media watch with peoples input an organization of rastriya abhyudaya
month april 03, edition 000472, 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
- A LAW FRAMED IN GREY
- WOMEN AS TERRORISTS
- DEFEND AB, DON'T EMBRACE HIM - ASHOK MALIK
- LIBERATION, THEFINAL AIM - AJIT BISHNOI
- AN ERA ENDS IN DIPLOMATIC HISTORY - REGINALD DALE
- ANGLO-SAXONS DISUNITED - S RAJAGOPALAN
- INDIA SHOULD TAKE NOTE - HARINDER SEKHON
- UPA UNDERMINES ITSELF BY MAKING CBI PARTISAN
- AUDITING DELHI'S TRANSPORT
- NAC KILLS MANY BIRDS WITH ONE STONE - BY BHARAT BHUSHAN
- THIRD UMPIRE - QAISER MOHAMMAD ALI
THE TIMES OF INDIA
- SAGE AGAINST THE MACHINE
- BE MOBILE WITHOUT RISK - MILIND DEORA
- ICONS MUST PERFORM - PRODOSH MITRA
- THEY HELP IN BRANDING
- THINK TANKS IN INDIA'S DEMOCRACY - KANTI BAJPAI
- NO MORE TICKET TO RIDE
- FIGURING OUT THE NUMBERS - PRATIK KANJILAL
- TALIBAN: GOOD AGAIN? - BARKHA DUTT
- LOCAL HEROES
- BIG B-OOMERANG
- PLATINUM RULE
- BHARTI AND BHARAT - ANANDITA SINGH MANKOTIA
- NOOSE MEDIA - SHEKHAR GUPTA
- A DIFFERENT APPROACH TO GLOBAL EDUCATION - DAVIDFINEGOLD
- THAILAND'S BATTLE OF ATTRITION
- READING AND KNOWING
- CONSTITUTIONAL CORRECTION - RUCHIKA TALWAR
- STILL BATTING FOR REFORM
- CAN IPL SUSTAIN THE BOOM?
- WHY TAKEOUT FINANCING IS IMPORTANT - SHOBHANA SUBRAMANIAN
- INDIA SHOULD CONTINUE TO LOOK EAST - AMITENDU PALIT
- US MANUFACTURING BOUNCES BACK - ALEXANDRA RICE
- MAKING RTE WORK
- TRADE REBOUNDS
- INDIA'S CHILDREN HAVE A PRECARIOUS RIGHT - KRISHNA KUMAR
- THE BILL ON PROHIBITION OF UNFAIR PRACTICES AND INCLUSIVE HIGHER EDUCATION - M.A. BABY
- HOW DID HOT CROSS BUNS BECOME TWO A PENNY? - FINLO ROHRER
- AFRICA HAS LOST $1.8 TN ILLEGALLY, SAY RESEARCHERS - DAVID SMITH
- RESTORING ARMY'S PRIDE
- EGGS AND EASTER - JAVED GAYA
- "I'M A FREE BIRD AFTER MY DIVORCE" - DIPANNITA GHOSH BISWAS
- DRUNKEN EVENINGS IN KINNAUR - MALVIKA TEGTA
- ON DEATH ROW
- ARMY CHIEF'S HARD TALK
- RELIEF FOR LALU
- QUOTA FOR MUSLIMS - BY KULDIP NAYAR
- MAN OF THE FUTURE - BY RAJBIR DESWAL
- PUNJABI IMMIGRANTS IN TROUBLE - BY PRABHJOT SINGH
- NEED TO CHECK ALARMING RISE IN SUICIDES - BY BALVINDER
- INSIDE PAKISTAN - BY SYED NOORUZZAMAN
- WOMEN'S BILL: CRIME ANGLE
- GRADE BUDGET SCHOOLS - GURCHARAN DAS
- HOW MANY ROADS WILL HE TRAVEL? - ADITI PHADNIS
- FATIMA BHUTTO'S SEASONS IN HELL - V V
- THE OVERCROWDED PMO K NATWAR SINGH
- CAN KARACHI GET A NEW START? - SUNIL SETH
- THE SUPPLY OF JUSTICE - INDIRA RAJARAMAN
- INTENT VS DELIVERY - T N NINAN
- MAID IN HEAVEN - KISHORE SINGH
- CARETAKER TENANT - KEYA SARKAR
- THE COST OF BEING A PSU - JITENDER BHARGAVA
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
- POWERFUL ATTRACTIONS
- COST-PUSHED STEEL PRICES
- NOT ONE MORE CESS
- PPP FOR RURAL INFRASTRUCTURE - ARVIND MAYARAM
- EQUIP TO BEAT THE SELF-DEFEAT - VITHAL C NADKARNI
- CHINA'S CHEAP, BUT WHEN IT COMES TO QUALITY, BUYERS THINK OF INDIA: MITCH FREE - N SHIVAPRIYA
- 'INDIA'S LONG-TERM GROWTH STORY REMAINS INTACT' - DEEPTHA RAJKUMAR
- DEMAND FOR INDIAN DEBT TO STAY HIGH: TARUN JOTWANI, NOMURA - GEORGE SMITH ALEXANDER
- PUNJAB & SIND BANK NOT UP FOR SALE: CHAIRMAN - DHEERAJ TIWARI
- A PATHBREAKING STEP FOR SCIENCE
- CORRUPTION RAJ - BY BY FARRUKH DHONDY
- METRO IL FANCY
- FEUDAL JUSTICE FOR A FEUDAL CRIME - BY ANTARA DEV SEN
- UK CRAZY ABOUT CUTS - BY KISHWAR DESAI
- THE ECSTASY OF FISCAL POLICY - BY DAVID BROOKS
- LARGE COLLISION
- THE SHINING BRASS POLE - SUNANDA K. DATTA-RAY
- LANDMARK LAW
- HOLD THE POLLS
- THOSE PIONEERING STEPS - BY S L RAO
- MALLIKA AND HER MUNSHI - BY KHUSHWANT SINGH
- SUMMER RAINS - BY BRINDA POORNAPRAGNA
THE NEW YORK TIMES
- PRESIDENT KARZAI LASHES OUT
- A DEAL AT GROUND ZERO?
- PROMISES FOR AND FROM HAITI
- ABOUT THAT WEBCAM
- THE END OF HISTORY (BOOKS) - BY MARC ARONSON
- WE STILL DON'T HEAR HIM - BY BOB HERBERT
- AN ARTICLE OF FAITH - BY CHARLES M. BLOW
- OF JETS, VOYEURS AND BACK WAX - BY GAIL COLLINS
- A PRINCIPLED ACT
- PIPELINE POLITICS
- DAYBREAK NIGHTMARE
- 'MAN ON HORSEBACK' - ARIF NIZAMI
- WAR OR PEACE ON THE INDUS? - JOHN BRISCOE
- ON NATIONAL SECURITY POLICY - SANIA NISHTAR
- STILL STUCK IN THE NRO - BABAR SATTAR
- THE ASSASSINS - ANJUM NIAZ
- INDIA RAISES CHINESE BOGEY AGAIN
- FRIVOLOUS OBJECTIONS TO GAS DEAL WITH IRAN
- IF PS WOULD HAVE BEEN PRIVATISED!
- TOGETHER WE STAND! - NOSHEEN SAEED
- ISI: ESSENTIAL FOR NATIONAL INTEREST - SAJJAD SHAUKAT
- RESOLUTION OF KASHMIR DISPUTE - MOHAMMAD JAMIL
- INDIA'S PAKISTAN-CENTRIC CALCULUS! - AIR CDRE (R) KHALID IQBAL
- ZIONISTS AGAINST ZION? - DAVID CROOK
- POWER FOR IRRIGATION
- EXORBITANT TAXI FARE
- CITIZEN OF THE WORLD..! - ROBERT CLEMENTS
- ENERGY CRISIS: THE NATURAL GAS - FORREST COOKSON
- TRIBUTE TO JUSTICE SYED MAHBUB MURSHED - PROF MD AFSARUDDIN
- LOSING THE SEARCH FOR JUSTICE
- SCIENCE NEEDS A HIGHER TEST
- REDEMPTION IS INDEED THE REAL MESSAGE OF EASTER
THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD
- A CASE FOR STRONGER PLANNING POWERS - BUT NOT YET
- JOY AS BOFFINS FIND TOAD SEX QUAKE LINK
- BUYING INFLUENCE IS STILL AN AWKWARD BUSINESS
- PUBLIC ADMINISTRATION: SCANDAL FATIGUE
- UNTHINKABLE? BRITAIN ON THE MOON
- SUDAN: LESSER OF TWO EVILS
THE JAPAN TIMES
- FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION FOR ALL
- DID CHINA TRASH A TREATY? - BY FRANK CHING
THE JAKARTA POST
- HOW TO UPROOT TERRORISM FROM THE START - MUH TAUFIQURROHMAN
- MACRO SNAPSHOTS OF EDUCATION IN INDONESIA - ZENATHAN ADNIN
- THE WHISTLE BLOWER NAMED SUSPECT - SOERYO WINOTO
A LAW FRAMED IN GREY
RIGHT TO EDUCATION RIDDLED WITH HOLES
It is welcome that the Right to Education Act has finally come into effect from Thursday. There is no denying the fact that the aim of the Act to make education a fundamental right for all children between the ages of six and 14 is a noble one. Each and every child in the country deserves to have access to education and it is the duty of the state to ensure the same. In this context, the enforcement of the Right to Education Act is a watershed event in the history of independent India. Before this, the Government had never taken it upon itself to mandatorily provide basic education to all. Nonetheless, there are several lacunae in the Act that would need sorting out if the dream of universalisation of education is to be realised. For, too many times we have seen good policies, enacted in good faith, go completely to waste because of poor implementation at the grass-root level. But the Right to Education Act is too important a legislation to let it fall apart in this manner. What is essentially at stake is the future of this country. Hence, we simply cannot afford to go about this in a nonchalant manner.
To begin with, the Right to Education Act stipulates that every child between the ages of six and 14 will have to be compulsorily given admission in a neighbourhood school. Though the Act defines a neighbourhood school as one that is within a walking distance of one kilometre for students of classes I to V and within a distance of three kilometre for students of classes VI to VIII, in case there is both a Government and a private school within the given distances, it is not clear which one will be considered as the designated neighbourhood school. It is also not clear if a student seeking admission would be given a seat in a private school in a different locality if the nighbourhood school in his or her locality has reached full capacity. The Act is also silent on the educational development of a child prior to six years of age, something that is extremely important. Instead, it mandates that every child seeking admission be admitted to a class appropriate to his or her age, irrespective of whether the child has received any formal education up till that point. Schools are also not allowed to screen children seeking admission through any tests or interviews. Thus, what all of this essentially means is that a nine-year-old child will have to be necessarily admitted to class V or VI, even though he or she might not have had any elementary education prior to that. Plus, for the Right to Education Act to be implemented properly, the Government would need to spend a whopping Rs 1.71 lakh crore in the next five years. It would need more schools and recruit an additional five lakh teachers.
The fundamental problem in the implementation of this landmark legislation is that at the moment we simply do not have enough schools certainly not enough good schools and teachers to make Right to Education a reality. We seriously need to upgrade the education infrastructure at the grass-root level if we are going to even dent the problem of illiteracy. This is a massive task and, above everything else, would require a huge amount of political will. The implementation of the Right to Education Act is in fact a challenge. This is precisely the reason why we should get to work immediately and plug the loopholes. Otherwise, the ideal of universal education will simply remain on paper.
WOMEN AS TERRORISTS
THEIR JIHAD IS NO LESS BLOOD-SOAKED
The Russian authorities have proved to be right: Last Monday's deadly suicide bombings on the Moscow Metro, which claimed the lives of 39 innocent people and maimed many more, were indeed carried out by Islamists waging a separtist war in Daghestan and thus qualify as jihadi terror. According to reports emanating from Moscow on Friday, one of the bombers has been identified as the 17-year-old 'baby-faced' widow of an Islamic terrorist who was earlier killed by Russian security forces. Women like Jannat Abdurahmanova, who blew herself up to 'avenge' the death of her husband, Umalat Magomedov, a 'prominent militant' affiliated to Dagestani Jamaat, are known as 'Black Widows' they are merciless in seeking to quench their bloodthirst. The Federal Operative Headquarters of the National Anti-Terrorist Committee of Russia has determined that she was the suicide bomber who attacked Lubyanka Metro station. A resident of Khasavyurt region of the North Caucasus Republic of Dagestan, she is likely to have agreed to take the extreme step to avenge the death of her husband in an anti-insurgency security operation last year. In the past, too, Russia has witnessed jihadi assaults by women Islamists driven by the criminal ideology of hate which motivates Muslim fanatics around the world. The other bomber, officials have said, is believed to be 20-year-old Markha Ustarkhanova, widow of Chechen terrorist Said-Amin Khizirov.
While the identification of the bombers will no doubt help Russian intelligence agencies to get to the network of terror that operates in the name of Islam, it is of importance for others, too. Three points have emerged from the investigations that are of direct relevance to all nations threatened by the monster of jihadi terror. First, various fatwas issued by theologists of Islam condeming terrorism, patricularly suicide bombings, that claim innocent lives, and insisting that Islam does not sanction such violence have failed to convince Islamists of the folly of their fanaticism. At the ground level, such edicts have had no impact and are unlikely to serve any purpose as 'deterrents'. Second, there is no gender distinction between men and women who have vowed to unleash terror: The terrorist as a rage boy is a myth created by those who have a poor understanding of what motivates the mass murderers. Third, global jihad remains untamed and uncurbed despite the much-publicied US-led war on terror. If anything, US President Barack Obama's line of least resistance vis-a-vis the Taliban has served to embolden Islamists who see nothing wrong with shedding the blood of innocent people in their pursuit of the chalice of poison.
DEFEND AB, DON'T EMBRACE HIM
On November 19, 1982, the Ninth Asian Games opened in Delhi. For Indians of a certain generation it was an iconic moment. Memories of the inaugural ceremony still remain. Among them was a message to participants from around Asia, welcoming them to India and its hospitality.
It was a pre-recorded audio clip but the voice was unmistakable. To make doubly sure, Doordarshan's cameras focussed on the man behind the baritone: Amitabh Bachchan was at Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium that day, an honoured guest of the Government of India and of the Asian Games Special Organising Committee, entities dominated by the Congress.
Would it have been appropriate for the BJP, the Janata Party or the Lok Dal among other Opposition parties of the time to ask Amitabh Bachchan to clarify his position on the Emergency, which had ended only five years earlier? By associating himself with a party and a Prime Minister Mrs India Gandhi that had suspended civil liberties, outlawed dissent and imprisoned political opponents, was he not sending a sinister signal? Was the fact that Mrs Gandhi had been elected back to office in 1980, and so validated by a popular mandate, as Congress sympathisers had suggested, reason enough to forget the dark period between 1975 and 1977?
Would the following questions have been in order: "If Amitabh is a sensitive person, which he claims to be, then he must tell the nation where he stands. Remember, Indira has been compared to Mussolini"; or "Amitabh Bachchan, do you endorse what happened during the Emergency?"
Replace 'Indira' with 'Modi', 'Mussolini' with 'Milosevic' and 'Emergency' with 'riots' a reference to the Gujarat religious violence of 2002, following the Godhra train massacre and the quotes above are verbatim reproductions of what Mr Manish Tiwari, the Congress spokesperson, was reported as having said in the past week.
Without a doubt, linking Amitabh Bachchan's minor, voice-ambassadorial participation in the opening ceremony of the Asian Games to any views he may or may not have had on the Emergency would have been ridiculous. The two issues were just not related and needed to be seen as separate. Similarly, his endorsement of Gujarat's tourism potential specifically promoting the Tourism Corporation of Gujarat cannot be reason to call for a liberal-Left excommunication of him and a public denunciation of his sense of right and wrong by every tin-pot spokesperson of a political party.
Consider another counter-factual. In 2004, Amitabh Bachchan played an upright policeman in a Govind Nihalani film called Dev. It was a thinly veiled interpretation of the Gujarat incidents of 2002. As per the film's script, religious riots broke out, Muslims were victimised, a young Muslim, Fardeen Khan, lost his gentle father to the frenzy and turned to extremism. Bigoted police officers didn't help the cause of justice. In this madness, only Amitabh Bachchan's character stood out, taking on prejudiced colleagues and a biased political system.
Some weeks ago, Amitabh Bachchan turned up in Gandhinagar and requested the Gujarat Government for an entertainment tax exemption for his film Paa. What if Chief Minister Narendra Modi a man with a long memory had refused this concession and let it be known he was doing so because he thought Dev was a propaganda tool against his Government? How would the Congress and Mr Tiwari have reacted?
The Congress is completely within its rights to oppose Mr Modi or even Amitabh Bachchan, given the latter's testy relationship with the Nehru-Gandhi family in recent years. However, the manner in which it has sought to depict Amitabh Bachchan as some sort of an 'untouchable' is crude, unbecoming and, at the most basic level, undemocratic.
In selectively refusing to distinguish between 'brand ambassador of Gujarat Tourism', 'brand ambassador of Gujarat', 'brand ambassador of Government of Gujarat' and 'brand ambassador of Narendra Modi' all of which mean very different things the Congress is simply not being fair and not fooling anyone.
To be honest, it is unlikely this was a thought-out political vendetta programme initiated from the very top. It is more probable that eager-to-please individuals down the line beginning with the craven Chief Minister of Maharashtra and ending with sundry party spokespersons in Delhi, carried away by their rhetoric created a controversy that then went out of hand.
However, while defending Amitabh Bachchan's rights in this case, it is difficult to completely embrace him. Frankly, his argument that he is an apolitical actor who has not been involved in politics since he resigned his seat in the Lok Sabha in 1987 is a little thin. While being brand ambassador of Gujarat Tourism and Kerala Tourism does not amount to support for the BJP and the CPI(M), he has a history in Uttar Pradesh. When the Samajwadi Party was in power in Lucknow, Amitabh Bachchan appeared for it on various platforms, especially in a series of pre-election television advertisements. This was clearly political brand promotion and not just lending his name to his ancestral State.
That aside, the manner in which he undertook a tax-exemption road-show from Gujarat to West Bengal and every State in between after the release of Paa did leave some of his old fans uncomfortable. In a matter of days, he used his blog to praise Mr Modi, speak of his visit to the dying Jyoti Basu's hospital, acclaim the Thackerays as old friends, the list just went on. It was a trifle clumsy and somehow reminiscent of the prototypical crony-capitalist industrialist who goes to Delhi and praises the Congress's 'inclusive growth', travels to Kolkata and praises the CPI(M)'s 'social democracy' and then shows up in Gandhinagar and praises the BJP's 'robust, free-market nationalism'.
Amitabh Bachchan is one of India's greatest actors. Surely he has more to contribute to public discourse than providing free advertising space on his blog to a series of politicians, across party lines, and seeking favours in return? Indeed, can anyone, least of all the BJP, rule out a rapprochement between the Bachchans and the Nehru-Gandhis when it is mutually convenient? It is this inconsistency that makes India's once-and-forever superstar just such a slippery character. It's quite tragic.
LIBERATION, THEFINAL AIM
The Bhagvad Gita informs us that a soul is a part of god (15.7). Souls always get bodies. There are millions of species that have souls. There is also a process of automatic transmigration within various species till a soul reaches the human form. At this level, the theory of deed and fruit becomes applicable; that is all actions must bear fruit at their appointed time. There is no escape from the consequences of one's actions as long as one continues in the human form. In case a soul is demoted to one of the other species, all the accumulated unexhausted fruits, both good and bad, are erased.
God is forced to demote envious and cruel souls to lower species because they do not deserve to remain in the human form. One can accuse god of being unfeeling. One may also ask as to why we are not forewarned about such a system. But our scriptures give us sufficient warning. God is not obliged to warn us individually. A system is there and we are supposed to avail of it. Plus, god does not encroach upon our freedom to choose.
All such information is available in our scriptures. And we can seek clarifications through enlightened souls. Therefore, it is up to us to be well-informed and to act on such knowledge. By doing so we would avoid accumulating bad karma. The smart thing to do would be to not accumulate bad deeds in this life. Then our future will be truly bright. God is absolutely fair (Gita, 9.29). The system he has created is also very scientific. There are no flaws in this system. Delay in getting the fruits of one's actions does not mean that there is a fault in the system, even though it may sometime appear to be so.
One who is linked to god gets all kinds of help, guidance, intuition, assurances, etc, from the almighty. The latter promises to help those connected to him in crossing all impediments (Gita, 18.58). Therefore, let us become well-informed and do everything right in terms of our mind, body and soul. Meanwhile, we should tolerate all suffering brought upon us by our previous bad deeds so that we are in a better position in our next life. Ultimately, our final aim should be liberation or moksha.
AN ERA ENDS IN DIPLOMATIC HISTORY
AS MORE AND MORE NON-CAUCASIANS (A CATEGORY TO WHICH BARACK OBAMA BELONGS) GRAB THE CENTRE-STAGE OF AMERICAN POLITICS, BRITAIN MATTERS LESS AND LESS. NOTHING EXPLAINS THE END OF THE LONDON-WASHINGTON 'SPECIAL RELATIONSHIP' BETTER
The British media love to announce the end of the "special relationship" between the United States and Britain, and now they have been joined by a UK Parliamentary Committee, which recommends that the phrase, first coined by Winston Churchill, be abandoned. Britain should put its own interests first and stop showing so much deference to Washington, according to the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee, which argues that British influence on the United States will in any case continue to decline.
There can be little arguing that the influence of London on US policy has taken a nosedive under President Barack Obama, who is much more interested in new, emerging nations than in old colonial ones. The same applies to all the other major European governments, including those in Paris and Berlin. It is equally true that few Americans have heard of the phrase "special relationship," which emerged from the World War II alliance that defeated Nazi Germany. For decades, however, the phrase has bandied about by the British media, usually in stories triumphantly stating that it has been severely damaged or no longer exists.
The British media almost invariably overlook the multi-layered nature of Anglo-American relations and focus narrowly on how well or badly the current occupants of the White House and Number 10 Downing Street happen to get along with each other. That strand of the relationship reflects the news of the day, the latest ebb and flow of foreign and security policies, and changes in personal chemistry between the two countries' leaders.
It is also a gift that never stops giving for the British media: a dependable source of unending "snubs" to British leaders by US Presidents. Some are real, such as Obama's famous offering to Prime Minister Gordon Brown of a box of DVDs of "best American movies" the kind available at Walmart for $29.99 that did not work in England. In the absence of such obvious slights, Fleet Street sometimes falls back on making them up.
This superficial perspective on the relationship, however, ignores its more profound elements: a compound mixture of historical, cultural, linguistic, and political ties that is relatively unaffected by ups and downs in intergovernmental relations. Many Americans are Anglophiles and admire the way British troops are more likely than those of any other countries to be found fighting alongside US forces although one might generalise that Republicans tend to be more Anglophile than Democrats.
Even in today's globalised, "multipolar" world, British and Americans are almost certain to agree on what is right or wrong on the international scene, and usually want to do something about it. Anglo-Saxons are more interested in action than theory. They also share similar senses of humour and tend to trust one another in a way that does not always extend to other nationalities. These are important building blocks of a relationship founded on a long history of shared interests and common values.
Needless to say, the cultural and historic aspects of the relationship were ignored by media reports on the findings of the Parliamentary Committee, which delighted journalists by using the word "poodle" in one of its comments. Former Prime Minister Tony Blair was mockingly described as "Bush's poodle" during the early stages of the Iraq War. Thus The Telegraph, in a report entitled "Special Relationship" with the US is Over, MPs Claim, swallowed the bait in its second sentence: Instead of seeing a significant partnership, the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Commons said that many people, at home and abroad, saw Britain as the "poodle" of American interests.
That is somewhat dishonest, as the Committee specifically used the poodle word to refer to the years around 2003, even though it got its grammar wrong. "The perception that the British Government was a subservient 'poodle' to the US administration leading up to the period of the invasion of Iraq and its aftermath is widespread both among the British public and overseas," the Committee's report said. "This perception, whatever its relation to reality, is deeply damaging to the reputation and interests of the UK."
The Committee clearly didn't mean "leading up to the period of the invasion," but "in the period leading up to the invasion." No matter. Members of Parliament must have known that the media would jump on the reference, reminding everyone of the faults of Blair, from whom Brown is happy to distance himself as he conducts a difficult re-election campaign. The Committee is chaired by an MP from Brown's (and formerly Blair's) Labour Party.
The "poodle" remark was also picked up by the Associated Press, although much lower in its report. The AP story began with the unchallengeable statement: "The 'special relationship' is not so special any more," basing its lead on the Committee's recommendation that the phrase be dropped from current usage and be used only in a historical sense in future.
In The Guardian, Ewen MacAskill reported from Washington: "There is a major problem with the Commons committee calling on British politicians and diplomats to drop the phrase 'special relationship': it is about five decades too late." But once again, he was referring to relations between the leaders of the two countries rather than between the countries themselves.
Of course, the country-to-country links will progressively diminish as more non-Caucasians (most notably Obama himself) make up the US population, memories of World War II fade ever further and the history taught in American schools emphasises native cultures and anti-colonialism. Hollywood contributes its bit, with heavy doses of treacherous and/or idiotic English villains. But in the cultural and historical sense, the relationship is still likely to remain special for a while longer.
The writer is Director, Transatlantic Media Network and Senior Fellow, Europe Program of Centre for Strategic and International Studies, Washington DC.
A FORMER INDIAN PREMIER, IK GUJRAL, HAD FAMOUSLY REBUFFED BRITAIN AS A 'FOURTH RATE POWER'. THIS WEEK, HILLARY CLINTON HIT THE OLD LION WHERE IT HURTS MOST MALVINAS! A SATURDAY SPECIAL FOCUS ON THE PASSING OF THE GREAT 'SPECIAL RELATIONSHIP'
Guess which is the latest country to complain of Uncle Sam's 'self-interest-oriented' foreign policy? Britain. The most unlikely foreign policy development in living memory has happened. The United States' steadfast, loyal-to-a-fault ally has cried foul and that too in the open. So cosy have been the two trans-Atlantic allies since World War II that nobody possibly anticipated the day when British MPs, cutting across party lines, would actually be demanding an end to their country's "special relationship" with America.
That is precisely what has happened in London over the past week. The House of Commons' Foreign Affairs Select Committee has ordained that the term "special relationship" is "potentially misleading", and recommended that its use be "avoided". It went so far as to say: "The perception that the British government was a subservient 'poodle' to the US administration leading up to the period of the invasion of Iraq and its aftermath is widespread both among the British public and overseas. This perception, whatever its relation to reality, is deeply damaging to the reputation and interests of the UK."
It was Winston Churchill who originally coined the "special relationship" phrase back in 1946 to cast Britain's ties with the US in a new mould after WW II. Most prime ministers thereafter have tried to live up to that formulation by developing a close rapport with successive occupants of the White House, notably Margaret Thatcher and Tony Blair. Harold Wilson and Edward Heath are regarded as notable exceptions.
Given this historical perspective, the question arises why this sudden discovery by British politicians that their country is being viewed as America's "poodle". Wrote the American columnist Michael Tomasky: "My first reaction to reading the Guardian's article about the group of MPs calling for an end to the special relationship was you're seven years late." The dig at Tony Blair, who gave a carte blanche to former President George W Bush ahead of the Iraq invasion in 2003, is obvious.
While no explanation has been offered for the volte face by the British political establishment, if not the British government itself as of now, the reasons are not far to seek. In the roiling months ahead of the general election many issues are up in the air. At least two of them are regarded as courtesy Washington.
For the ruling Labour Party, an issue that could hurt a great deal is its blind support of and participation in the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003 which is now the subject of a public enquiry chaired by former civil servant John Chilkot. The testimony so far has brought to light how the US often ignored British advice and excluded British diplomats and military commanders from key discussions. But the one issue that is currently bothering the British leadership and public opinion vis-à-vis the US is the Washington's failure to side with Britain in its long-standing dispute with Argentina over the Falkland Islands. The issue over which Britain went to war with Argentina in 1982 is back on the centre-stage. What has stoked the controversy now is British firm Desire Petroleum's dispatch of a rig in February to drill oil 60 miles north of the Falklands.
Emotions are running high in Argentina, 300 miles away from Falklands. The Argentine government lost little time in tabling a UN resolution condemning the British move. It has also mobilised support from 32 South American nations over its assertion that Britain has occupied the Falklands illegally since 1833. Argentina calls the islands by a different name: Malvinas.
Tensions over Falklands have continued to rage off and on since 1982, when Argentina invaded it and Britain went to war to regain possession of the islands. The three-month war claimed the lives of 649 Argentine and 255 British soldiers.
Washington, compelled as it is to do a balancing act, insists that it is maintaining a neutral position on the latest row over oil drilling. That, however, does not enthuse the British politicians one bit. Their contention is that Falklands is a British dependency and there is nothing to discuss about it.
When Secretary of State Hillary Clinton visited Buenos Aires on March 1, Argentine President Christina Fernández de Kirchner went public with her request for US help in holding talks with the UK on the issue of sovereignty over Malvinas, taking into account the interests of the inhabitants of the islands in accordance with UN resolutions. Asked by a journalist if the US would mediate on the issue, Clinton said: "We would like to see Argentina and the United Kingdom sit down and resolve the issues between them across the table in a peaceful, productive way."
Although she skirted round the issue of US mediation, Clinton did say: "We want very much to encourage both countries to sit down. Now, we cannot make either one do so, but we think it is the right way to proceed. So we will be saying this publicly, as I have been, and we will continue to encourage exactly the kind of discussion across the table that needs to take place."
For Britain, all this is a no-no. Prime Minister Gordon Brown quickly dismissed any suggestion of help or facilitation from Washington. His official spokesman curtly said: "We don't think that's necessary. We welcome her (Clinton's) support in terms of ensuring that we continue to keep diplomatic channels open but there is no need for that (direct involvement)."
And Foreign Secretary David Miliband told MPs: "There can be no negotiations on the sovereignty of the Falkland Islands unless and until such time as the Falkland Islanders so wish it and they have made clear they have no such wish. The (oil drilling) companies are acting wholly within their rights and wholly within the legality of international law."
While there has been no official word in Washington on the subject, The Times, London reported that British diplomats have expressed serious concerns to the State Department at least three times over its response to the latest dispute. In telephone calls and meetings, senior diplomats and specialists have reiterated British sovereignty over the islands and sought clarification of the US position after a State Department spokesman in February answered a question about the Falklands by saying: "Or the Malvinas, depending on how you see it."
Given this backdrop, a section of the American media has speculated whether there is still time to save the "special relationship". The distinguished magazine, Foreign Policy, comments: "If this is intended to help Labour in the upcoming elections, it is just silly. But if this in fact heralds a substantive change in UK policy, it is both troubling and foolish. Without the United States, the United Kingdom's only other viable option for a distinctive international partner is the European Union. Yet Brussels will continue punching way below its bureaucratic weight in foreign and defense policy if it can even develop a coherent foreign and defense policy."
But the Commons panel's report is emphatic that Britain, even while working closely alongside the US, needs to be "less deferential and more willing to say no where our interests diverge". British media reports quote Sir David Manning, the former Ambassador to the US, as suggesting that President Obama is "less sentimental" about the historic links between the two allies, so Britain needs to use "sharp elbows" in its dealings with Washington.
The writer is Washington Correspondent, The Pioneer
INDIA SHOULD TAKE NOTE
INDIANS WHO FAWN BEFORE AMERICA IN THE BELIEF THAT DEMOCRACY IS A HARD ENOUGH ADHESIVE WOULD DO WELL TO READ THE WRITING ON THE WALL CHINA MATTERS MUCH MORE TO WASHINGTON'S LONG-TERM INTERESTS
With the Cold War fading into oblivion, and globalisation increasingly redistributing power to the South and the East, Europe and the United States seem to be responding to this shift in very different ways. While the US is working to replace its briefly held global dominance with a network of partnerships that could ensure that it remains the "indispensable nation", the Europeans are beginning to feel somewhat ignored and irrelevant to America since they are no longer perceived to be "useful". Now, America is busy concluding new "friendships" around the world hoping these would help it on its path to economic recovery, apart from assisting in the global war on terror.
There could be some lessons for India in this. While the importance of the growing US-India relations cannot be undermined, India needs to calibrate its policies and responses to the superpower as it is increasingly engaged in our neighborhood since 2001. While both miss no opportunity to reaffirm the evolving global strategic partnership between them, there have been growing concerns about certain US policies and announcement regarding South Asia that have spread disquiet among Indian policy planners, especially the wooing of China and Pakistan by Washington.
Obama is largely considered to be the first American President with a primarily Pacific-orientation who sees relations with China as vital in the long term to keep the US economy afloat. That is undoubtedly going to be a very special relationship. While that is understandable, how the US leverages its presence in South Asia to ensure that it plays the role of an "honest broker" and realises that its long-term interest would be best served by not sacrificing Indian interests in turn. While India may seem peripheral to the immediate core American interests at the moment, it would be in our interest to not only aim at building this relationship at an exciting level but to simultaneously try and strengthen the not so exciting parts of the partnership in the field of education, economy and social sector, etc. Right now, with the US looking at a more vigorous reintegration with Asia, it feels that the Chinese are better equipped to help them get to their aim and objective in Asia rather than India because China is more firmly entrenched in Asia.
At the end of the day, the Americans are realistic; they see who is going to be in a position to help them achieve their objectives more easily and in the immediate future. I think that is how it is going to be there for a while. But the trust deficit vis-à-vis China will ultimately be our strong point.
An important group of British Members of Parliament declared last week that the 'special relationship' between Britain and the US is over. These MPs, members of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee of the British House of Commons, were speaking at the release of a major policy report, Global Security: US-UK Relations, 2009-10. Commenting on the topic, the committee members said, "The use of the phrase 'the special relationship' in its historical sense, to describe the totality of the ever-evolving UK-US relationship, is potentially misleading, and we recommend that its use should be avoided." The committee in fact suggested the need for a more realistic assessment of US-UK relations in view of the changed global architecture since the end of WW II when this phrase was first coined by Sir Winston Churchill as the "special relationship" is not so special any more.
According to the Report, the need for scrutinising US-Britain relations became necessary after 9/11 given the extent to which Britain's relationship with the US influenced British foreign policy since 2001. While the British government still describes the US as its "most important bilateral ally", there are voices of dissent within the political establishment that view the British as too much of a "subservient poodle" to the US administration, especially under George W Bush in the days leading up to the US invasion of Iraq.
They feel that the UK has been unnecessarily embroiled in Afghanistan, in what is being increasingly viewed as 'Obama's war' and not really a 'war of necessity'.
Perceptions about Obama's policies and Britain's place in his global vision have radically transformed in the last one year. When Barack Obama was sworn in as the 44th president of the United States on January 20, 2009 his ratings were the highest in Europe largely because he had declared that the 'unipolar moment' was irretrievably over and the world had definitely entered its 'interdependent' and 'multipolar' moment.
Consequently, in July 2008, more than 200,000 people had crowded the streets of Berlin to hear Obama speak as many were convinced that he might become the saviour and renewer of the trans-Atlantic alliance, a relationship that had been first badly soured, then traumatised, then finally more or less pragmatically patched together over the eight years of his predecessor's tenure.
Obama's political and domestic compulsions have ensured that no such thing has happened and while ties with America remain close, Britain is just one of many countries with important US links. While there was a special relationship when Winston Churchill coined the phrase in 1946, when it was used to describe the shared cultural, political and historic bonds that helped defeat Nazi Germany, and was further cemented by the fears of the impending Cold War, the trans-Atlantic bond was never the same after the 1956 Suez crisis.
--Senior Fellow, Observer Research Foundation, New Delhi
UPA UNDERMINES ITSELF BY MAKING CBI PARTISAN
THE Supreme Court of India has let the country down by rejecting, on technical grounds, the Bihar government's appeal against a trial court order acquitting former Bihar chief ministers Lalu Yadav and Rabri Devi in a disproportionate assets ( DA) case of the fodder scam. Its decision leads to the extraordinary scenario of a trial court's verdict serving as the final word in a major corruption case against two leading politicians of Bihar.
And if the SC's stand seems bizarre, the role played by the Central Bureau of Investigation in ensuring that the Yadav couple escape facing the higher judiciary, may well ruin whatever remains of the agency's credibility.
This case should go down as a model one in highlighting the glaring deficiencies of our system.
We had earlier witnessed the unwholesome spectacle of the very agency that was prosecuting the accused in the DA case refusing to file an appeal against the CBI court's verdict acquitting them.
As if that were not enough, the CBI virtually joined hands with Lalu Yadav by filing an appeal against the Bihar government's move to approach the higher judiciary. Indeed, the trial court that acquitted the husband and wife team was constituted of a judge who, it is alleged, was brought in specially to hear this matter, and who was later suspended from service on grounds of corruption.
The impropriety of this move was commented upon by Justice S H Kapadia who will be the next chief justice of India in his dissenting view in a separate case where, too, the SC strangely refused to allow an appeal against an income tax tribunal order acquitting Mr and Mrs Yadav. In that case too, the tax authorities had refused to file an appeal against the verdict.
Only the naïve will believe that the peculiar stance of the central agencies in the two cases had nothing to do with Mr Yadav's position at that time as the Union Railway Minister in the first United Progressive Alliance government.
As for the CBI, its move has been very much of a piece with its changing stance in the corruption cases against Uttar Pradesh politicians Mayawati and Mulayam Singh Yadav, with their equations with the Centre at a particular point determining how the agency is disposed towards them.
The UPA government must appreciate that for the premier investigative agency of the country to be so blatantly partisan is a comment on them and their governance.
AUDITING DELHI'S TRANSPORT
THE Comptroller & Auditor General has a constitutionally mandated duty to ensure that public funds are spent in a properly authorised manner. In that sense, it is not the job of the C& AG to pronounce on whether or not the Delhi government should have gone in for low floor buses or high floor ones, or put in optional equipment such as anti- skid lock braking systems, but whether the right procedures were followed for the purchase or not.
Some of the problems that it has brought out are inherent in government- run institutions.
For example, the Delhi Transport Corporation was forced to shell out a higher price for the buses than its technical wing had estimated.
That the DTC earns Rs 25.90 per kilometer as against an expenditure of Rs 119.27 is not unusual. Most urban transport systems in the world have to be subsidised. The question to ask is whether the subsidy is justified, or that there are elements in the subsidy that are actually hiding inefficiency and corruption.
Notwithstanding the sharp observations of the C& AG, no one has quite used the " C" word as yet.
The entire low- floor bus acquisition plan was conceived and executed in a hurry.
Delhi's public transport system was in a shambles, being run through the notorious Blueline system in which individuals ran buses, rather than a company. The poor condition of such buses and the mayhem their ill- trained drivers caused created a climate of opinion in which the Delhi government was compelled to act, and to act fast.
In such circumstances, it was inevitable that the seller was able to dictate the price and the terms and conditions of the sale. There's little use crying over spilt milk and so the C& AG report should be used as a bench- mark to improve the processes and management of Delhi's transport department.
NAC KILLS MANY BIRDS WITH ONE STONE
BY BHARAT BHUSHAN
SONIA Gandhi's decision to take over as the chairperson of the second avatar of the National Advisory Council ( NAC) has been interpreted in various ways. Some have welcomed her back as the " soul" minister of the government, others have heaved a sigh of relief claiming that she was finally back in- charge of the government and yet others explain this as tacit admission of the impatience of the political leadership of the Congress with the pace and direction of government policy.
All these descriptions are premised on the characterisation of the UPA- II government as schizophrenic. They project the government as a neo- liberal warrior charging ahead in pursuit of growth irrespective of the social costs and Sonia Gandhi as Florence Nightingale applying soothing balm to those left wounded on the margins.
The creation of the NAC, they argue, would ensure that the credit for popular social programmes accrues directly to the party and Sonia Gandhi herself. The NAC, by choosing its members carefully, would also ensure that the demands of civil society are taken on board by the government. The underlying assumption is that the elected representatives are pursuing an agenda that could be at variance with what would really benefit the people and that civil society representatives are in a better position to articulate those demands and needs.
Is this the most insightful way, however, of understanding the second coming of the NAC? If Sonia Gandhi were unhappy with the pace and direction of the policies of the government, all that she needed to do to correct them was to summon the prime minister to her residence and give vent to her feelings. If she were unhappy with the neo- liberal economic policies that Manmohan Singh has come to represent, then a mere expression of that unhappiness should suffice as a corrective measure.
Because, it can be argued, Manmohan Singh besides being an avuncular economist is after all a nominee of Sonia Gandhi and as the CEO of the family firm, his degrees of freedom are limited.
Is the NAC then really a useful instrument with a public purpose created out of necessity or just a charade being enacted by a party adept at political gamesmanship? It is both at the same time. It is a necessary arrangement that suits both the government and the party.
There is a growing disconnect in India between the government's policies and
what the people want. But what do the people want and who speaks for them? A technical answer would be that the elected members of parliament speak for the people. But do they? The barriers to political participation in India are such that only the corrupt, the dishonest, the moneybags and those who need a political cover for their exploitative and illegal activities have the wherewithal to enter politics. Those who claim to represent the people really represent their own and their family interests.
Can one then argue that in this dysfunctional democracy, it is civil society activists that represent the people? That will always remain an untestable argument.
So clearly there is a need to create structures that re- connect the people with politics and government. The NAC is a poor excuse for that.
It hopes that valuable inputs can be had for improving governance by listening to those public intellectuals who seek to reform the system gradually and give it a humane face, well- meaning academics and NGO activists bearing messages from the poor they work with. This feedback is expected to stabilise the system, and if the exercise is conducted publicly in a structured manner, it can create the image of a caring government and help win elections.
There are other functions also that the NAC fulfils of conflict resolution and burnishing the image of the party leader.
Unlike the Left and the Bharatiya Janata Party, the Congress is not doctrinaire in character. The Congress is flexible, can adapt to whatever shape benefits it electorally and is bereft of any ideological baggage except perhaps secularism and even that has been severely tested in the past in pursuit of electoral gains.
Centrist political parties have to deal with an in- built conflict of trying to represent a vast spectrum of political opinion and contradictory expectations.
If the Congress, for example, represents big business, it also wants to represent inclusive growth. If Manmohan Singh represents Mumbai, then Sonia Gandhi must represent the rest of India. The ' Economic Right' must be balanced by the ' Social Left' the former is the source of party funds and the latter, the vote bank. Manmohan Singh, therefore, must be allowed to pursue the policies he wants to but there must also be someone to apply the brakes if the optics seem bad.
Under UPA- I, the brakes were applied by the Left parties which supported the government by citing the CMP ( common minimum programme). Now that the Left is out, the policies of the government and the possible opposition to them are sought to be contained within a single, controlled environment. Tweedledum represents the business lobby, while Tweedledee plays up to the political lobby. They never contradict each other.
They pretend to have a battle but never fight. They need each other.
However, the contradiction between the government and the party is not the only one that the NAC helps manage.
The government often needs to speak in more voices than one. If Sharad Pawar pushes the interests of the agricultural producers, someone in the government will murmur about the needs of the consumers especially those who can't even participate in the market. If a section of the government represents the big dam or the infrastructure lobby, another will speak up for environment protection and wildlife. And if, for example, one arm of the government represents mining interests and is evicting those who come in their way by using state forces, there will be others who would voice the concerns of those being evicted from their lands and the rights of tribals.
Where such contradictions escalate they can be resolved by a tall leader with unquestioned moral and political authority the prime minister in our system.
However, if the prime minister is not a political leader in his own accord but more of an appointed CEO, such conflict resolution becomes difficult. While the Cabinet system offers the possibility of collegial resolutions, the proliferation of GoMs ( groups of ministers) on every contentious issue more than 20 were set up in the previous UPA regime points to a serious weakness at the top.
The ability to resolve conflict within the government seems to be reaching its limits.
The public tussles between ministers can be unseemly, as in the attempts to force the introduction of genetically modified Bt Brinjal into the Indian market; between the ministry of environment and the infrastructure ministries; between those who want to reduce food and fertiliser subsidies and those who talk of ensuring food security for all.
In the absence of an effective conflict resolution mechanism within the government, the NAC will also function as the in- house ombudsman a neutral arbiter whose leader has the authority that comes from owning the firm that is the party. This way the party leader can take credit for doing all the right things while the mistakes, if any, remain collectively that of the government. The NAC, therefore, serves many functions and not the least of keeping the image of the supreme leader shining.
QAISER MOHAMMAD ALI
THIS FORMER FAST BOWLER BREAKS THE STEREOTYPE
HE IS almost the perfect example of what cricket stands for gentlemanly and humble. In spite of being a former tearaway quickie fast bowlers are supposed to be aggressive West Indian Ian Bishop is down to earth. Even when he was sending down the thunderbolts in his playing days, you could have hardly faulted him for his behaviour.
The gangling 42- year- old bowler from Trinidad & Tobago is now enlightening television viewers in his thoughtful and quiet way as a commentator in the ongoing Indian Premier League ( IPL).
He describes the action with insightful thoughts, choosing the right words, and speaking clearly, just enough to provide viewers value addition to the live pictures.
Bishop was a gentleman as a fast bowler too. Although his job was to get the opposition out as quickly as possible with sheer pace, he was sensitive inside.
Recurring back problems, however, cut his career short, allowing him to play only in 43 Tests and 84 One- day Internationals between 1988 and 1998, with long injury- induced gaps in between.
Maybe the many injuries left him disenchanted. " After my retirement I wanted to get far away from cricket," Bishop told M AIL T ODAY , wearing his trademark enticing smile. It was a surprising disclosure as the ' once a cricketer, always a cricketer' dictum is taken for granted.
" I wanted to go into teaching.
Teaching has always fascinated me," he said, revealing a littleknown facet of his personality.
Asked about the subject he wanted to teach, he said: " It could have been any subject. I just wanted to teach." Did he want to teach because he was good at academics at school or did he have a family history? " No. I was an average student and spent a lot of time playing cricket; it was my passion. No one in my family was into teaching.
My father was into the construction business," he said.
Then, something happened and Bishop decided to venture into television commentary. But even here his way of going about it was distinct. He enrolled himself in a one- year mass communications course in England about four years ago. " It was a full time course. I remained away from the game and worked only during the breaks," he said. " The course has helped me, but maybe it is not as helpful in commentary as it's in print journalism." Bishop's good manners are a clear testimony to the way he was brought up. Compliment him and he almost blushes, closing his eyes, and whispering a ' thank you'. He is shy too. You won't find him loitering outside the commentators' box during breaks between his stints with the microphone. He would rather watch the action from the confines of the box with a cup of coffee in hand. " I'm not a people's man," is all he says when you point out this trait of his.
Bishop also likes to know about different cultures. He has been to India several times, both as player and commentator, and found Jaipur very attractive on his maiden visit there in 2006 during the Champions Trophy.
" They use a lot of pink stones in buildings and wear lots of colourful attire," he said.
SPORTING FEDERATIONS ACCOUNTABLE TO YOU NOW
INDIAN fans can expect some improvement in the functioning of national sports federations ( NSFs) after the government announced that they too would come under the ambit of the Right to Information ( RTI) Act. There are 60- odd recognised NSFs, and a majority of them avail government grants for holding national championships and sending teams abroad for competitions etc. And 30- odd federations fall under priority/ general disciplines.
They all will now be accountable to the public.
The NSFs availing a minimum grant of Rs 10 lakh will come under the purview of the RTI Act.
At present, the government provides Rs. 6 lakh to federations for staging sub- junior national championships, Rs 4 lakh for junior nationals, and Rs 2 lakh for senior nationals. " The cost for seniors is less because it is easy to attract sponsorships in this category and it's difficult to find sponsors for junior events," said a sports official.
The 2010 Commonwealth Games ( CWG) had recently come under the RTI's ambit.
A 37- member staff is handling RTI queries regarding the event. " There are 34 assistant public information officers working in the CWG RTI cell as there are 34 functional areas of the games. They work under three top officers.
We work six days a week," said a sports ministry official.
IPL'S SUCCESS A PRIMER FOR MARKETING
THE unqualified success of the Indian Premier League ( IPL) is surely rubbing off on other sports federations of the country. They are now beginning to think if they can borrow some of IPL's successful marketing mantras to attract more sponsors to their respective sport. And to get to know more on how an IPL match is staged, a top official of the All India Tennis Association visited the Feroze Shah Kotla the other day at the invitation of a top official of GMR, the franchise owner of Delhi Daredevils.
The tennis official was hugely appreciative of the way the IPL honchos have marketed the Twenty20 tournament and was amazed at the way the jam- packed stadium was engrossed with the onfield action. " They have done a marvellous job and deserve kudos," he said.
" We must also do something to popularise tennis." Tennis, as is well known, is not getting any popular in India. Maybe, the AITA will do well to borrow some magic mantras from IPL commissioner Lalit Modi.
INDIA'S FIRST TRIPLE TON GOES UNFETED
MONDAY marked the sixth anniversary of Virender Sehwag's first triple century, scored against Pakistan in Multan on March 29, 2004. That day the team management and his teammates promised him that they would celebrate his feat on their return to India. Six years have passed but the celebrations have still not taken place and it can safely be assumed that they will never be held.
After scoring 309, which went a long way in setting up India's win, Sehwag had a quiet dinner in his hotel room, savouring arhar ki daal and a potato dish. The atmosphere in Holiday Inn specifically on the floor on which the Indian team was staying did not look any different from the other days; hardly anyone visited his room and no champagne bottle was uncorked. " They said that they would have a party in India to celebrate the feat," Sehwag had told this reporter that evening.
Apart from verbal ' congratulations' from his teammates, the opposition, and the media persons, the then Indian cricket board president Jagmohan Dalmiya sent him a congratulatory fax and a bouquet was presented to him on behalf of Hero Honda's Pawan Munjal.
On the team's return, everyone went his way and the Board of Control for Cricket in India ( BCCI) too conveniently forgot about felicitating Sehwag. And, as if to add insult to injury, the BCCI, ironically, forgot to include his remarkable feat in a documentary that it got made on the occasion of its platinum jubilee celebrations later.
