack of managerial experience and how he plans to deal with political opposition to reform.
Democratic leaders will have to insist that any confirmation hearing stays focused on the nominee's ideas and qualifications and not become another arena for attacking health care reform. This job and those questions are too important to get drowned by demagoguery.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
The new automobile fuel economy standards formally adopted by the Obama administration on Thursday will yield a trifecta of benefits: reduced dependence on foreign oil, fewer greenhouse gas emissions, and consumer savings at the pump.
This was truly a moment to celebrate. But it was tempered by the fact that some in Congress are trying to undo the laws that made the new standards possible.
The standards will require automakers to build passenger cars, sport-utility vehicles and minivans that average 35.5 miles per gallon by 2016 a 30 percent increase over today's cars, and the biggest single jump in fuel economy since the original standards were adopted in the 1970s. Cars will cost more, but the government estimates that consumers will save an average of $3,000 in fuel over the life of a new vehicle.
The standards will also impose the first-ever limits on automobile greenhouse gas emissions, and are expected to reduce fleetwide emissions by 21 percent by 2030 compared with what the output would have been without the standards. Because emissions from passenger vehicles represent about one-fifth of America's greenhouse gases, this is a step forward for the planet.
The automakers, who fought the rules until they went bust, have come to accept this as a step forward as well. A single national standard provides regulatory certainty, and they've got to get more efficient to survive.
Yet some in Congress seemed determined to roll back the laws that got us here. Senator Lisa Murkowski, a Republican from Alaska, and several other senators have mounted a challenge to the federal government's authority to regulate greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act not just from automobiles but from other sources. The Supreme Court gave the Environmental Protection Agency that authority three years ago, and the new emissions standards would have been impossible without it.
There has also been talk in the Senate of eliminating California's special authority under the Clean Air Act to set more aggressive motor vehicle standards than the federal limits. California used that authority to pass a law in 2002 setting greenhouse gas emissions limits for cars sold there. It was the first law of its kind in this country, and it provided the momentum and the foundation for the new nationwide standards.
What all of these opponents mean to do is to roll back history and the hard-won environmental protections it has produced. That would be a huge mistake.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
THIS TIME, LISTEN
The New York State Legislature made a much-needed change when it reauthorized the law that gave Mayor Michael Bloomberg direct control of New York City schools. It required him to confer more closely with parents, community groups and other stakeholders before closing schools. We have long been concerned about Mr. Bloomberg's commitment to that process and a recent ruling by the State Supreme Court made us worry more.
The court said the city has violated the new law and continues to "trivialize the whole notion of community involvement in decisions regarding the closing or phasing out of schools."
The ruling, which has blocked the closing of 19 schools cited for poor performance, requires the city to start the process again. This time, it must give the affected communities a meaningful opportunity to comment.
Before closing or phasing out a school, the schools chancellor must prepare a detailed impact statement that describes, among other things, changes in how the building would be used, the effects on the surrounding community and the ability of other schools in the area to absorb new students.
The impact statement is to be filed with several entities, including local community boards, community superintendents and school-based management teams at least six months before the start of the new school year. Soon afterward, the chancellor is supposed to hold public hearings where groups specified in the law can raise concerns that might alter the closure plan.
The judge ruled that the city failed to comply with these provisions, depriving parents of important information and the right to comment meaningfully on the closure plan. Unless this decision is overturned, the 19 schools are to remain open until the city reissues the impact statements and complies with other aspects of the law.
Beyond that, the city needs to make sure that the rules under which it decides to close some schools are fair, transparent and understandable to everyone who has a stake in the process.
Instead of dismissing the lawsuit as an act of sabotage by the teachers' union, which was party to it, city officials should be building bridges to the parents, community leaders and the angry state lawmakers who joined this suit out of frustration with the city's tactics.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
SOMEONE NEW IS WATCHING
Ever since the semi-independent Office of Congressional Ethics was created two years ago to vet allegations against lawmakers, cynics wondered how soon it would fall into the find-no-evil track record of the House ethics committee it serves. The new office showed encouraging initiative this week when it released a report that would have been buried from public notice under the old way of doing business.
The office found grounds to suspect that former Representative Nathan Deal, a Republican of Georgia, improperly used his Capitol office and chief of staff to put pressure on state officials to protect hundreds of thousands of dollars his auto salvage company was making every year from the state vehicle inspection program. Mr. Deal denied the allegation and another finding that he had improperly concealed the fact that his salary from the company violated ethics standards.
The new ethics office disagreed in a detailed 138-page report and forwarded the case to the full ethics committee for further investigation. But Mr. Deal resigned on March 21 to run for governor, minutes before the committee faced a deadline to take action.
Traditionally, that would have deep-sixed all mention of the case before the committee and the public since he was no longer a lawmaker. The ethics office, however, took its new role seriously and its bipartisan board voted 6 to 0 to make the report public despite Mr. Deal's timely exit. "Providing information to the public, improving transparency, is a central element of the O.C.E.'s mission," the office explained.
The office served notice on lawmakers that someone new is indeed watching and with a professional eye. The secrecy surrounding the standing ethics committee's operations too often shields and delays resolution, as in the case of the tangled affairs of Representative Charles Rangel. Members may grumble that the Office of Congressional Ethics amounts to a grand jury. The fact is that Congress refused to give it subpoena power, yet the office is not only managing to do good work but is telling the public what it is entitled to know.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
FINANCIAL REFORM 101
BY PAUL KRUGMAN
Let's face it: Financial reform is a hard issue to follow. It's not like health reform, which was fairly straightforward once you cut through the nonsense. Reasonable people can and do disagree about exactly what we should do to avert another banking crisis.
