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Friday, April 16, 2010

EDITORIAL 10.04.10

Please contact the list owner of subscription and unsubscription at: editorial@samarth.co.in

 

media watch with peoples input                an organization of rastriya abhyudaya

 

Editorial

month april 10, edition 000478, 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

 

THE PIONEER

  1. DINAKARAN'S TRANSFER
  2. THAILAND IN TURMOIL
  3. COPING WITH MAOISTS - HIRANMAY KARLEKAR
  4. MEDITATE TO RISE ABOVE CURRENTS - SWAMI VENKATESANANDA
  5. CRISIS IN INDIAN MEDIA - SHYAM KHOSLA
  6. INDIAN JOURNALISM, RIP - SWATI DAS
  7. HINDI MEDIA HAS LOST ITS MORAL STANDING - RAJNATH SINGH 'SURYA'

TIMES OF INDIA

  1. I POD, YOU GRATIFIED?
  2. PURSUING EXCELLENCE AND EQUITY -
  3. LET THE MARKET DECIDE
  4. SHAME ON THE SPONSORS -
  5. SUBLIMATE SERVICE TO SEVA
  6. LAMP LIT IN AN AREA OF DARKNESS -

THE INDIAN EXPRESS

  1. TO THE EASTERN FRONT
  2. THE DEBT-SIDE TRAP
  3. AWAY FROM THE GLARE
  4. THE BUCK STARTS HERE - SHEKHAR GUPTA
  5. WHICH SIDE ARE YOU ON? - SAUBHIK CHAKRABARTI
  6. TAKING CLASS OUT OF CLASSROOMS - MADHAVI KAPUR
  7. WHERE THE CAMERA CAN'T GO - JAYA JAITLY
  8. A GREEK TRAGEDY
  9. NIKAH, TALAQ, NIKAH - RUCHIKA TALWAR

 THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS

  1. TREAT PSUS LIKE PRIVATE COS
  2. CREDIT ON TARGET
  3. HOW BEST TO TACKLE THE MAOISTS - ASHOK MALIK
  4. SHOULD DRUGS BE ALLOWED EVERGREENING? - MG ARUN
  5. WIND IN THE SAIL - RISHI RAJ

THE HINDU

  1. A DECISIVE MANDATE IN SRI LANKA
  2. A NEW HUMAN SPECIES
  3. MORE THAN A FEW GLIMMERS OF HOPE - SIDDHARTH VARADARAJAN
  4. THE WEST'S DUBIOUS EXPORT OF DEMOCRACY - SIMON JENKINS
  5. DON'T RUBBISH SUDAN ELECTIONS - SIMON TISDALL
  6. WORLD BANK'S NOD FOR CONTROVERSIAL COAL PLANT LOAN - SUZANNE GOLDENBERG
  7. CLIMATE TALKS REOPEN - JOHN VIDAL

DNA

  1. PREJUDICE UNLIMITED
  2. JUGAAD ENTERS MANAGEMENT JARGON - UTTARA CHOUDHURY
  3. THAILAND'S IRRESISTIBLE CHARM - NIRAJ KEDIA

THE TRIBUNE

  1. A SETBACK TO ZARDARI
  2. FOOD ON THE BOIL
  3. A FRESH START
  4. RIVERS OF FILTH - BY JAYSHREE SENGUPTA
  5. HOUNDED BY PERSISTENCE - BY GITANJALI SHARMA
  6. CUSTODIANS OF RIGHTS - BY VINOD PRAKASH GUPTA
  7. NO WAY TO RETIRE, THIS! - BY BALVINDER
  8. INSIDE PAKISTAN - BY SYED NOORUZZAMAN

BUSINESS STANDARD

  1. THE MAMMARIES, REVISITED - T N NINAN
  2. WORKING AT BEING COOL - KISHORE SINGH
  3. THE YOUNG MAN AND THE SEA - GEETANJALI KRISHNA
  4. RUPEE RISES DESPITE HIGHER DEFICITS! - SHANKAR ACHARYA
  5. THE BUCK GOES ON - SUNANDA K DATTA-RAY
  6. TO ANDHRA PRADESH WITH LOVE - V V
  7. WALK THE TALK ON CITIES - SUBIR ROY
  8. NATIVES OF THE DIGITAL WORLD - DEVANGSHU DATTA
  9. PSEUDO POLITICIANS - SURJIT BHALLA

THE ECONOMIC TIMES

  1. GETTING POLITICAL ON PRICES
  2. MAKE LAWS SIMPLE TO SEND TAX EVADERS TO JAIL
  3. BRITAIN FACES CHARACTER CRUNCH
  4. TAKING STOCK OF CLIMATE NEGOTIATIONS - SURYA P SETHI
  5. LET YOUR DREAMS RISE AND FLY - VITHAL C NADKARNI
  6. COMING SOON, UID-BACKED MICRO ATMS FOR THE POOR: NANDAN NILEKANI
  7. 'GOVT SURELY HAS A ROLE IN FINANCIAL STABILITY' - DEEPSHIKHA SIKARWAR & VINAY PANDEY
  8. BRANDS HERE SEEM CLOSER TO CONSUMERS: DIRECTOR, NAKED COMMUNICATIONS - RAVI BALAKRISHNAN
  9. 'YUAN REVALUATION TO IMPACT INDIA, OTHERS'
  10. INDIA IS A TOP PRIORITY MARKET AT THE BOARD LEVEL: GOOGLE INDIA MD - DELSHAD IRANI
  11. AGENCIES NEED TO WORK LIKE NEWSROOMS: PRESIDENT, JWT INTERNATIONAL - RAJIV BANERJEE
  12. LOCAL BRANDS IN CHINA SAVING GRACE' - RAVI BALAKRISHNAN

DECCAN CHRONICAL

  1. TIME TO FIX NAXAL PROBLEM, NOT QUIT
  2. POLITICIANS TRUE LIES
  3. PORTUGUESE PAO - BY FARRUKH DHONDY
  4. A THREE-WAY GAME WITH NO WINNER - BY BY S. NIHAL SINGH
  5. WHAT IT TAKES TO BE A TIGER - BY ROGER COHEN

 THE TELEGRAPH

  1. DIFFERENT TUNES
  2. THE PARTY OF PRIVILEGE - RAMACHANDRA GUHA

DECCAN HERALD

  1. TEPID RESPONSE
  2. RECEDING HOPE
  3. A MODEL GLOBAL METRO?
  4. RAMAKRISHNA UPADHYA
  5. FINAL VERDICT ON BABRI - BY KHUSHWANT SINGH
  6. THE MASTER MISFIT - BY D A SAIT

THE NEW YORK TIMES

  1. JUSTICE STEVENS
  2. NAME THAT REVOLUTION
  3. A PLACE TO LIVE
  4. THE CURSE OF THE WOW FACTOR - BY GAIL COLLINS
  5. O'CONNOR ON THE COURT - BY CHARLES M. BLOW
  6. A VOICE OF REASON - BY BOB HERBERT
  7. RUNNING IN CIRCLES IN KYRGYZSTAN - BY ERIC MCGLINCHEY

I.THE NEWS

  1. GROUND REALITIES
  2. THE DUST SETTLES
  3. PU VIOLENCE
  4. DEMOCRACY STRENGTHENED? - BY ARIF NIZAMI
  5. ZARDARI AT THE CROSSROADS - BY SALEEM SAFI
  6. THE VIRTUES OF PATIENCE - BY BASIL NABI MALIK
  7. PIPELINE OR PIPEDREAM? - BY ZAFAR HILALY
  8. HISTORIC INDEED - BY BABAR SATTAR
  9. CATNAPPING - BY ANJUM NIAZ 

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THE PIONEER

EDITORIAL

DINAKARAN'S TRANSFER

IS SIKKIM A SECOND-CLASS STATE?


Is Justice PD Dinakaran, till yesterday the Chief Justice of the Karnataka High Court, guilty of corruption charges or is he not? Is the inquiry pending against him justified or is it not? Is the impeachment motion moved in the Rajya Sabha appropriate or is it not? Was the Supreme Court Collegium message to him to proceed on leave while he was being investigated correct or was it not? The answers to these questions can only be clear-cut. Yet, Justice Dinakaran has refused to do the decent thing and go on leave, yielding space to an Acting Chief Justice. Rather, his supporters have lobbied with the political class and the legal fraternity and shamelessly used caste and religious arguments. On Friday, the Supreme Court Collegium offered a preposterous solution to the mess by transferring Justice Dinakaran as Chief Justice of the Sikkim High Court. This would appear bizarre. If a judge merits a corruption inquiry, if he is not found fit for elevation to the Supreme Court, if he cannot function as Chief Justice in one High Court, how can he suddenly be found suitable to head another High Court? Is Sikkim any less of a State than Karnataka? Do the people of Sikkim have different standards of justice, legality and, indeed, morality, from the people of Karnataka? Can the office of Chief Justice of a High Court — one of the most important offices in the Indian justice system — be reduced to a punishment posting? Justice Dinakaran's transfer to Sikkim has already caused disquiet in Gangtok, with the local bar association promising to boycott his oath-taking ceremony. The Supreme Court Collegium has ended up playing with State sentiment and could just have created a first-class regional crisis for India. All this has been done to protect one man. It must rank as one of the most embarrassing moments in the history of the Indian judiciary.


In seeking to make life easy for a brother judge and not insist that he stand down, the Supreme Court Collegium doesn't realise the damage it has done to itself and to the institution of the judiciary. It has opened itself up to criticism and has only strengthened the charge that the judiciary cannot self-rectify and that its system of self-selection of judges — meant, initially, to insulate the judiciary from interference by the executive and from political favouritism — has become too cosy and opaque for public comfort. There is bound to be a counter-reaction and wider opinion this time will favour greater executive or at least parliamentary oversight on the appointment, transfer, removal and general conduct of the judiciary, particularly when related to corruption issues. With its clumsy handling of the Dinakaran issue, it would be fair to suggest that the Supreme Court Collegium has invited this upon itself.


Only the other day, Union Law Minister Veerappa Moily made the brave claim that he didn't think "Justice Dinarakan is above the law, or he is beyond the reach of the law". He has to stand his ground and send a categorical message to the Supreme Court Collegium that this is not on and that Justice Dinakaran's imposition on the High Court and people of Sikkim is just not acceptable to the Government of India. At the very least, it violates the principles of federalism and equality of all States of the country. As for Justice Dinakaran, one can only pray that he sees the light.

 

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THE PIONEER

EDITORIAL

THAILAND IN TURMOIL

RED SHIRTS RUN AMOK, CRISIS DEEPENS


To say that Thai politics has reached boiling point would be an understatement. On Wednesday, the anti-Government Red Shirt protesters stormed the compound of the Thai Parliament, forcing authorities to airlift several lawmakers to safety. Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, in the wake of Wednesday's events, has declared a state of emergency in Bangkok and surrounding areas in a bid to disperse the protesters. This gives the Thai police and military an almost free hand to sort things out their way — something that could get ugly. A Thai court has also issued arrest warrants for seven Red Shirt leaders. As part of the crackdown, several websites critical of the Government as well as a television channel loyal to the Red Shirts have been shut down. But the protesters, despite the seemingly strong measures being taken by the Government, are determined to continue pressing for their demand of dissolution of Parliament and announcement of fresh elections. This is evident from the fact that thousands of Red Shirt protesters are still holding their ground in downtown Bangkok against Thai security forces. In fact, on Friday, hundreds of them converged on a satellite station on the outskirts of Bangkok, and forced their way in after a brief skirmish with security personnel.


It will not be inaccurate to say that the present crisis in Thailand is a manifestation of the simmering tensions between the haves and the have-nots in Thai society. Class identity in Thailand is an inescapable reality. The rich have always looked down on the rural poor with arrogance and disdain. And traditionally, it is the wealthy, urban middle and upper classes that have called the shots in Thai politics. But all that gradually began to change as some of the economic progress that Thailand experienced started trickling down to those at the lower strata of Thai society. As a result, there has come into being a more vocal and politically conscious rural class that is willing to fight for its rights. It is this change that brought former Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra to power in 2001. But the Thai elite hit back and through a series of protests and political pressure put up charges of corruption against Mr Shinawatra, got his party dissolved and brought to power a favourable Government. As the pro-Thaksin Red Shirts continue with their demonstrations, what we are witnessing today is essentially the rural Thai masses trying to win back the political space that they had enjoyed under the Shinawatra regime. But if the Government relies solely on the iron-fist approach to solve the situation, it will only make matters worse. For peace and stability to prevail, both sides need to come to the negotiating table and repair the fault-lines that plague Thai society.

 

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THE PIONEER

EDITORIAL

COPING WITH MAOISTS

HIRANMAY KARLEKAR


In their article, "This is War" in The Pioneer of April 7, 2010, Ajai Sahni and Ajit Kumar Singh have rightly regretted the absence of a societal consensus and a coherent strategy in dealing with Maoists.

The subject of societal consensus takes one to a point which Mr KPS Gill has been making for a long time: One cannot weed out extremism without good governance. Anyone with a conscience and familiar with conditions in the States and areas where the Maoist presence is significant, would know that governance in these has not only been inefficient but malign, scandalously corrupt, repressive and expropriatory in respect of tribals and the poor. Ever since independence, these areas, spread over parts of West Bengal and huge tracts of Odisha, Jharkhand, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Andhra Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra, have seen little development.

Besides, the fruits of whatever development that has occurred have been reaped by non-tribal outsiders. The tribals have often lacked the entrepreneurial training and background to succeed in business and industry. They have also lacked the skills necessary for the jobs which have been created and which, therefore, have gone to outsiders. Very little attention has been paid to evolving a pattern of development attuned to meeting the specific needs of tribals and preparing them to cope with the challenges of a predatory, industrial society increasingly casting its dark shadow on their world.


The genesis of the movements leading to the formation of the States of Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand lay in this. Unfortunately, things have not changed much even after the formation of the new States and the acceleration of the development process that followed. Incompetent and corrupt political leadership, corrupt and exploitative bureaucracies and police forces, sharks desperate to plunder the resources of the new States, and the various local elites determined to make the most out of the opportunities created by development, have left the hindmost to the devil.


Evicted from their lands and homes to make space for new industries or mines, granted little or no compensation at all thanks to babus diverting the money meant for tribals to their own pockets, deprived of their traditional means of livelihood thanks to widespread deforestation, reduced to destitution and homelessness, many tribals become eager recruits of the Maoists.


Many thought that the Naxalite movement, whose alumni the Maoists are, was finished following the death of Charu Majumdar in police custody and the encounter deaths and arrests of a number of its senior leaders in West Bengal in the early-1970s. One also thought that the tough measures taken by the Vengal Rao Government in the middle and late-1970s had wiped out the movement in Andhra Pradesh. If the Maoists have not only confounded such perceptions but attained their present salience in India's life, it is because of exploitation and worse. It is this prolonged record of exploitation and oppression that makes many, otherwise totally opposed to the Maoists and their political goals, hesitate to endorse strong counter-insurrectionary measures. They are particularly hesitant because they feel that these would enable the police, whose conduct toward tribals has been predatory and worse, to run completely wild.


Good governance in the form removing corruption, predatory behaviour by babus and policemen, and ensuring that development does not spell destitution for vast numbers, needs to be an important part of any strategy to defeat Maoists. Once done, it will not only deprive Maoists of ready recruits but also go a long way in producing the societal consensus that has to be a central factor in any successful counter-insurgency operation.

The argument that good governance is impossible as long as Maoists do not allow development work in their areas, makes sense. It can, however, begin in areas where they are not dominant. Success in such effort will not only make it difficult for them to expand their influence in these but, as the word spreads, convince people in even Maoist-dominated areas that it is possible to have development, justice and freedom under a parliamentary system and, along with measures that show that insurgency does not pay, help to undermine their influence in their strongholds. .


The process will be exactly the same as what Mao Tse-Tung prescribed — proceed from the peripheries to the centre. Only, it would be applied against the Maoists! But what if Maoists disrupt the effort to establish good governance through attacks that spread terror? The answer lies in preventing this through the evolution of a coherent strategy. This will require serious thought and a multi-pronged, multi-layered approach. First, one must recognise that one is not dealing with common thugs but highly intelligent, educated and motivated leaders with excellent grasp of the doctrine, strategy and tactics of guerrilla warfare. One needs officers with sound knowledge of Maoist theory and practice, who can match them.


Second, training is crucial. Jungle warfare is not the same as controlling urban riots. The Army has a Counter-Insurgency and Jungle Warfare School at Vairengte, Mizoram, which is among the very best in the world. Paramilitary formations trained in it should alone be sent into the jungles. Simultaneously, State police forces need to develop units specialising in coping with urban guerrilla/terrorist operations. Maoists will strike back in the cities when they are hard-pressed in their strongholds.


Third, improving police forces and the civil administrations is imperative for combating all forms of terrorism. Police and administrative corruption has often helped Islamist terrorists to slip into this country and get false identification papers like driving licences and even passports.


Finally, one needs a comprehensive strategic and tactical approach, based on precise intelligence and integrating operations by small special forces units as well as larger formations. The Americans would have won the war in Vietnam thrice over if air-power was a decisive factor in counter-insurgency. Unmanned Aerial Vehicles will also not be of great use in areas where dense forests hide movements on the ground. Helicopter-borne operations can be useful only if there is precise information, trained troops and adequate post-operation evacuation arrangements. A coherent strategy that takes cognisance of all such aspects and a number of other issues will require informed hard work to conceptualise and substantial resources to implement, both of which have been conspicuous by their absence. It is high time that things changed.

 

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THE PIONEER

EDITORIAL

MEDITATE TO RISE ABOVE CURRENTS

SWAMI VENKATESANANDA

 

The world glorifies a philanthropist but it does not bother about his motives and inner nature. God is the ruler and also the witness of our thoughts, feelings and motives. Swami Sivananda insisted that meditation and service of humanity go hand in hand. One acts as the touchstone of the other. St Paul declared that he who said that he loved god and yet hated his neighbour was a liar. When the self is realised in deep meditation, it reveals itself to us as the self of all. In our daily life this is translated as unselfish service and love.


If such loving service does not ceaselessly flow from us, we are still far from the goal of yoga. There still is a lot of impurity covering our heart, distorting the vision of the self. This impurity is worn out by the deliberate practice of unselfishness and love in our daily life. My master, therefore, demanded that all these should be combined in our practice of yoga and he summed up the ideal of integral yoga in his famous four words: Serve, love, meditate, realise. A gentleman was bathing in a river. A good walking stick came floating along with the current. The gentleman caught hold of it as there was no one else to claim it. While he was heading for the bank, the cloth he had wrapped around his waist began to slip. When he held the cloth, the stick slipped from his hand and was carried away by the current. He cried aloud: "Oh, my walking-stick is floating away." Isn't it strange that holding the walking stick in his hand for a few seconds should bestow its ownership on him?


This is what we do with the goods of this world. They belong to the earth. We should learn to share them with all. We should learn to give, give and give. If one serves in order to gain something, the service is not selfless. Motives are often hidden within the subconscious; it is not easy to detect them. You may give up the desire for material reward, but secretly wish to be admired. You may run away from such admiration, but enjoy a spiritual satisfaction within yourself. There is a mysterious power deep within us which does not allow us to love all and serve all. It generates the two currents of attraction and repulsion; attachment and hatred. Nothing but meditation can enable us to rise above these two currents.

 

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THE PIONEER

EDITORIAL

CRISIS IN INDIAN MEDIA

SHYAM KHOSLA


Everybody is talking it about these days -- bogus news, feel-good news, advertisements passing as news. It's time to scrap the toothless Press Council and replace it with a wider, 'media council' with the powers to punish


Joseph Pultzer had cautioned the media thus: "A cynical, mercenary and demagogic press will produce in time a people as base as itself". We are paying the price for not heeding that warning.


Today, powerful sections of the Indian media are perpetrating great excesses on the people by blatantly engaging in a form of journalism more yellow than the yellowest seen a generation earlier. The sacrifice of hard news at the altar of commercialism and sensationalism is creeping into the mainstream media at an alarming rate. Conscientious journalists are under tremendous pressure to accommodate material that is in fact non-news. Truth is at a discount.


Reports coloured by personal and political prejudices are the order of the day. A large number of mass-circulated newspapers no longer reflect social realities. Television channels, willingly or unwillingly, are contributing to the dumbing down of society. Entertainment as news is killing the instinct to read, imagine and understand. The firewall between serious and trivial journalism has almost disappeared. Giving the public what it wants is a totally misleading slogan. If you feed readers/viewers with opium, they will soon forget what else to expect.


Some publishers and TV channel owners unashamedly claim that they are there to serve the market. They negate the earlier perception that media has a social responsibility and that the market needs to be used to sustain its financial viability. Large sections of the media seem to have forgotten that its mission is to inform, educate and entertain the people and to act as an instrument of social change while performing the duties of a watchdog.

Public disgust over large sections of media indulging in unethical means to mint money during the 2009 parliamentary elections has triggered a national debate. It prompted the Election Commission to take note and the Press Council of India to constitute a committee to go into the complaints lodged with it against numerous newspapers andchannels for demanding and accepting money for publishing advertisements as 'news'.


The Committee has identified only two media house for this crime against democracy simply because most of the transactions were in cash enabling defendants to flatly deny money had changed hands. In a clever move to obfuscate the enormity of the crime, certain media organisations are making noises about their "deep concern" over the developments.


Ironically, some leaders of these organisations are under a cloud for converting elections into a money spinning machines. Their channels were part of the cartel that virtually blackmailed cash-rich parties to fall in line or face total media blackout during elections. Paid news in election-related matters is self-defeating. It won't ensure the victory of anyone as the service is also available to the rival candidates. In any case, media credibility being what it is, voters are not taken in by these manufactured reports.


Political parties that are equally guilty for "buying" editorial space seem to have realised the futility of paid news and are now blaming the media for blackmailing them. The paid news syndrome has countless hues. Long years ago, one of the richest media houses launched a web-based company that would accept advertisements in the form of news from interested parties and companies. Other publications of the group were advised to use these items as "news". The reader would never know that an advertisement was dished out as news. A more sophisticated method to make payment for "favourable" news is insertion of advertisements. Another well known form of you-scratch-my-back-I'll-scratch-yours deals is the exit poll system. The more liberal the dose of advertisement, greater the frequency of the positive projection of the product, i.e. the party or the candidate.


The threat of withdrawal of advertisement support is a more lethal and an unethical practice to undermine media's freedom to write truthfully and fearlessly. Bansi Lal, the authoritarian Chief Minister of Haryana, stopped all government and public sector advertisements to The Tribune in the 1970s for its refusal to toe his line. The management went to the Press Council of India, which decreed against the state government. The Chief Minister publicly decried the Council and refused to accept its order to restore advertisements to the newspaper. The toothless Council had to eat humble pie.


Another Haryana Chief Minister, Bhajan Lal, took another route to influence the functioning of the media. He allotted residential plots to "friendly" journalists out of his discretionary quota at throwaway prices. Arjun Singh and Mulayam Singh, as Chief Ministers of MP and UP respectively, doled out cash and freebies to buy the loyalty of media persons.


The financial media is notoriously corrupt. Costly gifts and company shares are known to be handed out to financial reporters in lieu of favourable stories for the company concerned. This is no secret any longer. Unfortunately, no one speaks out against the corporate world that has largely remained unexamined. Is it because they are big advertisers?


We have created a situation in which even right-thinking citizens are wondering if the government shouldn't intervene to regulate the media. That is totally unacceptable in a liberal democracy like ours. The demise of media ethics and crass commercialisation of the media are serious issues that pose complex problems. These cannot be solved by legal means alone. All players in the field - publishers/owners, editors, journalists, media institutions, professional bodies of media persons and concerned citizens - would need to put their heads together to find effective solutions. Self-regulation is the most desirable route if freedom and independence of the media is to be ensured. The role of the State can be only of a facilitator.


The Press Council of India is toothless and deals only with the print media. The Parliament needs to set up a Media Council of India with certain powers to enforce its judgments as an instrument of self-regulation. Utmost care would have to be taken that members of the proposed Council enjoy the confidence of the media and carry conviction with the people. What is at stake is not only the credibility of the media but also of the democratic polity.

The writer is a distinguished journalist and director of the Indian Media Centre

 

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THE PIONEER

EDITORIAL

INDIAN JOURNALISM, RIP

THE DEEPEST CRISIS OF THE INDIAN FOURTH ESTATE IS NOW IN THE PUBLIC SPACE. SATURDAY SPECIAL TAKES A BROAD NATIONAL LOOK, ALONG WITH A PRESCRIPTION FOR CHANGE

SWATI DAS


As the media circus over affaire Shoaib Malik reached a crescendo this week, media old timers began to rack their brains to recall the reasons why they chose journalism as their profession. By sheer coincidence, two editors of redoubtable national dailies, Hindustan Times and The Indian Express, articulated this sentiment in their signed pieces in April itself.


Their verdict: without divine interpretation, Indian journalism is finished. The Indian fourth estate, which rose from the ashes after 1977, has become the biggest victim of the media explosion. Its face is disfigured beyond recognition; the arms and legs have been blown away and somewhere in the region of its stomach is a hole -- filled with cash.


In 1977, LK Advani had famously described the media's Emergency era behaviour as "you were asked to bend but you crawled". This time round, he probably remark: "who asked you to bend in the first place?" Not government, not private sector PR budgets. The culprit -- greed. When God wanted to emasculate the Egyptians, he told them "go forth and multiply". The media's undoing has been its massive size. The mushrooming of newspapers and TV has changed the fundamentals of journalism, nature of news-reportage and with it everything sacred. The cut-throat competition has thrown journalistic ethics to the wind. This emasculation has worked to the advantage of the political and bureaucratic establishment. The Press has surrendered its freedom at the altar of viability.


While veteran media expert Shyam Khosla suggests a remedy (Main Article) - replacing the toothless Press Council with a more authoritative Media Council - respected Hindi journalist Rajnath Singh "Surya" describes the pathetic condition of the Hindi language fourth estate (The Other Voice).


In South India, where newspapers and TV channels owned or de facto controlled by politicians are the order of the day, the situation is fast slipping beyond repair. In Tamil Nadu, one of the largest local media house is owned by the grandnephew of Chief Minister M Karunanidhi, Kalanidhi Maran - the SunTV Network. Each political party here prefers to run its own newspaper and TV channel to air its views and settle political or business scores with the opposition. The Sun group also publishes a leading daily Dinakaran and has its television network spread across all four southern states. Naturally, journalistic ethics take the back seat.


The dispute between the families of Karunanidhi and the Marans had resulted in the emergence of Kalaignar TV and the ruling DMK did not have to seek support from the Marans. The DMK has its own party mouthpiece - Murasoli.


Jaya TV of AIADMK's supremo J Jayalalithaa runs on similar lines, with the main agenda of targeting DMK, its main opposition. The AIADMK too has its own mouthpiece, Namadu MGR, to sensitise the public to its views.

The Congress state president, KV Thangkabalu, owns Mega TV, while another Congressman owns Vasanth TV. The PMK runs Makkal TV and publishes Tamil Osai. Other private TV channels like the Raj TV find political patronage from time to time.

Often, the media war leads to victimisation of individuals, as happened in the case of actor Khushboo, whose remarks on pre-marital sex became a matter of huge controversy. Because she was (in 2005) with Jaya TV hosting the popular quiz show called Jackpot, Sun TV took sides with the fringe elements, including the PMK, to blow up the issue. But, after Karunanidhi returned as the Chief Minister in 2006 and roped in Khushboo to do a leading role in a film on Periyar, Sun TV withdrew its mudslinging against the actor, though she was caught in a string of cases.


Among the local publications, to economise on expenditure and manpower, sometimes journalists are made to look for advertisements and this surely leads to compromises on objectivity. The concepts of advertorials, first promoted by The Times of India to make money out of corporates, are a common feature here.


In Kerala, while political parties have their own publications or television channels, the media houses owe allegiance to either a political or a religious organisation, again using the medium to try and settle scores with rivals. The ruling CPI (M) runs the channel Kairali and publishes People and Deshabhimani. The Congress runs Jaihind TV and publishes Vikshanam. The Muslim League publishes Chandrika and the CPI, Janayugam. The ordinary public does not care whether the news dished out by them is biased or coloured. A newspaper is not something to be taken seriously these days. Many people actually think reading them in the morning is good for bowel movement.


Talking to The Pioneer a media critic and a former CPI (M) MP Sebastian Paul says that trivialisation of news has become a topic of public debate. "The coinage media-syndicate has become a common term. These papers and channels do not correct themselves, plunging their own credibility. They are not concerned about the harm they are doing. This is because of pressures from corporate managers, which is prevalent throughout the country now. The standard of the papers in terms of technology and page make up has gone up, but ethics are no more in the minds of the journalists. There is an effort now by vigilant people of Kerala to make them act according to ethics," said Paul, who was earlier a journalist with Indian Express.


Karnataka too has its own share of pseudo-independent papers. For the past 15 years, Ee Sanje had the support of HD Deve Gowda. His daughter-in-law, Anita Kumaraswamy, recently started Kasturi TV. Rajya Sabha MP Rajeev Chandrasekhar (Independent) owns the Bangalore-based Asianet Communications Ltd which runs Suvarna News. In Andhra Pradesh, Vaartha, owned by Congress MP Girish Sandhi, Eenadu and ETV of Ramoji Rao, a TDP supporter, Sakshi TV of YS Jaganmohan Reddy, Studio N of Nara Lokesh, son of TDP chief N Chandrababu Naidu, and Etyemad (Urdu) owned by Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (MIM) party.


Paid news is the scourge of the Telegu media. Recently, TV5 in Hyderabad was in the eye of a storm for blaming the Reliance group for the helicopter crash death of former Chief Minister YS Rajasekhar Reddy, quoting a Russian tabloid. It culminated in widespread violence with attack on Reliance outlets and petrol bunks. But TV5's TRP rating shot up.


Six months ago, at a Press Council seminar in Hyderabad, it was aggregated that the paid news revenue to newspapers was Rs 40 crore in 2004 and Rs 150 crore in 2009. The state has 1,300 small and medium newspapers and 26 news/entertainment channels. According to a senior journalist in Hyderabad these 1,300 newspapers live only on patronisation of government and local politicians. Together they earn Rs 70 crore. These are one-man armies who come out of publications only for the sake of RNA and DAVP requirements.

The writer is Special Correspondent of The Pioneer in Chennai

 

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THE PIONEER

EDITORIAL

HINDI MEDIA HAS LOST ITS MORAL STANDING

INDIA'S LARGEST LANGUAGE PRESS, I.E. THE HINDI MEDIA, IS TODAY A RUMP OF ITS FORMER SELF. HINDI NEWSPAPERS, MAGAZINES AND TV CHANNELS THRIVE ON BANALITY AND OFFER NO PROMISE WHATSOEVER OF RECOVERY FROM ITS PRESENT MORASS

RAJNATH SINGH 'SURYA'


While the nation mourned the tragedy which took the lives of 76 Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) personnel in the worst ever Maoist attack in the country, a popular 24-hour Hindi news channel, while airing the Sania Mirza-Shoaib Malik marriage story, was showing different designs of the wedding cards for the ceremony.

Such nonsensical reportage has of late been witnessed in the Hindi language print and electronic media. A few days before the unfortunate attack, Hindi newspaper gave no more than passing mention to the death sentence awarded to 17 Indians in the United Arab Emirates.


There is no denying the fact that the market of Hindi newspapers and 24-hour news channels in the language has shown an upward trend during the last two decades. Before that the mainstream English newspapers dominated the journalism scene. Even today, if we analyse the newspapers of all the Indian languages and English, we find Hindi holds the top four positions in the list of top ten as for as circulation is concerned. Moreover some Hindi newspapers are coming up with business alliances with international players worth crores of Rupees. One Hindi newspaper group publishes nearly 37 editions from 11 states.


As for newspapers in Hindi, one cannot shy away from the fact that this medium of journalism has more or less lost the credibility that it used to enjoy when introduced during the pre-Independence era. The main motive behind introducing a newspaper by leaders during those times was to carry forward a message as part of a national mission. The plus point with Hindi language newspapers was that its readership was primarily confined to the common man, i.e. middle class society while English papers catered to the ruling elite.


The main reason for the dilution of credibility of Hindi newspapers is that in an age of fast changing priorities, the very concept of working as a mission has disappeared. A full-page advertisement can be a good reason to skip a news item for it generates revenue for the paper. Newspapers of late have become a revenue generating racket while the news is sold as a product. This has in turn diluted the mission that the newspapers used to enjoy. Earlier a story carried with it the power of toppling governments, but nowadays nobody even dares to write against the establishment, which should have been the ideology of the newspapers.


Earlier whoever joined the profession received necessary training and field experience. Now journalists are trained in classrooms, after paying huge fees. Still we are not able to produce worthy reporters or even editors for that matter. I remember when I worked with a Hindi daily as a reporter, we were specifically directed to use simple and conversational language. The editor used to be a man of words with complete domination over the newspaper. In contrast, currently the Hindi language newspapers are following a new trend of using 'Hinglish' in Hindi newspapers. The editor's position has been diluted and it is the proprietor who decides what should be published and what should not. This has had disastrous implications on the content of news over the years. When I worked as an editor in the early 1990s, there used to be no concept of full front-page advertisements. Nowadays, hardly a day passes without seeing front pages of newspapers taken over by advertisers.


Politics is what dominates the scene most of the time on news channels. Instead of coming up with news, the channels share the views spiced up with sensationalised facts and figures. At times a news anchor, with his horrifying presentation creates a panic among the viewers. In the recent massacre of CRPF men in Chhattisgarh, an anchor of a news channel was more interested in speculating how many more soldiers were martyred by Maoists in the attack, thereby spreading confusion among viewers.


In the West, 24X7 news channels are governed more often by the heads of multinationals. These people invest in the future of the channels. The corporates controlling the channels know all aspects of business and create the demand of spicy news items. Whenever there is a high profile crime, as in case of Aarushi murder case, the news channels go berserk, each claiming the credit of every new fact being carried on air. Every development becomes the stuff of 'breaking news' for some channels. Quite interestingly what we witness with the news channels in the case of crime stories is that they file an FIR, investigate the crime and then announce judgments on their own. This judgmental behaviour in a language that reaches out to largest population in the country is also proving out to be detrimental for the profession in general.


With the owners of newspapers and news channels more concerned with readership and TRPs respectively, Hindi journalism has lost its very moral authority. Organisations like the Press Council have lost their teeth. This is one of the reasons why credibility is at a discount in the medium.


It is no exaggeration to state that today's newsmen have no accountability at all. On top of this, with all and sundry jumping on to the media bandwagon, there is no job security for journalists any longer. In the past if a journalist resigned from an organisation he landed a better job the next day. Now, few are willing to entertain a journalist who has lost his job.


The writer is a former Editor, Navbharat Times

 As told to Gulam Jeelani

 

***************************************


THE PIONEER

EDITORIAL

HINDI MEDIA HAS LOST ITS MORAL STANDING

INDIA'S LARGEST LANGUAGE PRESS, I.E. THE HINDI MEDIA, IS TODAY A RUMP OF ITS FORMER SELF. HINDI NEWSPAPERS, MAGAZINES AND TV CHANNELS THRIVE ON BANALITY AND OFFER NO PROMISE WHATSOEVER OF RECOVERY FROM ITS PRESENT MORASS
RAJNATH SINGH 'SURYA'


While the nation mourned the tragedy which took the lives of 76 Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) personnel in the worst ever Maoist attack in the country, a popular 24-hour Hindi news channel, while airing the Sania Mirza-Shoaib Malik marriage story, was showing different designs of the wedding cards for the ceremony.

Such nonsensical reportage has of late been witnessed in the Hindi language print and electronic media. A few days before the unfortunate attack, Hindi newspaper gave no more than passing mention to the death sentence awarded to 17 Indians in the United Arab Emirates.


There is no denying the fact that the market of Hindi newspapers and 24-hour news channels in the language has shown an upward trend during the last two decades. Before that the mainstream English newspapers dominated the journalism scene. Even today, if we analyse the newspapers of all the Indian languages and English, we find Hindi holds the top four positions in the list of top ten as for as circulation is concerned. Moreover some Hindi newspapers are coming up with business alliances with international players worth crores of Rupees. One Hindi newspaper group publishes nearly 37 editions from 11 states.


As for newspapers in Hindi, one cannot shy away from the fact that this medium of journalism has more or less lost the credibility that it used to enjoy when introduced during the pre-Independence era. The main motive behind introducing a newspaper by leaders during those times was to carry forward a message as part of a national mission. The plus point with Hindi language newspapers was that its readership was primarily confined to the common man, i.e. middle class society while English papers catered to the ruling elite.


The main reason for the dilution of credibility of Hindi newspapers is that in an age of fast changing priorities, the very concept of working as a mission has disappeared. A full-page advertisement can be a good reason to skip a news item for it generates revenue for the paper. Newspapers of late have become a revenue generating racket while the news is sold as a product. This has in turn diluted the mission that the newspapers used to enjoy. Earlier a story carried with it the power of toppling governments, but nowadays nobody even dares to write against the establishment, which should have been the ideology of the newspapers.


Earlier whoever joined the profession received necessary training and field experience. Now journalists are trained in classrooms, after paying huge fees. Still we are not able to produce worthy reporters or even editors for that matter. I remember when I worked with a Hindi daily as a reporter, we were specifically directed to use simple and conversational language. The editor used to be a man of words with complete domination over the newspaper. In contrast, currently the Hindi language newspapers are following a new trend of using 'Hinglish' in Hindi newspapers. The editor's position has been diluted and it is the proprietor who decides what should be published and what should not. This has had disastrous implications on the content of news over the years. When I worked as an editor in the early 1990s, there used to be no concept of full front-page advertisements. Nowadays, hardly a day passes without seeing front pages of newspapers taken over by advertisers.


Politics is what dominates the scene most of the time on news channels. Instead of coming up with news, the channels share the views spiced up with sensationalised facts and figures. At times a news anchor, with his horrifying presentation creates a panic among the viewers. In the recent massacre of CRPF men in Chhattisgarh, an anchor of a news channel was more interested in speculating how many more soldiers were martyred by Maoists in the attack, thereby spreading confusion among viewers.


In the West, 24X7 news channels are governed more often by the heads of multinationals. These people invest in the future of the channels. The corporates controlling the channels know all aspects of business and create the demand of spicy news items. Whenever there is a high profile crime, as in case of Aarushi murder case, the news channels go berserk, each claiming the credit of every new fact being carried on air. Every development becomes the stuff of 'breaking news' for some channels. Quite interestingly what we witness with the news channels in the case of crime stories is that they file an FIR, investigate the crime and then announce judgments on their own. This judgmental behaviour in a language that reaches out to largest population in the country is also proving out to be detrimental for the profession in general.


With the owners of newspapers and news channels more concerned with readership and TRPs respectively, Hindi journalism has lost its very moral authority. Organisations like the Press Council have lost their teeth. This is one of the reasons why credibility is at a discount in the medium.


It is no exaggeration to state that today's newsmen have no accountability at all. On top of this, with all and sundry jumping on to the media bandwagon, there is no job security for journalists any longer. In the past if a journalist resigned from an organisation he landed a better job the next day. Now, few are willing to entertain a journalist who has lost his job.


The writer is a former Editor, Navbharat Times-- As told to Gulam Jeelani

 

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THE TIMES OF INDIA

 EDITORIAL

 

I POD, YOU GRATIFIED?

 

Remember early capitalism's ethic of deferred gratification? Labour first, enjoy later. This philosophy's on display in Afghanistan. US soldiers are being told: combat now, gorge later. So, junk food joints are packing up at Kandahar airbase, an oasis of conspicuous consumption not to the taste of top generals. Read their lips: no more burgers, fries or pizzas to keep anyone's mind off work. The boys must realise they're in warzone, not Disney World. Also, nibblers of rations in other bases need parity in wartime non-gratification. For the fighting fit, everyday can't be a Happy Girth Day.


If GI Joes are fighting (and slimming) overseas, another Joe's fighting the bad and fat guys back in Arizona. Aghast at obesity in Phoenix's Tent City Jail, sheriff Joe Arpaio has a fresh take on late capitalism's cult of instantaneous gratification. Those who want push-button fun he tells the inmates whose only fun in life is television must sweat for it. So, for leisure, they'll have "Pedal Vision": a TV set wired to a stationary bike to be exercised on. That'll generate the electricity to run it! Since workaholism makes Jack a dull boy, Joe heralds a new capitalist work(out)-and-play ethic: one hour's cycling equals one hour's prime time. Clearly, Marx tripped up with his (fattening) post-capitalist non-work ethic. Today, when couch potatoes of the world unite as biker gangs powering the Idiot Box they've nothing to lose but their telly bellies.


