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Thursday, April 15, 2010

EDITORIAL 15.04.10

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media watch with peoples input                an organization of rastriya abhyudaya



month april 15, edition 000482, collected & managed by durgesh kumar mishra, published by – manish manjul


Editorial is syndication of all daily- published newspaper Editorial at one place.
































































A city court has summoned a Deputy Commissioner of Delhi Police before it to explain the failure to trace a girl child allegedly taken away by her father from his wife's custody. Metropolitan Magistrate Gaurav Rao issued summons against the DCP (West) for April 16 to explain the progress in the probe following an application filed by the harassed woman. The court had on March 19 directed Delhi Police to trace the three-and-a-half-year-old child and produce her before it, terming the act of the husband as 'illegal confinement'.

The order had come on an application filed by Avaneet Kaur through her counsel Deepak Kumar Sharma under Section 97 (search for persons wrongfully confined) of the Criminal Procedure Code.

Kaur, a resident of Nihal Vihar here, alleged her husband Ravinder Singh had taken away their daughter on March 6 without her knowledge and his whereabouts were not known. Station House Officer (SHO) Nihal Vihar police station, who appeared before the court on Tuesday, submitted the police issued a notice against Singh to join the investigation.







There are two ways of looking at the article written by Mr Digvijay Singh, Congress general secretary and former Chief Minister of Madhya Pradesh, critiquing the anti-Maoist strategy propelled by the Union Home Ministry. The first is to see it as a personality clash with Home Minister P Chidambaram and posit a Left-leaning, pro-jholawallah Congress leadership against a more pragmatic Government. In particular, Mr Singh's categorisation of the Maoists as "misguided ideologues" is going to rankle, coming as it does only a week after the horrific massacre in Dantewada. Yet, there is another prism through which to look at Mr Singh's article. He does not advocate surrender to the Maoists, describing them as blackmailers and hostage-takers, who extort protection money from businessmen, local mining contractors and the like, and, at election time, "support … the highest bidder". He argues the destruction of the Maoist leadership must be accompanied by quick activation of social sector policies in the territories concerned, by special recruitment of tribal youth into paramilitary and police forces. He suggests a counter-strategy for Maoism must be holistic and not just dependent on law and order imperatives. The mandate he recommends is, really, beyond merely the Home Ministry.

Prima facie there is very little to disagree with in Mr Singh's article. Yet, to agree would be to step into a trap. There are several reasons for this. First, in areas where they are dominant, Maoists are known to have blown up roads and schools, stolen funds set aside for anti-poverty programmes such as the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme and created a situation where health workers and doctors are not willing to take up positions even if adequate clinics and infrastructure are available. That final point was made on a television show recently by the district magistrate of Khammam (Andhra Pradesh). Interestingly, Khammam is a district Mr Singh cites as a success story that should become the template for future anti-Maoist operations. Second, whatever its other faults, the strategy drawn up by the Union Home Ministry does entail following up tactical victories and 'area domination' with a booster dose of development activity using mechanisms such as the Backward Region Growth Fund — and building roads and health clinics as well as providing telecom links expeditiously. This is exactly how the Shining Path Maoist insurgency was defeated in Peru. Third, Mr Singh's suggestion that local tribal communities provide the best intelligence about Maoist movements and should, ultimately, be their own guardians is well taken. Yet, why can't counter-mobilisation constabularies such as Salwa Judum — representing a variant of the self-defence groups incubated by the Peruvian Government at a critical juncture of its war against the Shining Path — be the first step towards increasing tribal numbers in police and paramilitary recruitment?

It is clear that while seeking to disagree with Mr Chidambaram, Mr Singh is not suggesting a radically different formula. His contention that law and order must be left to the State Government too is persuasive. Yet, it needs to be confronted with the reality that some of the Maoist-affected States, such as Chhattisgarh, have among the poorest population to police ratios in India and that inter-State coordination and Central back-up capacities are necessary if India is to take on this insurgency. Out of office, Mr Singh can indulge his imagination. If he had Mr Chidambaram's job, perhaps he wouldn't be writing such articles.








A fortnight after the landmark judgement by a court in Karnal that sentenced five people to death, one to life imprisonment and another to seven years in jail for the murder of a young couple who had married against the wishes of their community elders, representatives of khap panchayats, under the aegis of a maha khap meeting, have resolved to defend those convicted. In fact, they have decided to undertake a protest march to Parliament House to make their voices heard. It will be recalled that the case in question relates to the honour killing of one Manoj and Babli in 2007. The killing had been sanctioned by a khap panchayat on the ground that the two individuals belonged to the same gotra or sub-caste. Since, according to khap panchayats, marrying within the same gotra is an unpardonable sin, the two were condemned to death. But even though the Karnal court judgement has been hailed as an historic one — it is the first of its kind against honour killing authorised by a khap panchayat in Haryana — the self-styled caste leaders are in no mood to give up their traditional authority. They have vowed to collect money from people to provide legal aid to the convicts and have even threatened the Haryana Government with dire consequences if the latter does not support their cause. As if this weren't enough, the caste leaders have also been demanding that the Hindu Marriage Act be amended so that inter-gotra marriages are made illegal. They also want khap panchayats to be accorded the same status as Lok Adalats.

There is no debate about the fact that khap panchayats are a menace to society. What started off as a traditional group of community elders who would play an influential role in maintaining peace and stability in a particular village has today mutated into a deplorable collective of self-styled extra-judicial figures in rural north India. They comprise a backward-looking force that is the antithesis of a modern, liberal society. That khap panchayats should think it absolutely normal to subvert the law of the land and force their writ on the people is a serious cause for concern. The punishment for not following the diktats of khap panchayats can be brutal — excommunication from the local community and death orders are quite common. In that sense, khap panchayats are nothing more than goons against whom the state should not hesitate to take action. That they have been allowed to survive for so long in States such as Haryana, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh is a sin in itself. Hence, it would be proper for those in charge of law and order to crack the whip on khap panchayats. The rule of law must prevail.







US Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner thrilled corporate audiences in Mumbai by showering praise on the performance of India's economy and referring to the growing interest of corporate America in the 'prospects' for cooperation and investment in India. Earlier, in his State of the Union address, US President Barack Obama had proclaimed: "These nations (India and Germany) are not playing for second place. They are placing more emphasis on Math and Science. They are rebuilding their infrastructure." In the same speech, however, he reiterated his aversion to outsourcing to India, stating: "It is time to finally slash the tax breaks for companies that ship our jobs overseas." Though the Indian corporate sector has not been overly concerned about Mr Obama's pronouncements, there are, naturally, queries regarding his mindset about India when he proclaims: "Say no to Bangalore, say yes to Buffalo."