So here's a brief guide to the debate and an explanation of my own position.
Leave on one side those who don't really want any reform at all, a group that includes most Republican members of Congress. Whatever such people may say, they will always find reasons to say no to any actual proposal to rein in runaway bankers.
Even among those who really do want reform, however, there's a major debate about what's really essential. One side exemplified by Paul Volcker, the redoubtable former Federal Reserve chairman sees limiting the size and scope of the biggest banks as the core issue in reform. The other side a group that includes yours truly disagrees, and argues that the important thing is to regulate what banks do, not how big they get.
It's easy to see where concerns about banks that are "too big to fail" come from. In the face of financial crisis, the U.S. government provided cash and guarantees to financial institutions whose failure, it feared, might bring down the whole system. And the rescue operation was mainly focused on a handful of big players: A.I.G., Citigroup, Bank of America, and so on.
This rescue was necessary, but it put taxpayers on the hook for potentially large losses. And it also established a dangerous precedent: big financial institutions, we now know, will be bailed out in times of crisis. And this, it's argued, will encourage even riskier behavior in the future, since executives at big banks will know that it's heads they win, tails taxpayers lose.
The solution, say people like Mr. Volcker, is to break big financial institutions into units that aren't too big to fail, making future bailouts unnecessary and restoring market discipline.
It's a convincing-sounding argument, but I'm one of those people who doesn't buy it.
Here's how I see it. Breaking up big banks wouldn't really solve our problems, because it's perfectly possible to have a financial crisis that mainly takes the form of a run on smaller institutions. In fact, that's precisely what happened in the 1930s, when most of the banks that collapsed were relatively small small enough that the Federal Reserve believed that it was O.K. to let them fail. As it turned out, the Fed was dead wrong: the wave of small-bank failures was a catastrophe for the wider economy.
The same would be true today. Breaking up big financial institutions wouldn't prevent future crises, nor would it eliminate the need for bailouts when those crises happen. The next bailout wouldn't be concentrated on a few big companies but it would be a bailout all the same. I don't have any love for financial giants, but I just don't believe that breaking them up solves the key problem.
So what's the alternative to breaking up big financial institutions? The answer, I'd argue, is to update and extend old-fashioned bank regulation.
After all, the U.S. banking system had a long period of stability after World War II, based on a combination of deposit insurance, which eliminated the threat of bank runs, and strict regulation of bank balance sheets, including both limits on risky lending and limits on leverage, the extent to which banks were allowed to finance investments with borrowed funds. And Canada whose financial system is dominated by a handful of big banks, but which maintained effective regulation has weathered the current crisis notably well.
What ended the era of U.S. stability was the rise of "shadow banking": institutions that carried out banking functions but operated without a safety net and with minimal regulation. In particular, many businesses began parking their cash, not in bank deposits, but in "repo" overnight loans to the likes of Lehman Brothers. Unfortunately, repo wasn't protected and regulated like old-fashioned banking, so it was vulnerable to a pre-1930s-type crisis of confidence. And that, in a nutshell, is what went wrong in 2007-2008.
So why not update traditional regulation to encompass the shadow banks? We already have an implicit form of deposit insurance: It's clear that creditors of shadow banks will be bailed out in time of crisis. What we need now are two things: (a) regulators need the authority to seize failing shadow banks, the way the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation already has the authority to seize failing conventional banks, and (b) there have to be prudential limits on shadow banks, above all limits on their leverage.
Does the reform legislation currently on the table do what's needed? Well, it's a step in the right direction but it's not a big enough step. I'll explain why in a future column.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
THE ECSTASY OF FISCAL POLICY
BY DAVID BROOKS
Let's say you're a political consultant. You're sitting there in your West Hollywood bondage-themed strip club with party donors picking up the tab, and, of course, you're thinking about what a great country this is. Swept up in the spirit of gratitude, you decide you'd like to give back. You'd like to solve the country's looming fiscal catastrophe.
The heart of the problem, you figure, is that unlike yourself, Americans have grown complacent and careless. For 200 years, they lived precarious lives. There were boom and bust economic cycles, devastating epidemics and natural disasters that came without warning. These conditions instilled a sense of prudence. The thought of running up excessive debt filled them with moral horror.
But over the past years, life has become secure. This has eroded the fear of debt, private and public. In 1960, the nation's personal debt amounted to 55 percent of national income. By 2007, it had risen to 133 percent of national income.
In 1960, a politician would have been voted out of office if he had allowed the federal debt to double in a decade. Now politicians are likely to get voted out of office if they try to prevent it.
These days, voters want low taxes about 19 percent of G.D.P. And they want high spending over 25 percent of G.D.P. by 2020. As a result, federal debt, which stood at 41 percent of G.D.P. two years ago, is forecast to balloon to 90 percent of G.D.P. in 2020, according to the Congressional Budget Office. By that time, interest payments on the debt alone would be $900 billion a year.
This whole mess, you repeat to yourself, is caused by democracy and moral decay. What's needed is a moral revival. And who better to lead it than you? God put you on this earth to manipulate voters for the good of the country.
First, you need to change social norms. The financial crisis has helped to teach people the dangers of excessive debt, but there's probably going to have to be a public crusade like the ones against littering and smoking to hammer the point home. Think Warren Buffett TV spots. Think Oprah. Think Tom Hanks. Somebody has to remind the country that excessive debt is selfish.
Second, the whole deficit hawk brand needs a makeover. Those people are a bunch of schoolmarms: "You've been bad. Eat your broccoli. Accept a lower standard of living."