If only India's netas, who give many a flabby crewmember in state-run airlines stiff competition, followed this regimen. As also paunch-o-bellies in the police force. But, instead of thinking treadmills and low cal, someone once mooted a crafty idea to make cops 'appear' trim: a specially designed paunch-proof khaki uniform! Talk about being dressed (pressed?) in camouflage. Surely Arpaio's antidote to waist-full consumption is a better idea.

Or is it? As the power source of instantaneously consumed televisual pleasure, Tent City Jail inmates could be real-life precursors of a future painted in the film, The Matrix. Fooled by simulated reality, humans get harvested for body heat and electricity to power their shadowy Machine-masters. The human batteries don't even know they're hard at work when playing out computer-generated dream-lives. But a few resistance warriors defer gratification (including virtual burgers and hotdogs) to fight becoming energy pods. It's a war not quite unlike Afghanistan in terms of its millennial timeframe.


Happy shedding pounds today, Phoenix's jailbirds too may resist tomorrow. Consider this scenario. These energy pods remain idiot-boxed as long as they pedal. One day they realise that, courtesy seductive TV images, they live vicariously. They're not 'free': namely, outside jail, the 'real' world. So, they spurn the Master-machine to which everybody's hooked especially when it's showing American Idle or sop Oprah. Instead, the rebels turn to instant thrill from a rallying song. With due apologies to musicians Marley and Clapton, it's 'I Dodged the Sheriff'. But (of course) they did not shoot the LCD. Why wreck gratification when you can defer it?

 

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THE TIMES OF INDIA

 EDITORIAL

PURSUING EXCELLENCE AND EQUITY

 

Opposition to the foreign universities Bill, some of it originating even from within the Congress, is a sad affair for the nation. Few arguments against this much-needed and long-neglected reform stand up to close scrutiny.


Gross Enrolment Ratio (GER) in higher education, defined as the number of students enrolled in colleges and universities as a per cent of the total college-age population, stood at eight in China and 10 in India in 2000. By 2007, the ratio had shot up to 22 in China but crawled up barely to 13 in India. Seen differently, GER in secondary education in India was 57 in 2007. Even assuming that only half of these students actually graduate, our colleges and universities are seriously short of space.


India needs many more colleges and universities and needs them fast. Domestic public and private universities and colleges may be doing their part but they remain too few to fulfil our needs. Granting entry to foreign universities has to be an integral part of the solution to combating shortages in higher education.


The commonest objections to grant of entry to foreign universities are rooted in equity. It is often asserted, without supporting logic, that entry would hurt the poor. It is hard to see how a policy change that adds capacity in higher education could result in reduced educational opportunities for either rich or poor students.


A more substantive equity-based objection is that only children of the wealthy will be able to access foreign universities so that the gap between haves and have-nots would rise. But this argument ignores the fact that the government today offers generous loans to qualifying students to study in virtually any good institution they want. I come across Indian students even at Columbia University financed by banks rather than their wealthy parents. The government could further enhance equity by charging the children of the wealthy in public universities substantial tuition fees and using the proceeds to fund scholarships for the children of the poor in top-class private domestic or foreign universities. Given these avenues to greater equity and the acute need for rapid expansion of education, equity-based objections sound hollow.


Another objection is that only the mediocre or worst foreign universities will enter India. This same argument is sometimes made against domestic private institutions of higher learning, notwithstanding the fact we would be doomed without many excellent private engineering and medical colleges and management institutes. Astonishingly, critics rarely mention the poor education and professor absenteeism in a large number of public universities. Even the small proportion of top-class graduates these universities produce is to be explained by the sheer brilliance of the students, their hard work and the excellent training they receive at secondary school level. In so far as the Bill is concerned, critics' fears are little more than fear-mongering: the Bill gives the UGC or its successor body full powers to deny entry to a university it deems wanting in standards.


Critics also argue that foreign universities will drain our best institutions such as IITs, IIMs and the Indian Institute of Science of their best faculty. But this too is a flawed argument. First, best researchers coalesce at the best institutions so that an entering foreign institution will find it very difficult to move the faculty from established institutions of excellence. Only four out of approximately 30 resident faculty members of the Indian School of Business (ISB), which comes the closest to being a world-class foreign educational institution in India, came from IIMs.


Second, foreign universities are most likely to choose a significant part of their faculty from among Indian scholars abroad. Almost 20 resident faculty members at ISB are recent foreign graduates. As many as 71,000 Indian graduate students, currently enrolled in the US alone, await being wooed back to their home country. Likewise, modest incentives can bring many existing senior faculty members at universities abroad to teach on Indian campuses on a part-time basis. The ISB lists several dozen world-class scholars among its non-resident faculty.

Third, foreign universities will bring benefits to existing scholars through increased competition as well as an enlarged pool of world-class scholars. Finally, in the long run, multiplication of institutions of excellence will help ease the current constraint on availability of potential university faculty. Today, even India's top universities are finding it difficult to fill positions.


The challenge the Bill poses is not that India will be flooded with foreign universities. It is just the opposite: with so many safeguards in place, most foreign universities may, alas, find entry quite unattractive. Fee regulations currently applied to domestic unaided private universities will apply to them as well. This would imply automatic cap on faculty salaries and therefore the ability of the universities to attract world-class faculty. Likewise, the Bill's requirement to hire faculty domestically can potentially prove inconsistent with the requirement (also in the Bill) that foreign universities provide the same quality education in India as they provide in their home countries.


If critics wish India well, they need to give minister Kapil Sibal more, not less, room to carry out this urgent reform.

The writer is a professor at Columbia University.

 

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THE TIMES OF INDIA

 EDITORIAL

LET THE MARKET DECIDE

 

When the Tiger Woods scandal broke a few months ago, there were howls of protest. Leave the man alone, many observers said, calling the wall-to-wall media coverage of his many infidelities obscene. According to them, his celebrity did not mean that he had lost the right to privacy; he should be judged on the basis of his golf talent alone and nothing else. Now, the man has made a comeback at the Augusta Masters and people are again baying at the shamelessness of his errant behaviour being forgotten so soon. Such attitudes are either pure hypocrisy or betray a peculiar misunderstanding of how the market works.


Because that, in the end, is what this is about. The market mandated Tiger Woods' fall and it will decide if he rises again. Those who argued against the coverage of his private life at the time were mistaken. His ticket to fame might have been his talent, but he made that talent his meal ticket, parleying it into lucrative endorsement deals that made him the richest sportsman in the world. Given that he had commercialised his image, the stakeholders had every right to want to know about his private life and pull out if necessary.


Exactly the same logic applies now; shame has nothing to do with it. If the market decides that the five-month layoff has helped his image recover sufficiently, the numbers will make it clear. The new ad he has released with a sporting equipment manufacturer can be seen as a trial venture of sorts. As for complaints that companies are setting a poor example by picking him up again, advertisers do not decide what image to force upon consumers; they cater to consumers' tastes. If his sponsorship deals work out again, it will be because his fans have forgiven him and the market is the ultimate proof of that.

 

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THE TIMES OF INDIA

 EDITORIAL

SHAME ON THE SPONSORS

 

Public memory can be so short. Five months after Tiger Woods fell from grace for his serial sexcapades and was roundly castigated by all and sundry, he is back as the darling of the media. His re-entry into professional golfing is being followed with bated breath by sports fans. And what's worse is that sponsors who had dumped him are sniffing the opportunity to cash in on Woods' notoriety.


Though Woods, an iconic sportsperson of his generation, lost $35 million in sponsorship deals right after his extramarital affairs were revealed, a major sports equipment company has jumped in as soon as the golfer returned to action. It is doing so by harping on the redemption theme with an ad featuring Woods' deceased father's voice asking: "Did you learn anything?" One doesn't know what Woods has learnt from this sorry episode, but we've certainly learnt that sponsors will forgive anything, possibly even murder, if they feel that they can get enough publicity.


And that is precisely what is happening. Although his image took a huge hit following the revelations about his sex romps, Woods' sponsors sensed that following his comeback there will be an even greater interest in him than when he was just a blemishless champion. Now that one sponsor has decided to back him, it's a matter of time before others follow.


This just goes to show how amoral and unethical the marketplace is. Its only concern is profit, and Woods seems a sure bet for sponsors even if he is below par on the golf course. There is absolutely no thought being given to the sort of example being set by Woods. The message is clear: If you're a celebrity you can pretty much do anything so long as you remain in the public eye. If that involves cheating on your wife and kids, so be it.

 

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THE TIMES OF INDIA

 EDITORIAL

SUBLIMATE SERVICE TO SEVA

 

Acts of service are not uniform in the benefits they confer. When service is undertaken by power-hungry people, under compulsion or by imitative urges, it results in more harm than good.


Self-aggrandisement, competition or ostentation are motives that pollute the sacred spiritual practice of service. One who wishes to do spiritual service needs to overcome ego, exhibitionism and favouritism.


Before embarking on a service project, ask yourself, is your heart full of selfless love, humility and compassion? In your head do you have an intelligent understanding and knowledge of the problem and its solution? Are your hands eager to offer the healing touch? And can you gladly spare and share time, energy and skill to help others in dire need?


These qualities take root and grow only when the idea of the 'Reality of Unity' is implanted in our consciousness. Think of it this way. All living beings are cells in the body of God. Their origin, continued existence, and progress are all in, by and for God. The individual is a unit in this unity. There are no other aliens. When one is ill, all suffer. When one is happy, all are partners of that happiness. Faith in this truth is the fundamental equipment the sevak or volunteer must acquire.


In order to deserve the sacred name Seva, the activity must be freed from all attachment to the individual self and based on firm faith in the Divine resident in every being. Seva has to be considered as worshipping the form that God has assumed to give volunteers the chance of worship.


When a hungry nara or man is served a hearty meal, what is being done is Narayana Seva - serving the Supreme Lord, for nara is only 'a form and a name' projected by maya or human ignorance. Do not allow your service activities to turn into shops which concentrate on window dressing, in order to attract attention and patronage.


Before attempting to advise people who are less fortunate than you are, you must endeavour to advise yourself; before venturing to reform them, reform yourself. Avoid boasting before them about your superiority; it will hurt them and keep them away. Do not indulge in lectures. Action alone can inspire action. Example alone can instruct. Tall talk is a barren exercise.


An illiterate person need not be an ignorant person. He might be well aware of the ideals propounded by scriptures, saints and sages perhaps through oral tradition. Today, we are confronted everywhere with statistics parading quantities and reports in glowing terms. Do not bother about adding to the number or achieving a target; value quality, not quantity. Genuine and intensive devoted service offered in a few places is more fruitful than superficial service offered to a large number.

Life cannot continue for long without others serving you, and you serving others. Master-servant, ruler-ruled, guru-disciple, employer-employee, parents-children, all these are bound by mutual service. Every one is a sevak or servant. Remember that the body, with its senses-mind-brain complex has been gifted to you to be used for helping the helpless. Seva is the highest path of devotion which wins the Grace of God. It promotes mental purity, diminishes egoism and enables one to experience, through sympathetic understanding, the unity of mankind.

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THE TIMES OF INDIA

 EDITORIAL

LAMP LIT IN AN AREA OF DARKNESS

 

One of the most tragicomic figures in Delhi is a senior civil servant who hangs on in the capital after retirement in the hope of wangling some government assignment or the other. A handful of these retired folk are lucky. They manage to land one job after another for years on end. The unlucky ones gravitate to the media where they turn into acerbic critics of the government which they have served with docile acquiescence for a greater part of their adult life.


But one also comes across civil servants who return to their hometowns and put their retirement to a more uplifting use. They write books, learn new skills, join local think tanks, engage in social work or, quite simply, develop interest in a new or unattended hobby. Singularly bereft of rancour and cynicism, they do not as a rule give vent to nostalgia about their years in harness.


Take the case of S K Sinha. He served the government of India for well over 30 years, rose to the rank of secretary in the cabinet secretariat and, within less than a month of his retirement in 2005, went back to his ancestral home in Patna. He had already made up his mind about what he would do next to keep himself busy. Nothing worried him more than the rural-urban and poor-rich divides in Bihar. They generated relentless social conflict in the state which, in turn, resulted in the growth of caste animosities, religious extremism and Naxalite violence.

Convinced that one could not rely on the state machinery alone to stem this violence, Sinha launched the Shoshit Seva Sangh (SSS) whose objective was to provide quality education to the poorest and most deprived community in Bihar the Mushars. These landless labourers, who lived in squalid ghettos, could not recall a day when they had two square meals or a respite from the abuse and blows heaped on them by upper-caste landlords.

The beginnings of the SSS were modest. Digging into his own savings, and with some contributions from friends and family members, he started an English-medium residential school in rented premises. It charged no fees and provided uniforms, toiletries, books, stationery and computers at no cost. But it recruited well-qualified teachers and paid them good salaries.


However, none of this impressed the Mushars at first. They could not imagine that the school in Patna would be any different from the village school with its absentee teachers, leaking roofs, lack of textbooks and, not least, pervasive caste discrimination. But within two years, their attitude had undergone a sea change. More than 750 children appeared for admission tests for the 50 seats for the pre-school and class I. Encouraged by the response, the SSS proceeded to rent more space, increase the number of classes to standard IX, recruit more teachers and expand dormitory and sports facilities. The teacher-student ratio was pegged at 1:17 better by far than in the most expensive private schools, let alone the government ones.


The journey of the SSS has not been an easy one though. Battered by centuries of poverty and discrimination, time and patience was needed to inculcate in the Mushars a sense of self-esteem. Only then could they develop the confidence that they would be able to acquire the knowledge and skills to face a competitive world.

None of this has deterred Sinha from expanding the scope of the project. Earlier this year the SSS purchased one acre of land in Patna to erect a school building. An agreement to purchase another acre adjacent to this one has been reached. The building work is expected to be completed by 2013 at a cost of Rs 5 crore. By and by the school will be able to house between 800-1,000 students.


Sinha hopes to collect funds from individuals and corporate groups that are convinced that his efforts are deserving of support. The achievements of the SSS so far are no more than a tiny step to bridge the rural-urban and rich-poor divide in Bihar. But for the Mushar children, who have been quick and eager to study, it is a giant leap forward in their quest for a life free of want and fear.

 

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THE INDIAN EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

TO THE EASTERN FRONT

 

When a German soldier fighting in World War II was to be disciplined, he was sent to the Eastern Front — the numbingly cold German invasion of Russia that ended in disaster. While Karnataka Chief Justice P.D. Dinakaran's transfer to the Sikkim high court may not be an exact analogy, it will be nonetheless viewed as a punishment posting to a less than desirable locale.

 

In matters concerning the higher judiciary, this newspaper has consistently advocated institutional reform while respecting their Lordships' calibre and the need to preserve their independence. Even so, the collegium's current decision is deeply worrying. Regardless of Justice Dinakaran's guilt or innocence, this we know: the collegium believes enough to hold up his elevation to the Supreme Court, to ask him to go on leave; a district collector's report has found against him and Parliament has launched impeachment proceedings. The judge himself has not been attending the Karnataka high court since the controversy first broke out. To appoint such a man as chief justice of another court — while he is being investigated — is perplexing. Besides, what confidence will he inspire in litigants appearing before him in Sikkim? Even worse is the location of transfer. There is already a perception that judges are sent to "insignificant" high courts (such as Sikkim and the Northeast) as punishment postings. Justice Dinakaran's transfer will give ammunition to those critics.

 

That every new step the collegium takes to diffuse the Dinakaran crisis is controversial makes a simple point: there are no mechanisms in place to deal with allegations against judges. The Judges (Standards & Accountability) Bill, which provides for graded punishment apart from impeachment, is sorely required, and it is hoped that the bill is enacted soon. Meanwhile, every new turn in the Dinakaran affair casts harsh light on the judicial self-selection and never-been-done-before punishment mechanisms. Reform is the only way out.

 

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THE INDIAN EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

 

THE DEBT-SIDE TRAP

 

Five minutes past halftime at Old Trafford on Wednesday night, a young Brazilian named Rafael da Silva tugged at the shirt of Bayern Munich's winger Franck Ribery, and got himself sent off. As a consequence, a 10-man Manchester United allowed the German club through to the semi-final stage of the Champions League to meet Olympique Lyonnais from France. The other semi-final? Italy's Inter Milan versus Spain's FC Barcelona. Not an English club in the lot, something that must have been at the back of Manchester manager Alex Ferguson's mind as he accused two Bayern players of persuading the referee to send off da Silva in a "typically German" manner. (The two Bayern players in question were French and Dutch.)

 

For almost a decade now, the English Premier League has dominated European soccer; not since 2003 has the Champions League gone to semi-finals without an EPL club. EPL clubs spent big, and won big; a permanent gap seemed to have opened between them and their European rivals. Is this year a "blip", as Chelsea FC's Italian manager insists? Or a permanent decline, as Bayern's president Uli Hoeness claims?

 

Whatever happens, one point deserves close scrutiny, made by Hoeness among others. The Premier League is suffering from the same disease that the rest of England is — a sudden fall from grace following the credit crunch. During the good years, they built up debt, just as the British government did; now, suddenly, the pound isn't as strong as it used to be, they're sitting on a mountain of debt — and taxes are going up. Portsmouth went bankrupt this year. United owes £650 million. English teams may have been outplayed and outthought on the pitch this week — but that's because they can no longer outspend everyone else. Michel Platini, the former French captain who now heads European football, intends to introduce "financial fair play" regulations soon. The crisis seems to have done some of his work for

 

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THE INDIAN EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

AWAY FROM THE GLARE

 

Seventy six members of India's paramilitary forces were killed on Tuesday, in an ambush by a well-armed, well-organised adversary seeking to overthrow the Indian state. That is the very definition of an internal security crisis, the moment at which one would expect that the entire security establishment would retreat within itself, asking what it can do to help, examining and removing constraints on state action, helping to craft a suitably comprehensive response to an attack of unprecedented audacity and effectiveness. In any such effort, the leaders of our armed forces would naturally play a leading role, as is expected of senior officers with their expertise and ability. Yet, barely 48 hours after the ambush, the new head of the air force, Air Chief Marshal P.V. Naik, said he was "not in favour of deploying the IAF in situations like the Naxal problem"; and India's new army chief, General V.K. Singh, said that the CRPF had deficiencies in training and "other things", and that the counter-insurgency performance of the army was "that much better".

 

These may be valid points. That is not the issue. The issue is this: they were made in full public glare. This raises the larger question: why is it that leaders of India's forces feel the need to discuss tactics and training in public in the manner that General Singh did — particularly at a time of such crisis? A political consensus on a muscular counter to the Maoists has finally, thankfully, emerged. This is hardly the time that anyone would expect diverse, half-considered, views to be expressed in public by senior members of the uniformed services, as well as of the civil services — by the head of the air force, by the home secretary, by the army chief. This is the time to hunker down, to throw solutions back and forth, to talk to each other rather than at each other. Public musing is not an option.

 

That such public interventions have become more and more frequent is certainly a major concern; it is a basic principle that arguments that appear to speak for the military or the paramilitary, if they must be public, should be made and refuted from within the political leadership. Certainly, the army chief and the director general of the CRPF should not wind up making or debunking criticisms in public. The problem, of course, is that the political leadership has for some time now been unable to provide the forces with sufficient cover and leadership. This latest airing out of something best discussed and sorted out between themselves only buttresses that point.

 

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THE INDIAN EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

THE BUCK STARTS HERE

SHEKHAR GUPTA

 

On the Republic Day of 1995, terrorists set off an IED right next to the podium where General K.V. Krishna

 

Rao (one of our finest former army chiefs) stood to take the salute as the governor of J&K. He survived, miraculously, but many others did not. This was still early days for the Kashmiri insurgency. This was seen as a great failure of security. Since the governor presided over law and order in a state under President's Rule, there were immediate demands for his resignation.

 

General Rao asked me over for a drink at New Delhi's J&K Bhavan a week or so after the incident. "This," he said, "was a terrible failure, and of course the buck must stop with me." He said he had told the government, "If you want me to resign, I will happily do so. But what will you do when such a thing happens again?" He continued to, however, in a mood of reflection, provide a reality check: "We also have to see the consequences of a governor resigning each time such failure happens. Because such incidents will happen. Kashmir is a long haul." A nation, and a people, he said, "had to have it in their guts" to deal with a challenge like Kashmir, as you "will never keep Kashmir if you quit after each setback, or negotiate and make concessions from a position of weakness, ever."

 

The message from Dantewada for India, therefore, is an old and familiar one: you are facing a new monster, and you have to have the skill, patience and, above all, that something that General Rao said a nation "must have in its guts" to deal with it. Nobody has to quit, nobody has to indulge in name-calling and nobody has to either exaggerate the threat, or trivialise it. The Congress, the BJP, the Left, have to all reflect on the many things they have said lately and realise that they are all in it together. The key to winning this complex war is to deprive it, right now, of the oxygen of partisan politics.

 

Over the past six decades India has acquired the unique skills, the experience and the resilience to deal with such insurgencies, and the good news is this one is more likely than, say, Kashmir, to follow the classic pattern of the other Indian rebellions so far — particularly in the tribal Northeast.

 

Unfortunately, that similarity also includes the fact that in the course of each such earlier insurgency the nation wakes up and commits its full resources only after a big shock. There have been many in Kashmir, besides that Republic Day, topped undoubtedly by Kargil, and each time, India has responded with greater resoluteness. We still have a problem in Kashmir. But our gains are substantive too: two successive elections, internationally acknowledged as clean, have given the state two successive legitimate democratic governments — which is not something Pakistan has ever had — and now we have a global acknowledgement of the sanctity of the Line of Control. See this against the background of the many moments in the past 15 years when you would have thought Kashmir was a lost cause, one of those as recent as during the Amarnath land allotment agitation. A serious nation does not react to events, no matter how shattering. It assesses a challenge, and devises a policy.

 

India also has the unfortunate, but invaluable, privilege of long institutional memory in handling remote-area insurgencies, absorbing the setbacks in that process. In fact, for each insurgency I can name a day that looked as bad, if not worse, than Dantewada. In Mizoram, on January 13, 1975, a band of Mizo rebels infiltrated the police headquarters and killed the entire brass: IGP Arya, his DIG Sewa and SP (special branch) Panchapakesan who were then holding a meeting. And how did Indira Gandhi respond? She sent in a tough army brigadier, G.S. Randhawa, to replace the IGP — who then led the successful hunt for the assassins and, more importantly, built the first units of Mizoram Armed Police, consisting mainly of the native tribals. That, in fact, marked the beginning of the end of the Mizo insurgency.

 

In Assam, much later, a similar setback came with the assassination of IAS officer E.S. Parthasarathy, the tough commissioner of Upper Assam division, in Jorhat on April 6, 1981, by a grenade planted in his office chair. The senior Mrs Gandhi again responded by unleashing Hiteswar Saikia on Assam, even if through an election that was mostly illegitimate. In his politics or in his ethics, Hiteswar was no angel. But he was one of the toughest politicians you ever met, and a nationalist. He survived on transplanted kidneys in the early '80s, when that aspect of medicine was not so advanced, brushed aside near-thing assassination attempts, but cleaned up the incipient armed underground. In both cases, a setback ultimately led to a situation where India's political leadership — by a fitting coincidence Indira's son Rajiv — found people on the "other" side willing to sign a peace deal that has endured.

 

The history of the Naga insurgency is far too long for me to make detailed references in a mere newspaper article. It delivered sizeable blows in each decade: the wiping out of an army patrol (29 soldiers) in 1957; the shooting down — and that is so relevant in today's context — of an IAF Dakota on August 26, 1960 and its pilots being taken prisoner; the wiping out of a 22-strong Sikh Regiment patrol on February 14, 1982, at Namthilok, near Ukhrul, Muivah's hometown. But each time, India took it on the chin and came back with even greater resolve. The Shillong Peace Accord of 1975 brought most of the major tribes overground, and into the political mainstream. Peace with the ones that remain, mainly under Muivah — significantly those that were more ideologically inclined to the Left under Chinese influence — is a work in progress. And the relatively recent, massive, massive setbacks on the way to eventual peace in Punjab are too recent to need repetition.

Insurgencies in India, therefore, follow a pattern pretty much like a bell-curve. That is the wisdom from our institutional memory. The graph of violence rises in the initial period, producing more and more casualties on both sides. But at some stage the rebels come to the realisation that this state and its people are too strong and resolute to be ever defeated, no matter what the score, in a particular day's battle in a long war. That is the point of inflexion when rebels see reason. There is no reason why the Maoist insurgency will not follow that same pattern eventually. But remember two things: they will only do it once you convince them of the futility of war for them, and you will only get a durable peace when you offer it from a position of strength.

 

Two more things. When the time for peacemaking comes, the Indian state has been among the most generous and flexible, and that wonderful attribute defies our awful party politics. Nobody, for example, has ever questioned the sub-clause inserted in the Constitution, under the very contentious Article 370, answering some of the Nagas' anxieties about their natural resources. Another sub-clause may eventually be confected to settle with Muivah's men. In Assam, Mizoram and Nagaland peace accords have brought the former rebels to power, and in Punjab, the Akalis, though through a more complex political process. So when the time comes, India will need to be generous with amnesties, governance reforms and forgiveness. But you have to fight hard now to earn that moment.

 

Second, in a war, your tactics change every day, sometimes by the hour. You do not discuss or debate tactics in the media. You do not rule out the use of this instrument of state power or that. The constitutional and historically established principle is that the state must use the "minimum" power required to deal with a law and order challenge. What that "minimum" power is, is to be left to the leaders of the day to decide. So please ask all your responsible people to stop debating tactical options, from air power to army in public. This country needs soldiers, not TV stars. Today's leaders have to be taught to avoid what BBC's Nik Gowing describes so brilliantly as the "tyranny of real time".

 

And, by the way, in 1960, Nehru figured out that "minimum" power included his air force, against the Nagas; Mrs Gandhi sent airplanes to bomb Aizawl when Mizo rebels had raised their flag on the treasury, and were about to sack the Assam Rifles battalion headquarters, which housed not just troops but also their families. The pilots on those bombing runs included two names we all got to know subsequently: Rajesh Pilot and Suresh Kalmadi. Again, in Operation Bluestar, she used tanks, APCs and howitzers in the Golden Temple. You want to dig deeper, and you will find more diabolical innovations. Sardar Patel sent the army to subdue the Nizam in Hyderabad in 1947 and called it "police action". Nehru, in 1960, did even better. He sent the army, navy and air force to liberate Goa — and still called it police action. So do not close your option of defining the "minimum" required in a particular situation. And do settle down for the long haul, with that "something in your guts".

 

sg@expressindia.com

 

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THE INDIAN EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

WHICH SIDE ARE YOU ON?

SAUBHIK CHAKRABARTI

 

Everyone who watches Times Now, said Times Now, knows Times Now is nobody's agent. But, Times Now pointed out, we (Times Now) believe in the tricolour. Deep down, this was Times Now telling two of its panellists on a debate on Maoists, you must also believe in our democracy. If you were a Martian and were reading this, you might have concluded I am writing about what must have been a climactic moment in a sublimely serious debate that illuminated every aspect of an issue of momentous national importance. But you are not a Martian, are you? And maybe you didn't watch that Times Now show. In that case, dear earthling, you missed out on a sublimely entertaining exchange of surreally vacuous epithets that kept in darkness every aspect of an issue of momentous national importance. In other words, it was such fun.

 

Are you with India or against it, Times Now asked the two "Maoist sympathisers" (the broadcaster's description, not mine) on its panel. Time has come, Times Now said, to say which side you are on. Yes! To a panellist who said Maoists must be taken on forcefully, Times Now said the entire nation is with you. Yes, yes! The same panellist later in the debate called Times Now the country's "largest TV station". I have no idea what he meant. But so what? Don't try to find meaning, okay? Just watch and listen, and chuckle.

 

You are getting your questions from imperialists; you are a corporate agent, said one panellist to Times Now. Do you want to throw an atom bomb on Maoists, asked another. Did Times Now cower, did it lose nerve? You bet it didn't. This is not the time for little school-girlish essays (on the Maoist problem), "the largest TV station" in the country said. Allow me to parenthetically observe that little schoolgirls watching what grown men were up to on news TV (the show was all male) may want to point out that their essays aren't so bad in comparison.

 

Times Now also said the show is a serious national debate. I think the broadcaster was being unnecessarily modest. The show was serious national entertainment. I think I have the whole nation behind me when I say this.

 

That's why I did a double take when I watched NDTV's story on Maoists ("War Without End") — from beginning to end. I can't usually manage that with most news TV shows; maybe it's the essay-writing little schoolgirl in me. It was a good story. No, really; a good story. I have issues with it, but they are issues that belong to a national debate, not national entertainment.

 

The NDTV story had interesting visuals — there was actually a camera inside the conflict zone forest. It was professionally edited and narrated; the reporter didn't hyperventilate even once. The story travelled from Chhattisgarh to Jharkhand to Delhi. It tried to frame the issue — the state's battle against Maoists — by doing what journalists are supposed to do, asking a number of thoughtful questions.

 

I have just re-read the last paragraph, and I am asking myself, which side am I on? I want to be on the side of good news TV, like this NDTV story, except that you rarely get to see that side, including on NDTV.

 

So, ah, the luxury — of seriously engaging with a serious news TV story. My issues with the NDTV story: 1. The average cop on anti-Maoist duty, doesn't his story merit a mention, just as the average conflict-afflicted villager's does? The state is not a giant abstract, the cop sent out to fight Maoists is not an invulnerable robocop. 2. NDTV seemed to say Maoists have the "support of the people (in the conflict zone)". This is a big claim, and the story can of course make that claim, but it needs reportage, not editorialising. 3. Activists were quoted as saying big business projects are a land grab. Why not talk to big business, and why not research business projects in the conflict zone to have a better idea?

 

I end by starting a serious national debate. When today's little schoolgirls grow up what kind of news TV will they get to see?

 

saubhik.chakrabarti@expressindia.com

 

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THE INDIAN EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

TAKING CLASS OUT OF CLASSROOMS

MADHAVI KAPUR

 

Suhas was in the 6th Standard then. His class was in the thick of a class project called "Bank of RB". The maths teacher had set up a bank and various roles had been assigned. The standard seven children were to set up businesses the following week as a part of their project, Business City. The directors of the bank had the task of sanctioning loans to the "entrepreneurs" of standard seven. Suhas came to me in tears. A "gang" of his classmates had told him that he was only fit to be a peon in the bank. Suhas was the son of one of the cleaning staff of the school.

 

The Right to Education Act plans to address the above scenario.

 

After two decades as a teacher, I have learnt more than I have taught. Of course the disparities in the "outside school" realities of the students will create divides and differences in the class. Of course children who have the advantage of literate homes, excellent nutrition, stimulation and rest will be at a huge advantage. Of course there will be teasing and bullying (as in the case of Suhas). Certainly this special group (25 per cent of the class) will need extra coaching. These are problems that we will have to solve.

 

At Aman Setu, a school in suburban Pune, we have included children from villages in the vicinity of our school starting in September 2008. Priya is a shy girl, now in senior KG. When she joined us she was taut with tension. She cried softly for the first week, so overwhelmed was she by the, "muchness" of play materials, books, food and attention available in this cheerful school where teachers are didis who do not hit you. We did not hear her voice for almost five months. Little did we foresee the dramatic personality changes we would soon witness. By March of 2009, Priya had a speaking role in "The Three Bill Goats Gruff" at the annual concert. That she was audible at all was a miracle that drove her teacher to tears. By March 2010 the dance teacher complained incredulously that, "Even Priya is becoming naughty!", at which we all applauded for sheer delight.

 

On the other hand we have Aman. He showed very little response to our coaxing and cajoling for about four months. His face was blank. Then during the Christmas break, when the teacher paid a home visit, she reported that Aman is a completely different child at home: talkative, responsive, happy. We wondered at that. By the end of the first year he had begun to engage in class activities. By the end of the second year we are baffled again. He is restless, violent, disturbed. His learning curve has fallen flat. Soon we will have to start counselling and more home visits in earnest.

 

Experienced teachers will tell you that these swings happen with many children, not only those from the "disadvantaged" section. I believe that a child like Aman stands out because the teacher' s own background is so different from Aman's that he ( the teacher) feels completely disempowered. Appropriate counselling, remedial teaching and regular meetings with teachers can help us to counter this crisis of helplessness and boost each teacher's faith in the infinite potential of every child.

 

Many provisions of the Act have been in the news for years. If anything, their reappearance here as the law of the land is welcome if a little late. We know already that capitation fee and entrance tests are detrimental to the system. This is covered in the section "Prohibition of screening procedures and capitation fees". All right-minded citizens will applaud the sections: "Prohibition of deployment of teachers for non-educational purposes" and "prohibition of private tuitions by teachers"!

 

The chapter entitled "Content and process of education" only very vaguely describes the values and transaction in the classroom. Directives such as schools should be "free of fear, trauma and anxiety", that teachers should "rely on activity, discovery, exploration, understanding and problem solving" need not be debated at all. More detailing would be welcome.

 

Then there is the question of learning through the mother tongue. Educators have been crying themselves hoarse about the psychological, emotional and social implications of learning through a foreign language in the first five years of school. The aspirations of the people point clearly in the opposite direction. Everyone wants English for their children for obvious reasons. In enjoining us to "use the mother tongue as far as possible as the medium of instruction" the policy makers seem to be hunting with the hound and running with the hare. The possibilities of bilingualism have been left unexplored. It is time to come out of the either/or paradigm. A variety of models can be developed which honour both: the legitimate aspirations for upward mobility and the concerns of educational psychologists, linguists and sociologists.

 

On unit tests and examinations, the policy makers are definitely not saying that children should not be tested and evaluated. The exact words are "continuous and comprehensive evaluation which tests the child's understanding and ability to apply knowledge rather than just rote learning". What this means is that teachers have to work on their evaluation tools. The school calendar will not be defined by unit tests when you stop all other activity and mug, mug, and mug some more.

 

I am sure I represent many educators who have been sitting with fingers crossed in the wings, hoping that the HRD ministry's "right headed" initiatives are not shot down prematurely. Now is the time to show that it will work.

 

The writer is managing trustee of Aman Setu school, Pune & Keystone Resource Centre

 

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THE INDIAN EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

WHERE THE CAMERA CAN'T GO

JAYA JAITLY

 

The Honourable Supreme Court is currently engaged in a matter with the CBI on legal issues concerning those engaging in sting operations. For some time now, sensational media stories based on sting operations with hidden video cameras have become somewhat passé or have become mired in legal grey areas. They have also lost an element of credibility. It is now almost 10 years since the first major so-called exposé on defence deals was shown to the world as evidence of corruption in the purchase of defence-related equipment. It was a media and political tamasha where heads rolled but never really got broken. Hidden cameras were a new phenomenon at that time, and the number of channels to choose from for entertainment were also fewer. No one knew then the technical and legal questions that must come into play if people are secretly filmed, supposedly committing an illegal act or saying something that could be construed as incriminating.

 

Words like HI8 tapes, linear and analogue systems, even forensic examinations of electronically generated material, were not part of everyday parlance, let alone in the purview of what judges and even the police could claim to be familiar with. No one had thought of forensics for video tapes, and it can safely be said that the already overloaded and understaffed Central Forensics Laboratory in Hyderabad had no infrastructure to provide state-of-the-art methodologies, know-how or equipment for the examination of video tapes in the beginning of the 21st century. We were still in the era of Keystone Cops where editing meant someone sat with scissors and snipped off inches of film. It was not common knowledge then, except amongst sophisticated cameramen, film makers and computer geeks that one could simply switch off the camera during recording if any part of the conversation was considered unsuitable. It was also a new discovery that copying on to a HI8 tape from a linear tape would make the new material impervious to discovery of tampering. All this was much too complicated for lawyers let alone elderly judges.

 

Technology also became attached to legal issues and brought up a series of questions that had no ready answers because no thought had been given to them. There were no laws or regulations in place in a country that claimed to be racing ahead to be a super power and were champions of information technology and repositories of all kinds of wisdom. There was the matter of privacy. Can persons from any profession or walk of life enter and film a person covertly, irrespective of what the person was doing? Some would say yes, and others may disagree, but if a person has a right to privacy, whether he/she was a public servant or not, an office room recording today could easily move to a bedroom recording tomorrow. The question to stop and ask ourselves is whether any civilised country would condone such intrusions into a person's private life, irrespective of the public importance of that person.

 

Creating a situation where a person is urged or misled into committing a crime is termed entrapment. Law and order agencies in mature democracies do not allow this form of "discovering" criminal activity by those outside their administration. Even they have to ensure that there is already prior knowledge of, or evidence of, criminal activity and that the perpetrators finally only need to be caught in the act. Otherwise, only tin pot dictatorships or undemocratic rulers employ such techniques when political opponents have to be framed, tried and "disrobed" in public. Indian law makers and administrators have not cared to consider this issue. They do not realise that such lackadaisical attitudes can lead to not just fake media sensationalism, but dangerous vigilantism, defamation and damage of a person's reputation, career and family life. It is an issue that needs to be addressed urgently and not played with because anyone can use it to destroy opponents when it suits them.

 

The law is blind, although in India occasionally official agencies will tweak material to suit whoever is standing before it seeking justice. However, there is no separate law for journalists who justify breaking the law in order to expose crime. Only a policeman with permission and authority can engage in subterfuge to disarm a criminal, and traffic cops with sirens can go through red lights to catch a speedster. Even VVIPs are actually breaking the law when their escorts go through red lights to give them an advantage in traffic. It is another matter that no one stops them.

 

Bribe-giving and bribe-taking are two parts of the same crime of corruption. The "giver" cannot be let off because his/her intentions may, in certain circumstances, be deemed honourable. The intention has to be tested in court during a trial so that the taker and giver have an equal right to a fair hearing. Is any kind of public activist a public servant or should they be termed as such only if they take a salary from the public exchequer? If any two common boasters with no role in government have a conversation about how each can influence important government decisions through whomsoever it may be, can they be booked for indulging in corruption just because some third unofficial party video-recorded them? Wrongdoing and loose talk are two different things, but we are happy to confuse one with the other.

 

For journalists to juggle with the law is a tricky matter, especially on acts claiming to have been done in "national interest"? When a media agency recorded and disseminated visuals of a "crime" by paying bribes and crossing various other legal lines, they defended their questionable actions as being in national interest. Perhaps, but they also earned a hefty profit by selling the material to a television channel rather than go to law enforcement agencies. When parliamentarians are accused of taking cash for questions in a sting operation, MPs could similarly say asking questions in Parliament was part of national interest and profiting monetarily was simply a side advantage.

 

The writer is a former Samata party president. She was subject to a 'Tehelka' sting operation in 2000, regarding alleged corruption in defence deals

 

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THE INDIAN EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

A GREEK TRAGEDY

 

The debt crisis in Greece is approaching the point of no return. As prospects for a rescue plan seem to be fading, largely thanks to German obduracy, nervous investors have driven interest rates on Greek government bonds sky-high, sharply raising the country's borrowing costs. This will push Greece even deeper into debt, further undermining confidence. At this point it's hard to see how the nation can escape from this death spiral into default.

 

Yes, Greece is paying the price for past fiscal irresponsibility. Yet that's by no means the whole story. The Greek tragedy also illustrates the extreme danger posed by a deflationary monetary policy. The key thing to understand about Greece's predicament is that it's not just a matter of excessive debt. Greece's public debt, at 113 per cent of GDP, is indeed high, but other countries have dealt with similar levels of debt without crisis. For example, in 1946, the United States, having just emerged from World War II, had federal debt equal to 122 per cent of GDP. Yet investors were relaxed, and rightly so: Over the next decade the ratio of US debt to GDP was cut nearly in half. And debt as a percentage of GDP continued to fall in the decades that followed, hitting a low of 33 per cent in 1981.

 

So how did the US government manage to pay off its wartime debt? Actually, it didn't. At the end of 1946, the federal government owed $ 271 billion; by the end of 1956 that figure had risen slightly, to $ 274 billion. The ratio of debt to GDP fell not because debt went down, but because GDP went up, roughly doubling in dollar terms over the course of a decade. The rise in GDP in dollar terms was almost equally the result of economic growth and inflation, with both real GDP and the overall level of prices rising about 40 per cent from 1946 to 1956.

 

Unfortunately, Greece can't expect a similar performance.

 

Why? Because of the euro. Until recently, being a member of the euro zone seemed like a good thing for Greece, bringing with it cheap loans and large inflows of capital. But those capital inflows also led to inflation — and when the music stopped, Greece found itself with costs and prices way out of line with Europe's big economies. Over time, Greek prices will have to come back down. And that means that unlike postwar America, which inflated away part of its debt, Greece will see its debt burden worsened by deflation.