Never one to hold back his feelings, Sehwag pointed out the anomaly to BCCI officials, but except for a " sorry" he didn't get anything else as compensation.
And this week, the board rescinded the noobjection certificate it had given to Sehwag to play for Northamptonshire in the English county league, citing " heavy workload". The BCCI has strange ways of functioning. And that's the way it has been for many years!
THE TIMES OF INDIA
SAGE AGAINST THE MACHINE
Increasingly part of our lives, robots are replacing heroes, hired hands, pet pooches and even lab animals. Wall-E, celluloid waste-disposal robot, has become poster-bot rivalling Hollywood's poster-boys. His real-life counterparts vacuum clean in America. They play Dinky toydog in Japan. And they administer tech-tonic to global industry. Especially the scientific research industry: it once outdid itself by creating a robo-rodent whose whiskers help it 'see' in the dark just like its country cousins in the animal and cartoon kingdom. Rats!
But size matters. So you also have a fire-breathing monster-bot that eats cars for lunch the way ex-CEC T N Seshan ate politicians for breakfast. Five-storey tall, this 27 tonne "Robosaurus" is star gormandiser at Sydney's Royal Easter Show: it roasts automobiles with a snort and goes chomp-chomp. Given this crushing demo, an auto firm in India might consider hiring its services. Maruti 800s are retiring in 13 cities following a decision against their eco-friendly engine upgrade. Why not have them end up in Carzilla's bot-belly?
Obsolescence isn't just vehicular. Robots will one day monitor old people's health and give them nutrition support like reminders about (oat) meal times. These 'care-bots' will help grey-haired wards keep socially connected and frame shopping lists that include dentures and The Ventures. In short, senior citizens will live 'independently' just when, to fight loneliness, they'd prefer Humboldt the hamster's company to Robo-nurse's. But consider the stressful alternatives. Like Japan's rent-a-relative trend. Too busy for family elders? Hire actors who'll go visit as surrogate kin, even taking along imposture-'grandkids'. As for family & friends, they wage war just when the elderly need peace. Ailing BSP founder Kanshi Ram was once kept from family by an over-protective protege. Today, an aged socialist leader is reportedly being kept from the company of longtime companions by kin. When, in our autumnal years, we gaze philosophically at squabbling humanity, serviceable robotics does outshine man's self-serving hysterics.
With robo-butlers, robocops and other job-terminators on the horizon, shouldn't politicos be terminated too? Given voter apathy, many say, no one will notice. Netadom's anyway full of automatons on repeat-mode when not in sleep-mode. Plus, economies can auto-pilot. Why not invest in a future where leaders on vacation send energetic robo-proxies to work? Political surrogacy might even be a hit, if voters get their own R2D2s impervious to casteism, sectarianism and other 'isms' to cast ballots.
Will the machine age truly free us of all care? Well, one "law of responsible robotics" swears automatons will follow orders save those enjoining harm to humans. Why then, you ask, do soldiers fear the rise of robo-warriors? Can't man himself wreck the commandment against a robotics of hardwired violence? Simple solution: when we tell robots "thou shalt not kill", let's practise what we preach. Surely we don't want Robosaurus made in the image of man as belligerent. Why? Motor-mouth would become more than just a Car-nivore, stupid.
THE TIMES OF INDIA
BE MOBILE WITHOUT RISK
A young boy was killed recently when the electronic discharge from his cellphone came in contact with a high-tension overhead wire. Tragic as it was, the incident brought into sharp focus a related issue we've been silent on for too long: cellphone radiation exposure may well be a serious health hazard. After preliminary inquiries, i urged the telecommunications ministry to make it mandatory for all cellphone companies to clearly communicate the potential dangers of cellphone radiation exposure. Both the radiation from handsets and tower-based antennas carrying the signals are already the subject of numerous studies linking prolonged cellphone use to brain tumours, genetic damage and other serious conditions.
Disconcertingly, children and young adults below 18 who constitute a major chunk of the cellphone market are especially vulnerable because their thinner and more porous skulls make it easier for radiation to penetrate the mid-brain. By the time they reach their 20s and 30s they would have exposed themselves to enough radiation for the effects, if any, to show.
Ultimately, research must continue to determine whether or not radiation emitted from cellphones and phone antennae causes brain tumours. But everyone agrees that when the endpoint is a cancer that can take decades to form, we are talking about waiting 10 or 20 years for an answer. I find that unacceptable, especially with lives on the line. So let's turn this around, err on the side of caution and take pre-emptive policy measures now before we cross the Rubicon and have an unprecedented potential health crisis on our hands.
It is not my intention to stir up a hornet's nest and cause undue alarm; we desperately want our cellphones to be safe. Our lives are so thoroughly integrated with wireless technology that we don't want to think about the impact. I will still use my cellphone after having written this and i suspect everyone else will after reading it. But my fear is that, just as with cigarette smoking, if there is indeed a cumulative risk to using a mobile phone, it is possible that users won't be aware of it until it's too late. The science may be inconclusive but that doesn't mean the threat isn't real.
Have we seen enough red flags to justify public warnings even as we wait for the science to evolve? International precedent ought to be instructive here. Governments across the European Union have enacted new safety standards related to electromagnetic radiation. The French government warns against excessive use of mobile phones, especially by children. Germany advises its citizens to minimise cellphone and Wi-Fi use, and the European Environment Agency wants exposures to be reduced. Several other nations have recommended measures to minimise exposure and advise limited use for children.
Here in India, the Telecom Engineering Centre (TEC, the technical arm of the department of telecommunications) proposes that manufacturers display the specific absorption rate or SAR level of their cellphones in the handset menu and comply with global emission standards. The TEC also proposes that cellphone ads not feature children and pregnant women. I welcome these preliminary guidelines but i think we may need to go beyond them. SAR levels can vary widely and, in any case, the jury is still out on whether that is the right metric to measure cellphone safety. Cellular damage, it seems, can even occur at low temperature levels that would not register on the SAR scale.
The cellphone industry must share the responsibility of risk communication and management. It is critical to do so in a domestic market projected to reach 600 million cellphone subscribers in a year's time including huge swathes of unaware and illiterate consumers in rural and remote corners that manufacturers have successfully penetrated. It also has to be said that insensitive practices of industry in siting base stations within sight of schools and hospitals and whose antennas appear to be aimed directly at buildings where people live, is unacceptable and bound to raise a public outcry.
By the same token, government in conjunction with the scientific community must evolve a credible communications strategy and give the public a sensible assessment of safety and risk.
It is time we had an honest and robust debate about this both in Parliament and in the public square and find creative solutions to address public fears and mitigate the risk. This will require a sustained and joint effort by all stakeholders including industry, government and the public.
The choices are difficult but the costs of action and inaction could be a game changer. No one can know what the "right" decisions will be, but i do know that policy must decide that question. This is a job for democratic politics, informed by, but not shackled to, an insightful but imperfect scientific enterprise. We need to find ways of making cellphone use safer and limit usage by children certainly but we'll never get to that stage if we don't acknowledge the potential dangers first. In the meantime, i'm going to take a cue from the nearest teenager: texting and tweeting is safer than talking.
( The writer is a member of Parliament.)
THE TIMES OF INDIA
ICONS MUST PERFORM
The best reason not to have an icon player for IPL teams is Yuvraj Singh. Leaving aside stories about the rift between Yuvraj and his franchisee, his performance speaks for itself. In seven games played so far, he has scored 101 runs at a pathetic average of 14.42. So what is the logic of having an icon player for whom the club has paid mega-bucks they were paid 15 per cent more than the highest paid player in the team if he cannot deliver on the field?
Of course, Yuvraj isn't the only icon player who has underperformed. V V S Laxman, who was an icon player for Hyderabad, was so embarrassed by his own performance in the first IPL that he himself opted out. However, Rahul Dravid continues being one for Bangalore even though he has done nothing of note in this IPL.
The concept of the icon player is fundamentally flawed. The icon was meant to be a highly visible player, preferably a local boy, who would help the franchisee strike roots in their respective cities and grow in popularity. But what use is the icon if he cannot do what he is basically paid for - perform on the field. If he cannot do that, then he might as well play the role of a brand ambassador off the field.
In no other club sport do you have designated icon players. Most famous football clubs, for example, have the best talent recruited from all over the world to help the team win. So when Cristiano Ronaldo, who is Portuguese, was playing for Manchester United he was considered a hero in Manchester. But now that he plays for Real Madrid, United fans have no love lost for him. In professional sport, it's the club rather than the players who must command the fan's loyalty.
THE TIMES OF INDIA
THEY HELP IN BRANDING
The poor performance of Kings XI Punjab has been attributed to the loss of form of its icon player Yuvraj Singh. This raises the question: Are icon players worth the huge salaries they command? With IPL expected to shelve the concept after this season, has the concept of icon players failed?
Let's get this clear. The idea of icon players is to beef up the brand. City teams were a new concept in Indian cricket and they needed to be sold to fans. What better way than to get the city's best-known player to play for the team? So, we have players like Sachin Tendulkar, Virender Sehwag, Rahul Dravid, Sourav Ganguly, Yuvraj and others turning out as icon players for their respective city franchisees. They're paid huge sums not just for their cricket skills but also for their endorsement potential. The latter is an important aspect in the case of IPL. Ticket sales alone can't make up the massive sums franchisees have coughed up to buy and build the teams. Money needs to be raised through sponsorships and merchandise. Teams need a committed fan base to make this happen, and icons have helped in building popularity.
Players like Sachin, Dravid and Sourav are worth more than the runs they score. They bring value to the teams as mentors. Most IPL teams are a mix of experienced players and newcomers. Players straight from the domestic circuit share the dressing room with international stars. Each IPL team is like a large orchestra and a sensitive conductor is necessary to make music. Icon players can help coaches mould the teams into cohesive units since they are likely to have a better idea of the players and playing conditions. Besides, the Sachins and Souravs have shown that they continue to be match-winners. Not all the icons have delivered, but the failures are the exceptions.
THE TIMES OF INDIA
THINK TANKS IN INDIA'S DEMOCRACY
India has the second largest number of think tanks in the world after the United States. This is not surprising given that both countries are democracies and encourage public debate. What do think tanks do or what should they do? Do we need them? Think tanks come in all kinds of shapes and sizes and vary in terms of their roles and functions. A fairly standard view of think tanks is that they are autonomous institutions autonomous from their funding sources, public or private that are tasked to contribute to the making of public policy. In this view, think tanks are part of the structure of governance even though they have no official role.
It is the dream of think tanks to influence if not shape public policy. The truth is that even in the US, where think tanks are abundant and where some are almost household words (RAND, the Brookings Institution), the relationship of these institutions to policy is difficult to trace in any very conclusive way. In India, think tanks constantly bemoan the fact that South Block does not take them seriously, that it does not share information with them and that it does not involve them in shaping policy. This is largely a futile complaint.
Why so? For one thing, officials are not predisposed to cede ground to anyone outside their precincts. For another, they are allergic to admitting that they have been or can be influenced by anyone outside the corridors of power. The state is not just the monopoly of legitimate violence; it also aspires to being the monopoly of legitimate public policy ideas! More important, it is a mistake to regard think tanks as being exclusively or even primarily aimed at influencing policymaking in a direct sense.
Think tanks, in a democratic and open society, like the media, have a dual responsibility: to inform and influence the government but also to inform and influence the public. In shaping the public understanding of social problems and government policy, think tanks are in a position to affect policy indirectly, that is, via public opinion which exerts itself on the government through its representatives, the electoral process and other forms of pressure on officialdom. This latter, democratic function is often forgotten by Indian think tanks which are obsessed with being "relevant" and influencing policy more directly.
What can think tanks do? We can distinguish between at least six broad functions or roles. The first is to help create policy where there is none. A think tank may direct government and public attention to an emerging or a neglected area of social life which requires policy intervention. A second function is to fundamentally change the direction or nature of existing policy by means of a paradigm shift. It can do so by showing that the original conditions that brought forth a policy intervention have changed or that existing policy is ineffective. Third, think tanks can help modify existing policy for the same kinds of reasons changed conditions and lack of effectiveness. A fourth role is to monitor existing policy to see if it is implemented properly and to bring success and failure to the attention of the authorities and the public.
Then, think tanks have an information role in respect of the larger public. They may simply disseminate to ordinary citizens, without critical commentary, what the government is doing in various areas of social policy and educate the man on the street the nature of various programmes. Finally, think tanks can incubate ideas for the future. This is a vital role, one that focuses not on immediate policy concerns but rather has a more distant horizon. It is also perhaps a more theoretical function in the sense that the think tank in this role is concerned with constructing a whole new vocabulary and set of conceptions about various areas of social life with perhaps no immediate relevance or application.
As a progressive and democratic society, India must invest in more and better think tanks. The public good requires the enlargement of expertise and debate. Along with the media, think tanks must continue to flourish and enrich social life.
NO MORE TICKET TO RIDE
Visitors to Delhi half a century ago have abiding memories of a family perched precariously on a bicycle alongside their meagre possessions. A quarter of a century later, the picture remained the same, only the cycle was replaced by a scooter.
A couple of decades later the people-mover was the Maruti 800. For a large part of its independent history, India has travelled in a Maruti the Gurgaon plant churns out every second car Indians drive today. News, then, of the 800 being consigned to the pages of history evokes nostalgia on a national scale.
Some of the best moments in the lives of a generation have been at the end of a ride in one of these zippy, problem-free compact cars. Be it getting married or driving off on a vacation, the Maruti 800 has tootled along merrily everywhere on the subcontinent, slightly short of breath crossing the Rohtang Pass or wading neck deep in Kolkata's waterlogged streets.
Initial sceptics were silenced by the car's legendary at least by Indian standards dependability. It rarely let us down: a proud army of owners will swear to this even after moving on to bigger and more expensive cars. The most compelling reason to buy a Maruti 800, of course, has been its price: adjusted for inflation, a new car costs less than the Rs 50,000 it would have set you back in 1983.
But it is time we moved on. Suzuki says it does not intend upgrading the Maruti 800 to meet stricter emission norms in 13 of the country's largest cities, and biggest car markets. The automaker would need to remap its engine control unit the car comes equipped with the more expensive catalytic converter but its makers don't feel it is worth the effort. Maruti Suzuki sold just over a million cars in the 12 months to March 2010, of which only 30,000-odd were Maruti 800s. Yesterday's people-mover is bowing out when tomorrow's mass carrier is rolling out of Tata plants. The difference is not merely about purchasing power. The Nano is a product created for the Indian reality of today. The world can buy the solution off the shelf much in the way India took the idea of the Maruti 800 from Japan. By interring the 800 legacy, India is showing a new technological maturity where it can work around the challenges facing it. Yet, the Maruti 800 will remain a fond memory from their youth for millions of Indians.
FIGURING OUT THE NUMBERS
Once more, with feeling, we have launched the biggest administrative exercise on earth. This time, the Census of India will cover an estimated 1.2 billion people and 24 crore households. At least 25 lakh officials will work on the project and use up 11.6 tonnes of paper to produce the first biometric database of people normally residing in India, the basis of Nandan Nilekani's project for issuing a Unique Identification Number to every citizen.
The 15th Census was kicked off on April 1 by enumerating India's best address, Rashtrapati Bhavan. The choice of date was equally appropriate. In lesser homes, enumerators routinely face situations as absurd as April Fool jokes. For instance, the first census of Kolkata in 1866 unearthed more than a thousand atheists. I shall never cease to wonder how these nameless unbelievers managed to survive in a period when religion determined one's identity, affiliations and prospects.
I remember reading an account of an early Census perhaps the first all-India Census of 1872 which appeared in one of the first issues of National Geographic Magazine. Reported from the South, it revealed a routine hazard of enumeration in India concealment. When the Indian government takes notice of you, there's good reason to take cover. And so, back in the 19th century, the good people of Madurai and Mysore hid away their children and claimed to have none when the enumerators arrived. Who knows what they feared, perhaps a press-gang or a poll tax. Whatever, when the sarkar-bahadur heaves into sight, you run for your life.
That survival instinct has persisted for a hundred years. In 1991 in Kolkata, I had accompanied enumerators on the last night of the Census, which is always a hectic, dramatic affair. Between midnight and daybreak, when all of humanity is safely abed, the Census counts people without an address vagabonds, the homeless and people permanently in transit, like boatmen.
Kolkata's intriguing atheists stayed undercover that night but it was no less exciting for it. Droves of enumerators and cops in Black Marias converged on the maze of streets around the piers of Howrah Bridge, whose pavements offer shelter to thousands of sleepers every night. Arc lights were trained on them and despite soothing noises made over megaphones, the homeless sprang to their feet and stampeded with their babes in their arms, bawling about "Kalapani". The Cellular Jail was an implausible destination but they had legitimate fears of transportation, since they were illegal immigrants from Bangladesh. And anyway, how soothing can a police megaphone be at midnight?
This year, the government has again introduced an element of the absurd into the proceedings. The home ministry has assured Maoists who are on the run from the security forces that they can come forward, stand up and be counted without fear of arrest. We must marvel at the self-restraint of security officers who are expected to bite the bullet while their natural prey saunters forth brazenly. I hope they take a libertarian view of their duty and, just for a second, grab any Maoists who are bizarre enough to surface. And I hope they radio-collar them before letting them back into the wild. Anyway, how eager can an underground Maoist be to acquire Nilekani's Unique Identification Number?
Pratik Kanjilal is publisher of The Little Magazine
The views expressed by the author are personal
TALIBAN: GOOD AGAIN?
The invisible woman bundled up in an oppressive and endless swathe of blue; the Kalashnikov-hugging man with a beard to his knees; the public executions ordered in a gladiatorial fit of overzealous morality and, of course, the caves of Tora Bora where Osama bin Laden spun a maze around overwhelmed soldiers these were the images that determined and defined the original war against terror and became synonymous with the Taliban. Back then, Western-styled liberalism argued that the cultural orthodoxy of the Taliban was as much of a moral imperative to overthrow the regime in Afghanistan as the need to hunt down global terrorists.
But today as the Americans prepare the world for a paradoxical 'surge and pull-out' strategy for their troops, history appears to have turned full circle. First, the Taliban was romanced by the West to create a counterfoil to the might of the Russians; then they were declared Enemy Number One in the battle against terrorism and now, quietly, but consistently, the ground is being prepared to restore political legitimacy to the Taliban. And India who for years has rejected the distinction between "good Taliban and bad Taliban" may have no option but to sit back and watch this ominous reversal of ideology.
Remember it was Pakistan's former president, General Musharraf, who first spoke about "moderates" within the Taliban. He often argued that such elements should be mainstreamed and wooed into any new Afghan government. the then foreign minister, Jaswant Singh, had dismissed the suggestion of a moderate Taliban as an "oxymoron".
But it is this very oxymoron that has become the Western diplomat's favourite word in this season of change. Strategists are now arguing that we must learn to distinguish between the ultra-conservative Talibs who impose a brutal social orthodoxy on the areas under their control and the global terrorists whose agenda is blinded by violent hate. The former, it is being increasingly argued, is no threat to the world's security interests, however inimical its values may seem to a modern world.
As "Reconciliation" with the Taliban becomes the new buzzword in international diplomacy, India has taken the nuanced view that while we will oppose the proposal to treat the Taliban as a sudden equal at the dialogue table, we will not necessarily resist its "Re-integration" but only if the Taliban is willing to accept certain basic minimum terms. We still believe that the courtship of the Taliban is a British map for the future, and one that the Americans will not use to navigate their way out of Afghanistan.
But perhaps we are in denial about the inevitability of where things are headed. The London Summit on Afghanistan held earlier this year gave its thumbs up to a reconciliation fund to woo Taliban fighters to cross over. More and more of the world seems to ready to listen to Pakistan's plan that a power-sharing deal be worked out with some Taliban leaders if they break free from the al-Qaeda a deal that Islamabad is more than happy to broker.
And perhaps India's real concern is exactly this the increased leverage that Pakistan would gain if the world resumed business with the Taliban, or even sections of it. The other worry for India's own battles is the formulation that suggests that terror groups reside in neat, unconnected silos. In the intertwined web of global jihad you can, in fact, join all the dots between the Taliban, the al-Qaeda and the Lashkar-e-Tayyeba.
Yet, unless we re-energise our covert support to the Northern Alliance or broaden our strategic partnerships with Russia and Iran neither of which seem all that workable in the present circumstances what options does India have? As we increase our strategic presence in Afghanistan, we should be prepared for mounting international pressure on us to take a more realistic stance.
Interestingly at a recent conference on the region mediated by the Ditchley Foundation in Oxford the subject of debate was whether India was ready for superpower status, but I was struck by how the overwhelming concern of American and British diplomats was more about how India would manage its relations with Pakistan and Afghanistan.
Worryingly, the question we were asked repeatedly was why India believed it had any vital interests in Afghanistan, other than to contain Pakistan. Several delegates pushed home the argument that there was no solution possible in Afghanistan without making the Taliban part of it. The Americans present both Republicans and Democrats appeared to be believe that the American withdrawal from Afghanistan was a case of when, not if, and India could no longer plan its strategy on the assumption that American troops would be there "in perpetuity".
At the end of three days of invigorating, cross-border arguments, the conference report concluded: "If the Taliban, or some of them, were approached as part of the negotiation, Pakistan would have to be included in the activity, as the Pakistanis would need to be persuaded that their interests were fully protected in such an approach. It was important to recognise that an Afghanistan which was stable and friendly to Pakistan would not necessarily be against Indian interests Delhi would certainly find difficulties in reaching such a conclusion when India's relationship with Pakistan was so complicated in other ways."
And it's a relationship that looks set to get complicated in newer and more intractable ways. The bilateral dialogue between Islamabad and New Delhi is already paralysed. The American declaration that Pakistan's struggles are also Washington's struggles is an indication of the mutual, if dysfunctional, dependency of that equation. And now as the world moves back in time and extends a caution hand of peace to the Taliban, Afghanistan is set to erupt as the new
battle zone between the two countries. It's already the Obama administration's greatest challenge. It may well be ours, as well.
Barkha Dutt is Group Editor, English News, NDTV
The views expressed by the author are personal
In Barcelona, they hate Real Madrid. Like oil and water, Real and Barca don't mix; their dead-loyal hometown fans construe this polarity as one of the thousand lines that divide Spain. Players and owners change across European football leagues routinely without fans switching loyalty. So when Luis Figo crossed over from Barca to Real, he was booed as a traitor. Fan loyalty may not be so gory, throwing back to Francoist Spain, for Manchester United; but there too a history
of working-class base-building ensures hometown support over generations. This core value of a brand/ team is the heart of European club football a self-sustaining belief system.
But as discovered by a Financial Express-commissioned survey, while the Mumbai Indians enjoy a fair deal of national popularity and a solid 88 per cent hometown support, only 49 per cent of Hyderabadis root for the Deccan Chargers. But the survey also showed that, minus Sachin Tendulkar, Mumbaikars' loyalty may falter. If Bollywood didn't mix with the IPL, would teams sans star owners enjoy less home support? They would certainly boast fewer cross-country fans; less than 40 per cent of respondents supporting a non-home team do so purely for cricketing quality. This is the moment to ponder the long-term sustainability of the IPL in the absence of a fan base built around what's unique and intrinsic to each team.
Business, entertainment value and the T20 format have favoured the IPL so far. But over-dependence on valuation, not revenue, could be its bane. It's also shouldered by a TV audience. Player fatigue, so visible already, could soon translate into viewer fatigue, as the entertainment content loses its novelty. With two new teams joining next season, there'll be a 50 per cent increase in games, a prospect making for "too much cricket". To sustain the IPL, the void at its heart must be filled. That needs investment beyond the broadcasting revenue model, star owners and players, in distinguishing one team from another rooted in where a team is based.
After their campaign to taint and embarrass the larger-than-life Amitabh Bachchan collapsed, the Congress finessed the matter, saying, "Who has asked Congress leaders not to share a dais with Bachchan?"
The point is, of course, no one had to set a party line in the Congress, with an internal culture where tacit signal is everything, and may lead to absurd situations like this one. There has been enough sniping between the Bachchans and some in the Congress now for the party rank and file to assume that Bachchan is persona non grata. He was invited, he showed up at the inauguration of the second phase of the Bandra-Worli Sea Link. Maharashtra CM Ashok Chavan, who was attacked for his chumminess with the actor, distanced himself double quick. Other Congress politicians leapt in, slamming Bachchan and milking the chance to display some botched idea of loyalty. Couching the issue terms he thought more acceptable, AICC media department chairman Janardan Dwivedi even justified the "moral right" to take on Bachchan, given his status as Gujarat's brand ambassador. They claimed that Bachchan had erred in attaching himself to a state whose chief minister's "name is associated with the most reprehensible massacre there." Anyone so much as seen with that arch-untouchable, these Congressmen seem to contend, is open to vilification and shaming.
Of course, there are many political strands to this Bachchan tangle rivalries within the Maharashtra Congress, the desire to please the high command, an unimaginative blow at Narendra Modi, perhaps even some subplot involving Amar Singh's potential closeness to the Congress, as he has speculated. Whatever the reasons, the episode hardly dented Bachchan's aura, if that was the aim. Instead, it revealed again an unacceptable strain of reflexive intolerance in the Congress the instinct to taint and shame perceived opponents instead of having a grown-up exchange. The party would do well to put away such childishness and learn to engage with its adversaries.
On the occasion of the Reserve Bank of India's platinum jubilee, both the prime minister and the finance minister made speeches emphasising that the path of financial reform in India will continue. This is a welcome development as many incorrect lessons have been drawn about financial sector reforms after the global crisis.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh reiterated the role of the RBI in controlling inflation. The emphasis on inflation, in contrast to the more traditional approach of multiple objectives and multiple targets is in line with recommendations for RBI reform which emphasise moving towards inflation targeting, rather than exchange rate targeting and debt management as the objective of the central bank. Second, the prime minister emphasised the role of continuing financial sector reform. He said "I sometimes hear it said that our insulation has served us well and we should therefore avoid experimentation and further liberalisation in this sector. This I fear would be the wrong lesson to learn from the crisis. We must not draw the conclusion that financial innovation is not important in our situation." India needs rapid and inclusive growth in which financial intermediation can play a crucial role. A higher growth rate for India can only be supported by a financial system which aids companies in managing their risks. Further, a more developed financial system is needed to provide long-term financing to meet the needs of infrastructure. The PM's remarks are significant in the context of the lessons that appear to be drawn by many observers that India should put brakes on financial reforms because of the global financial crisis.
The third objective emphasised by the PM was that of financial stability. On this issue, the FM emphasised the role of the new Financial Stability and Development Council. The FSDC will, it appears, not be a "super-regulator" but will take on instead some work currently undone: writing new laws to replace those that are antiquated and outdated. The message being put out by the government is that while India will ensure our financial system is made stable and resilient, we are not going to stop traversing the path of financial sector reform simply because some countries made mistakes at the other extreme. The setting up of new institutions helps in reinforcing this intention as the RBI has often been too conservative on this issue, blocking much-needed reforms.
BHARTI AND BHARAT
ANANDITA SINGH MANKOTIA
As the Bharti Airtel team silently works to crack the Zain code, the deal marks a new chapter in India's growth story. For the first time ever, an Indian brand will sell directly to a retail mass market abroad. While Bharti tries to service 15 markets in Africa and turn Zain into a profitable organisation, a lot more than just their wealth creation abilities will be put to the test. Bharti's performance would contribute a great deal to Bharat's global image building.
Bharti's success in this market would boost India's image, from the current one a cheaper outsourcing hub and as the pool of technical talent, which drives technology in the rich countries to one of a country that can create global corporate giants.
India's growth path has not been like those of the Western economies. Our manufacturing industry never really took off in order to fuel growth. Rather than the traditional path agriculture to manufacturing and then to services industries India's services sector fuelled the growth; we have sort of bypassed the secondary stage of a dominant manufacturing-led growth.
However, in the services sector too, our brands hardly command the kind of recognition that, say, a Google does. Our IT companies have been a huge success; yet while Indians have developed most of the financial services software in the United States, they have only rendered services to their clients. No Indian brand has ever created and mass-marketed services the way a Microsoft does.
Indian companies are increasingly going on shopping sprees abroad but, again, the businesses purchased either don't sell to consumers directly like say Tata's acquisition of Corus or they don't have an Indian brand name such as Jaguar Land Rover. But this time is different: for the first time, in 15 countries simultaneously, consumers will use an Indian brand.
Africa is a rapidly growing market. The rich resource-laden continent currently has trade worth $36 billion and is emerging as a top investment destination with India Inc; trade between the two partners is expected to rise further in the next five years. While critics say that Bharti bought Zain for too high a price, the truth is that this was Bharti's only chance to get a foothold in the extremely lucrative African telecom market. With the purchase of Zain's operations in Africa, Bharti will directly service over 40 million Africans at a go.
What Sunil Mittal has at hand now is indeed a challenging job; not just turning Zain into a profitable operation, but competing with the world's largest telecom operator, Vodafone, and MTN, a very strong pan-African brand that commands a massive fan following, as it represents African pride.
Mittal is not new to brand-building, he has created India's largest telecom giant but he too knows that he doesn't have the first-mover advantage in that market. What attracts a customer to a brand are the quality of its services and innovation. The quality of services is a direct result of investments in the business, which shouldn't be a trouble for Bharti; but innovation is something the company will really need to work on.
In order to replicate its India story and become the number one operator in the African market, Bharti will have
to shake it up. It will have to offer new and innovative products to grab the market's attention.
With Zain, Bharti has already entered the league of the world's top five telecom operators; and if Mittal succeeds in capturing the African market, then why not Latin America and the Middle East, too?
Meanwhile, Bharti's Africa entry, its taking of a successful brand across the domestic boundary, would surely inspire other service sector players which could see Brand India getting exported in a big way. Here again, telecom players would be the first to cash on the opportunity and the reasons are not difficult to fathom.
The dynamics of the Indian telecom market will compel others to follow suit. The Indian market currently has
the world's largest number of telecom operators at 13 per circle and the competition has fuelled tariff wars. As a
result, India currently has the world's lowest telecom tariffs. The average revenue per user in India is a mere $4. Telecom companies' bottomlines have taken a dent. Consequently, Bharti made the move to diversify and enter other high-growth emerging markets in Africa.
Hence Bharti's success will pave the way for these other telecom operators to enter high-growth markets to offset the decline in the home market. Secondly, other domestic telecom companies such as Reliance Communications, Tata Teleservices and Aircel have also done a fair job in building reasonably strong brands.
If Bharti indeed succeeds in grabbing the top slot in Africa it will be a massive victory for Indian companies, which will be seen now as creators and not just followers of successful paths.
The writer is special correspondent, 'The Financial Express'
Nobody can figure out a growing public opinion faster than two very diverse, distant sets of Indians: Mumbai film-makers, and the political class. Both now believe that there is a growing disapproval of the news media, you better take serious notice. Ram Gopal Verma's Rann represents a turning point in Indian popular culture, as an entire mainstream Hindi film built around the theme of condemning the news media. It was preceded by Paa, where Junior Bachchan also draws applause in small-town cinemas when he tells his progeria-stricken son that he no longer need worry about predatory media, interested "only in their TRPs", because he has secured a ban from the high court. This is a significant shift because, until fairly recently, journalists were generally seen as decent folk in our popular culture, along with judges and soldiers. Is Bollywood, therefore, raising a red flag for us?
If Bollywood has spotted the trend, others have followed on cue. The latest Fevicol campaign, for example, is titled "Breaking News" and is a brilliantly funny lampoon of what is often derided as TV news channels' unfettered and ridiculous definition of just about anything as "breaking news" or "exclusive". From one laughter show to another, stand-up comedians make fun of TV journalism. In one particularly funny one, the funny man, actually a very funny man, does an entire act in which a TV reporter's first response, from birth to death, is the question "aapko kaisa lag raha hai?" which is the most used stereotype to describe dumbed-down journalism, so popular that even a broadsheet daily newspaper has used the same metaphor, of a dumb TV reporter asking the widow of a hooch tragedy the same question, to underline the distinction between lousy journalism and theirs.
The fact, however, is that most TV journalism is neither lousy, nor dumb. In fact the growth of live news TV over the past decade has brought in an entirely new, marvellously
energetic, enterprising and brave dimension to Indian media. For the old world of print media, it's been a great force multiplier. Nor is the larger profession of news media, whether TV or print, dishonourable, compromised, filled with paid news or entertainment passed off as news. Nor is it all about snakes marrying trees; "wisdom" on how Shani (good old Saturn) can wreck your life if you do not propitiate him every Saturday (I better be careful, actually, National Interest appears on Saturday and Shani may just be reading); hour-long shows on how the world may come to an end "next week" and other such delightful rubbish my favourite, as an animal-lover, being "Tenduye ka root canal". Now I am blessed with a wonderful dentist, but maybe there are millions of others who might want to see a leopard chew up the hand of their dentist as he probes deep in its mouth with the killer drill.
All these examples are real, but they still do not characterise TV journalism, and journalism overall. Yet, why is this muck sticking? Why is it that, whichever audience you may have spoken to in recent times, ranging from an auditorium at National Defence College packed with the brightest officers of our three forces of the rank of Brigadier or equivalent, to an audience of predominantly tribal intellectuals and bureaucrats in Shillong Club in the distant Northeast, the questions you face are all about the same, on the "media dumbing down", mostly on news TV?
Usually this happens when public revulsion at a phenomenon reaches a critical mass. People then tend to accept any generalisation, and paint everybody in the business or the profession they do not like with the same brush. It is as they do with the political class. Further, once such a view gets entrenched in the popular mind, it is tough to dislodge it. The problem now is that the political class is too sharp a reader of the popular pulse to miss this growing anti-media clamour. It is, therefore, sharpening its knives. At least three standing committees of the two Houses of Parliament have produced reports damning the news channels for sensationalism and inaccurate reporting, and demanding laws to "regulate" them. Several high court judgments have already reflected a similar view. All this is adding up in the thickening files of the I&B ministry. And while Ambika Soni has seen the traumatic period of the Emergency first hand and would never be seen to be interfering with editorial freedoms, she will tell you how pressured and lonely she feels every time this issue is discussed in Parliament, and MPs, cutting across party lines, demand blood.
The political class cannot be faulted for feeling that this is their moment to get even with the media. Normally they would never have dared to even suggest this. But now they feel a change in the public mood, and therefore, an opportunity. What can be better than a legislatively-mandated regulatory or supervisory body to keep the media within the "norms of decency and accuracy". In other words, in control.
The politician is smart, and knows that the freedom of the press in India is not specifically mandated or guaranteed, either by the Constitution or any specific laws. There is the overall freedom of expression under Article 19 of the Constitution and then a wide range of court judgments in the past many decades protecting and expanding press freedom. In fact it was precisely when these freedoms were denied, during the Emergency, that the people of India overwhelmingly embraced the great notion of total press freedom. This, in fact, became one of the greatest social contracts to arise in the course of India's democratic evolution.
It is this social contract that is now under threat, and all because of the greed and the cynicism of a few who allow the wall between news and rumour, entertainment or superstition to vanish, or sell news time, or space (in the print media), for money. This social contract was back-stopped by the judiciary. Some of that is being questioned now. Two years ago the Supreme Court set up a high-level committee under Fali Nariman, including jurists, top I&B officials and media seniors (including this writer) to debate the regulatory issues arising out of the media's "sensationalist" and "provocative" coverage of the Gurjjar agitation in Rajasthan, and to suggest correctives. Like many other committees, this too has happily lost its way. But it is worth noting that in the 60-year history of the republic, it was perhaps the first time that the Supreme Court had felt constrained to take an initiative to regulate, if not control or curtail, press freedoms, rather than enhancing or strengthening them. For all of us in the business of journalism, in all media, warning bells can't ring louder than this.
A DIFFERENT APPROACH TO GLOBAL EDUCATION
India urgently needs to improve the quality and quantity of higher education places to meet the surging demand for degrees from its young population. As argued in Part I of this article, changing the laws to allow the top foreign universities to set up campuses in India is unlikely to fill this need. Fortunately, there exists a strategy that does offer the opportunity to build India's higher education capacity quickly and effectively: encouraging partnerships between Indian and foreign universities.
Different partnering strategies
Partnerships between Indian and foreign universities typically take three forms. The simplest and quickest approach is student exchange: university students spend a relatively brief period of time, usually a semester or one year, at a university in another country, taking courses that can count toward their degree. This can enhance the student experience, exposing them to education and living in another country; however, because it relies on relatively equal exchange of student numbers, it does not typically enhance educational capacity.
A second approach involves mutual recognition of existing credits, or dual degrees. In this case, each institution continues to admit students as normal, but those who take certain courses and meet certain criteria (e.g. GPA, English proficiency) are able to transfer to the other institution and obtain its degree. This has the potential to grow capacity at each Indian higher education institution by the number of places freed through transfers.
Once institutions have built a strong working relationship and understanding of each other's offerings, they can develop and market joint degrees. In these cases, cohorts of new students would be admitted knowing, from the outset, that they would be studying in both countries. This has the benefit of offering the most integrated program of study, but, because it requires approval as a new degree by each institution, typically takes longer to implement.
Advantages of the partnering approach
Several aspects of the partnering approach work to enhance India's HR capacity:
l Already working: In contrast with the uncertainties of relying on foreign universities to invest billions of dollars in building new campuses, the partnership model is already working, with over 150 already in place and new partnerships being announced almost weekly.
l Faster: Because they do not require new legislation, regulatory approvals, or major infrastructure investment, partnerships can grow capacity right away, a vital need with more than half a billion Indians under the age of 25.
l Maintain existing financial model: Partnerships allow each university to maintain its existing fee structure, appropriate to the local market. For the student, this would typically mean paying more than for a purely Indian degree, but far less than they would pay to do their entire degree abroad.
l Less expensive: At a time when universities around the world are strapped for resources, partnerships provide a way for both Indian and foreign universities to enhance their offerings without creating brand-new campuses; instead, they can add incrementally to new campuses, taking advantage of existing services, to accommodate new students.
l Avoid detrimental competition: If foreign campuses were to come to India and weren't subject to the salary restrictions of the top public Indian institutions, they would inevitably end up attracting away many of the top existing faculty by offering higher salaries and potentially greater opportunities for international research.
l Enhancing higher education capacity: In contrast, a partnership model, by promoting not just the transfer of undergraduate and doctoral students, but also the exchange of faculty and creation of joint doctoral programs, has the potential to significantly enhance the capacity of both Indian institutions and their foreign partners. This could be particularly important as the Indian government seeks to shift the higher education model from separate teaching colleges and research institutes to more comprehensive, multi-disciplinary research universities.
l Fostering a global student experience: Perhaps the most important long-term benefit of a partnering model is that it would provide students from each institution the opportunity to study in another country. This is particularly important for India, as its growth model over the last decade has been built on providing high-quality, high-value services to global corporations. Providing students with immersion in another culture and language, and giving them the opportunity to build their own social networks, is the best way to prepare for such sectors. This experience is further enhanced if they can spend a few years after graduation working in another country before returning to India, as has been the case for so many of India's successful high-tech entrepreneurs.
A number of the leading institutions in Indian higher education originated through such global partnerships. The original IITs and IIMs all had at least one top foreign university as a partner that helped them establish their programs and create their excellent global reputations. More recently, the Indian School of Business leveraged partnerships with three of the top business schools in the world Wharton, Kellogg, and London Business School to rise to #12 in the Financial Times rankings of the world's best business schools in less than a decade after first opening its doors.
The Tata Institute of Social Science is part of a more far-reaching consortium through the Global Labor University, offering students and faculty the opportunity to spend time at partner schools in Brazil, Germany, South Africa, and the US. My own institution, Rutgers University, is seeking to form a partnership among 10 of the top science, engineering, and management universities in the world, including one or more from India, to participate in a new type of graduate education that combines science and business. Our first partnership is with Postech, the leading private research university in South Korea, and we are in negotiations with partners from around the world. The goal is to have 25 or more students from each country coming together to complete a Master of Business and Science degree (www.mbs.rutgers.edu), which culminates in a capstone project, where global teams each write a business plan for a real technology from one or more of the partner universities to present to venture capitalists, and, it is hoped, create their own firm and jobs on graduation.
While many partnerships are already underway, the government can accelerate their development in relatively inexpensive ways. It can create an online registry of existing partnerships and qualified Indian colleges and universities that are seeking new partners. This can be used as a form of badly- needed quality control on existing institutions: it would restrict the registry to those institutions that meet certain criteria, such as adequate facilities, well-qualified faculty, a good faculty/student ratio, and good outcomes as measured through graduation rates, placement of graduates in employment, and research output.
Qualifying institutions could then be supplied with small travel grants to facilitate initial exchanges with international partners, and a standard memorandum of understanding form to streamline the negotiation of such partnerships. The government could further incentivise the creation of such partnerships by directing funding for higher education expansion to the institutions which have shown that they can grow efficiently by facilitating places for Indian students abroad.
Partnerships are not a panacea for all of India's higher education issues. Other reforms are needed, for example, to provide better consumer protection from low-quality providers, greater autonomy to high-quality institutions, and a more effective means to ensure equal access to all Indians than the controversial extension of the reservation system. But extending partnerships is vital to any strategy to raise the number of world-class universities in India.
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"
THAILAND'S BATTLE OF ATTRITION
For nearly three weeks now, tens of thousands of disenfranchised supporters of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra have demonstrated in the streets of Bangkok, calling for elections to reset Thailand's troubled democracy.
The demonstrations have been peaceful, and though the authorities have invoked a security law that allows the military to restore order, the need has not arisen. But this time, the government is facing one of the biggest demonstrations in decades, fuelled by the rising resentment and newfound political consciousness of the country's poor.
Thailand's political roller coaster began in 2006 when Thaksin was deposed by the military in a bloodless coup. But Thakin's supporters, who today are known as red shirts, could not be put down; they won control of the government in the elections that followed. This elected government was ousted by the judiciary, paving way for the rise in 2008 of Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva. He tried to restore and maintain a kind of pre-Thaksin status quo, but things never really calmed down.
Although Thaksin's five years in power were tainted by official corruption and catering to special interests, his government promoted polices aimed at helping the have-nots that raised the expectations of many ordinary Thais. Instead of adopting Thaksin's popular policies while discarding his excesses, the establishment that ousted him continued to cling to the past, vesting the balance of power with the bureaucracy, the judiciary, the military and the monarchy .
The protesters now demonstrating on the streets of Bangkok are angry because they feel their demands for social justice and a greater redistribution of wealth have been dismissed out of hand. It appears the pro-Abhisit, royalist-conservative coalition which includes the army, palace insiders, governing-coalition parties, the yellow-shirted People's Alliance for Democracy and Bangkok's civil society and middle class have closed ranks and hunkered down for the long haul.
The stage is set for a battle of attrition. While the odds may be stacked against the red shirts, Abhisit and his supporters are mistaken in their belief that the protesters can be pacified through a series of half-hearted social programmes. A generation ago, the current rulers would have gotten away with this. While protests in April of last year ended ignominiously, the fact that the red shirts are back in the streets suggests broad and deep-seated resentment against what is widely seen as an unjust hierarchy .
Despite Abhisit's agreement to negotiate, talks will produce little unless his coalition agrees to enact constitutional reforms and lay out an expeditious timetable for new elections. Abhisit has insisted on nine months, hoping to stymie the opposition's momentum, while the reds have been pushing for a 15-day timetable. The red shirts' demands may be too ambitious, but the sooner change comes, the better.
READING AND KNOWING
To illustrate what a growing number of literary scholars consider the most exciting area of new research, Lisa Zunshine, a professor of English at the University of Kentucky, refers to an episode from the TV series Friends.
(Follow closely now; this is about the science of English.) Phoebe and Rachel plot to play a joke on Monica and Chandler after they learn the two are secretly dating. The couple discover the prank and try to turn the tables, but Phoebe realises this turnabout and once again tries to outwit them. As Phoebe tells Rachel, "They don't know that we know they know we know."
This layered process of figuring out what someone else is thinking of mind reading is both a common literary device and an essential survival skill. Why human beings are equipped with this capacity and what particular brain functions enable them to do it are questions that have occupied primarily cognitive psychologists.
Now English professors and graduate students are asking them too. They say they're convinced science not only offers unexpected insights into individual texts, but that it may help to answer fundamental questions about literature's very existence: Why do we read fiction? Why do we care so passionately about nonexistent characters? What underlying mental processes are activated when we read?
Ms. Zunshine, whose specialty is 18th-century British literature, became familiar with the work of evolutionary psychologists while she was a graduate student at the University of California, Santa Barbara in the 1990s. "I thought this could be the most exciting thing I could ever learn," she said.
At a time when university literature departments are confronting painful budget cuts, a moribund job market and pointed scrutiny about the purpose and value of an education in the humanities, the cross-pollination of English and psychology is a providing a revitalising lift.
Jonathan Gottschall, who has written extensively about using evolutionary theory to explain fiction, said "it's a new moment of hope" in an era when everyone is talking about "the death of the humanities." To Gottschall a scientific approach can rescue literature departments from the malaise that has embraced them over the last decade and a half. Zealous enthusiasm for the politically charged and frequently arcane theories that energised departments in the 1970s, '80s and early '90s Marxism, structuralism, psychoanalysis has faded. Since then a new generation of scholars have been casting about for The Next Big Thing. The brain may be it. Getting to the root of people's fascination with fiction and fantasy, Gottschall said, is like "mapping wonderland."
Literature, like other fields including history and political science, has looked to the technology of brain imaging and the principles of evolution to provide empirical evidence for unprovable theories. Interest has bloomed during the last decade. Elaine Scarry, a professor of English at Harvard, has since 2000 hosted a seminar on cognitive theory and the arts. Over the years participants have explored, for example, how the visual cortex works in order to explain why Impressionist paintings give the appearance of shimmering. In a few weeks Stephen Kosslyn, a psychologist at Harvard, will give a talk about mental imagery and memory, both of which are invoked while reading.
Jane Austen's novels are frequently constructed around mistaken interpretations. In Emma, the eponymous heroine assumes Mr. Elton's attentions signal a romantic interest in her friend Harriet, though he is actually intent on marrying Emma. She similarly misinterprets the behavior of Frank Churchill and
Mr. Knightly, and misses the true objects of their affections.
Humans can comfortably keep track of three different mental states at a time. For example, the proposition "Peter said that Paul believed that Mary liked chocolate" is not too hard to follow. Add a fourth level, though, and it's suddenly more difficult. And experiments have shown that at the fifth level understanding drops off by 60 per cent. Modernist authors like Virginia Woolf are especially challenging because she asks readers to keep up with six different mental states.
"We begin by assuming that there is a difference between the kind of reading that people do when they read Marcel Proust or Henry James and a newspaper, that there is a value added cognitively when we read complex literary texts," said Michael Holquist, professor emeritus of comparative literature at Yale.
At the other end of the country Blakey Vermeule, an associate professor of English at Stanford, is examining theory of mind from a different perspective. She starts from the assumption that evolution had a hand in our love of fiction, and then goes on to examine the narrative technique known as "free indirect style," which mingles the character's voice with the narrator's. Indirect style enables readers to inhabit two or even three mind-sets at a time.
This style, which became the hallmark of the novel beginning in the 19th century with Jane Austen, evolved because it satisfies our "intense interest in other people's secret thoughts and motivations,"Vermeule said.
The road between the two cultures science and literature can go both ways. "Fiction provides a new perspective on what happens in evolution," said William Flesch, a professor of English at Brandeis University.
To Flesch fictional accounts help explain how altruism evolved despite our selfish genes. Fictional heroes are what he calls "altruistic punishers," people who right wrongs even if they personally have nothing to gain. "To give us an incentive to monitor and ensure cooperation, nature endows us with a pleasing sense of outrage" at cheaters, and delight when they are punished, Flesch argues. We enjoy fiction because it is teeming with altruistic punishers: Odysseus, Don Quixote, Hamlet, Hercule Poirot.
"It's not that evolution gives us insight into fiction," Flesch said, "but that fiction gives us insight into evolution."
The most ambitious and positive constitutional reforms ever in Pakistan were delayed last week at the last minute due to inadequate support from Nawaz Sharif's PML-N. This week, however, the massive drive to rid Pakistan's constitution of all dictatorial incursions has won out, as reported by Pakistani papers.
The News reported on April 1: "History was made when the Parliamentary Committee on Constitutional Reforms (PCCR) signed the draft of the 18th amendment to delete the dictatorial amendments from the constitution and to strengthen the parliamentary system with the transfer of powers from the presidency to parliament and the PM House...The PCCR has already been dubbed as the best thing to happen since the 1973 Constitution...NWFP is now Khyber-Pakhtoonkwa, and the chief justice can now appoint a retired Supreme Court judge as the seventh member of the judicial commission, the tipping vote by its estimation."
The draft was handed over to the chairpersons of both houses of parliament on April 1. Though "Khyber-Pakhtoonkhwa" was arrived at through consensus, two dissenting voices created noise, as Daily Times reported on April 1: "PML-Q and PPP-Sherpao wrote a 'note of reiteration' over the clause and vowed to vote against it whenever the draft is moved in parliament."
PRESIDENT On TRIAL
If omens are anything to go by, this reform which aims to weaken the president perhaps boded badly for Zardari, as his Swiss graft cases are being debated yet again. Daily Times reported on April 1: "Pakistan has asked Swiss authorities to reopen a money laundering case against President Asif Zardari, the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) said...On Tuesday, the Supreme Court (SC) had given NAB 24 hours to take action to reopen a case." Switzerland snapped back, as reported by Dawn : "A Swiss prosecutor said on Wednesday it would be 'impossible' to reopen a case in Switzerland since Zardari benefited from immunity as a head of state. 'If Pakistan does not lift immunity for Zardari, I don't see how we can do this,' Daniel Zappelli, the public prosecutor of the Swiss canton of Geneva, said."