This is still a Billy Mays nation, thank God. The message has to be: "America can be richer and shinier!" Debt reduction has to be about renewal and prosperity, not pain and sacrifice.
That means deficit reduction has to be embedded in policies that produce growth. Michael Graetz of Columbia University has proposed replacing the current awful tax code with a value-added tax of 14 percent, cuts in the corporate tax rate, and a fair income tax with two simple brackets kicking in over $100,000. Many people have ideas to streamline the welfare state. The message has to be: we can afford to have a thick safety net, if it is more efficient.
Then you have to mobilize the political class. Now some people think their elected officials are so rotten that only an unelected commission can save us. Snobs. The history of commissions is the history of failure. Stuart M. Butler of the Heritage Foundation and Henry J. Aaron of the Brookings Institution argue compellingly that it is simply impossible in a democracy to rewrite the social contract without popular consent. Commissions are fine, but they have to be embedded in a broader democratic process.
The way to do that is to break free from the polarized committee structure. Invite a dozen handpicked senators and House members and stick them in a room three times a week for six months.
After they've come up with a debt-reduction plan, have them send it up in secret to the presidential deficit commission, which President Obama was smart enough to create.
Obama hasn't been recklessly brave on this issue, but he's fought against powerful political pressure for a series
of mechanisms, which, though riven with loopholes, at least have the potential to control spending things like the Medicare payment commission and the pay-as-you-go rules. If he had some support, he'd do the right thing.
So once the secret Congressional plan is passed to the White House, the deficit commission can unveil the thing as if it were the product of nonpolitical expertise. That would give the legislators some political cover, and all the Johnnies at the editorial pages and the think tanks will go into ecstasy. You'll persuade the Tea Party-types that it will make government less intrusive. You'll persuade business that it will be simple. You'll persuade liberals that the rich will bear the biggest burden. Everybody will pay something, but everybody will see some benefit.
If you can do that, you will save the country. If not, it's the decline of Rome, and you might as well just stay in the nightclub.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
SERBIA'S HONEST APOLOGY
BY TIM JUDAH
ON Tuesday, the Serbian Parliament passed a resolution condemning the massacre of some 8,000 Bosnian Muslim men and boys from Srebrenica in July 1995, soon after Bosnian Serb forces conquered the town.
The reactions to the resolution, however, have been shockingly churlish and cynical. Some, especially but not only Bosnian Muslims, have complained that the resolution was worthless because it talks only of a "crime" and a "tragedy," not a "genocide." Others say Serbia's government pushed this resolution through merely to curry favor with the European Union, which it desperately wants to join.
Such responses, however, fail to account for the deep divisions in the Serbian Parliament and public, between the supporters of the resolution and those who deny any responsibility for the massacre. Indeed, in Serbia as anywhere else, politics is the art of the possible, and that the resolution was proposed at all is an achievement.
The Srebrenica massacre was the single worst crime of the Bosnian war indeed, it was the single worst war crime in Europe since 1945. It was also one of the final acts of the conflict; four months later the leaders of the exhausted Muslims, Serbs and Croats were corralled onto an airbase in Dayton, Ohio, where they signed a deal ending the fighting. Bosnia remains a deeply divided and dysfunctional country, but the peace has held.
The resolution is yet another step toward putting the ghosts of Srebrenica to rest. With two exceptions Ratko Mladic, the commander of Bosnian Serb forces during the war, and Goran Hadzic, a leader of rebel Serbs in Croatia every single person indicted by the United Nations' war crimes tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, including those who carried out the massacre, has had to face justice in The Hague.
Moreover, the tribunal has ruled that the massacre at Srebrenica constituted genocide. In 2007 the International Court of Justice agreed although, notably, it stopped short of blaming Serbia, saying instead that Belgrade's responsibility lay in failing to prevent the killings by the Bosnian Serb forces which it supported and supplied.
The idea of passing a resolution in the Serbian Parliament on Srebrenica is not new, nor is the idea of recognizing the massacre. Five years ago Serbia's president, Boris Tadic, went to Srebrenica to pay homage to the victims. He did not take responsibility for the killings in the name of Serbia, but the visit was nevertheless a brave act: Many other Serbs either deny that a terrible crime was committed in their name at Srebrenica, or they shrug and say that horrible things were done during the conflict to Serbs as well, and that nobody talks of apologizing for them.
Tuesday's resolution was hardly unanimous it passed with just 127 votes in the 250-member Parliament, and many of its opponents stood fast to the nationalist rhetoric of the 1990s. Like many Serbs, they demanded a resolution condemning all crimes committed during the wars in the former Yugoslavia, especially those against Serbs.
The resolution, therefore, is a political landmark. And even if it fails to mention "genocide," it makes it still harder to insist that the massacre never happened or that the number of victims has been grossly inflated.
Yet the Serbian government finds itself caught in a position of being damned if you do, damned if you don't. If Belgrade had done nothing, Serbs would continue to be accused of not facing up to the past. But now that it has done something, it is being accused of acting out of ulterior motives. That is a shame. This resolution is a lot better than nothing and a lot more than other countries have offered for heinous crimes committed in their names.
Tim Judah is the Balkans correspondent for The Economist and the author of "The Serbs: History, Myth and the Destruction of Yugoslavia."
THE NEW YORK TIMES
THE MYTH OF MEAN GIRLS
BY MIKE MALES AND MEDA-CHESNEY LIND
IF nine South Hadley, Mass., high school students seven of them girls are proved to have criminally bullied another girl who then committed suicide, as prosecutors have charged, they deserve serious legal and community condemnation.