 

That's not all. Deflation is a painful process, which invariably takes a toll on growth and employment. So Greece won't grow its way out of debt. On the contrary, it will have to deal with its debt in the face of an economy that's stagnant at best. So the only way Greece could tame its debt problem would be with savage spending cuts and tax increases, measures that would themselves worsen the unemployment rate. No wonder, then, that bond markets are losing confidence, and pushing the situation to the brink.

 

What can be done? The hope was that other European countries would strike a deal, guaranteeing Greek debt in return for a commitment to harsh fiscal austerity. That might have worked. But without German support, such a deal won't happen.

 

Greece could alleviate some of its problems by leaving the euro, and devaluing. But it's hard to see how Greece could do that without triggering a catastrophic run on its banking system. Indeed, worried depositors have already begun pulling cash out of Greek banks. There are no good answers here — actually, no non-terrible answers.


THE INDIAN EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

NIKAH, TALAQ, NIKAH

RUCHIKA TALWAR

 

This week was a continuation of the love triangle between Sania-Shoaib-Ayesha and Pakistan's love-hate relationship with democracy. While the National Assembly gave final touches to the 18th amendment to Pakistan's constitution, newspersons enjoyed reporting the minute-by-minute developments in what became South Asia's only fixation — Sania weds Shoaib or Ayesha '"unweds" Shoaib.

 

Dawn reported on April 6: "A senior Pakistani lawyer announced he would file cases against Shoaib Malik under the Hudood Ordinance and section 420 of the Pakistan Penal Code and seek life imprisonment for the cricketer. Barrister Farooq Hasan claiming to have been engaged by the family of Ayesha Siddiqui said... he was waiting for a hard copy of the power of attorney to be provided by the family of Ayesha to initiate cases against Shoaib... He vowed to frustrate Shoaib Malik's planned marriage to Sania Mirza 'at any cost'." After hectic activity, when Shoaib finally divorced Ayesha, Dawn reported celebrations in his hometown on April 8: "The sporting marriage, apparently unprecedented in the perennial rivalry between the South Asian nations, is planned just months after Mirza broke off her engagement to a childhood friend. Hundreds of Malik's fans danced and celebrated in his hometown Sialkot when the marriage was announced last week, saying they would welcome the bride to Pakistan."

 

The history channel

President Asif Zardari sought a place in history as he stirred the nation's emotions on April 4, on account of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto's death anniversary, as reported by Daily Times on April 5: "We will continue to serve Pakistan and its people even at the cost of our lives." Citing the 18th amendment as his achievement that will ensure his place in history, Dawn reported Zardari as saying: "The PPP-led government spent the first two years of its tenure strengthening 'democracy and the institutions', and would now dedicate the next three to addressing the problems confronting the people." On April 6, according to Dawn, while addressing a joint session of parliament, he called himself a "custodian of the legacy of executed former PM and his father-in-law Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and assassinated wife Benazir Bhutto... by standing in their shadows today and empowering the parliament, I hope to walk into the annals of history, Insha'Allah."

 

PM Yousaf Raza Gilani echoed Zardari's promise, as reported by Daily Times on April 7: "When I met President Zardari, I said power is a game of musical chairs. One should not go after a thing that is not permanent. Therefore, we need to strengthen institutions and not persons... The 18th amendment bill is a dividend of politics of reconciliation..."

 

Aye!

Dawn reported on April 8 the thumping success of the bill: "Pakistan's National Assembly unanimously approved reforms stripping President Asif Zardari of key powers in a move to bolster parliamentary democracy weakened by military rule. The historic 18th amendment... is expected to sail through the upper house of parliament as early as next week and then pass into law... All 292 lawmakers present in the 342-member assembly voted to approve the 102-clause bill... No one voted against."

 

PoK justice

Pakistan's recent judicial crisis was not just replicated but taken a step forward in the "supreme court" of PoK — referred to as Azad Jammu & Kashmir (AJK) in Pakistan, where the PM and president of AJK have their own chief justices.

 

Dawn reported on April 5: "AJK faced what appears to be a serious judicial and political crisis after a clash between the offices of the president and PM over the filing of a reference against Chief Justice Reaz Akhtar Chaudhry and appointment of Justice Syed Manzoor Hussain Gillani as acting CJ. The chief of the ruling Muslim Conference, Sardar Attique Ahmed Khan, threw his weight behind the president and... urged the people of AJK to take to the streets." Daily Times added: "AJK president Raja Zulqarnain Khan reinstated deposed Supreme Court Chief Justice Riaz Akhtar Chaudhry... while AJK PM Raja Farooq Haider termed the decision 'unconstitutional'."

 

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FINANCIAL EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

TREAT PSUS LIKE PRIVATE COS

 

Public sector undertakings (PSUs) suffer enough interference from their parent ministries. So, it is hardly in the interest of their best functioning to have an additional government agency, the Central Vigilance Commission (CVC), looking into their management decisions. According to a report in FE on Friday, the CVC has asked the department of public enterprises to restore its power to recommend lodging of cases against chiefs of PSUs in case of reported irregularities. The department of public enterprises should proceed in precisely the opposite direction, divesting the CVC of any role in lodging cases against any level of employee in a PSU. The looming shadow of a vigilance enquiry has been long known to deter efficient decision-making by managers, particularly by the most honest managers who genuinely fear the hassle of an enquiry. Given the various leakages that happen in PSUs, even in the presence of vigilance offices, it seems unlikely that managers with questionable integrity are deterred by the presence of the CVC. So we end up with a perverse system of incentives that can stall decision-making by the best managers.

 

At stake in this matter is potential investment of around Rs 5,35,000 crore, an estimate of the cash reserves PSUs are sitting on, and which they are often afraid to invest because of the fear of enquiries by the CVC. Instead, PSUs should be allowed to follow the norms of corporate governance that are followed by their counterparts in the private sector. Irregularities reported at the level of employees must be dealt with by senior management—there is no need for an outside agency. And irregularities at the level of senior management, if they occur, must be dealt with by the board that should have a sufficient number of non-government independent directors. Of course, listed PSUs are also subject to the discipline of the market, to which they must disclose a lot of information, and to the markets regulator Sebi. In the case of massive fraud, there is always recourse to criminal investigation and procedure—stronger whistleblower laws applicable to both private sector and PSUs would help reveal more such cases. At any rate, there are enough institutional checks that can be put in place to check genuinely dishonest and fraudulent managerial actions in PSUs without the need for the CVC to interfere with decision making at every level. It is in the interest of the competitiveness of PSUs that the department of public enterprises cut out the role of the CVC in PSUs.

 

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FINANCIAL EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

CREDIT ON TARGET

 

A record growth in bank credit disbursement of Rs 1,15,548 crore in the last fortnight of March this year—the highest amount of loans given by banks in a single fortnight—indicates that the pick-up in the credit growth is broad-based and the economy is gaining momentum. The unusually high disbursals pushed year-on-year growth in credit to 16.74% at the end of the financial year, almost one percentage point higher than the central bank's revised credit growth target for FY10. Although a part of the record disbursement was to meet the yearly target of banks, soft interest rates and availability of funds have supported domestic industrial activity and played an important role in the revival of the manufacturing sector in the last six months. The industrial production index has been hinting at a positive manufacturing sector outlook, on the back of improved performance in the domestic-focused sectors, significant inventory de-stocking and improved business confidence across all sectors. Within the manufacturing sector, intermediate, capital and durable goods have shown the strongest recovery after the global economic crisis. The stimulus packages offered by the government revived private sector demand, as data shows that capital formation growth picked up to 5.1% in the Q3FY10. Anecdotal evidence suggests that capacity utilisation is beginning to approach the pre-global economic crisis level and companies in certain core sectors like steel, cement and power are ramping up their capital expenditure plans and reviving their stalled projects.

 

Going ahead, visibility of investment demand, especially from the manufacturing sector, would increase substantially in the current financial year because of the pent-up demand. To achieve the estimated sales growth of 24% over FY11, industry will have to add plant and machinery worth Rs 2,64,000 crore. In 2009, companies had invested Rs 1,60,000 crore in plant and machinery. Also, as infrastructure spending is expected to increase from 5.5% of GDP in FY09 to 9% in 2012, infrastructure Capex requirements will grow substantially. As the current growth momentum is shifting from government-driven consumption to capital-driven private investment, credit growth is expected to touch the 30%-mark this current financial year, a feat achieved in 2007 when companies lined up impressive capital expenditure plans. Banks will now have to play a prominent role in meeting the growing demand for capital from the private sector and sustain the credit growth.

 

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FINANCIAL EXPRESS

COLUMN

HOW BEST TO TACKLE THE MAOISTS

ASHOK MALIK

 

In January 2007, the Bhopal police raided a Maoist sleeper cell in the vicinity of the Bharat Heavy Electricals Ltd (BHEL) facility in the city. The cell was disguised as a privately owned ancillary unit. In this garb, it was engaged in the manufacture of fairly sophisticated weaponry. So impressive was the cache that the Indian Ordnance official deputed to help the police team collate the weapons sardonically exclaimed that the Maoists should be invited to help the Indian Army.

 

Heading the Maoist 'factory' in Bhopal was Chakka Krishna, an engineer from Andhra Pradesh who had earlier

worked in a BHEL ancillary unit in Hyderabad. Krishna was a member of the Maoist 'Central Technical Committee', the rebel movement's very own military-industrial complex. His Bhopal operation resembled a regular SME. Machines were acquired from legitimate suppliers as far away as Surat, and then reverse-engineered. These were used to make munitions.

 

The Bhopal raid also revealed valuable information on the extent of the Maoist network. It helped uncover similar 'technical cells' located amid ancillary units of the steel plant in Rourkela. A police officer who was part of the original investigation admits to musing that if Krishna had put his skills to good use, he may have ended up in a technology firm in Bangalore.

 

The purpose of this story is not to lament the human capital India has lost to the Maoists or to speculate on the potential Nandan Nilekanis among the Naxalites. It is to emphasise that middle-class India has to open its eyes to the level of the insurgency it faces. The Maoists are neither poverty-stricken tribals with rudimentary arms looted from the local police station, nor are they 'a few hundred boys'—the description offered by Shivraj Patil, the former home minister, in 2004.

 

The Maoist leadership consists of educated, technically proficient minds who have decided to dismantle the Indian state and the Indian system. It is futile to argue that it all began with some idealistic impulse. Even Adolf Hitler and Osama bin Laden may have had a persuasive idea to start with, but in the long run it didn't matter.

 

Today, the Maoists have become bandits. They ransack police stations, extort money from businesses—large industrial houses as well as petty, village-level shopkeepers—murder rural folk who don't spontaneously help them and derive logistical support at gun-point. This is not to say that nobody in the interiors of Chhattisgarh or Jharkhand supports the Maoists. Yet, it must be recognised that their popularity is grossly exaggerated and romanticised by Left-liberal intellectuals.

 

Each time the question of a battle against the Maoists is brought up, fellow travellers respond with a loaded one-word expression: 'development'. They say the answer to Maoism is not the bullet, but development. It is impossible to disagree with this contention. Equally, to agree is to fall into a trap.

 

For about 30 years from the 1950s, the Indian state paid little attention to the tribal homelands in the interiors of Madhya Pradesh/Chhattisgarh, Bihar/ Jharkhand, Orissa, Andhra Pradesh or West Bengal. With honourable exceptions, state governments deployed the most corrupt officers there. Like the roads department, the tribal affairs department was seen as a source of embezzlement by ministers and their cronies.

 

This situation gave the Maoists their early impetus. Yet, today it is the Maoists who have a vested interest in not permitting 'development' because it directly threatens their comfort zone. Perhaps the single-largest source of finance for them is stealing social sector programme funds that are increasingly sent to districts and panchayats. The NREG is an example. Such schemes may or may not be efficacious in banishing poverty—that is a separate debate—but they are certainly not meant for the Maoists.

 

Maoists also have a singular antipathy to roads. They annihilate contractors who come to build roads—interior stretches or parts of highways. In some cases, they blow up a road almost as soon as it is built. A Chhattisgarh government official once explained this phenomenon: "Maoists are strongest where the community has no links with the world outside, and where police jeeps can't easily patrol." Their model is the crazy autarky Enver Hoxha, Mao's one-time friend, created in Albania.

 

'Development' cannot arrive to the forests of Chhattisgarh in a day. Literacy figures can't be trebled in weeks. Yet, the war-plan the Union home ministry has put together is not fundamentally unsound. It entails combating the Maoists in a concentrated territory and, having gained area domination, using special mechanisms—security related expenditure (SRE), special infrastructure scheme (SIS) and the backward region growth fund—to kick-start the development process.

 

For instance, in Kanker, to the north of Chhattisgarh's Bastar region, paramilitary success was quickly followed by telephone towers and road building. Intelligence reports suggested the Maoists were determined to hit back, and would probably do so in Dantewada, in south Bastar. On April 6, the warnings came true. It was a setback, but India must press on.

 

The author is a political columnist

 

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FINANCIAL EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

SHOULD DRUGS BE ALLOWED EVERGREENING?

MG ARUN

 

The issue of 'evergreening' of drugs, or obtaining new patents for minor improvements on a product towards its patent expiry, has been a subject of debate in India ever since 2005, when India allowed patenting of products in pharmaceuticals, as opposed to the earlier process patent regime. The latest discussion has risen from the publication of a study Patent Protection and Innovation prepared by TC James, director of the National Intellectual Property Organisation, an NGO recognised by the World Intellectual Property Organisation. The study was commissioned by the Indian Pharmaceutical Alliance, a lobby group for domestic pharma companies and was presented at a roundtable discussion organised by Ficci on March 29. The study was in response to another report by the US-India Business Council, titled The value of incremental innovations: Benefits for Indian patients and Indian business, which had come out last year.

 

In James' study, he attempts to establish that what is required are more "genuine innovations leading to development of drugs for diseases, which still pose a challenge to humanity and not minor cosmetic modifications on existing drugs." He argues that there is no clinching evidence to show that innovations can only occur in a strong protection regime, turning the argument of many MNCs, that the Indian patent regime still does not foster innovation, on its head. For this, he uses an earlier IPA study, in which the industry body came out with a list of 86 patents granted for pharmaceutical products by India after 2005, where the products are not breakthrough drugs, but 'minor variations of existing pharmaceutical products'.

 

The bone of contention in the Indian Patent Act, despite it allowing product patents, is Section 3(d), which prevents incremental innovations. As per Section 3(d), something is not an invention if "the mere discovery of a new form of a known substance, which does not result in the enhancement of the known efficacy of that substance, or the mere use of a known process." While this clause has been built in to guard against 'evergreening', it has been challenged by MNCs. According to MNCs, incremental innovations lead to the availability of more and better drugs that suit local conditions and can be procured at more affordable prices, and Section 3(d) is a dampener. However, facts speak otherwise. Despite the safeguards, incremental inventions, which meet the criteria of patentability, have got patented in India. There was a steep rise in the number of patents that were granted between 2004-05, when product patent regime was introduced, to 1,911. This has kept on rising ever since—to 4,320 in 2005-06, 7,539 in 2006-07, and 15,261 in 2007-08. All these years, the number of non-resident (foreign) applicants has grown. The argument is brought out clearly—Section 3(d) has not come in the way of incremental innovations and has not deterred MNCs from applying for patents here.

 

Yet another myth professed by multinationals is that the 'loopholes' in India's patent regime will cripple the industry and the health care system. This argument does not hold much water, going by some of the points put forward by James. According to figures compiled by IPA, the total revenue of pharma companies grew from Rs 43,986 crore in 2004-05 to Rs 80,336 in 2008-09. So, one can assume that the Indian pharma sector has not suffered any major setback because of Section 3(d).

 

While MNC lobby groups will still feel the need to pressurise the Indian government on the need to plug the so-called 'holes' in the Indian intellectual property regime, it will also be worthwhile to listen to some of the different voices that are emerging from the West. For instance, Andrew Witty, CEO of GlaxoSmithKline, reportedly expressed confidence in the Indian patent system. He also assured there would not be any major increase in drug prices in India in future, just because the products are patent-protected. This is contrary to the views of PhRMA, the US drug lobby group for 'innovator' companies, which feels that the current Indian law does not recognise the benefits of innovations and only reduces incentives for companies to do research and make progress in medical technology.

 

In essence, it may not be a good idea to harp on the issue of Section 3(d) coming in the way of incremental innovations, or the slackness of India's patent regime. Patent laws differ from country to country and companies need to strive to tap opportunities in that country by adhering to the market rules there. While it can be understood that global pharma giants face the issue of drying up product pipelines, owing to ever-tighter regulations, it cannot be used as a reason to demand the scrapping of Section 3(d). Rather, new means to tap opportunities in unmet health care needs can be continuously developed, to the advantage of these companies as well as for the larger public good.

 

mg.arun@expressindia.com

 

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FINANCIAL EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

WIND IN THE SAIL

RISHI RAJ

 

The follow-on-offer (FPO) by the country's largest steel manufacturer, Steel Authority of India Ltd (SAIL), which the Cabinet cleared on Thursday, comes at the right time as the company is in the midst of an expansion programme to raise its production capacity from the current 13.82 million tonne (mt) to 23 mt by 2012.

 

With the government divesting 10% of its stake and SAIL issuing fresh equity equivalent to 10%, the total mop-up would be around Rs 16,000 crore. So, the company would get an additional capital of Rs 8,000 crore. This is a good way of mopping up funds, which can be leveraged against raising debt to fund the expansion programme. The expansion programme for SAIL is quite critical because unlike, say, Tata Steel, which grew through acquisition of the Anglo-Dutch firm Corus, the state-owned firm has decided not to look beyond the domestic boundaries.

 

The company's chairman, SK Roongta, had earlier told me that since the demand for steel was growing in India rather than in the overseas market, there was no sense in going for overseas acquisition as that would mean importing that steel back into the country. Doing this would not be easy since the country's port capacities are not adequate to handle large imports, leading to delays. Thus, SAIL has decided to use its resources internally to acquire companies rather than going abroad.

 

Ideally, it would have been prudent for the government to have brought its stake below 51% so that the company could have been freed from political bondage—even after the FPO the government's stake will be around 69%. SAIL's case for more autonomy is perfectly justified. Many would have forgotten that the company posted the worst losses in its history during 1999-2000 and the government had to come up with business-cum-financial restructuring for it. The turnaround thereafter was fast and firm and the company adhered to all the tenets outlined by the government in the restructuring package. The turnaround was so concrete that the divestment planned of its certain non-strategic businesses were called off. It's another matter that it never received promising bids.

 

rishi.raj@expressindia.com

 

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THE HINDU

EDITORIAL

A DECISIVE MANDATE IN SRI LANKA

 

The results of post-conflict Sri Lanka's first parliamentary elections are on expected lines. President Mahinda Rajapaksa's ruling United Progressive Freedom Alliance, led by the Sri Lanka Freedom Party, has scored a decisive victory on the strength of a vote share that may exceed 60 per cent. After President Rajapaksa's big victory in the January 26 presidential election, there was never really any doubt about the outcome of Thursday's general election. Perhaps this was one reason for the low turnout of voters. This is way and ahead the best performance by a political party or coalition in a general election since 1977. Indeed, a two-thirds majority in the 225-seat House, always a difficult target in a system of proportional representation, seems to be within the UPFA's grasp, assuming there will be a repeat of the defections that followed the 2004 elections. The United National Party, which has won only one parliamentary election in two decades, can take some comfort from the fact that its vote-base has not eroded significantly in this period. But the kingmaker of elections past, the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna, has suffered a rout, its opportunistic decision to back former Sri Lanka army commander, Sarath Fonseka, who is under detention and facing court martial proceedings, doing nothing to shore up its fortunes. The third force, the Democratic National Alliance, has failed to take off.

 

With his political stock enormously boosted, President Rajapaksa must turn his attention to the urgent task of reconciliation with Sri Lanka's Tamil minority and the development of the North and the East. The poor voter turnout in Jaffna was a reminder of Sri Lanka's persisting ethnic polarisation. In an interview to this newspaper after his re-election, President Rajapaksa agreed that the 13th Amendment was "implementable" in Northern Sri Lanka with some provisos. Under his leadership, the government must quickly articulate a set of comprehensive political reforms that will devolve power to the Tamils in a genuine and far-going way. It would be ideal if the UPFA, secure in its majority, could co-opt the UNP and especially its leader Ranil Wickremesinghe in this historic project. It is one of the tragedies of the Tamil community that its leadership, even in a post-LTTE world, remains confused between the politically achievable and the impossible. Unable to shake off the extremist politics and expectations of vocal sections of the Tamil diaspora, the Tamil National Alliance, which has fared well in the Northern Province, has not shown itself to be capable of rising to the challenge. What Sri Lanka's Tamils badly need is a responsible democratic leadership that can engage meaningfully with the Sinhala majority to resolve all aspects of the Tamil question on the basis of equality and devolution of power within a united Sri Lanka.

 

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THE HINDU

EDITORIAL

A NEW HUMAN SPECIES

 

Nearly 10 years after the genome of a living individual was first sequenced, and shortly after the sequencing of the genome of a 4,000-year-old male Eskimo, scientists have successfully sequenced the mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) genome of a nearly 40,000-year-old hominin. The study, published recently in Nature, was based on mtDNA extracted from a small piece of bone of a little finger; the bone was found in the Denisova cave in the Altai Mountains in southern Siberia. Mitochondrial DNA, which is passed down the maternal line, is better conserved than nuclear DNA. The mtDNA data indicate that the hominin is probably a new human species that became extinct. The differences in nucleotide positions between the Denisova individual and the modern human are nearly double those between Neanderthals and modern humans. However, nuclear DNA genome data need to corroborate mtDNA findings for the hominin to be called a new human species, and to establish the relationship of the hominin with modern humans and Neanderthals. The same team is now working to sequence the nuclear DNA. The mtDNA data provide some fascinating information: the Denisova hominin, Neanderthals, and modern humans apparently shared a common ancestor about one million years ago; and the divergence of the Denisova hominin is about twice as old as the divergence between the Neanderthal and modern human.

 

The earlier notion that Neanderthals were our ancestors was overturned when it became clear they lived alongside us. The latest study shows that modern humans and Neanderthals probably lived alongside the Denisova individual, who lived about 30,000 to 50,000 years ago. A 2003 study revealed that we coexisted with another human species, Homo floresiensis, about 15,000 years ago; skeletal remains of H. floresiensis were found on an island in Flores, Indonesia. Independent of the species confirmation, the hominin discovery provides deeper insight into human evolution and suggests that the number of mass migrations of homo species out of Africa was not three, as previously thought, but more. In the case of H. floresiensis, excellent skeletal remains allowed morphological classification but comparable remains have not so far been found in the Altai. However, DNA can be teased out of the small pieces of bones found there as the cold climate favours long-term preservation.

 

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THE HINDU

LEADER PAGE ARTICLES

MORE THAN A FEW GLIMMERS OF HOPE

BY GRANTING BROAD RIGHTS TO THE PROVINCES AND PARLIAMENT, THE 18TH AMENDMENT TO THE CONSTITUTION HAS OPENED A DOOR FOR THE LONG-TERM RECONFIGURATION OF POLITICS AND STATE POWER IN PAKISTAN. AND THAT'S GOOD NEWS FOR INDIA.

SIDDHARTH VARADARAJAN

 

Working quietly and even stealthily, Pakistani politicians have pulled a rabbit of hope out of their hat in the shape of the 18th amendment to the constitution. Remember hope? Hare today, gone tomorrow, he was last spotted scurrying down a deep hole, even as men in khaki strutted around in Islamabad and Washington holding strategic dialogues, and terrorists with suicide vests and ridiculous edicts prowled the streets asserting their sole right to determine the future of Pakistan.

 

The men in khaki are still there, as are the terrorists, and they will probably be around for a while still. But the latest constitutional amendment, coupled with the first proper award of the National Finance Commission (NFC) in 13 years, has opened a door to the long-term reconfiguration of state power, primarily by increasing the economic and, eventually, political weight of Balochistan, Sindh and Khyber-Pakhtoonkhwa (the new name for the North West Frontier Province) vis-à-vis the federal government. The NFC has given them a greater share of tax revenues by moving away from population being the sole criterion for allocation. And the 18th amendment, which also makes the provinces co-owners of the oil and gas reserves under their soil, says the provincial share in the NFC cannot be reduced. This means the share can either stay the same or go up, affecting direct claimants to the federal purse such as the military establishment. By itself, this may not seem like a small step. But it is bound to become an important factor in the slow transformation of Pakistan into a "normal" democracy – a democracy where the military's guidance is neither expected nor imposed. Earlier, the provincial masses were the mainstay of opposition to military rule; the new arrangements give provincial elites a stake in genuine federalism and democracy.

 

As an all-party committee of Pakistani legislators worked under the radar on these reforms for eight months, India, like the rest of the world, allowed itself to become convinced its neighbour was going down the tubes. The last 12 months has seen the power and influence of the military establishment grow enormously. That's bad news, given that most of the problems Pakistan is dealing with today – terrorism, extremism, regional unrest, economic mismanagement, the shortage of electricity and water — are a legacy of decades upon decades of military rule.

 

The blame for this reassertion of military power and prestige lies, firstly, with the United States, which continues to treat GHQ as its most valuable strategic asset within Pakistan. But the country's major political players – primarily the Pakistan People's Party of President Asif Ali Zardari and the Pakistan Muslim League of Mian Nawaz Sharif — must also share a part of the blame. Their jousting and squabbling has only made it easier for the generals to present themselves as anchors of stability. The celebrated 'independent judiciary' of Pakistan has also queered the pitch. Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhary is fighting legal battles that belong to an earlier era, battles whose resolution today can only weaken the power of political parties at a time when the country needs mass politics more than ever before.

 

There is, no doubt, enormous merit in exposing the fraudulent manner in which earlier governments used their authority to drop high-profile cases of corruption against Mr. Zardari and his late wife, Benazir Bhutto. But can the polity of Pakistan afford to be selective about its past sins? If there is to be legal accounting for the Swiss cases and others against the Bhuttos, what about an honest and wholesale judicial repudiation of the "doctrine of necessity", first introduced in Pakistan by Chief Justice Muhammad Munir in 1954 and used by the Supreme Court meekly to rubber-stamp one coup after the next? Some may argue that Justice Chaudhary's final stand against Pervez Musharraf symbolically cleansed the Pakistani judiciary of the stain of complicity. By the same token, the fact that Mr. Zardari has become the first President in a land of usurpers to return powers and prerogatives to the Prime Minister and Parliament must surely count for something.

 

The 18th amendment, passed by a two-thirds majority in the National Assembly on Thursday, will go some way towards exorcising the ghosts of the past by calling the suspension of the Constitution an act of high treason. But whether textual provisions serve as a deterrent to the military and its apologists amongst the Pakistani elite would depend, in the first instance, on the willingness of political leaders and parties to stand up for what they have now inscribed.

 

From India's perspective, the new changes are good news. They provide strong confirmation of a key assumption Indian policymakers made when assessing how to react to the terrorist attacks on Mumbai in November 2008. Resisting the temptation to go hawkish, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh understood at the time that political power in Pakistan was fragmented and in a state of flux. And that India should seek to strengthen the hands of those who are opposed to terrorism and who favour better bilateral relations. Even if the 18th amendment by itself does not immediately strengthen the hands of liberal, rational elements in Pakistan, it certainly creates the conditions for that to happen. On its part, India needs to do all it can to encourage the process.

 

Unfortunately, Indian policy towards Pakistan over the past few months has been slightly schizophrenic. Within the overall policy of remaining engaged with, and encouraging, democratic forces, there have been significant deviations. Dr. Singh may have been factually accurate when he told an interviewer last November that he didn't know who to deal with in Pakistan now that General Musharraf was no longer in power. But his frank expression of uncertainty in the Zardari-Gilani administration only ended up further undermining the credibility of the elected government.

 

A much worse kind of insensitivity was on display last month when ill-informed speculation that the United States was on the verge of entering into a civil nuclear agreement with Pakistan sent the Indian media into a tizzy. This prompted the Ministry of External Affairs to come out against the possibility of such a deal. In 2008, Pranab Mukherjee, who was external affairs minister at the time, had said, quite correctly, that India was in favour of Pakistan being able to access all forms of energy for its development. "In respect of civil nuclear cooperation between Pakistan and the U.S., we would like to encourage civil nuclear cooperation — its full use of nuclear energy — as we believe every country has its right to use nuclear energy for peaceful purposes," he answered when a direct question was put to him by reporters in Washington. As a politician, Mr. Mukherjee knew that the prospect for such an agreement was very remote and that there was no harm in India being on the side of the angels. This time too, South Block ought to have known there was no nuclear deal in the works for Islamabad. Under the circumstances, publicly opposing such a hypothetical deal was not only unnecessary but unhelpful too. It needlessly gave extremists a stick to use in their propaganda that India was opposed to Pakistan's progress. It also helped to alienate the politicians who form part of the elected government in Islamabad, since Prime Minister Gilani had publicly announced his desire to pursue nuclear cooperation with the U.S.

 

As India formulates its next moves with Pakistan, it needs to focus on what is important and vital and ignore the sideshows and booby-traps. Above all, it needs to factor in the new arrangements that are taking shape across the border. Pakistan is not a failed state and will not easily become one because there are enough Pakistanis who are determined to fight for the right to live in a democracy, a democracy that is genuinely federal, prosperous and free from the curse of religious extremism and terror. The 18th amendment is a reflection of that determination, even if many more battles remain to be fought and won.

The last meeting between the two foreign secretaries produced no substantial move forward because both sides are reluctant to deviate from their current positions. India says there can be no substantial dialogue until the infrastructure of terrorism which still exists in Pakistan is destroyed. Pakistan says no to any form of talks short of the resumption of the composite dialogue. It is possible that after a few weeks of churning in Islamabad — a major clash between the judiciary and the government over Mr. Zardari's cases is looming — the Pakistani side may agree to another round of talks about talks. India must respond positively, even as it takes proactive steps on trade and other fronts to build constituencies for peace with its western neighbour.

 

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THE HINDU

THE WEST'S DUBIOUS EXPORT OF DEMOCRACY

AS THE U.S. AND BRITAIN SLIDE TOWARDS OLIGARCHY, THE FORCED ELECTIONS IN AFGHANISTAN AND IRAQ HAVE BROUGHT NO GOOD.

SIMON JENKINS

The west's proudest export to the Islamic world this past decade has been democracy. That is, not real democracy, which is too complicated, but elections. They have been exported at the point of a gun and a missile to Iraq and Afghanistan, to "nation-build" these states and hence "defeat terror." When apologists are challenged to show some good resulting from the shambles, they invariably reply: "It has given Iraqis and Afghans freedom to vote." As British electors don democratic finery and troop to the polls next month, elections in both war-torn countries are looking sick. Last month's poll in Iraq, blessed (or cursed) with a U.K.-style constitution, has failed to yield a coherent government. It appeared to show the incumbent prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, just beaten by his predecessor, Ayad Allawi. If so, it would be a remarkable case of a third world democracy actually ejecting a sitting leader. In that respect, Iraq would be ahead of Britain, where the opposition must lead by at least 10 percentage points to be certain of power.

For the time being, Baghdad's government has been in abeyance. The Sunni militias, reportedly backed by Al-Qaeda, have returned to the streets, and the death rate is again soaring. Kurdistan is all but a separate country, and the odds are on the Sunnis being forced back into a semi-autonomous region. Tens of thousands of Iraqis have died and millions been driven from their homes — including almost all Iraq's ancient population of Christians. The import of democracy has so far just inflamed local tension and fuelled fundamentalism. Like precious porcelain, elections were exported without instructions on their care. In the absence of adequate security, they are little more than tribal plebiscites.

At least in Iraq western troops are leaving the country to its fate. The west's guilt at the mayhem left behind will start to diminish with time. People will blame George Bush and Tony Blair, leaving them, as they wish, to render their account not to the Iraqis but only to God.

In Afghanistan, a similar saga has been running for nine years, and is growing ever more tragic. Last year saw the deaths of more Afghans (2,412) and more western troops (520) than since the 2001 invasion. Nato is locked in a struggle to hold Helmand province for the government of the president, Hamid Karzai, against insurgents who can wait as long as they like to defeat the hated invaders.

Nato is only now seeking control, nine years on, of the country's second city of Kandahar, in which the Taliban is dominant and the president's brother, Ahmed Wali Karzai, is the power broker. Karzai is said to have told local elders that there will be no assault on Kandahar "without their permission". If Nato cannot negotiate a deal over the city, rather than reduce it to rubble, its mission is surely doomed.

The fact that Hamid Karzai was elected, by whatever dubious means, seems to infuriate western leaders. Barrack Obama, Gordon Brown and their respective foreign ministers rage and telephone and pay visits and expostulate. The repetitive criticism hurled at Karzai for being corrupt and in the pocket of drug lords has become near comical, not least because of his eccentric response. Last week he threatened privately to swear allegiance to the Taliban himself (which might solve many problems).

The west is constantly telling Karzai to "clean up his act" or, as the New York Times harrumphs, "stop doing whatever he and his aides choose". This is not because there is any likelihood of his obeying, but to help make the domestic case for the war look less shaky. As the joke in Kabul goes, as long as the west pretends to uphold his regime, Karzai must "pretend to be Swedish". He is America's exhibit A for world democracy. The idea that he might regard himself as the elected representative of the Afghan people, warts and all, with a future to consider and his neck on the line, is beyond consideration.

Democracy in both America and Britain is coming under scrutiny these days. Quite apart from the antics of MPs and congressmen, it is said to be sliding towards oligarchy, with increasing overtones of autocracy. Money and its power over technology are making elections unfair. The military-industrial complex is as powerful as ever, having adopted "the menace of global terrorism" as its casus belli. Lobbying and corruption are polluting the government process. In a nutshell, democracy is not in good shape.

history. The west not only exports the stuff, it does so with massive, thuggish violence, the antithesis of how self-government should mature in any polity. The tortured justification in Iraq and Afghanistan is that elections will somehow sanctify a "war against terrorism" waged on someone else's soil. The resulting death and destruction have been appalling. Never can an end, however noble, have so failed to justify the means of achieving it.

 

The high-minded attacks on corruption in Muslim states from London and Washington is futile. In most countries corruption is the lubricant of power. Nor is the West that clean. Britain showered corruption on the Saudis to obtain arms contracts.

 

The activities of American firms in "rebuilding" Iraq were wholly corrupt. In 2001 the British in Kabul were put in charge of suppressing Afghan opium, fuel of most of that country's corruption. Britain allowed it to continue, when the Taliban had been in the process of stamping it out.

 

The Tories and Liberal Democrats are dishonest to say that the Afghan war is justified "provided" Karzai ends corruption, stops rigging elections, and trains his army and police. None of this will happen, and is merely cover to avoid saying what these politicians know to be true — that British soldiers are dying for a dud hypothetical.

 

As Britons go the polls, they should challenge their candidates to justify what is being done in their name. A system of government that they have spent two centuries evolving and still not perfected is being rammed down the throats of poor and insecure people, who are then hectored for not handling it properly. Why should they? The invasions of their countries was not their choice. They did not ask to be a model for Britain's moral exhibitionism. They did not plead for their villages to be target practice for western special forces.

 

Karzai is told he will lose Nato protection if he continues to associate with drug dealers and warlords — many of whom appear to be his relatives. He knows — as we know — that this is bluff. There can be no counter-insurgency without a client regime. Obama and Brown need him as much as he needs them. Amid this bluff the only certainty for Karzai is that, one day, Nato will get fed up and leave him to his fate, as it is now leaving Maliki in Baghdad. If he wants to live, he must make his peace with Afghans, not Americans, and that means on Afghan terms. Free and fair elections and a stop to corruption will have no part to play in that survival game. Democracy has been greatly oversold.

 

— © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2010

 

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THE HINDU

DON'T RUBBISH SUDAN ELECTIONS

THE CHORUS OF CONDEMNATION FROM THOSE PURSUING A DARFUR-FOCUSSED AGENDA MISSES THE POINT.

SIMON TISDALL

 

Not a single vote has yet been cast in Sudan's elections but already international pressure groups and domestic opponents of the current government are queuing up to rubbish the process. This chorus of condemnation seems a little premature. It also misses the point. While it's likely the polls will be flawed in important respects, in a fundamental sense, that does not matter. For the major players inside and outside Sudan, the elections, beginning on Sunday, are merely a staging post on a much longer journey.

 

Luis Moreno-Ocampo, the chief prosecutor of the international criminal court, is among the most outspoken critics. He said sending EU and African Union observers to monitor the vote was a waste of time. "It's like monitoring a Hitler election," he said. Moreno-Ocampo urged western countries to concentrate instead on arresting Sudan's president, Omar al-Bashir, charged by the ICC with war crimes and crimes against humanity in Darfur.

 

Moreno—Ocampo has a particular axe to grind. Like the Waging Peace and the Save Darfur Coalition pressure groups, broader issues of democratic governance and implementation of the 2005 comprehensive peace agreement (CPA) that ended Sudan's ruinous north—south civil war take second place, in his view, to the importance of avenging Darfur and arraigning Bashir in The Hague.

 

"It is clear to all observers that these much heralded 'multi-party elections' have never been more than an attempt by [Bashir] to legitimise his position in the eyes of the international community," said Sophie McCann of Waging Peace. The process was "unsalvageable". For its part, Save Darfur seized on the partial poll boycott by some opposition parties to urge the US, Britain and others to disown the whole business and condemn Bashir's "dictatorial rule".

 

Mixed motives also lie behind the decision of the Sudanese People's Liberation Movement (SPLM), the main southern political party, to boycott polling in Darfur and the north. The SPLM and other opposition groups have voiced concerns about the accuracy of the 2008 census on which voting is based, the ruling National Congress party's (NCP) monopoly of state resources, and alleged bias of the national elections commission.

 

These worries are shared by independent organisations such as the Carter Centre (former US president Jimmy Carter is due in Sudan with 60 observers) and the International Crisis Group, which says many displaced Darfuris will be denied a vote. Human Rights Watch accuses both the government and the SPLM of intimidating political rivals, although the picture is mixed. Overall, media controls have been relaxed and some opposition leaders have been give airtime.

 

Yet Sudan experts say it's clear that the SPLM's main concern is not the elections at all, but rather avoiding any delay to January's CPA-directed referendum on southern independence (which is widely expected to result in Sudan's partition). Thus its decision not to contest the presidential or parliamentary votes in northern areas suits Bashir's NCP very well, despite protestations to the contrary. The unspoken deal is plain enough: Bashir the bogeyman gets re-elected and relegitimised, while the south (comprising 25% of the population) and its U.S.-backed president, Salva Kiir, gets independence (and 50% of Sudan's oil wealth).

 

Political opportunism and pragmatism have combined neatly. "The SPLM decided to pull out simply because they know they are not going to win the presidency," said NCP official Omar Rahma in an al-Jazeera interview. Nor does the SPLM seem troubled by the fact that its unilateral decision to mount a partial boycott threw other opposition parties, with which it was supposedly coordinating, into confusion. That the SPLM boycott worries western pressure groups is a measure of their naivety.

 

The Obama administration and Britain cannot be accused of such credulousness. What they most want from these elections is already clear — and it is not a democratic showcase or Bashir's arrest. They want north-south deals on border demarcation and oil-revenue sharing, settlements in trouble spots such as Abyei and South Kordofan, and a successful independence referendum as envisaged by the CPA. The US, in particular, sees a future southern Sudanese republic as an important ally.

 

The western powers see in this outcome the prospect of a final, lasting peace in Darfur, wider regional stability encompassing Chad, and ultimately, Khartoum's rehabilitation. A recent joint statement by the UK foreign secretary David Miliband and the US secretary of state Hillary Clinton set priorities: "Irrespective of the outcome of elections, it is essential that work continues and is accelerated to meet remaining CPA deadlines." Predictions that Sudan's elections will produce an Afghanistan-style fiasco of rigging and recrimination misunderstand the position. All the main actors want a success, and that is what they will most probably deem the polls to be, with the usual caveats and reservations, almost whatever the outcome. This conformity of purpose elicited a remarkable boast from Bashir, speaking in Sinar on the Blue Nile last week: "Even America is becoming an NCP member. No one is against our will."

 

— © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2010

 

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THE HINDU

WORLD BANK'S NOD FOR CONTROVERSIAL COAL PLANT LOAN

U.S., BRITAIN, THE NETHERLANDS, ITALY AND NORWAY ABSTAIN FROM VOTE IN PROTEST.

SUZANNE GOLDENBERG

 

  1. The bank said it had acted to help South Africa escape a crippling power shortage
  2. One of those stereotypical development disaster stories, say activists

 

The World Bank approved a controversial $3.75bn loan to build one of the world's largest coal plants in South Africa on Thursday, defying international protests and sharp criticism from the Obama administration that the project would fuel climate change.