The court was not amused. Daily Times reported on April 2: "The SC directed the attorney general to hold a meeting with the law secretary and complete paperwork to reopen cases, and file a report with the court by April 5... The court ordered NAB to send a new letter to the Swiss government to reopen the cases... and said the letter sent on Wednesday was 'unsatisfactory'" Dawn reported another twist to the tale: " Attorney general Anwar Mansoor Khan stunned SC when he blamed law minister Babar Awan for the snag behind attempts in completing legal procedures for sending letters to his counterpart in Switzerland for reopening the cases."
The much-awaited report on Benazir Bhutto's assassination was astonishingly stalled by her husband, as The News reported on March 31: "Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon accepted a request from President Asif Zardari to delay the release of a report on the assassination of his wife until April 15. UN spokesman Martin Nesirky...said he did not know why Zardari made the request, which was received at the UN overnight. But presidential spokesman Farhatullah Babar said the country had requested the delay so the commission could attempt to question two heads of state who, he said, had called Benazir before her death warning her of 'serious threats to her life'. Dawn added on April 2: " A minister told the National Assembly Islamabad got the release delayed as a precaution against possible counter-moves by the perpetrators of the murder."
CRICKET MEETS TENNIS
The News, in its March 30 edition, announced the forthcoming marriage between Sania Mirza and Shoaib Malik: "Shoaib Malik bowls Sania Mirza over". On April 1, it unearthed old interviews of the tennis star: "In an interview with Geo News conducted at her Hyderabad residence in April 2005, Sania had stated she felt uneasy playing tennis in a skirt. 'I come from a cultured and devout Muslim family... The dress I wear is a practical necessity and not something I wear out of choice...You'll never see me in shorts on the streets or in bazaars. Everyone seeks forgiveness for their mistakes and I pray God forgives me.'" In 2006, at the Doha Asian Games, she had told Geo News: "my first international tournament was held in Pakistan, which I have always considered a very special place... Inshallah, I will return to Pakistan one day."
STILL BATTING FOR REFORM
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had to perform a difficult balancing act while addressing the Platinum Jubilee celebrations of RBIbetween praising the central bank and urging the often resistant-to-change RBI to move forward on reformand he succeeded in large part in doing it successfully. As a former governor of RBI in the 1980s, and finance minister in the turbulent early 1990s, the PM was well positioned to praise the role RBI played in supporting the economic reform process that he began in 1991. It also made perfect sense for the Prime Minister to praise RBI's handling of the global financial crisis, and he did so whole-heartedly. The core of his speech, however, was the bit in which he highlighted what he expected from RBI now that the crisis was over. As the head of the political executive, the PM's primary concern is clearly inflation, and he said that controlling the rate of price rise was a first priority for monetary and financial planning. But the PM unfortunately stopped short of explicitly arguing for a transparent inflation-targeting regime, even while admitting that fiscal discipline was necessary to help attain monetary goals. And on capital flows, the PM seems to clearly be in favour of a cautious approach to full liberalisation (particularly on short-term debt), so that the goals of exchange rate management and independent monetary policy are given greater primacy, rather than the third pillar, i.e. capital flows, of the impossible trinity. Fortunately, he did not advocate capital controls.
On financial stability, the second goal of monetary and financial policy, it seems the government is clear that RBI will continue to play the lead role in regulation and supervision of most of the financial sector. The PM said that a person from RBI would continue to be India's representative to the international Financial Stability Forum set up by the G-20. That almost certainly nixes the idea of an overarching super-regulator. But there still remains a need for perhaps a non-statutory FSDC to plug the leaks that may be left open by sectoral regulators. Importantly, the PM mentioned as the third goal the need for the financial system to provide the kind of intermediation necessary for rapid and inclusive growth. He said, "I sometimes hear it said that our insulation has served us well and we should therefore avoid experimentation and further liberalisation in this sector. This I fear would be the wrong lesson to learn from the crisis. We must not draw the conclusion that financial innovation is not important in our situation." One hopes that this is a strong enough cue for RBI to take the cause of financial sector liberalisation more seriously than it has until now. Safety is not an end in itselfgrowth and inclusion are.
CAN IPL SUSTAIN THE BOOM?
Since its inception, the Indian Premier League has inspired praise and protests with equal passion. Leaving aside the merits of the case on each side, it's indisputable that IPL has given the world of cricket a solid, radical shake. There are the spangled cheerleaders, but they are the least of the transformation. There is the new format. But, as one of our columnists had pointed out, once Kerry Packer broke the mould with 50-over cricket, the rest has been a simple extension. The real eye-grabbing IPL developments concern valuations. In early 2008, the purchase of eight teams involved starry heavyweights like Shah Rukh Khan and Preity Zinta, Vijay Mallya and Mukesh Ambani. Purchase values ranged from $60 million to $112 million. Two new teams have entered the fray now, with Pune and Kochi fetching valuations of $370 million and $330 million, respectively. IPL is now valued at $4 billion by some estimates. And the Dalai Lama is expected to take in a game later this month. If the stars continue to climb the IPL bandwagon and valuations continue to rise as well, why worry? The answer is simple and resonant with recent global dynamics: bubbles. An FE-Synovate survey, whose findings were published yesterday, finds that IPL has gained popularity because of star players and star team owners. If franchises do not grow substantive fan bases, it's unlikely that audiences will keep flocking to either the sports theatres or TV. If franchises aren't investing enough in the growth of such flocks, then the bubbles are likely to burst.
To quote one of our columnists again, even as broadcasting revenue remains the biggest and the most stable stream for even big soccer clubs like Real Madrid and Manchester United, on average it contributes just over 40% of their sales, with more than a third of total sales coming from merchandising and sponsorship deals. But such deals depend on fan loyalty to teams. The buzz surrounding a Sourav Ganguly or a Shah Rukh Khan doesn't automatically translate into more revenues for the Kolkata Knight Riders. The FE-Synovate survey found that Mumbai Indians is the team with the strongest local support in its home city as well as the one with the most national support. But these results were driven more by Sachin Tendulkar fandom than by loyalty to the city or the team. What will happen to IPL valuations if one star or the other disappoints and viewer fatigue sets in? Remember, with two new teams joining the tournament in 2011, the number of games will go up to 94 from tphe existing 60. That's a whopping 50% increase.
WHY TAKEOUT FINANCING IS IMPORTANT
Takeout financing may soon kick off in India with the government deciding that the India Infrastructure Finance Company (IIFCL) can start the business with a 'running cap' of Rs 25,000 crore. That seems a rather small amount, seen in the context of the spend of $500 billion in the 11th Plan period, and also given that the country is looking for some $1 trillion during the 12th Plan period (2012-17). But it's a start. And it will certainly help banks that are slowly becoming vulnerable to some serious asset-liability mismatches.
In the last couple of years, banks have become the biggest lenders to infrastructure projects. Scheduled commercial banks' outstandings to the infrastructure sector grew 31.6% in 2008-09 to around Rs 2,700 billion over the previous year. This is actually higher than the overall growth in outstanding credit, that year, of just under 22%. Even before that, they were lending fairly furiously; banks' outstandings to the infrastructure sector has clocked an annual growth of 48.6% over the last five financial years, albeit on a small base. Even smaller banks that didn't really have the skills to assess the risks joined the party through loan syndications, in the process somewhat mitigating the credit risk for the others.
Ironically, life insurance companies, which have access to long-term money and should be the ones investing in the space, seem to be less keen on it. They put down much less money in 2007-08, about Rs 104 billion; in 2006-07 they had put in nearly three times that amount (Rs 289 billion), according to data from IRDA. That they are averse to taking on project risk is evident. They prefer instead the safer route of subscribing to debt paper issued by established companies and are, therefore, big buyers of non-convertible debentures.
It's also true that infrastructure financing from overseas hasn't been easy to come by since the global financial crisis broke out; RBI data shows that ECBs raised by infrastructure companies declined by 41% from $12.35 billion between August 2007 and March 2008 to $7.18 billion between August 2008 and March 2009. So, essentially it's been banks that are funding projects; flush with money in 2009-10, they have lent large sums to power projects.
That's why some relief in the form of takeout financing will help them; they can lend to the concerned project for three to four years, or any time period that they're comfortable with, after which they can hand over the loan to IIFCL. It's also good news for the borrower who would typically be able to negotiate the loan at a slightly lower rate of interest from the bank since the tenure would be shorter. Of course, most loans these days are negotiated at a floating interest rate and with fairly short reset periods.
However, there could be some challenges. Takeout financing will come at a price since the secondary lender (in this case, IIFCL) is taking on the same credit risk as the bank, even though it may not be putting down the capital on day one. Trying to read the funding environment six or seven years down the road, when the asset will come on its books, can be a tricky proposition and clearly this risk will have to be built into the price of the product.
That means IIFCL could lend at a rate that's higher than the rate at which the bank lends in the initial stages.
And the borrower, of course, will have to pencil this higher cost of money into his project cost. If IIFCL's money is expensive, the project might not be viable. Power projects, in particular, are very sensitive to rising interest rates; even a one percentage point increase in interest rates impacts the IRR and could hurt projects that are being implemented with a 14% kind of IRR. Borrowers will also be apprehensive about whether IIFCL will change the rules once it takes over the loan, making them stricter. For instance, while banks allow the promoters of the project to sell a stake after a certain time period, IIFCL may choose to increase the lock-in period. There's nothing really unfair about that though and should be non-negotiable if borrowers really want the money.
At the risk of repetition, India desperately needs a vibrant long-term debt market. Just take a look at the total FII investment in the debt marketit's crossed Rs 20,000 crore (Rs 200 billion) in the first three months of the year, a four-fold increase over last year. But most of this is in paper of shorter maturities because no one's willing to bet for the longer term. This could change if the bond market were deeper. Again, while few people today would be willing to put their savings into tax-free bonds of private sector infrastructure companies, except into firms run by the Tatas or Birlas or a couple of other trusted names, they might have taken a chance if they'd been sure they could sell these bonds just as easily as they can sell stocks. Without an active bond market, channelling savings into high-risk, long gestation projects will be difficult.
INDIA SHOULD CONTINUE TO LOOK EAST
India did not look East for a long time. The best and brightest from India travelled West for learning and living. Indian business was far more comfortable looking West even during the days of tight control. Oddly enough, the US and Europe remained India's largest trade partners, even during the committed years of rupee-rouble trade between India and the erstwhile Soviet Union. Thus, while the Cold War did not put an end to India's economic ties with the West, despite expectations to the contrary, it saw India neglecting the East for a major part of the last century.
The loss from the neglect was much more for India than for the East. India missed being a beneficiary of the Asian miracle. A more pragmatic political perception resulting in a similarly pragmatic economic vision would have seen India connecting to the Asian 'Tigers' much before it actually did. Unfortunately, India never realised that the 'goose' can actually spread its wings wide and deep into other parts of Asia. As a result, it remained a curious onlooker of the Asian miracle without aspiring to figure in, even on an extended periphery.
Strategic analysts suggest that India's Look East policy of 1992the much-delayed foreign policy overture of connecting to the Eastwas a result of the new dynamics that unfolded after the Cold War. It may well be so. However, like most of the radical policies in today's Indian economy, this policy also owes its origin, at least partly, to the balance of payments crisis in 1991. Had foreign exchange reserves not dipped to the levels where they could barely finance a fortnight's imports, India would not have resorted to desperate measures. The crisis, and the ground that it provided for opening up the economy, left India with little option other than responding positively to globalisation. This meant accessing new markets. In all respects, there was no other region of the world that had more vibrant markets than those in India's East. Thus the Look East policy had to happen.
The policy has certainly helped as far as economic gains are concerned. The Asian region is now India's largest trade partner. India's economic exchanges with Southeast Asia as well as the more mature economies of Northeast Asia (China, Japan, Korea, Hong Kong) have been facilitated by the Look East policy. Indeed, had these regions not figured prominently on India's contemporary trade profile, its trade earnings would have been much more severely affected by the global economic downturn. With export markets in the West having collapsed in a manner rarely witnessed before, Asian markets, on account of their faster recovery, have helped Indian exports return to the positive growth trajectory.
It is only natural that India should adopt a firmer and more meaningful Look East policy. There are several reasons for doing so. The first of these is, undoubtedly, economics. All forecasts and projections indicate that the Asian region will remain the most vibrant segment of the world economy in the medium term. Thus, from the vantage point of obtaining higher economic gains, India should continue to expand its economic networks with the East. There should be greater emphasis on formal trade pacts covering goods, services, cross-border investments and the movement of people. However, the scope for obtaining greater economic gains will remain restricted, unless facilitating domestic measures are adopted. These include easier visa regimes, better trade documentation procedures and simpler customs norms.
The second reason is ensuring a stable Asian neighbourhood. India has suffered from acrimonious relations with its neighbours. By connecting firmly to the Asia-Pacific community, it can become part of a larger Asian family. Such inclusion is bound to reduce potential neighbourly frictions. Indeed, with Asia gradually acquiring a pan-integration dimension, it would be futile for India to stay out of the process. Asian integration is being driven by shared values and concerns. These are as much India's as they are of the rest of the region.
The third reason for which India should strengthen its Look East policy is strategic. The time has come for India to realise that it can be a much more influential player in the global order than it was at the time of introducing the policy. It should, therefore, start playing a role in East Asia that is commensurate with its new identity. Remaining indifferent to regional affairs is certainly not what the doctor orders. By aggressively pursuing the Look East policy through wider objectives and a greater scope, India should aspire to become a more significant strategic entity in its East.
The author is a Visiting Research Fellow at the Institute of South Asian Studies in the National University of Singapore. These are his personal views
US MANUFACTURING BOUNCES BACK
Those writing the obituary of American manufacturing last year may soon be taking back their words. Thursday's release of the Institute for Supply Management (ISM) manufacturing index showed that the index hit 59.6% in March, topping February's 56.5%. March is the eighth straight month of expansion following 18 months of contraction, and March's manufacturing growth is the fastest since July 2004. Of the 18 industries surveyed, only plastics and rubber products reported contraction.
ISM's manufacturing index is a monthly survey of purchasing managers. Readings over 50% indicate growth because they mean more firms said business was improving rather than worsening. The report includes separate indices for different manufacturing components. Orders and production topped 61%, employment dropped 1% to 55.1% and prices were at 75%. Perhaps best of all, the inventories index ended a 46-month streak of contraction, hitting 55.3%.
The climate is good for continued manufacturing growth in the coming months, analysts say. According to Joshua Shapiro, chief US economist at Maria Fiorini Ramirez, in a research note released before the ISM report, "A combination of lean inventories and improving orders indicates that manufacturing output will be well supported in coming months." Still, economists caution, true sustained manufacturing growth depends on consumer spending, which is still weak.
Analysts attribute March's strong manufacturing growth and overall continued growth in the sector to the improving economic situation worldwide. Global growth has led to increased global demand for US exports. Also, factories are beefing up inventories that they had intentionally kept lean due to low demand and economic uncertainty. "The manufacturing sector is benefiting enormously from a need to stabilise inventories in the wake of better final demand and the rapid pace of inventory liquidation that occurred earlier," wrote Shapiro.
The reported manufacturing growth bodes well for the overall US economy because manufacturing is often one of the first areas of the economy to come back after a recession. However, despite this good news, the US manufacturing sector continues to shed jobs. 9,000 manufacturing jobs were lost in March. Job growth usually lags behind manufacturing growth following a recession because of productivity gains, but jobs should return as the sector continues to grow.
MAKING RTE WORK
Free and compulsory education for all children until they complete the age of 14 years was one of the Directive Principles of State Policy intended to be implemented within 10 years of the commencement of the Indian Constitution. Not being justiciable, this directive failed to prod the Indian state into any kind of concrete action. Large sections of two generations grew up, in independent India, with little or no formal education. After 60 years, with the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act, the entitlement to education has become enforceable. Although it took a long time coming, the Act is noteworthy on several counts. It offers a framework for ensuring quality education, for creating infrastructure, for making available a sufficient number of trained teachers, and for extending government funding to private schools. The central and State governments are to share the financial burden for implementing the Act in the ratio of 55:45, and the Finance Commission has given Rs.25,000 crore to the States. An outlay of Rs.15,000 crore was approved for 2010-11 by the central government, but if the Act is to achieve its stated objectives of ensuring a fixed student-teacher ratio, neighbourhood schools of specified quality for every child, and training for teachers to a national norm, the funding seems grossly inadequate. The National University for Educational Planning and Administration calculates that implementation of the Act will cost Rs. 171,000 crore for five years. It will be a great shame if the governments of rising India fail to come up with what it takes to educate all children decently at the foundational level.
But it won't be enough to approach free and compulsory education up to the age of 14 as an entitlement, especially for the millions of children who are left out in the cold. Accessing this right meaningfully and in full measure will require, aside from the investment of huge resources, financial and human, a lot of work to be done on the ground. Key to this is seeing free and compulsory education for children not just as a right but as a duty. It is the duty of the state, parents and guardians, and the community to ensure that all children of school-going age are in school. A substantial proportion of India's poor children are engaged in agricultural labour or petty trades, housework, and sibling care. Ending the morally and socially abhorrent practice of child labour, not 'regulating' it, must be taken up as a non-negotiable objective. But history teaches us that child labour will not go away, and free and compulsory education will remain a half-empty and formal right, if we do not hold governments to strict account for failing to perform their duty by the children of India.
The World Trade Organisation foresees a sharp recovery in global trade in 2010. The projected 9.5 per cent growth, apart from being impressive by itself, will also represent a sharp rebound from 2009, when world trade contracted as never before in seven decades. Exports from developed countries are forecast to rise by 7.5 per cent. Shipments from the rest of the world will grow by around 11 per cent. The pattern of recovery in international trade is in line with the growth prognosis for the global economy as seen by the International Monetary Fund and other major global institutions, which believe that developing countries led by China and India will post higher growth rates than the developed countries. The strong expansion in trade during the current year will help recover some, but by no means all, of the ground lost in 2009. It would take another year of similar expansion to surpass the peak trade volumes of 2008. Practically all forecasters had underestimated the extent of trade decline during the crisis period. The WTO's estimate of 10 per cent fell short of the actual figure by more than two percentage points.
The sharp decline in trade volumes is attributed to the abrupt fall in global demand. The financial crisis contributed to the lower demand in at least two ways. In the rich countries the home mortgage crisis weakened considerably the spending power of households, and in general, consumers tended to postpone their buying decisions. The complete drying up of trade finance was another factor. It is also true that trade statistics were exaggerated in the first place. The complex supply chains used by producers resulted in the movement of goods across several national boundaries before reaching their destination. This caused double counting. Also, some articles, notably consumer durables have a disproportionately large share in global trade compared to their share in global output. So as people stayed away from discretionary goods, the decline in trade was steeper than that of global output. The WTO says the multilateral system of trade has proved its value, assisting governments in keeping markets open during difficult times. According to an official study prepared for the WTO and two other organisations, the feared surge in protectionism has not occurred even in the recovery phase. Yet there are many critics who say that more subtle forms of protectionism are now practised. The inability to complete the Doha round shows the rich countries are not really committed to free trade.
LEADER PAGE ARTICLES
INDIA'S CHILDREN HAVE A PRECARIOUS RIGHT
ONE HARDLY NEEDS A REMINDER THAT THE RIGHT TO EDUCATION IS DIFFERENT FROM THE OTHERS ENSHRINED IN THE CONSTITUTION, IN THAT THE BENEFICIARY CANNOT DEMAND IT NOR FIGHT A LEGAL BATTLE WHEN THE RIGHT IS DENIED OR VIOLATED.
Now that India's children have a right to receive at least eight years of education, the gnawing question is whether it will remain on paper or become a reality. One hardly needs a reminder that this right is different from the others enshrined in the Constitution, in that the beneficiary a six-year old child cannot demand it, nor can she or he fight a legal battle when the right is denied or violated. In all cases, it is the adult society which must act on behalf of the child. In another peculiarity, where a child's right to education is denied, no compensation offered later can be adequate or relevant. This is so because childhood does not last. If a legal battle fought on behalf of a child is eventually won, it may be of little use to the boy or girl because the opportunity missed at school during childhood cannot serve the same purpose later in life. This may be painfully true for girls because our society permits them only a short childhood, if at all. The Right to Education (RTE) has become law at a point in India's history when the ghastly practice of female infanticide has resurfaced in the form of foeticide. This is symptomatic of a deeper turmoil in society which is compounding traditional obstacles to girls' education. Tenacious prejudice against the intellectual potential of girls runs across our cultural diversity, and the system of education has not been able to address it.
The new law has many critics. Some of them are among the nation's best known educators and, therefore, their concerns must be heard. They have raised two major issues: one, the law does not cover pre-school education; and two, it offers no vision of systemic reforms leading to a decent common school system. Both issues are valid and the government's strategy to implement the law must cover them. As for the first issue coverage of early childhood a first step can be recognising the year before Class I as a necessary pre-school year to provide an enabling experience for the success of eight years of formal education stipulated by law. This step would require substantial planning and coordination among the departments of Child Development, Health and Education. The second point the RTE critics are making draws attention to the divisive, and not just divided, character of our system of education. A vast gap of resources, facilities and efficiency exists between the private schools which cater for the better-off strata of society and the ones run by the government. Within government schools, there is a vast difference between Central schools and those run by municipalities and village panchayats. It is not true that RTE offers no vision of improving our fragmented system. The provision for 25 per cent reserved seats for poor children in all private schools as well as Central schools makes a gesture towards the common school model. Critics of the RTE rightly find it a weak gesture but they forget how difficult the execution of even this diluted form of common schooling is going to prove in a stratified and divided society.
Already, lobbyists of private schools have gone to court, challenging the legal validity of the RTE. The private sector in school education has grown quite substantially and rapidly over the last two decades. Not just private schools, a strong ideological lobby which favours privatisation has also grown. Members of this lobby believe that the RTE can best be implemented by market forces and the government should subsidise these forces by distributing school vouchers. This remarkable philosophy sees the RTE as a crowning moment in the ongoing history of the state's withdrawal from education. Critics of the RTE rightly suspect that it could speed up commercial privatisation. Considering how fast popular disillusionment with the state's capacity to provide education of reasonable quality is spreading, we should not be astonished if the critics are proved right. Many State governments see privatisation as a real option, and the signals coming from the Centre seem to endorse this view.
However, the debate over private versus public interests conceals the single greatest problem both private and government schools face: the shortage of qualified teachers. Behind this shortage lies a long history of neglect of teacher training and the poor social status of the elementary school teacher. Teacher training has remained on the margins of the Indian academia, and the training of primary school teachers outside it. The National Council for Teacher Education (NCTE) has reinforced this message of the RTE by demanding a higher entry-level qualification for elementary teachers' training. The NCTE has also sent a strong policy signal that all courses for this level should come under the purview of universities. These signals will require sustained follow-up action, for which the NCTE will have to improve its own functioning and image as a regulatory body.
Going by RTE norms, at least a million teachers will need to be freshly recruited and trained. The challenge of teacher recruitment and training will prove especially grim in the Hindi belt and the northeast, West Bengal, and Jammu and Kashmir. In Bihar, the number of teachers required is very huge and the institutional capacity for training very low, and in Madhya Pradesh, no one knows how to undo the decision taken long ago to stop the recruitment of career-path teachers. In West Bengal, overlapping structures have impeded curricular and administrative reforms. These States are not the only ones battling internal legacies of neglect or confused planning. The northeastern States have a vast number of untrained and poorly qualified teachers who are already in the system. Violent conflict between the government and the people has cast a shadow on childhood in many parts of central and northeastern India. The progress of the RTE in these parts cannot be easy or smooth. This also holds true for mega-cities like Delhi, Kolkata and Mumbai where children of the poor live in Dickensian misery.
For the southern States where the system is in better health, the RTE will pose the challenge of radical improvement in quality. How things turn out will depend on the willingness of the directorates to adjust their outworn perspective and policies to the new expectations the RTE arouses in syllabus design, teacher preparation and deployment. Kerala and Tamil Nadu are better placed than any other State to implement the RTE with confidence, but even they require radical measures to improve teacher training. The courses available are uninspiring and based on obsolete ideas. The pedagogic perspective of the National Curriculum Framework (2005) is yet to percolate into teacher education programmes.
While the RTE's future depends on the initiative and resolve of the State governments, the Centre's role is going to be crucial too. If its policy signals remain coherent, the States will have a better chance of staying on track. One major signal the Centre must send pertains to institutional strength and capacity to deliver the RTE. No case illustrates this better than the National Commission for the Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR), which has the responsibility to monitor the RTE. It is supposed to keep a vigilant eye on several million classrooms where children are to be taught and protected from corporal punishment, mental harassment and discrimination.
How is the NCPCR going to perform this huge task with the extremely meagre infrastructure it has today? When a child falls victim to neglect, abuse or violence, the protective arms of the state must reach out fast. For a national commission to serve children in every corner of the country, it must have good State-level units with district-level branches. As of now, the NCPCR's presence in most States is barely symbolic. Between the responsibility entrusted to it and its apparatus, there is a vast gap. It has no academic staff to study cases and to work with the States to find solutions. Its first chairperson, Professor Shantha Sinha, was a tall academic figure who put in a monumental effort to make its presence felt. Asking her to stay on to initiate institution-building would have been a sensible step, and one hopes that the Ministry of Women and Child Development might still take this decision. If the NCPCR becomes an empty shell, so might the RTE.
THE BILL ON PROHIBITION OF UNFAIR PRACTICES AND INCLUSIVE HIGHER EDUCATION
TRANSPARENCY IS AN ESSENTIAL, BUT NOT ADEQUATE CONDITION FOR EQUITY AND EXCELLENCE. THE BILL WOULD ENSURE TRANSPARENCY, BUT NOT SOCIAL AND ACADEMIC ACCOUNTABILITY IN THE FUNCTIONING OF EDUCATIONAL INSTITUTIONS.
There are no provisions in the bill to regulate the three vital concerns of students admission, fees and content of courses
An understanding of the objectives and outcomes of the bill can be made only by situating it in the overall context of the new policy pronouncements of the HRD Minister
The clearance for "Prohibition of Unfair Practices in Technical and Medical Educational Institutions and Universities Bill, 2010" by the Union Cabinet appears to have created an impression that the Central government has positively responded to the long standing public demand for stringent regulations to rein in private professional educational institutions. The provisions in the bill for awarding a maximum of three years imprisonment and fine of Rs.50 lakhs for charging capitation fee and issuing misleading advertisements or wilfully giving wrong information in the prospectus has been highlighted with approbation by the media across the country. While the steps contemplated in the bill for enforcing transparency in the functioning of private professional educational institutions are laudable, any presumption that the bill would ensure social and academic accountability of private professional educational institutions would be totally unwarranted.
As a matter of fact, the overall impact of the legislation is to frustrate rather than augment efforts being made by the State governments to ensure social control on private professional educational institutions. This is because the bill has two objectives, one stated and the other unstated, and the two objectives do not converge on a platform of social and academic accountability. The apparent objective of the bill, which is to ensure transparency in the functioning of educational institutions, is orchestrated through the title of the bill. Amidst the din and noise of the shrill proclamations and stringent punitive provisions, the unstated objective goes largely unnoticed. One has to take note of the strategic omissions in the bill to properly understand what the bill seeks to achieve through its negations.
Provisions don't go far enough
While the provisions in the bill are commendable as far as they go, they do not go far enough. There are no provisions to regulate the three vital concerns of students, namely admission, fees and content of courses. Through its studied silence on these aspects, the bill seeks to limit social and academic accountability of educational institutions to merely ensuring transparency in the process of admission and levy of fees. The larger issues of social justice and excellence in education are totally ignored.
There is no provision in the bill for an admission procedure based on a common entrance test (CET) and centralised counselling conducted by the agency of the State or allotment of seats among various categories of students including SC/ST/OBC/Minorities. There is also no provision for a differential fee structure on the basis of merit/income of students. What is more, the operation of admission and fee regulatory committees set up by various State governments, including Kerala, in accordance with the judgment of the Supreme Court could possibly be challenged, once the Central law comes to occupy the field.
The only good practice that the bill recognises is that of transparency in the functioning of educational institutions. The bill makes it mandatory for educational institutions to publish details of fee structure, admission procedure, faculty, infrastructure, syllabi, etc, on the website/prospectus of the institution. There are provisions to prohibit collection of admission fee and other fees without receipts. There are also provisions for the imposition of monetary penalties which include penalty for non performance according to prospectus, for accepting capitation fee, for withholding documents, for misleading advertisement, etc. There is an appropriate mechanism in the form of tribunals which have sufficient powers to adjudicate on issues arising from enforcement of the law.
By identifying transparency as the only mandatory good practice, the bill seeks to equate educational practices with business practices. Profiteering is justified, provided the account books are open. The bill overcomes the restrictions on commercialisation of education, which law courts have been consistently upholding. Even TMA Pai judgment, despite its reformist sympathies, had ruled that profiteering in education was unconstitutional. The new bill only recognizes corporate responsibilities and corporate ethics. Imparting education would cease to be charitable activity, even in name, and become a business activity, sanctioned by law, with the enactment of the bill. The restrictive interpretation of unfair practices would keep the vast majority of academic and social offences out of the ambit of the present bill.
It is not as if the omissions in the bill are inadvertent. This would become quite evident if one looks at the history of the bill. The bill has been in the making for quiet a long time. A Central umbrella legislation empowering States to regulate admission, fees and content of education in private professional educational institutions had become necessary to offset the judgment of the Supreme Court in TMA Pai Foundation case in 2002, which had unsettled the arrangements made for common entrance test and differential fees through the Unnikrishnan judgment in 1993.
In response to the large public demand for a comprehensive legislation to restore the dimensions of equity and excellence in private professional education, attempts were made twice during the first UPA regime to enact a central legislation for regulating private educational institutions. The first draft legislation was prepared by the Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD) in 2005 and posted on its website for consultation. The second draft was prepared by a committee appointed by UGC in 2007. The Private Professional Educational Institutions (Regulation of Admission and Fixation of Fee) Bill, 2005 had certainly not fully addressed the demand for a law ensuring admission according to merit and reservation and fee structure according to the paying capacity of the parent. However, the principles of Common Entrance Test (CET), centralised counselling, allotment of seats among various categories including weaker sections and differential fees were accommodated.
The UGC brought out its draft legislation two years later in the form of "Admission and Fee Structure in Private Aided and Unaided Professional Educational institutions, 2007." This had provisions which empowered the State/Union Territory governments to regulate universities set up within the State/UT. These provided for allotment of seats under Government General Quota, Government Reserved Quota, and Institutional Quota and Management Quota. Such quotas would be variable for minority and non-minority institutions. There were also provisions for regulating admission through CET and centralised counselling conducted by agencies appointed by the State. There could be variable fee structure determined by fee regulatory committees appointed by the State, taking into account the socio economic realities in each State. In addition to the above, there were also adequate provisions for ensuring transparency in the functioning of educational institutions and for imposing exemplary penalties on those institutions which fail to comply with the regulations.
Both drafts had actually addressed the concerns of equity and excellence in professional education to a large extent. Unfortunately they were allowed to lapse. Kapil Sibal has now abandoned both drafts and has come out with an entirely new bill. The new bill is the child of a new policy on education, authored by the second UPA government. An understanding of the objectives and outcomes of the present bill can be made only by situating it in the overall context of the new policy pronouncements of the Human Resource Development Minister and the steps being taken by him to enact a slew of legislative and administrative reforms. Kapil Sibal is on record as having stated that he would do to the education sector what had been done to the financial sector in 1991. With this objective, he is feverishly pushing ahead with a number of reforms, all of which share a common objective, which is to expedite neo-liberal reforms in higher and technical education.
( The writer is Minister for Education& Culture, Government of Kerala.)
HOW DID HOT CROSS BUNS BECOME TWO A PENNY?
Hot cross buns were once an Easter treat, toasted and buttered or enjoyed cold, but now people are eating them in large numbers all year round. But what's their significance?
We seem to eat a lot of hot cross buns these days.
Tesco, Britain's largest food retailer, will already have sold 70 million of them by the end of the Easter weekend. But it seems they are no longer limited to that particular Christian festival.
The supermarket giant has nine varieties of hot cross bun, including toffee, orange and cranberry, and apple and cinnamon. Of its nine varieties, three are on sale all year round.
Another supermarket chain, Waitrose, restricts itself to a mere six varieties. These include Belgian chocolate and date and cranberry. Waitrose says its hot cross bun sales are up 28 percent on last year. But what is the significance of hot cross buns?
The Church of England likes to set the distinctive baked goods, perhaps not unsurprisingly in a Christian context. They are historically eaten on Good Friday, and the symbolism is evident.
"You have got the bread, as per the communion, you have got the spices that represent the spices Jesus was wrapped in in the tomb, and you have got the cross. They are fairly full of Christian symbolism," says Steve Jenkins, Church of England spokesman.
And yet the precise role of hot cross buns in Christianity and even their provenance seems to be a little hazy.
Google the term and you'll find a plethora of theories that they go back to Roman times, that they are a Saxon thing, and even that they are a pagan rather than Christian item.
You will very often see a suggestion that a 12th Century monk first incised a cross on a bun. Yet another recent theory tied the tradition of the buns to a monk in 14th Century St Albans.
Still further references tie them only into the Easter tradition from the Elizabethan era. It is suggested that they were viewed with suspicion by some Protestants and that legal moves were made to restrict their consumption to Easter and some other festival periods.
But the Oxford English Dictionary's first reference to hot cross buns is only from 1733. It's in the form of the ditty: "Good Friday comes this Month, the old woman runs, With one or two a Penny hot cross Bunns."
The fact that the words of the famous song appear in this reference does rather suggest that the term may have been around a while before that, but any history of the bun wanders into conjecture, says food historian Ivan Day, who runs the Historic Food website.
"The trouble with any folk food, any traditional food, is that no-one tended to write about them in the very early period.
"`The street cry 'hot cross buns' seems to be quite old.
"The buns were made in London during the 18th Century. But when you start looking for records or recipes earlier than that, you hit nothing."
There is a piece of Roman sculpture with a loaf marked with a cross, but that it is probably just to make it breakable into four, says Mr Day. There was a wave of efforts by antiquarians in Victorian times to look into the story of the hot cross bun but their sources are not clear.
These people talk about hot cross buns being eaten for breakfast in London. Unlike contemporary buns, where the cross is piped lines of pastry, the original cross was cut into the bun.
Some of the earlier traditions included keeping bread baked on Good Friday to grate and use as a medicine in later years. It was believed that the buns would never go mouldy and they were sometimes nailed up in the house as a good luck charm.
Other old Easter customs like the tanzy, a bitter herb-flavoured cake, and a fig porridge have died out. "In the hot cross bun, you do have a surviving fossil of these customs,'' says Mr Day. It cannot be proven, but the provenance of the buns may be more connected to Jewish Passover with its sharing of unleavened bread as part of wider ritual than Roman, Saxon, or pagan customs.
It is not even clear when the buns are supposed to be eaten. The Church of England associates them with Good Friday, that day when the symbolism of the cross is all important. But you can find some references to them being eaten during Lent.
This seems odd, as something containing spices and butter does not seem to sit well with the dietary restrictions of that period. And that was before somebody thought of adding Belgian chocolate . © BBC News/Distributed by the New York Times Syndicate
AFRICA HAS LOST $1.8 TN ILLEGALLY, SAY RESEARCHERS
MUCH OF ILLICIT OUTFLOW HAS GONE INTO WESTERN FINANCIAL INSTITUTIONSTHE MASSIVE FLOW OF ILLICIT MONEY OUT OF AFRICA IS FACILITATED BY A GLOBAL SHADOW FINANCIAL SYSTEM
More than £1tn may have flowed out of Africa illegally over the last four decades, most of it to western financial institutions, according to a new report.
Even using conservative estimates, the continent lost about $1.8tn meaning Africans living at the end of 2008 had each been deprived of an average of $989 since 1970, according to the U.S.-based research body Global Financial Integrity (GFI).
The report says globally in recent years much attention has been focused on corruption the proceeds of bribery and theft by government officials and this only makes up about 3 per cent of the cross-border flow of illicit money around the world. The proceeds of commercial tax evasion, mainly through trade mis-pricing, contribute 60 per cent to 65 per cent of the global total, while drug trafficking, racketeering and counterfeiting make up 30 per cent to 35 per cent. The report says Africa's percentages are likely to be roughly the same.
The scourge eats into Africa's total GDP, says the report, Illicit Financial Flows from Africa: Hidden Resource for Development. Losses rose from around 2 per cent of GDP in 1970 to a peak of 11 per cent in 1987, then dropped below 4 per cent for much of the Nineties, only to increase again to 8 per cent of GDP in 2007 and 7 per cent in 2008.
Call for crackdown
The GFI says that existing research shows that most flows to western financial institutions, and calls on G20 members to crack down on international banks and offshore financial centres.
Illicit outflows from Africa grew at an average 11.9 per cent a year over the four decades. Some of this is attributed to oil price rises and increased opportunities to mis-price trade.
"It is not unreasonable to estimate total illicit outflows from the continent across the 39 years at some $1.8tn," writes Raymond Baker, director of the GFI.
"This massive flow of illicit money out of Africa is facilitated by a global shadow financial system comprising
tax havens, secrecy jurisdictions, disguised corporations, anonymous trust accounts, fake foundations, trade mis-pricing and money laundering techniques." This capital loss has a devastating effect on development and attempts to alleviate poverty, the report says. Even by a more conservative estimate, using accepted economic models from the World Bank and the IMF, Africa has lost $854bn in cumulative capital flight between 1970 and 2008, the report notes. This would be enough to not only wipe out its 2008 external debt of $250bn but potentially leave $600bn for poverty alleviation and economic growth.
"Instead, cumulative illicit flows from the continent increased from about $57bn in the decade of the 1970s to $437bn over the nine years 2000-2008." Africa lost around $29bn a year between 1970 and 2008, of which the Sub-Saharan region accounted for $22bn. On average, fuel exporters including Nigeria lost capital at the rate of nearly $10bn a year.
"The impact of this structure and the funds it shifts out of Africa is staggering. It drains hard currency reserves, heightens inflation, reduces tax collection, cancels investment, and undermines free trade. It has its greatest impact on those at the bottom of income scales in their countries, removing resources that could otherwise be used for poverty alleviation and economic growth." It says that the huge outflow explains why aid efforts to reduce poverty have underachieved in Africa.
According to recent studies by GFI and other researchers, developing countries lose at least $10 through illegal flight capital for every $1 they receive in external assistance. © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2010
RESTORING ARMY'S PRIDE
General VK Singh, a third generation officer, who has taken over as chief of the army staff on Thursday, has struck a disturbingly serious note when he talked of the need to restore the 'internal health' of the force as his prime concern. The traditional concerns are usually about the enemy outside. While this will no doubt remain his prime responsibility, Singh has sought to create an additional focus inwards and with good reason. What worries him most is corruption and this is not surprising for the man who took a firm stand on the Sukhna land scam where he recommended strong and immediate action against senior officers, including lieutenant general Avadesh Prakash. The outgoing army chief, general Deepak Kapoor, did not react with equal concern in the matter, raising eyebrows as well as concerns in the public mind about how the army was being run. Till recently, the armed forces were somehow seen to be standing above murky waters compared to all other wings of government. It is not that there were no problems in a large force of 1.10 million soldiers and officers and it would be foolish to feign innocence about it. It is also stupid to cry out that the last bastion of honesty, dignity and innocence in the country too has fallen. It was indeed naïve to accept that there is unfathomable corruption in arms purchases amounting to billions of dollars and involving the most diabolic and despicable arms merchants, and to believe at the same time that the army itself would somehow remain immune to it despite it being a part of the whole process.
What is needed is to accept that there is a problem and deal with it. The army has to be held up to the high standards it has created for itself and what the country expects from it. This is necessary not just for the pride that its example inspires and instills in the hearts of the people but also to ensure that it fulfils its own mission of remaining an efficient fighting machine to defend the country from external (and sometimes internal) dangers.
General Singh has recognised the link between the internal health of his charge and the external challenge it faces. What is heartening to note is that Malik does not despair. The problem can be tackled with the help of the army's core values and its own traditions. That is, it does not have to look to outside examples to set right things. What needs to be done is activate the old, salutary and high internal traditions of probity and courage which makes the army the pride of India. And for Singh this is a familial task, of restoring the salubrious traditions of the institutions that he and his family before him have served with dedication and distinction.
EGGS AND EASTER
Food, symbolism and faith come together in the most evocative way at Easter. Easter is Anglo-Saxon in origin, its roots lie in pre-Christian paganism, the heralding of the change of season from winter to spring and a festival of universal signification; Navroze amongst the Persians, Holi and numerous other festivals.
Curiously, a symbol of universality is the egg.In fact, the idea of the egg itself is extraordinary as the Egyptians and the Persians believed that the world began with an egg. As such, it is logical to associate the egg with a new life, rebirth and, in the Christian sense, resurrection.
It is the genius of the early Christians to have co-opted a universal festival of joy the coming of spring and used it to commemorate the sacrifice of Christ.
If we return to the egg, the Easter egg and bunny is such a recurrent and iconic leitmotif of this festival.Whether it be a simple hard-boiled egg painted attractively or a chocolate confection by a multi-national, it remains an integral part of Easter celebrations.
The first chocolate Easter egg was developed in France. An American in 1862 chronicled this mania which seized Paris just before Easter, egg-shaped articles to be had in every conceivable material chocolate eggs full of cream, sugar eggs filled with liqueur.
In Germany, the tradition is to celebrate Easter with an egg tree, as lovingly decorated as a Christmas tree.The Italians have huge Easter eggs stuffed with presents. The Greek Orthodox Church however concentrates more on the tragedy of the crucifixion, the eggs are painted red to symbolise the blood of Christ and smashed open with nails to remind the congregation of death and rebirth.
In fact, the dissonance between the Protestant and Catholic celebration of Easter and that of the eastern churches is mirrored in India; the Syrian Christians of Kerala eat gruel or congee on Good Friday as a sign of penance and grief. A Catholic celebration of Easter is altogether more joyful.
However, it was the British who brought the hot-cross bun into the Easter festivities.Some suggest that the early Christian priests insisted on putting a cross on the Pagan blood offerings, as bread was symbolic the sacrificing of bread was considered a humane practice. In fact, the distinctive feature of the Bombay and Calcutta Easter is the hot-cross bun. Even the traditional Irani bakeries like Yazdani's make the most delicious hot-cross buns with the most exquisite cinnamon flavouring.
"I'M A FREE BIRD AFTER MY DIVORCE"
DIPANNITA GHOSH BISWAS
Kathryn Bigelow became the first woman director to win an Oscar at the recent 82nd Academy Awards for her Iraqi war drama film The Hurt Locker, which is releasing in India on April 9. In her very first exclusive interview with the Indian media, she talked to DNA's Dipannita Ghosh Biswas. But Bigelow says she would rather be remembered as a good film director than as the first woman director to win an Oscar. Excerpts from the interview:
Did you have the faintest idea during the making of The Hurt Locker that you were about to create history?
When we were shooting, my only goal was to bring the reality out of fiction. To capture the tension of journalist and screenwriter Mark Boal's intricately detailed, nuts-and-bolts description of bomb disarmaments, it would take my team their gift for innovative storytelling, apart from bringing the entire nuance to life with visceral, poetic imagery and powerful performances. I had no clue at that moment that my film will get such acclamation.
Suspense films have been your forte but The Hurt Locker was your golden goose. Were gritty topics always of interest?
Not always, but I wanted to give this film a rough and more rustic look so that it would look like a docu-drama. My director of photography and sound engineer helped a lot in translating my vision into reality.
The sweeping success of the film seems to have made a point that women too can now excel in making war films about men and primarily aimed at men. What's your say?
I don't believe in gender discrimination. I wish all my critics and fans would remember me as a good film director and not a woman film director.
What do you feel when critics say that The Hurt Locker berated the futility of war?
I respect all the critics, but this might just be a personal opinion as the majority of critics haveappreciated my team.
Any favourite scenes in The Hurt Locker?
Sorry, I can't make a difference amongst my babies.
Having won the Oscars, how does it feel to have broken into what was seemingly a male bastion?
I am happy and all this wouldn't have been completed if my team wasn't there. I have three strong actors at the core of the piece and I would sincerely thank them for working with me in the troublesome 135-degree temperature in the heart of Jordan.
Did you make The Hurt Locker thinking you were stepping into a man's world with a very male subject and were bound to get noticed or was the reason a genuine concern for the war-struck?
The concern was genuine. In 2004, Mark Boal spent several weeks embedded with a US army bomb squad, operating in one of the most dangerous sections of Baghdad, following its movements and getting inside the heads of the men whose skills rival those of surgeons except in their case, one false move means they lose their own life rather than the life of a patient. His first-hand observations of their days and nights became the inspiration for The Hurt Locker and, eventually, a script that simultaneously strips down the classic American war epic and broadens its concerns to encompass themes as universal as the price of heroism and the limits of bravery in 21st century combat.
How would you compare The Hurt Locker with The Messenger?
Both the films are totally different but there's a common factor both are connected with the Iraq war.
Which is more challenging being part of a bomb disposal squad in Iraq or being a woman and directing such a film?
I think being a part of a bomb disposal squad in Iraq excites me a lot.
You had your way out through the filming of The Hurt Locker a lesser known cast, shooting near the Iraq border andfinance from a French company that allowed you full control. Is it an addiction to freedom?
I live my life like this always. I'm a free bird after my divorce with my ex-husband James Cameron. Moreover, there was a particular reason behind everything not taking stars as cast kept expectations low, shooting near the border brought authenticity and my French financiers gave me a free hand to make my film according to me.
Barbara Streisand had said "the time has come" during announcing your win at the Oscars. What would her phrase mean to you?
By "the time has come", I meant that we never approached any other financing avenue. I wanted to keep it as independent as humanly possible and I wanted to shoot in the Middle East. That, alone, probably would have been a non-starter. Then, I anticipated that and didn't pursue it. And also, to be honest, I've never made a non-independent movie. No matter what scale it's been, it's always been independent. So, I wanted to retain complete creative control. I wanted a final cut, I wanted the opportunity to cast breakout, emerging talent and, as I said, shoot in the Middle East.
Is it time now for a well-deserved break?
I have already started sitting at story narrations.
DRUNKEN EVENINGS IN KINNAUR
The road held to the waist of these crisp mountain faces, 20 years ago was, and remains, most treacherous. You still can't say when the boulders will come hurtling down into the hurrying river. Only this road fearlessly runs up to Rekong Peo and Kalpa in the Kinnaur district of Himachal Pradesh, where I spent four oblivious growing years.
It used to snow up to the waist. Canned mushrooms were dinner delicacy; the district headquarters used to get vegetable stocks once a week, since little grows here. Except deep red apples and strongly aromatic pine nuts that still form the backbone of its economy. And those distinctly flavoured high-altitude seedy grapes that every house turns into the very rancid, but potent angoori (local whiskey) the staple of evening affairs.
Before we see the apple orchards, and chilgozas being painstakingly removed from pine cones in the white high-noon sun of the hills, on way are some new developments to reckon massive hydel power project bases, machinery and Transformers-style Volvo rigs so anachronous in this once remote tribal district that opened up to outsiders only in 1989. Development has come to Kinnaur to the former polyandrous descendants of the Kinners, who mythology documents as halfway between men and gods.
On reaching Kalpa, we immediately head to our old house, located in the heart of the Kalpa village, close to where the local demigod or devta allowed a Buddhist monastery to share walls with the temple. Buddhism and Hinduism converge here; for instance, you'd find prayer wheels lining the house of Sangrattan Negi, a Buddhist, but an important figure in the temple administration.
But he's hard to trace today. He's at the temple, and so is the rest of the village. Even the little shack restaurant refuses to serve us momos because they are closing down. "The devta is offended," the shop owner whispers as she hurries along the narrow road. We follow her to the temple. There's an intense silence in the temple compound, with the devta's palanquin resting at the centre. The subjects have gathered around all wearing the traditional green felt caps and worried expressions. They are here to calm the devta down. The only disturbance is when a person breaks off for a nervous smoke behind the pillar. We wait for a while but since no one tells us what has angered their devta, we leave.
We meet old family friend Sangrattan on our way back. We ask him what the matter is. Things are not the same anymore, he tells us. Someone has tried to undermine the devta's authority, and he has been summoned (even district collectors are). Now, everybody is waiting for him to show up. "People don't care much about demigods anymore; people have received crores in compensation for lands surrendered to the hydel project. Their children are studying abroad. Money is changing people," he says. On the way back, boisterous talk and the angoori reeking from a window tells us a few have decided to abstain from temple proceedings.
Next day, we head to Chitkul, which lies two hours away the last village in the district from where you see beautiful jungles of yellow Bhoj Patra trees, whose bark was used as paper in olden times. Something about it reminds you of Into the Wild; but not for long. We follow a tune coming from the temple. Here too, the community has gathered at the temple. They are high and going around in circles, quite literally. Another type of local liquor, ghanti, is generously being distributed as prasad, and everyone's tanked up. They are holding hands and going around, matching steps to the lazy sounding folklore.
There's still little to do here. Community is still everything if there's been a death, the whole of Rekong Peo seems to walk uphill towards Kalpa. It's a hard life in many ways. It's unfair but incredibly hard to not wish that the place stays the same. Especially when you know there's no wishing away new money from the land of languid angoori evenings and volatile gods.
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ON DEATH ROW
FULL LEGAL AID IS 17 CONVICTS' RIGHT
As many as 17 people being sentenced to death for the murder of one person is highly unusual anywhere in the world. This surreal happening in Sharjah has cast a pall of gloom in Punjab because 16 of the 17 convicts are from the state while one happens to be from neighbouring Haryana. They have been put on death row by a Sharjah court for the murder of a Pakistani man and injuring three others in January last year following a brawl over an illegal liquor business. There is no question of interfering in the legal process of any country but what the Government of India can certainly strive to ensure is that there is no miscarriage of justice. The hapless convicts in the age group of 17 to 30 are sole breadwinners of their families and had mortgaged their landholdings to arrange their work visas for the UAE, where they received this bolt from the blue.