However, many of the news reports and inflamed commentaries have gone beyond expressing outrage at the teenagers involved and instead invoked such cases as evidence of a modern epidemic of "mean girls" that adults simply fail to comprehend. Elizabeth Scheibel, the district attorney in the South Hadley case, declined to charge school officialswho she said were aware of the bullying because of their "lack of understanding of harassment associated with teen dating relationships." A People magazine article headlined "Mean Girls" suggested that a similar case two years ago raised "troubling questions" about "teen violence" and "cyberspace wars." Again and again, we hear of girls hitting, brawling and harassing.
But this panic is a hoax. We have examined every major index of crime on which the authorities rely. None show a recent increase in girls' violence; in fact, every reliable measure shows that violence by girls has been plummeting for years. Major offenses like murder and robbery by girls are at their lowest levels in four decades. Fights, weapons possession, assaults and violent injuries by and toward girls have been plunging for at least a decade.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation's Uniform Crime Reports, based on reports from more than 10,000 police agencies, is the most reliable source on arrests by sex and age. From 1995 to 2008, according to the F.B.I., girls' arrest rates for violent offenses fell by 32 percent, including declines of 27 percent for aggravated assault, 43 percent for robbery and 63 percent for murder. Rates of murder by girls are at their lowest levels in at least 40 years.
The National Crime Victimization Survey, a detailed annual survey of more than 40,000 Americans by the Department of Justice's Bureau of Justice Statistics, is considered the most reliable measure of crime because it includes offenses not reported to the police. From 1993 through 2007, the survey reported significant declines in rates of victimization of girls, including all violent crime (down 57 percent), serious and misdemeanor assaults (down 53 percent), robbery (down 83 percent) and sex offenses (down 67 percent).
Public health agencies like the National Center for Health Statistics confirm huge declines in murder and violent assaults of girls. For example, as the number of females ages 10 to 19 increased by 3.4 million, murders of girls fell from 598 in 1990 to 376 in 2006. Rates of murders of and by adolescent girls are now at their lowest levels since 1968 48 percent below rates in 1990 and 45 percent lower than in 1975.
The Bureau of Justice Statistics' Intimate Partner Violence in the United States survey, its annual Indicators of School Crime and Safety, the University of Michigan's Monitoring the Future survey and the Centers for Disease Control's Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance all measure girls' violent offending and victimization. Virtually without exception, these surveys show major drops in fights and other violence, particularly relationship violence, involving girls over the last 15 to 20 years. These surveys also indicate that girls are no more likely to report being in fights, being threatened or injured with a weapon, or violently victimizing others today than in the first surveys in the 1970s.
These striking improvements in girls' personal safety, including from rape and relationship violence, directly contradict recent news reports that girls suffer increasing danger from violence by their female and male peers alike.
There is only one measure that would in any way indicate that girls' violence has risen, and it is both dubious and outdated. F.B.I. reports show assault arrests of girls under age 18 increased from 6,300 in 1981 to a peak of 16,800 in 1995, then dropped sharply, to 13,300 in 2008. So, at best, claims that girls' violence is rising apply to girls of 15 to 25 years ago, not today.
Even by this measure, it's not girls who have gotten more violent faster it's middle-aged men and women, the age groups of the many authors and commentators disparaging girls. Among women ages 35 to 54, F.B.I. reports show, felony assault arrests rocketed from 7,100 in 1981 to 28,800 in 2008. Assault arrests among middle-aged men also more than doubled, reaching 100,500 in 2008. In Northampton, the county seat a few miles from South Hadley, domestic violence calls to police more than tripled in the last four years to nearly 400 in 2009. Why, then, don't we see frenzied news reports on "Mean Middle-Agers"?
What's more, the Department of Justice's Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention concluded that girls' supposed "violent crime increase" in the '80s and '90s resulted from new laws and policies mandating arrests for domestic violence and minor youth offenses "that in past years may have been classified as status offenses (e.g., incorrigibility)" but "can now result in an assault arrest." Thus, the Justice Department found, increased numbers of arrests "are not always related to actual increases in crime."
This mythical wave of girls' violence and meanness is, in the end, contradicted by reams of evidence from almost every available and reliable source. Yet news media and myriad experts, seemingly eager to sensationalize every "crisis" among young people, have aroused unwarranted worry in the public and policy arenas. The unfortunate result is more punitive treatment of girls, including arrests and incarceration for lesser offenses like minor assaults that were treated informally in the past, as well as alarmist calls for restrictions on their Internet use.
Why, in an era when slandering a group of people based on the misdeeds of a few has rightly become taboo, does it remain acceptable to use isolated incidents to berate modern teenagers, particularly girls, as "mean" and "violent" and "bullies"? That is, why are we bullying girls?
Mike Males, a senior researcher at the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice, is the author of the forthcoming "Fighting for Girls: New Perspectives on Gender and Violence." Meda-Chesney Lind is a professor of women's studies at the University of Hawaii, Manoa.
******************************************************************************************I. THE NEWS
After a gap spanning nearly three decades, power has returned from the presidency to parliament. The Parliamentary Committee on Constitutional Reforms after the unexpected stutter encountered a week ago has put its signature on 95 amendments which make up the 18th Amendment Bill. The Constitution reverts far more closely to the form it took in 1973 than at any previous time since 1979. Key powers have been taken away from the president, including the right to dissolve parliament. Against the backdrop of the events we have seen unfold repeatedly since 1988, when democracy returned to the country following the death of General Ziaul Haq, this in itself is a hugely significant development. It changes dramatically the balance of power on Pakistan's political see-saw. The fact that power now rests for the most part with parliament also places on it a great deal of responsibility. People will expect it to come up to the mark. We have seen too many years of governance by ordinance. The challenge now for legislators is to take matters into their own hands and see if they can deliver to people the kind of governance they seek. The time for playing of games is over. We need the National Assembly to rise up to the occasion, and prove its worth. It is now a fully sovereign body.