 

The proposed Medupi power station, operated by South Africa's state-owned Eskom company, was fiercely opposed by an international coalition of grassroots, church and environmental activists who said it would hurt the environment and do little to help end poverty. As planned, it would put out 25m tonnes of carbon dioxide a year and would prevent South Africa making good on a promise to try to curb future emissions.

 

The bank said it had acted to help South Africa escape a crippling power shortage. "Without an increased energy supply, South Africans will face hardship for the poor and limited economic growth," said Obiageli Ezekwesili, the World Bank's vice president for Africa.

 

But the bank's approval for the Medupi plant, though expected, was overshadowed by dissatisfaction from American and European donors, as well as a groundswell of protests.

 

America, Britain, the Netherlands, Italy and Norway registered their opposition to the loan by abstaining from the vote, the traditional method of dissent on the board which operates by consensus.

 

In a statement, the U.S. treasury department said the loan was incompatible with the bank's stated commitment to promoting low carbon economic development.

 

"We expect that the World Bank will not bring forward similar coal projects from middle-income countries in the future without a plan to ensure there is no net increase in carbon emissions," it said. Britain, registering its abstention, noted the controversy surrounding the plant.

 

"The project raises several sensitive and potentially controversial issues which it has not been possible to resolve before this period began," a statement from the U.K.'s Department for International Development said.

 

Not an easy decision

 

However, a World Bank official said the strong wording of such statements did not carry over to the Board's discussions of the loan. "It was not an easy decision," he said. "Everybody recognised the concerns about climate change, but this was a balancing act." The vote by the World Bank had been widely seen as a test of the Obama administration's commitment to new guidelines put forward barely three months to shift aid to the developing world away from coal and fossil fuels to less polluting energy sources.

 

The administration had come under strong pressure from Democratic leaders in Congress as well as environmental organisations to try to block the loan.

 

Environmental organisations said its decision to abstain fell short.

"I am not going to give them points for abstaining. This was totally the easy way out," said Karen Ornstein of Friends of the Earth. "If the U.S. were to follow its own clean coal guidance for multilateral development banks it would have had to vote no on this loan."

 

Michael Stulman of Africa Action said the entire project was misguided, and would do little to help poor South Africans. "This is one of those stereotypical development disaster stories," he said.

 

— © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2010

 

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THE HINDU

CLIMATE TALKS REOPEN

JOHN VIDAL

 

Diplomats from more than 180 countries reopened on Friday in Bonn global climate change negotiations for the first time since last year's Copenhagen summit, which was widely perceived as a failure.

 

Top of the agenda is how countries respond to the Copenhagen accord, the non-legally binding deal that was pushed through by a small group of countries in a bitter atmosphere in the last few hours of the U.N. conference. Some 110 countries have now backed the agreements made in the accord.

 

These include aiming to hold temperature rises to 2 {+0}C, transferring $30bn a year in the short term and $100bn a year by 2020 to developing countries for adaptation to climate change; and reaching new global agreements on forests and technology transfer.

 

Observers said on Friday morning that they detected a new mood to cooperate in the talks, with developing countries determined to find a way through the suspicion, mistrust and national self-interest which hampered the Copenhagen summit.

 

— © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2010

 

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DNA

EDITORIAL

PREJUDICE UNLIMITED

 

Of the many prejudices and injustices which dominate our public life, there are some which slip under our collective radar. The general Indian and official attitude to homosexuality and other gender issues is an unfortunate victim of our indifference. Often, this indifference is not deliberate. We have many other problems to deal with. But two recent incidents show that the human cost of prejudice and apathy can be needlessly high.

 

The first is the death of Shrinivas Ramchandra Siras, an assistant professor with Aligarh Muslim University. The professor was suspended by the university, apparently for having consensual sex with another man, which was revealed in a sting operation by a television channel. The Allahabad High Court had revoked his suspension last week after Siras filed an appeal against the university's suspension order. Sadly, while the university did reinstate him following the high court order, it was too late. Siras had either killed himself or died for unknown reasons.

 

The harassment of a person for his sexual preferences is no longer acceptable in today's society and surely goes against all principles of justice and fairness. It is true that for many of the more conservative, there are matters which are inexplicable. But lack of understanding cannot be an excuse for mental torture, social ostracism, harassment and, unconscionably, termination of employment. If Siras's only crime was that he was a homosexual, then the university must be made to pay — as must the TV channel which decided to "expose" him.


In a case of far less tragic consequences but also of pertinence is of a transgender individual being asked to leave a party at a private club to which she was invited. Although outrage has largely been limited to the higher echelons of Mumbai society, the display of prejudice and defence of the club's actions is equally outstanding. Those who work with people with non-conventional gender preferences and HIV know how difficult it is to fight stigma and discrimination. Often ignorance and a traditional outlook are blamed for this.

 

Yet, while a university and a posh club in a mega metropolis are as far from little village biases as you can get, the ignorance and intolerance, it seems, are no less. The reasons to get section 377 of the Indian Penal Code revoked grow by the day. These two incidents make it clear why treating homosexuality as a crime is not just detrimental to the health of society — as, among other problems, it encourages the secret spread of HIV — but also because it is in essence, unconstitutional.

 

To blame people for their sexual preferences no longer makes sense in today's world. Tolerance is not just about religion or caste or colour: it is about accepting that we are all different and not making that difference into a crime or a taboo.

 

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DNA

EDITORIAL

JUGAAD ENTERS MANAGEMENT JARGON

UTTARA CHOUDHURY

 

Business leaders around the world leapt to take a leaf out of Toyota's playbook. The lean Japanese production methods pioneered by Toyota's Eiji Toyoda originated in the austerity of post-war Japan. Just as The Toyoto Way influenced global manufacturing, the authors of the The India Way say Indian management practices offer lessons to Western firms scrambling to adapt to a changing business landscape. "Indian companies are on a roll. If you look at Infosys, its growth is outstripping the 7-8% GDP of the country. It's this stunning growth that gave us the idea for the book. We wanted to see what management practices from India are exportable," said Wharton Business School professor Michael Useem, who has authored The India Way with Peter Cappelli, Harbir Singh, and Jitendra Singh. The book is due in May. Useem talked to Uttara Choudhury in New York about how Indian practices like jugaad are likely to enter the lexicon of western management consultants.

Your book talks about India's genius in making something out of limited resources. How did India develop the jugaad mindset?

Jugaad is a virtue that's evolved out of necessity. Adaptability and improvisation emerged as a response from conditions that were not directly related to business. During the license raj, the bureaucratic roadblocks were felt at every turn, and even today the infrastructural challenges are many.

As a result, Indian executives became adept at solving problems by improvising. In a complex, often volatile environment with few resources and much red tape, business leaders learned to rely on their wits to circumvent the hurdles they confronted. Adaptability and improvisation are now at the heart of the India Way. They have led to a willingness to plunge forward even when the territory is new.

Consider ICICI Bank. When it entered microfinance, there wasn't a roadmap on how to do it. But ICICI executives, four of whom we interviewed, including CEO Chanda Kochhar and KV Kamath, said they simply had to invent their own path into the market. In doing so, they didn't have a well-defined way forward, and moved "sideways" instead. They took a step, tested the field, found what worked and what didn't, and adjusted their strategy. This is a distinctive Indian practice the West could learn from.

Do Indian companies have the jugaad or frugal engineering skills to create breakthrough products at low cost?
Yes, Indian business leaders have combined jugaad with frugal engineering to produce innovative products with good value at exceptionally low price. Tata Motors' creation of the Nano is a good case in point. Not only does it sell for a fraction of what cars cost, but it is also available as a "kit" for assembling by local mechanics. I can't image a Chevrolet or a Ford combining improvisation with thrift in quite the same manner.

 

Is the India Way all that different from Western management practices?

We found an approach to business leadership that is indeed distinct from that prevailing in the West. It can be hard to grasp, but Western business leaders have much to learn from the India Way.
We "think in English and act in Indian," observed R Gopalakrishnan, the executive director of Tata Sons. "For the Indian manager," he explained, "his intellectual tradition, his y-axis, is Anglo-American, and his action vector, his x-axis, is in the Indian ethos. Many foreigners come to India, they talk to Indian managers, and they find them very articulate, very analytical, very smart, very intelligent — and then they can't for the life of them figure out why the Indian manager can't do what is prescribed by the analysis."

 

What then are the principal practices of the India Way?

It took us a while to identify the features of that "x-axis." But we found a unique mix of organisational capabilities and managerial methods — four leadership practices really stand out:
1. Holistic engagement with employees. Indian leaders view sustaining employee morale and building company culture as critical. People are viewed as assets to be developed, not costs to be reduced and as sources of creative ideas.


2. Improvisation and adaptability. Improvisation is also at the heart of the India Way. The Hindi term jugaad captures the mindset. Anyone who has seen outdated equipment nursed along a generation past its expected lifetime with retrofitted spare parts and jerry-rigged solutions has witnessed jugaad in action. Adaptability is crucial as well, and it is frequently referenced in an English-Hindi hybrid, adjust kar lenge — we will adjust.
3. Creative value propositions. Given the large domestic market with value-conscious customers, most of modest means, Indian business leaders have learned to be creative in developing their value propositions. They are inventing entirely new products and services.


4. Broad mission and purpose. Besides servicing the needs of their stockholders — a necessity of CEOs everywhere — Indian CEOs also stress broader societal purpose. They take pride in enterprise success — but also in family prosperity and national renaissance.

Bundled together, these principles constitute a distinctly Indian way of conducting business, one that contrasts with the United States, where the blend is centered more on delivering shareholder value.


You didn't feel they were just paying lip service to nation-building?

Indian corporations have succeeded while pursuing a social mission and taking care of their employees. The India Way appears to avoid some of the rapaciousness and excesses of the American model. Companies go beyond not doing harm to the social fabric to actively embracing social improvements, in some contexts more efficiently than the government. Consider the examples of Bharti Airtel, Tata Motors and Hindustan Unilever where they have provided inexpensive mobile services, cars and consumer goods to millions of traditionally underserved people of modest means.


But isn't private gain still an important motivator?

Self-interest is of course not far from the surface. For B Muthuraman of Tata Steel, social responsibility includes a reputational asset. "Our history in corporate social responsibility," he affirmed, has "enhanced the group brand." For others, acting responsibly in the eyes of the regulators may be a necessity. Obtaining industrial licenses in the US can be a straightforward, if technical, process, while in India it can also be dependent on a reputation for public responsibility.

 

But the commitment goes well beyond a private calculus. Indian executives put forward what is essentially an Indian version of the "stakeholder" model of corporate governance, where business decisions strike a balance between the interests of all those affected by the company. They carried a self-conscious commitment to give back to society. "The three P's of the Indian style of management," said Rakesh Mehrotra, managing director of Container Corporation of India, "are people, planet, and prosperity." We found Indian industry had embraced a concern for multiple stakeholders, not just the narrower needs of shareholders.

 

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DNA

THAILAND'S IRRESISTIBLE CHARM

NIRAJ KEDIA

 

This year while planning for our New Year vacation, we were in a fix. Our vacations generally involve backpacking and exploring places less frequented by tourists. Considering this, my friends and I set out for Thailand (officially the Kingdom of Thailand) — since people always have good things to say about it; also Thailand wasn't too taxing for our pockets and we could explore both the mountains as well as laze around on the beaches.


Crystal clear beaches, tropical climate, mesmerising culture and great food but many in India however don't look at Thailand beyond Bangkok and Pattaya — the two places suggested by the ill-informed, money-minting travel advisors. But we thought of taking the road less travelled and planned the entire trip with the help of Wikitravel and Lonely Planet.

 

Three things caught our attention immediately — smiling Thais, clean roads and easy-to-reach places, without seeking any help. We reached Chiang Mai, out intended destination, by an overnight train.

 

It's a small scenic town in northern Thailand and is known for its natural and cultural bounties. Plus, it is close to Doi Ang Khang — Thailand's little Switzerland. We hired two bikes and spent the next two days exploring Chiang Mai and the surrounding places. Three days in Thailand, and we were already in love with its culture, beautiful streets and the Thai food. Getting good vegetarian food was a great relief (of course we had to repeatedly tell them "phom kin je" and "karunaa mai sai naam plaa" which means "I eat only vegetarian food" and "Please don't use fish sauce"!). Each meal we ordered, surprisingly, was better than the previous one. But what really won our hearts were the Thai people — their hospitality and friendliness.

 

We then headed for the rocky Doi Ang Khang. By the time we reached the town of Chiang Dao, it was already evening. We could have spent the night at Chiang Dao, but all of us, high on adrenaline, decided to travel through the night to reach Doi Ang Khang. So, there we were, three Indian tourists, with no maps and without any ability to communicate in the local language (except for a few broken sentences), cruising at night amidst the hilly jungles, without warm clothes and no human contact. Luckily for us, we came to a gas station, which was manned by a bunch of cheerful young Thais, our saviours that night — not only were we low on gas, but also clueless on the direction in which we were heading. It was nearing midnight.

 

We reached Doi Ang Khang around 11pm. It was a small village with the population of less than a few thousand people. But we could see hundreds of trucks (trucks in Thailand are SUV vehicles with an open backs) belonging to Thai people who had come to camp for the weekend. It was freezing cold. In all the excitement, we forgot that we had not booked a place to stay. We searched all the lodges but no vacancy. It looked like we would have to spend the night without any warm clothes. Here again the famous Thai hospitality saved us. A Thai family, seeing our plight, invited us to stay at their house. We were complete strangers, but they made us feel like we were long lost relatives and provided us with food and more importantly, blankets.

 

We continued to witness many such gratifying incidents during our trip. And we also saw the beautiful island town of Koh Samui which has beautiful beaches, waterfalls, great nightclubs and 'the most beautiful airport in the world' — the award-winning Koh Samui Airport. It was also interesting to see how some Thais have renamed themselves — since tourists find it difficult to understand their original Thai names. They have got amusing nicknames such as Rainbow, Bird and Bee. This, I think adds to their charm!

 

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THE TRIBUNE

EDITORIAL

A SETBACK TO ZARDARI

NEW PAK AMENDMENT WILL BOOST PM

 

The landmark package of constitutional reforms passed by the Pakistan National Assembly on Thursday, stripping the Presidency of sweeping powers and handing them back to the Prime Minister, is heartening indeed. It puts that country on the threshold of a return to parliamentary democracy and a federal structure, reversing the infamous changes made in the constitution by former military dictator Pervez Musharraf to prolong his rule and gag his opponents. Though the amending bill, passed by a two-thirds majority, is the result of a power struggle within the establishment, with the forces opposed to President Asif Ali Zardari gaining ascendancy, it is nonetheless a welcome measure because it restores the spirit of democracy. The most significant aspect of the new amendment, which is now awaiting the formal approval of the Senate, is that it will take away the President's powers to dissolve the National Assembly, dismiss a Prime Minister and appoint chiefs of the powerful armed forces. Such untrammelled power as General Musharraf had vested in himself through devious means was indeed an insult to democracy.

 

This is not to say that everything now will be hunky dory for the Pakistanis. Real power continues to vest in the Army and Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani could hardly have gone thus far without a tacit understanding with the defence establishment. Former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif as leader of Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) has been cooling his heels in the opposition largely because the Army does not trust him. But with the Army now in the barracks allowing a democratically-elected government to run affairs of state as long as it does not transgress certain limits, democratic institutions are taking root. Perhaps taking a cue from neighbouring India, the new bill in Pakistan provides for three new fundamental rights: The Right to Fair Trial, the Right to Information, and the Right to (free and compulsory) Education for all children in the five-to-16 age-group. This is an encouraging development.

 

It would now be interesting to see how Prime Minister Gilani makes use of the window of opportunity offered to him. There is no mistaking the fact that Zardari is no pushover. He will use all his guile to regain lost ground, perhaps by seeking to displace Gilani as prime minister. With Nawaz Sharif not prepared to give up, Pakistan may well be in for more eventful times.

 

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THE TRIBUNE

EDITORIAL

FOOD ON THE BOIL

CENTRE, STATES JOIN HANDS

 

A rise in the milk and fruit prices, caused by soaring temperature, has pushed up food inflation to 17.7 per cent. It coincided with the Prime Minister and the chief ministers of 10 states taking stock of the worrisome price situation and forming three groups to check hoarding, improve the delivery system and raise agricultural production. A good thing about Thursday's meeting at the Prime Minister's initiative was the emergence of a political consensus on improving food production and distribution, and curbing hoarders with stricter laws. The chief ministers of various political parties came on one platform and, instead of playing politics over price rise, agreed to work together to find solutions. While the leftists made noises expected of them to publicise the issue, West Bengal Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee extended a hand of cooperation to the Prime Minister.

The BJP too played along. Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi heads a group which will consider amendments to the Essential Commodities (Special Provision) Act to provide for harsher punishment for food hoarding and black marketing. Another group headed by Planning Commission Deputy Chairman Montek Singh Ahluwalia will suggest ways to plug loopholes in the public distribution system and how technology can be used to prevent diversion of food from the PDS. More importantly, the group will identify households below the poverty line which can be provided subsidised grain under the National Food Security Bill. With the involvement of opposition parties, this tedious exercise may finally reach an acceptable figure.

 

Raising agricultural output to avoid future shortages is a task best left to experts. The chief ministers, if they are serious about the task in hand, can ensure better water management, facilitate agricultural research, improve rural connectivity, encourage scientific storage to avoid food wastage and help overcome opposition to new technology and seeds. Only the results, expected in about two months, will show how serious the Central and state leaders have been in completing the tasks assigned to them. 

 

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THE TRIBUNE

EDITORIAL

A FRESH START

N-STOCKPILE SET TO SHRINK CONSIDERABLY

 

At a time when an all-out attempt is being made to thwart the atomic aspirations of countries like North Korea and Iran, the vast nuclear arsenals of the USA and Russia appear incongruent, to say the least. This legacy of the Cold War era is set to shrink considerably following the signing of a landmark disarmament treaty by the two on Thursday which will cut the strategic nuclear arsenals by 30 per cent within seven years. This will be the biggest reduction by the two countries in a generation. Not only that, it will put greater pressure on countries having nuclear ambitions, who have all along been accusing these two, which together have 95 per cent of the world's nuclear weapons, of hypocrisy. The two countries will still have enough nuclear firepower to destroy each other several times over, but the move at least paves the way for still greater reduction.

 

This huge stockpile — some 2,600 warheads with Russia and 2,252 by the US — had accumulated mainly because of deep-rooted suspicions. At one stage, they had nearly four times as many till the first Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START I) in 1991 barred them from deploying over 6,000 nuclear warheads. Even now the number is pretty large. True disarmament would come about when it is cut still further drastically. That will be in step with the Obama Administration's Nuclear Posture Review, in which the US has forsworn nuclear attacks on all non-nuclear states compliant with the Non-Proliferation Treaty. Not only that, the US has agreed that it would not go in for new tests or develop more warheads.

 

The developments indicate that Iran may be in for tougher sanctions in the near future. Russia has not agreed to a total embargo on deliveries of refined oil products to Iran, but might still go along with the UN tightening the screws. At the same time, the two nuclear super powers cannot afford to overlook the activities of countries like Israel, China and Pakistan, which is a known proliferator. If nuclear proliferation is to be curbed, it must be resisted outright, whether it is by a friend or a foe. 

 

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THE TRIBUNE

COLUMN

RIVERS OF FILTH

URBAN INFRASTRUCTURE IS UNDER SIEGE

BY JAYSHREE SENGUPTA

 

Recently, 20, 000 people volunteered to clean the Yamuna flowing through Delhi. The river has been the life blood of the city and beautiful bungalows, gardens and palaces were built on its banks in the past. In its pristine days, the banks of Yamuna were the idyllic place for walks and picnics. No longer can anyone do so. Though it remains a source of water supply to a city of around 14 million inhabitants, it is a stinking drain now which shows its state of decay and pollution.

 

A country's development is judged by visitors from the general atmosphere and ambience of its big cities and not by the number of five star hotels and their posh lobbies. India's hotels are posh, the hotel staff is well groomed and smart but in the rooms, there is a warning that one should not drink water from the taps. This is not so in the hotels of Europe or US. European rivers are well preserved and their embankments are pleasurable promenades. That the water is polluted in India is a known fact and all travel magazines warn prospective travelers of it. Similarly the public hospitals are full of infection and dirt and are inadequately staffed. The state of public health — which includes sanitation, sewerage, waste disposal and drinking water system in all big cities — is in dire straits and all visitors notice it. What then are we showcasing as Incredible India?

 

All residents of metro cities in India have to boil or filter the water the municipal corporations send through the pipes. According to government sources, progress has been made in making safe drinking water available to rural population and urban population. Yet waterborne diseases are still common in rural areas and with the start of the summer season, numerous cases of gastro-enteritis would be reported in big cities due to poor quality of water consumed by common people who cannot sterilize water properly.

 

Hospitals are in a dismal state. People are lying on the pavements outside public hospitals waiting to get admitted. Only the corporate hospitals are doing well and they are like five star hotels with room charges that are similar. Who but the very rich can afford to go there? India is becoming a country where the rich get everything including all the services but the poor and the lower income groups are left to fend for themselves and jostle for medical attention in overcrowded hospitals, railway stations and buses.

 

It is quite amazing how each year the government goes on spending more and more money on water and hospitals but each year, the situation is getting worse. Perhaps this is because everyday, thousands of people are arriving by trains and buses to metro cities in search of work. The huge influx of people into cities is the cause for much of their infrastructural problems. There is not enough resources — space, water, power, sanitation or hospitals for so many people.

 

Roads are also a problem. As every one knows there are too many cars and therefore the traffic congestion and jams. The construction of metro rail in Delhi may relieve some of the traffic problem as many would travel by public transport. There would have to be additional trains for bringing in people from the suburbs.

 

All big cities are surrounded by slums and some have slums in the middle of the city (Kolkata). It is shocking to learn that only 45 per cent of the households in India have access to toilets. There is a huge problem of garbage disposal and clearance and piles of rotting rubbish can be seen even in posh localities. All the cities have clogged sewers and drains. Yet people are actually living near them and make a living out of scavenging. Their efforts have to be lauded yet they cannot clean up the entire city.

 

If only agriculture was more productive it would have yielded more income to the rural population, people would not have migrated to cities in such large numbers. No slum or pavement dweller opts for city life voluntarily. It is because agriculture yields such meager incomes that the youth who are without jobs have to leave home and eke out an existence in big cities. Similarly if the organised factory sector were to expand it would have given jobs to immigrants and they could enjoy better living standards. But unfortunately only the informal sector is expanding and jobs in that sector are poorly paid and workers are without any social benefits or safety net. They form the bulk of slum dwellers and live in dismal conditions.

 

These colonies cannot be wished away and are here to stay. In Beijing no slums can be seen but there are low income areas which have cheap but adequate housing. By contrast, in metro cities in India, the low cost housing projects seem grossly inadequate. The government has increased the allocation for slum development by 700 per cent in Budget 2010 but whether the money will actually lead to improvement of amenities in slums is yet to be seen. Implementation is always lagging behind such grandiose allocations.

 

What about the education of slum children? A trip to any of the schools in such areas would reveal that the children are far from getting properly educated and many schools do not have classrooms, teachers or mid day meals. Several surveys have revealed that slum schools are poorly attended and there is hardly any formal teaching going on. The dropout rate is high and many children are forced to earn money selling all kinds of stuff at crossings. They are also employed as helpers in hotels, motor mechanic and grocery shops. Child labour has been banned but one can see children who are out of school in big cities doing odd jobs every where. There has to be a big effort by the government and the NGOs to help slum children get proper education and nutrition.

 

Urban infrastructure is thus under siege in all big cities. Clearly the only way out is to build satellite cities and good communication networks so that commuters can go to work in the city and go back to the suburbs easily. Many big cities in the world have solved the same problems-so why can't India? Something urgent however is needed regarding solving the water pollution problem which is reaching crisis proportions in all big cities. Only 42 per cent of all households have piped water in India. Cleaning up the source-rivers, lakes, streams and ponds is obviously needed. But to clean up the Yamuna is a Herculean task and perhaps a lakh people would be required on a daily basis.

 

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THE TRIBUNE

COLUMN

HOUNDED BY PERSISTENCE

BY GITANJALI SHARMA

 

Who would know it better than the mother of a teenaged son how pesteringly persistent the New Gen is!

 

As kids, probably we have all yearned for a pet, often a dog. And, in all likelihood most of us must have also given in to a firm parental "no" or , if you were luckier, a more gentle and persuasive but still a "no". Now, too, the "no" exists but strangely it doesn't appear to get heard anymore.

 

The word, at least, made no impact on my 13-year-old offspring when he came up with the "I want a puppy" demand. What more, he unabashedly wanted it in a basket with a pink ribbon if it was a female and sought a red knot if it brought a male fur ball of a playmate. What attitude, I inwardly squirmed.

 

And, thus the doggedness goes on…. His imagination has been outrunning probably the wildest of hounds. In his world, all those close to him are bestowed a nickname (only for my consumption, of course) from the canine world. So, while he is a Labrador (that's his favourite) pup, I naturally get to be Lab Mom.

 

My seemingly strict father and soft-hearted mother have been fondly dubbed German Shepherd and Pom (Pomeranian). An aunt who is tall has earned the title Dalmatian, and an uncle who always rings the doorbell twice and comes in bristling is Rottweiler. Another uncle who has a neat paunch reminds him of St Bernard and all those he can't place in a slot, fall in the, ouch, stray category.

 

That's not all. This canine lover loves to pepper his soundbites with his pet subject. So, if you rebuke him for keeping his study table untidy, he's quick to respond with, "Oh, mom, that's how pups are… a little lazy, a little foolish." Or if you protest when as a clumsy teenager he drops all over you on a sofa or a chair, he declares with feigned hurt, "Mother Labs easily accommodate eight-eight pups, you just have to make place for one!" Or comes up with something as dramatic as "Pure Mom Labs are not known to scold pups even once in their lifetime!" What can you do then, just melt and envelop the drama prince in a bear hug!

 

The imagery pops up at the unlikeliest of places. Once, reluctantly accompanying me on a shopping trip, he was quick to exclaim as we entered a hi-end store with strappy dresses on display, "Mom, these are for Poms, not for Mother Labs!" So true, I had to silently admit, suppressing a smile.

 

Again one day as I returned from office, he proudly declared he had made cold coffee with ice cream for Bernard (read his uncle). Delighted with his culinary pursuits, I encouragingly asked, "Did uncle like it?" The canine crazy smilingly responded, "Of course, Bernard's tail was wagging." And, conversely, I get to hear that Lab Pup's tail goes still whenever Kings XI lose a match.

 

Now, it remains to be seen how the game will end. Will the real puppy come in or will my son outgrow what I hope is just puppy love?

 

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THE TRIBUNE

OPED

CUSTODIANS OF RIGHTS

BUREAUCRATS TEND TO COLD-SHOULDER THEM

BY VINOD PRAKASH GUPTA

 

Since its inception in 1995, the Himachal Pradesh State Human Rights Commission has remained non-functional for an embarrassing seven years. In its life span of 15 years the commission has battled obstacles, more administrative than those it was constituted to resolve.

 

But despite debilitating interruptions in its functioning, the commission has made its presence felt in the state. Apart from deciding complaints, the commission engaged in several initiatives to promote human rights awareness. Workshops were conducted in collaboration with Common Wealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI). Visits were made to ashrams, children's homes, women's hostels and old age homes in a bid to spread awareness.

 

The effect and reach of the commission was very promising. In its annual reports, it recorded that inhabitants of remote areas, including women, showed that they were aware of the commission's existence and purpose. They actively participated in the commission's interactive sessions about their human rights and its possible redressal.

 

This claim was substantiated by the number of complaints filed. The commission received 2,520 complaints from February 1995 to June 2005. It managed to dispose of 2,369 complaints, leaving 151 pending complaints, not a high number taking into account its spasmodic functioning. The total pending complaints on record till date (March 2010) are 848.

 

Most complaints are against the police (37.42%) followed closely by the Deaprtment of Health & Family Welfare (5.83%). The efficient and timely deliverance of justice resulted in a change of attitude in the mindset of functionaries of the government, panchayats and local bodies. The trigger for this change was their accountability to the commission. The common man found a platform to air his/her grievances that brought quick and inexpensive relief against the public-dealing officials.

 

Though the government has acknowledged and implemented the recommendations of the commission, it has not showed any willingness to strengthen the commission. The dichotomy in thought and action of the government regarding the SHRC is baffling.

 

By ignoring a body that has led to constructive development in the management of human rights in the state, the state has by its flagrant disregard has acted irresponsibly.

 

Having been part of it myself, I am aware that a majority of officers in the higher echelons of the bureaucracy consider autonomous democratic institutions as a waste of time and public money. The top in the list is the SHRC.

 

This might be true from the financial point of view. These institutions might not be cost effective at times but where they fall short in terms of cost effectiveness, they make up in their public utility and social benefits. Isn't that what we all are striving towards? Better and just governance?

 

Many of these autonomous institutions are credited with creating new paths for strengthening the democracy in our country. For instance, the decisions pronounced under the RTI Act have created and settled such basic structural issues which no one had dared to touch before. Isn't the apex judiciary feeling the heat of these decisions?

 

Thus, it is imperative for the Central Government to revisit and reassess the Protection of Human Rights Act, 1993, and make it as formidable as the RTI Act. The Act was amended in 2006 but the amendments were of inconsequential nature. One amendment reduced the number of members from five to three to make it easier for the states to constitute the commissions.

 

The constitution of a state commission should be made mandatory under the Act. The eligibility of Chairpersons and members should not be entirely confined to the higher judiciary and the eligibility of the National Chairperson can be relaxed, enabling the Central Government to fill the vacancy of the Chairperson of the NHRC, which has been lying vacant for so many months.

 

The post of Chairperson should be allowed to be filled either by the Chief Justice of a High Court or a senior judge. In states where Lokayukta or any such other high functionary is heading a commission of equal status, the provisions of section 23(2)(b) of the Act can be amended by way of adding an explanation to it so that additional charge can be allowed to such a high functionary, who otherwise is fully eligible to be appointed as the Chairperson of the commission. This will lead to effective cost-cutting as well.

 

At present there are 17 state commissions functioning in India. Almost all the state governments, with the exception of Himachal, have given befitting salary and status to the members of the commissions. The rules stand notified being mandatory under the Act. The government of Himachal Pradesh should follow suit and immediately notify the rules.

 

I do hope that the people in power will realise the lacuna left by the defunct HPSHRC and take steps to reconstitute an independent State Human Rights Commission in a systematic, logical and legal way.

 

The writer is a former Principal Secretary, Government of Himachal Pradesh 

 

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THE TRIBUNE

OPED

NO WAY TO RETIRE, THIS!

BY BALVINDER

 

The Punjab Government's decision to stick to the existing retirement age of its employees at 58 instead of raising it to 60 years appears to be a wise decision, but only at the surface level. In fact it is a well calculated and cunning decision.

 

First of all, it is projected as a step to safeguard the prospects of Punjab's unemployed youth. A farcical statement indeed! For, the state still has thousands of posts lying vacant for long, and no palpable efforts have been made, promises apart, to fill them.

 

One may ask the government that while making a pre-poll promise of raising the retiring age of employees, why was it not concerned about the concerns of the unemployed youth then?

 

Another reason cited in defence of the deferment of the age-hike decision is that the benefit of a few hundred crores that the government would have received through deferred payments to the retiring employees would have been 'short-term'.  

 

The government, in fact, saved that very money, which must have been used in fudging the book entries of the past financial year, by issuing a politically maneuvered and vaguely drafted notification, which promised its employees an extension of a year, after they attain superannuation at the age of 58, to its employees retiring between January 22, 2010 and December 31, 2010.  

 

It is another story that the government calculatedly withdrew the ad hoc benefit soon after it served its purpose reportedly by asking someone to file a court petition against this notification that was bound to fall because of the intended inaccuracies and legal lacunas that were put/left in the notification.  And that too on the last day of the past financial year!

 

By doing this the government successfully managed to shift a financial load of some Rs 700 crore to the next financial year.

 

But there is something more to these retirement blues than what meets the eye. Perhaps, few know the sad fact that all those Punjab Government employees who were to retire on January 31 this year have neither been paid their retirement dues till date nor any remuneration has been paid to them for the three extra months' work they did following the notorious notification that promised a year's extension to them.

 

As this was not enough, all theses retiring employees, due to the government-created uncertainties, had to leave their respective offices unsung and humiliated. Most of them had to leave in a huff without having any conventional and well-deserved farewell party from their respective offices. Perhaps, no government has ever humiliated its employees as has been done by the seemingly messy Punjab Government.

 

Political promises perhaps are made only to be broken, under one or the other pretext, often called political compulsions, which are more prevalent where there is a coalition government. Thus, perhaps no one takes these vote-time promises that all political parties make seriously.

 

However, as for as the retirement age is concerned, this has to be looked into from certain practical angles. Since I served as a college teacher for more than 36 years perhaps can throw sufficient light at least on the college teachers' plight. There are glaring anomalies in the retirement age of college teachers.

 

As per the recent UGC recommendations a teacher should be made to retire at the age of 65. In the private-aided colleges, 95 per cent funded by the Punjab Government , a teacher retires at the age of 60 even today. However, a government college teacher is made to retire at the age of 58. Can there ever be any uniformity on this count?

 

The saddest part of all this is, to which perhaps no government is serious, that in the whole created confusion regarding the retirement age, what suffers the most is education to provide which teachers are recruited.

 

Why not? For I know a number of my still working teacher friends who these days are running after babus to collect copies of this or that notification and then rushing to their lawyers, after paying them hefty fees, to file avoidable court cases.

 

And there is nothing new to it. Whether it is a case of retirement or of promotion or of getting some or the other due benefit hundreds of teachers from various city colleges have to their credit one or the other pending court case. Reportedly almost all the faculty members of the Chandigarh College of Art are pursuing court cases!

 

In such a polluted atmosphere and with such a congealed frame of mind, can they be considered fit enough to teach their students well? Our education system already seems to have fallen on evil days. Should one hope of an Easter-like day of resurgence when teachers would not be forced to go to the courts to get their routine benefits? 

 

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THE TRIBUNE

OPED

INSIDE PAKISTAN

PAK DEMOCRACY STRENGTHENED

BY SYED NOORUZZAMAN

 

The fledgling democracy in Pakistan has taken a new and glorious turn with the adoption of the recommendations of the Raza Rabbani Parliamentary Committee on Constitutional Reforms by the National Assembly on Thursday. As a result, the hated imprints of military dictators like Gen Zia-ul-Haq and Gen Pervez Musharraf on the 1973 Constitution have got erased considerably.

 

The 18th constitution amendment exercise has made the Pakistan President, Mr Asif Zardari, a titular head of state. He no longer has the power to dissolve the National and Provincial Assemblies or sack the federal government. Prime Minister Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani has emerged as the most powerful person, of course, after Army Chief Gen Ashfaq Kayani.

 

In the opinion of The News, "For a parliament that so far had had little to show for itself it was indeed a supreme moment, in which it achieved something of significance by moving closer to looking like what it was envisaged to be in the 1973 Constitution. The praise that has been heaped on the President though is rather misplaced. Even a rudimentary study of how the country's politics, inside and outside parliament, has been conducted in the last two years, ought to prove that had it not been for the peculiar ways of the President and his men, mostly attributable to their precarious situation, this moment of pride and performance would have arrived long ago."

 

Kayani, Gilani are gainers

The Prime Minister's position has been restored to what it was originally envisaged despite all that President Zardari did. The development could not be prevented because of the prevailing situation in favour of true democracy. The Army, the most powerful institution, provided enough support for ushering in a new democratic era in Pakistan.

 

However, Mr Zardari has succeeded in retaining the constitutional shield to prevent the reopening of the corruption cases of the past against him, including those relating to his Swiss bank accounts. His next move will be interesting to watch, as he may try to grab the post of Prime Minister.

 

Well-known columnist M. A. Niazi in an article in The Nation sees a link between the passage of the 18th Constitution Amendment Bill and Prime Minister Gilani's coming visit to the US soon. He points out that "the 18th Amendment must have some significance to the war on terror, and the Prime Minister would claim that now the powers have shifted towards him, and thus he should get US support, not the President. However, the US now finds itself in an old situation, where the COAS (the Army Chief) is a separate centre of power, and may act in ways that the government would not like him to."

 

The Zia legacy

Dawn columnist I. A. Rehman exposes the avoidable compromises made while arriving at the consensus on the Raza Rabbani Committee's recommendations. In his article carried on the day the committee's recommendations were adopted, Rehman says, "While much can be said in justification of the effort to restore the constitution to its original form, the parliamentary committee seems to have settled for a compromise. For instance, the Concurrent Legislative List, which was part of 1973 Constitution, is to be dropped, and the additions to Articles 62 and 63 made by Gen Zia-ul-Haq are to be retained despite their being repudiated by democratic opinion many times over. The concession to the defenders of the Zia legacy is hard to swallow."

 

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BUSINESS STANDARD

EDITORIAL

THE MAMMARIES, REVISITED

EVERYONE WORKING ON THE UDDERS IS A "REFORMER"; AND SO LONG AS GDP GROWTH IS GOOD AND THE UDDERS HAVE MILK, WHO IS TO COMPLAIN?

T N NINAN

 

Upamanyu Chatterjee's 10-year-old novel, The Mammaries of the Welfare State, had a memorable title that is worth recalling today when India's welfare state is finally being born. Cows have four udders, so it is useful to think of four groups at work on those udders — reformers all of them.

First, there are the "economic reformers" who have delivered an increase in the tax-GDP ratio. Left to work on the udders, they would like to spend the extra money on projects that would facilitate even faster economic growth, expand the size of the middle class, etc, but they are being pushed aside by the other, politically more powerful groups. A second group, the "civil society reformers", consists of those who look at the bottom of the pyramid, see the wretchedness on display there, and want ameliorative policies here and now, without necessarily focusing on how much the target group benefits from the largesse.

That brings us to the "leaky pipe reformers" who want to reform the government system so that it delivers public services effectively and efficiently. This, unfortunately, is a greater challenge than tinkering with tax rates and tariff levels, so they have decided that spending more money on every worthwhile objective is an alternative to real reform (as an economist-administrator argued, the only way to make sure that a leaky pipe delivers more water at the other end is to shove more water into the pipe!).

The fourth group (the "Madhu Koda reformers") consists of those who want to milk those mammaries for themselves — like the legislators in the Delhi assembly who want the flats in the Commonwealth Games Village to be given to them at subsidised rates. This group includes those manning the sluice gates at all those leaks in the pipes, and also members of the middle class who howl at every attempt to cut (say) cooking gas subsidies — although the census figures show that only 33.6 million out of 190 million households use cooking gas, while another 12.5 million use kerosene. It is safe to assume that these are among the top 25 per cent of households in terms of income. The poorer households use firewood (100.8 million), crop residue (19.2 million), cowdung cake (18.4 million), and so on. None of the really poor households get the subsidy that the cooking gas households get. But the middle class is busy at the mammaries, taking what it can get.

This is a useful framework with which to view contemporary events. The "civil society" group is politically the most empowered, since it is led by Sonia Gandhi. So the government is getting ready to expand the definition of the poor, from the National Sample Survey's 27.5 per cent of the population, to the Tendulkar Committee's 37 per cent, although the Tendulkar panel used a definition of poverty (including access to things like health care and education) that had nothing to do with calorific intake —which is the basis for the NSS numbers. This is not necessarily something to quarrel about, since about 35 per cent of the population is said to be severely malnourished—provided most of the money reaches the intended beneficiaries.

We know, of course, that it does not, which is why the civil society reformers are also "leaky pipe reformers". This latter category includes the human resource development minister—who has pushed through a law which disadvantages that part of the education system which delivers maximum bang for buck when it comes to education for the poor. But everyone working on the udders is a "reformer"; and so long as GDP growth is good and the udders have milk, who is to complain?

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BUSINESS STANDARD

EDITORIAL

WORKING AT BEING COOL

KISHORE SINGH

Shrill at the best of times, our daughter becomes possessed by demons when it comes around to her semester exams. There's a sharper ring to her voice, doors get banged, meals are demanded and rejected at the oddest times, and orders issued to discipline us into adherence to her timetable and manner of things. "For two hours, I must not be disturbed," the non-negotiable diktat is curtly delivered from her room.