Those convicted insist that it is a frame-up. Being extremely poor, they were not able to hire suitable legal help. The lawyer hired half-heartedly by their employer was allegedly of no help in court, with the result that their version of the story never got heard. Language was also a problem. The government must do all that it can to help them in this hour of need, because there are many holes in the police story. Two officers of the Indian consulate met the 17 Indians at a jail in Sharjah earlier this week and are now working on the appeal process.
Not many such persons from economically weaker sections of society are fully aware of their rights. Even otherwise, there is a tendency in some countries to be harsh on expatriates. New Delhi must step in forcefully, the way it did in the case of 400 Indian citizens who were ordered to be hanged in Libya in 1996 for going on strike, which is punishable by death as per the law of that country.
ARMY CHIEF'S HARD TALK
TACKLING CORRUPTION IS HIGH PRIORITY
It is not usual for a Chief of Army Staff to publicly make adverse observations about the 'internal health' of the Indian Army that is otherwise held in high public esteem. General V.K. Singh may have charted a new course in publicly acknowledging the gravity of the problem on the day of his assuming charge as Army Chief and announcing a need for an 'operation clean up'. But he is not the first to acknowledge that there is a serious problem within the Army. In February 1985, a quarter century ago, General K. Sundarji had on assuming command as Army chief issued an internal letter criticising the Army's officer cadre for 'becoming increasingly careerist, opportunistic and sycophantic' while lamenting the decline in 'standards of integrity'. His letter was preceded by a decade-long debate within the Army through much of the 1970s that corruption was fast becoming a bane of the Indian Army. But never before in the Army's post-Independence history has moral, professional and material corruption been making headlines as frequently as in this decade with many among them Lt Generals and Major Generals.
The Army, which has an impressive record of post-partition nation consolidation and subsequent nation preservation that has involved fighting wars with belligerent neighbours and quelling insurgency and terrorism in far flung states caused mostly by political and administrative mismanagement, has played a critical role in the country's post-Independence history. For a complex mix of reasons ranging from careerism, a steadily growing inability to attract the best and brightest, shortage of officers, hardship postings ranging from harsh terrains to insurgencies that entail long separations from family, a steady decline in the warrant of precedence, questionable remuneration, and a widespread culture of corruption nationwide has combined to create a rot.
General Singh is right in saying that the Army's value system has to be different from civil society. Difficult as it is, ridding the Army of corruption has become absolutely imperative for an institution that must always be above board and which is crucial to national security.
RELIEF FOR LALU
BUT THE COURT'S RULING NEEDS CLOSER SCRUTINY
The Supreme Court on Thursday ruled that Bihar government does not have the legal sanction to appeal against the order of a trial court acquitting former Bihar Chief Minister Lalu Prasad and his wife and successor Rabri Devi, in a disproportionate assets case. The ruling, which has far-reaching legal implications, held that since the Bihar government did not lodge the complaint in the first place, did not investigate the case or even appoint a prosecutor, it was not competent to file an appeal against their acquittal. The court rejected the state government's plea that since the disproportionate assets were acquired by the couple within the state and while they held public posts, the state government was an interested party. Earlier the state government's appeal had been accepted by the Patna High Court, prompting Lalu Prasad to challenge the state government's locus in the case. On Thursday a three-judge special bench headed by the Chief Justice of India K G Balakrishnan upheld Prasad's appeal and ruled that only the Centre and the CBI have the authority to appeal in CBI cases.
Prosecuting agencies do normally appeal against acquittals. It was the CBI which had investigated and filed a chargesheet against Lalu Prasad and his wife. Its reluctance to appeal against their acquittal, therefore, is questionable. The agency either did a shoddy investigation and had no faith in its own chargesheet or it appears to have succumbed to external pressure, either before or after the acquittal. In a landmark ruling in February, the apex court had upheld the power of the High Courts to order CBI inquiries even without the consent of the state governments. But the highest court of the land is yet to specify the role of the High Courts if, in such cases, the accused are acquitted by the trial courts. The investigation into the fodder scam notably was not only ordered by the Patna High Court but was also monitored and supervised, first by the Chief Justice himself and thereafter by a two-member bench.
The ruling is clearly based on technicalities of the law and not on the merits of the acquittal. By ruling out an appeal, the apex court has shut the door on course correction in case of an error by the trial court. It has also allowed the central agency to escape the responsibility of defending its own chargesheet. The ruling, therefore, calls for a debate in the public domain and a review by a larger bench.
QUOTA FOR MUSLIMS
IT MAY OPEN A PANDORA'S BOX OF DIVISIVE POLITICS
BY KULDIP NAYAR
There is an erroneous impression after the recent Supreme Court judgement that the Muslims in Andhra Pradesh have been given four per cent reservations in jobs and education. The fact of the matter is that the court has upheld only that part of the Andhra Pradesh Act which relates to Muslims belonging to Other Backward Classes (OBC).
Rightly, the Supreme Court has referred to the five-judge Constitution Bench the portion relating to reservations to the Muslim community on the whole. This was necessary because the Constitution does not provide any reservations on the basis of religion. The only exception is in the case of Schedule Caste and Scheduled Tribes. Subsequently, the OBCs were also included in the list of reservations.
The issue came to light a couple of years ago when the Backward Classes Commission of Andhra Pradesh identified 14 more Muslim groups which were socially and educationally backward but had not been included in the original list. Consequently, the state passed a legislation to include the 14 groups in the backward members of the Muslim community. So far, so good one can say.
The state saw the point and went along with the plea that while hairdressers, dhobis and those working in the cremation grounds in the Hindu community were extended reservation benefits under the backward class, similarly placed groups in the Muslim community were deprived of the benefits. The legislation did away with the discrimination to include the 14 groups.
However, where the government went wrong was when it said that all Muslims would be entitled to four per cent reservation except the Sayed, Mughal, Mongol the Ashrafs of the community which were considered the highest caste among Muslims like the Brahmins among the Hindus.
The government was probably not as much to blame as the commission because the latter said in its recommendation that since only a small minority of Muslims is regarded as Ashrafs, it would be better to include the entire community as qualified to be backward.
The Andhra Pradesh High Court rejected by five to two the commission's criteria for determining most Muslims as the backward and, therefore, gave a stay order. The court's argument was weighty. It said that no criterion had been laid down to find out how many Muslims were from the upper castes and how many from the OBC. To categorise the entire community as OBC was not fair.
The Andhra Pradesh High Court was, however, keen on including the 14 groups in the OBC category. It did so. But it did not want to dilute the benefits enjoyed by the other backward classes, some 41 per cent in the country, by extending the concessions to the Muslim community on the whole. The state had no right to give four per cent reservations to Muslims because it increased the overall quantum of reservations.
The Centre has already allotted 27 per cent through the Mandal Commission recommendations. The reservations of SC/ST come to 22.5 per cent. Already this adds up to 49.5 per cent. Any more reservation would violate the Supreme Court's directive which laid down that reservations cannot be more than 50 per cent.
The problem may arise if and when the existing criterion for OBC is stretched to include more and more groups. Were there to be any compromise on the question of criterion, the OBCs would start protesting because the criterion for backward Muslims and backward Hindus has to be the same. Were the government to give in on this point, it would face another Mandal-type agitation which had shaken the northern India in 1990.
The religion-centric reservation poses a grave danger of fissiparous tendencies developing in the country. Reservations for Muslims will be looked at in the same way and may create a backlash which may not be good for the community itself and may endanger the equanimity that society enjoys at present.
That the Muslims should get reservation in jobs and education on the basis of backwardness is understandable. And some OBC categories from among the Muslims are enjoying the concession. But any such benefits on the basis of religion can be exploited by extremists from among Hindus. Some Muslim leaders are unthinkingly raising the standard of reservations aloft for their community. They are playing with fire.
They are unnecessarily arousing the sentiments of the community as it was done by the then Muslim League before Partition. The eyes of the present Muslim leadership are fixed on electoral politics but their approach is highly sectarian. Slogans that there should be reservations for the Muslim community are irresponsible and can develop into a two-nation theory.
The Sachar Commission on the plight of Muslims was correct in diagnosing the malady. It pointed out how the community had been denied its share in education, economic benefits and services on the basis of its population. However, the subsequent Ranganath Mishra Commission has recommended reservations for all minorities on the basis of religion. This recommendation is an unfortunate one. Even if it is looked from the point of view of benefits for the Muslims, the gain would be temporary and might jeopardise the future.
India is a pluralistic society and it cherishes diversities in the name of religion, language and customs. The community consciousness which the reservation activists are trying to arouse may deliver a serious blow to pluralism. The same old question of separate identity will come to the fore while there should be only one identity Indian. The reservation for Muslims may open a Pandora's box of communal and divisive politics.
Yet, the 12 to 13 per cent of Muslim population in the country should reflect their number in employment in government and the private sector. The community's share should also be tangible in the economic fields. There is no alternative to the affirmative action. The government has done little since the submission of the Sachar Commission report two years ago.
However, mixing genuine aspirations of the Muslims with religion may be misdirecting the effort in finding a remedy to the long-time neglect. The louder the reservation activists raise their voice, the more unfavourable would be the fallout for the Hindu extremists to exploit. The pluralistic India cannot afford it. Nor can the Muslims.
MAN OF THE FUTURE
BY RAJBIR DESWAL
I claim to be no Darwin, but I can foresee the (re?)evolution of the future man, in being half real and half plastic. Believe you me please, for it's not me who says it, but the chip inside me.
With expectancy of life crossing the count of eighty years for an average human being, one can imagine the assortments and appendages a human body is likely to have, in times to come, when you may "buy a liver and get a kidney free!"
Take heart, for your so-called mortal frame will one day have a built-in stenting, when a heart attack may just be as harmless as a twitch near the left eye. Or your brain stroke may leave you more charged up, with renewed backup of battery power.
I can visualise pop-ins and slots in a man, where one could attach life support systems, as you do the earplugs to an iPod. You could also carry your oxygen cylinder like a pen in your pocket. Also your hornlike, evolved antenna could make you stay connected at all times, with dedicated Intensive Care Units.
On the psychological plane, you could have a set of robots as friends for socialising .You could programme them to suit your taste, and if they entertain you no longer, you could re-programme them. I gainsay, you could date them too and leave out the "out-dated" ones.
With everyone getting fixed, pretty looks on their faces, employing plastic surgery, there would be Most Ugly Look competitions to experience what would be called "for a pleasant change".
All this will effect a change in human emotions too. Expressions like love, affection, care, concern, empathy could then be good stuff for making sci-fi movies. The Oscar-winning flick could be the story of a man torn to pieces for offering to look after his old and infirm parents.
The positive side of the future man's characteristics and capabilities, is seen by me as being able to see, store, play and repeat your best of the dreams on an LCD screen. Also you could retrieve your long-forgotten memories of people, places and events. And delete permanently the traumas.
Now take a look at the anatomy of the future-man who will have a big head, for he will only use his brain. The inactivity of the limbs will make them grow smaller, due to disuse atrophy, since all jobs would be done by remote, or on-person, controls.
Even the denture is likely to suffer in size, for fast foods and synergy drinks would not entail much of jaw moment. Stomach size too will reduce, since supplements would take care or your digestion and metabolism.
In such a scenario all the Yoga experts would be sent to Coventry. But, would future man be a complete man then? I don't really know.
PUNJABI IMMIGRANTS IN TROUBLE
GANG WARS AND DRUGS ADD TO THEIR WOES
BY PRABHJOT SINGH
Sixteen of 17 Indians facing death penalty in Dubai are Punjabis
Punjabi boy stabbed in Vancouver
Another Punjabi boy killed in Melbourne
Punjabi youth murdered in Manila
Punjabi youth dies while saving a British woman from street urchins
Punjabi boys languishing in jails in Turkey, Iran
These screaming headlines in newspapers during the past few weeks have been sending alarming signals to the single largest immigrant community worldwide. While a fraction of these attacks on young Punjabi immigrants could be attributed to both factional and fractional fights, what has been worrying most is their alleged involvement in illicit activities, including drugs and smuggling.
Though a few enterprising Punjabis made supreme sacrifices while saving the honour of fellow comrades or locals, others have lost lives in activities that bring bad name to the community. Otherwise, many Punjabi youth have been victims of hate crime unleashed on them because of various socio-economic factors, including recession and racism.
The Punjabi community in British Columbia, for example, has been worried over the ever-increasing involvement of its second generation in gang wars, drugs and other illicit activities. In little over a decade, the community has lost about 100-odd promising youths in the violence.
Interestingly, Vancouver, Surrey and Burnaby are the British Columbia areas where Punjabi immigrants dominate. These areas are represented in the British Columbia Assembly and also in the Federal House of Commons by Punjabi-Canadians, who have been raising from time to time demand for new legislations and setting up of homicide squads. However, they have not been able to stem the rot.
The problem has now started spreading its tentacles to other provinces of Canada. Toronto, for example, too, has started witnessing cases in which second generation Punjabi youth figure prominently.
The most alarming has been Australia in general and its Victoria province in particular. For almost a year, every other week, there is an incident that originally makes headlines scream of alleged racism but later after investigations most of these cases turn out to be of intra-community rivalry.
Unfortunately, recent cases reported from Australia have invariably been about the students who have gone there, primarily looking for permanent residency there, using admission to an Australian college or institution, as an immigration facilitator.
Unlike Canada or Britain, those mentioned in cases of violence down-under are the fresh immigrants or students. Though personal rivalries, jealousies and fight over girls could be the common reasons for violence involving Punjabi youth, both in Canada and Australia, worrisome issues like drugs and gang wars are confined to Canada only.
In the United Kingdom, there have been many instances where Punjabi youth got involved in ethnic violence and suffered serious casualties. Racial slur and discrimination at places of education, work and entertainment have been reported to be other major provocations for the Punjabi youth's implication in incidents of violence.
Like Canada, it is the second and third generation Punjabi youth who are high on the violence-prone list than the new or fresh immigrants or student visa holders. Various studies conducted in Canada and England have blamed excessive freedom coupled with lack of parental control as reasons for the growing involvement of Punjabi youth in illegitimate or illicit activities.
Economic recession that followed 9/11 terrorist attacks on the US and the 2008-09 worldwide recession have acted as catalysts where the original unemployed or underemployed youth chose to make enterprising Punjabi youth their target for hate crime.
The situation in Philippines, where 20 to 30 Punjabi youth are murdered every year, it is primarily because of their involvement in money laundering business.
Middle east countries are the latest addition to the list of hate crime or violence pitted against Indians in general and Punjabis in particular. While state agencies maintain that it was because of their growing influence in illicit or illegitimate activities, including smuggling of liquor, that is making the Punjabi immigrants a clear target of gang war violence, others dismiss it saying that there have been cases where the local employers, instead of disbursing dues to their work force at the end of their contractual periods, get them implicated in false cases.
Examples galore, many workers, skilled and unskilled, from India in general and Punjab in particular not only returned home empty-handed but also had a taste of prisons there. Unfortunately, victims of violence overseas get little or no support from the country's strong diplomatic presence in these countries.
In distress when they turn up at the Indian chanceries/ embassies or consulates, they are turned away without being heard. Not only that, they are unfortunately "blamed for creating a mess for themselves besides bringing a bad name to the country."
NEED TO CHECK ALARMING RISE IN SUICIDES
Disturbingly, there is a spurt in the number of suicides by youngsters. One reason could be the rising expectations of their parents. Remember those good old days when on failing in one or the other examination, parents used to casually tell their child not to worry as "it is not a Kumbh Mela that would come after 12 years".
However, parents cannot tolerate failure of their children today. The result: bouts of depression, unheard of earlier particularly among children, that often lead to suicide.
A popular TV commercial to promote a tooth paste brand goes something like this: on being asked by his schoolmate about the reason of his 'sadness', a child replies: "Main fail ho gaya"! And then he is shown jumping with joy when he is told that it is not he but his toothpaste that has failed!
The other day a broadly smiling Raunaq, my five-year-old grandson, told his mother on returning from school that his friend Mallai failed in the mathematics test but he got full marks and was greeted by the class. The two examples demonstrate two disturbing facets of our youngsters' general thinking today: Failure is an extremely awful thing; and the failure of others is worth celebrating.
All this, perhaps, is the result of what we teach to our children today, perhaps unknowingly, both as parents and teachers. The amount of malpractices that are being adopted with clinical ingenuity during examinations every year is too well known and perhaps is the result of such wiered thinking.
The social malice of intolerance, which is the byproduct of our well ingrained failure to accept failures gracefully, has gone so deep that today even school games, leave aside cricket or hockey matches between India and Pakistan, are played like wars!
Is failure that dreadful a thing that today some school examinations at the lower level have been abolished altogether? It is said that, "The only real failure in life is one not learned from". "Society tells us that to fail is the most terrible thing in the world". But it is not. "Failure is part of what makes us human". Defending failures, Sir Winston Churchill aptly remarked, "Success is the ability to go from one failure to another with no loss of enthusiasm".
English poet John Keats too was not wrong either when he said, "Don't be discouraged by failure. It can be a positive experience.
Failure is, in a sense, the highway to success, inasmuch as every discovery of what is false leads us to seek earnestly after what is true, and every fresh experience points out some form of error which we shall afterwards carefully avoid".
The saying that "you always pass failure on the way to success", needs to be remembered and shared. More so because while the modes of communication today have increased manifold, communication between parents and children have reached a dead-end. This has brought an unwarranted chasm between this once highly intimate and loving relationship.
The need of the time is that both parents and children need to revive their traditional methods of communication like an intimate hug or a comforting pat or a warm kiss. Cold mobile talks, SMSs, e-mails or facebook tweets would drift the once pious relationship still farther.
The writer is a former Principal, Govt. College Sector 11, Chandigarh
NRO VERDICT: ZARDARI IN DIRE STRAITS
BY SYED NOORUZZAMAN
It seems everything is now working against President Asif Zardari. While he is going to be reduced to a titular head of state after the 18 th Constitution Amendment is okayed by Pakistan's Parliament a mere formality with all parties having given their approval for the draft prepared b the Raza Rabbani Committee the Supreme Court is asserting its authority to ensure that the historic verdict nullifying the Musharraf era-National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO) is implemented without further delay.
The apex court has chastised the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) for taking up the issue of reopening of the case relating to Mr Zardari' Swiss bank accounts in a non-serious manner. The NAB did send a letter to the Swiss authorities but without routing it through the Law Ministry. The court has ordered it to dispatch the letter again with the stamp of the ministry and after getting it formally approved by the Prime Minister.
The latest court order came after a seven-member Bench headed by Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry heard the case of implementation of the NRO verdict on Thursday, according to The News. The Law Ministry was accused of not cooperating in the matter.
The Swiss authorities have taken the view that they cannot open the case against Mr Zardari as he enjoys constitutional immunity as the President of Pakistan. The court's insistence on properly approaching the Swiss officials concerned indicates that the constitutional protection for Mr Zardari is a matter yet to be legally settled. Some experts have been arguing that the crime he is alleged to have committed relates to the days when he did not have the position he holds today.
Official close to President jailed
The Pakistan Supreme Court's ire over the delay in the implementation of the NRO verdict has, in the meantime, led to the imprisonment of a senior government functionary, Ahmed Riaz Shaikh. He has been known for his closeness to Mr Zardari. All his assets have also been seized.
The court issued its order against Shaikh, Additional Director-General of the FIA (Economic Crimes Wing), after a reference was made to a corruption case against him in which he was awarded a sentence of 14 years and a fine of Rs 20 million by an accountability court in 2001.
He was removed from service in 2002, but got reinstated in 2008 after the NRO came into force. He was favoured with a promotion even after the quashing of the NRO by the apex court.
The renaming of the North-West Frontier Province (NWFP) as Khyber-Pakhtoonkhwa has led to celebrations all over the province. It has an overwhelming majority of Pashtu-speaking tribes called Pakhtoon. Khyber has been prefixed owing to the historic significance of the Khyber Pass.
This is a "historic decision" reached with consensus among the political parties. According to Daily Times, "It took more than a hundred years to do away with this hangover from the colonial times."
A Frontier Post report said that some of the members of the Parliamentary Committee on Constitutional Reforms opposed the inclusion of Khyber and wanted only Pakhtoonkhwa as the replacement for the NWFP, but they were overruled. After all, Khyber and Pakhtoons are inseparable.
WOMEN'S BILL: CRIME ANGLE
ONE STRONG ARGUMENT IS THAT MORE WOMEN IN PARLIAMENT IS SURE TO BRING DOWN CRIMINALITY
The passage of the Women's Reservation Bill in Rajya Sabha on March 9 was historic. It took nearly two decades to reach this stage, and even then it was touch and go. Some Rajya Sabha MPs tried to block passage by physical assault. Then there was also the danger that there wouldn't be any time for debate, which would make it look like an emergency bill. The Opposition wanted a debate. Thankfully, the three major parties, Congress, BJP and Communists were firmly in favour, and the bill was passed. But strangely, the short-lived jubilation soon led to a hangover. The mood became somber, as if an indiscretion had been committed. For the bill to become law, it must now be passed by the Lok Sabha. But the government doesn't seem to be in a hurry to introduce it in the lower house. And remember, that if it is not tabled during this 15th Lok Sabha, the bill will lapse.
That would be like the snakes and ladder game, where you go from close to finish, right back to the start. The main arguments of the naysayers is (a) reservation is bad per se; (b) parties should be encouraged to field more women candidates, rather than reserving constituencies; (c) the women who will get elected will be bibi, bahu and betis, and hence proxies for the patriarchy; (d) since onethird constituencies will be reserved, and will rotate every five years, hence there will be disruption among two third seats. So, no member of Parliament will have incentive to "nurse" his constituency, and will then play one day cricket rather than a Test match. Or worse, will indulge in T20! (e) most seriously the women's reservation will ghettoise women, restricting them to fight elections in their own little corner. So, serious women candidates cannot rise to challenge men as equals in open constituencies.
All these are valid concerns, although not all are equally valid. Democracy in India is an ongoing experiment, with eternal fine-tuning. Hence, in 60 years of the Constitution we have had more than 100 amendments, whereas in the US even after two centuries there are barely 40 odd amendments. The back and forth of democracy in India is to be taken as a strength, not a weakness. After all, one of the worst periods the Emergency was also overcome with democratic means.
Our democracy is currently in serious danger from rising money power and criminality among law makers. Of the 543 members in Lok Sabha, 162 have criminal charges as per their own admission, through their sworn affidavits. Of these 76 have serious charges, like murder, attempt to murder, kidnapping, extortion etc. Of these 76 MPs only two are women. Put another way, two out of 59 women MPs are charged with serious cases, as against 74 out of 484 men MPs.
Based on sheer statistics, chances of a woman MP charged with serious offenses like murder and kidnapping, or even corruption, are tiny compared to men. This criminality angle seems to be missing from the national debate on women's reservation.
Introducing a women's quota, as already done in village and town councils, is a sure way to reduce criminality among lawmakers.
There is also global evidence supporting the assertion that women leaders are likely to be less corrupt. The other deficiencies in the current bill can be corrected by small modifications, like reducing the reservation percentage, and keeping the constituency reserved for two terms instead of one. But the big idea is right, and its time has come. We need more women in Parliament. Nobody should have any reservations about that!
GRADE BUDGET SCHOOLS
Unrecognised private schools, which cater to the poor in slums and villages of India, have been under threat for a long time. With the passage of the Right to Education Act, the threat is real. The new law specifically calls for these schools to be closed or recognised within three years. In 2008, the Delhi High Court had also wanted to close roughly 10,000 such schools in the national capital. The reason why budget schools do not get recognition is because they do not meet standards. They, for example, do not have a playground of a certain size or they cannot pay the minimum salary for a government school's teacher, which is over Rs 20,000 a month after the Sixth Pay Commission. To pay such a salary or to have such a playground, they would have to quadruple their fee, and the poor would no longer be able to afford it.
Unrecognised private schools are successful because teachers are accountable to parents who can always move their children to a competing school if they are not satisfied. In a government school, there is little accountability as teachers have permanent jobs with their salaries and promotion unrelated to performance. Hence, one in four government-run primary-school teachers is absent and one in four who is present but is found not to be teaching. This horrendous situation is obvious to the poorest parents.
No one knows how many unrecognised schools exist in India but estimates range in lakhs. The move aimed at closing down institutions that serve communities and meet a gap in the supply of education seems bizarre and even immoral. The government's answer is that these schools are of poor quality. This means that it thinks that millions of parents who send children to these inferior schools must be stupid. Why would parents spend their hard-earned money when a child could be educated for free and get a free mid-day meal in government schools? The government's answer is that parents are duped by "unscrupulous elements". It is the command mindset: "I know what is good for you!" You can fool some people some of the time, they say, but not all the people all the time lakhs of private schools cannot enrol millions of children for decades unless they meet a genuine need. The irony is that while sending its own children to private schools, the establishment opposes a similar choice for the poor.
Why is it that we do not trust private initiative in education? Even eminent persons like Amartya Sen, who believe in the efficiency of the market, draw a line when it comes to delivering education privately. Our animus against the market may have diminished after liberalisation in 1991 and the fall of communism, but most Indians still suspect capitalism. People increasingly believe that markets deliver prosperity but they do not think that capitalism is moral. Even those who work inside the system feel guilty and do not value what they do.
Greater reflection will show that human self interest goes a long way in ensuring good behaviour in a competitive marketplace. A seller who does not treat his customers with fairness and civility will lose market share. A company that markets a defective product will quickly lose its reputation and its customers. False claims will lower sales. A firm that does not promote the most deserving employees will lose talent to its competitors. A purchase manager who does not buy at the right price will soon make his company uncompetitive and it will not survive. Lying and cheating will ruin a firm's image, making it untouchable to creditors and suppliers. Hence, the free market does offer powerful incentives for an ethical conduct backed, of course, by state institutions that enforce contracts and punish criminal behaviour.
I used to believe that government schools were the only answer for universal education. Then I read interviews with parents in slums about why they had removed their children from government schools with better facilities. The answer in most cases was that teachers did not show up, and when they did, they were not interested in teaching. Parents felt helpless and could do nothing because teachers only felt responsible to superiors in the state capital. Moreover, parents wanted children to learn English and computers, but teachers were either indifferent or incompetent to meet this demand. Budget private schools may do a bad job when it comes to teaching English, but at least they try. Teachers are more motivated, and there is the ever-present threat of losing the child to a competitive school. Now I understand why more than half the children in India's cities and a quarter in India's villages are in private schools.
The government makes it difficult for private schools to function. I was baffled to learn how often inspectors visited unrecognised private schools. It is not because of an unusual dedication to standards but to be "made happy", as one private school owner put it. Schools have to bribe to keep inspectors from closing them down. Hence, they believe that the Right to Education Act will raise the bribe required to keep inspectors "happy". This, in turn, will force schools to raise school fees, and the burden will fall on the poor.
The solution is not to close down budget schools but to understand their situation. Since they cater to the poor, there could be a graded system of recognition. If we can have a first and a second class in the train, why not officially designate "first" and "second" categories for schools. Since real estate is expensive, allow budget school to operate with a smaller play area. Don't insist on government salaries for teachers but give them autonomy to pay what the market allows. Set up rating agencies to assess the quality of both the government and the private schools to help parents to exercise choice. Of course, our first priority must be to reform government schools and once that happens, who will want to send her child to a private school anyway?
Finally, don't be contemptuous. Don't refer to them as "mushrooming schools run by unscrupulous elements". Instead, look at them as a heroic example of people solving their own problems. School entrepreneurs are like micro-finance companies that are trying to compete and "make a fortune at the bottom of the pyramid". What they need is a safe environment free from rapacious inspectors. They need titles to their property so that they can use it as collateral to raise expansion capital. Like microfinance, which has come of age, budget schools will one day build scale and brand names. They are symbolic of India's unique economic model of a nation rising despite the state.
He is the author of "The Difficulty of Being Good: On the subtle art of dharma "
HOW MANY ROADS WILL HE TRAVEL?
SUMAN'S COME A LONG WAY FROM THE TIME HE SANG PRO-MAMATA SONGS
Kabir Suman, poet, singer and one-man band (but without a guitar in hand), was walking towards Parliament, preparing to sign the papers that would make him a representative of the people in the Lok Sabha. A historic moment. Some journalists walked with him to share it. "This is the first time you are entering Parliament. How do you feel?" one of them asked him.
Kabir stopped, looked at the Parliament building and then looked at the reporter.
"Shotti kotha bolbo?(Shall I tell you the truth?)" he asked, and said, "I'm already bored ... so bored."
When Suman sent a text message to Trinamool Congress chief Sudip Bandyopadhyay last week, announcing his resignation from the party and the Jadavpur constituency of the Lok Sabha, no one was really surprised. At a musical performance at the India International Centre, Delhi, some months ago, Suman had announced he would never contest an election again. Most wonder why it didn't happen sooner.
To be completely truthful, it is a bit hard for non-Bengalis to fully comprehend Bengali politics and especially the politics of the Bengali intellectual. Every resident Bengali you meet curses his/her fate, moans and lands all the blame at the door of the CPI-M. But it is the CPI-M that has been ruling the state for 32 years! If you don't like the government, you can change it, you know.
And then there is the confusing business of the paaltu (there is no equivalent in English: "domesticated" is the nearest) intellectual. West Bengal Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee considers himself Head Intellectual (when Satyajit Ray died, he told friends: "What a loss. Now there is no one left to talk to."). He got for himself, a group of Deputy Intellectuals, whose job was to critique what the government was doing for culture and the arts. Many of these went along with the government up to a point. But they became the bitterest critics of Bhattacharjee and the CPI-M after what the West Bengal government did in Singur.
Some, like historian Sumit Sarkar, were disillusioned. Others like writer Mahashweta Devi had opposed the CPI-M all their lives and said Singur merely represented what the CPI-M had stood for. But there was another category of the intellectual Kabir Suman and artist Shuvaprasanna who worked to forge an alternative, at once intellectual and political, to the Left.
This would have been fine if it hadn't been so disingenuous. Kabir Suman is a lapsed Naxalite who went to Berlin to earn a living from German radio. From a left adventurist, he became a correspondent of Voice of America. One night, he heard Bob Dylan singing "How many roads..." He wrote a song that was just a little bit derivative (Kototaa Poth Perole Tobe Pothik Bolaa Jaai), sung to the same tune. The song was a runaway success. Then, rather than seeking inspiration from other folk/rock singers, he joined the Trinamool Congress and contested the tough Jadavpur seat, once held by Mamata Banerjee herself who had defeated Somnath Chatterjee of the CPI-M from there once (parenthetically, this column would strongly commend to him, Leonard Cohen, poet, songwriter and singer about whom it was said: "He has used many musical styles, from acoustic folk to electro-pop. But his lyrics have made only one stylistic leap, from lush lyricism to dry humour. His vocals have gone from a limited but appealing wail to a heroically smoky rumble. Soon, he may be audible only to dogs." The author might have been talking about Suman). Before he got the Jadavpur seat, he sang a song he would rather not be reminded of today: "Mamata ashe Mamata ashe (Mamata exists, Mamata lives)."
By sending Suman to Jadavpur, Banerjee irritated the local Trinamool hierarchy but counselled them to grin and bear Suman's antics, especially the spells after his experiments with hallucinogenic and mind-altering substances. Party workers took everything in stoic silence including his linguistic innovations with Bengali abuse involving mothers and sisters. They did their best to gloss over an existing complaint at the Bhowanipore police station. And they told people not to watch too much television when, during a chat show on a Bangla channel featuring Suman and Shuvaprasanna, the anchor was forced to hurriedly announce a short commercial break before Suman caught hold of Shuvaprasanna's collar and began thrashing him. The reason: Suman, who was born Suman Chattopadhyaya, is a converted Muslim (he wanted to marry a Muslim singer from Bangladesh but has already been married four or five times and has not divorced all his wives). Shuvaprasanna made some derogatory remarks about Muslims during the chat show.
All this makes you wonder where West Bengal is going. Industry is predicting an Alice in Wonderland kind of situation in the state in 2011 when the assembly elections are slated. And Suman will be missing in action: Boss, tomaake chai (you're wanted).
FATIMA BHUTTO'S SEASONS IN HELL
A memoir is not, strictly speaking, an autobiography. It is an account of the author's relations with some interesting people who have left an indelible impression on his/her mind. Fatima Bhutto's Songs of Blood and Sword: A Daughter's Memoir (Penguin/Viking, Rs 699) is a description of life under the Bhuttos, one of the six most powerful landed aristocracies of Pakistan that controlled the destinies of the country. At one level, it is a microcosm of state and society in Pakistan; at another, a history of the family that is also the history of the nation, a fractured memoir that embodies in an equally fractured form the political life of Pakistan. At a personal level, it reminds me of Tolstoy's observation that while all happy families are alike, all unhappy families are unhappy in their own special ways. Bhuttos were unhappy, not because they had an embarrassment of riches but because of the violence that riddled the lives of each successive generation. The masthead on the cover tells it all:
Granddaughter of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto (President 1970-73 and Prime Minister (1973-77): Assassinated
Niece to Shahnawaz Bhutto Murdered 1985
Daughter of Mir Murtaza Bhutto Assassinated 1966
Niece to Benazir Bhutto Assassinated 2007
So, Fatima said in a recent newspaper interview that the history of the dynasty could be read as a kind of Greek tragedy: "It seems like every 10 years we bury a Bhutto killed violently and way before their time."
The book is specifically centred on the assassination of her father, Murtaza who was shot dead outside his house in Karachi's fashionable residential district. The news of the shooting is first broken to her over the telephone by Asif Zardari who says, "casually, 'Your father's been shot.'" and puts the phone down. Nothing more; as cool as that, as if nothing much had happened. Fatima describes in great detail the commotion and confusion that followed, who came and went and the conversations that always follow after death so much noise at the edge of silence.
Fatima doesn't mince words; she calls the assassination a cold-blooded murder and provides a pile of evidence including eyewitness accounts, backed by interviews and documentation. The needle of suspicion points to Zardari, who, in fact, was investigated but later let off, presumably because of lack of evidence but more because he could pull the punches, backed by enormous financial resources which he had accumulated during his wife's tenure as prime minister. Fatima tells it all without flinching.
Fatima adds that her aunt (the two could never get along) "years later in an interview before her own death said that it was Murtaza's own fault that he was killed. Besides, she changed the facts about his injuries, rambling incoherently, claiming he was shot in the back by his own guards, that his guards opened fire on the police and Murtaza had a death wish". There were just too many loose ends which more than suggest that Zardari, aided and abetted by his wife had a hand in the murder. In the murky world of Pakistan's politics of intrigue and counter-intrigues, murder is not too heavy a price to pay for the goodies of office.
And there is one bit of solid circumstantial evidence that makes the case against Zardari almost foolproof: corruption charges and his cut in every government contract, the accumulation of assets abroad which Murtaza had unearthed. Could this have forced Zardari's hand?
Investigations into murders always leave unanswered question even in serious crime fiction. We have to go by circumstantial evidence and fill in the blanks ourselves which Fatima tries to do. And the most substantial evidence is that Murtaza had become "inconvenient" and was probably done away with. But this leads to further conjectures for which we can have no answers as with other political assassinations in Pakistan's turbulent history. Everything gets hushed up till one assassination fades into the next.
Indian readers will lap up Fatima's memoirs for the gossipy side of the palace intrigues that haunt Pakistani high society. Most of them ring true and they are told with a novelist's touch backed by all the paraphernalia of scholarship footnotes, interviews and documentation of sources. It is not a quickie, stretching over 20 chapters backed by family photographs and other memorabilia. But she doesn't relate the lives of the Bhuttos to larger questions of Pakistani state and society. Maybe this wasn't the place or the time to do so in what is a highly personal and painful memoir of her family.
THE OVERCROWDED PMO
K NATWAR SINGH
Marcel Proust (1871-1922) is not widely known in India. A Frenchmen of Jewish origin, his fame rests on his novel Remembrance of Things Past. It is considered, after Tolstoy's War and Peace, the second greatest work of fiction in the western world.
There exists a "Proust Questionnaire", which raises questions and provides answers. Why it is called what it is called, I do not know. Its existence, I appreciate. In this column, I have drawn up my own questionnaire. Natwar asks, Singh replies.
- Your favourite non-Indian city/cities: Florence, New York
- Favourite country (excluding India): The United Kingdom
- Favourite authors: E M Forster, Prem Chand, R K Narayan
- Historical personalities you admire: Emperors Ashok and Akbar, Lincoln, M K Gandhi, Nehru, De Gaulle
- Your contemporary heroes: Nelson Mandela (92), General Vo Nguyen Giap (98) of Vietnam
- Painters: Rembrandt, M F Husain
- Favourite sportsmen: Don Bradman, Sachin Tendulkar, Dhyan Chand, Jessie Owens, Roger Federer
- Film actors: Charlie Chaplin, Gregory Peck, Nargis Dutt, Ashok Kumar
- Historical allergies: Chengiz Khan, Aurangzeb, Hitler, post-1965 Mao-Tse-Tung
- Outstanding diplomats: Charles Maurice Talleyrand (1754-1838), Chou-En-Lai (1898- 1976)
- Which one book would you choose if abandoned on a desert island?: The Oxford Dictionary (with apologies to Indira Gandhi)
- Motto: Conquer despair
- Regrets: Not learning Sanskrit and chess
- Favourite game: Tennis.
- Favourite festival: Basant Panchmi
- Are you superstitious?: Yes
- Present state of mind: Composed yet confused
- Do you believe in astrology?: Yes, partly because I see fools running great institutions, ministries and countries
- Are you on good terms with yourself?: That's a tough one. Not always
- Your greatest tragedy: Death of my daughter
- What is your idea of happiness?: Peace and harmony at home, being with my grandchildren and closest friends
- Virtues you admire: Truth, love, loyalty, courage and magnanimity
- Vices you hate: Cruelty, cowardice and vulgarity
- Favourite pastime: Reading, stimulating conversation followed by prolonged period of contemplative silence
- What is your opinion of the Kamasutra?: Highly overrated. Also very funny in places. Boring most of the time.
- Does the end justify the means?: No
- Is Gandhi relevant today?: Is truth relevant today?
- Are you religious?: Not in the conventional way. I prefer ethics, morality and spirituality to religiosity.
- Which other century would you have liked to be born in?: Same as Emperor Ashok.
- Do you fear death?: Not as much as I once did.
Sonia Gandhi has done well to put an end to the unnecessary and unseemly controversy the Congress party vs Amitabh Bachchan. Several over-enthusiastic spokespersons of the party have egg on their faces. Big B is not only an exceptionally gifted and immensely popular film actor, he is decent, dignified, restrained, refined and an exceptionally and immensely likable person. From the very beginning, it was clear that while Big B would emerge unscathed, the Congress party would not. He does India proud. Many years ago, I was in Dakar, Senegal, in West Africa as the Union minister for fertilisers. Senegal is a French-speaking country. I was pleasantly surprised on being informed that a Bachchan film was very popular in Dakar. How many in India have heard of Dakar and Senegal?
There is, even in the south Delhi cocktail circuit, murmurings that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is leaning too much towards the US. The US does not seem to appreciate our PM's excessive desire to please it. Even on the Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage Bill, the American suppliers have made their displeasure known. They want more of the reactor component cake. The PM is trying to satisfy the opposition parties in Parliament to make some alterations in the Bill. Two issues need to be clarified. Could the opposition parties not have been taken into confidence earlier? Were the floor managers not aware of the misgivings of the Opposition? Even the BJP, generally not critical of the US has strong reservations. Next, why were loopholes left in the first place?
When I worked in Mrs Indira Gandhi's Secretariat from 1966 to 1971, the entire officer component was less than ten. Today, the PMO seems to resemble a mini public meeting. When numbers increase, excellence suffers.
In 1988, I was in Islamabad for the Saarc Summit. A Pakistani journalist mildly reprimanded me: "Natwar sahib, why are you a hawk on Pakistan?" I answered that I did not understand this language of hawks and doves. "We run a foreign policy, not a bird sanctuary."
CAN KARACHI GET A NEW START?
A tourist visa to Pakistan, priced at Rs 15, roughly the same as a local bus or Metro ticket in Delhi, sounds like a deliciously tempting bargain but getting there, at this twisted juncture in India-Pakistan relations, is not a joy ride. There is only once-a-week PIA connection between Delhi and Karachi. Writers like Fatima Bhutto, who is promoting her family memoir Songs of Blood & Sword in India this week, or the literary critic Muneeza Shamsie who is the regional chair of the Commonwealth Writers' Prize to be announced in Delhi in later this month, have to travel to Delhi via Dubai. Everywhere I went during the five days I spent in Pakistan last week, friends, acquaintances and colleagues complained of the hardship in getting Indian visas. Fehmida Riaz, the country's leading feminist poet who spent several years of exile in India during Zia-ul-Haq's regime, spoke of the tedious paperwork involved including translated and attested copies of ID cards.
Karachi is not reputed as a sub-continental beauty spot. Jihadist battles, gang wars and gunfire are familiar street sights and sounds, drug trafficking in its vast slums, kidnappings and political violence between Sindhi nationalists and MQM, the muhajir party of immigrants from UP and Bihar, are the stuff of everyday life. The horrific kidnap, torture and beheading of Daniel Pearl by Al Qaeda operatives in 2002 certified Karachi as the bad news capital of South Asia. Kolkata, with its slow-moving strikers and fading hammer-and-sickle graffiti or Mumbai with its "maximum city" appellation of overall wretchedness, seem vaguely hopeful in comparison.
What a surprise, then, to find Karachi looking in better shape than before. New flyovers, better traffic management, improved electricity supply in slums and buzzing cafes with women dressed in casual western clothes (an increasingly uncommon sight elsewhere in the country) not to speak of an ornamental fountain that shoots hundred feet from the sea in Clifton seafront (Karachi's Marine Drive) as a symbol of its revival. Bomb blasts and murky politics, like a transient Arabian Sea tide, seem temporarily at ebb.
By all accounts, much of the credit for the city's reform goes to its outgoing nazim, or mayor, the pro-active youthful Mustafa Kamal. Although a dyed-in-the-wool, risen-from-the-ranks MQM man, the 50-year-old Kamal, educated in Malaysia and Wales, is hard-working (in office at 7 am everyday), approachable (his widespread popularity) and clean (no scandal in a corrupt metropolis). He has been voted as one of the best city mayors in Asia in recent polls.
I met him him at the opening of the first Karachi Literature Festival, a co-venture between the Oxford University Press, headed by OUP's dynamic Ameena Saiyid and British Council Pakistan, and perfectly on cue, he said: "I have heard about the success of the Jaipur lit fest. This event is inspired by Jaipur because it's important for Karachi to turn the page." Mustafa Kamal has recently had to demit office because, as with so many appointments in Pakistan, he owed his office to the dispensation of Musharraf. Given his MQM political base though, it is widely believed that he will make a resounding comeback.
This is good news for a metropolis of 16 million that is Pakistan's financial centre, largest seaport and most cosmopolitan yet beleaguered face. Karachi is also the country's richest city with a great deal of Gulf money rolling about. In the spreading acres of the suburb known as Defence (Parts I to VIII) are villas of a scale and ostentation and still coming up at great pace that would be unimaginable in much of metropolitan India. In fact, in most big cities they are coming down to be replaced by apartments. Not surprising, therefore, that the most incredulous question a young journalist asked was: "Is it true that movie stars like Salman Khan and Aamir Khan live in flats?"
THE SUPPLY OF JUSTICE
THE BIGGEST PROBLEM FACING THE JUDICIAL SYSTEM IS THAT THE EXISTING PHYSICAL INFRASTRUCTURE IS NOT FULLY USED
The replacement of indigenous systems of justice by the colonial British system of jurisprudence radically reshaped the structure of property and other rights in the country. The implications of this implant in the legal landscape continue to be explored in a large literature by historians and economists.
Painstaking surveys of the topography of the land were a necessary underpinning of the new legal system. The initial cadastral surveys performed more than one hundred years ago remain the basis for land rights to this very day. The new legal structure spawned a class of Indian lawyers who functioned as its gatekeepers for a bewildered population, and earned fabulous wealth by so doing. Ironically, some members of this class, Motilal Nehru prominent among them, ploughed their wealth into the movement for the eviction of the colonial government, the very means of their enrichment.
The pre-existing legal systems varied widely across the country. Marc Galanter, a renowned scholar of legal systems in South Asia, has documented the changes wrought by the new system in great detail. In some parts of the country, the new system was perceived as less capricious and more squarely based on factual evidence, but in many others, it was seriously at odds with received notions of justice and community rights.
Whatever the regional variations in the indigenous systems earlier in place, one feature that they all had in common was the short duration of time between initiation of a case, and the final verdict. Legal examination was less complicated procedurally, and a final decision was soon reached. The demands of the new system on the other hand introduced delay between case and verdict that by itself was seen as unjust. What the new system did do uniformly across the country was to lengthen pendency.
Given this history, it might be thought that independent India would move to reduce legal pendency, but sadly that has not happened. The constraints on the supply of justice in India have congested the judicial system to the point where what is nominally a public good has become sadly excludable, and rivalrous. Every new case jostles along with existing cases for the limited attention of the courts. The stock of pending cases in the country today is estimated at 30 million. The situation has reached crisis proportions.
The Thirteenth Finance Commission, in a departure from tradition, makes provision for an absolute grant to states to improve the supply of justice, a concurrent subject in the Indian constitution. The total provision of Rs 5,000 crore for the period 2010-15 is broken down into nine monitorable components, so as to drive the system towards correcting the specific deficiencies identified in the action plan of the Central Ministry of Justice. It is useful to run down this list for an understanding of the multiple disabilities that plague the judicial system.
The single biggest problem is that the existing physical infrastructure is not fully used. Accordingly, half the total provision is earmarked for the operation of morning/evening shifts in sanctioned courts. Serving officers can man these extra shifts with additional compensation, and the pool of retired officers can be tapped if required. The distribution across states of this segment of the grant is calibrated to the number of sanctioned courts in each state.
The Alternate Dispute Resolution (ADR) mechanism, a fast track option for settlement of civil disputes, is presently available only at high court level in state capitals. An infrastructure grant for the creation of one ADR centre in every judicial district of the country is provided, allotted to states in proportion to the number of judicial districts within each. The grant will also cover the cost of training mediators and conciliators needed to staff the new centres. There is an independent grant for Lok Adalats for mass resolution of cases, at 10 per year at high court level, and five per year for lower courts. Legal aid for under-trials lacking the wherewithal to pay for their defence has a separate grant provision. These three grants for enhancing the pace of case flow together receive Rs 1,050 crore.
Then there is an unavailability of trained judges to fill vacancies in the system, currently estimated at 18 per cent. The proposal to establish 5000 new village level courts under the Grama Nyayalaya Act notified in October 2009 will add further vacancies to be filled. The Finance Commission, therefore, provides each of the 20 high courts in the country with two grants for the training of judges. One is meant for additional infrastructure in presently operating judicial academies, or for the creation of new judicial academies where none presently exist. The second is for bolstering the training capability of these institutions. Another closely related grant is for creation of the post of Court Manager, which will free the time of trained judges for performance of their judicial functions, without the distraction of administrative claims on their time. There is a separate grant provision for the training of public prosecutors, since the government aggregating across all levels is the single largest litigant in the country. These four programmes together receive Rs 1,000 crore. A small remaining grant of Rs 450 crore goes towards restoration of heritage court buildings.
The provision for improved justice delivery is available for the current year, 2010-11, without any conditionalities. However, a state will qualify for receipt of the grant for 2011-12 only if a State Litigation Policy, setting the norms for government engagement with the legal system, is in place before the close of the current fiscal year. If that does not happen, the grant can begin to flow to a state only prospectively from the time at which such a policy is framed. The budget head structure does not permit quantification of the total expenditure on the legal entanglements of the government, but if a portion of that had been spent instead on enhancing the supply side of the judicial system, the pendency situation might not have been what it is today.
The author is honorary visiting professor, Indian Statistical Institute, Delhi
INTENT VS DELIVERY
TARGETING BENEFICIARIES IS MUCH EASIER IN A CASH TRANSFER, AND WILL BE EVEN MORE SO AFTER THE UID PROGRAMME ROLLS OUT
T N NINAN
The debate on food security is remarkable for its focus on the desired objective, while ignoring the question of effective delivery. The Congress leadership and many activists are in favour of a maximalist food security law that promises 35 kg of grain per family every month, at the subsidised price of Rs 3/kg. The government, more cautiously, proposes to restrict the quantity to 25 kg per family. I would agree with the critics who argue that a scheme which proposes to reduce the existing supply of subsidised food to the poor can hardly be called a food security system. Providing 35 kg per family is also well within the capability of the public distribution system (PDS), which already handles about 50 million tonnes of grain in a year. The activists go a step further, and argue that the subsidised food should be enough to provide 2,400 calories per daybut that would mean asking the PDS to deliver the entire marketed surplus of rice and wheat, and is manifestly not feasible.
Meanwhile, both the government and its critics assume that the grain must be distributed through the PDS. How this can guarantee universal coverage is not clear, since the PDS has fewer than 5 lakh outlets, in a country with more than 6 lakh villages (and PDS coverage is known to be particularly poor in the areas where the poor live!). In any case, the Supreme Court-appointed Wadhwa committee has reported that half the grain meant for poor families is getting diverted. This will not surprise anyone. So it is odd that the people concerned about providing food security are not focused on the delivery question.
The Wadhwa committee recommends abolishing the supply of PDS grain to non-poor families (since the leakage of grain from poor to non-poor is one major problem); simultaneously, it recommends doubling the income cut-off for a family to qualify as poor, to about Rs 4,000 per month. How many additional people this will cover is anyone's guess. But we know already that, against the official estimate of there being 60 million poor families, we have 80 million "below the poverty line" cards issued. If the identification process is defective to begin with, doubling the qualifying income limit is not a solution.
That raises the question which neither the Congress leadership nor the activists ask: is there a superior alternative to the PDS? A food subsidy of Rs 55,000 crore that goes mostly (not wholly) to 80 million "poor" families means a monthly benefit per poor family of about Rs 500. If half that money is not reaching the target poor, the real benefit is only Rs 250. But even this benefit does not really reach the poor, because a lot of it consists of operational costs and overheads. One study found that for every rupee of benefit that reaches the target poor, the effective cost is Rs 4.27 (substantiation therefore of the famous Rajiv Gandhi declaration about only 15 per cent of the money reaching the poor).