After over a century, we also have a new provincial name on the map. The scenes of rejoicing in Peshawar and other places indicate just how much delight there is over the ushering in of the somewhat awkwardly named Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa. In real terms, the renaming means very little. It will not in itself bring an end to the militancy that has wrecked the region or to the poverty that has been a factor in its rise. But symbolic change means a lot too, and the new name perhaps brings with it hope of a better future. The selection of a new name was one of the two issues which had caused the PML-N to dig in its heels. We wonder what it has achieved by insisting on attaching the word 'Khyber' to the name put forward by the ANP. Perhaps a great deal more could have been gained by a display of graciousness from a party associated chiefly with the majority province. But the most important thing is that despite the dissenting note from the PML-Q the two major parties have agreed on this and on the issue of appointing judges to the superior judiciary.
The PCCR and its chairman Raza Rabbani deserve a round of applause. A task that had at the start seemed impossible has been achieved with goodwill and consensus. The few disagreements that inevitably surfaced during the drafting of the 18th Amendment have been included in the draft a somewhat rare show of magnanimity given the history of law-making in the recent past. The PPP too deserves credit. The promise of parliament with greater powers has been delivered on. Key players have been taken along in this task. This is a big achievement. Some analysts already hold it is as significant a step in our constitutional history as the 1973 document itself. Only time will tell if this assessment is correct. But there can be no doubt that a huge stride forward has been taken, and this, alone, is reason enough to celebrate.
I. THE NEWS
As a welcome outbreak of wary unity spreads through parliament there is a note of cautious optimism being sounded by the ever-sceptical Moody's. Moody's Investors Service acts as a kind of fiscal barometer which delivers financial research and analysis for commercial and government entities; and it also ranks the credit-worthiness of borrowers using a standardised ratings scale. We are currently rated at B3, defined as "subject to high credit risk" and having "generally poor credit quality." On the face of it this does not look promising, but the better news is that we are not slipping further down the scale and there are indications that recovery at a more rapid rate is possible if a number of glaringly obvious issues are addressed. Our government is said by Moody's to be 'constrained' in its focus on long-term economic issues by its weakness and questions of legitimacy from a variety of quarters, as well as a 'somewhat tense' relationship with the military. Political energy which could and should be channelled into resolving our interwoven and complex difficulties is instead expended fighting internal political battles, with the inevitable result being that insufficient time and effort is directed towards effective national political management.
Moody's as would the majority of the people of Pakistan would like to see greater political stability which would then act as the enabling agent for economic growth. Circular debt is identified as a particular impediment to economic growth and currently our growth and recovery rates are rated as 'slow'. Despite this Moody's sees no immediate indication that our rating needs a downgrade and suggests that " if there are some improvements in these binding constraints, one could actually start thinking about improvements in the sovereign credit rating at some point." This would require a sustained long-term focus on economic issues and is perhaps too much to hope for in the very short term, yet if one considers Pakistan as a 'work in progress' rather than a fully developed entity there are recent signs that all may not be as black as it is often painted. Several long-standing issues of cross-party animosity have recently been resolved; and the challenge now is to channel the energy otherwise used to inflict political wounds into a process of national healing.
I. THE NEWS
THANK GOD FOR SMALL MERCIES
This could have been a wrecking moment, another corrosive chapter in a history not given to too many bright moments. But if the worst did not happen, and if disaster was averted, it was only because politicians, denounced and vilified so much, were in charge of the exercise.
The Parliamentary Committee on Constitutional Reforms, with every party in parliament represented in it, had deliberated on undoing the mischief of Pervez Musharraf's 17th Amendment for full nine months. The PML-N members of the Committee - Ishaq Dar, Mehtab Abbasi, Ahsan Iqbal, Zahid Hamid - were amongst its most active members. Not only had they gone every step of the way with the rest of the committee. Their input was crucial in determining the final shape of the 18th Amendment.
It wasn't just that. If there was any party which had made the cleansing of the Constitution its own cause it was the PML-N. As soon as Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudry and his fellow judges were restored to the Supreme Court in March last year, the PML-N had mounted the ramparts and raised the cry that democracy's battle was only half won and would not be complete unless the 17th Amendment, the essence of Musharraf's constitutional mutilation, was repealed.
The PML-N's stance on the judiciary and the restoration of the Constitution to its pre-Musharraf form served it well, enabling it to occupy the moral high ground, a task made all the more easy because of the many disabilities under which the PPP laboured. That it was the party headed by Asif Ali Zardari was enough to condemn it. It was also associated in the public mind with incompetence and a reputation for unrelieved corruption.
There was also the question of credibility. As the Constitutional Committee started its work not many people in the political class were willing to bet that President Zardari would willingly surrender the powers vested in his office by the 17th Amendment. When smaller parties raised such questions as the ambit of provincial autonomy or a new name for the Frontier province, these were taken as delaying tactics to sidetrack the committee from focusing on its principal task of undoing Musharraf's constitutional legacy.