 Peeping in before shutting the door, I'm a little overwhelmed. "But you're talking on the phone with your friends," I point out. "To ask them how much they've studied — though, of course, they all lie and say they're not studying at all, which is what I say too," she sighs at the perfidy of the world. "Should I get out your books?" I volunteer at the sight of her clutter-free desk. "My notes are on my laptop, dad," she shrugs theatrically at the old-worldliness of my ways — "See."

The monitor is open to Facebook. I look at my daughter enquiringly. "That's to keep up with what everyone else is saying when they're not studying." At my mystified look, she answers, "It's gauche to say you're actually reading, that's so vulgar, though you know everyone is really revising notes." She opens a link to a PowerPoint presentation on some economic theory complete with tables and numbers, "There, see, it's all here." "And this?" I point to another link. "That's a movie," she says, "for when I need a break," which, as I discover, is every time there's a lull in her telephone conversations, or when her fingers are tired checking on what everyone in the group is not cramming.

Before the first paper though, there's a tantrum. "I have nothing to wear," she tells her mother. My wife waves towards the cupboards full of clothes. "To wear for the papers, mom," my daughter speaks slowly, as if talking to an imbecile, "I have nothing that's suitable to wear for appearing for a test," so to keep peace at home, and to ensure she manages to study when she's supposed to be not studying, her mother takes her shopping for an exam wardrobe.

All the while we're home, we're on tenterhooks. My wife and I can't talk any more because our conversation disturbs her. If she catches us whispering, she's annoyed because, in the universe she inhabits, everything revolves around her — so, of course, we must be saying nasty things about her behind her back, else why are we murmuring to each other in undertones and looking guilty to boot? Permission to switch on the television is not granted, the rustling of magazine pages disturbs her, our mobiles need to be switched off. If we go out, we're callous; if we stay in, we're interfering and overbearing.

She wants mango, toast, cheese, chocolates, cup noodles, grapes, ham, fried eggs, custard; she hates jelly, ginger biscuits, pineapple cake, ice-cream, boiled eggs, pasta, chilli-chicken; she wants a sandwich; she can't bear a full meal — but, hello, has no one thought to feed her, she has an exam she's not studying for, remember? In the fridge, there's a tray with cold coffee, nimbu-paani, orange squash, iced tea, aam-panna, eyeing all of which she says rhetorically, "Is it too much to ask for strawberry milkshake" — rolling of eyes — "is it?"When the landline rings, my wife sshhes it into silence. Our daughter's friend is on the line, wanting to speak to her. "She's studying beta," my wife informs her, "let me check if she'll take your call." Later, she's admonished by our daughter, "Don't you get it, when I'm studying for my papers, remember that I'm actually not studying! And now," she turns away, "I'm going back to my room to not study."

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BUSINESS STANDARD

EDITORIAL

THE YOUNG MAN AND THE SEA

GEETANJALI KRISHNA

We were walking along Beach Number Five at Havelock Island. The tide was low and the sea had retreated far into the horizon, leaving little pools teeming with life. Local boats that had been bobbing peacefully on the water only hours earlier were now marooned on the seabed. "I've never seen the sea recede this far," said I worriedly, "Is it normal?" Seeing a young fisherman tying his boat to a rock, I went across to ask.

 Raju, for that was his name, grinned at my question, and assured me that this low tide was perfectly normal. "And don't worry, if there's anything amiss at sea, we fisherfolk will be the first to sound the alarm!" They spent more time in the sea than on land, he said, and while he was young and inexperienced, his father and uncle used to study changes in wind direction, currents of water, colour variations in the sea, to paint an accurate picture of what lay beneath the waves.

"My father was illiterate, but often said that the only 'book' he could read was the sea," he said. His understanding of the sea was legendary. "For example, whenever he spotted dark, rippling patches in water, he'd predict there were probably good-sized shoals of mackerel beneath," said Raju, "and he was usually right." And when they saw prawns and fish jumping in the water, Raju's father and uncle would pull out all their large fishing nets, anticipating a huge catch. The increased activity of prawns and other fish usually indicated big predators on the prowl. To escape them, smaller fish would be driven upwards only to find themselves netted by Raju's savvy relatives. "And so we learnt over the years, that whatever father forecasted, usually came true," said he.

This deep connectedness with the sea, stood locals in good stead when the 2005 tsunami hit these islands. "Many of our elders just knew that something bad was going to happen before the immense waves hit the coast," said Raju. Over 2,000 people died on Havelock Island, but the numbers could have been much higher, given the force and sheer volume of the tsunami. Raju also told me the story of how the ancient, still isolated tribes on the Andaman and Nicobar islands — the Jarawa, the Onge, the North Sentinelese and the Great Andamanese — survived, almost to the last man, the tsunami that devastated their homes. "Nobody knows the sea better than these ancient tribes. Apparently, as soon as they felt the first deep shudders of the earth, they moved to higher areas and forests," said he. Others chose to climb certain trees and miraculously, these were the only trees that survived the onslaught of the tsunami. "How did they know that a tsunami was coming when they'd never experienced one before? How did they know which trees had the deepest roots that would withstand the battering force of the waves? These unanswered questions have made the story of their survival into a new local legend here," said Raju.

We walked on the seabed, looking at fat sea cucumbers and jelly fish stranded by the tide. Even though he'd assured me the low tide was normal, I found myself keeping a wary eye at the horizon where the sea lurked. "It mustn't have been easy for you all to return to the sea after the tsunami," said I. Raju looked sombre: "It wasn't. What's worse is that a momentary winter squall claimed my father and uncle barely days later…. Just goes to show that a man can read the sea, but when it's time for the sea to claim him — well, it just does…."

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BUSINESS STANDARD

EDITORIAL

RUPEE RISES DESPITE HIGHER DEFICITS!

ONLY A MIX OF STERILISED CURRENCY INTERVENTION AND CAPITAL ACCOUNT MGMT CAN HALT THE RUPEE'S RISE

SHANKAR ACHARYA

Last week, the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) published the balance of payments (BOP) data for the October-December quarter of 2009. It elicited surprisingly little comment. Surprising, because for the second quarter in a row, the current account deficit was well above 3 per cent of GDP. And with nine months data in the bag, there is a good chance that the full year (2009-10) current account deficit will also be above 3 per cent of GDP. If this the case, it will be a first since the pre-crisis year of 1990-91. No, I am not predicting any imminent external payments crisis of the kind we had in 1991 — that would be silly, when RBI is sitting on over $280 billion of foreign exchange reserves. However, we should at least sit up and take serious notice, especially when the 3 per cent of GDP current account deficit is paired with a near 10 per cent of GDP merchandise trade deficit.

 Actually, what is really disturbing is that this second successive quarter of above 3 per cent current account deficit has been registered at a time when the exchange rate of the rupee appreciated quite a bit and inflation accelerated. Specifically, the real effective exchange rate (REER) of the rupee, according to RBI's 6-currency trade-weighted index, appreciated by a full 5 per cent between September and December 2009 (see Figure). Normally, when a country runs a moderately high current account deficit and relatively rapid inflation is weakening its competitiveness, one expects to see a depreciation of its currency to bring about an adjustment in imbalances. The opposite seems to have happened. Moreover, this pattern has persisted throughout 2009-10, with REER appreciating by nearly 15 per cent between March 2009 and February 2010. And the movements in nominal currency rates and price indices beyond February (the last month for which the RBI index is available) suggest further significant real appreciation of the rupee.

The recent surge in the value of the rupee is reminiscent of the sudden, sharp appreciation of the currency in the spring of 2007. At that time, the driving factors were an accelerating surge in capital inflows and a sudden policy shift by RBI (generally believed to have been dictated by the finance ministry) in favour of non-intervention in the currency market. This time, too, similar factors are at work. After the post-Lehman collapse of capital inflows in 2008-09, there has been a healthy rebound in 2009-10. In both the second and the third quarters of 2009-10, net inflows outweighed the current account deficit. And the same pattern may have persisted in the fourth quarter. Furthermore, RBI appears to have adopted a largely non-interventionist stance towards the currency market since last summer. Part of its reluctance to intervene in order to contain rupee appreciation may be attributed to its preoccupation with managing the record borrowing programme of the government in 2009-10, which, in turn, may have constrained its ability to undertake sterilisation of foreign currency purchases.
 

BALANCE OF PAYMENTS INDICATORS

 

2006-07

2007-08

2008-09

2009-10

 Q1

Q2

Q3

Apr- Dec

Merchandise exports

128.90

166.20

189.00

37.90

41.90

44.60

124.50

Merchandise  imports

190.70

257.60

307.70

64.80

73.80

75.40

214.00

Trade balance

-61.80

-91.50

-118.70

-26.90

-31.90

-30.70

-89.50

Invisibles (net)

52.20

75.70

89.90

20.50

20.00

18.70

59.20

Current account balance

-9.60

-15.80

-28.80

-6.40

-11.90

-12.00

-30.30

Net capital inflows

45.20

106.60

7.20

6.00

23.60

13.60

43.20

   of which, Foreign direct investment

7.70

15.90

17.50

7.00

7.10

2.40

16.50

       Foreign portfolio investment

7.10

27.40

-14.00

8.30

9.70

5.70

23.60

Foreign exchange reserves
(end period)

199.20

309.70

251.90

265.10

281.30

283.50

283.50

KEY RATIOS AND GROWTH RATES

Current account balance (to GDP)

-1.00

-1.30

-2.40

-2.20

-3.90

-3.40

-3.20

Trade balance (to GDP)

-6.50

-7.40

-9.80

-9.40

-10.50

-8.80

-9.50

Software exports and 
Current transfers (to GDP)

6.20

6.40

7.30

8.10

7.90

7.40

7.80

Non-oil export growth (%)

17.90

24.80

17.80

-30.90

-20.40

 

 

Non-oil import growth (%)

22.40

33.40

23.60

-24.50

-32.60

-0.50

-20.30

Services export growth (%)

28.00

22.40

12.50

-12.50

-28.80

-6.80

-16.40

Oil Imports ($ billion)

56.90

79.60

91.30

16.60

20.80

20.60

58.10

Source: RBI                                                                                                         ($ billion)

Whatever the reason, the fact of substantial currency appreciation over the past half year is indubitable and worrisome against the background of a sizable current account deficit. As noted in my last column ("Growth complacency?" March 25), such appreciation also hurts industry, agriculture and traded services, and is particularly damaging to the recovery prospects for employment-intensive, manufactured exports such as garments, textiles, leather products and gems, which took a beating in the global recession. The non-interventionist approach to currency management makes little sense at a time when China is stubbornly persisting with its dollar peg despite huge current account surpluses.

Indeed, as my old friend and former colleague Y V Reddy, former RBI Governor, has astutely observed, what seems to be happening is that the US dollar is depreciating (in real terms) and so, in lock-step, is the Chinese renminbi, against all other currencies. That includes the euro, the yen and other Asian currencies, including, of course, the rupee. That means, as net exports (exports minus imports) from the US and China increase smartly, the burden of absorbing this increment in net exports falls on the rest of the world. Given its current account deficit, a rise in US net exports makes sense. The same cannot be said for China with its massive current account surplus. Conversely, with our sizable current account deficit it makes little sense to have an appreciating rupee. Yet that trend is likely to continue as long as net capital inflows are robust and RBI refrains from active intervention. (Unless, of course, there are large increases in international oil prices, which would not only widen the current account deficit but might discourage some capital inflows).

So, the appropriate policy choices are reasonably clear. Either RBI has to intervene in the currency market and sterilise excess liquidity or, if necessary, there has to be some moderation in capital inflows (that's the "capital account management" which the RBI Governor has endorsed in his speeches). Some amount of currency intervention can be conducted without sterilisation, since the resulting increase in RBI's net foreign assets can be consistent with reserve money growth targets. Beyond that level, sterilisation of currency purchases is necessary and entails either open market sales of government bonds or a resurrection of the market stabilisation scheme (MSS) or an increase in the cash reserve ratio (CRR). All of these options will be challenging to pursue in the context of a large government borrowing programme and high inflation.

The alternative course of action is to moderate net capital inflows. There are various instrumentalities, including tightening of P-Note regulations, reduction of external commercial borrowing limits and adoption of a Brazil-type tax on capital inflows other than foreign direct investment and external assistance. None of these options is neat and clean. But some combination of sterilised currency intervention and capital account management may be unavoidable to prevent further rupee appreciation. Indeed, it may be desirable to roll back some of the hefty real appreciation that has already occurred.

The author is honorary professor at ICRIER and former chief economic adviser to the Government of India
Views expressed are personal

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BUSINESS STANDARD

EDITORIAL

THE BUCK GOES ON

DOES IT STOP AT BUDDHADEB OR AT CHIDAMBARAM?

SUNANDA K DATTA-RAY

What poor Palaniappan Chidambaram may still not realise is that he didn't open his mouth in Kolkata to put his foot in it only because Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee is a cultural purist. Believing with Talleyrand that speech was given to man to disguise his thoughts, the chief minister suspected the ministry-hopping Chidambaram of trying to divert the buck to the wrong stop.

 This isn't the first instance of linguistic prickliness masking political concern. The 19th century Siamese (no Thais then) monarch who objected to being described by The Times, London, as "a spare man" was worried about more than not being plump. If he was spare, he could be spared: the king suspected he was being dismissed as what Chandra Shekhar once derisively called a "Stepney" or fifth wheel when speaking of a UP minister.

The inference was natural for British and French colonials were then jockeying for influence and enthroning and dethroning kings at will all over Asia. Hence, the outburst of nervous royal indignation continued to simmer until the British ambassador was persuaded to declare that far from being a spare man, His Majesty could not be spared.

But this is not to say that language played no part in the chief minister's irritation. After all, he isn't one of your Aya Ram Gya Ram cow belt hicks but a gentleman revolutionary who translates Vladimir Mayakovsky's poems and plays, even if no one is quite sure from what language into what. Bengalis — Lord Lytton's "Irishmen of India" — can scent a verbal slight before they hear it, and American slang is as insulting as that deadly abuse, "Nonsense". It may have been even worse until Bengali Marxists fell out with Delhi's Left Front when priorities had to be revised. A B Bardhan might still regard the Great Satan's slang as the ultimate vulgarity but no put-down can be more devastating for Somnath Chatterjee than "You are a Nonsense!".

This is uniquely Calcutta. Returning to the city after many years, the wife of an English colleague took a taxi to Tollygunge Club where the driver demanded a 20-rupee surcharge. Tolly, he said, was outside city limits. "What nonsense!" my friend's wife declared, having made that trip hundreds of times when she lived here. "Nonsense bonsense neyi bolo," shouted the driver. "British Raj khatam ho geya!"

Humpty Dumpty isn't alone in using a word to mean just what he chooses it to mean "neither more nor less". As the spreading diaspora becomes richer and more influential, the Oxford dictionary may include "officious" as an alternative for official and "trouble-shooter" for trouble-maker, these being common Indian interpretations. It has already bestowed respectability on the horrid "prepone", which, being old and old-fashioned, I can't bring myself to write — utter it I never shall — except within inverted commas.

Politics has also developed a universal newspeak. Just as apartheid, literally "separate development", stood in practice for the development of only one group in racist South Africa, a Freedom of Religion Act means exactly the opposite of what it says.

The suggestion that foreigners should not attempt slang won't avoid all controversies. For instance, a British gossip writer on Teheran's only English-language paper in the Shah's time narrowly escaped being accused of lese-majeste for writing that a certain tycoon was "squiring" one of the princesses. The charge was dropped only when he explained that squiring means no more than escorting and that the word the censors had in mind was "screwing".

The better known story is about Winston Churchill's farewell lunch for the De Gaulles at the end of World War II. When Churchill asked Madame de Gaulle what she was looking forward to most after returning to France she replied "A penis!" The amazed Churchill repeated his question and received the same answer. Seeing his host's look of shock, the general turned to his wife, "I think my dear, they pronounce it 'appiness!"

There was no such misunderstanding in this instance. The dispute is not really about an inelegant term that was popularised by a bankrupt haberdasher without a middle name (the S stood for nothing and shouldn't have a stop) whom Franklin Delano Roosevelt's death elevated to the US presidency. The argument is over where the buck really stops. Though Bhattacharjee was too polite to say so, Shivraj Patil's fate clearly showed where. Anything the author of Operation Green Hunt (which many find difficult to dissociate from last Tuesday's massacre) has to say to the contrary sounds like a desperate attempt — and here's another Americanism! — to pass the buck.

sunandadr@yahoo.co.in

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BUSINESS STANDARD

EDITORIAL

TO ANDHRA PRADESH WITH LOVE

V V

David Shulman, professor of humanistic studies, Hebrew University of Jerusalem and an expert on South Indian languages and cultures has written Spring, Heat, Rains: A South Indian Journey (University of Chicago Press, $25/Special Indian price, Rs 1,004) which is not just a travelogue but a long meditation on Telegu literature with reflections on Andhra history. As a journey across space and time, it is rather like a genre without rules, free from precept or precedent: part travel writing, part literary appreciation but above all, a philosophy expressed in images. Shulman is also a scholar in Sanskrit and classical Hindustani music, plus much else besides, and brings to bear his formidable learning to this book, which he admits to "a restlessness that rules me, so the landscapes shift like the languages and the texts". All of which makes it difficult to write about it in this limited space!

 As you might expect, the diary is lyrical, sensual but more than anything else, it is introspective. Just about everything becomes a part of the huge canvas Shulman builds his story on. There are reflections on daily happenings and the life around: "Rocks. Goats. Dry shrubs, Buffaloes. Thorns. A fallen tamarind tree." Simple observations of the daily lives of ordinary people of Rajahmundry, on the banks of the river Godavari which like all rivers in India are sacred and determine the life styles of millions around. Shulman has been bitten by the metaphysical bug:

"How did I happen to find myself in Rajamundhry in the early spring of 2006? The answer would be the river called me. She — the Godavari — is imperious, also infinitely seductive. Rajamundhry is her town. When I saw her, she extracted a promise that I would return:…."

And long before he first saw India, he had a calling within, "as if India was the magnet, and I the iron filing, unconscious, unmelted…. If words mean anything — but why should they mean? — it is only when the underlying echo, the music that motivates all real language, fades into silence".

It is classical Hindustani music which Shulman had studied in depth that had drawn him to India, along with the music of the Dravidian languages, which fascinated because he says, "Linguistics had shown that South Indians utter, on average, more syllables per second than any other attested speakers of known human languages — and sometimes give the impression of a bubbling or cascading stream." Telugu, he adds, is in fact "the main language of classical South Indian musical compositions". Shulman goes into history to explain "the strangely hypnotic, contrapuntal complexity of tremendous aural power — a musical experience unlike any other, perhaps transcending meaning in any of the usual senses of the word".

Shulman uses the metaphors of music to describe early mornings in Rajahmundry. "The rooftops, white, gray, streaked with grime, partly hidden by thick green clusters of palm, seem to be humming a barely audible morning raga. Birdcalls, the bells on the bicycles, the constant backdrop of horns from the cars and rickshaws, the cries of fruit vendors, the distant ring of a radio broadcasting a Sanskrit prayer to the waking god, mothers shouting at their children: all this is the raga as it breaks through the surface to audibility."

For the non-Telugu speaker or for those unfamiliar with classical Hindustani music, we have simply to go along, overawed by the depth and range of Shulman's scholarship, and the meanings he gives to the everyday happenings around him.

It is Shulman's principle not only to read poetry in the original language "but also to absorb it in the setting where it was written" because language does not exist independent of the environment in which it is rooted.

Shulman plunges deep into Telugu poetry and in the process into the beliefs, philosophies, the myths and legends of the land. So, "Godavri is not somewhere outside us but deeply alive within." Like the Hindu way, he is inclined to see divinity in the earth itself, in rocks, in trees, in stone sculptures, in mountains, in rivers but specially in the Godavri in spate: …marvelling at the dramatic swelling and acceleration of their goddess, this necklace hanging over the breast of the Andhra Earth-goddess…."

Shulman does not lose his critical eye and sees the muck behind the façade of modernity and the pollution of the river "smothered in the stench of the Andhra Pradesh Paper Mills upstream".

This book isn't an easy read and has to be taken in small doses by the non-cognoscenti. But it is fascinating the extent to which some foreign scholars go in understanding us. How many of our own do so?

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BUSINESS STANDARD

EDITORIAL

WALK THE TALK ON CITIES

CITIZENS MUST START A CAMPAIGN TO CONVERT PROMINENT SHOPPING COMPLEXES IN CITIES INTO NO-CAR ZONES

SUBIR ROY

Citizens must start a campaign to convert prominent shopping complexes in cities into no-car zones.

 There is now one more way, on top of all the old ones, to judge a city: is it a walker's city or not? In India's mostly unplanned cities, the last thought in the minds of those who order things is the need to make way for uncluttered pavements or sidewalks. The little that used to be there has mostly given way to the need to widen roads to unchoke the traffic on them. And when even that has not worked, flyovers have come as monuments to ignorance (they also don't work) and wastefulness.

Since most cities don't deliver, the consolation prize that many seek is to be in a neighbourhood which has a decent park or two or move to a new development which has walkers or joggers tracks designed into them. Those who are unlucky enough to miss out on both seek out stretches of a decent road or two near their homes for a brisk morning's pace-out. They are satisfied with very little since it is foolish to ask for more. A stretch that is not filthy makes do and should it have some green then that is a bonus.

In the soft light of early morning, these stretches take on a different personality. Brisk walkers in groups, twos or even singles, who often know each other well, cheerfully greet each other and pass on. In under two hours these stretches lose their distinctiveness, get their quota of traffic, noise and fumes and their charmed profile goes into hiding, until it is daybreak again. It is like a girl in a fairytale, blessed or cursed — depending on how you look at it — that she will look charming and fresh for two hours every morning!

I have been unusually lucky all my life. I grew up within walking distance of Kolkata's Victoria Memorial with its well laid-out park, though in early life I seldom got up early enough to do justice to the locational privilege that my grandfather had bestowed upon his progeny when he built his house in the thirties. Then came residence in a gated community in Gurgaon where the road around it was exactly a kilometer long. So not only could you take a pleasant walk any time of the day, even keeping track of how much you had done was made easy. Then I came to Bangalore where parks are the only bit of garden that remains of the former garden city.

But my luck seems to have run out on the last leg of my journey. Every time I tell someone where our flat is in Kolkata, the invariable reply is: that's good, the Bypass or nearabouts is the place to be. But there is not a park in sight. So, I have through trial and error discovered that consolation stretch which, by the wave of a magic wand every morning, becomes pleasant with pleasant walkers exchanging pleasant greetings.

The vast majority of us in urban India who do not have a decent place to walk, should start a campaign to rescue whatever decent stretch of road or open space there is in the neighbourhood, adopt it, nurture it, and not allow it to be ruined so that at least for two hours in a day, when the sunlight is all soft and virginal, the mundane becomes charmed.

The next citizens' initiative has to be to convert prominent shopping areas in our cities into walking zones where cars are not allowed. Of course, there will be opposition from shop owners who will fear losing business as those unable to drive up will drive away. But, as has happened all over the world, the experience in shopping promenades sans cars has been so superior that custom has grown, not declined. What you will need is car parks nearby where cars can be deposited and then the window shopping or shopping proper done on foot. For this the local government has to oblige and that is where the citizens' campaign will have to turn serious.

The third and more challenging initiative has to be to free up existing walkways from usurpers, both spillovers of established shops and hawkers. While the shops have the money power to "influence" civic staff so that they turn a blind eye to the encroachment, the hawkers fight literally with their backs to the wall as it is their livelihood which is at stake. An elaborate social contract will have to be worked out whereby hawkers and walkers can share pavements.

Then finally will have to come redesigned cities where most people will be able to live within walking distance of their work place. This will not happen in a day. If the movement gets going now, then it is the next generation that will thank us. These notions are not top of the mind in India today, but in good parts of the world, everyone has bought into them.

The main point is that citizens will have to take the first steps themselves, and not look to the government for deliverance. And after making some progress, the government will have to be engaged. Long court battles will have to be fought with land sharks to rescue parks. It is citizens who have breathed new life into cities like Chicago and Barcelona. Why can't a couple of Indian cities take the lead on the subcontinent?

 

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BUSINESS STANDARD

EDITORIAL

NATIVES OF THE DIGITAL WORLD

DEVANGSHU DATTA

I learnt to drive on manual transmission (a Ford Prefect, which should delight Douglas Adams fans). My first spin in an automatic meant de-conditioning decades of reflexes. My left foot wiggled, seeking a clutch.

Similarly, a shift to computer from typewriter meant forgetting the carriage return lever. Then it was the mouse. The interface got simpler each time. It's easier to drive without a clutch. It's much easier to click, rather than type .But I had to unlearn ingrained habits to exploit the advantages.

The post-touchscreen generation considers the mouse a nuisance. The divide between savvy toddlers and their 10-year-old siblings is marked. The toddlers swipe hands across screens and look puzzled if nothing happens, while their older siblings look for the mouse.

Children adapt faster but even they feel some disorientation. Physical disorientation is reflected subtly by incapacity to exploit new digital capabilities. I don't consume multimedia, or use the Interweb or social networks the way my 21-year-old nephew does. He doesn't consume multimedia the same way as his five-year-old niece does. A decade down the line, she might be struggling to adapt to voice-activated input or perhaps, ear-wiggle input.

The biggest legacy issues are in our heads. My nephew's social life is far richer and more varied than mine even though I've met far more interesting people. In my time, kids could hang out only if it was physically convenient. Phone calls were short because family members would yell if somebody hogged the phone.

My nephew's generation is permanently on Twitter and Facebook (FB). He has three IM conversations going and texts in-between, while listening to music and studying. This digital flood doesn't seem to impair concentration or adversely impact grades. That generation stays in touch painlessly across continents. The next stage could be seamless audio visual (AV)-messaging where, in effect, people hold multiple video-conferences on personal mobile devices.

There is no reason why my peers and I (the over-40s) cannot use the same methods to keep in touch, the way our children do so easily. We do, of course, use email, IM and also Twitter, FB, Skype, etc., and value the ways in which they've improved productivity.

But, we're not natives of the digital environment, we're emigres. Many of us feel the experience is impersonal. As a result, we tend to under-use digital channels and thus, lose contact with people we could and should, stay in touch with. After a while, we replace people in our social networks more often than we add them.

That's not how it works for digitally-connected 15-20 year-olds. It requires a deliberate act of commission to sever ties. Somebody must be unfriended, or IM-blocked. This makes it very likely that their social networks will eventually become much larger than that of any previous generation.

There are interesting future implications. What happens if everybody's "address book" (using the term loosely to include contacts on any two-way digital comm channel) runs to five-figures and more? It's likely to be the norm circa 2020.

Even in a population of 6 billion, that makes it very low odds that any two given persons will have common nodes on their personal networks. The degrees of separation between any two given persons will reduce dramatically. Does such a society turn into a virtual cocktail party, where everybody is privy to multiple simultaneous conversations?

This sounds like science fiction. Any guesses about the evolutionary path for such a society will likely be wrong. The impacts on current practices in security, diplomacy, policy-making, marketing, advertising, sexual mores, etc. are tough to imagine. The legacy issues will be large. The digital divides between haves/have-nots and natives/emigres will have their say in shaping things. But radical changes are inevitable simply because soon enough, most people on earth will be able to directly communicate with everyone else.

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BUSINESS STANDARD

EDITORIAL

PSEUDO POLITICIANS

WHY IS IT THAT SOME SO-CALLED LIBERALS BELIEVE THAT WHATEVER SOUNDS GOOD IS GOOD?

SURJIT BHALLA

Sometimes, I just don't understand what is going on. So help me. Most of the issues I don't understand involve the state, politicians and pseudo-liberals. Take first the women's Bill — enthusiastically supported by the two major parties in India, the Congress and the BJP, and a small coalition fighting for survival in the national political landscape, the Communist parties. As speculated in "Women's Bill: Women smart, men smarter?" (Business Standard, March 13), the timing of the Bill seems to have been exclusively to get pats on the back from international pseudo-liberals. It was the 100th anniversary of International Women's Day and what better way to honour it than an insulting-to-women piece of legislation — reservations of one-third seats in Parliament for those who can prove their womanhood.

 From countries as far apart as Rwanda and Sweden (also in the history books but with a lot more respectability), there have been different attempts at the knotty problem of how to speed up the process of women's involvement in politics. In Rwanda, seats are reserved for women in permanently defined women constituencies where only the women are allowed to vote. More sensible than what an ancient civilisation divined — in a hurry to be noticed on Women's Day — as a rotating constituency where women will fight for justice. Since it will be a lottery every five years (perhaps sooner given the era of coalition politics), all a politician, he or she, has to do and will do is to maximise the loot they can accumulate in the short time they are in office. Serve the people — hah! Ask the Election Commission how they have certified that expenditures in the Lok Sabha did not exceed more than a paltry Rs 2.5 lakh per candidate, when everybody knows the going rate, higher for the major parties and higher still for the winning parties, is at least a hundred times more. Of course, expect the pseudo liberals to come up with the specious argument, supported by data and experiments, that what works in a local panchayat of a few hundred people will work in an area involving several 100 times more.

How does Sweden, today the country with the largest percentage, close to 50 per cent, of female representation in Parliament, do it? Via an agreement among the political parties that they will nominate women candidates in 50 per cent of the constituencies. No Constitutional amendment, no picture in Newsweek magazine, no plaudits from psuedos — but effective.

Apparently, for several years now, former Election Commissioner M S Gill has circulated a suggestion very much along the Swedish line. In their haste to be so so applauding, how many pseudo liberals in the media informed you of this fact on the Women's Day, or earlier, or later? A strikingly uniform objection to the Swedish model in my article was that the major (and minor) parties would circumvent the noble intent by nominating frivolous women candidates for the constituencies they cannot win. Tragically, this uniform objection (was this an all- pseudo party line?) does not meet any test of smartness, and passes all tests of stupidity. Indians are supposed to be good at maths but fewer objections are more laughable for their complete misunderstanding of basic tossing the coin probability. All parties nominate women for the 50 per cent of seats they cannot win. Let us examine the case of the lead party — the Congress party. It will lose half of the 542 seats it contests, so will the BJP, and so will all the parties. Doesn't somebody win? And won't even the pseudo liberal media highlight the fact that in the name of the women, parties like the Congress and the BJP and the CPM are nominating frivolous women for the Lok Sabha seats?

The recent announcement by the CPM that they will nominate women for 45 per cent of the seats in the forthcoming municipal elections exposes the hollowness of the Bill passed in the Rajya Sabha. The BJP, and even the Congress, please take note. And start hiring some first-year IIT students to dome some simple probability calculations.

If the Congress party politicians stopped at misguided pseudo stuff, it would not be that problematical. What is extremely worrying is the extent the party will go to to rewrite history, and the arrogance with which it wants to obliterate its deeds, evil and otherwise. As already pathetically apparent, the present Congress leadership will go the distance in making people forget that there were any non-Nehru-Gandhi leaders of the Congress party. So forget that Narsimha Rao ever existed, let alone the fact that he alone among the entire Nehru-Gandhi clan initiated policies that have brought India to its present non-poor status. Second, it is appalling that a private Ms Sonia Gandhi vendetta against actor Amitabh Bachchan has to be brought into public space, as was manifested last week when the Congress party politicians were told not to appear in public with the actor, and the Congress party goons brought down posters of Amitabh's son, Abhishek Bachchan. Why this childish display? Didn't you know — Amitabh is the Ambassador for Gujarat, and the Gujarat chief minister is Narendra Modi, and Modi is responsible for the anti-Muslim carnage in 2002. It is okay if I make the charge against Modi, or even the Communists. But the Congress party and its embarrassing apologists? The very same party that brought you the Sikh riots of 1984; the very same party that introduced the election list method of identifying and killing innocent people. The very same party that had several ministers in its government of those alleged to have been involved in the 1984 riots. And the very same party that Mr Bachchan campaigned for in 1984 and won a Lok Sabha seat. And they are advising us, Goebellian fashion, to forget the 1984 riots.

Incidentally, the dictionary defines pseudo as a person who makes deceitful pretences.

The author is chairman of Oxus Investments


surjit.bhalla@oxusinvestments.com

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

GETTING POLITICAL ON PRICES

 

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has demonstrated remarkable political savvy by setting up three working groups comprising chief ministers from across the political spectrum and key policy experts to tackle the problem of food prices that refuse to stop rising.


Many find his method of setting up committees at the drop of a hat a tiresome sign of deficient resolve. Such criticism misses the point. Look at what is achieved by the present move of the core committee of chief ministers and central ministers on prices to set up these working groups.


The first group, on raising food production, is headed by a Congress chief minister, and has CMs of three Opposition parties as members: the Akalis, the CPI(M) and the Janata Dal (U). Their political diversity is masked by the common gloss that spreads over them: they are all leaders of large grainproducing states.


The second group, on improving the working of the public distribution system, is headed by the Planning Commission deputy chairman, has as members a chief minister each from the BJP and the Congress, and Dr Rangarajan, who heads the PM's economic advisory council.


The third group, on revamping the supply chain between the farmer and the final consumer, is headed by BJP's Narendra Modi, and has as members two Congress CMs and a third one from the DMK, a key member of the ruling coalition. Constituting these groups achieves five things.


First and foremost, it fixes responsibility for the key changes that are required to arrest food prices at the political level, where it belongs. Then, it spreads that political responsibility across the spectrum of parties, the Congress , the allies and the Opposition. It also makes sure the process can draw upon the needed technical expertise.

Further, by making the BJP's chief minister-in-chief lead the committee that would recommend expansion of organised retail (there is no logical alternative), it would blunt the traditional wholesale trade's opposition to reform .


And finally, by roping in central and state-level functionaries, it makes for administratively viable measures to emerge from these working groups. If all this does not make sense, pray, what does?

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

MAKE LAWS SIMPLE TO SEND TAX EVADERS TO JAIL

 

Tax policy cannot be fair and equitable when tax evaders prosper. The revenue department's proposal to bring tax evasion under the ambit of the anti-terror financing law and send evaders to prison is not absurd. Why mollycoddle tax evaders who fuel growth of a parallel economy and impede provision of public goods?


But first, the government should make income-tax laws simple, end exemptions, lower the rates and strengthen enforcement. People will pay taxes when there is no huge difference between the cost of compliance and the expected cost of avoidance — when the gap is big, the incentive is to not pay taxes.


So, the cost of avoidance should be raised and the cost of compliance lowered. Low tax rates lower the cost of compliance, obviously.


But the transaction costs of paying taxes are part of the cost of compliance, and these depend on the complexity of tax laws (you require experts to tell you how to follow them), integrity in the conduct of taxmen, the administrative ease of filing tax returns and getting refunds and how fast and how fairly disputes are settled. All these need reform.


Raising the penalty for evasion, if caught (or, equally although not equivalently, raising the payoffs required to facilitate evasion), will raise the expected cost of evasion. The first thing to do before hiking the expected cost of non-compliance by introducing jail terms for evaders is to lower the cost of compliance.


India can follow the example of members of the Financial Action Task Force who have brought offences like concealment of income under their anti-money laundering laws. Of course, after carrying out tax reforms, and banning amnesty schemes, which penalise honest taxpayers . A robust tax information network would help nab the big evaders.


An integrated PAN for central and state taxes would help track evasion, both in direct and indirect taxes. The introduction of the goods and services tax will foster compliance. Tax evasion also points to a crisis of faith between the government and the people. The larger problem of governance needs to be addressed, as well.

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

BRITAIN FACES CHARACTER CRUNCH

 

Britain could learn a thing or two about elections from India, as they head into one of their own in a month's time. Comedian Rory Bremner's lament that the current scenario in Britain is one of bland leading the bland with all the prime ministerial candidates almost template replicas of one another, bears some consideration in this image-driven age.


Identikit politicians may be the dream creation of media managers and party bosses who do not want their candidates to put their feet anywhere near their mouths, but they are killjoys from an electorate's point of view.

No one would blame British voters for going glassy-eyed watching identical, earnest, smiling, fresh-faced men wearing nearly the same clothes in exactly the same neat way with happily telegenic families in tow, in meeting after meeting, not to mention newspapers, TV channels and hoardings. In that respect, even the American voter had a better time, as both presidential candidates were about as alike as chalk and cheese.


The Indian political scene, in contrast, positively revels in variety. Barring some candidates' preference for white khadi, most political leaders, party supremos and prime ministerial hopefuls bear little resemblance to their peers, in age, appearance, sartorial choices, demeanour, accent or agenda. The template Indian politician, guaranteed to draw in the votes, has not been evolved.


That means Indian voters always have a deliciouslyvaried thali to choose from; sadly, the brunch laid out for voters by British politicians has veered away from distinct regional specialities to a fusion cuisine that looks bright and crisp but is curiously bland.


The new breed of British politicians better watch out: the brooding, dour, lumbering incumbent may just strike gold with voters simply because he has none of those anodyne attributes that characterise those ranged against him. The voter may just decide that a personality deficit is a bigger danger for Britain than a fiscal deficit.

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

BRITAIN FACES CHARACTER CRUNCH

 

Britain could learn a thing or two about elections from India, as they head into one of their own in a month's time. Comedian Rory Bremner's lament that the current scenario in Britain is one of bland leading the bland with all the prime ministerial candidates almost template replicas of one another, bears some consideration in this image-driven age.

 

Identikit politicians may be the dream creation of media managers and party bosses who do not want their candidates to put their feet anywhere near their mouths, but they are killjoys from an electorate's point of view.


No one would blame British voters for going glassy-eyed watching identical, earnest, smiling, fresh-faced men wearing nearly the same clothes in exactly the same neat way with happily telegenic families in tow, in meeting after meeting, not to mention newspapers, TV channels and hoardings. In that respect, even the American voter had a better time, as both presidential candidates were about as alike as chalk and cheese.


The Indian political scene, in contrast, positively revels in variety. Barring some candidates' preference for white khadi, most political leaders, party supremos and prime ministerial hopefuls bear little resemblance to their peers, in age, appearance, sartorial choices, demeanour, accent or agenda. The template Indian politician, guaranteed to draw in the votes, has not been evolved.


That means Indian voters always have a deliciouslyvaried thali to choose from; sadly, the brunch laid out for voters by British politicians has veered away from distinct regional specialities to a fusion cuisine that looks bright and crisp but is curiously bland.


The new breed of British politicians better watch out: the brooding, dour, lumbering incumbent may just strike gold with voters simply because he has none of those anodyne attributes that characterise those ranged against him. The voter may just decide that a personality deficit is a bigger danger for Britain than a fiscal deficit.

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

TAKING STOCK OF CLIMATE NEGOTIATIONS

SURYA P SETHI

 

As climate negotiators again converge in Bonn this week, it is appropriate that we take stock of the key issues that must be resolved if climate negotiations are to yield an equitable solution that is also acceptable.


Beyond the political rhetoric that is bound to follow, progress on the issues listed will be the key determinant of the degree of success.


The most critical unresolved issue vexing the negotiations is the issue of accepting and interpreting historical responsibility.

The touchstone of "common but differentiated responsibilities" under the Framework Convention embodies the historical responsibility of the developed world that is home to less than 20% of humanity but responsible for almost 80% of the current greenhouse gas concentration of our planet.


Post Bali, the North (led by the US) has denied any historical responsibility. The North recognises that in a climate constrained world, the developing countries cannot even reach poverty levels of the North without significant incremental cost that will eat into the South's priority and, indeed, its right to development.


All proposals crafted by the North, including the Copenhagen Accord, not only seek to preserve a disproportionate share of even the remaining environmental space for the North but require the South to make binding commitments to address climate change and bear the cost of such commitments to varying degrees but, in all cases, disproportionate to the South's contribution to the problem.


If one ignores historical responsibility , the position of the North can be defended . However, the Framework Convention and the Bali mandate recognise historical responsibility and hence make all mitigation actions by the developing world voluntary and require the developed world to pay the full incremental costs incurred by the developing world for such voluntary actions and for adaptation to climate change.


Clearly one cannot decide how much reparation to pay (in the form of money and/or technology) unless one first agrees on the extent and nature of the historical responsibility.


The planet's carbon constraints were formally recognised by the international community at Stockholm in 1972. One way could be to equitably distribute the world's cumulative carbon budget to its citizens using 1972 as the base year. Unused entitlements could be traded to pay for the incremental costs of addressing climate change. Such a formulation would implicitly take care of when a country "peaks" or "graduates" .


Agreement on the level of mitigation actions within the borders of the developed countries is the second major unresolved issue. Quite apart from the inability to extract binding and ambitious emission reduction targets from Annex I countries for the second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol, it needs to be recognised that the level of OECD's consumption of energy and other natural resources to sustain its lifestyles is simply unsustainable.

The proposed market mechanisms that will reduce emissions where they are most economic to reduce (i.e., the developing world) will be only as successful as we are in redistributing, more equitably, the world's energy and natural resource consumption.