Mr Geithner's visit came just after the revelation that Mr Obama had issued a presidential directive stating: "India must make resolving its tensions with Pakistan a priority for progress to be made on US goals in the region." It has also been reported that the Obama wish-list includes a number of 'dos and don'ts' for India. We are told that because the Obama Administration requires Pakistan's help for securing a speedy withdrawal from Afghanistan and getting a deal with the Taliban that India has been forbidden from any effort to train the Afghan National Army. This is because Pakistani Army chief, Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, himself wants to train the Afghans who, in turn, have little trust and even less affection for the Pakistani Army or the ISI. India, it is asserted by the worthies in Pentagon, should be 'more transparent' and 'cooperative' about its activities along its border with Pakistan. We are also required to reduce the number of troops in Jammu & Kashmir to enable Pakistan to deploy more forces along its western border.

New Delhi is dealing with an American Administration which just does not know how to respond to a Pakistani Army that trains, arms and provides safe havens to the Haqqani network in North Waziristan and hosts the Mullah Omar-led 'Quetta Shura', which moves around freely all across Pakistan. Rather than dealing with this issue by putting the squeeze on Pakistan and compelling it to end support for those killing American forces in Afghanistan, the whiz kids in Pentagon have decided that the easier way out would be to compel New Delhi, seen to be receptive to American 'persuasion', to fall in line with everything Gen Kayani demands from India, even as he continues assisting the Taliban in Afghanistan and the Lashkar-e-Tayyeba against India. Kayani-appeasement appears to be the policy being advocated by American Generals James Jones, David Petraeus, Stanley McChrystal, Karl Eikenberry and Admiral Mike Mullen. And Mr Obama appears ready to abide by the advice of his military brass.

Addressing his troops at the Bagram airbase near Kabul on March 30, Mr Obama proclaimed: "We are going to disrupt, dismantle, defeat and destroy Al Qaeda and its extremist allies and deny Al Qaeda safe haven. We are going to reverse the Taliban's momentum. We are going to strengthen the capacity of the Afghan security forces and the Government." Strangely, President Obama's words about wanting to strengthen the Afghan Government came almost immediately after his National Security Adviser, Gen James Jones, had reportedly bad-mouthed Afghan President Hamid Karzai and his Government for their alleged inefficiency, corruption, nepotism and incompetence. Karzai-bashing appears to have become a favourite sport of American officials ranging from Gen Jones to Special Representative Richard Holbrooke, who show little regard for the fact that the Afghan President is a proud Durrani Pashtun and has more legitimacy than many others the Americans have supported. Turning on those who have cooperated with the Americans while appeasing those who plot the killing of American soldiers seems to have become a favourite pastime for what appears to be a confused and divided American Administration.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh reportedly received soothing assurances on American policies when he met President Obama on April 11. New Delhi should realise that in its dealings with China and in the AfPak region, the Obama Administration appears quite prepared to disregard Indian sensitivities and interests when it finds Beijing and Islamabad useful in furthering its global interests, or facilitating its exit strategy from Afghanistan. Mr Geithner flattered Indian egos in Mumbai. But his real business was to secure Chinese approval to revalue the yuan on his trip to China immediately after his visit to India. This was reminiscent of Henry Kissinger stopping by in Delhi in 1971 en route to Beijing via Pakistan. It should be evident that the White House will play down Pakistani support for terrorism and continue the supply of military hardware including F-16 fighters, missiles and frigates while marginalising India on emerging developments in Afghanistan. India is now, quite appropriately, widening its diplomatic options through active participation in fora like the IBSA (India, Brazil and South Africa) and BRIC (Brazil, India, Russia and China). We should seek full membership of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization and work more closely with Russia, Iran, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan on emerging developments in Afghanistan.

India's bilateral relationship with the US will remain its most important bilateral relationship for the foreseeable future. The potential for cooperation in areas ranging from agriculture and education to space and high technology transfer is immense. Moreover, the corporate sectors in the two countries have set the stage for rapidly expanding trade, business and investment cooperation. But in a climate of strategic uncertainty resulting from the strange handling of foreign and security policies by the Obama Administration, it would only be appropriate for our political parties and Parliamentarians to carefully examine the provisions of the proposed Nuclear Liability Bill. This Bill should be passed only after wide-ranging consultations and studies about practices across the world, even if such examination takes a year to complete. Similarly, while there are suggestions that defence supplies from the US should get preferential treatment, we need to look at the possibility of increasingly linking defence purchases to the consideration that suppliers show for our security concerns. Moreover, close consultations with Russia, China and countries like Brazil and Turkey are needed while formulating our response to American concerns on Iran's nuclear programme.







Twice a year Anandabazar Patrika dutifully publishes a list of restaurants planning to serve a selection of dishes showcasing the best of epaar Bangla-opaar Bangla cuisine to celebrate Bangaliyana: On the eve of Poila Boishakh and on Shashthi, the day before Durga Puja begins. Till about a decade ago, Kolkata's leading Bengali newspaper would have carried interviews with noted personalities, asking them how they planned to celebrate Poila Boishakh or Durga Puja. Feasting at home on traditional Bengali food would feature prominently in their replies.

Presumably, Bengalis do not cook Bengali food at home any more. Twice a year they eat out to rediscover their cultural roots. The last Bengali wedding I attended, I was horrified to find chholey-kulchey and shahi paneer on the menu, along with chilli chicken and Amritsari fish. I haven't bothered to attend any Bengali wedding since then.

The cultural decline of Kolkata's Bengalis has been precipitous. Its impact is now visible in the districts of West Bengal. When Bengali women take to wearing salwar-kameez, discarding and disowning the graceful taanter sari, and Bengali men snigger at those who still wear dhuti, then there's something horribly wrong with the way Bengalis look at themselves.

On my last visit to Kolkata I was saddened to see Bengalis reprimanding their children for speaking in Bengali. Abaar dekha hobey (we will meet again), the traditional parting statement used with relatives and friends, has now been replaced by phir milengey, thik hai! The diction is laughable; the repudiation is contemptible.

The cultural degeneration of the Bengalis has a lot to do with the degeneration of politics in Bengal. The Marxists made deracination fashionable; perverse and twisted cosmopolitanism has killed what remained of Bangaliyana. What survives of Bengali culture is because of Bangladesh: Bengalis across the river have not given up their roots.