It is surprising that this issue is not being debated with the same passion as the question of 25 or 35 kg per family. Are we focused on the chimera of food security, or the reality? If the latter, can we evade the option of a straight cash transfer: giving Rs 500 per month to even 100 million families (half the population) will cost only 10 per cent more than the present food subsidy. Targeting beneficiaries is much easier in a cash transfer, and will be even more so after the unique identity programme rolls out.
MAID IN HEAVEN
By most standards, I wake early enough, but I've always enjoyed my mornings somewhat selfishly while the household takes care of itself. Someone provides a pot of tea; there are newspapers to be glanced through; books to be read; perhaps a little light music to listen to; a leisurely breakfast to be had. And so this wonderful world might have continued undisturbed if both servants, through force of circumstance, hadn't taken off together, leaving us, said my wife cheerfully, a little "family time for a few weeks".
Now, I'm all for family time provided it doesn't invade my space, but this fortnight I've seen it up close and it's frightening. Initially, the help's absence didn't seem much to cope with, especially since my daughter leaves for college in the morning, and with my wife having already announced that her yoga hour from 7:30 to 8:30 in the morning is sacrosanct thereby also solving the mystery, for me, of why she had seemed absent on so many mornings what could go wrong?
What I hadn't realised was that my wife's yoga hour coincided fortunately for her, but regrettably for me, with peak hour for the household. I had to wake our daughter no easy task and then take the dog down for his constitutional, which he delayed as long as possible to defer having to return to the apartment. Neighbours walking their dogs downstairs wanted, annoyingly for me then, to engage in drawn-out conversations when all I wanted was to return, not because I had tea waiting for me alas, there was no one to set the tray, or pour me a cup but because invariably my daughter would be having a tantrum. "Can't anyone make me a cold coffee?" she'd shout from the shower, or "Not toast again, isn't there anything nice for breakfast ever?"
Nice or not, the toast burns because the front door bell rings with alarming regularity. The dhobi wants to collect the bundle of clothes for ironing and his previous day's hisaab. The car-cleaner wants to collect the bucket with soap water and gripe that the driver is purposefully driving over all the city's cow pats. The driver wants the car keys, and to fill his bottle of water, and to take a swipe at the cleaner, saying he leaves smudges across all the windows. The grocer's boy cribs that I take too long to get to the door, that he has more errands to run, and why I can't keep change handy instead of paying for a loaf of bread with a Rs 500 currency note.
The dog, having had his walk, wants his meal. My daughter wants to know if I can iron the creases from her shirt because she's running late and still has her hair to do. A concerned acquaintance calls to ask whether I've signed the petition to the chief minister asking for her intervention to put a stop to the colony's mosquito menace. The man who comes weekly to clean the fans says he doesn't have the whole day to wait for me to hold up the ladder for him. The part-timer can't find the brooms and swabs and my son calls from Pune to say I must transfer money to his account "right now, just now", he's all cleaned out.
By 8:30, almost miraculously, all errands have been run, my daughter has left for college taking with her the cribbing driver, the bell has stopped ringing, and there's blessed quiet. It's the cue for my wife to walk in. "I suppose I can't expect you to make even a cup of tea," she says sadly, heading for the kitchen. And, a little while later, "You must try yoga, it'll help you overcome your laziness."
Nobody had really stayed in our house in Santiniketan before I relocated here from Mumbai. It was a holiday home for family and friends. For the time when we chose not to holiday or probably contribute towards its upkeep, my parents would rent out a portion of the house in order to keep it from wearing a desolate look. Since the Visva Bharati University traditionally attracted many foreign students, most house owners preferred these finite visa holders. So did my parents. I do recollect young German or Korean or Japanese students asking my mother whether it would be possible to get a bed or a chair with the apartment and my mother saying a stern "no". Renting completely barren apartments was the tradition in Santiniketan.
Little had I realised then that someday I would be in a predicament the same as that of those students. Having moved to Santiniketan to set up a crafts shop and a restaurant, we have had to rent four apartments to house retailing and production.
When we began by renting two houses, we called in our electrician and plumber to fix whatever needed to be fixed. They came and grinned with approval. Didn't quite get what the grin meant till our plumber asked, "So didi, have you bought the houses?" "Good heavens, no," I said, alarmed to think that we wore the Mumbai moneyed look, "We have rented them."
He looked a trifle sheepish as he explained that since we were getting overhead water tanks put in, the wiring fixed, the sanitary fittings changed, he assumed we were the owners.
Time has not stood completely still. There have been some changes since my mother's time. While renting was done completely on faith earlier, house owners now draft rent agreements on stamp paper. It is, of course, another matter that small-town lawyers who draft them often end up with contradictory paragraphs.
And in the past, most houses had what were called "caretakers", who stayed in the house, ran around to get utilities fixed when the need arose and generally made the tenants' stay comfortable. With time, as caretakers have become both scarce and expensive, house owners have decided to combine the two roles: of the caretaker and the tenant. Now the tenant basically pays monthly rent to take care of a house for an absentee owner!
- Please ensure that you engage someone to sleep over at night, as the house would be completely unattended at night.
- I hope at least one light will be left on at night.
- Do not forget to switch on the pump daily because if air gets into the water pipe, we will have a real problem.
- The electricity meter is inside, so someone will have to be around when the meter-reader arrives.
- I have complained to the electricity board about my faulty meter, please follow up the matter with the office.
These are only a few instructions that owners leave us with before they leave for Kolkata after brief visits. But appreciating the difficulties of remote overseeing of property, we are normally sympathetic. We pride ourselves in taking care of our rented properties and feel these instructions also keep our interests in mind.
But recently, I thought I had too many instructions. One of the houses we occupy had a problem with the water pump. The plumber was visiting often to set it right and had to work on the pipe that ran to the house from the well. The landlady had covered the well with a section of a torn mosquito net. "Please ensure he puts the net back," she said, "It was a very expensive net"!
JITENDER BHARGAVA: THE COST OF BEING A PSU
FORGET ABOUT AIR INDIA LIVING OFF GOVERNMENT DOLE, IT HAS PAID A HUGE PRICE FOR BEING A PSU
Air India has very often been slammed for living off taxpayers' money an impression that was patently wrong till a couple of months ago when the first tranche of Rs 800 crore was given to the airline as additional equity by the government, in its capacity as the airline's owner. Contrary to popular belief, in the last 57 years, Air India and erstwhile Indian Airlines have jointly received no more than Rs 500 crore from government. The huge assets of the two airlines have been created largely out of their own resources.
What has never been asked is how much it costs Air India to be a government airline? In other words, by how much would Air India's financial balance sheet have improved if it wasn't a government-owned airline? That Air India has to fulfil many unviable tasks by its political masters is well-known, but what has never been quantified is the cost Air India has to bear because of the systems and procedures that the airline has to follow only because it is a PSU.
A good way to see this is to, for instance, just compare the process of aircraft leasing followed by Air India and the one adopted by Jet Airways in recent weeks. While Jet succeeded in leasing out three Boeing 777-300ERs to Thai Airways last week after having leased an equal number of aircraft to Turkish Airlines some months ago, Air India has been unsuccessful in doing anything like this. It is pertinent to mention that most airlines in the world were saddled with surplus capacity as a consequence of the economic meltdown and resultant drop in the number of passengers. With ambitious growth programmes kept on hold and flights regularly withdrawn from uneconomical sectors to ensure financial viability, airlines like Air India and Jet Airways which were taking delivery of new aircraft in substantial numbers had to take steps to lease out aircraft.
Air India failed, whereas Jet Airways succeeded. Why? Not because the latter was smart and Air India wasn't. As a government airline, Air India has a defined procedure to follow for leasing out aircraft. The process: first obtain an in-principle approval of the Board; issue a global tender notice inviting bids; scrutinise the bids; hold negotiations with the highest bidder; seek approval of the Board a time-consuming process, by the end of which the interested airline has invariably explored other options. On the other hand, private airlines, with no queries from the Comptroller and Auditor General, the Central Vigilance Commission and numerous Parliamentary committees to answer, can settle the leasing rate through negotiations held across the table. All of Air India's efforts to lease out aircraft new B777s and old B747-400s in recent months have been in vain so far, precisely due to procedural red tape.
How much has this missed opportunity cost Air India? A staggering sum. No one can, however, be held accountable for this loss because it was the system that caused this loss. Each B777-300ER costs about Rs 550 crore and the established thumb rule in the industry is that the monthly lease rental is about one-hundredth of the aircraft cost, i.e. Rs 5.5 crore per aircraft per month. Simple calculations would show that Jet Airways will annually receive Rs 325-375 crore for the six aircraft given on lease to Thai Airways and Turkish Airlines for three years. This is no small amount at a time when airlines are struggling to keep themselves afloat. Conversely, due to it failure to lease out aircraft, Air India has lost out on the rental income that would have come its way if only the attempts to lease out had succeeded.
It is heartening to note that after repeatedly failing to attract bidders through the tendering process initiated over six months ago, Air India has finally decided to avail the services of an external agency to help it lease out the aircraft. But precious time has been lost at a time when it is finding it difficult to pay salaries to its employees on time. This illustrative example is only one of the several that show how Air India loses out because of it being a government-owned airline.
Interestingly, the amount of money that Air India is seeking to generate through pay cuts likely to be enforced on employees is about the same as that it has lost out from leasing opportunities. While generating additional income through leasing out of aircraft and exploring other areas would be welcome moves, pay cuts would end up demotivating employees who need to put their best foot forward in today's competitive environment to win customers' trust, thereby enhancing revenue for the airline. One does not have to be a psychologist to suggest that no human being would be inclined to give up something that has been his for years unless he is convinced that all others possible avenues for reducing costs have been explored, exploited and exhausted. And, as is obvious, there are numerous areas in which savings can be achieved and expenditure avoided.
The Committee of Secretaries, which is engaged in the exercise of ensuring Air India's survival, thus needs to adopt a more pragmatic approach. It has to allow Air India to function as a commercial airline and keep in abeyance the restrictive and time-consuming rules, regulations and writ of watchdog bodies that have failed to serve any fruitful purpose, but which have hurt the airline. A free hand to function, with accompanying accountability at all levels, is the only way to see the airline ensures its survival in the short run, and progress and prosperity in the long run.
The author was till recently executive director of Air India
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
Move over Brad Pitt, it's time for the likes of PM Manmohan Singh! Or rather, powerful politicians like him, if one were to believe British actress Elizabeth Hurley. The lady avers she has a secret fetish for men in positions of power and influence and finds them extremely attractive.
While former US President Bill Clinton and ex-British Prime Minister John Major were among the men she actually named, it wouldn't perhaps be too hard to hazard a guess and expand the list. Numerous studies of the pop-culture-psychology kind have, indeed, often referred to the fatal attraction powerful people hold for lesser, more ordinary mortals.
Others would have us believe that women are more prone to being attracted to men who yield power. And that can include, apparently, chaps we would ordinarily not quite associate with knee-trembling sex appeal. Take even John Major, for example, mention of whose name was quite often accompanied by descriptions of dullness and being dour. Or just simply a noticeable lack of charisma. Liz Hurley, however, found him "terribly dry and funny in the flesh". Strange, indeed, are the rules of attraction.
So, could one presumably, given our penchant for not quite understanding the link between powerful politicians and any sort of sex appeal, draw up a list of our own? That would, surely, give some of our politicians something else to preen about. Or maybe it's all a bit haywire. What else by way of explanation could we offer if someone else were to express burning passions for, say, a Fidel Castro (perhaps when he was younger) or a Mahmoud Ahmadinejad or even a Kim Jong-il? That'd really be an axis of quite another sort.
Of course, we do have examples of some leaders who carefully cultivate the aura of a physical sort. Witness chaps like Silvio Berlusconi or Nicolas Sarkozy. It quite seems, to spin the saying, that some people are born sexy, others attain sexiness, and some have it thrust upon them.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
COST-PUSHED STEEL PRICES
It is notable that steel tycoon Lakshmi N Mittal, the head of ArcelorMittal, the world's largest steel producer, expects steel prices to harden by a fifth, in the short-term. The cost of producing steel is going up and will be passed on to customers, Mr Mittal was categorical the order day in London.
The policy task here in India is to proactively boost capacity addition in steel, especially of the greenfield variety. What's needed is forward-looking legislation for land acquisition, a genuinely attractive deal for those dependent on the land being acquired one that is not limited to land owners and transparency in ore mining complete with proper regulation and independent oversight.
In any case, domestic steel prices remain buoyant. Already, the price indices of long and flat steel products are rising by the day. For instance, the Indian long products price index for steel items went up by 39 points on March 31 (over March 30th) and that for flat products surged by 48 points. It implies 0.5% price increase in one business day alone. Further, steel prices are set to rise by Rs 2,000Rs 3,000 per tonne from April on the back of a spike in input costs.
Analysts say domestic hot-rolled coil prices may touch Rs 46,000 per tonne, up from Rs 43,500/t prevailing last month. The rally seems not so much demand-led as due to cost-push factors. Note that corporate investment is yet to gather steam after the downturn. Besides, a structural change in the global market for iron ore has taken place of late. Vale SA and BHP Billiton, major league exporters of ferrous ore, have seemingly ended a 40-year practice of annual price setting, and instead opted for short-term contracts, reportedly with a massive 90% ore price spurt negotiated with Japanese steel makers.
With some of the best ferrous deposits anywhere, we in India do need to firm-up policy measures to step up investment in modern mining practices. In tandem, what's required is fair value for the ore, to boost royalties, cess and duties for mineralrich states, which also happen to have the highest poverty ratios, and also to incentivise value-addition for steel producers. Value-added steel products do command premium prices, as compared to standard steel products.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
NOT ONE MORE CESS
India needs telecom equipment worth Rs 5,00,000 crore by 2015 to service its billion-plus population. There are two ways to meet this demand: award contracts to foreign manufacturers or encourage domestic manufacturing to scale up quickly. Awarding contracts to foreign suppliers raises security risks, with cyber warfare becoming a threat as lethal as nuclear or chemical warfare. The country, therefore, must create domestic capacity.
The telecom department, in its wisdom, has proposed a 2% research and development cess on telecom operator revenues to raise resources. This is silly, pure pretence that capital constrains domestic manufacturing capacity. The government must reject the proposal and the pretence.
Capacity depends on local business displaying the requisite entrepreneurial imagination, talent availability not being in question. Indian telecom services' rapid growth over the past 15 years has not seen the emergence of an Indian Huawei or ZTE in the private sector. Public sector enterprise ITI has not been invested with the capability to compete with multinational players. One option is to scale up ITI. But organisational cultures are difficult to change.
Another option is to create a new public sector enterprise to manufacture telecom network equipment, hiring thousand of engineers with a mandate to invent new and more efficient ways to transmit voice and data. The Centre's recent direction to operators to mandate foreign equipment vendors to transfer technology to a domestic company shows the right sort of intention, but poor policy design. Operators who buy managed services, not equipment, from foreign equipment makers are exempt from this provision.
Domestic manufacture is the only sure-fire way to acquire the capability to ensure that foreign equipment deployed in the network is fully secure. Funding a new public enterprise or a joint venture with a private player with hardware and software capability does not require one more cess to be added to the plethora we already have.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
PPP FOR RURAL INFRASTRUCTURE
The finance minister in this year's Budget speech spoke of the weaknesses in government structures and structures that are "bottlenecks in our public delivery mechanism". This is quite true of the rural development schemes. The underlying weakness lies in the fact that the subjects of urban and rural development have been dealt with as autonomous activities by the stakeholders. This is reflected in the design of the schemes and programmes but also in the standards followed, implementation methodology and the expected outcomes.
This is also true for development of rural infrastructure. Several constraints are responsible for the impact not being so visible and for lower levels of citizen satisfaction despite large sums of money being spent every year.
First, the schemes operate autonomously and there is little synergy in the implementation resulting in suboptimal use of resources. For example, road may reach a village in the year 2008, electricity in 2010 and telecom in 2012. By the time telecom services are rolled out, the road is already in a state of disrepair. Secondly, whereas funds are available for capital expenditure (capex) for new infrastructure assets, little resource is available for the maintenance of the assets. Thirdly, standards set for infrastructure services delivery are far below those set for the urban population.
Poor infrastructure dampens economic potential of the rural areas and results in acceleration in the rate of migration to the urban areas, putting pressure on urban infrastructure and resulting in mushrooming of slums in the cities. The central government's recent decision to redesign scheme for providing urban amenities in rural areas (PURA) could actually act as the catalyst not only for convergence between different rural infrastructure development schemes but to emerge as a new model for the management of urbanisation of the rural areas.
For the first time, a uniquely designed public-private partnership (PPP) model is being tested for creation and maintenance of rural infrastructure assets with predetermined service delivery standards almost akin to urban standards. While most of the capital expenditure needs would be met from the existing central schemes with the service charges determined by the government, the construction and maintenance of assets and service delivery, for a predetermined period would be by the private partner on commercial basis. To attract the private sector, the scheme is designed to be 'project based' with well defined risks, measures for risk mitigation fully explained and allocation of risk between the sponsoring authority (panchayats), the Centre/ states and the private developer clearly spelt out.
PURA's primary objective is to provide good quality infrastructure and associate services in rural areas. Urban amenities that are essential for fulfilment of PURA include drinking water, sewerage, drainage, solid waste management, skill development, and development of economic activities. In addition, electricity distribution, street lighting through non-conventional energy sources, etc, could also be provided. It is expected that the private partner would undertake add-on commercial activities that not only create revenue streams for him but also add to the economic infrastructure of the identified villages.
It is imperative that he should list all the optional activities along with the mandatory ones and bundle in the project as mandatory activities and part of the project deliverables. This is necessary as no private developer would venture to invest in a project unless all the risks are identified and properly allocated and mitigated to the extent possible. Similarly, the government also would not be able to commit resources without mitigating the risk of the uncertainty of deliverables.
The mode of delivery is PPP and the relationship between the public sector entity and the private sector partner would primarily be through a concession agreement. As the returns on investment will be based on a thin revenue base, most of the capex will come from government schemes. The mandatory activities would be from within the ministry of rural development schemes. Secondly, only community development schemes would be included.
Thirdly, an omnibus provision would be made in all schemes to allow the execution to be done through the private developer in place of panchayats or government departments. A few 'commercially viable' and 'people-centric' projects will also be developed through private investment and run on commercially. The profit that the private partner makes in such sub-projects could partly cross-subsidise to pay for services that may not have commercial viability at this stage. The 'returns' for the developer will also be from the revenues that can be generated from activities such as setting up of biogas digesters to capture sewerage outfall and utilise farm waste to generate gas for commercial use.
The viability gap that may still exist will be met from the PURA scheme under which up to 35% of the project cost can be given as a grant to the project. Project cost for the purpose of grant shall constitute capex+opex of essential+addon infrastructure. To ensure delivery of all elements of the project, add-ons submitted as part of the detailed project report (DPR) shall become 'essential' for the purpose of performance guarantee. Through modelling it has been ascertained that at a cost of about Rs 23,964 per capita, it would be possible to ensure robust provision of eight infrastructure amenities over a 10-year concession period, support employability for poor households and assist commercial scaling up of a lead economic activity. If the same amenities were to be provided through public sector delivery mode, the cost of delivery would be the same. Whereas in the PPP mode we have assumed management cost to be 1% of the capex, our understanding is that the management cost in public sector would be considerably higher, if fully costed.
If the PURA pilots succeed, there would be a paradigm shift in the manner in which rural infrastructure is developed and maintained. It would also redefine the quality of services delivered in the rural areas.
(The author is a civil servant. Views are personal.)
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
EQUIP TO BEAT THE SELF-DEFEAT
VITHAL C NADKARNI
Have you heard the story about the fellow who sent flowers to his friend who was opening a new restaurant? When he arrived at the gala opening ceremony, he looked for his flowers. Imagine his shock when he found a wreath of snow-white flowers edged with black satin instead, with a note that said, 'May you rest in peace.' He nearly burst a vessel as called up his florist in a towering rage.
Without missing a beat, the florist replied icily, 'Buddy, I'm not worried about you as much because as we speak, there's this guy being buried who got a dozen blood-red roses that said, 'Good luck in your new location! 'Oh It's another matter that the guy with the roses was six feet underground, couldn't read and the one standing six feet above could! You could laugh about it so long as it did not affect you personally, right? But think, what if it did?
It is entirely up to you to make whatever you will of it. Many people remain blissfully unaware of the extent of freedom that every moment of choice offers them. So afraid are some of us of open-ended uncertainty that choice represents that we are willing to pre-empt or sabotage it by cultivating 'self-defeating'' modes of response. 'Of all human psychology, self-defeating behaviour is among the most puzzling and hard to change. After all, everyone assumes that people hanker after happiness and pleasure. Have you ever heard of a self-help book on being miserable?" writes psychologist Richard Friedman in his NYT column.
'So what explains those men and women who repeatedly pursue a path that leads to pain and disappointment? Perhaps there is a hidden psychological reward,' he says. The Freudian explanation falls back on our socalled innate death drive (as opposed to the erotic impulse). That presumably impels us to pursue our own downfall and death.
Another explanation entails anxiety about success rather than a secret desire to fail; yet another involves low self-esteem, fragile egos or even emotional stress. Results from various studies suggest that cultivating strong feelings of social inclusion, a sort of self-validating or affirmative action directed towards oneself and networking work as antidotes to self-defeating routines.
As the Bhagvad Gita says, the self alone (atmeva) can be the self's own best friend (atmano-bandhu) or worst enemy (ripuratmana). Raise yourself with your own bootstraps. Laugh.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
CHINA'S CHEAP, BUT WHEN IT COMES TO QUALITY, BUYERS THINK OF INDIA: MITCH FREE
Mitch Free is not your average entrepreneur. In the thick of the dotcom bust in 2000, he started a dotcom, an online exchange called MFG.com, to connect manufacturers and suppliers. The reason, according to Mr Free, was ignorance. He survived while most other online exchanges, flush with funds and venture capital money, burnt out and died. Six years later, when Mr Free was on the verge of selling out, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos intervened. The rest, as they say, is history. Today, Mr Bezos owns a third of MFG.com, and the exchange transacts around $36 billion worth of business annually. Mr Free, who is currently in India to open an office, spoke to N Shivapriya about why MFG.com survived and why manufacturers increasingly prefer India to China. Excerpts:
Why an India office?
A lot of manufacturers are very much interested in buying from India. Prices in China have been rising, so our customers in US have been asking for access to factories here. The technical production in India is extremely high quality, and suppliers are responsive. We've had some great successes already. We have about 40,000 members from India even before we started an office. Folks in US are excited by quality and value. Right now, we're primarily focussed on tapping suppliers here, but in the longer term, I see the internal market for buyers also being very strong. Indian companies are becoming buoyant creators and buying some of the fabulous brands across the world.
Can India emerge as a significant competitor to China in manufacturing? Poor infrastructure is often seen as a bottleneck.
The China price advantage is eroding. About 18 months ago, China was about 30% cheaper than India. Today, that has come down to 10% or lower. That's not a huge difference when you consider the quality aspect and the difficulty in communication in China. Customers may not be willing to pay 30% higher, but they are willing to pay 10% more for better quality and communication. IP (intellectual property) protection is also a concern. Companies are worried that their design may be copied and someone may come out with a similar product. They are more comfortable sharing designs and drawings with suppliers in India. There are certain technologies, such as metal casting, metal forgings and plastic moulding, where India is very good. From an infrastructure standpoint, these industries are well-supported. It is also good for textiles. China is cheap, but when buyers think great quality, they think of India and Bangladesh. This is where India can compete, not necessarily on price but on quality.
Why did you decide to start a dotcom when all around you dotcoms were dying?
It was ignorance that helped me. I never researched for competitors or never wrote a business plan. My background is in manufacturing and technology. I never went to college - I started on the shop floor and worked my way up. I had a lot of friends designing products, running factories and who were looking for something like this. I didn't think it was a serious business, I thought it was fun to do. Had I done some research, maybe I would not have gone ahead.
What helped you survive the crash where many others failed?
When I started back in 2000, there were so many competitors it was unbelievable. A lot of them became very well-funded, they got a lot of VC money and money from big corporations. They bought a lot of technology and infrastructure, but the market was not ready for it. In many ways, they were ahead of their time. They created a lot of overheads and were burning cash faster than they were creating revenue. So, they just started shutting down.
I was fortunate not to have taken VC money. It was a bootstrap operation. I used my own savings, credit card and in lock step with the market, we built it in a very slow and calculated manner. It was a functional business based on revenue. We were able to get critical mass and once you get that, its hard for anyone to topple you. Manufacturing has been somewhat slow to adopt to business-to business (B-to-B) marketplaces and web technology, in general.
A lot of manufacturing capability is in lower cost countries where the technology infrastructure does not exist. In a B-to-B environment, it's hard to prejudice an adoption curve only by throwing money. But it's a huge huge opportunity. Manufacturing is arguably the world's largest industry. It's not going to be a Twitter or a Facebook that grows like wildfire, but it offers a lot more value and will be long lasting. It will grow as global infrastructure and sophistication develops. We're still not at that inflection point where you can have hockey stick kind of growth.
How did Jeff Bezos come to invest in MFG.com?
In 2006, I was close to selling the company to a firm in France. I was two weeks away from the deal. Jeff Bezos is building a spacecraft in Blue Origin, his aerospace firm. Jeff's engineers were using MFG.com to get parts, and Jeff was over at the facility. He told me I'd be crazy to sell. He said, "There is so much more this will grow. It will take years, but it will be one of the largest businesses on the internet." I told him I'd invested everything I owned and would like to take some money out. He said, "Why don't I put in some money, then you could take some money out." So, that's how he invested. A year later, Fidelity Ventures invested. Each of us own about a third in the firm today.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
'INDIA'S LONG-TERM GROWTH STORY REMAINS INTACT'
She is optimistic on the overall capital expenditure and infrastructure spending with its cascading effect on companies related, directly or indirectly, to infrastructure. Jyoti Vaswani, chief investment officer (CIO) & director of fund management, Aviva India, is betting largely on infrastructure and domestic consumption plays to boost the performance of her portfolios. In a chat with ET, she says India is firmly entrenched on the growth path. And so, equity should outperform other asset classes. Excerpts:
How has the insurance regulator's move to cap fund management fees at 1.35% impacted your company?
Aviva has always had a nominal fund management charge. Earlier, our charges were in the range of 0.75-1.75%. Hence, on an average, we don't see a significant change. We have always believed in the principle of long-term investing. We feel that managing risk is the key to delivering sustainable returns.
With interest rates set to rise further, what is your call on the fixed income side of your investments?
High inflation is a cause for concern. While food inflation seems to be under control, manufacturing inflation is a threat, going forward. Given this and the large government borrowing programme, rates are expected to remain firm. We believe that it would be a good opportunity to lock in high yields for long term in the next couple of quarters. Especially for traditional products, rising yields would provide a good opportunity for the long-term investment at these levels.
What is your outlook on the equity market? Where are you looking to put your money?
We have a fairly-balanced view. The market is trading close to its fair value. The pace and the magnitude of the rally since 2009 were built around abundant liquidity globally. We believe that share prices would remain range-bound and consolidate around these levels for some time. However, the fundamental long-term story of India remains intact, with key drivers of infrastructure, demographics and consumption boom firmly in place. We remain optimistic on the overall capital expenditure and infrastructure spending with its cascading effect on companies related - directly or indirectly - to infrastructure. Given this, we have chosen to invest in India-specific stories - largely infrastructure and domestic consumption plays. We are overweight on construction, engineering, capital goods, power utilities, oil & gas, banking, auto and retail sectors.
What is the cash position on your books at the moment?
We remain cautiously positive at this level and expect the market to be range-bound in the near future. We are maintaining cash levels between 5% and 10%, depending on the fund profile, which will be gradually be utilised to buy at dips in the market.
How has been the fund flow into ULIPs in the recent past? Does it indicate any shift in investor preference?
The industry collected over Rs 2,20,000 crore last year. And of this, Rs 60,000 crore was in the equity market. Looking at the trend, this could well go up to Rs 4,00,000 crore over the next five years. There was a shift towards traditional products last year due to volatile market conditions. Still, ULIPs have added significantly towards the growth of the insurance sector.
In terms of renewal premium, ULIPs have grown from Rs 8,825 crore in 2006-07 to Rs 46,396 crore in 2008-09. In the current financial year, the number has already touched Rs 42,000 crore (January 2010). ULIPs are long-term investment instruments and address a specific need. Investor appetite for equities remains healthy. Apart from uncertain times like the 2008 fall, we have witnessed that policyholders are interested in equities as an asset class for generating wealth in the long term.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
DEMAND FOR INDIAN DEBT TO STAY HIGH: TARUN JOTWANI, NOMURA
GEORGE SMITH ALEXANDER
IN 2008 Nomura took over the Lehman Brothers franchise in Asia-Pacific and its equity and investment banking operations in Europe and the Middle East. Post the acquisition, the Japanese firm has build up its fixed income business globally. ET met Tarun Jotwani, senior corporate managing director and head of global fixed income. Mr Jotwani was Lehman Brothers' head of capital markets for the Asia-Pacific region, including fixed income, equities and principal investing groups as well as chairman & CEO of Lehman Brothers, India. In India, Nomura has taken over the primary dealership of Lehman and has applied for a NBFC licence.
Has the integration between Nomura and the Lehman team been completed?
The integration process was completed in record time - our businesses went live within weeks, and we have just completed year 1 of the New Nomura. The acquisition transformed our business - more than 50% of our revenues now come from outside Japan compared with less than 10% prior to integration. In India, we are leveraging the capabilities and infrastructure acquired from Lehman Brothers like Primary Dealership. We have applied for a new NBFC licence, which we expect to be approved shortly, which will enable us to significantly ramp up our onshore business.
How do you think interest rates are likely to move in India?
Unless monetary policy is tightened further, the economy is at risk of overheating. WPI inflation rose to 10% in February 2010, while CPI inflation of industrial workers is even higher. At 3.50%, the reverse repo rate is well below its neutral level, and in real inflation-adjusted terms, it is deeply negative. Hence, over the course of this fiscal, we expect substantial monetary policy tightening. Given the significant momentum behind the economy, the low domestic leverage and the likely strong net capital inflows, we expect GDP growth to hold up well. RBI will normalise rates: the question is whether rate hikes will come in a series of short moves or will it come via large moves so they get it over with quickly. There is a lot of funding to be done, so it's important how these rate hikes are telegraphed.
If interest rates rise, will you see more flows by foreign institutions to the Indian debt market?
There is a positive vibe for India. With the flattening of yield curve, short-term interest rates are likely to increase - however, demand for Indian debt is likely to remain high. India continues to be a strong growth story, and interest for debt issuance should rise as long as there is belief that RBI will control inflation. Another factor to note is that existing limits on FII investments for government bonds of $6 billion has been fully utilised. There is good pick-up in utilisation of the corporate bond debt limit as well, although it is still quite large at $15 billion. An estimated $3 billion has come into the corporate bond market through the FII route during the last couple of months.
How much money could be raised by Indian banks and corporates from the overseas market this year?
Clearly, while bond issuances have risen, convertible issuances have not picked up yet. The offshore issuance levels have not reached the 2007 levels and when it comes to convertibles, it is certainly not there yet. The total foreign currency bond issuance from India was around $16 billion in 2007, and in 2009, we saw just about a third of that. So there is a lot to go.
There is liquidity both in the domestic market and in the international markets. India's domestic debt market is among the biggest in the emerging markets in terms of issuances and debt outstanding. So there is considerable interest. We just raised money from Japan for a client for investing in the emerging market debt, and a part of that would come to India. There is liquidity out there and global interest rates are low, a lot of this can be channelled and the government here understands the importance of this financing.
In India, companies come to the equity market too quickly, they should come later, and the reason they come too quickly is because they do not have easy access to debt financing. This combination will enable a far healthier growth in the financial market.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
PUNJAB & SIND BANK NOT UP FOR SALE: CHAIRMAN
After the government announced its intention to nudge public sector lenders towards consolidation, smaller banks are seen as take-over targets that have no role in the country's financial system. GS Vedi, chairman of the Punjab & Sind Bank, the smallest government-owned bank, says small banks have a major part to play in achieving financial inclusion. His bank is growing at a steady pace and is not up for sale, he told ET in an exclusive interaction. Excerpts:
Both the finance ministry and RBI have hinted on consolidation in the banking sector. Has any bank approached you for a possible merger?
We may be a small bank, but we feel that we have outgrown those issues. Five years ago we could have been a soft target, but now we are a strong bank. Look at the quality of our assets - our gross non-performing assets are around 0.7%, we have been profitable for the last five years and our credit growth is around 38%. When we say consolidation, we want banks to capture big business. There is also financial inclusion which needs to be achieved. We are going to emerge as a strong player in that field. The verdict is clear... we are not for sale.
How will you fund your expansion? Will the recapitalisation support from the government be sufficient?
Of course, like other public sector banks, we are also looking for re-capitalisation support from the government. I understand that it may be around Rs 700 crore that we can expect. Once we have that it will give us more headroom to raise further capital through a public offer. We have made a proposal to the government to offload 18% equity. Today, we are the only public sector bank left to get listed on the stock market and hence it is a completely logical move.
Has the government cleared your plans? How much do you plan to raise?
Our target is to come out with the initial public offer by the end of the first quarter of this fiscal. We've not yet decided on the pricing. Our understanding is that RBI has already approved our plans and the government should soon give us a go-ahead. We'll be filing the draft prospectus with the SEBI in the month of May. So after that, they will take another four or five weeks' time.
What are the sectors where the bank will be focusing on, and how do you see the lending scenario?
As a northern bank, our focus is on agriculture and the small and medium enterprises. We have met our lending targets for agriculture sector so far. But this is not an indicator that we don't concentrate on infrastructure lending. Till September 2009 we have lend around Rs 4,492 crore towards infrastructure, of which power and electricity are major components. We are not bullish on personal loans, but we are going to develop a strong portfolio across all sectors. As far as lending is concerned, there are certain sectors such as real estate, which are not borrowing. There are external resources, which are cheaper but the growth will pick up as the economy continues to surge ahead.
A PATHBREAKING STEP FOR SCIENCE
After the Large Hadron Collider at CERN in Geneva earlier this week reported collisions of beams of protons each of which was accelerated in a 27-km ring that runs deep underground across the Swiss-French border region at "centre of mass" energy three and a half times higher than the highest energy reached before scientists at the European Organisation for Nuclear Research announced that the world had now entered an unprecedented era of exploration of the sub-nuclear domain. This will cast light on many mysteries, including the nature of the so-called "dark matter" which is known to exist in galaxies and without which they cannot be held together. Also, theories of elementary particle physics advanced by a generation of scientists will now be validated or falsified. This considerable achievement results from decades of planning, construction, and work on precision engineering and highly advanced accelerator technology coupled with gigantic detection apparatus married to phenomenal grid-computing facilities. The discoveries of recent centuries show that in order to get to the basic building blocks of matter, one needs ever-increasing energies to probe matter at the smallest length scales. The LHC experiments, by reaching unprecedented energies, will throw open the windows to discovery. They will help go beyond what scientists know as the "standard model" that describes the familiar electromagnetism, weak interactions that lead to radioactive beta decay, and the strong interactions that keeps quarks inside protons and neutrons. The Higgs particle, termed the "God particle" required for the consistency of the standard model, might yet be one of the early spectacular discoveries at the LHC. Furthermore, when the collider replaces protons by ions of lead, which are very heavy, it is expected that conditions that must have prevailed just after the "Big Bang", from which the entire cosmos arose, will be replicated on earth. These can be studied at high precision under controlled conditions. The LHC could not have come into being but for the foresight and dedication of hundreds of scientists across the world and the funding from a consortium of European member states. Like all great voyages, the LHC has had its share of tragedies, with a technician's life being lost in an accident, and the helium leak in 2008 that set it back over a year. While the field of particle physics might appear arcane, its allure captures the fancy of the young and the enthusiastic in science. The spinoffs are immense: nuclear medicine without which cancer treatment would be impossible arose from nuclear physics, of which particle physics is the descendant; and indeed, the world knows CERN as the birthplace of the World Wide Web. India can be justly proud of its observer status at CERN and of the immense contribution made by scientists from its leading research institutions and universities in the project. Companies like BHEL, ECIL, Kirloskar and Compton-Greaves have won international tenders to supply top-of-the-line components to the LHC, in a commendable example of industry-research partnership.
This could not have happened without the foresight of pioneers like Homi Bhabha, the father of particle physics research in India, who believed that the destiny of modern nations can be shaped only by a commitment of its men and women to a life of science. It is worth recalling the words of Robert Wilson when asked if particle physics research had any defence implications: "It has only to do with the respect with which we regard one another, the dignity of men, our love of culture. It has to do with: Are we good painters, good sculptors, great poets? I mean all the things we really venerate in our country and are patriotic about. It has nothing to do directly with defending our country, except to make it worth defending."
BY BY FARRUKH DHONDY
"Are the heartless but those who've lost their hearts?"
My granduncle Rustomji Dhondy was a determined and unforgiving Gandhian with what I came to learn were the eccentricities of that persuasion. He would wear only khadi and shoes of non-animal fabric jute or plastic and, though brought up an omnivorous Parsi had turned strict vegetarian. He also indulged in more uncomfortably outrageous, yogic practices such as swallowing rolls of tape and pulling them out of his throat to clean out the oesophagus and stomach. He spoke reverentially of other powers that he wasn't about to demonstrate the ability to ingest mercury through the penis and more lurid and unnecessary disciplines.
He had great charitable impulses which led him every monsoon to walk through the alleys of slums with servants carrying a few hundred umbrellas which he would distribute to the wet and the poor. I couldn't persuade him that the poor startled slum dwellers would immediately sell them on cheap to touts who followed Rustomji's charitable entourage and collected the give-away umbrellas for resale. He said he was content that the recipients of the umbrellas probably needed money more than shelter and it was their prerogative. He couldn't see my argument for giving them money in the first place. It was un-Gandhian to encourage begging. Umbrellas were the thing.
Such lines of argument didn't inspire much confidence in his other pronouncements. His friends, codgers all, would gather in the evening and over their lassi and fruit juices in the cooling Mumbai twilight, sitting on cane chairs on the balcony overlooking the busy street, argue about politics, religion and the morality or otherwise of the generations of young Indians and of the neighbours. I didn't participate in the arguments but would note that my granduncle, whenever confronted with the question of the increasing and increasingly-exposed corruption of the government, bureaucracies, officials, police and civil servants of the our great and Independent India, would contend that corruption was a disease that we had inherited from the Raj. At least one of his old friends was consistently vociferous in denouncing the greed of "Congress" officials and supposed Gandhians. He was probably not a Rajist or Royalist but then, in the late Fifties and early Sixties, was firmly of the opinion that the democracy and liberation for which they had all fought had turned out to be the wrong sort of government in the wrong sort of hands because it was riddled through with corruption from top to bottom.
Rustomji Dhondy was staunchly of the belief that the bad habit of demanding and taking bribes was not only something that British bureaucrats of the Raj had taught Indians, but that the complicated systems of law and administration that the Raj had deliberately contrived before they granted us Independence were a dastardly scheme to tempt the hapless Indians who would succeed them into corrupt ways.
I didn't agree with my granduncle, evaluating his argument as a wilful blindness to India's growing and threateningly fatal democratic disease.
There was enough history about the corruption of the early East India Company and of the practices of Robert Clive and Warren Hastings who were both impeached for enriching themselves through illegitimate means. Clive even said that he was merely and continuously astounded at his restraint when faced with the loot he could have had from Hindustan.
The histories of corruption in our text books didn't follow through to later eras. In fact it was assumed, in the history we were taught or with which we came into contact, that by the Victorian age the Company Bahadur and then the Raj were the enemies of corruption. Yes, the British in India had many faults and colonialism was devilishly unfair, but the idea of taking backhanders to get forms filled or to influence a judgement in a court was not the routine which became a scandal in Independent India.
When I came to Britain I assumed that British capitalism, bureaucracy and, indeed, Western democracy and law and order had reached a stage and state of maturity such that the capitalist wanting to start an enterprise didn't have to bribe the ruling party, three ministers of the Cabinet, five civil servants, 200 petty officials, tax inspectors etc. I took it for granted that passing £20 to some government official to jump a queue, sell me a ticket or stamp a piece of paper would find me rapidly in jail rather than in favour. Neither could I pay the copper who stopped me for going through a red light a tenner or fiver to look the other way and speed me on my way.
Of course there was corruption in the system, but I took it for granted that it was a high and mighty corruption whereby those in power, the "establishment", whatever that mysterious body was, influenced and determined events, got their way and were materially rewarded through institutional means rather than by means of used bank notes slipped under the table.
How naive, how mistaken! This last week a national newspaper and Channel 4 joined forces and pulled a sting operation on five ex-ministers of the New Labour government. The reporters pretended they were an American firm looking for people who could corruptly influence British government policy in the granting of licences, in the formulation of regulations etc. The sting lured the five ex-ministers into secretly recorded conferences in which these hapless sitting MPs, all Tony Blair protégés, agreed that for fees ranging from £3,000 to £5,000 a day they would speak to their friends in government and in Parliament and to the civil servants with whom they retained good and influential contact, to ensure that government policy served the needs of and enriched their clients.
One ex-minister, Stephen Byers, was even recorded saying that he was like a taxi for hire. He could have mentioned an older profession offering the punter a ride.
It could and did happen in India when leaders and others were stung by Tehelka while allegedly accepting money in connection with defence deals. The difference? The exposure in the UK will see that bribery and influence-peddling of this sort come to an end. Did Tehelka's exposure make sure that it was the end of all that in India? Really?
METRO IL FANCY
Mr C.V.S.K. Sarma, one of the Chief Minister's principal secretaries, seems enamoured of the post of chairman of the Hyderabad Metro Rail Limited. He has been holding the post ever since the special company was floated, except for a few months when Mr S.P. Singh was chairman. The babus occupy the position at Metro Rail by virtue of their posting as head of the Municipal Administration and Urban Development (MAUD) department in the Secretariat. But now that he has been moved to the CM's office six months ago he still sticks to the post. Mr T.S. Appa Rao, who succeeded him at MAUD, and should became Metro Rail chairman, perhaps does not want to fight for the position.
SELF-PROMOTION UNDER APPEALS
When it comes to shameless self-promotion, it's hard to beat the Indian neta. Congress stalwarts Diwakar Reddy, Erasu Pratap Reddy, D.L. Ravindra Reddy, T.G. Venkatesh, and Adala Prabhakara Reddy were part of a delegation that went all the way to Delhi to submit a memorandum to the Justice Srikrishna Committee urging that a united AP state must continue. Now, apart from the waste of taxpayers' money, there is nothing objectionable about this. But the same politicos were seen at the office of the Congress high command meeting party leaders. It's a safe bet that they were laying the groundwork for bagging a post when the expected expansion of the Rosaiah Cabinet occurs. And this was confirmed when one of the politicians was asked if the intention behind the visit was to make a submission before the Srikrishna panel or further his own ministerial ambitions. Without batting an eyelid the aspirant said, "We came here for both swamykaaryam and swakaaryam. That means for the people's cause and also to get something for ourselves. What is wrong with that?"
ROSAIAH SHOWS HE IS THE BOSS
The Chief Minister, Mr K. Rosaiah sent a strong signal to the powerful mining lobby when he made the senior bureaucrat, Ms Rajiv Ranjan Acharya, the boss of the mines department. This is one tough lady when it comes to dealing with anyone violating the rules. Whether it was her stint in finance or the considerably longer time she spent in the commercial taxes department, Ms Acharya was known to go strictly by the rule book. Even more unusual, she has been known to give short shrift to recommendations made by political bigwigs to favour some trader or other. By appointing her Mr Rosaiah has also given a fitting reply to those who lobbied hard for the extension of the incumbent mines secretary, Mr Veerabhadraiah. The lobbyists actually tried to convince the Chief Minister that no one could match Mr Veerabhadraiah when it came to reining in illegal miners.
'TINGLISH' RULES THE ROOST ON TELUGU NEWS CHANNELS
The stranglehold English has is clearly evident in TV programmes on Telugu channels. News readers and anchors frequently use English words to communicate even simple ideas that could easily be conveyed clearly in Telugu. It's surely easy to find Telugu equivalents for terms like 'Breaking News' (a favourite of all channels even when the news is several hours old), 'Fresh News', 'News @ 7 am', and 'Prime Time News'. Even more incongruous is the use of 'welcome back', 'let's take a quick look' and so on. It would be good if language channels employed news readers and anchors with a good grasp of the regional language so as to avoid linguistic atrocities.
FEUDAL JUSTICE FOR A FEUDAL CRIME
BY ANTARA DEV SEN
Most of the killers of Babli and Manoj have been sentenced to death this week. In a significant judgment, a Haryana district and sessions court took an unambiguous position against honour killings, making it clear that murder justified by feudal values would still attract the strictest punishment. Sadly, the commitment to secular democracy and legal freedoms that the young judge Vani Sharma showed is not always evident in more weather-beaten public decision-makers. I suspect that her judgment will be overturned by higher courts, or appeals kept pending till all the convicts die of old age.
What exactly happened? In 2007, in a village near Kaithal in Haryana, Babli, 19, eloped with Manoj, 23, in defiance of community norms. Their marriage was forbidden because they belonged to the same gotra or clan. The runaway lovers registered their marriage in Chandigarh. Livid, Babli's family lodged a fake kidnapping case against Manoj. Babli denied this she, an adult, had left with her husband voluntarily. The court ordered police protection for the couple. On the day of their murder, the two appeared for this case with police security. After their statements were recorded by the Kaithal court, they left for Chandigarh in a police jeep. Reportedly, somewhere midway, the cops SHO Jasbir Singh, constables Dharam Pal, Satbir, Usha and police clerk Jai Inder Singh dumped the two and vanished.
Fearing for their lives, Babli and Manoj got onto a bus for Karnal. But one Mandeep Singh chased them in his Scorpio packed with Babli's brother Suresh, cousins Gurdev and Satish and uncles Rajender and Baru Ram. They forced the bus to stop and abducted Babli and Manoj. Not one passenger, attendant or bus driver protested. Nobody raised an alarm. Nobody called the police. A week later, their bodies were fished out of a canal, post-mortems carried out and the spirited lovers were cremated as unclaimed bodies.
The court has sentenced the killers to death, and the driver to seven years imprisonment. Ganga Raj who as the head of the khap panchayat had ordered Babli and Manoj's murder, the harassment of Manoj's mother and sister and a Rs 25,000 fine on anyone keeping in touch with them got a life term. The court also ordered a probe against the police who failed to protect the couple and seemed to have assisted the murderers. And compensation. It was a comprehensive judgment that looked beyond the immediate killers, at the disgraceful system that nurtured them.
Personally, I am against the death penalty. But as long as it exists and is in practice, it unmistakably signifies the maximum punishment for a truly terrible crime. No other sentence has that stamp of uncompromising condemnation. So I am happy that these killers were given the death sentence. It would refresh areas of Jat consciousness that other sentences cannot reach. But I would prefer to see these killers clapped in jail forever like the filthy criminals that they are, and not executed and made into martyrs for the cause of social tradition.
Like in the case of Rajvinder Kaur, a Jat Sikh girl, who fell in love with and married Ravinder Singh, who was of a lower artisan caste. They lived in Mumbai. One night Rajvinder's mother Maya and aunt Nirmal visited them, demanding that she return all her jewellery. She did. Right afterwards, Rajvinder's father Baldev Singh and uncles stormed in with traditional weapons, pushed her off the balcony and slaughtered her husband, his parents and his brother. She survived and lodged a police case. The additional sessions judge sentenced the killers to death. Later, the Bombay high court commuted this to life imprisonment. And finally in 2007, eight years after the murders, the Supreme Court strongly condemned the crime, but upheld the high court's order. The killers would not hang, but rot in jail. Perfect.
But there was an element of dissatisfaction. The court's attempt to "understand" the behaviour of the accused smacked of the very feudal values it was supposed to rule against. "The accused are Jat Sikhs, a proud and aggressive community that has produced some of India's most valorous soldiers and helped fill India's granaries " it said, explaining why the killers regarded Ravinder and his family as "inferior in every way and unsuitable for their daughter".
Should we care? And is there any community that did not help in building the nation or filling its granaries? And which community would not be proud and aggressive if allowed by the rest of society? When utterly irrelevant perceptions enter our judgments, overcoming our prejudices becomes that much more difficult.
We are not up against sundry families of honour killers or curious khap panchayats who routinely order murders in the Jat heartland of Punjab and Haryana, but centuries of prejudice that gives social sanction to the most monstrous crime in the name of tradition.
The very day judge Vani Sharma sentenced Babli and Manoj's killers to death, some miles away, Prabjeet Kaur and Pardeep Singh were shot dead by their relatives at the centre where the girl was taking her Class 12 examinations. Once again, the cops provided by the Punjab and Haryana high court for their security allowed the killing. Every week, young couples are killed or forced apart by khap panchayats, and the murders hushed up. Often, the girl is poisoned by her parents and her death passed off as suicide. Successive state governments have carefully sidestepped the issue of the illegal acts of these clan courts. The rot is too deep for a cursory bandage, the fear of reprisal too strong for inept political parties who depend more on identity politics and community vote-banks than on good governance. The slow judicial system emboldens feudal lords further.
To the extent that a few months ago khap panchayats in Haryana had gathered to vent their ire at an unappreciative media. Retired lieutenant colonels, retired judges and hundreds of other khap leaders planned to recommend amendments to the Hindu Marriage Act (1955) at the state level to make their feudal rulings legal. They were certain that no politician in Haryana would oppose their recommendations.
They may be right. Because we don't dare go against "popular sentiment". Social evils continue in the name of tradition as prejudices of religion, caste, gotra and gender thrive in our secular democracy. No wonder Punjab and Haryana have the worst gender ratios in the country, as female foeticide and infanticide flourish.