This can happen only if OECD's consumption comes down significantly . As an example, OECD continues to disproportionately consume the incremental supplies of commercial energy that are coming into the market.


The developing world cannot reduce or trade emissions that it does not have because of low levels of access to energy and natural resources. Under current patterns of production and consumption , the world is on auto pilot for a 3.5° C temperature rise unless the Annex I countries undertake to reduce emissions within their borders by 25-40 % below 1990 levels by 2020.


This assumes that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change numbers are right. The third area of discord that must be addressed is the negotiating forum and the enforceability of the negotiated outcomes under international law.


While the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) is the recognised multilateral forum for these negotiations, its processes are being openly questioned and its decisions do not appear to have the force of international law.


There are many parallel negotiating forums in play that are clearly not compatible with or authorised by the UNFCCC. I am not against progress through parallel initiatives.


However, all such initiatives must be legitimised by the only multilateral forum that is recognised today by all and we must find a way that gives legal teeth to the outcomes of such legitimised negotiating processes. An acceptable solution is only likely either under the UNFCCC or a process/forum duly authorised by it.


The fourth area of disagreement that must be addressed is the issue of Shared Vision. The long-term global goal is not as important nor is it essential to cast it in stone. Given knowledge gaps in climate science and the impossibility of predicting the potential and timing of new and disruptive technologies, what really needs to agreed is committed actions by different countries in the next 10, 15 and 20 years.


Even the 15- and 20-year commitments should not be cast in stone and should be open to review at the end of each period in light of improved understanding of scientific and technological truths. Suffice it to say that if we cannot agree and commit to deliver what we agree for the next 10 years, there is little value in what we might agree on for 2050.


There are dozens of additional issues that are bracketed in the negotiating texts pending agreement. Space constraints limit my ability to address them all. But all the remaining disagreements are second degree issues in my mind. If we can reach consensus on the four issues highlighted above, there can be rapid progress on the balance.

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

LET YOUR DREAMS RISE AND FLY

VITHAL C NADKARNI

 

While he was still at college, Albert Schweitzer's classmates would often ask him, "however do you manage to do so much?" The theologian-turned-musician , who won the Nobel Peace Prize for medical work in Africa, usually laughed or would try to shrug off such questions. But when they persisted, Schweitzer would show a French poem which he had framed and hung up above his work table:


"Higher, ever higher,/ Let thy dreams and wishes rise,/ Let them mount like flame of fire,/ Upwards to the skies./ Higher , ever higher,/And when thy heaven is overcast,/ May thy star of faith aspire/ Till all is bright at last."
For more than sixty years this extract was Schweitzer's inspiration.


It is still to be found, faded, above his writing-desk in Gunsbach . After graduation, Schweitzer published one of the most famous theological texts of our times called The Quest of the Historical Jesus. In this he defined Jesus as an ultimately tragic figure whose apocalyptic consciousness impelled him to his death.


He also believed that Jesus had died mistaken and forsaken . This conclusion drove him from the study of theology to the work of practical love. He wrote of this period in his life: "I wanted to be a doctor that I might be able to work without having to talk. For years I had been giving myself out in words...this new form of activity I could not represent to myself as being talking about the religion of love, but only as an actual putting it into practice."


He was 30 when he answered the Evangelist Missions Society's call for a medical doctor. The selection committee baulked at his incorrect' Lutheran theology . Although he could easily have obtained a place in a German Evangelical mission, Schweitzer wished to follow the original call of serving humanity despite the doctrinal difficulties.


So amid a hail of protests from his friends, family and colleagues , the Alsatian-born theologian resigned his post and reentered the university as a student of a punishing seven-year course towards the degree of a doctorate in medicine, a subject in which he had little knowledge or previous aptitude.


He did this because he wanted to spread the Gospel by the example of the Christian labour of healing, rather than through the verbal process of preaching. He ardently believed that this 'service without sound' would be acceptable in any branch of Christian teaching. Walk the talk.

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

COMING SOON, UID-BACKED MICRO ATMS FOR THE POOR: NANDAN NILEKANI

 

In the short time that Infosys Technologies' former CEO and co-founder Nandan Nilekani has been part of the government, he has emerged as UPA's tech czar. Not only is he spearheading the very ambitious Unique Identity (UID) Card project, Nilekani has been recently appointed the chair of the Technology Advisory Group which has the mandate to fix the framework for large and transformational IT projects of the government.

Nilekani parries the 'czar' tag as he talks to TOI about his mission to give each and every Indian a unique number — an identity which should be particularly helpful for the poor in terms of financial inclusion. In his mission to evangelise the project, Nilekani has hit the road with a vengeance, meeting everybody — from chief ministers and senior government officials to community and club members. He took time off from one such meeting to speak to Asha Rai. Excerpts from the interview.


Where exactly are you at this point with your project?


Well, it's been about eight months now. We are on target. The finance minister, in his budget speech of July 2009, had announced that we would start giving out the numbers in 12-18 months. This means essentially between August of 2010 and February of 2011. We had a meeting of the prime minister's council on UID which has now become the cabinet committee on UID. We are on target to get there. We have opened offices in Delhi and Bangalore. While Delhi is the headquarters, Bangalore is the technology centre. We have eight regional offices in cities like Chandigarh, Ranchi, and Hyderabad. Out of the eight, five have staff.


We have appointed Ernst & Young to work on the request for proposal (RFP) to appoint our managed service provider which will run our data centre. In January, we launched the RFP for our technology partners. That should be decided in the next few weeks. We are doing a proof-of-concept in three states where we are testing things like biometric enrolment, capturing iris, capturing finger prints, etc...stuff like how much time does it take, what's the quality of the finger prints, the documents required, etc. Basically, we are testing out different aspects.

What's the buy-in for this initiative?


We have been on a massive evangelization drive. I have visited all the states, met most of the chief ministers, told them what's in it for them and what's positive for them. The buy-in is huge. The very fact that I went to meet them, that itself makes them feel good about it. Then I met all the central government bodies, all regulators like sebi, Irda, Trai, etc. So basically everybody's been covered. Now everybody knows what's coming down the road. This year is the year of execution. Before the end of this year, we will be issuing numbers.


The other important thing is that the Census has started. As part of it, they are compiling the National population register. We have an agreement with them that they will collect the biometrics according to UIDAI standards. They will also be a very important registrar for us. We have all these registrars and through many of them we will start issuing cards. We have signed an MOU with Madhya Pradesh and in the next three months will sign MOUs with all the other states.

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

'GOVT SURELY HAS A ROLE IN FINANCIAL STABILITY'

DEEPSHIKHA SIKARWAR & VINAY PANDEY

 

Howard Davies, director of the London School of Economics, is writing a book on the financial crisis, having seen it from very close. His voice carries some punch as not too far back he headed the Financial Services Authority of the UK, which is facing an existential crisis. Before that he had served as the deputy Governor of the Bank of England. He spoke to ET just before an address to the Confederation of Indian Industry. Excerpts:


India is opening up its education sector to foreign investments. Will LSE be exploring opportunities here?
I think it's quite unlikely that we will set up a campus here. We don't have another campus anywhere else. And of course there are plenty of other places where we could have done for a long time like Hong Kong or Singapore. Our international strategy has been not to establish remote campuses but to develop institutional partnerships with universities in other countries where we do a range of things with them, particularly double degrees programmes.


You have talked about the need for fiscal correction. Will that not affect the recovery?

The first round of impact of cutting the fiscal deficit is likely to be somewhat negative but I think there is a lot of historical experience which says that quite quickly you get a more positive growth dynamic coming into play, for two reasons. One, if you are firm on fiscal position then people assume interest rates will be lower than they would otherwise be. If you leave your fiscal deficit for a long time then you are bound to face rising interest rate because people will become suspicious of your ability to handle it.


If you do cut the deficit sharply, people then start to believe that interest rates will remain low and that is positive for investment and also from a taxation perspective. So I think there is a quite a lot of evidence from the past, certainly in UK, that if you cut spending you have a bit of shock to the economy but quite quickly you have an improved expectation about interest rates and taxes which in turn feeds into investments and also into consumption because if people feel taxes are going to go up then they consume less.


FSA's role have come under scrutiny in the UK. Has the crisis necessitated a change in the regulatory structures?
One lesson is that the linkages between central banks and regulators have got to be in place because the central banks may well need to do things to support institutions, to provide liquidity in a way that we had almost forgotten, the lender of last resort. We've now seen it can happen and happen at a very large scale. We have seen that in some places, like UK, central banks seemed at the outset to have been surprised.


Point two is, we've also seen that parallels of regulatory systems where they were in silos and did not communicate very well with each other. In the US, for example, AIG was regulated by the New York state insurance department and office of credit supervisions. Yet, it was running absolutely massive derivative operations which neither of these two really understood. Conservative Party have chosen a very extreme option, which is to say we will put all prudential supervision into the central bank. That's quite a risky thing to do.


Only country that has done it is Netherlands which probably had the worst affected banking system in the world. I am in favour of regulatory consolidation outside the central bank but with much tighter linkages between the central bank and the regulator. That's where we went wrong in this crisis. The two of them had somewhat drifted apart. There wasn't enough communication between the two. You need a financial stability committee which brings two together. There needs to be structures. But I recognise the crisis hasn't produced a very clear lesson for structure.


Do you see a role for government in regulatory coordination? India has just announced its decision to set up a financial sector development council...

The government has to be involved in discussions about financial stability because in the end if the support for a bank or another financial institution, insolvency support as opposed to liquidity support, is needed then where does it come from. It does not come from the central bank.


Ultimately taxpayers have to be involved. So one cannot avoid government's involvement in these things. But you need very careful in what the government is engaged in. The Labour government in UK has financial stability committee with clearly defines responsibility, which is the best in current circumstances. I would want FSDC to be limited to legislation, financial stability and solvency.


What is your view on the currency dispute US has with China?

One thing you have to remember is that there are other currencies in the world other than the dollar and the Yuan. The dollar strengthening against some currencies does not have much political resonance in the UK. I think unfortunately in the US it has become very politicised issue with the use of rather colourful language like currency manipulation.


We used to call it exchange rate management, which is kind of a neutral phrase. Most countries have done that. India has also done that. One country's exchange rate management in the interest of financial stability is another country's currency manipulation.


There is feeling in India that we got away lightly in the financial crisis because of the conservative opening of financial sector. What does it mean for financial reforms going forward?

To some extent that argument is true. By preventing the growth of securitisation and that kind o f thing you did protect yourself against the worst excesses of the crisis. One other reason is your banks have a relatively low loan to deposit ratio. Banks are funded extensively by domestic deposits. Why is that because there is shortage of investment opportunities for india. The whole climate is somewhat restrictive.


So you do pay a price for that. My thing is RBI has been too restrictive in some areas which I don't think you can justify by contagion risk. Like restricting activities of banks like HSBC and Standard Chartered, which are good commercial and consumer banks which were not affected by crisis so hardly. You can't use contagion risk as an excuse for that. So I think RBI has been too restrictive is some areas and sensibly conservative in others.

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

BRANDS HERE SEEM CLOSER TO CONSUMERS: DIRECTOR, NAKED COMMUNICATIONS

RAVI BALAKRISHNAN

 

Naked Communications one of the more unusual companies in the marketing communication business, recently started operations in India. The 10-year-old communication consultancy boasts of a media-neutral approach to solving marketing problems and has been trying to set up shop in India ever since 2008. Will Collin, founder-director, Naked was among the list of speakers at Goafest this year. He shared his views on the firm's India plans and lessons from the recession with ET. Excerpts :


Besides speaking at Goafest, what's on your agenda this visit?

To meet some people, to spend more time with Gitanjali Sriram (managing partner, Naked India) to talk about what we are going to do in India, and also to hopefully pick up some insights and apply them elsewhere within Naked. The sort of really dynamic commercial culture here has a lot to teach other markets and I am trying to soak up as much as possible in such a short visit.


A lot of the lessons are more than valid in the big developed western countries when you look at the extent to which Indian marketers embrace what we call experiential marketing or non-traditional brand activation. It is a huge part of how brands form relations with consumers and something that big western brands are only just waking up to. From what I have seen, I get the sense that brands here seem closer to consumers.


Considering recent entrants in the Indian marketing communications space are often unable to replicate their global success in this market, how do you export your agency's culture to this market?


Our culture derives from our business model. Our fees are essentially consultancy fees. Our clients pay us for our expertise and ability to come up with objective strategic recommendations and the ability to work with the client to make those things happen and be brought to bear in the marketplace. What goes with that is a cultural sense of open-mindedness. Anything goes. Our recommendations can span any corner of the communication industry. Some of them aren't even classically called communication.


For one client, it was about staff training. The other side of our culture is a dogged determination to be sceptical and questioning and never to take things as a given. An almost forensic and analytical desire to find out how it all works. We shouldn't have to export that; it goes with the territory. There are things to do with the mood and spirit of the place but we are a close-knit family. We are personally involved with the recruitment of anyone who starts a new Naked office. It's not a question of set and forget like a KFC or McDonald's. The whole business operates through very close and regular connections.


What sort of an impact has the recession had on the marketing communications discipline?

I think to some extent, marketing is going to have to relearn some of its original founding principles. One of the definitions I like of marketing is 'meeting consumer needs profitably.' As opposed to convincing consumers to buy things that are slightly more expensive than they need; something that some people got caught up with over the last few years. Marketing communications at its heart should play a useful role. It should help consumers navigate their choices, help them understand which brands best meet their needs in a functional and emotional sense.

We have to go back to focusing on that as a start point. What is the role of the brand? Where is the value that it creates for the consumer? Marketing communications just reveals that truth in a memorable persuasive way. It's not just a way of foisting an image on to the consumer and relying on their lack o questioning or their innate suggestibility to get them to buy.

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

'YUAN REVALUATION TO IMPACT INDIA, OTHERS'

 

Aaron Smith, CEO, Superfund Asset Management, in a chat with ET NOW, says China should do what most other countries in the world are doing and that's basically having a free-floating rate.


China has been talking about revaluing its currency. What are you reading into this?


The key trend that we have seen has been the dollar strengthening vis-à-vis the euro and basically, all other Western currencies. Regardless of whether or not China will revalue the yuan, obviously that has huge implications for markets in India as well as Southeast Asia.


Will China revalue this time?

I can only say what China should do is what every other country in the world is doing and that's basically having a free-floating rate or if they are really smart, they would take the yuan and peg it to gold since gold is the only real form of money that's really holding up. If you look at, for example, how gold survived compared to the US dollar in the face of the US dollar rally that we have seen since December, gold has held up remarkably well and made all-time.


Crude is trading above $87. Where do you see the prices going there?

This is very significant. We looked at $85 as sort of a crucial resistance point. Now, we are breaking out of that and if oil can consistently close and stay above the $85-mark, $90 is really no issue. And if the uptrend stays intact, which I do believe it will, then crude can go from $70 to $87. The idea that crude oil two months from now could be over $100 or in triple-digit range is certainly in the realm of possibility, especially if this technical uptrend stays in place.

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

INDIA IS A TOP PRIORITY MARKET AT THE BOARD LEVEL: GOOGLE INDIA MD

DELSHAD IRANI

 

Google's ship in the Chi of Chindia may have sailed into a storm that perhaps Poseidon himself couldn't have created. But the red country's battle with the Internet giant is a distant affair because as far as India is concerned, the sky's clear and the waters calm and inviting. Shailesh Rao, MD, Google India, takes time out at Goafest 2010 to talk exclusively to ET about the company's plans for India and thriving in a digital universe. Excerpts:

Large network agencies have different definitions for Google's dominance. But a more popular one is frenemy. Is the threat hype or reality? Or are agencies still struggling to cope with a digital reality?


I think it's absolutely counterproductive. Of course, it takes time to adjust to change and we realise the resistance. But we are a new medium; we have to take control of our own destiny and tell the world the rapidly changing technology story. So we built the technology and went straight to the client. Over the years, we have validated the medium for the agencies.


At the end of the day, we are natural partners. But counterproductive comments stunt growth. Nonetheless, Goafest is a good reflection of how the relationship has evolved. Three years ago, I did not know about the festival and today, I am on a first name basis with most of the agency heads here and we are working together .

Where does the Indian market stand in Google's larger scheme of things? What are the impediments to growing the internet story here?


India has Google's second largest employee base in the world. The country is a top priority market at the board level. It does not materially move the dial on Google's growth revenue but very select number of countries are reviewed at periodic intervals by the board, and India is one of them.


Sure, there are other more mature markets and there are fast developing markets on the internet penetration front but not very often does one get the kind of headroom that exists in India. But on the other side of the ledger, there are countries like Brazil and China which have outpaced us in terms of penetration. Recognising the power of the medium the US has set in motion its national broadband plan, India could really benefit from a platform like that. For a country with a huge young population, growing a cheap platform like a national broadband scheme could be transformational.


We need a story just like the telecom or information technology industry had years ago. The latter's story was jobs. We need an Internet story. And now is the perfect time because we have reached a milestone, a threshold, for us to aspire for more. For instance awakening the huge small business community in India can be a transformational move. They don't want fantasy propositions, they want nuts and bolts value.


If we can help them scale, it will provide a massive push to development. India is a true triple threat. It is a centre of operations, great engineering capability and huge head count. The IPL on YouTube was a watershed moment. Not only was it a global board level decision, but also elevated the level of dialogue. It went to 200 countries and is already the most viewed live event Google has done, ever.

Considering the company's large business interests and human capital, it has limited branding and big splash advertising. Why is that so?


For YouTube's IPL feed, we had wrappers on trains and hoarding in cities. We are not averse to offline marketing. But at the end of the day, our prospective users are online.

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

AGENCIES NEED TO WORK LIKE NEWSROOMS: PRESIDENT, JWT INTERNATIONAL

RAJIV BANERJEE

 

Michael Maedel, president of JWT International, believes the word 'consumer' no longer means what it used to. In a new world, the end user is a co-owner and co-creator of brands, says the president of the world's fourth largest marketing communications network, who is here for Goafest. ET caught up with Maedal at Cavellosim beach, the venue of the advertisement fair, for a short conversation. Excerpts:


The theme at Goafest this year is 'survival of the freshest'. How has JWT fared from the slowdown last year to the uptake this year?

Sure it was a recession, but the perception is we didn't know what to do the next day as the slowdown hit us. For some, it was the first recession and for some, they had faced a slowdown earlier. But the key was to realise that there's life after a slowdown and one had to look at the fundamental issues, which were obviously affected during the economic crisis. Asia was affected but did definitely better than the US and Europe.


As for JWT India, we did reasonably okay and the key behind that is we have a smart, forward-looking leadership in India, who balanced the short-term considerations without toppling the long-term objectives.


What is it that JWT would like to focus on to build competencies in that sphere?

One aspect where we really need to evolve is to meet the challenges of new technology. Technology as it is available right now is changing the dynamics between a brand owner and consumers. The definition of the word 'consumer' is history, for it is no longer a simple transaction of creating a product and end user consuming it. Brand owners have to have an ideology and then create a movement, which leads to the formation of a community.

Even we are learning and getting a sense of co-ownership or co-creation between brands and end users. So, within a community, brands have a conversation, which they are part of but cannot control. As an agency, we have to adapt ourselves to the fact that it's not just about a campaign today, it's an on-going engagement. Agencies have to work like newsrooms, 24X7, share, see and react.


Are agencies ready to face the changing landscape? Why are we not witnessing enough examples of agencies adapting to the change?

The key to this is to realise that the brands are no longer in control of things. Agencies too haven't understood it. In the communications industry, which is going through seismic changes, there is comfort in holding onto aspects one is familiar with. Especially, when there is no Bible or road map for the way forward.


But in reality, changes like digital have impacted our lives in a very short span of time, therefore traditional approach to marketing and communication is in question. Agencies of the future will be spread across Mumbai, Cape Town and Caracas. Talent will not sit at one place. So how can agencies manage the fluidity of getting talent together in the virtual world? Clients won't remunerate us because we have 500-600 people, they will reward us for the value we give them using talent from across the world.

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

LOCAL BRANDS IN CHINA SAVING GRACE'

RAVI BALAKRISHNAN

 

After over a decade in China, Tom Doctoroff, CEO of JWT China, says he is fluent in Mandarin but baffled by Cantonese. That did not hamper his company's ability to attract more Chinese brands, which was crucial to cope with the global recession when multinationals slashed expenses. Excerpts from an interview with ET


How badly did the recession hit China? Which parts of the business were worst affected?

We did get hit and it was a big challenge. From an ad industry perspective, the recession affected our multinational portfolio much more significantly. The saving grace was that local brands maintained their spends. Anything that was geared towards sales generation grew, and so the activation component continued to grow significantly.


And considering that in China the more national the activation the better, that was very healthy for our bottom line. We had to demonstrate that something was working whether on the ground or not. It was a big challenge during the recession. The importance of measurement, accountability and transparency grew and I don't think it is going to change.


What's the split between global and local clients at JWT China?

In the market in general, nobody knows the exact figures. It is supposed to be 80% local and 20% multinational. But 80% of that 80% consists of very basic and sales-driven clients. Our pool of viable clients is restrained and a lot of the volume is made up by local brands. In JWT, the split is 45% local and 55% multinational. The activation was almost exclusively multinational but now we have started making inroads with local companies.


Have things changed significantly so far in 2010?

On a more superficial level, there were very few pitches last year. A lot of multinational companies are coming in and looking for our services. Even multinationals that have been there for a while are looking to upgrade their communication. As for local clients, the list is growing and that's largely because with more multinational competition, the locals need to up their game.


In many global markets, the recession has made consumers more cautious. Were there any trends the recession brought to the fore in the Chinese consumer?


China doesn't grow in great leaps or inflection points. In China, things are always evolving and it is always incremental. There's no huge trend. The key trends have been the growth of digital, and local brands becoming brand-centric. That again is a creeping phenomenon and not sudden.

 

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                                                                                                               DECCAN CHRONICAL

EDITORIAL

TIME TO FIX NAXAL PROBLEM, NOT QUIT

Union home minister P. Chidambaram did the decent thing by offering to resign in the wake of the massacre of CRPF jawans by Maoists in Chhattisgarh's Dantewada district earlier this week, the worst instance in the country's history of the mowing down of jawans of a paramilitary force. The force is under the direct charge of the home minister and Mr Chidambaram took constructive responsibility for the tragedy. In recent years it has been seen that ministers — both at the Centre and in the states — not only do not acknowledge their moral responsibility when things go wrong, but stoutly resist calls for their resignation and shamelessly advance arguments to explain why they are God's gift to government. Unmindful of the likely political consequences, the Union home minister has done well to distance himself from this unconscionable tradition, although it can be argued that his offer to resign could have come right after the CRPF men were slaughtered. That may have been a notch more appropriate. That is what Lal Bahadur Shastri had done after a train accident when he held charge of the railways. Madhavrao Scindia too quit the P.V. Narasimha Rao government owning responsibility after a aircrash. Nonetheless, the Prime Minister has responded adequately and with the right sense of balance in rejecting Mr Chidambaram's resignation. The point has been made and it is time to get on. The BJP, the main Opposition party, has also asked the home minister not to resign at this juncture as the gesture can be interpreted by Maoists as a victory. It is clear enough on hindsight that Mr Chidambaram's policy toward the Naxalites wasn't finetuned enough, although he has taken a number of steps that needed to be taken. He has also with verve made the appropriate political points about dealing with Naxalism which seeks to mask itself as a pro-poor ideology. For all the impression of aloofness (some say arrogance) that he gives off, the home minister is energetic, articulate, innovative and transparent. These are strong and desirable qualities in a senior minister who is also a member of important committees of the Cabinet. Mr Chidambaram did much to inculcate confidence in the country in the wake of the 26/11 attacks in Mumbai the minute he took charge from his predecessor Shivraj Patil, whose approach was bureaucratic, dilatory and ineffective. Along with jihadist terrorism, Naxalism has emerged as a challenge to the template of a democratic India. Approximately three divisions of the security forces — chiefly CRPF and state police — are engaged in dealing with the Naxalites alone. This is a significant investment. The home minister will henceforth need to ensure that this battle is conducted thoughtfully and efficiently. The forces sent in to deal with the armed Naxalites have to be trained and equipped in the context of the terrain of deployment. At the moment, they appear quite unfit to be posted in the Naxalite areas deep inside forests, although the same men may prove top class in other settings. Dantewada showed that CRPF's intelligence resources and sense of tactics are inadequate.

 

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DECCAN CHRONICAL

EDITORIAL

POLITICIANS TRUE LIES

Politicians are known to mislead and talk through their hats. But sometimes even hardened journos are staggered by the extent of misinformation. It has become a habit for leaders of all political parties to visit Vignan Bhavan, headquarters of the Srikrishna panel in New Delhi, and submit their reports on bifurcation of the state. So when Congress leader Mr J.C. Diwakar Reddy visited the panel's HQ no one thought it extraordinary until he told the media that he met the panel members and all of them are in favour of a united AP. The announcement created a furore. It turns out that it was a bit of wishful thinking.

MINISTERS NOT COMFY IN Jagan's 'DARBAR'

The Kadapa MP, Mr Y.S. Jagan Mohan Reddy, could learn a lesson in simplicity from the Chief Minister, Mr K. Rosaiah. The much awaited meeting between the two at the Chief Minister's residence was naturally something of a media circus and photographs of the event were splashed across the media the next day. They showed the two one-time rivals seated on a simple wooden sofa of the kind found in several middle class homes. A stark contrast to the swanky designer sofas in photographs of Mr Reddy featured in the vernacular daily owned by him. The photo in which Mr Reddy sits surrounded by visiting ministers and legislators, has the look of an imperial darbar. The courtiers, however, are not too happy at their proximity to the prince being so widely known, especially now that there is talk of a Cabinet expansion, and if anyone is going to hand out any royal favours, it is Mr Rosaiah. In fact, some of the ministers caught on celluloid tried to convince Mr Reddy not to expose them, but found to their dismay that more photographs of the same kind were published the next day. Several have taken an oath not to visit the MP at all.

 

NAVIN'S POSTING GIVES THE JITTERS TO OTHER BUREAUCRATS

Even more than the outgoing Hyderabad district collector, Mr Navin Mittal, it was other bureaucrats who prayed for his retention in the post. Several officers have been expecting transfers and good postings but were apprehensive that a reshuffle would be delayed if Mr Mittal too was to be moved. This is because it is difficult to find a suitable posting for Mr Mittal who is fortunate to always serve in high profile posts. The government has made Mr Mittal special commissioner in GHMC, and this, a little bird told us, is giving sleepless nights to the commissioner, Mr Sameer Sharma.


In bureaucratic circles they remember the CVSK Sarma-Sanjay Jaju feud a few years ago in the GHMC.

CM'S enthusiastic principal secyThe Chief Minister must undoubtedly be grateful to have Mr K. Raju as one of his principal secretaries because of the bureaucrat's well-known enthusiasm for his work. But sometimes the Chief Minister is irked by his aide's over-enthusiasm. It is normal practice for the Chief Minister's secretaries to sit in the officers' box during an Assembly session and assist the boss in answering the queries of the Opposition. Recently, during a serious debate with the leader of the Opposition, Mr N. Chandrababu Naidu, attacking the government, Mr Raju was seen jotting down points and continuously passing them on to his boss. The Chief Minister needs little assistance in countering the Opposition and seemed to be rather annoyed by the uncalled for and unsolicited advice that kept flowing in. At one point he held his head and flung the slips aside. But realising almost immediately that this may hurt the sentiments of his secretary, the Chief Minister gestured that he had done so because all the advice would go over Mr Naidu's head.

 

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DECCAN CHRONICAL

EDITORIAL

PORTUGUESE PAO

BY FARRUKH DHONDY

 

 "Sending a shiver down her spine,

A draft blows through the door ajar

The crackle of the sunset crows

Floats upon it from afar".

From Kya Baath

Hein, Surr! by Bachchoo

I will not write about the British general election.

I will not write about the British general election.

I will not write about the British general election...

Ditto...
Ditto...
Which was the punishment or deterrent meted out in my school days to dissuade you from some sin you had committed or duty you had omitted, as in "I will not try to sound cleverer than Mrs Bagchi". (She was the maths teacher, but I have, being gentlemanly, changed her name and sex to protect her identity). Note the two "dittos" in the fourth and fifth line of the repetitive exercise: one of the miniscule ways I devised of being cleverer than the aforementioned Mrs Bagchi to whom I had to submit the punitive assignment. When handing it in with just those five lines — and she looking aghast — I pointed out to her that as a teacher of Mathematics she had successfully imbued in me the idea that a symbol that stood for a whole sequence was a mark of advanced written discourse. Thus, the first "ditto" served to reproduce the three lines preceding it and the second to reproduce the entire sequence ad infinitum. Like two flat mirrors facing each other on the parallel and each reflecting the other to infinity. Ergo, she didn't have just the 100 lines she had set me, but an infinite number. QED: Quite Easily Done.

 

She wasn't pleased. A thousand more lines and no photocopier!

 

In confessional mode, I should add that no one set me the above resolution, but like a Pavlovian dog who has learnt his lesson well from the repeated admonishments of Mrs Bagchi and others, I resort, even in late adult life, to writing out resolutions several times in order to remind myself to stick to them.

 

My resolve to devote no columns to the British general election which is to be held on May 6 is because there is nothing much to be said about them except that all the parties are aware that Britain is in a hole and each party is continuing to dig in a way very slightly distinguishable from the others. Labour wants to collect more tax from the employers now and cut government spending later. The Tories want to cut spending now and raise taxes later. They each promise to preserve the health service, do good for education and see that the police catch wrongdoers. As we know from American elections, it doesn't matter which party you vote for, an American always wins. (Not true, of course of Indian elections). Or as my late friend Eric Williams, the Prime Minister of Trinidad, used to say, "You can go to ballot box, soap box, any kinda box — in the end it comes to the same old khaki pants!"

 

So having resolved not to add any words to the tedious discourse about the UK elections being inflicted on the world's public what shall one write about? Taking a leaf, or a sentence really, out of the book of early Western feminism, one can say that "the personal is the political", so perhaps I should own up to having been presented an automatic bread-making machine on my recent birthday  — (None of your business!) — and have taken to baking very many varieties of loaf from its recipe book.

The smell of browned wheat or rye suffuses the kitchen, in which I have situated the said sanitary-looking, windowed white box and, faintly, the rest of the house. The odour of fresh bread is most appetising and the temptation to buy it hot and eat chunks of it on the way back from Barco's Bakery in Gowlivadda, two streets away from our neighbourhood in Pune, where I was routinely sent to catch the six o'clock batch, are for me the staples of nostalgia.

 

Mr Barco and his family were Goan Christians and, while serving bread from the front shop all day and at most times, they strove to serve the surrounding neighbourhoods by supplying hot bread in hourly batches to suit the early and later dining families.

 

Of course, all these Indian families were bred on and ate chappatis and variants of that flat bread for dinner, but in western India the habit of the Western loaf was catching on. My cook called it "double roti". One can only guess that it was so called because it was bloated and oblong rather than pan-cakey.

A more interesting etymology can be suggested for our western Indian word for loaves of bread, which is "paon roti" or just "paon".

 

People tell me that it is Portuguese for bread and therefore was adopted and passed into Marathi and Konkani when the Portuguese colonised the coast of western India. So far so good, but it begs the question — did the word enter Portuguese before the colonialists broke bread in Goa, or after? Because the other suggested derivation of the word reverses the process — it originated in India and travelled thence to Portugal. The dough for the yeasted mixture of flour and water in such vast quantities was not kneaded by hand or machine but by the trampling under foot of the baker and associates exercising a gymnastic tattoo on it. I had dreams of the Barco family with their trousers and skirts trussed up doing a dance on acres of sticky dough in the dead of night while Pune slept.

 

The word for feet in Marathi and Konkani is "paon"! So it may very well be true that the bread was named after the method of kneading the dough by foot, distinguishing it from chappatis, parathas, naans and the like whose dough is kneaded by hand.

 

The literal translation of "paon roti" would in Marathi or Konkani be "foot-bread", shortened for economy to "paon".

 

The proof of the etymological pudding would be to compare the date of the word paon, as meaning bread, entering the Portuguese language with the date of the sailing of Vasco da Gama to the shores of western India. Chicken or egg? A riddle which in this case can have an answer.

 

I confess I am foot man, myself, even though the alternative explanation of some obscure European derivation would not dispel the vision of the dough-dancing Barco family from my subconscious — whence all fears, dreams and the nostalgia for the smell of fresh bread come.

 

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DECCAN CHRONICAL

EDITORIAL

A THREE-WAY GAME WITH NO WINNER

BY BY S. NIHAL SINGH

 

The sharp confrontation that has developed between Afghanistan's President Hamid Karzai and the Obama administration is a danger signal that could mark the beginning of the end of American — and North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (Nato) — commitment to the war-ravaged country. To one who has covered America's Vietnam War for five years in the 1960s, it is an eerie reminder of the fragility of relations between a power fighting someone's war and the leader of the client state.

 

In hindsight, it is clear that the nature of America's problems in Vietnam changed radically once Washington achieved its goal of deposing President Diem and his immediate family, including the formidable Madame Nhu. Diem, who had a presence but was autocratic and headstrong. This gave way to a succession of leaders who acted as bit players in the downward spiral of the American involvement. In the end, Americans came to recognise their folly even as the last Vietnam general holding fort began to display a backbone, once it was clear that Americans had decided to cut and run.

 

Mr Karzai's otherwise inexplicable outburst against the United States, his benefactor and protector, blaming the West and the United Nations for the electoral fraud that brought him his re-election, has a logic of its own. The Afghan leader has read the tea leaves and come to the conclusion that his future lies in separating himself from Washington and being his own man.

 

In essence, the apparently tense meeting that US President Barack Obama had with the Afghan President during his recent flying visit to Kabul seems to have convinced Mr Karzai that he is seeing the endgame of the present phase of American involvement. In any event, the announcement of the troop surge while setting a target date for the beginning of withdrawal of US troops was a red light for Afghans.

 

The Obama administration is seeking to find a way out of the maze while suppressing its anger. It faces two kinds of problems: what to do with Mr Karzai, and if there is no option to his continuing presidency, how to evolve a new modus vivendi in dealing with him as the US and Nato troops fight the war and seek a compromise with sections of the Taliban?

 

It is widely acknowledged in US administration circles that there is, for the present, no appealing option to the continuance of Mr Karzai. The question then boils down to how to work with or around him. One body of opinion building up among American experts is to keep Mr Karzai out of the loop in framing strategies for, and giving funds to, the regions. But such a policy runs the risk of forming two parallel administrations. As it is, the US military's increasing tendency not to reveal the nature of military operations to the Karzai administration to guard against leaks is creating bad blood.

 

Another danger in the fraught relations between Karzai and the Obama administration is that there might emerge a competitive bid for seeking reconciliation with the Taliban. The last UN representative in Kabul has publicly declared his belief that his reconciliation efforts with the Taliban leadership were hampered by Pakistan, which is seeking a lead role in any reconciliation between the US and the Taliban. Mr Karzai, on his part, has been seeking a discourse with sections of the Taliban.

 

Officially, the US maintains that it is in Afghanistan for the long haul, but the acute tensions with Mr Karzai make that task more difficult because it sways domestic public opinion against remaining in Afghanistan and adds to the problems of the European Nato troop providers in convincing their sceptical public about the benefits of spending wealth and lives on the remote Afghan battlefield.

 

It is therefore important for the US to act before the situation gets out of hand. Suggestions for cancelling the invitation extended to Mr Karzai to visit Washington next month are indications of the kind of dangerous thoughts in the air. As Diem proved in Vietnam and Mr Karzai is seeking to prove in Afghanistan, an inherently unequal relationship becomes more equal because of the nature of the interdependence between the two sides at a certain stage in a war situation.

 

The main thrust of the Nato operation is in southern Afghanistan and, despite the successes of the operations in certain areas, the picture seems far from rosy. And American reliance on Pakistan has grown even as Islamabad is seeking to extract the maximum advantage out of its physical and other assets. The leaked secret memo of Mr Obama in getting India to befriend Pakistan to enable Islamabad to fight single-mindedly in combating the Taliban and Al Qaeda is no surprise.

 

It is for the Obama administration to call a truce to the sniping that continues between his administration and Mr Karzai. For the better or worse, Washington is stuck with him for the present. At the same time, Washington must let him know that there are red lines he must not cross in asserting in public his independence from the US with an eye on his own political future.

 

Merely to pose the question is to underline its complexity. It has now become a US-Afghanistan-Pakistan triangle in which the odds are increasing for each party. The US is hoping to leave after establishing a modicum of stability and with a measure of self-respect. Mr Karzai must fashion his own future in a post-American phase. Islamabad wants to be a prominent participant in the three-way game to take the winning hand.

 

India is largely a spectator in the game.

 

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DECCAN CHRONICAL

EDITORIAL

WHAT IT TAKES TO BE A TIGER

BY ROGER COHEN

 

I don't know how Tiger Woods is going to fare at the Masters this week — piquant that he chose to return at Augusta National Golf Club whose membership is all male — but I do know that every time I pass through an airport I feel a wave of gratitude toward him.

 

This pleasurable frisson is spurred by not having to look at those Accenture ads with Woods in some tight spot on a golf course, looking pensive but resolute, beside a slogan reading something like, "We know what it takes to be a Tiger".

 

Yeah, I found myself thinking, what else is new?

 

Accenture, a global consulting, technology and outsourcing firm, dropped Woods on December 13, having determined that he was no longer "the right representative" for its message of "High performance. Delivered". It was the first major Woods sponsor to do so.

 

Way before Woods' infidelities surfaced, I'd come to my own conclusion that the Accenture campaign was very stale, but that's neither here nor there. (I'd also come to the conclusion that Woods' smile was the most joyless I'd ever seen.)

 

What's interesting, and instructive, is the way that, within a month, a new and, in my view, quite riveting ad campaign was launched while Tiger's image and his merchandise — T-shirts, caps — got vapourised.

 

Sometimes I like losing stuff. It's maddening at first — a laptop gone, an iPod mislaid, a Blackberry misplaced, a bag missing. But that feeling often cedes to a kind of relief, the realisation that all the paraphernalia of our lives ensnares us. People, like corporations, let things pile up. Inertia is a force as powerful as gravity.

 

A lot you take for granted is surplus to requirements. Wipe the slate clean to think afresh.

 

So here's Accenture back in December, with Woods on its company home page, suddenly losing their icon and having to change course. What it takes to be a Tiger has assumed unhappy connotations. Focus groups reinforce that point.

 

Young & Rubicam, its ad agency, has a few back-up ideas, some including jugglers, but the winning one involves animals.

 

Now, have you ever watched your dog make a bee-line for a patch of sunlight and lie there contented? It's a straightforward act, though not an apparently evident one, bringing swift gratification. Animals simplify things, which is sometimes what we all need to do.

 

Two of the animals selected for the new campaign are elephants and frogs. One image is of an elephant perched on a surf board, tail curling up and trunk down, with the tagline reading, "Who says you can't be big and nimble?" Another shows an airborne frog soaring over three others and says, "Play quantum leapfrog".

 

The ads, which rolled out in January, are playful, clever, compelling — and without Woods' infidelities we'd still be staring at him in a bunker. Makes you think. I asked Alex Pachetti, senior director for communications at Accenture, about lessons learned. He e-mailed me: "Have a plan in place for potential scenarios. Gather facts to make the decision. Take swift action". Sounds simple.

 

But it's not. Letting go is hard, as newspaper companies can testify. The US auto industry got itself into a great big hole by clinging to the outmoded and failing to notice that a lot of the world was getting fired up about creating a low-carbon economy. "All great truths begin as blasphemies", George Bernard Shaw observed. And a lot of great products, like most of what Steve Jobs has created, begin by being "impossible".

 

So I'm grateful to Woods for tossing his little grenade and getting Accenture to turn on a dime. Creative churn is the American way. Woods is not the first guy to let power and money go to his head and he won't be the last. He's had to think again and so have we. That's not so bad. This is the land of second — and seventh — chances.

 

As it happens, I'd read an interview in 2009 with Accenture's chief executive, William Green, a plumber's son, conducted by my colleague Adam Bryant. It stuck in my mind because Green seemed so sane.

 

He said three things matter for managers. "The first is competence — just being good at what you do, whatever it is, and focusing on the job you have, not on the job you think you want to have. The second one is confidence. People want to know what you think. So you have to have enough desirable self-confidence to articulate a point of view. The third is caring".

 

And before you know it, you've got quantum leapfrog.