For once the sceptics were not only proved long. They were left dumbfounded. Led by Senator Raza Rabbani - who deserves all praise for not succumbing to despair and for keeping the deliberations going - the committee went through the Constitution with a fine comb and hammered out a consensus on 95 points. All that remained was to place the 18th Amendment before parliament and pour out the Rooh Afza - there being, alas, for the good of our immortal souls no doubt, no champagne in the Islamic Republic.
Just then, with a sense of timing that could be the envy of a performer on the stage, and living up to his reputation as a master of surprise, Mian Nawaz Sharif hurled his bombshell. The PML-N, he said, had serious reservations about Pakhtunkhwa as the new name for the Frontier and it wanted a change in the formula for the appointment of senior judges. Talk of euphoria hitting a dead wall, or a magic spell rudely broken - something along those lines was the effect of that bombshell.
Had the other parties exploded in anger or even gone into a sulk, their reaction, even if counted as deplorable, would have been easy to understand. But I suppose it is a measure of the new maturity of the Pakistani political class that such a reaction did not occur. Shouting statements or charges of betrayal were assiduously avoided. The matter was not even raised in the National Assembly even when the temptation to do so was great.
It was as if everyone realised that something important was at stake: that if all the hard work was allowed to go down the drain, it would be a severe setback for a democracy still trying to find a firm foothold. It is to the credit of the committee, its chairman and all its members - and when the credits are shared I think full marks have to be given to the PML-N, especially Ishaq Dar, whose personal standing with the other members proved crucial when it came to the breakthrough - that they kept their calm and instead of accusing the PML-N of revisiting things already agreed, accommodated its viewpoint on both the issues it had raised.
The Frontier now is to become Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, the Khyber being a concession to the PML-N, although what good it really does will remain a matter of conjecture; whereas in the judicial commission the seventh member is to be appointed by the chief justice in consultation with the next two senior judges.
The 'beauty of democracy' has become an all-weather cliché. Stuck for an answer out we come with it (leading me often, when I hear it, to reach for my pistol). Yet there is something in this for us to ponder over.
Uzbekistan, Burma, and the blessed Ummah may thrive (although that's problematic) under autocratic rule. An emir may rule Kuwait and the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques bear the destiny of his kingdom in the palm of his hands (although to be fair to Saudi Arabia there is a process of consultation in the extended royal family). But for Pakistan this is the kiss of death.
Not because democracy lies in our genes - it does not - but because our birth was through a constitutional process. Democracy, and not the Jamaat-e-Islami or the Jamiat Ulema-e-Hind, created Pakistan. Our founding fathers dreamt of an egalitarian republic, not the monument to hypocrisy raised by various tin-pot dictators.
There is a tendency in Pakistan - most pronounced in retired military men, religious warriors and the non-voting middle class - to denounce political parties as a cesspool wherein flourish the vilest manifestations of the human condition. Such enlightened souls would do well to remember that the biggest disasters to befall Pakistan - the 1965 war, the dismemberment, the rise of religious extremism, the loss of the Siachen Glacier, the misadventure in Kargil - were gifts of military rule.
Had the spirit shown by all the political parties over the 18th Amendment prevailed in 1971, things might not have come to the pass they did. Had the political parties shown a similar spirit of mutual accommodation in 1977, and had Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto not been the autocrat that he was, Zia's coup, whose after-effects disfigured Pakistan and continue to blight its appearance, might have been averted.
The 1973 Constitution could only have been agreed upon in a democratic setting. The agreement on the 18th Amendment could only have been brokered by politicians. What could have been a disastrous breakdown was only prevented because politicians, schooled in the necessities of compromise and the business of give-and-take, were at the helm.
Which is not to say that the 18th Amendment and the hosannas surrounding its passage will take care of Pakistan's other problems. Beyond the subtlety of judicial and political issues lies another world: that of real problems. To a population hit by inflation, power cuts and the lack of jobs it is small consolation that Musharraf's constitutional legacy is being swept into the sea. There is a growing feeling in the country that the last two years have been largely wasted: the political class and the intelligentsia (or what there is of it in Pakistan) seized with 'academic' issues while public frustration and anger have been rising and now are truly on the march.
But in the war against extremism Pakistan has notched a clear victory. Terrorism while not eradicated - far from it - is on the defensive. While in this the main laurels have been won by the army, followed closely by the air force, this success could not have been achieved without unequivocal political backing, a conclusion which the military would do well to take to its heart. Now, hopefully, with the passage of the 18th Amendment, political issues which have been distracting attention from other fronts will be behind us. The time for excuses will be finally over.
With the army doing its job, the political arm of the state bestirring itself and rising to the other challenges facing the country, and their lordships somehow bringing themselves to place discretion before valour - although this could be hoping for too much in the present super-charged judicial atmosphere - Pakistan could then, hopefully, enter the real world.
And its people could hope for some overdue attention to their real problems.
I. THE NEWS
ALMOST TOO GOOD TO BE TRUE
DR MUZAFFAR IQBAL
The end of the Constitution Reform Committee's long saga is almost too good to be true, yet the handshaking and the signing of the document is real and there is no backtracking or bickering, at least not yet.
So, does this mean that one can sleep in peace and wake up in a country where the rule of law has finally been established and the people of a province which was denied its due rights - even the right of a name - can now be part of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan as an entity equal to the other provinces which all have their names based on the racial composition of the people who live there?
More importantly, does this also mean that we can now bury ghosts of history, which have haunted us for over a century? If the answer is in affirmative, then will we rewrite our history textbooks and teach our children that the savage British colonisers were able to colonise the entire subcontinent but not the brave Pashtuns who sent back only one man out of some 20,000 who had come to conquer them in 1849. Will we also tell our children that that one man, Dr William Brydon, going back alive in horror, did not teach any lesson to the overbearing British lords who sent two more expeditions to the land of the brave Pashtuns, resulting in the so-called Second (1876) and the Third Anglo-Afghan Wars (1919), which taught the British new lessons, after which they changed their modus operandi and found local Hamid Karzais and created a rift in the rank and file of the Pashtuns.