But the terrible gender ratio in affluent, educated and very urban south Delhi is shocking. It proves that education and affluence often allows us to use modern technology to fan our prejudices. We need to target not just khap panchayats but the underlying prejudice that gives our crimes social sanction.
Antara Dev Sen is editor of The Little Magazine.She can be contacted at:
UK CRAZY ABOUT CUTS
BY KISHWAR DESAI
With UK general elections around the corner, allegations and counter-allegations between different political parties are flying fast and furious. Conservatives scored a hit when business houses attacked a new tax increase announced in the Budget. Riled by the attack, Labour has trashed the business leaders as ignorant of basic accounting. Yet these same business leaders sat on Prime Minister Gordon Brown's Business Advisory Council. They were good then but bad now. But all this is humdrum stuff. Essentially everyone is saying the same thing worrying about rebalancing the economy, reducing the deficit and looking around desperately for the magic formula of "efficiency savings" or, in simple English, "what to cut". The first-ever US-style pre-election TV debate between the three aspiring chancellors of the exchequer, Alistair Darling (Labour), Vince Cable (Liberal Democrats) and George Osborne (Conservatives), was excruciatingly dull because there was very little difference between what they said. Ultimately all they could do was taunt each other that they were being dishonest about their "cuts".
There is so much focus on cuts, that the Liberal Democrat leader has taken it very personally and has gone and had a (rather bad) haircut. Now with Easter upon us, there is little time for touchy-feely campaigning, raising the alarming prospect that the TV debate between the three main party leaders will be the real vote clincher.
So the truth is that more serious discussions now occur over "cuts" but of clothes, who wore what and how the various "wives" square up against each other. These are, after all, the real issues/cuts which are going make a difference to the consumer, err voter, as the packaging will reflect the kind of government a particular party may provide. Now choosing a political party is less about ideology and more and more as though one is in a super market. Any fashion gaffe at this stage especially as we head towards a hung Parliament may just be the reason why a voter may turn from Labour to Conservative. And it is here that the wives are also coming under severe scrutiny.
Whilst I agree that husbands and wives must share certain core values in order to stick together, I am not very certain that this applies to their wardrobe. In fact David Cameron, recently confessed that essentially he is locked into a room and his wife (the extremely elegant Samantha Cameron) shoves the clothes he has to wear under the door. Like all law-abiding husbands he does not question her choice. But recently many pages of newsprint were spent discussing his Terminator-type leather jacket casual attire when he addressed an election meet. Most newspapers lambasted it as a real voter turnoff. What a colossal blunder SamCam had committed! This was not what was expected from David Cameron! The kindest explanation was that those shoes/trousers/jackets/shirts shoved under the door must have been done so in an extreme moment of morning sickness. Yes, we have also recently learnt that SamCam is going to have a BabyCam as many newspapers put it.
Whatever we may feel about Michelle Obama, she has completely changed the role that "first wives" can play for hopeful "first husbands". So now confessions about how their husbands throw smelly socks about and are terrible "channel flippers" are also obvious vote getters. These things apparently '"humanise" their husbands (who are actually aliens, as no red-blooded real human would want to inherit a sinking economy) and makes them more electable. Or delectable.
Not only are wardrobes being discussed, there are also helpful press notes sent out from party offices about who is wearing what from the high street, and how much it costs. Meanwhile, the jury is still out on whether wives should be used as secret weapons by their husbands, brought out only to annihilate the Opposition.
But it has been agreed that if she is a pregnant "secret weapon" it is alright. We all love babies at Downing Street! Mr Brown has still to announce the elections but almost all important topics from wives to clothes to babies have been already exhausted and so we are waiting for the media response to manifesto pledges on high heels and hair. I simply cannot think of anything more important than that
GOING TO the Oxford Literary Festival to read from my book, Witness the Night, which has just been published here, was a wonderful, if rain-soaked experience. But why must the elements conspire against literary festivals? At Jaipur, I had to battle my way through dense fog, and here it was a very, very wet morning. But bravely clutching a coffee and croissant I settled down on a train which was squeaky clean and ran like clockwork between Paddington and Oxford. The 8.51 am actually left precisely on time.
Christ Church, where the reading was held, is wonderfully atmospheric with large drafty rooms and the thought that somewhere close by were other attending authors, which this year have included John le Carre, Jung Chang, Martin Amis, Ian McEwan, A.S. Byatt was a thrilling moment. Now perhaps I can claim "I have read at Oxford".
DESPITE THE icy blizzards and election winds blowing though the UK, it continues to be a season of theatre and cinema. Personally I am looking forward to seeing Behud, written by the intrepid Gurpreet Kaur Bhatti whose last play, Behzti (2004), was shut down by an irate Sikh community. It is still an incident which most liberals in the UK regard as a blow against freedom of speech. In Behzti, Ms Bhatti had portrayed a rape which takes place inside a gurudwara, and raised some troubling issues about the Sikh community. This led to near riots as the community wanted her to remove the reference to the gurudwara altogether. Ms Bhatti refused and ultimately, amidst a volatile situation, the play was pulled off.
But she hasn't given up. Now she has with great chutzpah written a theatrical production about that entire incident. She has placed herself on stage as Tarlochan, a playwright pushed to the limits, as she recreates on stage the writing of her play and the circumstances under which it was shut down. Initially, (in her version) all the actors/characters in the play are supportive of her efforts but slowly questions arise and Tarlochan/Ms Bhatti is finally forced to reassess her own situation, as erstwhile supporters desert her. So far the play has been well-received with some reservations.
However, the real accolades for Ms Bhatti have arisen from the fact that she has been able to return to the stage, even after a frightening and unnerving situation, which would not have won her many friends among the Sikh community. Bravo!
The writer can be contacted at email@example.com 
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 per cent of national income. By 2007, it had risen to 133 per cent 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 per cent of the gross domestic product (GDP). And they want high spending over 25 per cent of GDP by 2020. As a result, federal debt, which stood at 41 per cent of GDP two years ago, is forecast to balloon to 90 per cent of GDP in 2020, according to the US 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 per cent, 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 mobilise 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 polarised 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 US President Barack 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 numbers say it all. Some Rs 36,000 crore are being spent to prove, among other things, what a physics graduate scribbled on the back of an envelope in a north Calcutta alley. This is nearly the amount that a country like India, with its population of 1.15 billion, spends in a year on education. And it spends less on health. The budget outlay on health this year was Rs 22,300 crore, while a 300-bed hospital, set up in Gujarat with earthquake-resistant material, cost all of one billion rupees. If the best science is as expensive as the Big Bang experiment, would humankind gain more by knowing whether or not the Higgs boson exists, and what dark matter might be, or by funding the means to clean up the atmosphere and trying to cure hitherto incurable diseases?
But do numbers really say it all? There was no talk of schools or poor children and incurable sicknesses when Fox Star bought the rights of Shah Rukh Khan's film, My Name is Khan, at the unprecedented amount of around Rs 100 crore. Entertainment is costly, especially if it aims to touch the heart of the world. Science, even in the most sceptical assessment, is at least as necessary to humankind as entertainment; without the former, there would be none of the latter. At the same time, trying to find out whether the 'god particle' exists and searching for the nature of dark matter seem not only slightly hubristic but also like pursuing a chimera, rather far from any conceivable practical purpose. It is the pursuit of 'pure' knowledge, a desire to seek the origins of the universe by emulating as closely as possible the conditions that are thought to have existed seconds after the Big Bang. No one knows where this will take human thought, and how far it will expand the universe of knowledge, and to what practical use the result of such a remarkable expenditure of money, energy and time may be put years from now.
Yet man does not live by gravity alone. He needs to know as much as he needs to eat. He is driven by the desire to better his condition, and much of the time, though not always, reason tells him that to do so he must find ways to improve the conditions of the world. Human beings must feed the poor and heal the sick if they want their planet to be healthy; they must send all children to school and clean up the earth if they want life to be peaceful and equitable. That they often do not is another matter. But for both knowledge and action there have to be resources. So many things need to be done, as any householder knows, but only a few are possible. He must decide whether he will start building a house for an unseen future or buy a car for immediate use with the resources he has. An exciting venture into the unknown may turn out like the mission to the moon, spectacular but of little incremental value in science. Knowing how the world began may open up the portals to another plane of understanding altogether. Or not. Only then will humankind know whether searching for the god particle was worth it.
THE SHINING BRASS POLE
IN CALCUTTA, THERE IS MORE FOR MONEY TO BUY, LESS TO ENJOY AS A RIGHT
SUNANDA K. DATTA-RAY
We were entranced by the legend of the shining brass pole. It was supposed to run top to bottom in the Fire Brigade headquarters so that when the alarm sounded, athletic young firemen saved precious minutes by sliding down its polished surface to leap into waiting tenders damkal and rush clanging to the rescue.
Other traffic stopped immediately. Children rushed to see the exciting spectacle of red vehicles with standing men holding on to a horizontal rail, one of them clanging away at the gleaming brass bell. One reason for fantasizing about the service was a man whom we knew only as "Fire Brigade Das Gupta". He had been in England with an uncle, and living nearby, often gave us a lift to school. I didn't know his position but his crisp khaki, polished leather and bright brass made him the most smartly kitted out man in our world. I imagined the entire crew to be equally lean and trim, and as nattily turned out, all sliding down that unseen but smooth and shining brass pole.
I had seen them in action. Visiting from Lucknow during the great famine, we were guests in a flat in Entally when the meter box caught fire. The engines were there even as we rushed out under the licking flames. Why do meter boxes of tatty wood and grimy net with festoons of wire and cobweb have to be next to the front door? That's still the usual place in most middle-class apartment blocks.
I don't know who informed the fire brigade that time but, later, I became familiar with a sturdy red pillar-box at the corner of Lower Circular and Ballygunge Circular roads with a round glass pane where a letterbox's opening would have been. Behind the glass was a brass handle. The sign outside read, "In case of fire break glass and turn handle." Walking past it every day after school, I wondered how they would know in Free School Street where the fire was if someone did smash the glass and turned the handle. There was no speaking device I could see. It would have been different if the city were dotted with alarm mechanisms that each lit up a bulb at headquarters to indicate location like the bells to summon peons in my old office did. But I never saw another pillar-box.
One day the glass was smashed and the brass dented. It looked like vandalism. Beckbagan and Karaya, not salubrious addresses in those years of change and uncertainty 1946, 1947, 1948 were only a whisker away. The telephone receiver I saw a few days later thrust into the round hole from which the bits of jagged glass had been removed suggested improvisation. But I also thought it an improvement. Presumably one could speak into the receiver to a switchboard manned round the clock. The sense of assurance was shortlived. The receiver vanished, again leaving a gaping hole. Then the pillar was removed. I didn't see any digging. One day it was there like the Maidan's immutable British statues; another day it had gone. I wondered how people raised an alarm if a fire broke out.
Calcutta has undeniably undergone many improvements. An efficient underground railway belies the old conviction of swirling waters just below the surface. There is far less flooding in areas that were regularly inundated. Fancy bars and restaurants cater to fat wallets if not to sophisticated taste. After visiting one of our glittering malls, an English friend fumed he hadn't come all this way to pay inflated prices for things he could pick up cheaper in London. But much has also gone and the qualitative difference between what we have lost and what we have gained is revealing. There's more for money to buy, less to enjoy as a right.
An old friend visited me the other day after a gap of more than 40 years for he lives in Brussels and his visits back are spent mainly in his ancestral home in North Bengal. His most compelling memory of Calcutta is the sound of streets being hosed down at dawn. An American sociologist told me that several Bengalis had mentioned that to her. The steady whoosh of gushing water we used to frighten my infant brother it was the juju man was like the damkal's clanging bell: both signifying service and stability.
Losses include much that an individual can't buy. Like pavements that are wide enough (cluttering is another matter) to walk. Well-kept parks to which people have unlimited lawful access, not as guests of corporate custodians. Street hydrants that work. Tubewells that save modest households the cost and trouble of purifying drinking water. Wholesome milk. Trams with fans and upholstered seats. Bad service negates even institutional gains: no one ever answers the maintenance telephone number for VSNL's broadband internet.
There are alternatives to VSNL's broadband just as there are alternatives to VSNL telephones. But private arrangements for water, power and garbage clearance, the last by paying corporation jemadars to collect domestic refuse, come expensive. Inefficiency rather than ideology drives coach and horses through Galbraith's post-office socialism which courier services have made almost redundant. "Everything can be arranged semunya bisa diatur," as the Indonesians say, when everything collapses.
I had a sanctioned plan to build a bungalow that I submitted for updating and never got back despite letters, telephone calls and personal appeals. Then I went abroad and forgot about it. But if the Israelis can clone British, French and German passports, there's nothing that ingenious municipal architects can't do with my plan's authentic seals and signatures. It might even have legitimized some deathtrap of an illegal building by a successor of the tribe that Jawaharlal Nehru threatened to hang from the nearest lamp post but didn't. Money buys everything when greed is the only motivation.
Ironically, Jolly Mohan Kaul's lament that the comrades with whom he set out in search of a better world have turned "from being champions of the poor, the workers and the peasants, to becoming protectors and promoters of the interests of the richer sections of society" echoes the last person he would wish to be clubbed with. In one of his regular diatribes against independence, Winston Churchill warned that though liberty was man's birthright, "rascals, rogues and free-booters" would strangle free India and make money from every bottle of water and loaf of bread.
No damkal has clanged into my orbit for many years. Perhaps no damkal can cope with Calcutta's congestion. Apart from the occasional ministerial motorcade, the only emergency warnings in the street nowadays are of battered ambulances packed with chattering hospital staff and government cars taking the wives and children of officials shopping, visiting or pandal-hopping during the Pujas. Lee Kuan Yew told a high-powered Bombay gathering that one reason why Singapore had abolished distinctive car lights, flags and sirens was that any political party whose men are instantly recognizable tends to lose elections. I suppose the counter-argument here would be that bureaucrats are the handmaidens of whichever party happens to be in power; they are even now eyeing the distance to be leaped between the Communist Party of India (Marxist) and the Trinamul Congress.
"Fire Brigade Das Gupta" must be long dead. For all one knows, modern firemen have followed the policemen stumbling along in the Republic Day parade, pot bellies quivering, to derisory chants of "Chowanni!" from little boys lining Red Road. No self-respecting constable would consider a bribe of four annas, even if the coinage had survived, but the nickname sticks. I wonder if the brass pole if it ever existed and was not part of boyhood's romantic nonsense is still there. If so, I also wonder if any eager fireman slid down it on that fateful Tuesday of last week.
''EDUCATION IS NOW A FUNDA-MENTAL RIGHT IN INDIA.''
India's dream of achieving universal education is a step closer to realisation with the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act, 2009, coming into force. Education is now a fundamental right in this country. It means that all children between the ages of 6 and 14 years, regardless of their social status, caste, gender or income, have a legal right to education. It is a landmark law that has the potential to transform millions of lives in this country. India has the largest number of illiterate people in the world. And while literacy rates have grown remarkably since Independence, around 10 million children still remain out of the school system. The Right to Education Act aims at ensuring that no child will be deprived of the benefits of education. It puts the onus of providing free education to all children on the shoulders of the government.
A law providing for free and compulsory education does not by itself mean that all children will get an education. It is for children, their parents and the community to participate to make it happen. Several challenges lie ahead. The most important is funding. The Centre has promised to bear a large share of the financial burden with the states. It has come up with a Centre-State sharing ratio of 55:45 for all states with the exception of those in the northeast, where the sharing ratio will be 90:10. But already several state governments are whining about having to fork out funds to implement the legislation. Clearly they don't appear to realise the many long-term benefits that can be reaped if our billion-plus population is an educated one. It would be a pity if the states fail to muster the requisite political will to implement this law. The law promises one teacher for every 30 students compared with the average one for every 50 that exists at present. India then is staring at a shortfall of five lakh teachers. The government will have to find a way to address this shortage.
The Right to Education law promises to provide an enabling environment. It is for children to grasp this opportunity to acquire an education. Children now have a right to education and must exercise it vigorously. They and their parents, especially in rural India, must be made aware of this historic right.
HOLD THE POLLS
''GOVT SHOULD COME OUT WITH A FIRM DATE FOR GP POLLS.''
The state government's move in appointing administrators to gram panchayats (GPs) even as the term of the panchayats in the state is ending has rightly given rise to apprehension that elections to the grassroots democratic institutions are being postponed. The chief minister and the state election commissioner have declared that the elections would be held as scheduled, but if that were indeed so, the government would have announced the election date a month ago, and not gone in for placing the institutions under the rule of bureaucrats. Moreover, fears have been expressed in many quarters that the appointment of administrators is the first of a series of moves to ensure postponement lasting at least six months, if not more. Reports of the government contemplating filing of a petition in the high court for delimitation of panchayats, leading to prolonged litigation add to the apprehension. In normal times, the chief minister denying the postponement should have set speculation at rest, but the government's shenanigans on the questions of holding poll to BBMP has not burnished its credentials.
Gram panchayats are the most crucial instruments of rural development. By all accounts, the decentralisation of power has led to improved delivery of services, accountability and transparency at the grassroots level. The reservation of seats for women, pioneered by Karnataka has brought a change of culture for the better in the GPs, so much so that against the reservation of 33 per cent, women constitute over 42 per cent of the seats, indicating approval of the performance of women as community leaders. Panchayats now have critical responsibilities at the grassroots level, including education, housing, natural resource management and livelihoods.
In this background, the state government's dilly-dallying on GP elections calls for strong condemnation. An impression is sought to be given that the constitution allows postponement of elections to panchayats by up to six months. A closer reading of Article 243 and its sub clauses dispels such notions, and in any case, the supreme court's benchmark ruling in the Kishan Singh Tomar case has laid down the responsibility on the governments for timely election to these bodies. Karnataka is a state which has the distinction of reviving the panchayat raj in the country. That is hard to believe, considering the attitude of the current government that is trying to force the GPs into a coma.
THOSE PIONEERING STEPS
HE WRITES ABOUT THE IMPOR-TANT DECISIONS, IN WHICH HE PARTICIPATED, AND THE CUT AND THRUST OF ARGUMENTS THAT LED TO A POLICY.
BY S L RAO
Dr K S Krishnaswamy who has just turned 90, has been at the centre of economic policy formulation since 1946, working in the Planning Department before Independence. He was later associated with the Planning Commission, as well as the Reserve Bank of India. He also worked at the World Bank. His book of 'memories', released on Thursday on his 90th birthday, is about major areas of economic policy making.
His book is like him, modest and self-effacing. Unlike most Indian policy makers at the end of their careers, Krishnaswamy writes about the important decisions, in which he participated, and the cut and thrust of arguments that led to a policy.
The book reflects a very private person, loath to write about personal matters, personalities, feelings, or even opinions. His cursory references to his wife and family, and slightly more about close friends, demonstrate this. He guards his privacy. The book is a lucid description of the process of planning in India in the early years and the making of monetary policy, describing the discussions on deficit financing, inflation and development, 'inclusive' growth, external value of the rupee, etc.
He describes without any rancour, two major embarrassments in his life. One was caused by his being secretary of the Federation of Indian Students' Associations, dominated by Leftists at the London School of Economics. This caused difficulties since the government of India made him persona non grata as a result. V K Krishna Menon, the high commissioner in London, intervened on behalf of KSK and smoothed things over.
The other embarrassment was in 1966 when India required large foreign exchange through aid, devaluing the rupee as suggested by the Americans, the IMF and the World Bank. He accompanied the deputy chairman of Planning Commission and other high officials to Washington where they discussed devaluation of the rupee. He was not part of the discussion nor did he know that the decision had already been taken.
But many economists and Planning Commission members thought that he was party to the decision and this created some difficulties for him. In the event, as he and many others had predicted, devaluation of rupee did not benefit the economy since India imported only essentials and had little flexibility to increase exports.
Krishnaswamy was involved in the writing of the First Five Year Plan. There was no monolithic Yojana Bhawan and the great policy makers of the next many years like J J Anjaria, K N Raj, G L Nanda, V T Krishnamachari, C D Deshmukh, G L Mehta, and Tarlok Singh. About Tarlok Singh, an administrator par excellence, KSK writes, he "effectively brought home to us that we had to make sure of all the details in executing the projects and programmes in the plan. It helped me to appreciate the need of quantification and executability of logically valid propositions."
He describes Nehru's role thus: "He had no doubt that in many areas it was the duty of the state to occupy the 'commanding heights', so that the benefits of development could be more evenly distributed. He literally drove everybody the government, his party, the Planning Commission". Yet Nehru retained the advisory nature of the Planning Commission to ensure democratic screening.
Krishnaswamy describes the meeting of the Planning Commission in 1962 considering how resources were to be found for the ambitious Second Plan. The border with China was heating up. Nehru concluded by saying that "We are honour bound to provide our jawans everything they need We promised our people much more than freedom from foreign rule Can we provide them all these without economic development? Let us go for defence with development... We have no choice in the matter and we just cannot afford to let our people down."
The dilemma of choosing between growth with deficits financing it, and the handling of the resultant inflation has bedevilled Indian policy makers almost since the time of the First Plan. Today, financial institutional inflows with tax benefits have made both stock markets and the rupee's external value very volatile. Krishnaswamy concludes that budgetary deficits can be managed "provided adequate steps were taken to avoid an undue pressure on domestic prices or an adverse impact on balance of payments".
'Social control of banks,' bank nationalisation and a few years later, the declaration of Emergency took away the RBI's autonomy in controlling banks and even in monetary policy. Appointment of a pliant Governor K R Puri and Executive Director J C Luther, put the government in the monetary driving seat.
Krishnaswamy was associated with the founding of the 'Economic Weekly' and its successor the 'Economic and Political Weekly.' From the outset he was a regular contributor. When he retired he became chairman of the Sameeksha Trust, which owned the publication.
It is impossible to do justice to the wealth of material in the book, bearing on various aspects of economic polices, people and institutions. What comes out is the personality of a deeply thoughtful, honest, objective and insightful mind. Economic policy making in India, as he says, shows "the divergence between macro concepts and the micro realities. It is the latter of which the political operators or the social scientists were better aware of than the economic theorist. As questions such as poverty, unemployment, class distinctions and professional diversities became clearer macro economic categorisation of income, saving, consumption, investment, etc, became less useful than social diversities or sectional interests."
MALLIKA AND HER MUNSHI
QUEEN VICTORIA WAS UNDOUBTEDLY ONE OF THE MOST LOVED AND RESPECTED MONARCHS IN HISTORY THE EPITOME OF A QUEEN MOTHER. HER PERSONALITY UNDERWENT A DISTINCT CHANGE AFTER HER GERMAN-BORN HUSBAND DIED.
BY KHUSHWANT SINGH
She had been a faithful wife, bore many children and was very conservative. She was the role model of propriety for her subjects and to this day observance of strict decorum in speech and behaviour is known as Victorian prudery. She wore widows' black dresses and her severest words of reprimand which have become proverbial were: "We are not amused".
In her later years her character underwent a remarkable change. She seemed fed up with the stiff upper-lip behaviour of the England aristocracy and the upper classes from which court officials and ladies-in-waiting were drawn. She did not like living in Buckingham Palace and preferred staying in other royal residences like Balmoral or Windsor. She felt more at home with servants drawn from the working classes. Her first favourite was John Brown, her scottish buggy driver. Their relationship became a topic of gossip all over the Empire. When he died she was heart broken. Then she imported half-a-dozen 'khidmatgars' from India. They were all young, handsome Muslims from Agra. One of them was Hafiz Abdul Karim, the most erudite of the lot. They learnt the art of waiting at the Royal Table at meal times from the head butler. They were a colourful lot in brocated turbans, beards, shervanis and chooridars. Abdul Karim was the smartest of the lot. Within one year he learnt to speak English fluently and was then able to converse with the Queen. From a waiter she elevated him to the rank of Munshi to teach her Hindustani. She provided him and his family with a large cottage in the Palace grounds. Everyday Karim gave her lessons in spoken Hindustani and Urdu. She was soon able to talk to her Indian visitors in their language.
The sudden rise of Munshi Abdul Karim was strongly resented by the Sahibs. They did their best to snub him and put him in his place. The Queen stood by him. She went out of her way and proposed his name for a Knighthood. There were loud protests and she had to withdraw her proposal. Instead she conferred the CIE on him with a new honour RVO (Royal Victorian Order) and honoured his father who was Hakeem in Agra Prison Hospital with the title of Khan Bahadur. The racial pettiness of the Whites can be gauged from an incident. One year Karim sent a Christmas Card to Lord Elgin, Viceroy of India. Instead of thanking him Elgin questioned the audacity of a small time Munshi by sending him a greeting card.
As could be anticipated, Karim Ali's halcyon days came to an end with the death of the Queen. He was allowed to see her dead body but not allowed to attend the funeral service in the Cathedral and he had to watch it from a loft. Worse was to come. One afternoon the entire royal household barged into Karim's cottage and ordered him to hand over every letter and scrap of paper in which the late Queen had written anything. They tore it all and threw it in the fire. They searched every corner of the cottage to make sure no evidence of relationship was left.
A beaten and broken hearted Karim returned to Agra. He died in 1846 and was buried in a remote Muslim graveyard beside the graves of his father and wife.
Sharbani Basu who had earlier written a very moving biography of Noor Inayat Khan, the Indian-British spy, who was shot by the Nazi Gestapo and is being made into a film by Lord Meghnad and Kishwar Desai, has done an equally commendable job digging out material to write 'Victoria and Abdul the true story of the Queen's closest Confidant'. It is totally absorbing.
A minor error of fact needs to be corrected. While referring to Dalip Singh, youngest son of Maharajah Ranjit Singh who was a protege of Queen Victoria, the author writes that Dalip was brought to England after Ranjit Singh was defeated by the British. Ranjit Singh never fought the British and the Sikh Kingdom was annexed 10 years after his death.
Love and marriage
Love is holding hands in the street.
Marriage is holding arguments in the street.
Love is dinner for two in your favourite restaurant
Marriage is a take home packet
Love is cuddling on a sofa
Marriage is one of them sleeping on a sofa
Love is talking about having children.
Marriage is talking about getting away from children
Love is going to bed early
Marriage is going to sleep early
Love is losing your appetite.
Marriage is losing your figure
Love is sweet nothing in the ear.
Marriage is sweet nothing in the bank.
TV has no place in love
Marriage is a fight for remote control.
"Love is blind, Marriage is an eye opener!"
(Contributed by Vipin Buckshey, New Delhi)
IT WAS INTERESTING TO WATCH THE DIFFERENCE THE RAINS MADE.
BY BRINDA POORNAPRAGNA
A pleasant welcome awaited me as I stepped out of the office. A wisp of air brought with it the smell of damp earth the first rains of summer had arrived. The late afternoon sun was playing with the thick black clouds, the air was moist and cool and the rain drops which were falling gave a perfect start to the evening!
As I sped away in the car, towards home there were a multitude of reflections and thoughts on the rains: on the freshness it brings with it and the changes which happen in nature.
The air conditioner of the car was no longer required. As I rolled down the windows, it hit me that the comfort which the fresh-rain laden winds bring can never be matched by the best air-conditioning that we have created!
It was interesting to see the difference these rains made and how the world reacted to it pedestrians and people riding two-wheelers rushed for shelter and am sure were cursing themselves on why they did not get their rain gear; hawkers, rushing to nearby buildings were complaining that the rains would disrupt their business. And of course, people who live on the streets were upset the most.
As we drove along, I noticed the lush green lawns of the golf course and the trees on both sides of the road drenched fully in the rain looking clean, fresh and full of life.
Further down, I noticed that the shower on two of the most beautiful buildings Vidhana Soudha and Windsor Manor had 'washed' the dust, which had continuously gathered over the last couple of months to give a new 'look'. But my thoughts did not stop with the buildings I wondered whether the people who are an integral part of these buildings also feel and undergo a similar 'facelift'?
******************************************************************************************THE NEW YORK TIMES
PRESIDENT KARZAI LASHES OUT
The rambling speech of President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan on Thursday was alarming. His delusional criticism of the United Nations and governments whose troops are risking their lives by fighting the Taliban complicates the difficult effort to stabilize Afghanistan.
And it undermines the fragile public support for President Obama's strategy, which focuses on protecting and improving the lives of Afghan civilians as well as on defeating the Taliban.
That effort depends on credible leadership in Kabul. It has long been unclear whether Mr. Karzai can provide it, and his latest comments do not help. Rather than acknowledge his failings and seek to correct them, Mr. Karzai decided to accuse others of falsely criticizing him.
After winning a second term last year, Mr. Karzai grudgingly accepted that the vote was marred by fraud. On Thursday, he said "foreigners" did it by bribing officials and manipulating the results. The culprits? Western embassies and two officials: Peter Galbraith, the former deputy United Nations special representative to Afghanistan who helped reveal the fraud, and Philippe Morillon, who was the European Union's chief election observer at the time of the vote.
Mr. Karzai also accused Western journalists, including reporters for The Times, of false reporting. On Friday, he called Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton to try to convince her that his remarks were aimed only at the press. His excuses were as unconvincing, just as his charges were preposterous. As journalists accurately reported, election monitors found major ballot-stuffing, and most of the tampering favored Mr. Karzai.
Mr. Karzai went further into hazardous territory on Thursday when he said that Western forces fighting the Taliban are on the verge of becoming "invaders." If that conceit takes hold, it could be a disaster, rallying Afghans to the Taliban.
Mr. Karzai is not only going against the interests of the governments protecting him, but against those of his own people. On Wednesday, the lower house of Parliament rejected a revision of the election law that would have allowed him to appoint all five members of the agency that investigates election fraud and disclosed last year's irregularities. The United Nations appoints three of the five members.
Mr. Karzai no doubt was embarrassed when Mr. Obama made his first trip to Kabul last Sunday to tell him he wasn't moving fast enough on improving governance, curbing corruption, advancing the rule of law and devising a plan to persuade insurgents to switch sides. But Mr. Obama was exactly right, and those tasks grow more urgent as coalition forces confront their biggest target yet: the Taliban stronghold in Kandahar.The pressure on Mr. Karzai has, at times, been applied inartfully, but Mr. Obama is right to hold him to account in ways President George W. Bush did not. He should make clear that Washington will work around him if needed, funneling aid through competent cabinet ministries and helping beef up local governments.
Mr. Karzai is encouraging those who want the United States out of Afghanistan. He risks boiling down a more complicated policy debate to the notion that American lives are being sacrificed simply to keep him in power. It's hard to think of a better way to doom Afghanistan's future, as well as his own.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
A DEAL AT GROUND ZERO?
Mayor Michael Bloomberg and other politicians are celebrating a deal to finally finish the major buildings at the World Trade Center site. Let's hope they are right to break out the confetti. Larry Silverstein, who is developing office towers on the site, and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which owns the 16 acres, need to make sure that the agreement does not fall apart yet again, as they fill in the remaining details.
No one should be surprised to hear that the latest stalemate which has dragged on for more than a year was about money. Mr. Silverstein has been insisting that the Port Authority use scarce public funds to help finance his three private office towers. The authority has rightly balked, citing more basic needs like tunnels and bridges and ports. Last week, both sides agreed in principle to go ahead with two skyscrapers, and Mr. Silverstein will pick up more of the bill than he wanted.
The Port Authority has pledged to provide $1.2 billion in financing to complete the first tower, which would cost an estimated $1.75 billion. For that tower and the second one, expected to cost almost $2 billion, Mr. Silverstein would commit to using what is left of the huge insurance payout he got after the attack and from tax-free Liberty Bonds. He has also committed to raising $300 million and finding renters for 400,000 square feet (16 percent) of the office space in the second tower before the city, state and authority provide $600 million more in financing.
Plans for the third tower will be wisely kept on hold, the area preferably turned into a park, until the downtown real estate market is ready for more offices.
The details still to be worked out include questions about development fees for Mr. Silverstein and the interest rate for the authority's financing. The two sides need to settle those and get things moving. The 10-year anniversary of the attacks is 17 months away. With good faith and a serious effort, the memorial to the victims of Sept. 11, the site's centerpiece, can be ready by then.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
PROMISES FOR AND FROM HAITI
This week's donors conference for Haiti at the United Nations was strikingly hopeful, in good part because of what participants pledged not to do.
The promises of action were important: Nearly 60 nations and organizations said they would give $5.3 billion in the next two years, and almost $10 billion in the next decade, to help Haiti rebuild from the Jan. 12 earthquake. The United States committed $1.15 billion, in addition to the $900 million it has already spent.
Along with that generosity, major donor countries promised not to repeat the old failed strategy of poorly coordinated projects that wither through waste and neglect. Nongovernmental agencies, which often for sound reasons are used to bypassing the Haitian government, pledged to channel their efforts through a redevelopment plan proposed by Haiti and jointly administered by Haitian officials and the largest donors.
Haiti's president, René Préval, and prime minister, Jean-Max Bellerive, acknowledged the need for their notoriously ineffective and corrupt government to do things very differently. They promised to work with the international community to create, and then abide by, new structures to track the billions being given.
The promises are accompanied by an ambitious plan to build new roads, ports, bridges and desperately needed housing outside the shattered capital of Port-au-Prince. It also calls for building the necessities of a functioning society: systems of justice, policing, education.
There are still a lot of buts. Pledges need to turn into donations. While billions of dollars are needed for the future, the government needs hundreds of millions now to meet its payroll and other expenses in the coming year. We, too, are leery of handing cash directly to Haiti's government, but the call for budget support has the persuasive endorsement of Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the managing director of the International Monetary Fund.
Many excellent-sounding ideas have not yet been fleshed out. One is the plan to create an interim reconstruction committee led by Mr. Bellerive and former President Bill Clinton, a United Nations envoy to Haiti, that would evolve into a Haitian-led Haitian Development Authority how will that work? How will the diaspora be able to contribute, beyond sending cash? And, perhaps most important, when and how will the system for following the money and the projects be put in place?
The plans are complicated, too, by the deeply inadequate relief effort. More than a million earthquake survivors are homeless. They want to see a new Haiti someday, but right now they need safe shelter, food and water. And they know that the same leaders who are hatching ambitious plans now were also overwhelmed and distressingly absent in the quake's horrific aftermath.
Haiti is awash in promises. Haitians need to see results. If dismal history repeats itself, this week would be the high point of optimism, followed by a long slide into disillusionment and failure. That must not happen again.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
ABOUT THAT WEBCAM
A Pennsylvania town has been roiled by a local high school using cameras in school-issued laptops to spy on students. Almost as shocking is the fact that the federal wiretap law that should prohibit this kind of surveillance does not cover spying done through photography and video in private settings.
Senator Arlen Specter, a Democrat of Pennsylvania, is proposing to amend the federal wiretap statute to prohibit visual spying that is not approved by a court in advance. Congress should move quickly to make this change.
Lower Merion, outside of Philadelphia, gave students at Hamilton High School laptops that they could take home to use to do their work. It did not tell the students, however, that the laptops were equipped with special software that allowed them to observe the students through the computers' built-in cameras. The purpose, the school district later explained, was to protect the laptops from theft or damage.
Using this surveillance capability, school officials found images that led them to believe that Blake Robbins, a 15-year-old student, was using illegal drugs. Mr. Robbins said the "pills" he was seen consuming were Mike and Ike candies. His parents filed a lawsuit against the school district, charging that it had illegally spied on their son.
Conducting video surveillance of students in their homes is an enormous invasion of their privacy. If the district was really worried about losing the laptops, it could have used GPS devices to track their whereabouts or other less-intrusive methods. Whatever it did, the school had a responsibility to inform students that if they accepted the laptops, they would also accept monitoring.
The law should also do more. The Wiretap Act prohibits electronic eavesdropping on conversations and intercepting transmitted communications, such as e-mail. It does not cover visual surveillance. That was a mistake when parts of the law were passed in 1986, but it is an even bigger problem today, with the ubiquity of cellphone cameras, and online video services.
The act should be amended to prohibit video and photographic surveillance of people without their consent in their homes, hotels, and any other place in which they have a legitimate expectation of privacy.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
THE END OF HISTORY (BOOKS)
BY MARC ARONSON
TODAY, Apple's iPad goes on sale, and many see this as a Gutenberg moment, with digital multimedia moving one step closer toward replacing old-fashioned books.
Speaking as an author and editor of illustrated nonfiction, I agree that important change is afoot, but not in the way most people see it. In order for electronic books to live up to their billing, we have to fix a system that is broken: getting permission to use copyrighted material in new work. Either we change the way we deal with copyrights or works of nonfiction in a multimedia world will become ever more dull and disappointing.
The hope of nonfiction is to connect readers to something outside the book: the past, a discovery, a social issue. To do this, authors need to draw on pre-existing words and images.
Unless we nonfiction writers are lucky and hit a public-domain mother lode, we have to pay for the right to use just about anything from a single line of a song to any part of a poem; from the vast archives of the world's art (now managed by gimlet-eyed venture capitalists) to the historical images that serve as profit centers for museums and academic libraries.
The amount we pay depends on where and how the material is used. In fact, the very first question a rights holder asks is "What are you going to do with my baby?" Which countries do you plan to sell in? What languages? Over what period of time? How large will the image be in your book?
Given that permission costs are already out of control for old-fashioned print, it's fair to expect that they will rise even higher with e-books. After all, digital books will be in print forever (we assume); they can be downloaded, copied, shared and maybe even translated. We've all heard about the multimedia potential of the iPad, but how much will writers be charged for film clips and audio? Rights holders will demand a hefty premium for use in digital books if they make their materials available in that format at all.
Seeing the clouds on the horizon, publishers painstakingly remove photos and even text extracts from print books as they are converted to e-books. So instead of providing a dazzling future, the e-world is forcing nonfiction to become drier, blander and denser.
Still, this logjam between technological potential and copyright hell could turn into a great opportunity if it leads to a new model for how permission costs are calculated in e-books and even in print.
For e-books, the new model would look something like this: Instead of paying permission fees upfront based on estimated print runs, book creators would pay based on a periodic accounting of downloads. Right now, fees are laid out on a set schedule whose minimum rates are often higher than a modest book can support. The costs may be fine for textbooks or advertisers, but they punish individual authors. Since publishers can't afford to fully cover permissions fees for print books, and cannot yet predict what they will earn from e-books, the writer has to choose between taking a loss on permissions fees or short-changing readers on content.
But if rights holders were compensated for actual downloads, there would be a perfect fit. The better a book did, the more the original rights holder would be paid. The challenge of this model is accurate accounting but in the age of iTunes micropayments surely someone can figure out a way.
Before we even get to downloads, though, we need to fix the problem for print books. As a starting point, authors and publishers perhaps through a joint committee of the Authors Guild and the Association of American Publishers should create a grid of standard rates and images and text extracts keyed to print runs and prices.
Since authors and publishers have stakes on both sides of this issue, they ought to be able to come up with suggested fees that would allow creators to set reasonable budgets, and compel rights holders to conform to industry norms.
A good starting point might be a suggested scale based on the total number of images used in a book; an image that was one one-hundredth of a story would cost less than an image that was a tenth of it. Such a plan would encourage authors to use more art, which is precisely what we all want.
If rights remain as tightly controlled and as expensive as they are now, nonfiction will be the province of the entirely new or the overly familiar. Dazzling books with newly created art, text and multimedia will far outnumber works filled with historical materials. Only a few well-heeled companies will have the wherewithal to create gee-whiz multimedia book-like products that require permissions, and these projects will most likely focus on highly popular subjects. History's outsiders and untold stories will be left behind.
We treat copyrights as individual possessions, jewels that exist entirely by themselves. I'm obviously sympathetic to that point of view. But source material also takes on another life when it's repurposed. It becomes part of the flow, the narration, the interweaving of text and art in books and e-books. It's essential that we take this into account as we re-imagine permissions in a digital age.
When we have a new model for permissions, we will have new media. Then all of us authors, readers, new-media innovators, rights holders will really see the stories that words and images can tell.
Marc Aronson is the author, most recently, of "If Stones Could Speak: Unlocking the Secrets of Stonehenge."
THE NEW YORK TIMES
WE STILL DON'T HEAR HIM
BY BOB HERBERT
The great man was moving with what seemed like great reluctance. He knew as he climbed from the car in Upper Manhattan that he was stepping into the maelstrom, that there were powerful people who would not react kindly to what he had to say.
"I come to this magnificent house of worship tonight," said the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., "because my conscience leaves me no other choice."
This was on the evening of April 4, 1967, almost exactly 43 years ago. Dr. King told the more than 3,000 people who had crowded into Riverside Church that silence in the face of the horror that was taking place in Vietnam amounted to a "betrayal."
He spoke of both the carnage in the war zone and the toll the war was taking here in the United States. The speech comes to mind now for two reasons: A Tavis Smiley documentary currently airing on PBS revisits the controversy set off by Dr. King's indictment of "the madness of Vietnam." And recent news reports show ever-increasing evidence that we have ensnared ourselves in a mad and tragic venture in Afghanistan.
Dr. King spoke of how, in Vietnam, the United States increased its commitment of troops "in support of governments which were singularly corrupt, inept, and without popular support."
It's strange, indeed, to read those words more than four decades later as we are increasing our commitment of troops in Afghanistan to fight in support of Hamid Karzai, who remains in power after an election that the world knows was riddled with fraud and whose government is one of the most corrupt and inept on the planet.
If Mr. Karzai is at all grateful for this support, he has a very peculiar way of showing it. He has ignored pleas from President Obama and others to take meaningful steps to rein in the rampant corruption. His brother, Ahmed Wali Karzai, the kingpin in southern Afghanistan, is believed by top American officials to be engaged in all manner of nefarious activities, including money-laundering and involvement in the flourishing opium trade.
Hamid Karzai himself pulled off a calculated insult to the U.S. by inviting Iran's Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to the presidential palace in Kabul, where Ahmadinejad promptly delivered a fiery anti-American speech. As Dexter Filkins and Mark Landler reported in The Times this week: "Even as Mr. Obama pours tens of thousands of additional American troops into the country to help defend Mr. Karzai's government, Mr. Karzai now often voices the view that his interests and the United States' no longer coincide."
Is this what American service members are dying for in Afghanistan? Can you imagine giving up your life, or your child's life, for that crowd?
In his speech, Dr. King spoke about the damage the Vietnam War was doing to America's war on poverty, and the way it was undermining other important domestic initiatives. What he wanted from the U.S. was not warfare overseas but a renewed commitment to economic and social justice at home. As he put it: "A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death."
The speech set loose a hurricane of criticism. Even the N.A.A.C.P. complained that Dr. King should stick to what it perceived as his area of expertise, civil rights. The New York Times headlined its editorial on the speech, "Dr. King's Error."
Mr. Smiley, in his documentary, noted that "the already strained relationship between President Johnson and
Dr. King became fractured beyond repair." And donations to Dr. King's Southern Christian Leadership Conference "began to dry up."
So it took great courage for Dr. King to speak out as he did.
His bold stand seems all the more striking in today's atmosphere, in which moral courage among the very prominent the kind of courage that carries real risk seems mostly to have disappeared.
More than 4,000 Americans have died in Iraq and more than 1,000 in Afghanistan, where the Obama administration has chosen to escalate rather than to begin a careful withdrawal. Those two wars, as the Nobel laureate Joseph Stiglitz and his colleague Linda Bilmes have told us, will ultimately cost us more than $3 trillion.
And yet the voices in search of peace, in search of an end to the "madness," in search of the nation-building so desperately needed here in the United States, are feeble indeed.
Dr. King would be assassinated exactly one year (almost to the hour) after his great speech at Riverside Church. It's the same terrible fate that awaits some of the American forces, most of them very young, that we continue to send into the quagmire in Afghanistan.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
AN ARTICLE OF FAITH
BY CHARLES M. BLOW
Since signing the health care reform bill, President Obama has been traipsing about the country trying to sell it. It's not really working for him.
According to a CBS News poll released on Friday, President Obama's approval rating on health care sank to a personal low: 34 percent. (His overall approval rating in the poll was also a new low for him: 44 percent.)
This is in large part because of Republican recalcitrance. The left loves him. The right not so much. Actually, not at all. According to a Quinnipiac University poll released last week, Obama's job approval rating among Republicans was a measly 9 percent. On health care, his approval rating was an even-more-measly 7 percent.
Why? The Apostles of Anger in their echo chamber of fallacies have branded him the enemy. This has now become an article of faith. Obama isn't just the enemy of small government and national solvency. He's the enemy of liberty.
This underscores the current fight for the soul of this country. It's not just a tug of war between left and right. It's a struggle between the mind and the heart, between evidence and emotions, between reason and anger, between what we know and what we believe.
This conflict was captured in a tit-for-tat between Obama and Rush Limbaugh. In an interview with CBS this week, Obama complained about the "vitriol" coming from the likes of Limbaugh: "I think the vast majority of Americans know that we're trying hard, that I want what's best for the country."
Limbaugh shot back on Friday, "I and most Americans do not believe President Obama is trying to do what's best for the country."
And there it was. Obama's language focused on what people "know," or should know. He seems to find comfort in the empirical nature of knowledge. It's logical. Limbaugh's language focused on what he thinks people "believe." Beliefs are a more complicated blend of facts, or lies, and faith. And, they can exist beyond the realm of the rational.
This focus on faith has allowed people like Limbaugh to mislead and manipulate large swaths of the right.
According to another Quinnipiac poll released last week, Republicans were far more likely than Democrats to say that they follow public affairs most of the time. But how? They listen to people like Limbaugh, and they're more likely than others to watch Fox News.
But invectives are not information. For example, a poll released on Wednesday by the Pew Research Center found that most Republicans say that they still don't understand how the new health care reform will affect them and their family.
They don't know what it means, but they believe it's bad. Rush & Co. said so. In the vacuum of confusion and misinformation, they strum their fears and feed their anxiety. And, by worrying, their faith is made perfect.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
OF JETS, VOYEURS AND BACK WAX
BY GAIL COLLINS
Our challenge today is to discuss politicians who get in trouble for extravagant spending, and to do it without mentioning the Republican National Committee's expense-account party at the bondage club.
When times are tough, people always try to depict the opposition party as dining on triple helpings of truffles while the rest of the country has Hamburger Helper. You may remember that during the presidential campaign, there was a rumor that Michelle Obama had checked into the Waldorf-Astoria in New York and sent down to room service for "lobster hors d'oeuvres, two whole steamed lobsters, Iranian caviar and Champagne," as The New York Post reported before retracting the entire story.
This sort of thing goes way back. After the Panic of 1837, President Martin Van Buren was ruined by gossip about banquets where he and his guests ate with golden spoons. A congressman from Pennsylvania claimed that Van Buren was landscaping the White House lawn "to resemble AN AMAZON'S BOSOM with a miniature knoll or hillock at its apex to denote the nipple."
O.K., this does bring us back to the bondage nightclub.
You have undoubtedly heard that the R.N.C. fired a staff member this week when word leaked out that she had taken a dozen donors to a Hollywood club called Voyeur. The partygoers were members of the Young Eagles, contributors who are youthful by the standards of people who give large sums of money to the Republican Party that is, under the age of 46.
Voyeur is modeled after a steamy sex scene in "Eyes Wide Shut," a movie made in 1999, when the idea of Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman co-starring in a surreal film charged with sexual tension sounded like a good plan. The club's entertainment features topless dancers, simulated sex and a lot of women tying each other up.
When the story got out, the committee staffer who accompanied the group and authorized the expenditure was dismissed because, as an R.N.C. spokesman explained, she had "been previously counseled on this very subject."
Graduating college seniors, let that be a warning. If your first boss tells you to stop putting dinners at bondage clubs on the company expense account, take it to heart. Really. He probably means it.
Beyond that important life lesson, this story doesn't seem worth getting upset about unless you happen to be a donor to the R.N.C. Others might actually prefer to see the money go to topless dancers rather than Michele Bachmann.
Most of the current gossip about conspicuous consumption involves candidates in this year's big elections, spread by opponents who want to define a fiscal conservative as a person who flies coach. In California, a Democratic ad targeting Meg Whitman, the Republican gubernatorial candidate, shows a cartoon-Whitman boasting that while she was a business executive, "I kept my personal jet costs down to a frugal $3 million."
I am not sure this works. Most right-thinking Americans know, deep down, that if they were given the choice between their normal airport experience or private jet, they would go for their own personal Cessna in a flash. Spending $1,000 for a haircut, on the other hand, just seems like an obscene waste. And hiring your latest squeeze to follow you around making videos, the way John Edwards did, is not something most of us have ever really daydreamed about.
Right now the epicenter of the fights over who's the true tightwad is Florida, where Gov. Charlie Crist is battling Marco Rubio, a state representative and Tea Party darling, in a race for the Republican Senate nomination. The highlight, so far, has been Crist's attempt to claim that Rubio used his Republican credit card to pay for a back wax. I am very sorry to say this doesn't actually seem to have occurred.
Rubio charged that Crist had been staying in $2,000 luxury hotel rooms "where he racks up $1,300 in minibar charges." The minibar thing also seems to be a red herring, although you have to love the vision of the rather ascetic-looking governor buried in a mountain of empty tiny liquor bottles and candy wrappers. And the hotel was paid for by Florida businessmen while Crist was with them on a 12-day trade mission to cities like St. Petersburg and Madrid.
However, taxpayers did have to pay for a large supporting cast of state employees who went along, too, including a photographer and nine bodyguards. This does seem excessive by any standards. Most of us would travel on nothing but private jets if we could afford it, but I do not know anyone who fantasizes about going to Madrid with a photographer and a security detail big enough to field a baseball team.
Plus, you have to be careful about those trade missions. Remember what happened to the governor of South Carolina?