Today, as a new Bengali year begins, Bengalis would do well to reflect on what they have lost, and how to regain the cultural and, by extension, intellectual, space they have ceded. That could yet lead to a new beginning. Shubho Nobo Borsho!









Wedding preparations are in progress in a family I know well. Dozens of clinging georgette creations embellished with velvet, lace, shimmer and sequins are spread on a king-sized bed for my preview. Looking at my face, the proud mother of the bridegroom decrees, "The days of traditional saris are over" even as she lays her son's sparkling shervani alongside umpteen jewellery boxes cradling chandelier look-alikes.

Ostentatious weddings have become a part of societal expectation no matter which class of citizens one looks at. A lavish display of wealth is considered necessary, not just to avoid disparagement but more importantly to gain recognition, improve social standing and receive the endorsement of family and friends.

The Guinness record-holder for organising the most lavish wedding worldwide is billionaire Lakshmi Mittal. Sant Chatwal now renowned for the Padma Bhushan controversy, organised a 10-day wedding celebrations spread across three Indian cities where guests from 26 countries flew in on private chartered jets.

With such examples why do some of us balk if the bride's father is willing to spend the cost of a car on the bridal lehenga, and the cost of a house on creating the aura of Arabian Nights as a theme for the festivities?

But unlike the Mittals and Chatwals who live and earn in countries where salting away black money is unworkable, in the case of the big, fat Indian wedding it is understood by those present and absent that black money has substantially funded the celebrations. Society far from conveying disapproval accepts that ostentation is a befitting use of do numberi. When undeclared income stashed away for years together is utilised in the noble pursuit of kanya daan it is the fastest method of disposing of the proceeds of kala dhanda — giving immense satisfaction to the spender and starting another cycle of keeping up with the Jones' — integral to present Indian culture.

Activists have pointed out that a demand for extravagant weddings is the starting point of dowry extortion; but when society itself is not bothered, the situation cannot be altered either through rhetoric or law. Governments have to be seen to do the right thing and therefore find it prudent and expedient to enact stronger laws that activists demand. It makes great news and accompanied by platitudes about shunning ostentation, provide memorable quotes on television too. Those responsible for women's affairs and social justice swiftly learn to use the language of activism but never refuse to attend flamboyant weddings or eschew vulgar display of wealth when it is comes to nuptials in their own family. Stories about 500 air-conditioners cooling the wedding pandal for a Minister's 10,000 guests hardly created a ripple when it happened down in interior Karnataka.

The Chief Minister of India's most educated State, Kerala recently kicked off a year-long campaign against dowry and ostentatious weddings, castigating these evils for swelling suicides, domestic violence, debt and harassment. A Minister of his Government went as far as to demand that a cess as well as a fine should be imposed on extravagant weddings and the money used for marrying girls from economically backward families. Which arm of Government is going to tot up the costs of lavish weddings when its chief watchdog — the Income Tax Department does not consider the flaunting of unaccounted wealth a matter for action?

Singly or collectively the 44 legislations which have been enacted over the last 70 years to promote women's rights and empowerment have failed even to reduce decadent practices like dowry and female foeticide. Research figures posted by CNN IBN indicate that acquittals in dowry cases have been five times more than convictions. Meanwhile Bollywood, television, bridal fairs and a fast growing event management industry ensure that wedding flamboyance far from declining proliferates.

Taking pledges, adding more laws and arm-twisting people with threats of penalty are rendered infructuous where society universally condones — even blesses a practice across the board. Only when such a practice appears to be deviant from accepted social behaviour does society join the law enforcers to pro-actively stop the menace and ostracise the offender.

For laws to work, more than governance, and enforcement, the ethos of society has to change. If respect for simple living and high thinking is to replace vulgarity and crass consumerism, society needs role models to show the way, not speeches, threats and more laws. There was a time when the Ranades, Gokhles and Jyoti Phules gave that inspiration. Today we do not seem to have any role models with the ability to inspire through sacrifice, leadership and personal example. Only when such giants stand up to change the social ethos will the majority see sense. Only then can we expect change. Otherwise, laws will continue to remain on paper and provide but tiresome statistics.

Given this depressing background, would we instead be willing to follow our derided neighbour Pakistan whose Supreme Court has ordered a ban on ostentatious weddings specifying "No meals or edibles other than hot and cold drinks could be served to guests." No way!








A sure sign of poor governance in a democracy is reliance on measures that undermine the Constitution. The repeated re-promulgation of Ordinances does that as it means usurpation of the legislature's powers by the executive. Prof DC Wadhwa's war against governance by Ordinance began in 1979 when, working on a book on Bihar's agrarian structure since 1793, the year of the Permanent Settlement, he found that an Ordinance effecting the same amendment to the Chota Nagpur Tenancy Act of 1908 repeated three or four times every year. On inquiry, he learnt that this was to keep the amendment alive. Convinced that this was unconstitutional, he jettisoned his book project and, instead, began collecting material on Ordinances. The result was his 1983 book, Re-Promulgation of Ordinances: A Fraud on the Constitution of India. This was followed by the filing, in January, 1984, of a writ petition in the Supreme Court under Article 32 of the Constitution, challenging the re-promulgation of Ordinances.

Mr Wadha's new book Endangered Constitutionalism: Documents of a Supreme Court Case, published, like his earlier work, by the Gokhale Institute of Politics and Economics, has that writ petition as its subject. It presents, systematically and meticulously, the details of the proceedings, including written submissions, representations, arguments, the evidence presented, the judgement itself and, finally, an epilogue where he presents his critique of the judgement.

Two of the three Ordinances, challenged in the writ petition by Mr Wadhwa and three others, had their provisions incorporated in Acts of the legislature by time the Constitution bench of the Supreme Court, delivered its judgement on December 20, 1986. These were the Bihar Forest Produce (Regulation of Trade) Third Ordinance of 1983 and Bihar Bricks and Supply (Control) Third Ordinance of 1983. The third Ordinance challenged, the Bihar Intermediate Education Council Third Ordinance, which was in the legislature for enactment as law, was struck down.

The Supreme Court made it clear that the power to promulgate an Ordinance was essentially for use to meet an extraordinary situation and could not be allowed to be "perverted to serve political ends". It "was contrary to all democratic norms that the executive should have the power to make a law, but in order to meet an emergent situation, this power is conferred on the Governor and an Ordinance issued by the Governor in exercise of this power must, therefore, of necessity be limited in point of time. That is why it is provided that the Ordinance shall cease to operate on the expiration of six weeks from the date of assembling of the legislature."