The British then chopped up the captured land into smaller units - the Provincially Administered Tribal Areas (PATA), Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), Frontier Regions (FR), etc. and eventually, on November 9, 1901, the no-name brand province, simply called the North West Frontier Province (NWFP) was formed as a chief commissioner-ruled province, the chief commissioner being the chief executive of the province. This happened after a series of wars, in the backdrop of the Great Game between the British and the Russians, which were followed by the establishment of the so-called Durand line - a poorly marked 2,445km border now between the American-occupied-Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Will we add to our future textbooks, perhaps as a footnote, that three days before the historic Mian Raza Rabbani-led parliamentary committee on constitutional reforms signed the draft of the 18th Amendment to rename NWFP, the US President Barack Obama paid a six-hour trip to Afghanistan like a "thief" in the night, during which he landed at the US air base at Bagram, flew by helicopter to the capital, landed in the heavily fortified presidential palace, met his puppet for only 25 minutes, visited his soldiers and flew back to homeland safety?
Of course, there will be a need to teach our future generations all of this and more. There must be some mention of the infamous Sir Mortimer Durand, foreign secretary of the British colonial government, who in 1893 negotiated with Abdur Rahman Khan, the Amir of Afghanistan, the line now called the frontier between modern-day Afghanistan and Pakistan, the savagery of the British soldiers who plundered villages and burnt houses and kidnapped children and women. But all of this will come in time, God willing, for now, it is time to rejoice for the return of some degree of hope in the land from where this precious commodity has simply disappeared.
The hope generated by the enactment of a new amendment, restoring a semblance of balance of power in the state affairs in favour of elected representatives is indeed invigorating, but one cannot consider it to be the solution in itself. Pakistan has a long way to go before any form of representative government can come into existence. A government representing the true vision of the country as it came into existence. There are already enough secular elements in the system to thwart any attempt to restore the spirit of the constitution, the Objectives Resolution, the historic March 23, 1940 event and all that has gone into making the Islamic Republic of Pakistan where Islam is taken as a token.
Whatever hope this new amendment generates, however, should not be set aside, not now, when the nation is really short on hope. So, let us hope that the process that started on March 31, 2010, will come to its logical conclusion and will bring a better future for this beloved, wounded land.
The writer is a freelance columnist. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
I. THE NEWS
HOW THE (MORE THAN)OTHER HALF LIVES
AHMAD RAFAY ALAM
Two weeks ago, on the 20th of March, a fire broke out in Shanti Nagar, a slum in Gulshan-e-Iqbal in Karachi. Locals informed the fire department of the incident almost immediately, but by the time the fire trucks arrived and whether their delay was caused by their inefficiency or because they had to negotiate the crowd that had gathered on the scene there was nothing left but the ashes of over 300 shanties.
Shanties to you and me, but shelter to nearly 3,000 people, all of whom were left without homes. Some managed to save their belongings before the fire came. Some did not. Since the event happened in the afternoon, most adults were away, working, and their children left at home. Some unattended. Seven-year-old Danish's life was taken when the flames engulfed his home. Ten to fifteen other children were unaccounted for. Several others were injured.
It is impossible to quantify or relate to something as traumatic as the fire, the loss of life and the traumatic displacement of an entire community at Shanti Nagar. Arif Hasan, the eminent urbanist, once told an assembled audience in Lahore that there was nothing like a forced eviction; that they had to see one to really know what it meant. Of course, Hasan was not talking of people displaced because of things like fires or natural disasters. He was talking of people forcibly removed from their homes for the sake of "development", like when the officials of the Office of Education of the City District Government Lahore, on March 19, demolished some eight homes near the Lady Maclagan School on Bank Road to make space for the proposed new block of classrooms. That's not to say that the communities displaced in Shanti Nagar are any more or less traumatised than the families that were deemed to be illegal squatters on the property of the Lady Maclagan School. It is to say that the displacement by any means is traumatic.
The problem with slums, and there are many problems with slums, is that, as a rule, their inhabitants do not possess proprietary rights. Because they are not the owners of their shanties, their occupation sits at odds with the machinery of the state and the understanding of its laws. If someone doesn't have rights in property, how can he be said to have lost it? The machinery of the state does not look at the occupants of slums with a sympathetic eye. The same is true for the occupants of the homes demolished inside the Lady Maclagan School in Lahore. The land belongs to the City District Government of Lahore and, therefore, if the EDO (Education) deems it necessary to build a new block of classrooms, that is that. Occupation or not, homes or not, the cries of families being thrown to the wolves or not, the structures were "illegally occupied" and so the demolition team did not even have to inform the occupants of their decision.
The fact is that displacements, and the trauma that accompanies them, are everyday occurrence in Pakistan. If not at the hands of the elements and natural disaster (the flooding of the Leh Nullah in Rawalpindi routinely displaces hundreds), then at the hands of the numerous "encroachment drives" under the guise of "development".
The issue that appears is not of rights, but equity and morality. Cities in this part of the world, until recently, have been the exception and not the norm. Through history, with few exceptions, South Asians have been an agricultural and rural people. Now, we are told that over thirty five per cent of the people of Pakistan live in cities, and that in the near future, this figure will shoot past fifty per cent. At the same time, we have to understand how, as exceptions to the rule, our cities have grown. As the preferred space of the political, business and social elites, our cities have been occupied by a small but disproportionally influential set of elites. They have grown on the whim of whomsoever has had the occupancy of the civil secretariat or the position of general officer commanding the station. They have grown along the lines of a vision firmly set in the status quo.