******************************************************************************************I. THE NEWS
A PRINCIPLED ACT
On Tuesday the National Accountability Bureau chairman told the Supreme Court that letters requesting that the Swiss authorities reopen cases against President Zardari had been dispatched. Whatever means was used to convey them, it was slower than the usual route of the diplomatic courier because by Thursday they had only reached the private house of the law secretary. This came as something of a surprise to the Supreme Court, which was clearly in no mood to be trifled with and started asking key players difficult questions. It would appear that the letters on arrival at the desk of the secretary law and justice came to a sudden halt in their forward progress. He told the court that he had opened one of the letters which was addressed to him and left the other two unopened. He now sought 'time' from the court in order that he might consult relevant tomes of the law as to what he should do with the unopened letters. The law secretary then made a mockery of himself, and by extension of the government, asking the court if he should open the letters sitting on his desk; to which he got a terse reply from the chief justice: "It's your job and we want implementation of the court's verdict of December 16, 2009." Indeed it is, and he was given until the April 5 to report more fully, but both the Supreme Court and the secretary law and justice got overtaken by events of Friday afternoon.
It was clear that the attorney general was in an invidious position. He had probably perjured himself, albeit unknowingly, by saying that the letters to the Swiss were en-route when they were actually taking a break from their travels on the desk of the law secretary who was disinclined to do much about moving them onwards, open or unopened. We may suppose that he was acting at the behest of 'other figures' in government who have no desire for any letter to go in the direction of Switzerland. It also transpires that the content of the letters was controversial, in that they did not reflect 'ownership' of the case by the government, an ambiguity doubtless inserted to further muddy the waters if and when they ever get to Switzerland. To call this charade preposterous understates the case by several orders of magnitude. It was clear that the complaint of Attorney General Anwar Mansoor Khan that his efforts to comply with the directions of the court were being frustrated by the law ministry were well-founded and by Friday afternoon his position, ethically and professionally, was untenable. He resigned after meeting both the president and the prime minister and becomes one of the more high-profile casualties of the struggle between the rule of law and the rule of a feudal plutocracy. The Supreme Court appears determined to stand four-square behind the rule of law and holds the moral high ground and the government a position not much above the gutter.
I. THE NEWS
The US is understood to be displeased with the idea of Pakistan obtaining gas from Iran and has indicated that such a deal is not 'appropriate' at this time. We all know why this idea has surfaced. Washington is quite evidently eager to see Pakistan playing along with its strategy to isolate Iran and add to the pressure it has faced for refusing to bow down to external dictates. This is a blatant case of tampering with Pakistan's internal affairs that it must resist at all costs. At present, more than anything else, Pakistan needs energy. The lack of gas and power has already crippled many sectors of the economy. It has also added to the distress of people. Islamabad needs to direct urgent attention to solving the problems the energy crunch has created. Indeed too much time has already been lost. Impatience is growing. Tehran meanwhile asks why its offer of power, at rates cheaper than those put forward by anyone else, is not being accepted. It is quite possible the answers lie in Washington.
Islamabad needs to convince people in the US capital that it is interference of this kind which makes the US a nation seen with immense suspicion within the country. As a neighbour to Iran, Pakistan has a great deal to gain by maintaining close ties with it and indeed by building on the foundation that already exists. The pillars which hold this up must not be allowed to crumble. There is another facet to all this. Islamabad must place the interests of its people on a higher priority than the interests of another country. The pipeline is potentially of prime importance to the people. There is every reason then to go through with it, indeed to step up endeavour in this regard, and by doing so send out a clear message to the world that Pakistan is a sovereign nation which does not take orders from anyone else.
I. THE NEWS
The visit to Lahore by the Turkish president on Thursday is a day the residents of the city will remember for a very long time to come but for all the wrong reasons. While traffic blockades in all our major cities as a result of 'VIP movement' are not uncommon, the one seen in the Punjab capital made most of these seem trifling in comparison. The logjam created by a haphazard traffic plan and the failure of traffic wardens to enforce it meant people remained trapped on the roads for hours. Entrances to hospital emergency rooms were blocked, students missed exams, office workers were unable to reach their destinations and children were stranded at school.
Only weeks ago, a very similar nightmare unfolded in Quetta, where, as a result of the president's visit to the city, a woman caught in traffic gave birth in a rickshaw. Following prominent media coverage, Mr Zardari took note of the matter. We do not know if this has resulted in any kind of report on what went wrong. But the situation in Lahore made it obvious that the core issue of VIP movement has not been solved. While security is indeed a concern in the present climate, a way has to be found to ensure this without subjecting hapless citizens to so much agony. At the very least, worked-out traffic plans need to be publicised well in advance of the day of disruption. It is unfair to expect overwhelmed cops to explain this to irritated and quite often desperate people at the very last minute. It is also vital that access to hospitals be left unblocked and preparations are made for life to continue for people. As always, the fate of those dependent on public transport was especially grim with buses and wagons essentially unable to run. In the aftermath of the mayhem seen in Lahore, the city administration has promised there will be no repetition. We must hope that lessons have been learnt from the widespread outrage expressed by citizens so that in the future VIP visits do not disrupt the life of almost everyone else.
I. THE NEWS
'MAN ON HORSEBACK'
Naturally, the recently concluded Pakistan-US strategic dialogue in Washington has been termed as a great success by Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi, the person nominally leading the Pakistani delegation. The strategic dialogue being upgraded from foreign secretaries' to the foreign ministers' level is an implicit recognition of Pakistan's growing importance in the eyes of the US policymakers.
However, what made these parleys different from numerous rounds of transactional talks between Islamabad and Washington in the past was the inclusion for the first time of a chief of the army staff in the delegation. General Ahfaq Parvez Kayani, by virtue of his sheer presence, played more than a life-size role as a member of the Pakistani team.
As in Brussels on the occasion of the NATO summit earlier this year, substantive discussions took place with Gen Kayani in structured talks and on its sidelines. He was hosted by the top brass of the US defence establishment, including Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen, CENTCOM chief Gen Petraeus and national security advisor James Jones.
Mr Qureshi is quite right in saying that this time the US did not repeat the mantra of "do more" during the strategic dialogue. But this does not mean that Islamabad is now off the hook so far as Washington's strategic goals in the region are concerned.
On the contrary, Pakistan is now viewed as pivotal in President Obama's exit strategy from the Af-Pak theatre. With the elections of the US Congress due this year, the Obama administration has to reassure the American people that the war in Afghanistan will not continue indefinitely. Actually, in the backdrop of the so-called surge the US presence will begin to ramp down by the July 2011 deadline, barely a year after it ramps up.
There is a sense of déjà vu on the lukewarm response by Washington on the 56-page wish list that Islamabad had handed to the US as early as February. If Pakistan was expecting any US role on facilitating talks on Kashmir or resolving the contentious water dispute with India, it was sadly disappointed. Washington refused to be drawn in on India-Pakistan issues at the very outset of the talks.
Similarly, Pakistan was snubbed on its demand for access to technology for the peaceful use of nuclear energy similar to the deal India already has with the US. Our delegation was politely told that Islamabad was still considered to be on Washington's watch list so far as its nuclear proliferation credentials were concerned. As if adding insult to injury, Washington has just reached an agreement potentially worth billions of dollars with New Delhi to reprocess used nuclear fuel. Is it merely coincidental that the deal was timed with US Pakistan strategic talks?
US assistant secretary of state Robert O Blake Jr. was touring the subcontinent at the same time as the strategic talks were taking place in Washington. While briefing a group of media persons in Lahore the other day, he stressed that cross-border infiltration into India should be stopped and Pakistan should clamp down on Punjab-based militant groups, including the LeT. He was all praise for Indian prime minister Manmohan Singh and advised Islamabad that it should make the most of Mr Singh's "statesman-like qualities" and concentrate on boosting economic and trade ties with India.
US civilian and security assistance to Pakistan has totalled over $4 billion in the last three years. This includes 14 F-16 fighters, and other military hardware as well as economic assistance in the field of education reconstruction and food distribution. Apart from this, since 2001 Islamabad has received $6.3 billion as reimbursement under the coalition support programme. In addition, Washington is committed to $1.5 billion a year for the next five years.
In this sense, Islamabad is the largest recipient of US assistance. According to Foreign Minister Qureshi, as an outcome of the strategic dialogue US delegations will start visiting Islamabad from this month to discuss matters related to various sectors of the economy, and energy and agriculture. However, the longstanding demand of the powerful textile sector of Pakistan to have market access remained unfulfilled owing to the persistent pressure of the United States' own textile lobby.
Despite the bonhomie created by the visit, the focal point of Washington's policy towards Islamabad remains its anxiety to extricate itself from the Afghan imbroglio. Admittedly, the advent of President Obama in Washington and the exit of Gen Musharraf have been a boon for Pakistan. Musharraf's double game of using the Taliban threat to secure his stranglehold on power by wooing then-US president George W Bush and his neocon cohorts was a policy with disastrous consequences for Pakistan.
It is only under a civilian government and the farsighted professional approach of the army's present leadership that the tide has turned, with Islamabad no longer being viewed by the West as a pariah state sponsoring international terrorism. Pakistan's ambassador to Washington, Hussain Haqqani. till recently was eyed with suspicion by the military top brass. However, the qualitative improvement in US-Pakistan relations has markedly improved his standing.
As is evident from the strategic dialogue, Washington and Islamabad are not on the same page on vital strategic and tactical issues confronting the region. The US still wants that the Pakistani army concentrate all its energies and resources on its western borders to eliminate not only the Pakistani Taliban but the Afghan Taliban and Al Qaeda as well.
Islamabad's top priority remains resolution of its disputes with India, which it considers an existential threat. However, India's size, its growing economic power and its strategic importance for the US in relation to China militates against any arm-twisting by Washington to make New Delhi come to terms with Islamabad.
The recently concluded strategic dialogue is another manifestation of US interest in directly engaging the Pakistani army, rather than the civilian leadership. Washington is well aware of the power realities in Pakistan. The army's success against the Taliban in Swat and South Waziristan during the past year and the arrest of some of the top Taliban commanders have transformed its image in the West. The perception that the military does not see the Afghan Taliban as a threat but an asset and a form of insurance against the cost of the US again abandoning Afghanistan is changing.
The army has earned kudos for the arrest of top Taliban commander Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar and some members of the so-called Quetta Shura, much to the chagrin of Afghan president Hamid Karzai. These arrests have disrupted secret peace talks between the Taliban and Karzai brokered by Saudi Arabia. During the strategic dialogue General Kayani has shown Pakistan's willingness to play a role in such talks when they take place, provided India is kept out of the equation and Karzai is willing to reduce Indian influence in Afghanistan.
So far as the US is concerned it only will be willing to talk to the Taliban from a position of strength. And for that to happen it would want substantive military victories by its forces in Afghanistan against the Taliban. As a follow-up to President Obama's surprise visit to Kabul last week the US military has already started initial phases of a political and military offensive in Kandahar, Afghanistan's second-largest province and a Taliban bastion.
The major outcome of the strategic dialogue is the carving out of a role for Pakistan's military and intelligence agency, the ISI, in any future talks with the Taliban, facilitating the exit strategy of NATO forces from Afghanistan. For that to happen, a possible extension in General Kayani's tenure, which is due to end in November, is very much on the cards. It will, however, be a first, in the sense that no other COAS has been given an extension by a civilian government. Another "man on horseback" to finish the job?
The writer is a former newspaper editor. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
I. THE NEWS
WAR OR PEACE ON THE INDUS?
Anyone foolish enough to write on war or peace in the Indus needs to first banish a set of immediate suspicions. I am neither Indian nor Pakistani. I am a South African who has worked on water issues in the subcontinent for 35 years and who has lived in Bangladesh (in the 1970s) and Delhi (in the 2000s). In 2006 I published, with fine Indian colleagues, an Oxford University Press book titled India's Water Economy: Facing a Turbulent Future and, with fine Pakistani colleagues, one titled Pakistan's Water Economy: Running Dry.
I was the Senior Water Advisor for the World Bank who dealt with the appointment of the Neutral Expert on the Baglihar case. My last assignment at the World Bank (relevant, as described later) was as Country Director for Brazil. I am now a mere university professor, and speak in the name of no one but myself.
I have deep affection for the people of both India and Pakistan, and am dismayed by what I see as a looming train wreck on the Indus, with disastrous consequences for both countries. I will outline why there is no objective conflict of interests between the countries over the waters of the Indus Basin, make some observations of the need for a change in public discourse, and suggest how the drivers of the train can put on the brakes before it is too late.
Is there an inherent conflict between India and Pakistan?
The simple answer is no. The Indus Waters Treaty allocates the water of the three western rivers to Pakistan, but allows India to tap the considerable hydropower potential of the Chenab and Jhelum before the rivers enter Pakistan.
The qualification is that this use of hydropower is not to affect either the quantity of water reaching Pakistan or to interfere with the natural timing of those flows. Since hydropower does not consume water, the only issue is timing. And timing is a very big issue, because agriculture in the Pakistani plains depends not only on how much water comes, but that it comes in critical periods during the planting season. The reality is that India could tap virtually all of the available power without negatively affecting the timing of flows to which Pakistan is entitled.
Is the Indus Treaty a stable basis for cooperation?
If Pakistan and India had normal, trustful relations, there would be a mutually-verified monitoring process which would assure that there is no change in the flows going into Pakistan. (In an even more ideal world, India could increase low-flows during the critical planting season, with significant benefit to Pakistani farmers and with very small impacts on power generation in India.) Because the relationship was not normal when the treaty was negotiated, Pakistan would agree only if limitations on India's capacity to manipulate the timing of flows was hardwired into the treaty. This was done by limiting the amount of "live storage" (the storage that matters for changing the timing of flows) in each and every hydropower dam that India would construct on the two rivers.
While this made sense given knowledge in 1960, over time it became clear that this restriction gave rise to a major problem. The physical restrictions meant that gates for flushing silt out of the dams could not be built, thus ensuring that any dam in India would rapidly fill with the silt pouring off the young Himalayas.
This was a critical issue at stake in the Baglihar case. Pakistan (reasonably) said that the gates being installed were in violation of the specifications of the treaty. India (equally reasonably) argued that it would be wrong to build a dam knowing it would soon fill with silt. The finding of the Neutral Expert was essentially a reinterpretation of the Treaty, saying that the physical limitations no longer made sense. While the finding was reasonable in the case of Baglihar, it left Pakistan without the mechanism limited live storage which was its only (albeit weak) protection against upstream manipulation of flows in India. This vulnerability was driven home when India chose to fill Baglihar exactly at the time when it would impose maximum harm on farmers in downstream Pakistan.
If Baglihar was the only dam being built by India on the Chenab and Jhelum, this would be a limited problem. But following Baglihar is a veritable caravan of Indian projects Kishanganga, Sawalkot, Pakuldul, Bursar, Dal Huste, Gyspa The cumulative live storage will be large, giving India an unquestioned capacity to have major impact on the timing of flows into Pakistan. (Using Baglihar as a reference, simple back-of-the-envelope calculations, suggest that once it has constructed all of the planned hydropower plants on the Chenab, India will have an ability to effect major damage on Pakistan. First, there is the one-time effect of filling the new dams. If done during the wet season this would have little effect on Pakistan. But if done during the critical low-flow period, there would be a large one-time effect (as was the case when India filled Baglihar). Second, there is the permanent threat which would be a consequence of substantial cumulative live storage which could store about one month's worth of low-season flow on the Chenab. If, God forbid, India so chose, it could use this cumulative live storage to impose major reductions on water availability in Pakistan during the critical planting season.
Views on "the water problem" from both sides of the border and the role of the press
Living in Delhi and working in both India and Pakistan, I was struck by a paradox. One country was a vigorous democracy, the other a military regime. But whereas an important part of the Pakistani press regularly reported India's views on the water issue in an objective way, the Indian press never did the same. I never saw a report which gave Indian readers a factual description of the enormous vulnerability of Pakistan, of the way in which India had socked it to Pakistan when filling Baglihar. How could this be, I asked? Because, a journalist colleague in Delhi told me, "when it comes to Kashmir and the Indus Treaty is considered an integral part of Kashmir -- the ministry of external affairs instructs newspapers on what they can and cannot say, and often tells them explicitly what it is they are to say."
This apparently remains the case. In the context of the recent talks between India and Pakistan I read, in Boston, the electronic reports on the disagreement about "the water issue" in The Times of India, The Hindustan Times, The Hindu, The Indian Express and The Economic Times. (Respectively, http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/Water-Pakistans-diversionary-tactic-/articleshow/5609099.cms, http://beta.thehindu.com/news/national/ article112388.ece, http://www.hindustantimes.com/News-Feed/india/River-waters-The-next-testing-ground/Article1-512190.aspx, http://www.indianexpress.com/news/Pak-heats-up-water-sharing/583733, http://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/politics/nation/Pak-takes-water-route-to-attack-India/articleshow/5665516.cms.)
Taken together, these reports make astounding reading. Not only was the message the same in each case ("no real issue, just Pakistani shenanigans"), but the arguments were the same, the numbers were the same and the phrases were the same. And in all cases the source was "analysts" and "experts" -- in not one case was the reader informed that this was reporting an official position of the Government of India.
Equally depressing is my repeated experience most recently at a major international meeting of strategic security institutions in Delhi that even the most liberal and enlightened of Indian analysts (many of whom are friends who I greatly respect) seem constitutionally incapable of seeing the great vulnerability and legitimate concern of Pakistan (which is obvious and objective to an outsider).
A way forward
This is a very uneven playing field. The regional hegemon is the upper riparian and has all the cards in its hands. This asymmetry means that it is India that is driving the train, and that change must start in India. In my view, four things need to be done.
First, there must be some courageous and open-minded Indians in government or out who will stand up and explain to the public why this is not just an issue for Pakistan, but why it is an existential issue for Pakistan.
Second, there must be leadership from the Government of India. Here I am struck by the stark difference between the behaviour of India and that of its fellow BRIC Brazil, the regional hegemon in Latin America.
Brazil and Paraguay have a binding agreement on their rights and responsibilities on the massive Itaipu Binacional Hydropower Project. The proceeds, which are of enormous importance to small Paraguay, played a politicised, polemical anti-Brazilian part in the recent presidential election in Paraguay. Similarly, Brazil's and Bolivia's binding agreement on gas also became part of an anti-Brazil presidential campaign theme.
The public and press in Brazil bayed for blood and insisted that Bolivia and Paraguay be made to pay. So what did President Luis Inacio Lula da Silva do? "Look," he said to his irate countrymen, "these are poor countries, and these are huge issues for them. They are our brothers. Yes, we are in our legal rights to be harsh with them, but we are going to show understanding and generosity, and so I am unilaterally doubling (in the case of Paraguay) and tripling (in the case of Bolivia) the payments we make to them. Brazil is a big country and a relatively rich one, so this will do a lot for them and won't harm us much." India could, and should, in my view, similarly make the effort to see it from its neighbour's point of view, and should show the generosity of spirit which is an integral part of being a truly great power and good neighbour.
Third, this should translate into an invitation to Pakistan to explore ways in which the principles of the Indus Waters Treaty could be respected, while providing a win for Pakistan (assurance on their flows) and a win for India (reducing the chronic legal uncertainty which vexes every Indian project on the Chenab or Jhelum). With good will there are multiple ways in which the treaty could be maintained but reinterpreted so that both countries could win.
Fourth, discussions on the Indus waters should be de-linked from both historic grievances and from the other Kashmir-related issues. Again, it is a sign of statesmanship, not weakness, to acknowledge the past and then move beyond it. This is personal for me, as someone of Irish origin. Conor Cruise O'Brien once remarked, "Santayana said that those who did not learn their history would be condemned to repeat it; in the case of Ireland we have learned our history so well that we are condemned to repeat it, again and again."
And finally, as a South African I am acutely aware that Nelson Mandela, after 27 years in prison, chose not to settle scores but to look forward and construct a better future, for all the people of his country and mine. Who will be the Indian Mandela who will do this for the benefit of Pakistanis and Indians on the Indus?
The writer is the Gordon McKay Professor of Environmental Engineering, Harvard University. Email: jbriscoe@seas. harvard.edu
I. THE NEWS
ON NATIONAL SECURITY POLICY
Pakistan's prevailing situation should lend impetus to strategic thinking about a holistic vision for a national security policy. The imperative to do so is two-fold: one, the contemporary understanding of security within the context of a nation state has broadened from one centered on territorial sovereignty and therefore, military and political prowess, to one encompassing a holistic vision. The latter enables addressing both, factors upon which territorial sovereignty is dependent as well as human security -- economic security, environmental security, food security, demographic security, and health security assume importance in this respect. Two, because sustainable state security is dependent on human security.
A review of several decades shows that some key solutions, which had the potential of securing sustainable economic security for the country have not been effectively deployed. Ensuring economic security is the key to maintaining security systems and ensuring people's welfare. Pakistan debt burden, dire conditions of its balance sheet and reliance on development assistance to finance vital areas does not inspire confidence in that respect.
The water crisis has remained unresolved and has become a subject of political point scoring; as a result the energy crisis has become deeply entrenched. Pakistan's 3000 MW shortfall in the context of the estimated 40,000 MW potential is a stark reminder of institutional and political impediments which have played to the detriment of needed investments in infrastructure vital for ensuring energy security -- the lifeline of economic development and a prerequisite for ensuring economic security.
Measures to mobilise revenues by widening the tax net have remained stalled because of vested interests of the elite. Curtailment of expenditure has also not been possible for the same reason. The balance sheet, therefore, provides very little space and the realisation that Pakistan's fiscal equation can be hit hard by an external factor in a globalised world -- such as international oil prices and another financial downturn -- is a cause of great concern.
The lack of consistency in policy direction, the internal security environment and the pervasive power shortages are leading to under-performing industrial and business sectors and are hurting investments and employment as a consequence. All these considerations do not auger well for ensuring economic security. In addition weaknesses in governance are leading this country with an agrarian economy towards food insecurity.
With virus entrenchment in Asia now well established and past experience with the havoc disease pandemics can cause, health security has become a genuine cause of concern -- something the public health system has limited capacity to cope with.
To add to these security concerns are internal security threats. Pakistan's unique pattern of conflict and ethnic and religious divides have paved the way for unprecedented violence and terrorism. These threats are being compounded by two factors: one, economic hardship and two, the rapidly growing impoverished population which is vulnerable to exploitation. Both of these are the result of poor governance. The cost of inattention to these is precisely the reason why FATA is such a hotbed of trouble today.
High unemployment rate, inflationary pressures, escalating tariffs and limited opportunities for fall back on welfare services have pushed the poor and even the middle-class people to unprecedented levels of economic hardships. People are additionally being drawn to the limits of tolerance with the prevailing commodity shortages, which can be easily prevented and averted with careful economic management.
With the eroded capacity of the state to dispense justice at the level of subordinate judiciary, people are out on the streets and are taking law enforcement in their own hands. The parading of 'thieves' is a proxy indicator of impending anarchy and spells widespread unrest. These circumstances are the perfect breeding ground for ingraining extremist ideologies -- a situation the extremist elements in the society are exploiting to the core. With a burgeoning population and failure to ensure demographic security as a result thereof, the quantum of these internal security threats will unfortunately increase over time and will continue to challenge the writ of the state and terrorise and demonise its populace. This situation has not developed overnight; 'strategic' mistakes of several governments are contributory to what prevails today.
Although weak governance, limited accountability, pervasive corruption, inefficiencies, lack of democracy in previous years can all be blamed for these trends, there is one determinant whose relative contribution in the prevailing mayhem is most salient, particularly with respect to economic and human security -- the lack of policy consistency and the absence of an accountability framework to monitor how policies are followed through. Nowhere is this more damaging than in areas which are of vital security interest to the country.
For developing countries, the lack of policy continuity can be most damaging. Continuity of policy direction has been the key determinant of the growth, development and prosperity that many countries in Asia now experience, weakness in their democratic credentials notwithstanding.
In Pakistan's 63 year history, except for certain elements of our foreign policy, there has been no consistency of policy direction particularly with reference to macroeconomic and social sector management. Governments have adopted polices and subsequent governments have disregarded them, have sidestepped, detracted or retracted.
Every incoming government aspires to have its 'own' policy on every issue and deems it necessary to re-pronounce or repackage an existing policy regardless of the time implications and without consideration for the value of time, intellectual input or resources lost in changing course. Technical input is often overlooked in the process, feasibilities are set aside, negotiated plans remain unhonoured, and projects funded with loans to be repaid with tax payer's money don't come to fruition in the process. The fixation to show that new polices have been enunciated and the motivation for new contractual agreements are grounded either in gaining shortsighted political mileage or opportunities for markups in new arrangements.
In such an environment, strategic decisions are held hostage to political point scoring. With a style of governance characterised by ministers focused on these objectives and with technical capacity of ministries eroded, the majority of bureaucrats politicised and the credible ones either sidelined or disempowered, there are very few custodians of state interest in the decision making hierarchy who want the pendulum of decision making to swing in the favour of national security interest, defined in holistic terms.
It is within the context of this vacillating stance on policies and politically expedient decisions that I would like to pose a question: is there a need to enunciate a national security policy as the 'state policy' so that there is a fundamental multi-partisan broad-based consensus on a set of policy measures that need to be protected from ad hoc whims and need to be implemented regardless of the government in power. Although many things come within the rubric of security outside of what is included in the traditional security sphere, consensus should be garnered on some key projects and plans of strategic interest to the country and its people -- water reservoirs, plans for ensuring energy and food security, resource mobilisation plans, curtailment of expenditure, polices to signal confidence to potential investors and key directions with regard the state's redistributive role.
Pakistan's unique problems demand equally unique solutions that have to be indigenously driven and led by credible leadership. There isn't a multilateral cookie cutter approach to such changes, neither is there a comparable precedent which can be mirrored. Beyond tinkering at the margins, one of the tests of Pakistan's leadership today is to enable a consensus on a holistic national security policy and use its strategic leverage in a globalised world to secure support for its implementation.
The writer is the founder and president of the NGO think tank, Heartfile. Email: sania @heartfile.org
I. THE NEWS
STILL STUCK IN THE NRO
The writer is a lawyer based in Islamabad.
Rule of law simply means that provisions of the law reign supreme and no one is above the law or allowed to thwart its writ. In other words, if an individual is caught with his hand in the forbidden cookie jar, the matter cannot be swept under the carpet merely because he has landed in the upper echelons of state hierarchy. Revival of the Swiss cases against Asif Zardari is about this fundamental principle. Thus the argument that the Supreme Court has made its point by striking down the NRO as bad law, and with this slap on Asif Zardari's wrist it should back off and not get hypersensitive about effective implementation of its NRO ruing is fundamentally flawed.
It matters not that judges might have been out in the cold and Musharraf still in play if it wasn't for the NRO. Or that the court should apply restraint out of fear of disturbing the apple cart or igniting vile ethnic sentiment in rural Sindh. These are extraneous considerations that must never weaken the court's resolve to apply the law. The fact that the ruling regime has been dragging its feet over implementation of binding orders of the highest court of our land is proof that our journey toward rule of law has just begun.
The Zardari-led PPP could simply have given effect to the NRO ruling and be done with it. It could have ungrudgingly reopened and facilitated the cases against NRO-beneficiaries in accordance with the law. It could have exhibited a sense of urgency in replacing chairman and prosecutor general NAB, appointing additional accountability judges, and initiating proceedings against Malik Qayyum. The Swiss cases would have stood revived and put on hold so long as Mr Zardari is president. Instead the PPP government chose to use political arguments to controvert the judicial outcome of the NRO case and manipulate the administrative machinery of the state to flout the law.
Can the sorcery and impishness of Mr Zardari's advisers wipe clean his past and lay his legal problems to rest for all times to come? If the attorney general informs the Supreme Court that the law minister is foiling its directions, is the court expected to roll over and move on to matters that don't pinch the president and his minions? Implementation of the NRO ruling, reopening of the Swiss cases and the issue of immunity afforded to the president under Article 248 are connected matters that form a litmus test for rule of law in Pakistan and the role our judiciary will play in nurturing its ideals.
With the return of judges whose personal integrity is no longer in question, the court's approach toward judicial review deserves more attention. Having recovered from the dark ages of judicial subservience to the executive, we must develop a doctrine of judicial prudence that simultaneously combines elements of activism and restraint. Effective implementation of the NRO ruling demands activism. But interpretation of the immunity clause must not appear to be inspired by a desire to produce immediate political outcomes.
The PPP government's efforts to defeat or delay the implementation of the NRO ruling are rooted in bad faith. The ruling regime is simply abusing the public authority vested in it and its control of state machinery to protect the perceived interests of one individual. The government's reaction to the Supreme Court is not based on any considered view of the law, but is a hangover of an era (hopefully ending now) wherein law has remained the handmaiden of the mighty. Continuing in the same stead and incognizant of winds of change, the ruling regime is pressurizing bureaucrats responsible for implementing court orders to defy the law. This effort must be defeated for it is the antithesis of rule of law.
Public officials owe allegiance to the law and not to individuals higher in the food chain. Unfortunately this isn't an ethic firmly rooted in our tradition of public service. Confronted by a government leaving no stone unturned in defeating court orders, the apex court is rightly making it obvious to public officials that they can continue to abide by a tribal code of loyalty that trumps fidelity to the law, but only at the peril of serving jail time.
But the PPP's blundering approach to the NRO ruling must not influence the apex court's understanding and interpretation of presidential immunity. The meaning and import of Article 248 of the Constitution must not be clubbed with implementation of the NRO judgment. This is where the Supreme Court must apply restraint. The concept of rule of law is fundamentally procedural in nature and doesn't have an unvarying substantive core. It requires that all citizens living in a state be subjected to even-handed application of its laws. But the judiciary cannot employ such a general principle of fairness and equity to undermine or rewrite explicit provisions of the Constitution that allow exceptions to due process.
Article 248 is one such provision that offers at least two types of exceptions to ordinary due process. One is the limited protection embedded in Article 248(1) afforded to certain holders of public office against judicial scrutiny and affixation of personal liability for official acts. And the other is the unqualified protection afforded to the person of the president and a governor against institution or continuation of criminal proceedings during their term in office under Articles 248(2) and (3) of the Constitution. It must therefore be understood that judicial interpretation of Article 248(1) is not relevant to the scope and extent of protection afforded under Article 248(2) and (3), which is more pertinent to Mr Zardari's case.
Article 248(1) bars the courts from calling into question the official acts of the president, the prime minister and ministers etc. Our apex court has restrictively interpreted this prohibition by holding that if an act is undertaken in bad faith or without jurisdiction, it is not an official act at all and thus devoid of the protection promised under Article 248(1). And this was the position reiterated in Justice Ramday's ruling in Chief Justice of Pakistan vs President of Pakistan (CP No. 21 of 2007) rejecting the objection of General Musharraf's counsel that the Supreme Court is barred from adjudicating the issue of the chief justice's dismissal under Article 248(1) of the Constitution.
Articles 248(2) and (3) on the other hand unequivocally prohibit initiation or continuation of any criminal proceedings against the president during his term in office. The language barring continuation of pending proceedings makes it obvious that the intent here is not just to protect acts of the president while in office, but also his personal acts from before. Further, given that these provisions prohibit the state and its authorities from instituting or continuing proceedings rather than affording the president with a defence in case criminal proceedings are brought against him, the legal argument being made by some analysts that the president needs to proactively claim immunity seems misplaced.
It is only fair that Asif Zardari should be required to face the law like all other citizens of Pakistan. But so long as he is president this is not what our Constitution prescribes. The viewpoint that the Constitution should not afford blanket protection to the president against criminal proceedings is also weighty. But then again, under our scheme of separation of powers, it is for parliament and not the courts to write the wishes of the people into the Constitution. The constitutional reform committee has just finalized its recommendations to introduce substantive amendments to the Constitution. And yet no political party has even proposed that the scope of presidential immunity be revisited.
The Constitution is an unfolding narrative. Like the rest of us, our judges also have a right to disagree with the wisdom of its provisions in their personal capacity. But if they allow such personal preferences to inform judicial interpretation of the Constitution, they would certainly be crossing a red line.
I. THE NEWS
An editor of a Washington daily received a phone call three days before Benazir Bhutto was to land in Karachi not to accompany her as he would get killed. He backed out and called BB in Dubai to excuse himself. More on this another time.
Asif Zardari once said he knew who killed his wife. It was the last time he made such a statement. Now a book is out by the crime reporter of this newspaper "revealing many hidden secrets" on Benazir Bhutto's assassination. Another book was launched last week by Fatima Bhutto on her father's assassins. Wait for another few years, and you'll get potboilers by a crop of foreign authors and journalists reclaiming the truth on the Bhutto murders.
While the delayed UN report will not name the person / persons / countries / agencies / governments involved in BB's assassination, ask average Pakistanis who killed Benazir Bhutto and you'll get answers. What hits the bullseye is impossible to judge. Even before BB was buried, conspiracy theories raided cyberspace. There was an SMS from her home in Dubai, said some, that asked her to acknowledge the crowds by sticking her head out of the sunroof. Her security chief scooted off as soon as the blast occurred. He specially had a sunroof installed for BB in her bullet-proof Land Cruiser. No security agency in Pakistan was willing to allow a sunroof because it would leave BB vulnerable. Her Blackberry was immediately removed from her purse on the orders of 'someone' and is till today in his possession.
All this is idle chatter, kind of red herring meant to deflect the people from the truth with misleading clues such as the above.
Let's move to America and specifically President George W Bush's secretary of state, Condi Rice. The lady needs to answer a lot of questions. It is unthinkable that the UN team investigating BB's murder did not bother to question the woman who manoeuvred BB's return to Pakistan in October of 2007. According to someone in the know in America, the Bush administration did not give access to BB when she was in Washington during the summer of '07. "Nobody seemed interested in meeting her," says my source. "It was only the US ambassador to the UN, Zalmay Khalilzad, who would meet her." But when BB died Bush praised her saying that "she knew that her return to Pakistan put her life at risk. Yet she refused to let assassins to dictate the course of her country." He condemned the assassination as a "cowardly act by murderous extremists."
How did Bush know that she was killed by murderous extremists?
According to my source BB was on to something very sensitive regarding General Musharraf's secret agreement with a foreign power. "She was planning to investigate further when she arrived in Pakistan and later become the PM. But she also knew she had to tread cautiously for fear of being killed."
Apart from Condi Rice, the other three personalities who knew that BB would be eliminated, according to a report in this newspaper by Rauf Klasra, were the Saudi and UAE intelligence chiefs and Afghan President Karzai. "I know I am going to be killed," BB is meant to have told Karzai hours before the assassination. The then Afghan ambassador in Islamabad, who joined his president in the fateful meeting, told me. He didn't go into the gut-wrenching details.
In a way BB's revelations form her last will and testament and Karzai's disclosure to the UN team should be apocalyptical.
Mumtaz Bhutto wants to see some arrests. "What good is a mere report if it does not lead you to the murderers?" he tells me when I ask him what exactly he told the team when questioned. "I told them what I knew. But even the UN can be manipulated by governments."
Haunted resonance is all we'll likely hear on April 15.
The writer is a freelance journalist with over twenty years of experience in national and international reporting. Email: email@example.com
INDIA RAISES CHINESE BOGEY AGAIN
AMONG the first things that the new Indian Army Chief has talked about is to face China. General VK Singh, who assumed charge as 26th chief of the Indian Army, told reporters on Thursday that his force is well prepared to face any threat, even a threat from China.
This is not for the first time that an Indian Army Chief has spoken about the so-called Chinese threat and the intention to fight out the big neighbour. His predecessor General Deepak Kapoor said late last year that the Army, Navy and Air Force were effectively ready to face Pakistan and China at the same time. Echoing his views chief of Indian Eastern Air Command Air Marshal Kishan Kumar said in January this year that his country was ready to battle against these two countries at the same time if ''pushed to the wall'' through a ''defence-offensive'' strategy. Similar views were also expressed by former National Security Advisor Brajesh Mishra who claimed that India could face trouble on both Pakistani and Chinese borders at the same time but it is not ready to defend even one. These and a host of similar other statements are part of the sinister design on the part of India to keep the temperature high in the region. China has throughout pursued a policy of peaceful co-existence and despite having long-standing border dispute with India it never tried to settle it through use of force or coercive diplomacy. Instead, Chinese always expressed their desire to have friction-free relations with India and for this purpose they took a number of initiatives. However, despite all this Indians have been churning out venom against China forcing strategists and analysts to believe that this is being done to win sympathies of the West especially the United States. Already, by raising the bogey of Chinese threat, Indians have succeeded in squeezing extraordinary concessions from the United States including civilian nuclear cooperation, which is a shield to boost its military programme and acquisition of dual purpose technologies and equipment. It is understood that Americans and its other Western allies are apprehensive of growing China military and economic power and its influence as a global power. They want to contain China and India is trying to take full advantage of their concerns. We hope that China and Pakistan would strengthen their cooperation to foil nefarious designs against their security and legitimate interests.
FRIVOLOUS OBJECTIONS TO GAS DEAL WITH IRAN
AT last, the cat is out of the bag. The United States, which has been dropping strong hints of providing financial and technical assistance to Pakistan in overcoming the ongoing energy crisis, has raised objections to Islamabad's deal with Tehran for import of gas. US Assistant Secretary of State Robert Blake, on his return to Washington from a trip to Pakistan, Afghanistan and India, told newsmen that the United States has advised Pakistan to seek other alternatives because of Iran's dispute with the 'international community'.
Americans used similar tactics to dissuade India from joining the trilateral gas pipeline project despite the fact that India's fast growing economy badly needs energy security. Both India and the United States used IPI project as a bargaining chip during negotiations on nuclear accord. In this backdrop, one can understand why the United States, unlike its previous stand, is showing willingness to discuss the possibility of nuclear cooperation with Pakistan as well. We would, however, warn the Government not to fall into the US trap and move swiftly on Iran gas pipeline project, which is of critical significance for economy of Pakistan. Our domestic gas reserves are depleting fast and there is no progress towards implementation of much-talked-about import of gas from Turkmenistan because of uncertain situation in Afghanistan, which is unlikely to improve in the near future. The severe shortage of gas witnessed by the country especially during recent winter is a clear indication that domestic, commercial and industrial consumers would continue to suffer for years if no tangible steps were taken to meet the gas shortage. Pakistan and Iran have spent years in finalizing the deal and prudence demands that the project should be implemented without loss of further time as even Chinese have shown interest to fund the project. Americans have their own interests but Pakistan must steadfastly pursue things strictly in accordance with its national interests. We hope that the Government would be able to convey to the United States that the project has nothing to do with international politics, rather it is a project of economic significance to Pakistan.
IF PS WOULD HAVE BEEN PRIVATISED!
THE National Assembly has been informed that Pakistan Steel (PS) Mills suffered a net loss of over twenty-six billion rupees in the last fiscal year. Stating this in the House on Thursday, Minister of State for Industries Dr Ayatullah Durrani claimed that efforts were being made to improve the performance of the Mills.
Except for brief periods, the Pakistan Steel has all along been incurring losses and that too running into billions of rupees. This is mind-boggling if one takes into account the fact that the PS enjoys a virtual monopoly in steel products, which are in constant demand all over the country. Among the steps cited by the Government to improve its performance include purchase of locally produced iron-ore to cut down on expenses but this is not the only factor that has virtually paralysed this vital institution. It is known to all that Pakistan Steel has been stuffed with unnecessary, unwanted political inductees who are mere burden on the institution. According to reports, there are thousands of people who do nothing but receive salaries and other perks. Similarly, there are also reports of corruption and kickbacks in purchases and sales, which render most of the transactions non-profitable. Only recently, the Prime Minister had to sack its Chairman on reports of corruption but this is not sufficient and the Government will have to devise a workable plan and take some bold decisions to put things on the right track. We believe that in view of its dismal performance, Pakistan Steel should have been privatized much earlier because the losses are piling up with the passage of time. However, if corrective steps fail to produce the desired results, then the PS should be privatized on a fast track basis in a transparent manner. Same is true of several other organizations like Pakistan Railways and WAPDA that have become white elephant for the Government and are eating up billions of rupees of the taxpayers' money. The successive governments showed remarkable interest in pushing up privatization of profit-making entities but it is time that we should get rid of loss-incurring enterprises.
TOGETHER WE STAND!
In this era of interdependence and globalization, we have a lot to learn from each other. There are common values and basic rights that human beings share irrespective of race, gender, colour language, religion, ethnicity or nationality, such as freedom, equality, human rights, human dignity, cultural diversity, democracy, international law and equitable distribution of resources. We can build on shared hopes and values and listen and respond with openness and respect to each other by sharing information about each others faith, traditions, beliefs and practices. The universal core values of all religions are sanctity of life, justice, love, compassion, forgiveness and common good. In the words of the illustrious mystic, Jallaluddin Rumi, "The lamps are different but the light is the same."
The world today is suffering from the consequences of religious conflict because it has failed to recognize humanity's common origin, its common faith and its fundamental principles. There is a dire need to create awareness of the importance of promoting interfaith harmony, tolerance, cooperation and religious freedom and holding discussions on issues around religious freedom and interfaith by promoting inter-religious harmony, understanding and tolerance. As one large human family we must prevent religion from being misused and misinterpreted and our conscience to be hijacked. We must create an awareness of the importance of promoting interfaith harmony, tolerance and religious freedom. Issues around religious freedom and interfaith need to be discussed openly and ways and means of promoting inter-religious harmony, understanding and tolerance must be initiated. The world is currently fighting the demons of suspicion, ignorance, intolerance and contempt for people of other cultures. We must reach out to live in harmony and embark on the road that leads to dialogue in order to eliminate violence, extremism, hatred and bigotry. We must stop the first appearance of contention, conflict and misunderstanding. No doubt terrorism and extremism are a menace that need to be obliterated but at the same time there is a dire need to view the social, economic and political conditions that foster and address the root causes that generate extremism such as poverty, oppression, dishonor, injustice, sense of deprivation, lack of opportunities and long-festering disputes etc.
In Islam humanity is one community and justice its corner stone. To be just is the greatest teaching of Islam. It represents a whole civilization and provides for the happiness and welfare of mankind. Islam's main message is to worship God and to treat all God's creation with kindness and compassion and it carries a message of love, forgiveness and understanding; not a message of war, punishment, wrath and conflict. Islam's deeply rooted principles are tolerance, peaceful co-existence and brotherhood. It was the first institution to advocate and implement such human rights as universal equality and women's rights. Islam grants certain basic human rights to all Muslims and non Muslims, the first of these rights is the right to live and respect human life. The Quran directs Muslims to find a common ground with other communities. The common ground is expressed as a mutual respect of the freedom and autonomy of different religious communities. The Quran urges Muslims to seek a political order based on peaceful cooperation and mutual respect and warns them against placing solidarity over covenanted rights and the principles of justice. Pakistan's founding father Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah in his address to Pakistan's first Constituent Assembly spoke at length on similar lines and stated, "The tolerance and goodwill that Great Emperor Akbar showed to all the non-Muslims is not of recent origin. It dates back thirteen centuries ago when our Prophet not only by words but by deeds treated the Jews and Christians, after he had conquered them, with the utmost tolerance and regard and respect for their faith and beliefs. The whole history of Muslims, wherever they ruled, is replete with those human and great principles which should be followed and practiced." On another occasion (25th January, 1948) he said, "Islam and its idealism have taught democracy. Islam has taught equality, justice and fairplay to everybody. What reason is there for anyone to fear democracy, equality, freedom on the highest standard of integrity and on the basis of fairplay and justice for everybody? Let us make it [the future constitution of Pakistan]. We shall make it and we will show it to the world." Such were the foundations that Pakistan was built upon but unfortunately visionless leaders have steered the country in a wrong direction, full of confusion, misery and anxiety instead of peace, harmony, love and abundance.
In Pakistan people of different religious faiths, different social classes and different cultural backgrounds reside. Ideally our loyalty and commitment to Pakistan should unite us; our common interests of peace, security and prosperity should bind us and our vision of a liberal, pluralist and democratic society where all citizens enjoy the same and equal opportunities and rights should connect us. Together we should be working towards a stable, tolerant, and fair society where everyone can feel valued and where everyone has a part to play. Together we should be moving towards promotion of religious and cultural understanding, harmony and cooperation. Together we should be strengthening the foundations of a better, fairer, healthier, safer, and cleaner thriving tomorrow. Together we should be proving to the world that whatever our differences of opinion, we are mature enough to work out common policies by discussion and democratic agreement. But Alas! Pakistan today lacks visionary leadership that calls forth the best in people and brings them together around a shared purpose. Leadership with a clear sense of direction; leadership that can unite, rather than divide people!
But how can leadership manifest a vision when it knows nothing about nationalism or patriotism and loyalty to ones own country. When it does not have heartfelt commitment to the nation and its national interests; when it knows nothing about pride, unity and identification; when it doesn't know what protecting and promoting concerns, interests, cultural and social values is all about; when it knows nothing about willingness to sacrifice or submerging individual or vested interest to attain goals that lead to glory and well-being of the nation; and when it lacks a sense of personal integrity, is corrupted with power and is unable to exercise moral leadership.
Since the past sixty-two years, Pakistan has suffered because of lack of unity and vested interests of a handful of people who have destroyed the social, political and economic fabric of this great country and have impeded its progress and prosperity. They have created states within states, shunned progression in all its forms and thrived on extracting the maximum from the state. Instead of being grateful for the status granted by Pakistan, they continue cropping problems after problems and use blackmail, threats and extortion to prolong their rule. Since partition every government has faced their needless wrath and unreasonable demands and tried to be as accommodating as possible.
Had the feudal lords remained with India, they would have been landless and title less, since India after its independence abolishe
ISI: ESSENTIAL FOR NATIONAL INTEREST
To defend the country and protect the people from external and internal threat is the primary aim of the Inter-Services Intelligence agency (ISI) at this critical juncture, while Pakistan has been facing multiple subversive acts being conducted by the foreign enemies. No doubt, every country has a superior intelligence agency to protect the national interest of the state. American CIA, Russian KJB, British MI-6 etc. might be cited as an instance. Just like other spy agencies, ISI keeps a vigilant eye on the borders, assesses the nefarious designs of the enemies and counters anti-Pakistan schemes.
Despite its limited resources, ISI has proved the most effective intelligence agency in safeguarding the national interests of Pakistan. It is owing to its accurate information and excellent performance that this agency has irked the eyes of India, Israel and the US which leave no stone unturned in raising false allegations against it as part of their unfinished agenda against Pakistan. While tarnishing the image of ISI, secret agencies of these countries, RAW, Mossad and CIA have been acting upon their anti-Pakistan plan. It is mentionable that without showing any solid evidence, since November 26, 2008, while manipulating the Mumbai tragedy and concealing Hindu terrorists behind it, India has been blaming Pakistan's banned Lashkar-i-Taiba and Jamaatud Dawa for alleged links with the ISI.
While a few days after the Mumbai carnage, the then Indian Minority Affairs Minister Abdul Rahman Antulay who changed his statement afterwards due to an unending pressure of Hindu fundamentalist parties, BJP, Shiv Sena and RSS, had stated in the Lok Sabha that the killing of Anti-Terrorism Squad Chief Hemant Karkare in Mumbai during terror attacks was a conspiracyindicating, "he was shot due to his leading role in the investigation against Hindus regarding the 2006 Malegaon bombings". However, instead of showing any proof, Indian leadership and media had coined a number of fictitious stories about the arrested gunman, Ajmal Kasab to prove the involvement of Pakistan and the ISI which is the first defence line of our country in thwarting the conspiracy of external enemies.
Nevertheless, blame game against ISI is not confined to India, on December 15, 2008, US Senator John Kerry remarked that ISI must be brought under control. Before him, US Assistant Secretary of State, Richard Boucher had said that ISI needed to be reformed. Nevertheless, intermittently, US high officials and media have been accusing Pakistan's army and our superior spy agency of cross-border terrorism in Afghanistan and the Indian-held Kashmir. For example, in July and August, 2008, The New York Times claimed presumed ties between Pakistan's ISI and the Taliban of Afghanistan, alleging this agency for the bombing of Indian embassy in Kabul. In that context, Indian National Security Advisor M.K Narayanan had pointed out; "The ISI needs to be destroyed." These false accusations still keep ongoing in one or the other form.
Question arises as to why US-led India and some countries have been targeting our superior spy agency? We cannot see their vile propaganda against ISI in isolation as there are a number of nefarious designs which are part of the international plot against Pakistan which is the only Islamic country, possessing nuclear weapons. ISI is also being defamed because it not only counters the threat of foreign intelligence agencies against the integrity of Pakistan but also protects the nuclear weapons and atomic installations of our country. America, India and Israel are exaggerating that safety of the atomic weapons is doubtful as these can go in the hands of Al Qaeda operatives who are likely to use them inside the US and Europe. The purpose behind is to convince Washington to continue air strikes on Pakistan's tribal areas, and to expand the same to the settled areas of FATA including Balochistan.
Without any doubt, sporadic attacks by American drones are the worse example of cross-border terrorism. Being essential for our national interest as the first pillar of our country, ISI has become target of the external intrigue. As a matter of fact, US, India, Afghanistan and Israel have intensified their collective covert strategic game by exploiting Pakistan's present multiple crises which they have themselves created through their secret agencies. While acting upon anti-Pakistan conspiracy, they, sometimes, take new turns in their continued campaign in tarnishing the image of our Inter-Services Intelligence Agency. Rather, they have badly failed in crushing the stiff resistance of Afghan Taliban and Kashmiris who have been fighting against the occupying forces. In this respect, senseless accusations against ISI are essential for these countries to divert the attention of their publics from their frustrated misadventure in Afghanistan and Kashmir.
Particularly, it has become fashion in India to blame ISI for every mishap to conceal RAW-backed Hindu terrorism. In the past, concrete evidence has surprised the international community about Hindu terrorism. On April 6, 2008 in the secret office of Bajrang Dal extremists in Nanded, a bomb exploded. The investigation proved that the militants of Bajrang Dal were engaged in bomb-making. In that context, Anti-Terrorism Squad (ATS) arrested a serving Lt. Col. Srikant Purohit and other army officials, having close ties with prominent politicians of BJP, VHP, RSS and Bajrang Dal. Inquiry revealed that these army officers helped train the Hindu terrorists, supplying them military-grade explosive RDX, used in the Malegaon bombings and various terrorist attacks in the Indian cities. ATS also indicated that Lt. Col. Purohit was involved in bombing of Samjhota express, which burnt alive 68 Pakistanis.