The judgement, however, did not put an absolute end to the re-promulgation of Ordinances. It said, "Of course, there may be a situation where it may not be possible for the Government to introduce and push through the legislature a Bill containing the same provisions as in the Ordinance because the legislature may have too much legislative business in a particular session or the time at the disposal of the legislature in particular session may be short, and in that event, the Governor may legitimately find that it is necessary to re-promulgate the Ordinance. Where such is the case, re-promulgation of the Ordinance may not be open to attack. But, otherwise, it would be colourable exercise of power on the part of the executive to continue an Ordinance with substantially the same provisions beyond the period limited by the Constitution, by adopting the methodology or re-promulgation."

Mr Wadhwa points out in the last chapter, entitled Epilogue, that Article 213 of the Constitution does not provide for the kind of exception that the judgement writes into it. The Ordinance must lapse unless replaced by an Act of the legislature. He cites several judgements by the Supreme Court of India and the Privy Council and the House of Lords in the United Kingdom to argue that "courts cannot add words to a statute if the language of the statute is clear and unambiguous. The language of Article 213 of the Constitution is very clear and unambiguous." He spells out in detail a constitutional amendment completely banning repeated re-promulgation of Ordinances. His has been a remarkably tireless and painstaking effort which merits the respect of even those who might differ.







The tragic plane crash that claimed the lives of Polish President Lech Kaczynski and others offers an opportunity to Dmitry Medvedev to start a new chapter in Russian-Polish history

First, a tragedy that almost sinks beneath the weight of a huge historical coincidence. A plane carrying the political and military elite of today's Polish society crashes, killing everybody aboard, while bringing them to Katyn forest to commemorate the murder of a previous generation of the same elite by Stalin's secret police in 1940.

Then the Russian Prime Minister, Mr Vladimir Putin, whose early career was spent in a later, tamer version of that same secret police force, does something remarkable. He tells one of the main Russian TV channels to show Polish director Andrzej Wajda's 2007 film Katyn in prime time. It's more than an apology. It's a national act of penance.

And after that, the speculation starts about whether this tragedy might be the way that the two great Slavic nations, Russians and Poles, are finally reconciled.

Poland's historic tragedy was to be located between Germany and Russia. Twice the country vanished entirely, partitioned between its more powerful neighbours — and the enduring symbol of the latter partition is the Katyn massacre of 1940.

When Hitler and Stalin invaded Poland in 1939, dividing Poland between them, 22,000 Polish officers fell into the hands of the Soviet Union. Some were professional soldiers, but most were reserve officers who in civilian life had been lawyers, doctors, university professors: The country's intellectual elite. Stalin had them all murdered in 1940, one at a time, by a bullet in the back of the head. That's what happened in Katyn forest.

Stalin's aim was to "decapitate" the Polish intelligentsia and make the absorption of eastern Poland into the Soviet Union easier, but Hitler betrayed and attacked his ally in 1941. When the invading German troops reached Katyn, they found the mass graves of the Polish officers and invited international observers to examine the site. That was when the Great Lie was launched.

Moscow insisted that it was the Germans, not the Russians, who had massacred the Polish officers. The US and British Governments backed the Soviet story (though they suspected it was a lie), because Stalin was now their ally in the war against Hitler. Only after 1945 did they question it.

In the Soviet Union and Communist-ruled Poland, The Lie was the only permitted version of the story until 1989. Only in 1990 did Mikhail Gorbachev, the last Soviet leader, finally admit that the murders were done by the Soviet secret police, but the Russian public never really had their noses rubbed in the truth.

Whereas for Poles, Katyn is the central symbol of how the country was attacked by its neighbours and then betrayed by its allies. Since it was Russians who committed the actual crime, and Russian Communists who still kept Poland in semi-colonial subjection until 1989, Russians were seen as the worst enemy of all.

So the 70th anniversary of the Katyn massacre this month was a fraught event. Mr Putin invited his Polish counterpart, Prime Minister Donald Tusk, to attend a memorial ceremony there, but President Lech Kaczynski was not invited. Mr Tusk would settle for a vague expression of regret, whereas Kaczynski was an old-fashioned nationalist who wanted the Russians to apologise on their knees.

Mr Tusk came, and Mr Putin duly expressed his sorrow for the "victims of Stalinist terror," but he didn't even mention the word "Poles". Great states never really apologise, you know. Kaczynski, enraged, basically invited himself to another ceremony three days later, and brought half of Poland's political, military and journalistic elite with him.

Mr Putin realised that something more was required, and showed up at Katyn again to meet him. When the news came through that Kaczynski's plane had crashed, he looked utterly stricken. Finally, the grim reality of the place and the occasion got through to him.

Now the apology was real and specific. Now Wajda's harrowing film on Katyn, previously only seen on a specialty channel, got a prime-time broadcast on Russian TV. Now Russians finally get why the Poles don't trust them — and most of them have responded with regret, not denial.

The wave of sympathy in Russia for Poles past and present is genuine, and they can even feel it (with some astonishment) in Poland. These moments are rare, and they don't last long. If you want to make the future different from the past, you have to act fast.

The Russian President, Mr Dmitry Medvedev, has announced that he is going to Poland for Kaczynski's funeral. Before he goes, he should look at one photograph.


It was taken in 1984 on the First World War battlefield of Verdun, where a quarter-million French and German soldiers died in 1916. By 1984 France and Germany were in the European Union and Nato together, but after three wars in a hundred years they were still not really friends.

Then President Francois Mitterand of France and Chancellor Helmut Kohl of Germany went there to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the First World War. Looking out over the killing fields torn up by 40 million artillery shells, they did the only thing they could. They held hands — and Franco-German relations were changed for good.

If Mr Medvedev can find a way to do something as simple but as powerful as that, he could turn the page and start a new chapter in Russian-Polish history. Right now, people are ready for that.


The writer is an independent journalist based in London.







Bihar, which once used to typify all that is benighted in the developmental paradigm, today represents a totally opposite picture with improved law and order. Carving out Jharkhand in 2000 left the erstwhile State further weakened, with the mineral wealth all going to the new State and Bihar left saddled with only agriculture as its economic backbone.

The years of neglect and callousness by the political order has also taken a heavy toll on the State. But a beginning has been made by the present NDA Government to change the notorious law and order situation. Swift trials and a vigilant administration have brought down incidents of crimes which once characterised the State.

The gains made by this improved law and order situation were no doubt apparent in the overall security environment, but it led to something positive, more as a spin-off and not as a foreseen outcome. It triggered a spurt in the number of tourists visiting the State, both domestic and international. According to the Tourism Department, this rose from 63,000 in 2006 to more than three lakh last year.