 

Funny, I've found myself wondering in airports what grenade might induce HSBC to change its ad campaign. I know it's a great bank and the world's local bank and all that, but if I have to look at another of those "leader-follower-follower-leader" ads (guy in suit/guy in jeans/guy in suit/guy in jeans) — or their numberless equivalents imparting the earth-shattering info that we all think differently — I might just follow my dog to a patch of sunlight and stay there.

 

 

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THE TELEGRAPH

DIFFERENT TUNES

 

Success cannot be imitated, it has to be achieved. It may look as if this simple reality has slipped Mamata Banerjee's mind. She has made a point of showing off 'her' intellectuals, that is, writers, theatre personalities, painters and music-makers, as though in competition with the Communist Party of India (Marxist), whose easy access to a substantial panel of intellectuals demonstrates the Left's presence in West Bengal's culture. The CPI(M), of course, is the beneficiary of a long tradition, by virtue of the fact that artists and intellectuals the world over inclined towards communism and Marxism for a longish period in history. As some did towards fascism. Ideology had a lot to do with their support for leftwing parties. Whether or not ideology alone is the reason for the CPI(M)'s present following of intellectuals is a different question.

 

Ms Banerjee, unfortunately, cannot lay claim to any such specific ideology. It has to be inferred that artists and writers taking the Trinamul Congress's side today have other reasons to do so. Not the least of them is disillusion with the CPI(M), and disgust at its perceived tyranny — a reason that many of the group have actually voiced. The presence of such an eminent writer and personality as Mahasweta Devi lends credence to this argument. But shorn of ideology, this reason is ultimately negative. It is conditional on the Trinamul Congress's ability to teach the CPI(M) a lesson and undo its excesses, both of which are political eventualities. Just having a band of intellectuals in tow does not give the Trinamul Congress the aura Ms Banerjee seems to crave. It cannot supply the tradition that all Left parties draw on, however degenerate their present forms.

 

Rather, it merely leaves her with the problems that artists bring with them. The long list of artists and writers who were either thrown out of Left parties all over the world or who left of their own accord is enough to prove that the relationship between an artist and a political party is never peaceful. Individuality and party discipline cannot be yoked together. Ms Banerjee has experienced this only with Kabir Suman so far. After deciding to quit the party and Parliament, the singer and composer changed his mind, not for a political reason but what can be called a personal one. Ms Mahasweta Devi has persuaded him to stay on. A perceptible distinction can already be made between the Trinamul Congress's agenda and that of the artists it would like to call its own. The senior writer and activist has reportedly said that if she finds Ms Banerjee engaged in anti-people actions, she will speak out against her too.

 

That is exactly the point. An artist may be political, but his politics are his own. By nature anti-establishment, few artists can abide the establishmentarian conventions of a political party, even if the party is in opposition. Ms Banerjee needs to remember that.

 

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THE TELEGRAPH

EDITORIAL

THE PARTY OF PRIVILEGE

 THE IPL CONFIRMS INEQUALITIES THAT HAVE NOTHING TO DO WITH SPORT

POLITICS AND PLAY -RAMACHANDRA GUHA

 

Consider the following statistics. Uttar Pradesh has a population (according to the last census of India, taken in 2001) of 166 million people, but it has no team represented in the Indian Premier League. Maharashtra has a population of a mere 97 million, but two of its cities, Mumbai and Pune, have IPL teams.

 

Now consider this second set of facts. Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Bihar are three of the most populous states in India. Roughly one in three Indians live there. On the other hand, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh together account for less than one-fourth of the country's population. Yet there is not one IPL team from those three large states in North India, whereas from next year, 2011, each state of South India will have its own IPL team.

 

The Constitution of India says that every citizen of India has equal rights. Folklore and reportage confirm that with the exception only of Kashmir and the Northeast, every state of the Indian Union is equally cricket-mad. This lopsided allocation of IPL teams is thus insensitive to democracy and demography. But the choice of new franchises cannot be justified in terms of cricketing logic either. Mumbai dominates Indian cricket — it has won the premier domestic tournament, the Ranji Trophy, more times than any other team. However, in recent years UP's record in the Ranji Trophy has been far better than Maharashtra's. Under the inspired leadership of Mohammed Kaif, UP won the Ranji Trophy in 2005-6; it has twice more reached the finals since. On the other hand, Maharashtra last reached the finals in 1992-3. How can one then justify Pune having an IPL team but Kanpur or Lucknow or Agra or Banaras or Allahabad being denied one?

 

The other beneficiary, Kochi, has an even weaker case. A new franchise should, on cricketing grounds, have gone to a town in UP, or even a town in Madhya Pradesh. Before Mumbai, it was the state of Holkar, headquartered in Indore, which dominated the Ranji Trophy. Led by the immortal C.K. Nayudu, Holkar won the tournament four times in the 1940s and 1950s, and was runners-up on six further occasions. In recent decades Madhya Pradesh has quite often qualified for the knock-out rounds of the Ranji Trophy; it even reached the final in 1998-99. On the other hand, Kerala has always been one of the weakest teams in the tournament. In 40 or 50 years of trying, I do not believe it has ever got past the league stage of the Ranji Trophy.

 

This maldistribution of IPL franchises undermines its claim to be 'Indian', and is in defiance of sporting history and achievement as well. The truth is that citizenship and cricket have been comprehensively trumped by the claims of commerce. Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, and Bihar are three of the poorest states in the Union. On the other hand, Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra are among the most prosperous. Karnataka, Kerala and Andhra Pradesh are somewhere in the middle, but they have this further advantage — all have witnessed a spurt in industrial and urban development in recent years, and all have properly functioning international airports for the cricketers — or gladiators — to come and go from.

 

There are other advantages that Kochi and Pune have over Lucknow or Indore. Both towns have an active night life, for example, with pubs and hotels where the staff speak English, and where the players, the support staff, and the hangers-on can spend time after the matches. Considerations such as these, and not love of cricket or competence at cricket, is what the new entrants share with existing franchisees such as Bangalore, Delhi, Hyderabad, and Mumbai.

 

The Indian Premier League may be more appropriately renamed the League of Privileged Indians. For this tournament both reflects and further intensifies a deep divide between the India of wealth and entitlement and the India — or Bharat — of poverty and disenfranchisement. Writing about the dangerous growth of inequality in India, the economist, Amartya Sen, warned some years ago that if present trends continued, half of India would look like the American state of California, the other half like sub-Saharan Africa. Since he made this comment, California has been beset with an acute — and apparently irreversible — fiscal crisis. Perhaps we might then substitute the state of Massachusetts for it. But the point remains; there are indeed two Indias, the one which is awarded IPL franchises, and the other which is not.

 

The promoters of the IPL claim to be speaking on behalf of Indian cricket. However, the polarizing instincts of their tournament run counter to — and threaten to defeat —the inclusive and democratizing trends that were inaugurated by the victory of the Indian cricket team in the 1983 World Cup and the boom in satellite television that followed. From the 1950s to the 1970s, Indian cricket was dominated by a handful of large cities — such as Mumbai, Delhi, Chennai, Hyderabad, Calcutta and Bangalore. But from the 1980s onwards, smaller and previously more obscure centres started sending players to the national side. Cricketers from towns in Bihar, Orissa, UP, Haryana, Madhya Pradesh, from Vadodara, even Jharkhand, began winning India caps. Simultaneously, international matches, once held only in the big metros, now began being hosted by Guwahati, Cuttack, Gwalior, Jamshedpur, and the like.

 

Whether by chance or design, the IPL shall establish a new hierarchy between the centres and cities it favours and those that it doesn't, a hierarchy that has all to do with economic privilege and nothing to do with sport. This bias towards the richer parts of India was made even more visible when Hyderabad and Jaipur could not, for different reasons, host the matches of their own teams this year. The Deccan Chargers moved to Mumbai (which now hosted two teams), while the Rajasthan Royals were accommodated in Ahmedabad, capital of the affluent state of Gujarat. But why could Cuttack or Indore or Kanpur not have been allocated these matches instead?

 

The IPL claims it will create enduring loyalties among its fans. By definition these will be restricted to the

population of 10 cities, and to the affluent among them. In the past, less privileged Indians could identify with our greatest cricketers. Once, when C.K. Nayudu hit a century against an M.C.C. team, the textile workers of Parel raised money for a gold medal for him. An adivasi from Jharkhand identifies with Mahendra Singh Dhoni when he plays for their home state, and when he plays for their shared country — he is seen, in both instances, in a possessive and proprietal sense, as hamara Dhoni. However, when Dhoni or Tendulkar play for their IPL team they are, in the first instance, toy boys of the billionaires who 'own' them, with some of this proprietary urge being shared by the League of Privileged Indians who, at tickets that are priced Rs 40,000 and downwards, watch IPL matches.

 

Several commentators on India's growth trajectory have remarked on the dangers, at once economic, social and political, of excessive income and status inequalities. Whereas a modern and properly patriotic middle class would seek to make economic growth inclusive, the bulk of the Indian elite has tended to operate in their own, self-referential, worlds, ignorant or contemptuous of the life and labours of their less fortunate compatriots. To be sure, the IPL has not created or constructed these inequalities — but it has certainly confirmed and consolidated them.

 

ramachandraguha@yahoo.in

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******************************************************************************************DECCAN HERALD

EDITORIAL

TEPID RESPONSE

''THERE WAS NO PROGRESS ON ANY OF INDIA'S CONCERNS.''

 

External Affairs Minister S M Krishna's just concluded visit to China and talks with senior leaders including Wen Jiabao in Beijing have not yielded any major results, except for the signing of an agreement to set up a hotline between the prime ministers of the two countries. Even the decision on the hotline had been taken months ago and it was only formally signed into implementation now. Though it is inconceivable that an emergency situation will arise which will demand direct and immediate interaction between the top executives, keeping communication channels ready and open between the two countries at the highest levels is welcome. No major breakthrough was expected and the visit was only a part of the continuing interaction and the efforts going on at different levels to discuss and find a solution to contentious bilateral issues.


Some issues of immediate concern to India were raised by the minister, without any forward movement in Chinese positions on them. India's unhappiness with the issuance by the Chinese embassy of stapled visas to residents of Jammu and Kashmir and concern over China undertaking a number of development and infrastructure projects in Pakistan occupied Kashmir (PoK) were conveyed to Beijing. But the Chinese responses have not allayed India's concerns. Couched in diplomatic language, they only reiterated known positions on these issues, with the Chinese maintaining that the visa issue is a matter of ongoing discussions and the presence in PoK is without prejudice to the bilateral dispute between India and Pakistan. Similarly, Beijing did not go beyond its general position that it was in favour of a bigger role for India in the UN and the world, in the context of India's claim for a permanent seat in the Security Council.


What the visit and its unremarkable outcome underline is the need for continuing contact between the two countries. There are areas of co-operation, as in the case of climate change negotiations where common interests and positions are involved. Bilateral trade and business relations are thriving and are set to increase further. Keeping differences from widening further is itself an achievement in the case of countries which have a major border dispute to resolve. Since there is a mechanism for negotiations and it is working, it is necessary to wait for slow and steady progress. Patience and continuing contacts are of vital importance for both countries.

 

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DECCAN HERALD

EDITORIAL

RECEDING HOPE

''MOST PARTIES ARE REVISITING THE QUOTA ISSUE.''

 

The celebrations over the passage of the women's reservation bill in the Rajya Sabha last month seem to have been premature, going by the outcome of the all-party meet held in Delhi. The opposition to the bill has further hardened, positions of its supporters have slightly shifted and new proposals, which had earlier been rejected as inadequate, have made a comeback. While the Samajwadi Party and the Rashtriya Janata Dal have stuck to their demand for sub-quotas for backward classes, the Trinamool Congress has sought a quota for Muslim women. The CPM, which has seen its Muslim support base in West Bengal shifting to the Trinamool Congress, is wary of opposing this proposal. The BSP has sought quotas for dalit women, over and above 33 per cent, in proportion to their population. The BJP, while reaffirming its support, has revived the proposal for political parties setting aside one-third of seats for women. It has also said that it would not allow passage of the bill in the Lok Sabha if marshals are used to evict opposing members. With the SP and the RJD ready to go to any extent to block the bill, the BJP's condition will make its passage impossible.


There is also a proposal, again not new, to bring down the percentage of reserved seats to 20. This will be a major climbdown. The idea of parties allocating 33 per cent of tickets to women will not help, because they will then be given unwinnable seats to meet the quota requirement. And parties will not accept any action by the Election Commission, like derecognition, for violation of the law. The Congress also made the tactical mistake of claiming credit for the passage of the bill in the Rajya Sabha and attributing it to Sonia Gandhi's initiative, clearly annoying other parties.


All this makes the introduction of the bill in the Lok Sabha in the budget session improbable. The government will not risk passage of other important legislation like the finance bill by forcing the women's bill through. The withdrawal of support by the SP and the RJD and the postures of the Trinamool Congress and the BSP have made its position precarious. It has offered more consultations but there is little chance of a wider consensus emerging now or in the near future.

 

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DECCAN HERALD

A MODEL GLOBAL METRO?

THE BJP WILL HAVE TO LIVE UP TO THE PEOPLE'S EXPECTATIONS AND BEGIN TO TACKLE THE CITY'S ENDEMIC CIVIC PROBLEMS IN A SYSTEMATIC MANNER.

RAMAKRISHNA UPADHYA


The Yeddyurappa government has every reason to be happy with the final outcome of the Bruhat Bangalore Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) elections. Considering that it was most reluctant to hold these polls fearing a voter backlash over its lacklustre performance and 'quarrelsome' image, the absolute majority the BJP gained to capture power for the first time in the metropolitan city in five decades, has come as a morale booster to the party.


The Congress, on the other hand, has suffered its third successive defeat after losing the Assembly and Lok Sabha polls in May 2008. The party leadership has to do serious introspection on how it is losing ground so rapidly across the state. While it has completely surrendered the Karnataka hinterland to the BJP, with its traditional supporters deserting the party in droves, the poor performance in Bangalore city indicates that even the urbanites now don't trust them.


The symptoms clearly show that the Congress is in terminal illness and needs a new crop of leaders with better image and fresh ideas to begin a revival process.


Several factors seem to have combined to give the BJP a resounding victory in the corporation elections. Being the ruling party in the state and having as many as 17 MLAs representing the city obviously helped, but more than anything, it was the coordinated efforts of young leaders like R Ashoka, Suresh Kumar and Katta Subramanya Naidu which seemed to have paid rich dividends to the party.


But a closer examination of the polls reveals some disturbing trends. Despite high-voltage, door-to-door campaigning and the interests shown by residents associations to mobilise voters, the polling was an abysmally low 44 per cent. That was the average for the entire BBMP and in many areas, the voting was less than 30 per cent. It meant that in the first-past-the-post election, even someone who got less than 5,000 votes was a winner.


Shocked at the low voter turnout, chief minister Yeddyurappa has mooted the idea of
compulsory voting, but it may not be practicable to implement it. Instead, Yeddyurappa and the leaders of other parties should consider putting up candidates with better credentials and image, well-known citizens with honesty and integrity, rather than the general bunch of rascals whose sole motive to get elected is to make money.

Despite having poor candidates to choose from — a majority of them semi-literates — the people who voted have apparently made an intelligent choice. As the BJP controls the levers of power and the funds at least for the next three years, the citizens have given a clear mandate to the same party so that development works go on unhindered. A Congress or Congress-JD(S) dominated Council would have been at loggerheads with the BJP, serving no purpose other than play of politics.


Power and water

The BJP will now have to live up to the people's expectations and begin to tackle the city's endemic problems in a systematic manner. The power supply and drinking water are major areas of concern. How can Yeddyurappa realise his dream of making Bangalore a 'model global metro' as he has announced, unless these problems are tackled expeditiously in a time-bound manner?

Water is scarce in many outlying areas which have recently been brought within the BBMP ambit and with the Cauvery as a source nearly exhausted through over-exploitation, what does the government plan to do to quench the city's thirst?


One possible solution could be to take up rejuvenation of the city's lakes more seriously, award stringent punishment to the polluters who are mostly apartment builders and ensure that these water bodies regain their former role as sources of usable water. The rainwater harvesting should be taken up on a mission mode so that it not only helps recharging of underground water, but will be available for all non-potable requirements.
The government will have to revisit its akrama-sakrama scheme of regularisation of illegal constructions which is hanging fire for a long time. There should not be any compromise with the planned development of the city, especially the buildings that have come up on drainages and rainwater channels to prevent flooding during monsoons.

The city's garbage clearing and disposal remains far from satisfactory. The government should ruthlessly eliminate the garbage mafias that have been ruling the roost, entrust the work to professional bodies of international standards that will bring in modern equipment for collection, transportation and disposal of garbage.

The chief minister's promise to bring in a new Governance Act to introduce transparency and accountability in the functioning of the BBMP is most welcome and one hopes that the government will take the initiative at the earliest.

There is also need to involve the citizen's associations and other forums in decision-making, monitoring and implementation of development works so that bureaucratic bungling and corruption can be minimised. A classic example of the officials' arrogance and non-accountability is the project taken up at the Tagore circle in Basavanagudi, which was vehemently opposed by the local people and perhaps the result of a gigantic scam. Can we expect a more responsive and responsible administration with the elected representatives in place? We shall wait and see.

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DECCAN HERALD

EDITORIAL

FINAL VERDICT ON BABRI

BY KHUSHWANT SINGH


The testimony in court on oath in the name of Sri Rama by Anju Gupta, IPS, who was then posted in Ayodhya and in charge of L K Advani's personal security when the Babri Masjid was demolished on Dec 6, 1992, should clear once for all any doubts about who was involved in the shameful act of vandalism. She still remains to be cross-examined, but it can be assumed that what she has said is the truth.

 

 

There can now be no doubt that Advani was the prime mover of the campaign to rouse Hindu communal frenzy across the country and succeeded in doing so by his Rath Yatra from Somnath to Ayodhya. He made an inflammatory speech from the podium facing the ancient mosque emphasising over and over again that a Ram Mandir would be built at the very spot where the masjid stood. He watched the destruction and when the last dome went down, celebrated its collapse embracing others on the dais and during celebration a 'peda' was popped in his mouth.


In his autobiography he mentions the jubilant crowds greeting him on the wayback to Delhi and exulting "Sab Safaaya Kar Diyaa" — swept away all of it. With what face can he now say that it was the 'saddest day of his life'?

It pains me to hear educated, well-meaning people say that while Muslims destroyed so many Hindu temples, why should there be so much hue and cry over the demolition of one mosque.


My answer is that demolition of places of worship of any religion was not one-sided. I quote what Banda Bairagi, better known as Banda Bahadur, did in Sirhind soon after the assasination of the last guru Gobind Singh in 1708. He laid the whole of Sirhind destroying mosques and dargahs that came his way. A Punjabi couplet records:


Marhee Maseet dhah kay ar dey maidanaNa koee Turk rahey, na MussalmaanaaDestroy every mosque and dargah, level them to the groundLeave no Turk alive, Nor any Mussalmaan.


When we gained independence in 1947, we decided to forget our past full of communal strife and build a new India where different communities would live in harmony. The process of binding together could have gone on but for the ill-conceived conspiracy to destroy the Babri Masjid. Perpetrators should have known the consequences that would follow.


The very next day Hindu temples and Sikh Gurdwaras (for good reasons Muslims lump Hindu and Sikhs together) were, attacked and many destroyed from Bangladesh to Pakistan to England. And the communal atmosphere in India poisoned as if for ever.


Isn't it time we punished those who did it and we resume our quest for communal goodwill.



Ramayana retold

My grand-daughter Naina Dayal who recently got a doctorate from the JNU for her thesis on the Ramayana tells me that there are dozens of versions of the epic and we are not sure when exactly they were written.

One was by Valmiki. We also do not know who Valmiki was and when he lived; it could be between 3rd BC to the 4th century AD. However, whatever doubts there may be about its genesis or the authorship, there can be no doubt that it is the only epic in the world which lives in the minds of Hindus wherever they may be.


For them Sri Rama is the personification of God (as it is for Sikhs as well). Sita is the Mother Godess, Lakshman the example of what a younger brother should be and Hanuman the powerful Bajrang Bali, the devoted caretaker of the divine family. Ravana is the incarnation of the devil.


Aryans, who have questioned these assumptions have been severely censured. Aubrey Menon's 'Ramayana Retold' is to this day banned in India (that is one reason I made it a point to read it).


The latest version of the epic shorn of miracles is by Ram Varma. He is a product of Allahabad University, taught English literature in Jodhpur before he qualified for the IAS and was assigned to the newly created state of Haryana. He rose to the highest position of becoming its chief secretary till he retired in 2000. For the last 10 years he has been composing his own version of the epic.


'Before He Was God: Ramayana Reconsidered Recreated', illustrated by colour paintings by his daughter Vandana Sehgal was launched on Ram Naumi at a large gathering and was a near sell-out on the very first day. A highly profitable labour of love by a 'Rambhakta'.


Varma has adopted the traditional way of our ancient poets of dividing the text into 12 chapters, according to Vikrami calendar — Baramasi: one set of episodes for every month. I found the text highly readable without anything that a same person would find offensive. But I have no idea how fundoos will take this retelling of Ramayana.

No smoking here

Ram: It is strange you sell cigarettes in this store but you don't allow customers to smoke here.

Sales girl: Don't talk about what I sell. I sell condoms but I don't permit anyone using them here.
(Contributed by J P Singh Kaka, Bhopal)

 

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DECCAN HERALD

EDITORIAL

THE MASTER MISFIT

SOMEHOW, HE MADE A MESS OF EVERY JOB HE GOT INTO.

BY D A SAIT

 

Job-seeking has never been more funny than in the case of a chap I used to know years ago. This fellow swam into my ken a few days ago while I was seated in a friend's shop talking to him. "My God, is it really you!" I exclaimed when he accosted me, for he had changed completely from the boy I used to know as MM (short for master misfit). "Fallen on evil days, sir," said this specimen from behind the forest of hair covering his face.
"The last time I saw you about five years ago," I reminisced, "you had got a job in a barber shop. Now to look at your forest of hair one would think Veerappan was hiding somewhere in it and you never saw a barber shop in your life." "That barber fired me the next day." "Why?"


"I nicked a customer's face while giving him a shave and followed it up with another cut. As the boss had warned me that for every cut I made five rupees would be cut from my wages I tried to cut my losses by joining the two cuts with the razor. As the customer was howling and the boss was attempting to murder me I had no option but to run for dear life."


When both my shop-keeper friend and I had finished splitting our sides with laughter I asked MM what he did after that. I realised that trying to become a barber was a mug's game (continued MM). So I got a job in a laundry shop. Everything went well for sometime, as I was still learning the ropes. Then the boss gave me a shirt to press.


When I burnt the shirt in one or two places the boss lost his shirt and came at me with raised fist. The next moment I was off like a jack rabbit, touching the ground only once in two minutes. If I had not bumped into a bullock-cart two miles from starting point I'd still be running.


"Now that I have run into you I hope my troubles would soon be over," he said. And mine would be about to start, unless I am damn careful, I told myself. "Let me be your cook," he offered. "No deal," I assured him. "You'd end up setting fire to my kitchen, if not the whole house. The only safe place for you would be in the middle of the Sahara desert."


"Or the Arabian Sea," suggested my shop-keeper friend. "All he'd need would be a brick tied round his neck before entering the sea." "No, on second thoughts, it would be cheaper to get him into a home for the destitute," said I, on the crest of a brain-wave.


And, thank God, that's where he is at the moment of going to press. As he is still there after one year without setting fire to the place, I am sure that he has at last found his niche

 

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******************************************************************************************THE NEW YORK TIMES

EDITORIAL

JUSTICE STEVENS

 

President Obama might be tempted to replace Justice John Paul Stevens with someone bland enough to slip through the Republican chain of opposition in the Senate. If he is, we recommend he read a few of the opinions that Justice Stevens wrote in the last 34 years.

 

He might start with the justice's warning in Bush v. Gore about the harm being done to the impartiality of judges, then move on to the twin majority opinions in 2004 and 2006 sweeping aside President George W. Bush's attempts to usurp the authority of the law in holding and trying terrorism suspects.

 

He might finish with the justice's thunderous dissent when the Supreme Court ruled this year that corporations may spend unlimited amounts on campaigns. "While American democracy is imperfect," he said, "few outside the majority of this Court would have thought its flaws included a dearth of corporate money in politics."

 

Justice Stevens, who has announced that he will soon retire, has been an eloquent voice for civil liberties, equal rights and fairness. Mr. Obama should fill his seat with someone equally committed to these principles.

 

Justice Stevens, who was nominated by President Gerald Ford in 1975, joined the court with a record as a centrist appellate judge. It was far from obvious, in his early days, what kind of justice he would be. He took conservative positions on a number of legal issues, including affirmative action, in 1978, in the seminal Bakke case.

 

In time, he became the leader of the court's liberal bloc, partly because of his own evolving views, partly because the definition of liberal shifted as the court became more conservative. In recent decades, he has written some of the most impassioned majority opinions and dissents. In Bush v. Gore, he declared that "although we may never know with complete certainty" who won the 2000 presidential election, the clear loser was "the Nation's confidence in the judge as an impartial guardian of the rule of law."

 

He may be best remembered for his firm resistance to the post-Sept. 11, 2001, drive to roll back civil liberties in the name of fighting terrorism. He wrote the majority opinion in Rasul v. Bush in 2004, rejecting the Bush administration's assertions of executive authority and made clear that federal courts had the authority to determine whether detainees at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, were properly held. In 2006, he wrote for the majority in Hamdan v. Rumsfeld, which held that the military commissions established to try detainees held in Guantánamo violated the Geneva Conventions.

 

Justice Stevens has been a strong voice for victims of discrimination, workers and criminal defendants. In 2002, he wrote the majority opinion in Atkins v. Virginia, which said executing mentally retarded people violates the Eighth Amendment.

 

We were troubled by some of his opinions, like the 2008 Crawford v. Marion County Election Board ruling, which upheld a state law requiring photo identification to vote. Over all, his record of being on the side of fairness and justice, and of rounding up four other justices to make that side law, is one that few have ever equaled.

 

During the Bush years, the Supreme Court's balance was upended, and it now tilts disturbingly to the right. Mr. Obama should find someone who is prepared to fight the same battles, with the same judgment, intellect and compassion, as Justice Stevens did.

 

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

NAME THAT REVOLUTION

 

We have become depressingly accustomed to the wilting of revolutions in former Soviet republics, whether Orange in Ukraine, Rose in Georgia or, now, the Tulip Revolution in Kyrgyzstan.

 

There was a time when Kyrgyzstan's first post-Soviet president, Askar Akayev, was considered the most promising leader in the neighborhood. When he was accused of gross corruption and pushed out five years ago (the Tulip Revolution), his successor, Kurmanbek Bakiyev, was welcomed as a reformer. He quickly went bad.

 

Kyrgyzstan needs to break the cycle. And the United States needs to help encourage the change.

 

Kyrgyzstan may seem a world away. For better, and too often worse, Washington has become a very interested player. The American military installation at the Manas airport outside the capital of Bishkek is a critical transit and support center for United States operations in Afghanistan. As many as 30,000 military personnel pass through the base monthly, runways are crowded with C-17 cargo planes and KC-135 refueling tankers.

 

Washington has been willing to pay a high price to hold on to Manas. Last year, after the Bakiyev government — egged on by Moscow — threatened to close the base, the Obama administration agreed to triple the rent, to $60 million. And it was far too willing to overlook President Bakiyev's brutal and corrupt ways — a fact the new leadership has bitterly criticized.

 

The United States should be prepared to counter new efforts by Russia and China to persuade the new Kyrgyz leaders to evict the Americans. The Obama administration can prove its value as an ally by committing from the start to support democratic values and clean government. Kyrgyzstan's new leaders say they are committed to both.

 

It's certainly a pitch neither Moscow nor Beijing will make. It may help the Americans keep the base. It may even help Kyrgyzstan get a cleaner and more democratic government.

 

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

A PLACE TO LIVE

 

The spring weeds are up again behind the fences in the empty field at Larkfield and Pulaski Roads in East Northport, N.Y. In the world of not-in-my-backyard suburbia, this is ground zero.

 

Since the 1970s, affordable-housing advocates have been trying to get a project called Matinecock Court, a 155-unit condominium complex, approved and built on that lot. In that time, entire strip malls, shopping centers and developments have been planned, built, abandoned, rebuilt and abandoned again. Children have grown, married and moved away — to places with cheaper housing.

 

And all the while, the residents and elected representatives of East Northport and Huntington Town kept the condos at bay. The stated reasons are congestion, crime and quality of life, which are code words for poor, black and we don't want you.

 

There have been few large-scale efforts by any Long Island county, town or village to build or revitalize affordable multifamily housing. Nonprofit groups and municipalities have had to settle for building a few dozen or hundred units at a time, mostly in depressed village downtowns where resistance is less intense.

 

When groups like the Long Island Housing Partnership have managed to build affordable developments, their tidy townhouses have far more curb appeal than the shabby illegal sublets, neglected rentals and foreclosures that flourish in a dysfunctional housing market.

 

But Nimby doesn't do logic. A group called Housing Help, current owner of the East Northport lot, is still waiting for permission to build. The Town of Huntington once blocked the project because it allowed rental housing only in a heavily minority area near the train station. The United States Supreme Court said that was unconstitutional. The town finally approved a site plan in January. Now the group awaits approval of its sewage plant.

 

Opponents are dwindling, but they aren't giving up. A Facebook group called Stop the Matinecock Court Housing Development Project in East Northport has more than 1,000 fans. They protested in the rain last month, yelling as the words "crime" and "high taxes" bled down their signs. They have called another protest for Sunday. Fortunately, Housing Help is holding on.

 

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

THE CURSE OF THE WOW FACTOR

BY GAIL COLLINS

 

In the middle of 2008, Hillary Clinton transformed herself from a perfectly-fine-but-slightly-boring presidential candidate to a really terrific campaigner. This all happened too late to help her candidacy. But some of us hoped that it might be the beginning of a new era. Women in politics had always had a reputation for being honest and steady and hard-working. Maybe some of the next generation would also have a wow factor.

 

That is exactly what happened. Except the smart and steady women were not the ones who got the wow.

 

The sensible candidates actually seemed to get more boring. Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison's attempt to win the Republican gubernatorial nomination in Texas was one long yawn. You might have said it was the worst major campaign so far this year, if you had not seen the one where Martha Coakley tried to become the senator from Massachusetts.

 

Meanwhile, two of the hottest names in politics are Sarah Palin and Michele Bachmann.

 

They held a joint rally in Minneapolis this week, and it was one long wow. Palin called the crowd "you who love your good hunting and fishing." Bachmann sounded like a combination of an ancient Roman matron preparing to send her sons off to die for their country, and one of those people who walk around yelling that enemies implant secret radios in their brains while they're sleeping.

 

Their superstardom is a very bad development, even though there is no reason to believe either is ever going to be elected to a position where they could do serious damage. (If Sarah Palin was seriously planning a presidential run, do you think she'd have agreed to be speaker-for-hire at the Wine and Spirits Wholesalers of America Convention at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas this week?)

 

The problem is that they're all wow and no substance. Palin is living proof that you can be popular without having to try very hard. It appears she's never going to respond to all the pundits who urged her to go back to Alaska and read up on current events.

 

And Bachmann's fame has increased by leaps and bounds despite the fact that she, um, makes stuff up. In February, she said she had it on good authority that in Japan the government puts people who criticize the health care system "on a list" and denies them treatment. ("That takes us to gangster government at that point!")

 

It's hard to overestimate how much oxygen Palin, and now Bachmann, take out of the political conversation. When President Obama sat down for an interview with ABC News, it was Palin's critique of his nuclear weapons initiative that he was asked to respond to. Ambitious pols who have never once been mentioned in a presidential interview, or brought a shrieking crowd to its feet, must be looking for a way to get into the act.

 

At the Minnesota rally, Gov. Tim Pawlenty, a presidential hopeful, tried to glom onto some of the glitter, but all he could come up with was "Wall Street gets a bailout, the poor get a handout and everybody else gets their wallets out," which is mean without being exciting. The crowd yawned.

 

Pawlenty is supposed to be one of the new breed of level-headed conservatives, but by next year he may be wearing snowshoes for his speeches and accusing Obama of surrendering our freedom to Finland.

 

There's a feeling abroad that politicians can only get attention by sounding a little nutty. In California, Carly Fiorina, the former chief executive of Hewlett-Packard, seems to have gotten a boost in her bid for the Republican Senate nomination with an ad known as "Demon Sheep." It features a herd of sheep and a man crawling across the grass on his hands and knees wearing a really cheap wolf pelt and a mask with glowing red eyes.

 

The campaign has cleaned up the first version, which went viral on the Web, and added more specifics about Fiorina's opponent, Tom Campbell. But part of the fascination of the original was that it did not seem to be about anything, except a vague mention of Campbell's role in the "2005 budget." People do not generally keep track of budget years gone by, although perhaps in California they think of them like wine. ("The 2005 — so flaccid, so pretentious. Lacking all the structure and earthy undertones of the budget of 2003.") The actual point seemed to be that Fiorina was a candidate so wow that she would make a demon sheep ad that did not bore the audience with any actual information.

 

"Something is way crazy out there," Bachmann said last summer in Colorado, in what surely has to be one of her more accurate statements. This was the same speech in which she told the crowd to slit its wrists, although we hope she was being symbolic.

 

I am rethinking my opposition to boring campaigns.

 

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

O'CONNOR ON THE COURT

BY CHARLES M. BLOW

 

This week I was invited to a lunch at which former Justice Sandra Day O'Connor of the Supreme Court was the speaker. With the rumbling about Justice John Paul Stevens's impending departure, I just had to go.

 

O'Connor, 80, was rather feisty and funny and confined her prepared remarks to the deplorable state of civics education in this country and to promoting her new project, ourcourts.org, a Web-based educational site designed to combat the problem. "Only 1 in 7 Americans knows that John Roberts is chief justice of the Supreme Court, but two-thirds can name at least one judge of 'American Idol,' " she said.

 

But during the question-and-answer portion, she made a strong case for more diversity of experience and gender on the court.

 

On the issue of the court being completely composed of former federal judges, she said: "In the past, we've had a very diverse court, at times, and typically we've had people on the court who didn't serve one day as a judge. Sorry. You know. I'm a judge. I like judges. But we don't need them all on the court. And we need people of different backgrounds."

 

In fact, according to a 2005 article in The Christian Science Monitor, 41 of our Supreme Court justices have had no prior judicial experience. That's more than a third.

 

But it's been so long since a confirmed justice wasn't a judge at the time of the nomination that Americans now feel that being a judge is a prerequisite. According to a 2005 Gallup poll, 50 percent of respondents thought that having a justice who had experience as a judge was essential.

 

(The last justices who were not judges were Lewis F. Powell Jr. and William Rehnquist, who were nominated to the court on the same day in 1971 by Richard Nixon. I wasn't even a year old.)

 

On the issue of needing more women on the court, O'Connor said: "Our nearest neighbor, Canada, has four women on its nine-member court, and one is their chief justice. And they're a great group. Now what's the matter with us? You know, we can do better." Indeed, we can and should.

 

We don't need more women because legal outcomes necessarily would be different, but specifically because they wouldn't. The question isn't why more women, but rather why not?

 

Stevens, who made it official on Friday by announcing that he would retire this year, is a liberal, so Obama's selection is unlikely to tilt the balance of the court. But his selection could allow him to go down in history as the president who most changed its tenor and texture by making it more representative of the nation over which it presides.

 

One name widely speculated to be on the president's short list is the solicitor general and former Harvard Law School dean, Elena Kagan. She's not only a woman, but she's also not a judge. Check and check.

 

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

A VOICE OF REASON

BY BOB HERBERT

 

The Republican Party is not simply the "just-say-no" party. It's also a shameless advocate of the free lunch. Ronald Reagan famously told us he could jack up defense spending, cut taxes and balance the federal budget all at the same time.

 

George W. Bush put two big wars on a credit card. And now we have the perennially clownish Newt Gingrich, in an embarrassing rant against President Obama, assuring the deluded G.O.P. faithful that, yes, the party can indeed bring down the federal deficit while cutting taxes.

 

The Great Recession and the debacles in Iraq and Afghanistan have not been savage enough to reintroduce the G.O.P. to reality.

 

One of the reasons so many conservative Republican absurdities became actual U.S. policy was the intellectual veneer slapped upon them by right-wing think tanks and commentators. The grossest nonsense was made to seem plausible to a lot of people — people who wanted to believe in a free lunch. When Mr. Reagan told the country that "government is the problem," the intellectual handmaidens of the corporate and financial elite were right there to explain in exhaustive detail why that was so.

 

The result, in addition to the terrible consequences of Iraq and Afghanistan and the damage to America's standing in the world, was the tremendous (and tremendously debilitating) transfer of wealth from working people in the U.S. to the folks already in the upper echelons of wealth and income. The elite made out like bandits — often literally.

 

The liberal or progressive community was slow to counter the remarkable effectiveness of this intellectual offensive from the right. But during the 1990s and into the early-2000s, that began to change. And one of the progressive organizations that has done a really good job (but has never been particularly well known) is about to celebrate its 10th anniversary.

 

Demos, headquartered in New York City, grew out of a series of meetings of scholars, activists, journalists and elected officials who were concerned about the ever-increasing influence of the right on public policy. "The thinking was that there should be more moderate, liberal and left-of-center voices," said Miles Rapoport, the group's president. The group was formed in 2000, a year that would later see the disputed election that gave the presidency to Mr. Bush.

 

It didn't take long for Demos to begin issuing loud warnings about the danger that ever-increasing debt was posing to American households, while pointedly disputing the argument that over-the-top credit card debt was primarily the result of excessive consumer spending.

 

Working people from the middle class down were in serious trouble, and Demos, along with many other voices (the bankruptcy expert and middle-class advocate Elizabeth Warren comes quickly to mind) was sounding the alarm long before the Great Recession hit like a Category 5 hurricane.

 

In a 2003 report called "Borrowing to Make Ends Meet," Demos spotlighted the increasing gap between the incomes and the day-to-day living costs of many low- and middle-income families. That report was updated steadily in subsequent years, and in 2007 Demos was reporting: "Many households have tried to cope with this financial imbalance by relying on credit cards to cover basic expenses that earnings do not meet. Homeowners, ominously, have then relied on cashed-out home equity — $1.2 trillion over the last six years — largely to pay down those debts and to cover other costs of living."

 

The Bush crowd during this period had taken us into Iraq and was fashioning its own fantasy of free-lunch economics.

 

In 2006, Tamara Draut, Demos's vice president of policy and programs, wrote a book called "Strapped: Why America's 20- and 30-Somethings Can't Get Ahead." Ms. Draut made the case that the hallmarks of adulthood — from getting an education to buying a home to finding a good job with decent benefits to raising children and beginning to save for retirement — had been eroded by the shortsighted public policies that have prevailed in recent decades.

 

What has been left are just the remnants of the American dream.

 

Ronald Reagan and the right-wing zealots who revere him have preached a gospel that, when carried to its logical conclusion, would all but abolish government. It's a failed philosophy.

 

Demos has responded with admirable real-world scholarship, a highly respected fellows program to encourage new writers and thinkers and steadfast efforts to promote civic engagement. (It's a big champion, among other things, of same-day voter registration.)

 

It's not just comforting but essential to have sane countervailing voices like Demos to remind us that government action is necessary to plan for the common good, to set proper rules for economic activity and to be a bulwark against predatory practices in the private sector.

 

Demos is holding its 10th anniversary celebration on May 11, and Ms. Warren will be one of the honorees. If you think about it, raise a toast in the group's honor.

 

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

RUNNING IN CIRCLES IN KYRGYZSTAN

BY ERIC MCGLINCHEY

 

Fairfax, Va.

WHENEVER I am in Bishkek, the capital of Kyrgyzstan, I wake early and run in the central stadium. I enjoy it for two reasons: first, it's one of the few places where I can exercise without Bishkek's feral dogs attacking my ankles, and, second, that I actually run on the track provides endless amusement for the gaggle of Kyrgyz politicians I lap as they amble and shoot the breeze.

 

Some of my stadium acquaintances hold positions of power. Others do not. This week, those on the in and those on the out swapped places. I'm certain, though, that it will be the same gaggle at the track next week, negotiating ever-changing alliances while the rest of Bishkek sleeps.

 

For those unfamiliar with Kyrgyz politics, it must appear strange that Roza Otunbayeva, who emerged from this week's coup as the nation's interim leader, was foreign minister for both Kyrgyzstan's first president, Askar Akayev, and for the man who ousted Mr. Akayev, Kurmanbek Bakiyev (who himself was forced to flee Bishkek on Wednesday). Stranger still is that after each stint Ms. Otunbayeva subsequently joined the "opposition" and played a central role in the downfall of her boss.