Before these proofs, Indian leaders were accusing Pakistan's ISI in connection with the bombings of the Indian cities and Samjhota express. Besides, under the cover of blame game against ISI, New Delhi also wants to distract the attention of the west from her own atrocities, being perpetrated on the innocent Kashmiris in the occupied Kashmir. Since 1989, Indian military troops have massacred more than 200000 innocent people through barbaric methods of ethnic cleansing. Notably, in the last two years, more than 3000 unmarked graves of the unidentified bodies of the Muslims were uncovered in the Indian-held Kashmir. Sources suggest that these graves include bodies of extrajudicial executions committed by the Indian military and RAW.
It is well-established fact that CIA-led RAW and Mossad have been creating unrest in our country on massive scale. Penetration of foreign agents along with sophisticated weaponry and explosives in various cities of Pakistan has become a routine matter, while suicide attacks and targeted killings have become every day occurrence. In this context, Afghanistan where India already set up terrorist training camps has also started building new cantonment areas. Besides, causing lawlessness in our country, another aim behind is also to get a strategic depth to encircle Pakistan with the tactical support of the US. As regards Indo-Israeli nexus against Pakistan, during Mumbai devastation, attack on the Jewish Center (Nariman House) surprised the Indians as they never knew about it and clandestine presence of Israeli commandos there. The misdeeds of anti-ISI agencies are known to every one. In that respect, Ramzi Yousaf who was well-aware of the activities of the American and Israeli secret agencies had stated in the US court in 1997, "You are butchers, liars, and hypocrites. You keep on talking about terrorism to the media, but behind closed doors you support terrorism". On August 8, 2007, Major Tanvir Hussain Syed (R), the former Parliamentary Secretary for Defence accused American CIA of killing Chinese nationals in Pakistan to harm the cordial relations between Islamabad and Beijing.On a number of occasions, ISI has castigated various plots against our country. In this connection, in the Zia regime, New Delhi had made a secret plan to suddenly attack Pakistan through operation, Brosstac. And it also prepared a joint plan with the help of Israel to destroy Kahuta nuclear plant through a surgical strike. Nevertheless, all these external schemes were failed due to the pre-information of ISI. Some other deeds like thwarting subversive acts, capturing foreign spies, renowned terrorists, fake currency notes etc. inside Pakistan might also be cited as an example. While, at present, our country is facing multi-faceted threats, no doubt, ISI is essential for our national interest.
RESOLUTION OF KASHMIR DISPUTE
NEWS & VIEWS
The US and Britain often express concern over the looming threat of war between two nuclear states - India and Pakistan. Prime Minister Gordon Brown's statement that the solution of the Kashmir issue is vital for world stability is indeed encouraging. But he should take initiative and persuade international community to help resolve the dispute, as it is unfinished part of the partition of the subcontinent. President Obama has many a time expressed his desire that the dispute between India and Pakistan should be resolved but short of playing an active role in resolving the dispute. If the world powers including US and Britain take due interest in the matter and ensure implementation of the UN resolutions on this issue, the oppressed millions in Jammu and Kashmir would get their basic rights, and would also strengthen world peace and stability, as it is a major flashpoint in the world.
On 5th February 2010, British Labour Member of the Parliament Sir Gerald Kaufman in his address at Kashmir Solidarity Day seminar held in London had said that the issue of Kashmir will be on top of the agenda in his meeting with Prime Minister Gordon Brown, which was scheduled to be held after one week ie mid-February. But what transpired in the meeting is not known. He said that UK and US are concerned with the situation particularly for its bearings on stability and economy of Pakistan, which was essential for the peace of entire region. He asserted that UN resolutions on Kashmir remain valid and peaceful resolution of the issue was possible only through the implementation of these resolutions. Sir Gerald Kaufmann also shared his painful experiences of his visits to Kashmir where he was able to observe worst kind of violations of rights of people. He is perhaps the only British MP who believes that UN resolutions are still valid. Anyhow, after that he did not speak on the subject as to what transpired in his meeting with Prime Minister Gordon Brown. It has to be said that the Kashmir Dispute owes its origin to machinations of then governor general Lord Moutbatten, and it is the responsibility of Britain to help resolve this issue.
In January 2010, addressing Indo-Pak Conference on 'roadmap for peace', Jammu and Kashmir Liberation leader Yasin Malik had said that he felt no decision would ever be taken to implement a road map for peace in the State. A 3-day conference organized by a consortium of Indian fora ended, which proved an exercise in futility. Participants were invited from Pakistan and Jammu and Kashmir in addition to participants from the host country and the conference was opened by former Indian premier IK Gujral. On second day of the conference ie January 11, the topic was "Issue of Autonomy: Kashmir and Balochistan". The session was addressed by Asma Jehangir of Human Rights Commission of Pakistan and important personalities from Balochistan. One does not understand how members of Pakistani delegation had agreed to the topic, which bracketed Balochistan with Kashmir. Pakistani delegation should not have attended the conference for bracketing Balochistan with Kashmir, as the former is part of Pakistan whereas Kashmir is a disputed territory, which is pending in the United Nations. Britain is also in the picture that states in the subcontinent were allowed to join either India or Pakistan, and there was no concept of any independent state. Now Baloch sardars are peddling the idea that Balochistan was an independent entity in the plan for the partition of the subcontinent. In this backdrop, Britain should not allow leaders of the banned outfit Baloch Liberation Front to issue instructions to the insurgents in Balochistan. Prime Minister Gordon Brown should look into the matter and keeping in view excellent relations between Britain and Pakistan, he should take measures to get their headquarters of BLA closed. The long dormant crisis had erupted into a brutal confrontation with the center in 1973 when late Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto had tried to establish educational institutions and construction of roads in Balochistan.
The insurgency had lasted for four years from 1973 to 1977, and it was after promulgation of Martial Law by Late General Zia-ul-Haq that sedition cases were withdrawn against Baloch sardars. It is unfortunate that neither Britain leadership nor the civil society in Pakistan consider it worthwhile to comment on what sardars have been doing to their people. No human right activist cries over the atrocities inflicted on them by their feudal lords and sardars in their private jails. It is too well known that RAW, CIA and Mossad are active in Balochistan and FATA to destabilize Pakistan, and Pakistani leadership ruling and opposition parties - should work in unison to frustrate the designs of enemies of Pakistan. There is no denying that during British Raj and after independence Balochistan and NWFP were neglected so far as its development is concerned. But this is also true that despite being part of the provincial governments, sardars had neither done anything to develop Balochistan nor persuaded the central government to make development plans for their province. They consider all natural resources of Balochistan their personal property and want to pocket all the profits and royalties. From the statements and interviews of scions of Akbar Bugti, one can understand that the bone of contention between late Akbar Bugti and the federation arguably was that the latter wanted increase in gas royalty. As regards Mian Nawaz Sharif's suggestion of holding talks with those who are not in Balochistan is intriguing and he is trying to draw political mileage from the contradictions between sardars and the government. He should have known that Brahamdagh Bugti is ensconced in Afghanistan near President Karzai's palace and Mir Hybyar Marri is in London and both are reported to have the backing and support from enemies of Pakistan. It goes without saying that tribalism is firmly rooted in Balochistan, and ethnic and tribal identity is a potent force for both individuals and groups in Balochistan with the result that there exists deep polarization among different groups.
Each of these groups is based on different rules of social organization, which has left the province inexorably fragmented. Tribal group-ism has failed to integrate the state and enforce a national identity. But those who have not weaned from the poison of sham nationalism should take a look at the history of the Balkans, and the fate they met. A couple of times Sardar Ataullah Mengal appeared in a television interview, and said that America does not pay any attention and would accept any outside help to disintegrate the country. Sardar Ataullah Mengal, Sardar Khair Bakhsh Marri and scions of late Akbar Bugti should try to safeguard the interests of Baloch people but through democratic struggle and not through violence and bloodshed. It is heartening to note that there is realization on the part of the central government as well as provinces; and in this regard Punjab and Sindh have sacrificed part of their share to Balochistan.
INDIA'S PAKISTAN-CENTRIC CALCULUS!
AIR CDRE (R) KHALID IQBAL
An objective analysis of India's national security policy leads us to overawing conclusions that the assumptions underwriting her national strategy are predominantly focused on Pakistan. Especially the military component of national security conglomerate perpetually oozes out a stream of Pakistan phobia. The phenomenon has historic and cultural groundings so strongly perpetuated through mythological exclusiveness that rhetoric, more than often, supersedes the logic. Rationality is submerged into ocean of irrationality when isolated and at times minor incidents are hyped into a frenzy to equate these with a magnitude justifying declaration of final and conclusive war on Pakistan, with a presupposed victory.
Pakistan has all along lived under the shadow of existential threat origination from India; commencing with politico-military occupation of a major chunk of Kashmir, dismemberment of Pakistan and numerous incidents of en-massing of troops along Pakistani borders in a medieval style posturing. Such unrelenting approach substantiates a Pakistan phobic mindset in India which is rather unfortunate. Actually Indian political leadership has fallen prey to believing in their self created anti-Pakistan hype as a substitute of India's Pakistan policy. This contradiction of the sortshas induced Pakistan centric psyche in over all national approach towards Pakistan. Any thing that happens or is likely to happen in India has a readily available scapegoat. Right on the start of an occurrence, anti-Pakistan drums start beating. All soft talk and CBMs evaporate and Indian forces start marching towards Pakistan.On Pakistan side, a thick cloud of Indian mischief has induced a cautious approach towards India. Stage-managed events like hijacking of India aeroplane "Ganga", to sever air link between West and East Pakistan prior to 1971 war, fake attack on Indian parliament to justify year long deployment along Pakistan border always ring alarm bells in Pakistani circles to rule out strings of conspiracy before embracing Indian overtures. At cultural level, there is no dearth of Indian movies and media events highly charged to demonise ISI and other Pakistani institutions. At academic level, there are heaps of hate culture for strengthening and sustaining Pakistan phobia. Hate icons of the like of Moody and Bal Thakrey symbolise institutionalisation of anti-Muslim campaign which ultimately boils down to anti-Pakistan frenzy.
With this kind of sustained and perpetual anti- Pakistan sentiment, the political leadership has ended up in abdicating the prerogative of prudently steering bilateral relations with Pakistan; the initiative now rests with political opportunists and ideological zealots. Cues picked up by India's ultra right organisations are sufficient to tighten the noose around the Indian governments, irrespective of their political hue, on as required basis. Both mainstream political parties of India appear to be in a competitive anti-Pakistan race. As of now Indian policy making tier finds itself thoroughly mired in self created slush, with hardly any honourable exit options. Perception has that during difficult patches when Pakistan gets busy handling the developments on its western borders, India wishes to see it consumed in the process, rather than giving a strategic space by engaging it constructively. Proponents of this school of thought argue that as and when India had a life time chance, or would have such a chance against Pakistan, she did not and would not want to miss it. Unfortunately, this notions draws support from historic occurrences. India diverted Pakistan's attention away from western borders at a critical stage of Afghan resistance against Soviets. A national level exercise 'Brass Tacs' was launched with highly provocative objectives, this exercise had the potential of blowing up into full fledged war. This manoeuvre, presumably on Soviet behest, forced Pakistan to deploy its military in eastern border in a full readiness status. Once again now when Pakistan is engaged in facilitation of a workable arrangement in post de-occupation Afghanistan, India is comprehensively involved in a wide spectrum of stabbing at the back kind of activities. India is striving for a larger than life role in Afghanistan; effort is mainly motivated by the instinct to acquire a launching pad for destabilizing the western stretch of Pakistan. Incontrovertible evidence of Indian involvement in Baluchistan and many other incidents of terrorism in various parts of Pakistan support the notion that India is yet once again on a Pakistan squeezing spree.
When we review the Indian military capability and postulate its various employment options in the regions, clear perception which emerges is that a major bulk of its war material is Pakistan specific. Systems capabilities as well as supporting infrastructure are indicative of their exclusive suitability against Pakistan. Location of command and control centres and their tasking is Pakistan oriented. Even those command centres which are east on north poised have a Pakistan specific contingency tasking. Most of Indian missiles are of short range, hence their application is Pakistan biased. Its mammoth wherewithal for mechanised warfare and ambitious naval flotilla are solely Pakistan focused. China bogie has frequently been raised by India to achieve two objectives; firstly to justify its larger than life arsenal, and secondly to capitalize on mythical western concerns in the context of China. In cold war era, erstwhile Soviets also had unfounded reservations about the rise of China as a major power, hence India squarely exploited it. Indeed India presented itself as mercenary of both superpower of that era to contain China. Nevertheless, it always filled the basement with Pakistan specific munitions.
India's focus has all along been Pakistan. In fact after the humiliating defeat in Indo-Chinese war of 1962, India has permanently abdicated the military option against China. Moreover, an exceptionally prudent policy of China makes the likelihood of any China-India military clash highly improbable. China even did not react to provocative statement of General Deepak Kapoor while he was day dreaming to fight China and Pakistan simultaneously and gain strategic advantage within 96 hours. Indeed Indian military capability is predominantly Pakistan centric, this coupled with volatile anti- Pakistan public frenzy, duly patronized by the state, makes it dangerous preposition for the well wisher of good Pak-India relation to ignore.
The writer is a National Security Analyst.
ZIONISTS AGAINST ZION?
VIEWS FROM ABROAD
Zionists have worked hard and cleverly for their successes, but their cause has been greatly advanced at each stage by the logic of their colonial project aimed at the creation of a Jewish settler state at the very center of the Islamicate. Most importantly, Zionism created a geopolitical realignment of great importance. It brought together two strands of the Western world, previously at odds - Christians and Jews - to join their forces against the Islamicate. At every stage in its history, Israel has ratcheted its power by unleashing forces, even negative forces, that it has then turned to its advantage. Power, intelligence and luck have played into this.
Israel's birth radicalized important segments of the Arab world, creating anxiety among Arab Jews about their future. Israel fanned this anxiety, with help from agent provocateurs - but also aided in some cases by myopic Arab policy - to force a Jewish flight from the Arab world. As a result, Israel doubled its Jewish population - and fighting force - within a few years after its creation. Arab nationalism - if properly harnessed and directed - could end the Jewish state and Western hegemony in the Middle East. Unafraid, Israel took steps to fan this nationalism and used it to push the US to embrace Israel, firmly and openly, as the West's bulwark against the Arab world. The plan worked, and by the late 1950s, if not earlier, the US was on Israel's side.
Defeating the Arab nationalists too carried a risk. By eliminating the threat of Arab nationalism, Israel risked losing its strategic value to the US. Considering the payoff, Israel was eager to defeat the Arab nationalists. As for the risk, the Jewish lobby in the US, energized by Israel's victory, ensured that US could only draw Israel tighter to its bosom. A weak civil society in the Arab states also helped Israel. Although the mantle of resistance passed to the Islamists after 1967, they could not displace any of the discredited Arab regimes. US and Israel too gave a boost to these regimes. With US prodding, Israel returned a demilitarized Sinai to bring Egypt on its side. In return, Egypt switched sides.
Israel now had a free hand in dealing with its foes. It used the Oslo Accords to neuter the PLO and assigned it to police the Palestinian resistance in the West Bank and Gaza. With the PLO neutered, Israel accelerated its colonization of the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza. This was also a signal for Israel to pursue more ambitious goals. In a 1996 document, the Neocons announced their plans to "engage" Hizbullah, Syria and Iran, "as the principal agents of aggression in Lebanon." Iraq, however, was their first target. The 9-11 attacks offered the occasion to put these plans into action. Working in concert, Israel and its backers convinced Bush to invade Iraq. There would be more wars to redraw the map of much of Middle East. Israel would emerge from these wars as the undisputed regional hegemon, and, possibly, a world power. Just when Israel was grasping for the moon, history took a number of 'wrong' turns. Iraq became a quagmire for US troops. Iran's Shi'ite allies Iran gained control over much of Iraq, barring the Kurdish region. Soon, Iran had extended its influence into eastern Afghanistan. Israeli policy had boomeranged.
In a strange reversal, Iran now cast its shadow over much of the Middle East. It mocked Israel, stood up for the Palestinians, showed up the pro-American Arab regimes for what they are, forcing them to openly identify with Israel. In bitterness, some Arab commentators blamed the US for resurrecting the ancient Persian empire. Now, suddenly - so it appears - the US love fest with Israel has run into a spot of trouble. In a reversal of its previous policy, the US is insisting that Israel suspend new settlement construction in East Jerusalem to pave the way for 'peace' talks with the Palestinian Authority. The CG News
POWER FOR IRRIGATION
Rarely do we come across news concerning agitation by farmers. This is largely because of the government's pro-farmer policy. On Thursday, though, this newspaper carried in a disconcerting piece of news highlighting an angry demonstration by several hundred farmers in Chapainawabganj town. After the procession they brought out, the farmers submitted a memorandum to the deputy commissioner there demanding 16 hours uninterrupted power supply for irrigation to their Boro fields. The details about the condition of their Boro lands are not known but why the farmers are asking for 16-hour uninterrupted power supply is not quite comprehensible. Even if the farmers have genuine grievances, they are unlikely to organise a demonstration in a district town.
Whatever may be the case, its merit has to be judged on the basis of the demands placed. Power rationing is prompted by the overriding need for irrigation in the interest of food production. Last year the government made a valiant effort and yet could not plug a few holes here and there. But this year, the agriculture ministry has more than compensated for its last year's small lapses. Farmers have been brought under some novel programmes so that they get the inputs and even required cash for proper and timely cultivation of their crops. Even the field level performances of the agencies concerned are being closely monitored. Yet there may indeed be cases of mismanagement at the local or field level. If here is one such case, it should be addressed in right earnest.
Generally the farmers are happy and the few isolated incidents of irrigation problem, we are confident, are an exception rather than a rule. The demand for 16-hour uninterrupted power supply looks suspect because this is unnecessary. Irrigation has also undergone transformation, thanks to the untiring efforts of agricultural scientists here. Often farmers have a wrong notion that water should remain standing at almost half the height of Boro plants. The latest development of a simple technique can precisely measure when a field needs irrigation. This cuts the irrigation cost by reducing the amount of water. There is a need for popularising this simple method of measuring irrigation level.
EXORBITANT TAXI FARE
People who live in the city of Dhaka are hard pressed for efficient transportation at rates they can afford. Most cannot afford the luxury of travelling by private car and are, therefore, dependent on other means of transport like taxis and auto rickshaws. In a city of 12 million people, only 1,000 taxicabs are now plying as most others have become junk. Then all forms of transport are at the mercy of traffic jams lasting for hours together. Even taxis and auto-rickshaws get caught up in traffic jams, which means a reduction in the number of trips they can make. This is one reason why their drivers demand higher charges. But if this becomes a rule, it is unacceptable.
Certainly transportation issues cannot be solved by forming a committee of those who may themselves be benefiting from higher fare rates. To the general public it is more important to solve their daily problems than flex their muscles on those who are overcharging. At best this can be seen as setting the fox to guard the chickens.
There was a time when fare charts and metres were fitted in vehicles intended for conveying passengers to their destination. If they still exist, they are no longer visible leaving owners and drivers free to charge any amount at will. In that case the announcement by the Home minister, Advocate Sahara Khatun, that a committee has been constituted comprising policemen, owners and workers of taxicabs and auto-rickshaws for taking effective measures to check the charging of exorbitant fares by these vehicles, is unlikely to produce the desired result. Similar initiatives in the past proved to be exercises in futility.
CITIZEN OF THE WORLD..!
An American visited India and went back to America where he met his Indian friend who asked him how he found the country?
The American said it is a great country with solid ancient history, and immensely rich with natural resources. The Indian friend then asked. "How did you find the Indians?"
"Indians? What Indians? I didn't find or meet a single Indian there in India."
"What nonsense? Who else can you meet in India?"
The American replied, "In Kashmir I met a Kashmiri, In Punjab a Punjabi, in Bihar, a Bihari, in Maharashtra a Maharashtrian, in Rajasthan a Rajasthani, in Bengal a Bengali, in Chennai a Tamilian, in Kerala, a Malayali.
Then I met a Muslim, a Hindu, a Christian, a Jain, Buddhist and many, many more but not a single Indian did I meet."
After you've smiled or laughed out loud, think how true this is. We have a land called India, but no Indians.
On my last visit to the US, I was walking down the streets of New York with a friend and quite enjoyed wishing and saying hi to all who were passing by, "Friendly country!" I said.
"Yeah, but watch when you see an Indian!"
I waited and soon came across an Indian couple. I looked at them, and then watched astonished as they put their heads down and passed me by.
"Why?" I asked.
"Because they were Punjabi's and they saw you weren't one!"
It could have been a Gujarati or Malayali for all you know, but if you were not one of their own, you were nobody to them.
And this is why regional parties flourish, because we don't think of ourselves as a country, in our minds we are still small states, and they exploit this feeling!
Every now and then I hear Narendra Modi, saying that, 'the people of Gujarat' have been humiliated or insulted. "Hey Mr Modi, a country called India is more humiliated that you think you are different from her!"
We belong to our country first and foremost, and then comes our language and religion, if at all. I remember a policeman coming to my house and after writing down the relevant information, he asked, "What religion are you?"
"That's not your business!" I replied, "I'm an Indian and that's all that should matter to you!"
To those of you all who read this column in other countries, the same applies to you; you belong to your motherland, so that visitors to your country can go back saying, "Yes I met Indians, I met Bangladeshis and Pakistanis!"
And one day I hope, we will even go a step farther and say, "I am a citizen of the World..!"
ENERGY CRISIS: THE NATURAL GAS
Now that the long expected energy crisis is upon us, what can we expect to happen? We examine this vital question in four parts: First in this article the availability of natural gas; second, the issues of electricity generation, third the policy and prospects for coal, nuclear and renewable types of energy and, finally, what can be done. The nation is in very serious difficulty with the energy sector. The combination of neglect, mismanagement and greed has brought the economy to its knees. An important source of this failure is the ideological bias of the bureaucrats and much of the university community against the private sector and private foreign investment in particular. This flies squarely in the face of the views of modern approaches to development, the private sector in Bangladesh and the donors. Past Governments have failed systematically to solve the energy problems; the AL Government is doing somewhat better, but the country is still only at the starting line. Ideological blindness remains a serious limitation on action. Although 15 months have passed the race is not yet begun to actually achieve the desired results. The administrative weakness of the Government agencies and departments continues to the source of the disaster.
Availability of gas
Most electricity in Bangladesh is generated using natural gas as the fuel. The production cost of the gas is low. Gas from Petrobangla cannot be costed accurately as the records are too confused to identify the exploration and development costs. Gas from the foreign companies is very cheap averaging $1-1.50 per thousand cubic feet over the lifetime of a gas field. In contrast in nations with gas markets, the wholesale price is $4-7 per thousand cubic feet.
One can be reasonably optimistic that there are substantial reserves of natural gas yet to be discovered both on land and in the shallow parts of the Bay of Bengal. However, one cannot be sure until one actually explores for gas. Sadly only limited exploration has gone on during the past eight years, at no where near the intensity that is needed to increase the supply of gas.
It will take a minimum of two to three years before there is any significant increase in the supply of gas. Even this is optimistic and I believe that three-five years is a more realistic forecast. The tragic failure of public policy, largely by the Alliance Government, that simply did nothing to improve the gas supply has left the country in a very poor position, making the necessary rapid increase of electricity generation impossible and slowing down the growth of employment and industrial production. Three things are necessary to have more gas: First to do more exploratory work to discover new gas fields and then to develop such fields; second, to improve the pipeline system that delivers the gas from the fields to the demand points, particularly in the great cities; third, to manage demand by appropriate policies and pricing so as to reduce waste and direct gas towards the highest priority uses.
Exploration and development
The eight years from 2001-2008 represented a complete failure of the responsible officials to carry out the most basic actions needed to explore for gas. To top it off, one party in the Alliance Government went to court to stop the exploration for gas in inland areas and no one took the trouble to do anything about the court order staying new exploration efforts. So these five years went by and no gas exploration took place. The Caretaker Government did carry out a process of obtaining bids for exploration in the deeper parts of the Bay of Bengal but finally did not sign Production Sharing Contracts. Once the AL Government came to power, it moved forward slowly and suspiciously to complete the PSCs, although this is not yet complete. Time has no meaning for the energy bureaucrat. The same sluggish, irresponsible approach took place in 1994-1996 until the AL Government forced the bureaucracy to stop posturing. Also to the credit of the current AL Government they contested the court's action, removing the constraint preventing on shore exploration. Negotiation for the PSCs for off shore exploration is going forward but, even if completed this will not contribute anything to a solution of the current crisis. Exploration in some of the on shore areas where there is high potential for gas is also going forward. Again little can be expected in actual gas supplied to the market for the next five years. The Sangu field has potential for gas delivery in 2-3 years but the costs are too high for development under the existing pricing rules. Unless Petrobangla increases the purchase price there will be little help from this field.
Gas discoveries in the northeast part of the country revealed significant gas available in the Bibiyama field above the preliminary estimates. [It is normal in gas field development to find more gas as a field is exploited; typical US experience is that total extractions are six times the original estimate]. However, to move this gas to load centres the capacity of the pipelines had to be increased. In 2005 a loan agreement was signed with the ADB to improve the pipelines and to install compressors to increase the flow of gas. The Alliance Government was unable to complete the bidding on the procurement of the compressors; the ADB rejected the first attempt at bidding as incorrectly done. [It is episodes like this that led the donors to want a strong procurement law. The donor's view as I understand it is that you can have any procurement law you want but if we do not like it you will not get any money from us.] The Caretaker Government virtually completed the procurement of the compressors with final approval left to the incoming AL Government. The AL Government moved slowly and incorrectly in the management of these compressors required to move the gas to the Dhaka area. A serious mistake was made in not accepting the winning bid for the three compressors; instead Petrobangla cancelled the tender and handed the procurement of one compressor to Chevron. Under this deal the Government will purchase for cash at a higher price than the offer from the tender process. The Chevron compressor is a cash purchase (about $70 million) compared to the tender offer of $50 million; the low interest rate in the ADB loan means there is about a 50% grant element with ADB procurement. Hence the cost to Bangladesh is about $70-25=$45 million! To obtain the other two compressors a new loan with the ADB is under preparation. The result of this maneuvering is that two years have been lost and the compressor cost is higher than necessary. The country had sufficient money to finance the rest of the offer. With pushing by Petrobangla the winning contractor may have been able to finish in two years [one year of which has now past]; instead the bidding for the remaining two compressors is far from completion, much less the procurement and installation. Petrobangla made a deeply serious mistake that will result in delivery of gas to the Dhaka area to be three years later than it needed to be. Accusations of corruption fly around, but you can be sure that there is no such corruption involving Chevron. For Chevron, Bangladesh is a tiny little pond, and their executives are not about to get mixed up in an illegal action that gains them virtually nothing at the risk of going to prison. No, this is just official bungling. Further one is likely to find that the compressors cost more under the new bids than in the bids received at the beginning of 2009. Everyone has excuses and explanations but in the end it is taking 10 years to complete a 3-year project and in the process the costs will be 3-5 times higher. Good work Petrobangla. But the most serious consequence is the delay of the increase in the capacity of the gas pipelines so even with gas available one cannot deliver it to the demand centres.
Gas from existing fields
Further, the reserves of Petrobangla's own gas fields have not been managed correctly [if you do not believe me ask the experts at BUET] so that the potential of additional gas extraction from the field has been diminished. Frantic action is taking place to increase the gas production; we all hope that additional wells will enable the fields to raise their production level. But this is a minimum of two years away and success is not guaranteed. This talk of gas from existing fields has been going on for several years and there are minimal results to date.
Government at its worst
The entire performance of the Government over the past eight years is incomprehensible. Although I am very skeptical of conspiracy theories this performance has the smell of a deliberate effort to sabotage the energy economy. But why would the people in power do such a thing to themselves? I have no explanation for this bizarre behaviour. It appears that there is not going to be any substantial increased flow of gas into the Dhaka or Chittagong area for two years and probably three. This will cause a lot of grief to industrial establishments; ruin the ceramics industry, lead to growing power outages, reduce the availability of CNG, and insure continuing poor supply to households. There are going to be a lot of unhappy people. The timing is such that whoever won the election in 2007 [if there had been one] would now be faced with a terrible energy problem with an election in two years. For better or worse the Caretaker Government was too timid to deal aggressively with the problem. The idea that a two-year Caretaker Government should not take any actions after 5 years of neglect, is completely lacking in logic. Now the nation pays the price.
To add to the confusion is a continuing misunderstanding of the role of gas exports. Serious students of the sector understand that unless there is the prospect of exports the international oil companies have limited interest in exploring! This has been explained over and over and the proof is in the pudding; in the absence of the prospect of export markets no one was willing to spend a lot of money on exploration as there was little prospect that the domestic demands would grow rapidly enough to use the gas discovered. This concept is apparently very difficult to understand. Otherwise highly intelligent professors cannot grasp that the potential for export is different from exports and that the IOCs will not take the risk of making large discoveries that they are then not allowed to develop. The press reports that some members of the Government group intend to introduce legislation that will forbid exporting gas or coal! This is the way to keep the country poor and leads to the end of Bangladesh's dreams of prosperity. Without international expertise and funding the new fields of gas (or coal) will not be found and developed. There is no doubt BAPEX can be a first class exploration unit but these skills emerge from experience, training, and the availability of resources. None of these apply to the Government's exploration capacity at present. The leftists seem to believe that BAPEX is ready to go and discover lots of gas. This is a wrong assumption. There are many ways to develop the experience and skills needed for excellent gas exploration programmes and a systematic attempt should be undertaken to do so. The leftists want something they cannot have-they can leave the exploration for gas to BAPEX and have limited gas available; or they can encourage the IOCs to explore but that will require the possibility of export in the event the Bangladesh does not want the gas. If exports are banned the IOCs will not be very interested. The emotional screaming about stealing Bangladesh's resources is meaningless. These attitudes are impoverishing the people. The industrial sector is ready to expand rapidly but there is no energy! Why not? Because the rule of "no exports" discouraged really aggressive exploration. Further Bangladesh ends up with Chevron essentially controlling the IOC part of the gas. In the absence of motivation for exploration by IOCs caused by the export ban, Chevron has risen up to be a tremendously powerful influence in the energy sector. This is a direct result of the policies pursued by the "no export" gang. Do they work for Chevron? Judged on the outcome they must! Instead of several IOCs at work there is one producing most of the gas, a catastrophic failure of public policy. Competition is what insures efficiency. All of the uproar over exports has ended up with Bangladesh the loser and hopes for rapid development deferred. Surely socialism and communism stand as discredited ways to organize an economy! Can anyone still be promoting ideas that have been seen from experience to fail! Yet some of the professors continue to argue for the folly of "no foreign investment", "no exports", and of course the unspoken conclusion, "no energy".
The present situation can be summarized as follows: For every 1000 MWs of gas fired power one needs to set aside 1.7 TCF of gas. This is roughly the gas required to operate at typical power generation levels for 25 years. To establish 1500 MWs of power fired by gas will take 2.5 TCF. The present use rate is about 0.7 TCF per year. In ten years this will require 7 TCF; the gas demands do not go away and if we allow some increase in captive power and CNG we might expect that 9 TCF are needed over the next ten years without allowance for new power plants. Adding 2.5 TCF required for 1500 MWs to this 9 TCF means that we have altogether requirements for 11.5 TCF. That is about all the current reserves. One cannot go much higher. If one adds 1500MWs of electricity generating capacity and provides the same amount of gas that the economy is presently receiving for existing power plants, fertilizer plants, industrial establishments, captive power, households and CNG users' one can keep going for ten years and then there is only gas left to keep the newer power stations going! Given the time that finding and developing gas resources takes the situation is extremely serious. Relying on a combination of gas and heavy fuel oil one can expect to have 2500 MWs additional generation after 4 years most of which comes in the 4th year. But the price is going to be high. That more or less, is it with the gas that is in hand. Fresh exploration may accomplish a lot or a little. Whatever it takes, one is looking at a minimum of seven years to have new supplies of gas available from new field discoveries.
To be continued
(The writer is an economist)
TRIBUTE TO JUSTICE SYED MAHBUB MURSHED
PROF MD AFSARUDDIN
My first meeting with Mr Justice Syed Mahbub Murshed took place in the very early 1960's. I was, at that time, in the absence of the late Professor A K Najmul Karim, the head of the department of Sociology at Dhaka University. Justice Murshed was then residing in the impressive red house opposite the British Council.
I have had the privilege to know several distinguished men in my lifetime. Few men, however, have made such an indelible impression upon me, as had Mr Justice Murshed during our twenty year acquaintance. I look upon him as one of my most highly revered mentors and as one who will never cease to be a source of inspiration to me - as a champion of justice, righteousness and all that is dear to me.
Justice Murshed was born during the second decade of the present century and a fair assessment of his merits has to be made in the light of the times he was born in. During that particular era in our history the Muslim community in Bengal lagged behind the Hindu community in various aspects. In particular the dearth of Muslims established in diverse intellectual fields was acute. Justice Murshed was born at that time into a distinguished Muslim family of Murshedabad on 11 January 1911. His father the late Syed Abdus Salik was a member of the Bengal Civil Service and his mother the late Afzalunnessa Khatun was a sister of Sher-e-Bangla A K Fazlul Huq. His other illustrious ancestors include Khalid-bin-Walid, the great commander of the early armies of Islam.
In the academic field he won his first accolade in 1926 when he matriculated first among all candidates in the Rajshahi division under the Calcutta University. He graduated with honours in Economics in 1930 from the Calcutta University. Subsequently he obtained two M.A.s - in Economics and in Persian. While reading for the bar in England during the 1930's, he obtained the first position in the part-I examination. He was and still is among the very few sub-continental Muslims who passed the bar final examination with honours.
In the legal field he was outstanding both as a barrister and later as a judge. He was never constrained by the letter of the law. His interpretation of the law was always for the greater good of society at large. He felt that the law was created to serve man and not conversely. In other words the purpose of law, to him, was to ensure a just society and secure the rights of man. In that respect he displayed the classical influence of Plato. On the bench, his pronouncements evinced in very great measure the most desirable traits in a judge-courage, integrity and a fierce independence. His firm belief in the primacy of liberty and democratic values, more so than most men led to peerless judgements - which rank as his highest achievements. For those of us who remember and are imbued with a sense of history his fearless espousal of the rights of the people of Bangladesh - especially during the Ayub regime will forever remain deeply embedded in our minds.
He was never the quintessential politician although he was associated with every major political movement in his time. Among these were the language movement of 1952 and the 21-point programme of 1954 associated with the United Front. His speeches during the round table conference convened by Ayub Khan in 1959 stirred the hearts and minds of the people of Pakistan. His contributions towards the 11-points programme of that year was considerable. During the 1971 liberation war his outright refusal to speak out in favour of the Pakistanis was an act of tremendous courage. Above all, he was always relentless in resisting evil, resisting the temptations of office with great fortitude and never allowing himself to be swayed by pressure from right. Even in the midst of an active life he always found time to support worthy social causes. His intimate association with the Anjuman-e-Mufidul Islam during the great Bengal famine of 1943 is one such example. A deeply religions man, who had helped to establish and later inaugurated the Alia Madrasah in Dhaka - he was at the same time above all communal prejudice. In that respect his efforts to promote communal harmony especially during riots leading to the famous Liaquat-Nehru Pact of 1950 were extremely important. Apart from being a very cultured man, his activities as a patron of the arts was considerable.
In short, he was a man of parts. Any attempt to enumerate his accomplishments will fall short of doing justice to him. Such an undertaking would be a Herculean task. I, for one aim not equal to such a task nor is there enough space to do so here. He can be best described as: "Justice Murshed is the autobiography of his own age." As such he has transcended his own times and his memory continues to be the object of our deepest respect. It is our earnest wish that his achievements find a permanent place not only in the intellectual and legal institutions of our country but in the entire nation. That will serve as a source of inspiration and unity to us all and lend a sense of direction to our society.
LOSING THE SEARCH FOR JUSTICE
OUR POLICE FORCE NEEDS TO BRING IN 'CAPTAIN DRAGAN'
THE legal system has made clear that justice must be pursued against the former Serbian paramilitary commander Dragan Vasiljkovic. There's just one catch: the Australian Federal Police have to find him.
"Captain Dragan", as he was known in the Balkans in the early 1990s, was nowhere to be seen on Tuesday when the High Court ruled that he could be extradited for questioning on alleged war crimes. No surprises there. Mr Vasiljkovic has spent years fighting his forced return to Croatia, and in the absence of an order from the court, there was no requirement for him to appear in Canberra for the judgment.
Even so, Australians have a right to feel outraged that the AFP has not yet been able to apprehend him so that Home Affairs Minister Brendan O'Connor can decide if he should be extradited. The High Court took just 15 minutes to overturn the decision by the full bench of the Federal Court, which had given Mr Vasiljkovic his freedom last September. The speed of the High Court ruling may suggest the judges had clear feelings about the case and the need for action. In recent days, Mr Vasiljkovic, whose exploits during the Balkans conflict appear to have turned him into a hero among some in the Serbian community in Australia, has avoided arrest. If he makes it to Serbia, it appears he will be safe from extradition to Croatia - an outcome that would be to the lasting shame of Australia, which has a poor record in dealing with people suspected of war crimes from World War II, as well as more recent conflicts.
Some Serb-Australians have supported Mr Vasiljkovic in his efforts to oppose the legal process of their adopted homeland. It is true the Balkans conflict was complex, with fault on all sides. But the allegations that "Captain Dragan" committed war crimes while fighting Croatians in Knin and Bruska in 1991 and 1993 cannot be easily dismissed as part of the normal fallout of a war. At the least, he should be interrogated by the Croatian authorities to determine whether charges should be laid against him.
This newspaper has had a deep interest in this case since first reporting on it in 2005. Last year, when we successfully defended a defamation action brought by Mr Vasiljkovic, our case involved running a de facto war crimes tribunal. Now that the High Court has paved the way for Croatia to continue its pursuit of "Captain Dragan", the AFP must apprehend him.
SCIENCE NEEDS A HIGHER TEST
PROBLEMS WITH DNA HIGHLIGHT THE ROLE OF THE SCEPTIC
MODERN society loves an expert, especially a scientific expert. Yet, as we report today, such veneration can have dire consequences. The unease in the legal community about the lack of rigour in some DNA analysis used to convict defendants, demonstrates the problems of courts and juries relying too heavily on forensic evidence. Far from being the definitive technique for delivering justice, lawyers are now anxious that DNA be treated with the same caution applied to all evidence. As legal affairs editor Chris Merritt reports, other areas of forensic science, such as identifying people from the weight-bearing patterns left by their feet, are also causing concern. This should not mean an end to forensics - technology and science have revolutionised the evidence that can be marshalled to help convict people who would once have escaped with impunity. It should mean healthy scepticism, not just in the courts, but towards expert opinion of all varieties. In recent months, as the climate change debate has waxed and waned, untrained people have become more confident about questioning the work of scientists. It is increasingly clear that some experts overegged the cake in their efforts to convince the world to take action. We should not be afraid to question. Scepticism will not destroy science, only make it stronger.
REDEMPTION IS INDEED THE REAL MESSAGE OF EASTER
REBIRTH BRINGS HOPE DURING A TIME OF TURMOIL
THIS year, the eternal Easter message should carry special meaning for the leaders of our churches. As congregations gather to contemplate the profound meaning of the crucifixion - Christ's vicarious atonement for our sins - the promise of renewal offers a way forward for those charged with shepherding the churches through turbulent times.
At tonight's Vigil ceremonies and on Easter Sunday, in evangelical halls, in suburban and country parishes, in Catholic and Anglican cathedrals, and in the unadorned naves of Uniting Churches, the talk and prayer will be of redemption and hope, that men and women can change, grow and transcend the mortal and the material. The existence of sin and the belief that, through the acceptance of Christ and his teaching, it can be forgiven, lie at the heart of the message. For Christians, Easter Sunday is a time when human frailty is vanquished by the incomprehensible mystery of Christ's death and resurrection. Or as one Sydney church proclaims in neon lights: 1 cross x 3 nails = 4-giveness. Inelegant, but succinct.
For many Australians - happy and hopeful in a world of work and leisure; family and friends; effort and success - religion does not even touch the sides. It is an irrelevance to their secular lives, a negative brake on good luck and optimism. Yet even those who do not ascribe to any religious teaching, or who follow another path of faith, are products of a culture built on the Christian story of sin and renewal. The religion's rich teachings are embedded in our systems of justice, our art and literature, and our common values. As William Blake put it so eloquently: "The Old and New testaments are the great code of art".
Yet modern society's indifference is not the greatest threat to organised religion. The churches face anger and derision from atheists and those dismayed by the actions of some who speak in the name of God. Some, like writer Richard Dawkins, whose antipathy to all who believe in the existence of a God is palpable, actively seek to dissuade believers through rational argument - or ridicule.
For others, there is no respect or trust left for the churches. Too many abuses and too many cover-ups have marred the credibility of the Catholic Church in particular, making it too easy for critics to ignore the churches' capacity here and around the world, for service, tolerance, forgiveness and generosity.
This Easter, the leaders of the Christian churches have hit back with the Anglican Archbishop of Sydney, Peter Jensen, branding atheism "a form of idolatry in which we worship ourselves". And as Australia's Cardinal George Pell points out in his Easter message, there are no community services sponsored by atheists. From one end of Australia to the other, however, faith in Christ underpins many different Christian schools, hospitals, homes for the elderly, universities, foreign aid agencies and such welfare organisations as Anglicare, Uniting Care, CatholicCare and the St Vincent de Paul society for those in distress.
It is understandable that some people have lost faith in organised religion through recent revelations of sexual abuse in churches. Some people wait, unsure that church leaders understand the depth of betrayal and the task they face rebuilding the trust of their congregations. Pope Benedict XVI himself is facing a virulent campaign that goes way beyond the known facts of the scandals in the Irish, German and American arms of Catholicism. In Australia, hardheads such as Parramatta Catholic bishop Anthony Fisher are honest enough to admit that the violence, abuse and hypocrisy of a few in the church has "driven some people away from God as well as causing immense hurt and harm to the victims and their families".
Repairing the real damage will be difficult and painstaking and a greater challenge than the vitriol of the professional atheists, whose assaults, in the end, highlight the extent to which belief in God does not rely on scientific proof so much as on hope in the future and acknowledgment of both the fragility and the goodness of human nature. It is for this reason that the Easter celebration of rebirth continues to resonate in a cyber world. We wish readers a happy, safe Easter break.
THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD
A CASE FOR STRONGER PLANNING POWERS - BUT NOT YET
WHEN governments talk about temporary measures it is as well to be suspicious. What are they really up to? Income taxes were temporary when William Pitt introduced them in Britain to pay for the Napoleonic Wars. Once someone thinks up a measure to solve a particular problem, though, it tends to become permanent. So it was with income tax; so it may well be with the NSW government's planning approval powers. A review is to consider an extension of powers introduced as a temporary measure during the financial crisis to ensure quick approval for projects funded under the federal government's economic stimulus programs. Those planning powers would be extended permanently to cover private developments, such as shopping centres and blocks of flats, not just the school buildings and other community infrastructure Canberra funded as relief measures.
The opposition suspects the review is a smokescreen, that a positive recommendation is a certainty and so, too, is an extension to Macquarie Street's planning powers. But is extending them necessarily wrong? There is obviously a balance to be struck here. It is not quite the balance between individual rights and those of the community, but rather between the rights of local communities and those of the state, or a region such as Sydney, as a whole. Current population projections mean Sydney will somehow have to find room for an extra 1.7 million people by 2035. The old way of doing that - pushing the metropolitan boundary further out, and subdividing productive farmland into new suburbs - is close to its limits. Not just the natural limits of mountains and national parks, but also the logistical limits imposed by transport infrastructure, and economic limits imposed by factors such as the price of fuel. Those constraints dictate a changed pattern of settlement from the one Sydney residents would regard as typical: the block of land with a freestanding house.
Thursday's report on the size of houses in Sydney shows one reason why: left to themselves home owners observe no restraint. Newly built Sydney houses of that traditional kind are now probably the biggest in the world at an average 269.5 square metres. That is nearly 100 square metres bigger than 25 years ago; it is bigger than new houses in the US, and vastly bigger than those in Europe. They are, frankly, excessive - environmentally disastrous - though they probably represent a dying trend.
From now on, the metropolis will have to grow by housing more people in the same space. Changes to the population of Sydney as shown by figures published on Tuesday suggest that the process is already happening, with the fastest population growth occurring in Canada Bay, in the inner west. That is a necessary change. Clearly the state government must play a role in setting targets for population densities, and in co-ordinating how and where development will occur. Fitting more people in will change the character of local districts. If more control over planning was handed back to local councils, as the Opposition advocates, it is a reasonable bet that few would approve the changes necessary to fit in the necessary numbers. But local communities must feel that they have been consulted and their views taken into account. The experience of Ku-ring-gai shows how difficult this process is. Changes in recent decades to planning rules there have have resulted in blocks of flats replacing single homes in many streets. The transformation has at times been brutal, and aroused deep hostility among local residents who feel the character of their community has been damaged.
Ku-ring-gai's plight was made worse because under a Labor government, the Liberal-voting district has no friends at court. Governments routinely promise, once elected, to govern for all voters, even those who preferred their opponents - but this Government has shown few scruples in favouring its own supporters over the Coalition's. It is a disastrous approach to planning questions, because it immediately politicises in a gross way an already difficult process.
Labor has also lost credibility as an impartial arbiter of planning decisions because of its closeness to developer interests. Many voters who might otherwise concede a logical basis for the argument that Macquarie Street should have a central planning role would recoil in horror at what it might mean in practice just now. Local councils may have their problems in dealing with pressures from developers, but how would a state Labor takeover fix that? Labor has only itself to blame if most people conclude: in theory, yes, extend the power. But not under this government.
THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD
JOY AS BOFFINS FIND TOAD SEX QUAKE LINK
WONDERFUL news from Italy. Toads there have been found to predict earthquakes. They do this, researchers say, by abstaining from sex or spawning or whatever it is that toads do, for five days before a quake. So when next you see a toad, observe it closely.
If it is abstaining from sex, gather your family and important possessions (tax records, heirlooms and so on) on clear ground away from buildings and camp there for five days or until the toad resumes carnal relations, whichever is the earlier.
This ground-breaking research suggests hitherto unsuspected value in Australia's growing cane toad population. Australians travelling to earthquake zones - California, say, or Japan, or New Zealand - should take a pair of toads in a small cage, to be carried at all times, as a precaution. Any sudden bouts of toad chastity will signal an important early warning of doom. And tell the locals while you're there.
This could be the way Australia turns its rich toad resources into yet another booming export industry.
THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD
BUYING INFLUENCE IS STILL AN AWKWARD BUSINESS
THE famous description of politics as ''the gentle art of getting votes from the poor and campaign funds from the rich by promising to protect each from the other'' might be as divisive as it is simplistic, but it does carry an uncomfortable element of truth - at least as far as financial support of political parties is concerned. The perennial issue of the delicate balance between making political donations while avoiding allegations of corruption and the buying of influence is one that has been around since the age of the toga.
These days, corporate political donations are big business, and generally accepted as part of modern democratic life. As The Age reported recently, Progressive Business, the ALP's fund-raising arm, raised $1,612,974 last year from a series of special social events designed for ''real interaction'' between guests and relevant state government ministers. In 2000, Progressive Business raised just $126,049.
On Thursday, The Age revealed that Victorian Labor has scrapped or revamped some forthcoming Progressive Business events; its annual business forum has been cancelled, and the format of its annual dinner, scheduled for October, has been changed to avoid the obvious placement of more generous donors near Premier John Brumby (at last year's dinner, a $10,000 gold sponsorship of a table earned coal industry executive Alan Blood a seat next to Mr Brumby). While it would be encouraging to suggest the state government is responding to a crisis of conscience, it is closer to the mark to assume this sudden sense of honour has more to do with the state and federal elections and being seen to rein in the more questionable funding events. Progressive Business might be correct in insisting its functions are conducted with ''high standards and strict probity arrangements'' - the same standards observed by some corporate donors who provide bipartisan support in the interests of even-handedness - but the government must be aware of the potential ethical dangers of exposing the impartiality of its ministers in such a fashion.
Meanwhile, also with an eye on the election, the federal government has been more dramatic in effecting at least one U-turn in a matter directly concerning its public image: the supervision of its taxpayer-funded advertising campaigns. In May 2007, then opposition leader Kevin Rudd, expressing disgust with the Howard government's inflated advertising expenditure, promised that any campaign costing more than $250,000 would be vetted by the auditor-general. ''[This] abuse of taxpayer funds undermines basic principles of democracy,'' he said. On Thursday, the Rudd government announced that big-budget campaigns will now be monitored by a committee of former public servants, but not including Auditor-General Ian McPhee. The government says it dumped Mr McPhee on the recommendation of a review into the matter by former public servant Allan Hawke, who was concerned the Auditor-General's independence would be compromised if he sat on the panel. Mr McPhee's frosty bureaucratic response, in a letter to Special Minister of State Joe Ludwig, could not put it more succinctly: ''I am concerned that we will not see the same level of rigour and discipline applied to this sensitive area of government administration under the revised arrangements.''
What is certain - more so than any perceived threat to Mr McPhee's independence - is that the government has been seen to go against its word. In sidelining the Auditor-General, the very person who exemplifies independence and transparency, the government is in effect illustrating Mr Rudd's original fears about undermining democracy. In Victoria, Mr Brumby has still to introduce legislation he promised 15 years ago when he was opposition leader to create an independent watchdog to control publicly funded government advertising.
The crucial point is that openness is not merely desirable but essential. This applies as much to how governments spend taxpayers' money on self-promotion as to how much they earn from individuals or institutions who stand to benefit from their indulgence.
This newspaper has long argued that while political fund-raising bodies such as Progressive Business are necessary to help swell the party coffers, they should never be seen as a convenient way to do business. In any healthy democracy, political influence must never be bought, but judged impartially and fairly.
Source: The Age