In Bodh Gaya, the place where Gautam Buddha attained enlightenment under the Bodhi Tree, has always been a draw for tourists. Now, there has been a marked increase in tourists here, both from within and outside India. Quality hotels, restaurants and shops have come up as a response to this heightened demand and the economy of the region has picked up. There is yet another industry that has benefited from this surge — foreign language teaching courses to cater to the demand of tourists thronging from Japan, Thailand, Korea, Myanmar, Sri Lanka and China.

This boost in tourism did not come as a policy initiative. Rather it is an offshoot of an improved law and order situation. Realising its immense potential to not only project Bihar as a State on the upswing but to actually turn its sagging fortunes around, the Government is making efforts to fully leverage the opportunity.

The land represents an amalgamation of different spiritual faiths with places of worship for Buddhists, Jains, Sikhs and Hindus. Ponds in the vicinity of historical monuments, heritage buildings and temples are being renovated and boating facilities being created. History apart, nature has been kind in its bounty of rivers, waterfalls and mountain ranges. All these lend themselves extremely well to the Government's initiative.

Much like the famed houseboats on the spectacular Dal Lake, the Bihar Government plans to create floating homes and hotels on the softly lapping waves of the river Ganga. It plans to develop full tourist facilities on the ghats to support this potentially growing activity, not just in Patna but also in other cities dotting the course of the river. The house-boat culture and ancillary services can then be developed on other rivers which criss-cross Bihar.

During the Second International Buddha Festival, held in February 2010, an initiative of the Bihar Government to promote tourism, plans to develop Rajgir, Vaishali, Nalanda and Bodh Gaya as tourist hubs were mooted. The tourism industry in Bihar has begun on its own momentum with the role of the Government being that of channelising its obvious potential.








THERE is good reason for the Congress party to be wary of sticking its neck out to defend Union Minister of State for External Affairs Shashi Tharoor. The reason is that we have yet to get a convincing explanation as to why his friend, Sunanda Pushkar, was given free equity worth Rs 70 crore for the new Kochi Indian Premier League franchise. In his explanation, Mr Tharoor quite candidly accepts that he " steered" the Rendezvous consortium towards Kerala and then " mentored" it, but that he did it as a member of parliament from Kerala. He has rejected suggestions that he called IPL commissioner Lalit Modi during his meeting with the Kochi consortium investors but acknowledged that he did call him to ask him about the delay in approving the franchise.


Mr Modi, of course, has another version of events. However, as a private businessman Mr Modi cannot be judged on the same scales as Mr Tharoor, who is a member of Parliament and has sworn to work without fear or favour as a member of the Union Council of Ministers.


The country needs a much clearer picture of Mr Tharoor's role in the entire episode and, in that context, the role of Ms Pushkar who appears to have a close relationship with the Minister. That relationship is, of course, of no concern to us. But if Ms Pushkar has got that equity for the mentoring done by Mr Tharoor, then we have a problem.


Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who happens to be traveling abroad, has been quite forthright in stating that he will act when he has the full facts on hand. Note that he has not dismissed the issue off- hand. Given the fact that the Parliament session begins on Thursday, it is in the interests of the Congress party and the government to effect a quick closure on the issue.







AN aggressive Congress party is no longer testing the ground in Uttar Pradesh. With AICC general secretary Rahul Gandhi as the architect of the oust- Mayawati campaign, it is natural that the starting point of Congress' ' chetna yatra' should be Ambedkar Nagar.


This is a seat that Mayawati has won thrice, and it has a sizable Dalit population.


The battle for Uttar Pradesh is increasingly turning out to be a battle for the Dalit vote.


This is not unusual. The state has the highest population of Dalits in the country. However, where chief minister Mayawati has gone wrong is in her argument that she is the sole representative of Dalits.


Governance issues are complex and go beyond renaming Akbarpur as Ambedkar Nagar or building statues. The Uttar Pradesh chief minister should learn from the life of Dr B. R. Ambedkar — Wednesday was his birth anniversary. He stood for all of India, not merely Dalits. For instance, the Poona Pact that he signed with caste Hindus to save the situation when Gandhiji went on fast against separate electorates for Dalits was an act of statesmanship.


Following Ambedkar's example will enable her to address a wider audience. Hopefully then, one will not see a situation where she is willing to spend over Rs 4,500 crore on statues but claims she has no funds when it comes to development projects and education.







IT'S a pity that the Delhi Traffic Police have taken so long to realise that many of the motorists who zoom on the city's roads are grossly ignorant of traffic rules notwithstanding the driver's licence they carry on their person. Yet, the move to put motorists through sudden tests for their awareness of the Motor Vehicle Act regulations must be seen as a step in the right direction, though if conducted seriously we might have half of the city's drivers ending up on the wrong side of law.


Perhaps that is not something to worry about considering that the traffic police have no plan in place for what is to be done with those who fail the test. Somebody must also tell the authorities that besides testing existing licencees, the entire procedure for grant of new driver's licences needs to be overhauled and made stringent. Till the time pimps manage to procure licences for people, there is little chance of reducing the number of accidents caused by ignorant drivers.







A MORE appropriate name for the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme ( NREGS) would be National Rural Looting Guarantee scheme. It is an open secret that NREGS while claiming laudable objectives is lining the pockets of a few, distorting the entire rural economy and creating grave social disharmony, because swathes of people are excluded.


The British India Famine Code ( 1883), and two 20th century economists, John Maynard Keynes and Milton Friedman, are the forefathers of work- for- the poor schemes. The British Famine Code countered frequent famines by providing work on demand during famines. Once a famine was declared, then the Famine Code came into effect. John Maynard Keynes theorised that during depressions, work can be created to stimulate the economy. But he meant actual work and President Franklin Roosevelt of USA implemented the ideas during the 1930s and this led to substantial permanent assets in USA.



Milton Friedman, once a much derided economist, and a teacher of this writer at University of Chicago, is actually having his Cash- Transfer ideas implemented by developing countries, where he was earlier an anathema. But the Famine Code, Keynes and Friedman have one thing in common: They wanted asset- creation or honest transfer of cash to the recipient.


Friedman said simply give cash or coupons to beneficiaries. There should be no fiction of government programmes.


Let the people decide what to do with the cash.