But that is set to change. It must. The fact that slums exist is a proof of the fact that our cities are misallocating their resources in favour of a privileged few. For example, if one were to examine the footprint of the city of Lahore, they would find that a (incidentally elite) minority of the people live in the majority of the space occupied by housing schemes, cantonment boards and Defence Housing Authorities. Given the expected urbanisation of Pakistan, which is already the most urbanised country in South Asia, the pressures its new inhabitants will have on existing housing availability, sanitation, healthcare and educational services, employment opportunities and recreational spaces will be immense. Already, substantial proportions of the current and expected urban population live in slums or in unhygienic conditions. In Punjab, almost fifty per cent of the urban population lives in slums. In Karachi, I've been told that nearly seventy per cent of the population lives in slums.
The displacement of people for whatever reason is not without its cost. David Harvey, the noted academic and geographer in his recent seminal article 'The Right to the City' traces the history of urban displacement and links it firmly with urban violence. For example, Hausmann's Paris may have been the "city of lights" and the envy of every city back in the 1850s but the trauma of the displacements it caused, not to mention the economic disaster that was France's loss of the Franco-Prussian War, saw the birth of the Paris Commune. Similarly, readers are reminded of the fact that New York City in the 1970s was one of the most dangerous cities in the world and, in 1975, actually suffered bankruptcy. Harvey can trace these events to the trauma caused by massive displacements in the name of urban development undertaken in the preceding decades.
The overarching issue to be tackled is one of urban poverty and the effect it will have on the future of our cities. In Pakistan, with all the displacements effected and taking place, with the inequality in our cities increasing, we are lucky to have been spared the specter of urban violence (Karachi has nothing on, say, Rio de Janeiro, where some of the city's elite prefers to helicopter to work than take their chances on the favela mobs waiting for the opportunity to kidnap a millionaire). At some point, the Right to the City will have to be acknowledged and made part of a larger political debate.
In 1890, Jacob Riis published his work of photojournalism, "How the Other Half Lives", and documented the squalid conditions in which the inhabitants of New York City's tenements were forced to live. Condemned as muckraking journalism, it exposed the living conditions of the urban poor to the middle and upper classes of the city. But it was also powerful enough to attract the attention of, amongst others, Theodore Roosevelt, who used it as a basis to launch reform in housing in the city. When will our "How the Other Half Lives" be published?
The writer is an advocate of the high court and a member of the adjunct faculty at LUMS. He has an interest in urban planning. Email: email@example.com
I. THE NEWS
AUTISM -- OBSESSION INEXPLICABLE
I am at a park. I see a smart little boy. He is in the pink of health and seems perfect in every respect. Yet, he is somehow different. He has a detached attitude, is disinterested in the games other children are playing. Not even attracted to the rides other children his age are cuing up for, shrieking with laughter and fun.
Suddenly, he rolls on the ground. Then he gets up and starts spinning the propellers of a toy helicopter. He picks up grass and leaves and puts them in his mouth. His anxious mother tries her best to stop him, but is unable to. He starts howling when a passing truck honks. While other children sit on the merry-go-round, his attention is riveted to its axis, as if in transfixion. When the mother tries to take him home, he just lies on the grass and refuses to move. She tries unsuccessfully to get him interested in play; she tries to calm him down, continually asking what is bothering him, why he isn't playing with the rest of the children. He makes no attempt to reply, remains inconsolable. His mother seems helpless. Finally, she gives up and calls the driver to carry him to the car.
At her wits' end and near tears, the poor mother thinks that the child is deliberately being difficult, or is not "normal." Unbeknown to her, the child suffers from a condition about which not enough is known autism. The symptoms were so clear that I as a trained therapist immediately knew that she needed help. She told me that all the teachers complained that she had an unruly kid, that she had further spoiled him by not disciplining him properly.
She was desperate to know. Why didn't he play, talk and laugh like other kids? In her heart, she was sure that he was capable of a lot more but there was something holding him back. At the same time, there was this lurking doubt. Did he have mental problems! I suggested that she immediately see a neurologist.
According to the TEACCH Autism Program of the University of North Carolina School of Medicine, autism is one of the most common developmental disabilities in the world, affecting one out of every 166 children. This makes it the second most common developmental disability its prevalence even higher than Down's syndrome.
Although the symptoms of autism are quite obvious by age two, parents normally don't seek help till the child reaches pre-school. Their world turns upside down when they are told by the teacher that there is something "wrong" with their child. They are faced with the fear and suspicion they had suspected, but refused to accept.
The most predictable attribute of autism is unpredictability. Children with autism look "normal," but their behaviour is perplexing and difficult. The most critical aspect of autism is difficulty with sensory integration. Everyday sounds, sights, smells and touch, which are so normal for others, could be downright painful to autistic people. A trip to the supermarket or attending a birthday party could be a nightmare.
Their hyper-acute senses of smell, hearing and touch make it difficult for them to filter out irrelevant information. The ring of the cash register, the creaking wheels of a cart, a baby's wailing, the mobile ringing, the unpleasant odour of fish or even of passers by, can be a terrifying experience for children with autism. They also have difficulty with boundaries: space seems to change, making it difficult for them to make sense of things around them.
People with autism are regarded as "concrete thinkers." Receptive and expressive language is a challenge.