 

As my experience at the stadium shows, however, concepts like opposition and political parties prove an uncomfortable fit with Kyrgyz politics. The press would do well to drop these terms and begin to analyze the political dynamic for what it actually is — a handful of political elites going in circles — rather than in terms suggestive of what we hope Kyrgyzstan can become, a competitive democracy.

 

Let me be clear: What happened on Wednesday was not a revolution — it was a hijacking.

 

Being president of Kyrgyzstan shares much in common with being captain of a plane. The president needs a few people to help him rule, say a first officer and a navigator. Should one of these assistants prove problematic, the president can replace him with someone from the passenger cabin. The challenge, though, is that the passenger cabin is small. Eventually, the president must re-use the same people he previously fired or he must fly solo. At the same time, he remains vulnerable to passengers banding together, as they did this week, and tossing him from the plane.

 

This makes Kyrgyzstan very different from its ex-Soviet neighbors. Why aren't the presidents of countries like Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, both of whom have been in power since the Soviet Union collapsed, so easily tossed from power? The answer is straightforward: the Kazakh and Uzbek presidents have bigger planes — 747s compared to Kyrgyzstan's Cessna.

 

Should a minister falter or be seen as disloyal, President Nursultan Nazarbayev of Kazakhstan and Islam Karimov of Uzbekistan can find ready replacements from within the ranks of hundreds of loyal cadres, many of them holdovers from the bureaucracy of the Soviet system. Moreover, because Kazakh and Uzbek ministers know they can easily be replaced, they are far less likely to prove meddlesome in the first place.

 

The differences trace back to the 1980s, when the Kazakh, Uzbek and Kyrgyz political elites were all rocked by riots during Mikhail Gorbachev's perestroika reforms. Moscow directly intervened to restore political order during riots in Kazakhstan in 1986 and Uzbekistan in 1989. In February 1990, however, Mr. Gorbachev decreed an end to the Communist Party's monopoly on power and effectively told leaders in the Soviet republics that their problems were, well, their problems.

So when riots came to the Kyrgyz Republic in June 1990, no steady outside hand followed to restore order to Bishkek's bickering party elite. And while the Kazakh and Uzbek presidents entered the post-Soviet period with a united, albeit renamed single party, Kyrgyzstan's new president, Askar Akayev, had to scramble to put together a piecemeal political system, which has never matured.

 

The United States and Russia provide hundreds of millions in aid to Kyrgyzstan each year, largely in exchange for the use of air bases, but the money has done little to stabilize the country or promote democracy. In fact, Russia's desire to see the Americans evicted created a military bidding war, the spoils of which only fueled Kyrgyzstan's political chaos.

 

Kyrgyzstan is a failed state that needs a couple of steady outside hands to help it succeed. When President Dmitri Medvedev of Russia visits Washington next week, President Obama needs to convince him that the United States has no interest in remaking the political status quo in Central Asia. This means affirming what Vladimir Putin, Russia's prime minister and de facto leader, has already stated: that President Bakiyev — now in hiding in southern Kyrgyzstan — must resign and that we recognize Ms. Otunbayeva's interim government as the legitimate authority.

 

Kyrgyzstan is in Russia's backyard, and the fact that we depend on our air base there for our Afghan war doesn't change that. Presenting a united front with Russia, however, would help Washington keep its air base and avoid another bidding war. It would also provide some political equilibrium that might keep those now on the outs in Bishkek from hijacking the Kyrgyz state again.

 

Eric McGlinchey is an assistant professor of government and politics at George Mason University.

 

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 I. THE NEWS

EDITORIAL

GROUND REALITIES

 

We have, in our recent past, had few occasions to celebrate parliament and all it stands for. Uncouth behaviour in the House, the misdeeds of legislators and the failure to perform the work of decision-making in any useful fashion have more often dominated headlines than praise for the working of our National Assembly. Its failures – exaggerated by elements with vested interests – have brought constant, insidious suggestions that democracy is not 'suitable' for Pakistan. Right now, we stand at a rare moment in history when all this could change. The passage of the 18th Amendment has lit a light in many hearts. Even the grim darkness of loadshedding cannot completely stifle it. But our parliamentarians – and especially the prime minister and his team – must keep in mind that with these changes comes a giant wave of expectation. It needs to be met, to be taken heed of and to be responded to positively. Otherwise a bill that exists on paper will mean nothing at all in terms of the lives of people and will, as such, soon lose value. For now, hope has been ignited in the minds of people. Even citizens who may not fully follow all the legal nuances of the 18th Amendment are pleased that progress has been made. It is now the duty of our representatives to prove that this hope is not futile.


It is the prime minister who must rise to the challenge. It is he who has, for many months now, been speaking of a sovereign parliament and the benefits of this. The time has come to demonstrate these advantages – and to do so by leading from the front. The broad consensus that has been built must be taken advantage of to put in place other measures. This is vital for many reasons. There must be a demonstration that democracy can indeed deliver and that there is indeed no option but to remain loyal to it. When our politicians fail to meet challenges and resort to pettiness and petulant displays aimed at damaging each other, it is democracy that suffers. The best way of eradicating dictatorship and its legacy is not by removing names. Now that the measures introduced by successive dictators have vanished from our Constitution, it is time to replace it with genuine democracy. This can be done only by addressing ground realities and ensuring that the era of real democracy promised to us brings meaningful change in the lives of people.

 

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I. THE NEWS

EDITORIAL

THE DUST SETTLES

 

The overthrow of the government in Kyrgyzstan by the opposition was swift and bloody, but by Friday the fog of confusion was beginning to clear. President Kurmanbek Bakiyev has fled to the city of Osh and refused to resign – but acknowledged that he has 'no control over the levers of power.' He has offered 'talks' to the opposition but they have yet to reply. The opposition leader, Roza Otunbayeva, is heading what she has described as an interim government which is to last six months pending the drafting of a new constitution. Kyrgyzstan is in 'our neighbourhood' and is one of a basket of Central Asian states which are still in a post-Soviet state of transition. This week's revolution is similar to the one that brought President Kurmanbek Bakiyev to power in 2005 in the so-called 'Tulip Revolution' and his downfall appears to be a complex mix of internal dissent and external meddling, most probably by Russia and the US. Kyrgyzstan is a key staging post for the US in terms of men and materiel going into Afghanistan, and the interim government has decided not to interfere with this process – which is anyway a key revenue-earner for an impoverished state.


Although Kyrgyzstan may seem far away it is worth pondering that one of the elements which contributed to the revolution was the utilities crisis -- the government had arbitrarily raised the price of water and gas. This triggered a wave of spontaneous rolling protests that appear to have no direct political origin, but were an outpouring of public anger at the way the nation was being governed. The coup appears not to have been premeditated by the opposition that has moved into the vacuum left by a fleeing president. The protests were originally in provincial cities far from the capital and the government thought it could contain them – it couldn't and the end result was its downfall. It is pertinent to recall the spontaneous riots that erupted in Rawalpindi recently at a rise in bus fares, and the regular but relatively small-scale riots protesting loadshedding that erupt across the country. Kyrgyzstan used to be regarded as a moderate state, but has drifted towards extremism in recent years. Whilst we should be careful not to 'read across' with any exactitude from Kyrgyzstan to ourselves there are some uncomfortable parallels that it would be unwise for our own government to ignore.

 

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I. THE NEWS

EDITORIAL

PU VIOLENCE

 

After several days of violence, the Punjab University has cancelled scheduled exams and shut down hostels. Many students had already left the campus after the mayhem that unfolded following the thrashing of a professor, who headed the university's academic committee, by IJT activists. Such hooliganism is of course not new. It has occurred before. The grip of the IJT on the PU and indeed other campuses means a reign of fear remains in place, with 'moral' vigilance squads monitoring activities and dictating how various aspects of university life are to be run. The latest incident, with the police raiding the campus and questioning terrified students, demonstrates why so many problems continue to plague our system of higher education. Classes on campus have remained disrupted for days and the virtual closure of the university will obviously affect learning. What is more, it is unfair to expect academicians to teach or students to pursue studies when there is a constant threat of violence.


Over the years many of the best professors have indeed left the PU because of the menace of violence. Various attempts have been made in the past to rein in the IJT but none have succeeded. The time has come to act in a more decisive way. Half-hearted measures will have no impact. The group of thugs in the guise of students is obviously unwilling to relinquish control or give up its hold. The Punjab government and the authorities that control higher education need to act. Our students need an opportunity to study in peace and indeed also to pursue other activities that form a part of campus life. They must be provided with an opportunity to do so and protected from the kind of havoc we see today.

 

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I. THE NEWS

DEMOCRACY STRENGTHENED?

BY ARIF NIZAMI


Indeed, history has been created! Not since the 1973 Constitution has there been a consensus on constitutional reforms. This is no less than a Magna Carta for the future of democracy in the country. Contrary to the cautious approach of his party bosses, even PML-N stalwart Ahsan Iqbal had to grudgingly admit that the constitutional accord was "a new social contract."


President Asif Ali Zardari, in his address to the joint sitting of the Senate and the National Assembly, justifiably claimed his place in history for this achievement, as, despite the trust deficit, it is happening on his watch. Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani's plea to strengthen the institution rather than the chair is exceptionally significant in the context of Pakistan's chequered constitutional history. Every military strongman and even civilian leaders have mutilated the 1973 Constitution beyond recognition by bringing person-specific amendments, obsequiously endorsed by the apex court almost without exception.


At least in the Pakistani context it is difficult to imagine anyone wielding authority voluntarily relinquishing powers, even in enlightened self-interest. The "accidental president," despite initial reluctance, has implemented the Charter of Democracy signed with much fanfare by the late Ms Benazir Bhutto and Mian Nawaz Sharif while in exile in 2006. His government has also taken due credit for consensus on the NFC Award and the Aghaz-e-Huqooq-e-Balochistan package.


Despite this being a befitting occasion to celebrate, the president's speech was brief, sombre, low-key and, to a large extent, lacklustre. Perhaps the government's current spat with the Supreme Court over the reopening of the Swiss cases against Mr Zardari and the Bhutto family had cast a dark shadow. Although reading from a prepared script has never been his forte, the president in his rendition sounded subdued and was visibly depressed.

The surprise absence of PML-N supremo Mian Nawaz Sharif and his brother Mian Shahbaz Sharif from the galleries has been noted and commented upon. The elder Sharif's apologists have come up with the lame excuse that he was not invited, which was promptly contradicted by the Speaker, Ms Fehamida Mirza. Mian Shabaz Sharif wants the president to behave like the president of Pakistan, rather than the president of the PPP, before he can even consider accepting such invitations.


Ironically, this criticism would have been valid only if Mian Shahbaz Sharif was not the chief executive of the largest province, and by that token part of the government. The fact of the matter is that the Sharifs badly bungled on the issue of the 18th Amendment by backing off at the eleventh hour. Strangely enough, by their dithering they even incurred the wrath of the usually supportive self-proclaimed custodians of national interest who are miffed at the PML-N relenting on the issue of renaming NWFP Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa.


Obviously, owing to the shock expressed by virtually every political party and the criticism in the media, the PML-N was forced to reconsider its stance. Some insiders claim that the decision to support the amendment came about only when the PML-N leaders were informed that the government was considering getting the amendment passed from the parliament without their party's votes.


Although the president was gracious enough to justifiably give credit to all the political parties in parliament for the consensus building exercise spanned over nine months, perhaps the Sharifs were miffed that the PPP will get all the credit. Mian Nawaz Sharif's own record as prime minister on strengthening parliamentary democracy and institution building is rather dismal. Armed with a "heavy mandate" as prime minister, all he did with his brute majority was to impose his own brand of Sharia and speedy justice to have a stranglehold on power. His "heads I win, tails you lose" approach ultimately led to his premature ousting.


President Zardari's third address to the joint session of parliament in one-and-a-half years was a far cry from the days of President Musharraf, who refused to address the House controlled by his own quislings without assurances that his speech will not be disrupted by "ill-mannered" parliamentarians. Much earlier, in December 1992, Ms Benazir Bhutto, as leader of the opposition, besieged parliament from within by chanting "go, baba, go" slogans during President Ghulam Ishaq address. This was done as a result of a prior agreement and understanding with the then prime minister Nawaz Sharif who wanted Ghulam Ishaq humiliated. In spite of Ms Bhutto proving her credentials against the president, Nawaz Sharif, true to his style, backed out at the last moment from meeting Ms Bhutto.


An impression is being created that democracy has been strengthened by this vital act of institution building and that the shadows of extra-constitutional changes will recede forever from our polity. The realities on the ground are quite different. Whoever believes that without the basic problems faced by the ordinary man being fixed the present system will continue indefinitely is living in fools' paradise. The direction in which we are heading could be a recipe for a revolution a la Kyrgyzstan, rather than strengthening democracy.


The president's address, in which he blamed the previous regime for the travails of the common man, had little to offer in terms of improving the common man's lot. Poor governance, lack of transparency, cronyism and incompetence have become the hallmark of the present regime and the scourge of our failing economy.


The president did not give any roadmap for an end to the endemic power outages, the ever-rising inflation, the poor growth rate and rising budgetary deficits. Unless the common man, the basic stakeholder in a democracy, sees light at the end of the tunnel, mere strengthening of the office of the prime minister will not assure stable and lasting democracy.


Coincidentally, or by design, the terrorists played havoc in Peshawar and Dir on the very day the president addressed parliament. The message from the blasts was loud and clear, that unless the state apparatus has a handle on how to evolve a political strategy in conjunction with use of force to deal with the menace of terrorism, peace and stability will remain an elusive goal. The president's speech failed to address in specific terms an issue eating into the entrails of the nation.


In his brief address the president singled out for praise Law Minister Babar Awan, which was totally unnecessary, and the proverbial red rag to the bull as far as the chief justice of Pakistan is concerned. Perhaps Babar Awan was rewarded for his remarks about his ministry writing to the Swiss authorities "over his dead body." The president complained about selective accountability, but unfortunately he cannot wish away the strictures of the apex court. He has to find a satisfactory solution to end the present confrontation between the apex court and the executive.


Notwithstanding the passage of the 18th Amendment, as co-chairperson of the PPP the president will continue to wield most of the power. Yusuf Raza Gilani, his handpicked prime minister, will have to tread carefully in asserting his newfound authority. Unless he is able to weed out the corrupt and the incompetent from his cabinet, good governance will remain elusive. If the state of affairs continues as it is, neither will democracy be strengthened nor can the PPP's chance of winning the next general elections improve.


The writer is a former newspaper editor. Email: arifn51@hotmail.com

 

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I. THE NEWS

EDITORIAL

ZARDARI AT THE CROSSROADS

BY SALEEM SAFI


The incumbent government must fear its own president and PPP co-chairman, Zardari, becoming its undoing. Prime Minister Gilani must have felt more than once that despite its commendable achievements for the last two years on the political front, his government is not getting due credit from the media, the judiciary and the public. Deep introspection must have led him to the conclusion that his government has been defamed by none other than its own president, who is perpetually involved in naïve cronyism at the price of fissures within party ranks and irritating the powers that be.


From the very beginning, Zardari picked Salmaan Taseer, Zulfiqar Mirza, Qayyum Soomro and Rehman Malik and ignored political heavyweights and sane leaders like Farhatullah Babur, Aitzaz Ahsan, Amin Faheem and Raza Rabbani. Politically mature and seasoned party loyalists like Aitzaz Ahsan would be more suitable for appropriate change towards a democratic system.


After the installation of democratic government, the establishment played the game of a love-hate relationship with the US in response to the Americans' unwarranted advances to the detriment of our national interests. In this scenario, Mr Zardari preferred to play to the US tunes. Over and above that, Zardari placed sensitive security and foreign matters in the hands of cronies who had been in the bad books of the establishment on account of their suspected links with foreign capitals.


Astonishingly, Zardari ignored the history of India-Pakistan relations and declared India a friend. Consequently, he was compelled to stay away from handling relations with neighbouring countries and interfering in security matters. During this tussle, no US help came to the president for his rescue. Resultantly, he has been rendered a silent spectator, but that episode of mistrust still haunts the relations between Zardari and establishment.


As a consequence of degrading surrenders before the establishment, Zardari lost face with the US as well. Notorious for single-mindedly pursuing narrow interests in the region, the US has again started direct dealings with the real power-wielders in Pakistan. Every emissary of the US visiting Islamabad meets Zardari and Gilani for a few minutes, but spends hours in the GHQ to iron out all important issues. People who are well-versed with US diplomacy know that during the recently held sUS-Pakistan strategic dialogue, no important matters were discussed with civilian leaders before the cameras but in a special meeting at Admiral Mike Mullen's house with "special guests" from Pakistan. This is one strong indication of a realisation within the Obama administration that supporting a beleaguered Zardari who is facing allegations of corruption in the courts and fissures within party ranks runs contrary to the wide-ranging US interests in the region.

Saudi Arabia, a close friend and hugely influential player in our internal politics, is also not happy with the incumbent PPP government. The drift in relations has reached a point that, for the first time, the Kingdom did not invite any Pakistani leader to offset the visit of Indian prime minister to Riyadh. Instead, former CJCS Gen (r) Ihsanul Haq was invited and given a state guest reception in Saudi Arabia. Though our foreign minister has now been invited to visit the Kingdom, people like Gen (r) Ihsanul Haq are deemed to have played a key role in convincing the Saudis to invite the Pakistani foreign minister. In short, the Kingdom did not bless this government with any support and may wish to see Zardari packing.


Being a headstrong leader, Zardari annoyed the judiciary as well. The government showed apathy towards the judges' issue and to later failed to mend fences with the chief justice. This failure created a huge trust deficit between the two pillars of state.

Faced with corruption and contempt of court allegations in the Supreme Court, Zardari does not want to fight out legal battles to show his innocence. Rather, he seems to be using strong-arm political pressures that may ultimately bring down the government like a house of cards. Understandably, the judiciary may heed public sentiments before delivering a judgment on important issues, but such judgments cannot be avoided or altered through political pressures alone.


Notwithstanding some popular achievements like Musharraf's exit from the political scene, conclusion of a consensus NFC Award, the Balochistan package, the creation of a Gilgit-Baltistan legislative assembly, and now the 18th Amendment, Zardari cannot hope for due commendations from the public and the media for the abovementioned reasons and his failure to rehabilitate his public image. On the political front, it is possible that after getting his demands fulfilled in the shape of the 18th Amendments, Nawaz Sharif may very well turn against the government on his own or because of a pat on the back from the Saudis. Similarly, the ANP got Pukhtunkhwa while the MQM and the JUI have already taken their share of the bounty. As such, for all powerful internal and external political and non-political players, Zardari's government has outlived its useful life.

Soon enough, Zardari is destined to choose between the presidency and the office of PPP co-chairman. Besides, the Swiss and contempt cases, he would certainly be dragged into the Supreme Court on the dual-office petition. Most probably, the Supreme Court will ask him to choose between one of the two offices. In such a scenario, he would likely choose the presidential palace over PPP co-chairmanship, as the constitutional immunity to the president may save him for a certain time from going to jail. However, in that case he will lose his grip over the party and the ignored and victimised PPP stalwarts would take their revenge as well. Similarly, the Presidency will serve as a five-star dungeon for the rest of his tenure and he may lose any relevance whatsoever.


So, Zardari would do well to choose party co-chairmanship, as the PPP is his real powerbase. Losing the presidency may hasten his visit to jail again, but Zardari will still remain a powerful political player. However, it is yet to be seen whether Zardari proves a farsighted leader and remain PPP co-chairman or persists in past mistakes of listening to selfish and politically naïve cronies and friends.


Whatever his decision, Zardari should remember the fact that the pleasures of presidency are going to end soon. But the PPP, though injured at the moment, is here to stay and may elevate him to the heights of pleasures and power again. For that to happen, Zardari needs to shun his cronies and run the PPP with the consensus of party veterans and stalwarts who proffered huge sacrifice for the Bhuttos and democracy.


His personal servants and cronies may serve him well, but they cannot please the people of this country. People will be served by leaders like Raza Rabbani and Aitzaz, who always preferred public service over luxurious appointments. These leaders don't run after ministries, but diligently promote the PPP's tradition of pursuing a liberal political agenda aimed at creating a welfare state.


The writer works for Geo TV. Email: saleem .safi@geo.tv

 

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I. THE NEWS

EDITORIAL

THE VIRTUES OF PATIENCE

BY BASIL NABI MALIK


It is easier to find men who will volunteer to die, than to find those who are willing to endure pain with patience -- Julius Caesar


A driver cruising on a one-way road misses his turn. The next turn taking him to the same destination is too far away. So the question is, does he take the long and painful route which will safely and surely take him to his desired destination, or does he slap on his blinkers and reverse towards oncoming traffic to save himself some time and effort?


The answer to that question, in all honesty, sums up our predicament as a democratic nation. Patience, much like sugar, is a commodity which is undervalued, overpriced, and undoubtedly scarce in Pakistan.


And one of the reasons for this impatience is that the people in Pakistan tend not to realise that democracy is a long-term mechanism that enables a community to bring political, economic and social stability which thereafter allows generation of job opportunities, higher standards of living and bringing to the fore a positive image of the country, within Pakistan and abroad. And it is this impatience which chips away at the foundations of a democratic system, and in fact negatively impacts the "institutional memory" of a democratic system.


When one talks of institutional memory, the reference is to knowledge gained of the functioning of the democratic system developed by consecutive political generations by learning from one another. Take, for example, a newborn baby. Although it has the same two eyes, limbs, and organs as it will hopefully possess in his/her later years, it is unable to grasp the potential of its various facilities until it develops that potential, through a process of trial and error, learning from mistakes, and so on and so forth. In the same manner, an institution has to take one step at a time before it can reach the level of maturity, as a result of which it can effectively and efficiently dispense justice, fair play and good governance.


Such institutional memory is developed and nurtured by the political experiences and lessons learned by the politicians through their mistakes, which is ordinarily absorbed into an institutional framework. In essence, the institutional framework is the channel or platform through which information and data collected on political decision-making passes onto future generations of politicians, so that they may not only benefit from such knowledge but also refrain from repeating the mistakes of their predecessors. That unfortunately has not taken place in Pakistan. It seems that not many people in Pakistan have had the patience to let such institutional memory develop, let alone flourish. Hence, the judiciary is cheered on when it effectively takes on the civilian government, people power applauded when street protests erupt and dislodge governments in place, and military dictators are jeered on by the general population when they overtake civilian governments. In the latter case, our "leaders" from the military have often taken advantage of this misconceived frustration with a "failing system" to dub political leaders as incompetent, thereby reserving governance for themselves.


When Ayub Khan came to power, the first thing he attempted to do was purge the political scene of political titans such as H S Suhrawardy, and inject "new political faces" onto the scene who either had little connection with politics or lacked the understanding of the politics of the time. Ziaul Haq did the same thing. He not only hanged Zulfikar Ali Bhutto but banned many seasoned politicians from active politics to ensure that his grip on power would remain absolute. And let's not forget Gen Musharraf, who attempted to inject "new blood" into the political arena, at the same time trying to suppress the seasoned lot. All these attempts, and often successes, have had the effect of insulating the new generation of politicians from the old guard, thereby purging our political institutions of crucial institutional memory gathered over successive generations.


In summation, in order for our democratic system to in fact take root and blossom, it is necessary that the people of the country reach a level of understanding, tolerance and, yes, patience, when it comes to the follies committed by the government. That is not to say that the government shouldn't be censured for its mistakes. But, that said, it perhaps should also be credited with all that it has got right.


A point in case would be the signing ceremony of the Parliamentary Committee on Constitutional Reforms. Although it was a historic occasion, I could not help but notice how the media readily seemed to give equal, if not more, coverage to the delayed UN Report on Benazir Bhutto's death and the NRO tussle before the Supreme Court at the expense of the Constitutional Amendment Bill.


Ironically, no one seemed to have the time to point out the fact that the civilian government had been able to do more in its two years of government than the dictator was able to do in 11 years; namely, the NFC Award, the Gilgit-Baltistan emancipation, the 18th Amendment, successes in the war on terror, and so on and so forth.

The writer is a Fulbright scholar and Karachi-based lawyer

 

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I. THE NEWS

EDITORIAL

PIPELINE OR PIPEDREAM?

BY ZAFAR HILALY


When America and China were at daggers drawn in the 50s and 60s American officials were aghast that Pakistan, an American ally (vide our membership of SEATO and the Baghdad Pact), had the temerity to befriend China. John Foster Dulles, a notorious Cold War creature, was in fits. He threatened to rain fire and brimstone on Pakistan. Astonishingly, we held firm and in the process earned the respect of China, which thereafter warmed to us and the rest, as they say, is history.


Yesterday Robert Blake, an American assistant secretary, who is not even an imitation Dulles, did the same, in so many words, when he said "we do not think it is the right time for this (the Iran- Pakistan pipeline) kind of cooperation with Iran" and suggested that "Pakistan should seek other alternatives". The reason, of course, is America's desire that no country have any truck with Iran until the dispute over Iran's nuclear programme is resolved. The fact that the pipeline is indispensable for Pakistan, in view of our growing energy requirements, mattered not a pitcher of warm spit to Mr Blake. Nor was he bothered about the fallout that scrapping the contract would have had on relations between two hitherto friendly neighbours. But then, why should he, when it comes to protecting his country's interests? America's "cold, untroubled heart of stone never muses on sorrow except her own".


Happily Foreign Minister Qureshi worked up the courage to reject Mr Blake's gratuitous advice. Mr Blake must have thought that Pakistan, being a client state, would obey his firman. However, as he will come to learn, the times are changing, so much so that even Hamid Karzai, America's satrap in Kabul, can bite the hand that feeds him with impunity.


In any case it is not as if the Pak-Iran pipeline will start pumping tomorrow the 750 million cubic feet of gas that it is expected to supply daily. Even if construction were to start today the project would take five years to complete. And, that too, may not be possible because we are finding it difficult to scrape up the billions needed to construct the pipeline. Moreover, it is unlikely that the US-Iran standoff will continue indefinitely. Neither country can afford to let it spin out longer than another three years. Impending UN sanctions will hurt Iran, however much Iran may claim to the contrary. In any case, the self-imposed timeline that the Americans have in mind to prevent Iran acquiring a nuclear weapon capability does not extend beyond that. Something, therefore, will have to give and hence, for the meek-hearted amongst us, to jump to answer Mr Blake's summons would have been premature. In fact, if the nuclear issue is resolved satisfactorily, we may even have an American company bidding to finance and lay the pipeline. And if, God forbid, the present standoff ends in war then the project will anyhow become moot.


Nor should we be misled by American offers to consider "alternative" sources. The possibilities of a civilian nuclear deal with the US are remote. Congress is unlikely to entertain the prospect given our poor proliferation record. In any case, our demand for gas by 2014 will reach 8 billion cubic feet per day, whereas, at the moment, production is less than 4 billion cubic feet per day. Even if we include gas from Iran, and from the one LNG plant that is in the offing, there will still be an estimated shortfall of 2-3 billion cubic feet of gas per day by 2013-14. So great are our needs that we need to import gas wherever it is available and, as luck has it, it is located next door -- not to do so would be idiotic.


The energy crisis Pakistan confronts has proved devastating for the economy and, along with cancelled orders on account of the recession, has brought about a near meltdown. The impact on the daily lives of the populace is no less severe. The figures speak for themselves. The electricity shortage has now reached 4,000MW and nearly 40% of the populace have to make do without electricity. Only 18% of the populace have access to pipeline gas for cooking and heating. Merely by converting from oil to gas piped from Iran our existing power facilities would add 25% more to their power output owing to the enhanced efficiency of generators powered by gas. Hence, Iranian gas is a vital need. Such an agreement should, in fact, have been concluded much earlier, and probably would have been, had our leaders a mite more sense.


Moreover, the political fallout of a decision to scrap the agreement with Iran would be grave and long lasting. Iran and Pakistan have never really warmed to the other in the way that China or Turkey have to Pakistan. True, the Shah had great regard for Pakistan's leaders and Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto was an intimate of the Iranian Royal family. And during our wars with India the Shah did offer tangible support. But who can forget the Shah's boast in 1971 that in the event of Pakistan disintegrating Iran would seize Balochistan? Or that, as Iran's coffers overflowed with petro- dollars, following the 1973 oil boycott, the Shah's megalomania increased and "big brother" Pakistan of 1947 was viewed and treated as the proverbial "poorer cousin" by 1977? The innate sense of racial superiority, never far from the surface among high-born Persians, also boiled over. Considering Persians a race apart, the Shah went as far as to offer anyone in Pakistan of Persian descent Iranian nationality. And when the brothers Agha Shahi and Agha Hilaly declined the "honour" he was genuinely astonished. It never occurred to the King of Kings that it was they who felt insulted by his offer which implicitly questioned their loyalty to Pakistan.


Imam Khomeini of course found it impossible to hide his distaste of Zia-ul-Haq going as far as to ask a delegation of army officers, who called on him at Qum in 1979, to overthrow the usurper. In return Zia, a Salafist, identified himself with the Saudis and ever since relations between Iran and Pakistan have been vexed. At one time the two countries were engaged in a proxy war in Afghanistan with Iran backing the Northern Alliance and Pakistan the Taliban. Relations have improved but not all that much. Iran remains wary of Pakistan's American connection. Nevertheless, Iran has been mostly circumspect in cultivating Pakistan's Shias although her exuberance, now and then, does spill over.


That said, scrapping an agreement concluded after long and tortuous negotiations, purely to please the Americans, would have understandably been considered a gratuitous insult by Iran and one timed deliberately and spitefully to further isolate Iran. It would have almost certainly propelled Iran further towards India, strengthened the sectarian divide within Pakistan, invited Iranian interference and made an eventual settlement in Afghanistan more remote.

 

In view of the ramifications and the negative impact of such a move on Iran-Pakistan relations, the foreign minister was wise to speak out and scotch the possibility of any such move. It may also be worth the foreign minister's while, when he next sidles up to Hilary Clinton and inclines his head to mention in her ear that Pakistan has not only no intention of scrapping the agreement on the pipeline with Iran but plans to work assiduously to improve relations with Iran. And, just as we did not budge when similarly advised by America to shun China, we have no intentions of being guided in our relationship with Iran by American preferences. The hallmark of a self-respecting nation is what she does and not what others do or threaten to do.

The writer is a former ambassador. Email:
charles123it@hotmail.com

 

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I. THE NEWS

EDITORIAL

HISTORIC INDEED

BY BABAR SATTAR



The writer is a lawyer based in Islamabad.


Our nation has grown accustomed to receiving even delightful news with suspicion, if not disbelief. But the 18th Constitutional Amendment that proposes significant changes to our Constitution and our polity is probably the most momentous event in our contemporary history that deserves to be celebrated without cynicism. This is not simply a move to restore the Constitution of 1973 to its original form or transfer powers usurped by dictators back to the prime minister. It introduces normative, substantive and procedural changes to our fundamental law that will heal and strengthen the Constitution and provide a more sustainable framework to strengthen the relationship between the three institutional pillars of the state, the federating units and the centre, as well as the citizen and the state.


We must also acknowledge our measly approach to attributing credit. In this particular case our entire elected political class has won commendation. How can there be no legitimate disagreement when parliament sets out to undertake a task as Herculean as introducing 101 amendments to the Constitution? The unanimous agreement on the 18th Constitutional Amendment Bill is thus no mean achievement. It was not for Asif Zardari to surrender his presidential powers but for parliament to reassign them exercising its constitution-amending authority. Nevertheless, the draft amendment bill could never have seen the light of day had Mr Zardari decided to sabotage it using his authority and discretion as head of the PPP.


The PML-N had started out calling for immediate repeal of the 17th Amendment and was less interested in addressing the subject of provincial autonomy together with erasing Musharraf's legacy. But it relented and agreed to discuss the repeal of the 17th Amendment and augmentation of provincial autonomy through the same constitutional amendment. While Nawaz Sharif's press conference over the issue of judicial appointments and renaming of NWFP could have become a spoiler, sanity prevailed all around. The PPP, the ANP and the MQM refrained from mudslinging and name-calling, the PML-N backed off from an extreme position, and the overall spirit of consensus-oriented negotiations within the Parliamentary Committee for Constitutional Reform prevailed. The ANP agreed to a hyphenated name for NWFP in acknowledgment that many who comprise the province are not Pashto-speaking. The MQM might have wanted a smaller federal legislative list along with the dissolution of the concurrent list, but agreed to take one step at a time.


Each member of the PCCR deserves credit along with the leaders of their respective parties who afforded them the autonomy to agree to such wide-ranging amendments, amidst a national political environment that is rife with constant strife and a party culture that is extremely autocratic. But if ever an individual can be claimed as indispensable, it would have to be Raza Rabbani for seeing the 18th Amendment through. One cannot think of any other person within the fold of the ruling party who has the ability, sagacity, probity and calm (almost stoical in nature) to shepherd a process that demanded constant application of all these leadership qualities. Asif Zardari's injudicious opposition to Senator Rabbani's elevation as Senate chairman has turned out to be a blessing in disguise for this nation. Imagine the pits we would have been in had a Farouk Naik (author of the PPP's judges' restoration debacle) been in charge of the PCCR!


Coming back to the content of the 18th Amendment, it must be reiterated that a constitutionally weakened Zardari or the ability of Nawaz Sharif to get elected prime minister for a third time are by no means the most significant aspects of this bill. As a normative measure this amendment proposes to heal the injured morality of our Constitution – not religious morality as the word 'morality' is widely understood to imply, but removal of contradictions introduced into the text by khaki usurpers. In this regard the amendment of Articles 6 and 270 are noteworthy. Article 6 will explicitly prohibit judges from validating or justifying unconstitutional interventions into the working of an elected civilian government. And Article 270 will clarify that unconstitutional actions of dictators purportedly endorsed and underwritten by self-serving judges were never valid.


It is arguable that these changes might mean little to an adventurous khaki overwhelmed by the 'saviour' instinct. But removal of validation clauses that justified 'extra-constitutional' changes to the Constitution cleanses our fundamental law and makes it internally integrated. The 18th Amendment further introduces certain procedural or clean-up changes. These are too numerous to be recounted here. But inclusion of strict time frames for deciding the issue of disqualification of a member of parliament or limiting the size of the cabinet are examples. The PCCR has attempted to introduce various commonsense amendments into the Constitution that regulate the discretionary authority vested in holders of various constitutional positions liable to be abused and capable of fermenting political crises.


The substantive changes merit detailed comment and can't even be listed here exhaustively. But if one were to identity the four most consequential, they would be (i) introduction of the fundamental right to education, (ii) move towards realising the promise of effective provincial autonomy, (iii) strengthening the independence of judiciary and (iv) transferring discretionary powers of the president back to the prime minister. The new Article 25A obliges the state to provide free and compulsory education to all children between ages five and fifteen. This is by itself an epochal change marking an overdue yet necessary first step to unlock the potential of Pakistan's youth. In a country with half the population below the age of 18, genuine and effective budgetary and administrative measures to ensure that each and every citizen receives free high school education could foster a social revolution.


To further provincial autonomy, the 18th Amendment proposes to enhance the fiscal, administrative and legislative authority of the federating units. By erasing the concurrent legislative list, granting provinces greater control over their natural resources and proceeds, enhancing the role of the Senate and the Council of Common Interests, making it harder for the president to clamp emergency rule over a province and requiring that governors be residents of their respective provinces, the PCCR has begun implementing the promise made to provinces in 1973 and rejected the doomsday predictions of ensuing chaos due to a loosening of the centre's control. How effectively provincial assemblies will use the exclusive authority to write laws on subjects listed in the concurrent list (which they previously shared with the centre) is debatable. But this change was essential symbolically as the demand for greater provincial autonomy in Pakistan had become tied to abolition of the concurrent list.


The PCCR had paid attention to practical matters by (i) including some concurrent list subjects within Part II of the federal legislative list, (ii) enhancing the role of the Council of Common Interests in relation to subjects of shared legislative interest between the centre and provinces, (iii) protecting existing federal laws related to concurrent list subjects, and (iv) appointing an Implementation Commission to oversee the transition over the next year. But there is no doubt that with empowerment comes responsibility. The provinces will have greater control over their fate and fortune. But they will need to quickly acquire the ability and the mindset to optimally exercise their legislative and administrative authority to protect and benefit their citizens. Otherwise the gap in the quality of life afforded to residents of various provinces could increase instead of narrowing.


And in this regard the role of the Implementation Commission will be crucial. The transfer of authority from the presently bloated federal government to the provinces is a huge administrative and legislative project, which will require introduction of new provincial departments and new and amending legislation. To guarantee that the promise of provincial autonomy doesn't turn sour, the Implementation Commission must be appropriately empowered and headed by someone as fair-minded, diligent and capable as Raza Rabbani.


(To be concluded)


Email: sattar@post.harvard.edu

 

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I. THE NEWS

EDITORIAL

CATNAPPING

BY ANJUM NIAZ


Wake up before a mob attack. Nawaz Sharif and the faujis may not be the catalysts of change that we seek; it'll be the people of Pakistan. Shoaib and Sania's nuptials are a welcome distraction, but in the end the starry-eyed couple will fly off to Dubai throwing back the nation into the pit of darkness and snoozing ministers.


Wake up, Naveed Qamar! If you don't stop catnapping in public you'll soon become our Rip Van Winkle, the simple easygoing chap who loved to sleep and not work. Where's your homework? Remember your headmaster Gilani asked for a report on loadshedding you and your two colleagues Pervez Ashraf and Hafeez Sheikh were to deliver today? The headmaster had constituted a three-member ministerial committee to "examine and prepare a comprehensive report on electricity load management within a week" on April 2.


Let the report be read out aloud.


Loadshedding is hell. Do the rulers realise that Pakistanis can go the way of Kyrgyzstan? The people there have driven out President Bakiyev's corrupt government. He's fled while his interior minister has been shot dead. "No police guarded the government headquarters, and hundreds of jubilant but calm residents stood outside, others were walking freely through the building known as the White House," reported AP.


Why did the Kyrgyz overthrow their government? Simple. The president was accused of enriching himself, his friends and family. "He gave his relatives, including his son, top government and economic posts and faced the same accusations of corruption and cronyism that led to the ouster of his predecessor, Askar Akayev five years ago."

Our raja from Gujar Khan's bread and butter was real estate. Zardari promoted the realtor to the dizzying heights of a federal minister and gifted him the ministry of water and power (how magnanimous!). Was this move on the part of the president a wishful thinking? Did he hope Pervaz Ashraf could control the horrible energy crisis left behind by Musharraf? Surely Ashraf must have known the Himalayan task ahead of. Two years up the slippery slopes and still climbing, the minister can suffer a freefall plunging him into a crevice of no return.


But the bright-eyed and bushy tailed raja – poles apart from his sleeping frontbencher Shahji Naveed Qamar -- has had his Eureka moment (I've found it!) the way Archimedes shouted. According to press reports he told the National Assembly last week "that the country is facing an electricity shortfall, however, hydel power will be increased after improvement of the water situation in dams due to rains."

The nation now needs to pull out its prayer mats and begin praying for rain! If the army and America can't solve the power crisis, we can only turn to Allah.


The greatest disappointment has come from America. Hillary Clinton rubbed heads with our foreign minister Eskimo-style, but dodged Shahji Mehmood Qureshi when it came to rescuing us from power cuts. During the strategic dialogue, the lady promised us light when she spoke of the US being fully aware of the energy crisis in Pakistan. Taking the cue, Army Chief Kayani set aside his laundry list of military hardware and requested the US for First Aid to his country starving for electricity. This was a golden opportunity for America to win its war of hearts and minds. It's still not too late. Prime Minister Gilani goes to Washington next week to meet President Obama. Let hope spring eternal. Except that yesterday's stolid statement by Gerald Feierstein, deputy chief of mission at the US embassy in Islamabad, mentions 'three phases' before Pakistanis shall see light. Time and tide wait for no man, Mr Feierstein. Kyrgyz have revolted against your air bases. Out! They say.


While our minister for water and power cannot single-handedly move mountains to bring us power, just keep us posted, please. As for US, you have to do more.


The writer is a freelance journalist with over twenty years of experience in national and international reporting. anjumniaz@rocketmail.com

 

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EDITORIAL from The Pioneer, The Times of India, Hindustan Times, The Indian Express, The Financial Express, The Hindu, The Statesman's, The Tribune, Deccan Chronicle, Deccan Herald, Economic Times, The Telegraph, The Assam Tribune, Pakistan Observer, The Asian Age, The News, The Jerusalem Post, Haaretz, The New York Times, China Daily, Japan Times, The Gazette, The Sydney Morning Herald, The Australian, The Guardian, Jakarta Post, The Moscow Times, The Bottom Line and more only on EDITORIAL.

 

 

 

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