The problem is that NREGS is a pure cash- transfer scheme clothed in ridiculous robes of " work on demand", " muster rolls" and other duplicitous words in Indian political lexicography. No politician speaks against NREGS as it appears anti- poor. Further, politicians feel why make enemies of the corrupt? Actually, the NREGS deliberately excludes farmers and is hence " exclusionary and not inclusionary". Professor John Dreze, a supporter of NREGS, argues that earlier rural employment programmes were in the hands of contractors and politicians. They made money by submitting fudged, inflated muster rolls. NREGS, on the other hand, will bring in radical change and prevent corruption as transparent safeguards are in- built. Muster rolls will be displayed and wage details will entered in labourers' " Job Cards". The main responsibility for implementing NREGS is with Panchayat Officers and so on.


The entire argument is based on honest panchayats and officers. NREGA can work in an ideal panchayat — that is where honest people are elected and money, bribery, caste and terror play no part. Importantly, it assumes all government functionaries are saints. But the fact is there are no ideal panchayats.


NREGA is supposed to operate like this.


The honest sarpanch gives all villagers work; at the end of an 8- hour day, Rs. 100 is given to every worker. Of course, there is only one problem. Nowhere in India is there such an ideal village, with an ideal sarpanch or honest government officials.


In the real world, the sarpanch cuts deals. He enrolls relatives and supporters.


Wages are shared amongst the sarpanch, government officials and beneficiaries.


Beneficiaries are happy colluders since they get at least Rs 60 for not working.


Why question the sarpanch and officials when they give you Rs 60 for free? Get your family included and make Rs. 250 every day. Villagers are willing accomplices. Like thousands of " ghost workers" in Delhi, in villages there will be 15 crore fake workers.


Till recently, in Rajasthan, little money was spent for Panchayat elections. In recent Panchayat elections, Rs. 50 lakh was allegedly spent for sarpanch's post as he controls huge sums of NREGS moneys.


This is the new social transformation in villages. An MP had Rs 10 crores over five years as his fund. Now a sarpanch has more than an MP.



In Delhi, government and civil society think that this can be fixed. The solution is to devise " targeted delivery". Workers get only Rs 60 a day while they should get Rs 100, so give them smart cards and send money directly. But nowhere does the NREGA manual tell how to create an ideal panchayat and honest officials. Even with smart cards, the problem is that someone has to select workers, the work, and certify that the work is done. Therefore, money has to be paid at every step.


Beneficiaries are willing accomplices as money is free with there being no work to be done. To control corruption in NREGS, you need a million CBI officers because the participants are happy accomplices as the money is free.


NREGS has many weaknesses. For one, farmers have been deliberately left out.


Farmers commit suicides by the thousands and yet a farmer with two acres of land is out of NREGA. In southern states, where parties like Justice Party, DK, DMK were formed purely to fight upper castes 90 years ago, there is a suspicion urban intellectuals are behind moves to disempower farmers due to the traditional hostility to farmer- castes.


The other issue is that when crores of workers are involved how do you supervise the supervisors? If you are a favoured party, then work will be light and hours few. Otherwise, you get difficult work so that you flee. The budget for the NREGS in 2010 is Rs 40000 crores. This is more than the salaries of the entire police force in India. Fantastic permanent assets could have been created with the money, yet in 2009, Rs 39,000 crores was spent without anything tangible being created.


Unless permanent assets are created, NREGS will sap the entire economy.


Another critique of NREGS is that instead of giving people incentive for selfemployment, NREGS creates " dependency" on the government. Those who are assured of an income will not seek work. If you oppose the powers- that be, you will be left out or marginalised. The worst kind of dependency is thus created.

Powerful leaders in Delhi think they can pass any law and budget. There is clearly no punishment for poor laws

and waste.


Lakhs of crores were spent on the Jawahar Rozgar Yojana. Why has the JRY been forgotten?



This year the government will spend Rs 40000 crores on NREGS. When you have 15 crore people involved, there will be corruption. There are schemes called " helicopter schemes" in some countries, as it is money distribution without strings. So, you may as well take the money and start throwing it on villages from helicopters. Since no actual work is done in NREGA and no assets created, what is the harm in throwing money from helicopters? It will be a genuine cashtransfer scheme of the kind advocated by Milton Friedman. Relief food is thrown from helicopters. So why not cash? The British who ruled India, Keynes and Friedman knew you cannot control corruption.


They therefore insisted on asset creation or direct cash- transfer. No mealy mouthed homilies for them. In this context it is not clear how a smart card will stop kickbacks from beneficiaries to officials? Bribes are after all given only after the work is done and the sequence of getting money has no impact on bribes.


So we have a situation where the largest welfare scheme ever devised in India does not involve asset creation and excludes farmers, the mainstay of the country. The powerful supporters of NREGA should realise that unless asset- creation becomes the focus of NREGA, it will meet the same fate as JRY and a host of endless and hapless ancestors.


The writer is an economist and analyst








FOR most foreign tourists visiting Delhi and other Indian cities, a rickshaw ride is on the must- do list. The Indian rickshaw perhaps occupies the same pride of place as a tourist attraction as a tuk- tuk in Bangkok. No wonder the humble rickshaw is getting attention in the run- up to the Commonwealth Games — during which tourist inflow is likely to rise. Recently we saw a trendy rickshaw designed by the Fashion Design Council of India.


The Delhi government wants to run solar- operated rickshaws developed by scientists from the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research during the Games. Earlier we have had rickshaws designed by IITians. All these efforts are welcome, but they don't address the core issues facing this eco- friendly mode of transportation which is: do non- motorised modes of transport like rickshaws and cycles stand a chance at all in modern cities?


Most city folks blame slow moving cycles and rickshaws for the chaos on our roads, ignorant of the fact that actually it is motorised transport which is to blame for the congestion. Delhi's roads are clogged because the city has some 6 million motorised vehicles. Ironically, cars serve the transport needs of just 20 percent of the people.


This is what made the Delhi High Court observe recently that " road space cannot be appropriated or monopolised by one mode of transport, particularly when the bulk of the population depends on public transport". Why should there be a cap on the number of rickshaws, when there is no cap on the number of cars or motorcycles? Or why shouldn't the state create parking facilities for rickshaws and cycles when it can do so for cars? Taking up such issues and fighting legal battles with government agencies are some dedicated activists. PR executiveturned- social worker Nalin Sinha of Save Cycle Rickshaw Campaign is one such. He has also founded the Delhi cycling club. Sinha points out that " a rickshaw is environmentally, socially and economically a sustainable mode of transport for commuting and carrying light goods over short distance." For instance, he says, rickshaws quickly came to provide a successful feeder service at all metro stations. This only shows that they have a definite role if integrated with public and other modes of transport.


The least we can do is create segregated lanes for bicycles as well as rickshaws. If a bulk of short trips in the city can be made on rickshaws it would reduce congestion as well as save fuel. Another activist, Pradip Kumar Sarmah, who works with rickshaw pullers, says that when the requirements of rickshaws are poorly understood and facilities are not built for them, the result is congestion and inconvenience for all people.



JOYDIP KUNDU is more than just a wildlife photographer.


Having been engaged in photographing majestic Bengal tigers and other wild animals in the Sunderbans for several years now, Joydip and his wife Suchandra, have also become passionate advocates of tiger conservation efforts. Joydip was last week presented the Carl Zeiss Wildlife Conservation Award for his work. He has been working with local people, voluntary bodies and wildlife authorities in the Sunderbans biosphere as well as tiger reserves. Joydip is working with some 65 schools in the Sunderbans, using them as a base for promoting tiger conservation.




AROUND the world, many countries are introducing policies that restrict where people can smoke. This follows findings that tobacco smoke is a major cause of death in the world and, according to WHO, is currently responsible for the death of around one in ten adults. But smoking is a complex personal and social activity and so there is an ongoing need to monitor the effects of legislation to see if they benefit people.

A team of researchers searched for studies of situations where legal bans had been introduced, or restrictions placed on smoking.


The researchers found that approval of the bans, and compliance with them, increased once they were implemented. " The balance of evidence suggests that legislative smoking bans have achieved their primary objective of reducing exposure to secondhand smoke," says Cecily Kelleher of University College Dublin, who did the survey.



THE World Health Organisation ( WHO) has declared that " urbanisation is one of the major threats to health in the 21st century". This is because cities today are making people unhealthy. Many cities face a triple threat — infectious diseases which thrive when people are crowded together; chronic, non- communicable diseases like diabetes, cancers and heart disease which are on the rise with unhealthy lifestyles including tobacco use, unhealthy diets, physical inactivity and use of alcohol; and urban health is often further burdened by road traffic accidents, injuries, violence and crime.


In order to make cities safer and healthier, WHO has suggested that urban planning should be geared up to promote healthy behaviour and safety and living conditions need to be improved. But, one wonders what WHO is doing to improve the conditions at the slums located right behind its highly sanitised and swank building in the ITO area.


I posed this question to top World Heath Organisation officials and all they had to offer was a lame excuse: we are only a technical agency and we can only advise governments. Can't the rules be made use of to improve this slum which is a living indictor of the decaying urban scenario in India?








THE stage is set for the launch of India's largest home- built rocket, Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle ( GSLV), from Sriharikota on Thursday evening.


This will be the GSLV's sixth flight in the past decade, and the first one using an indigenously developed cryogenic engine. All the previous flights used cryogenic engines built with help from Russia. The GSLV- D3, which will be launched on Thursday, deploys Cryogenic Upper Stage that will use super cooled propellants. It is a complex technology possessed by only a select band of space faring countries.


The 29- hour countdown for the lift- off from the spaceport on the east coast began at 11.27 am on Wednesday and will continue till the launch which is slated at 4.27 pm on Thursday. Officials of the Indian Space Research Organisation ( ISRO) said the countdown was progressing satisfactorily.


Countdown for a launch is not merely the counting of hours preceding the launch, space agency officials explained.


It is an exercise during which mandatory checks are carried out on hundreds of parameters, and most importantly, fuel is loaded onto different stages of the rocket.


The 50- metre tall GSLV is a three- stage rocket. At liftoff, its mass will be 416 tonnes.


The rocket's first stage is powered by solid propellants.


Around this stage are four strap- on motors that are powered by liquid propel- lants. The second stage again uses liquid propellants, while the third stage is propelled by the cryogenic engine.


" All operations to fill the propellants are progressing as planned and will continue through the night," ISRO spokesperson S. Satish said from Sriharikota. " The filling of cryogenic stage will take place on Thursday morning." The solid core motor of the first stage is said to be one of the largest rocket motors in the world and will use 138 tonnes of a propellant called Hydroxyl Terminated Poly- Butadiene ( HTPB).


The second stage carries 38.5 tonnes of liquid propellant as well as four strap- on motors of the first stage, each carrying 42 tonnes of propellant.


The third stage carries 12.5 tonnes of super cooled liquid hydrogen as fuel and liquid oxygen as oxidiser.


Besides the locally developed cryogenic stage, the GSLV- D3 will test two more new technologies — advanced telemetry and mission computers, and a larger composite payload shield.


The rocket will put into orbit the GSAT- 4 satellite, which also deploys several new technologies for the first time. The satellite, weighing two tonnes, will have several transponders, including for Wide Area Differential Global Positioning System.


The ISRO is ready for testing several new technologies in its most crucial test after the Chandrayaan flight in October 2008.




DELHI chief minister Sheila Dikshit surprised everyone on Wednesday when she took a dig at her government.


" Sixty three years after Independence, we ( still) rule like the British," Dikshit said at a conference in the Capital on Wednesday. " Many of our rules, regulations, laws and decision- making have become archaic." Elaborating on the challenges faced by Delhi, Dikshit said the public- private partnership too had failed to provide any solution. She cited the examples of the two link roads to the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium and the Indira Gandhi Stadium, both of which have suffered delays at the hands of private construction companies.


Speaking about the faulty bureaucratic mechanism, she referred to instances of harassment, such as applying for a passport or a ration card. " These little irritants are the speed breakers on all kinds of development," she said.


Dikshit also spoke at length about the lack of equitable growth in the country, especially in the metros.


" Nearly four lakh people in Delhi live in shanties, which is appalling. I have this two- acre bungalow, of which I use just one bedroom and two rooms to meet my guests," she said, and added that the rest of her bungalow is just left vacant.


Doing a 180- degree turn from her earlier anti- migrant stand, Dikshit said migrants were the support system of a growing city.





RAHUL Gandhi's insistence on setting up a central agriculture university in Bundelkhand is witnessing a peculiar problem. The Union human resource development ( HRD) ministry has sanctioned it, but Uttar Pradesh chief minister Mayawati is less than enthusiastic about providing land for the proposed institution.


The Madhya Pradesh government has offered Rahul land at low cost in the Bundelkhand districts falling under the BJP- ruled state. But the HRD ministry is not keen on availing the MP land because Rahul, for obvious reasons, has more considerations in the Bundelkhand region under Mayawati.



UNION home secretary G. K Pillai's office in the North Block has easy unrestricted access to the media. The senior bureaucrat makes it a point to interact with reporters whenever he is not busy in meetings.


At times, the interactions throw up interesting sidelights.


The other day, a scribe asked Pillai how he keeps a tab on corrupt babus.


He was candid in his reply that locating such " elements" was not difficult.


" Bureaucrats whose wives run boutiques and textile businesses and show profitable balance sheets are easy to monitor," he laughed, adding that the home ministry suspected these entrepreneurs of using the businesses as a cover for " other things".


ANAND Sharma continues to be a minister despite no longer being an MP. No wonder, questions were being raised from within the Congress fold on this issue. Many believed that the Constitution allowed a six- month grace period to a non- MP being appointed a minister and the shield was not applicable to a minister losing his seat in the middle of his term.


But legal opinion went in favour of Sharma, a former Rajya Sabha member, and ended the dilemma on a happy note. His detractors may now have to wait and watch if the minister of commerce and industry manages to reenter Parliament within six months.



THE most common image of government employees, especially bureaucrats, is that of crusty, unapproachable people who are out of bounds for the average citizen. But Union environment minister Jairam Ramesh's office is an exception. The common man can anytime walk into the offices of all his staff, most of whom are friendly, young and accessible. There is an atmosphere of insouciance which puts even the most confirmed antigovernment environmentalist at ease. Telephone numbers, email addresses and information is given out freely, and while all issues may not be addressed, this attitude is considered a refreshing change in a government office.








US President Barack Obama's high-profile efforts towards nuclear disarmament over the past few weeks starting with his administration's Nuclear Posture Review, moving on to engagement with Russia to get the strategic arms reduction process back on track and ending with the just-concluded Nuclear Security Summit in Washington have given the nuclear disarmament initiative an impetus it had been lacking for a long time. The effort must now be to ensure that this momentum is not squandered but parleyed into substantive measures to achieve Obama's stated end goal and the objective of international agreements such as the Non-Proliferation Treaty the elimination of nuclear weapons.

The logic of the nuclear balance of power is an antiquated one with a sell-by date two decades old. If there is one central idea to emerge from the recent flurry of activity highlighted both in the US's revised nuclear strategy and at the summit it is the changing nature of nuclear threat, both in perception and actuality. Unlike during the Cold War, nuclear-armed nation states are not expected to be the prime players in any threat scenario that might emerge. Instead, it is non-state actors primarily terrorist organisations such as al-Qaeda and Lashkar-e-Taiba that are considered likely to trigger a nuclear incident.

This changes the nature of nuclear security completely. Even at the height of the Cold War, nuclear-armed rivals remained rational actors. Traditional measures such as confidence-building measures and the threat of massive retaliation could, therefore, work. That is no longer the case. Terrorist organisations steeped in jihadist ideology will not be deterred by conventional means. Al-Qaeda, for instance, has already tried to procure the material for a nuclear weapon and the Georgian government has had to block eight attempts to sell uranium on the black market. So far, so good. But all it would take for catastrophe is one failure on the part of government and security watchdogs.

In this environment, cutting down on nuclear material stockpiles and tightening security as has been decided at the summit is a limited step. No security mechanism is foolproof. The only way to ensure that terrorist organisations cannot obtain weapons-grade nuclear material is to eliminate their stockpiling entirely. Full and total nuclear disarmament backed by an international verification regime with teeth must no longer be a distant goal, but one sought to be realised in the near future. The risks of not doing so are too great to countenance.







It took a personal spat between Lalit Modi and Shashi Tharoor to focus public attention on the murky dealings of the IPL. Though the current controversy is over the Kochi franchisee one of the two new teams auctioned this year for a combined $700 million it throws into sharp focus the many problems in the way the IPL is being funded and run. Public allegations have been made that there was pressure on some bidders to back out during the last auction. Besides there is increasing evidence that many of the franchisees are owned by multiple entities spread across the world, including in tax havens, and possibly operating as front organisations. It was Modi's tweet that revealed the ownership structure of the Kochi franchisee and hinted at Tharoor's relationship with one of the franchisee owners. However, he has kept mum about his many relatives who have stakes in IPL teams. There is a clear conflict of interest here since Modi is the IPL commissioner. Similarly, it is unbecoming of Tharoor, a Union minister, to influence the bidding process or be associated with an IPL franchisee.

Clearly, everything is not above board with the IPL. It is incumbent on the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) to clear the air in the next IPL governing council meeting to be held soon. Since the ownership structure of the Kochi franchisee has been made public, the same should be done for other franchisees too. This would go a long way in making the operations of the IPL transparent. If the BCCI doesn't act quickly, the government must inquire into the financial dealings of the IPL. It is clear that the latest episode goes much beyond cricket.


























Washington: With the United States urging Pakistan to shut down Lashkar-e-Taiba and stop sponsoring low-intensity conflict against India, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's chat with President Barack Obama in Washington appears to have gone reasonably well. But the Indo-US relationship continues its flight through a patch of mild turbulence.

A growing sense among knowledgeable officials and policy analysts on the Indian side is that the Obama administration does not accord the same degree of special value to the India relationship as the George W Bush administration did during its second term. One reason why such a perception has gained ground may be the priorities that the Obama administration seems to have set for itself in Afghanistan.

Although Bush had more or less outsourced the Afghan war against al-Qaeda and the Taliban to the Pakistani military and had shifted attention and resources to Iraq, Obama while boosting resources as well as military effort significantly in Afghanistan has also set 2011 as the year in which US forces will begin withdrawing from the region. Sensing an end game, interested players have begun to make their moves.

The priorities of the current White House are domestic and, therefore, political. Leading stewards of that approach are seasoned political operatives like Rahm Emanuel and David Axelrod. Their aim is, first, to minimise an expected decline after November's Congressional elections of the present majority that the Democratic Party enjoys in the Senate and the House of Representatives; and, second, to ensure a second term for their boss in the 2012 presidential election. Both are legitimate political goals which produce repercussions on the way priorities are set for foreign policy.

Announcing a date for bringing American soldiers back home from the desolate hills of Afghanistan suited such goals. Add to that some pressure from Britain, the leading ally of the US in the Afghan war, also for domestic political reasons. The war is unpopular in the UK, which is going to the polls in a few more weeks. The government of Gordon Brown must show its intention to get out of Afghanistan quickly. British foreign secretary David Miliband has come out with a plan for western withdrawal and handing over Afghanistan to the Afghans.

It sounds like a reasonable plan for a structured withdrawal. Except when he asserts: "No country in the region, let alone the international community, will again allow Afghanistan to be dominated, or used as a strategic asset, by a neighbouring state." How exactly the international community will ensure that is left unexplained. The neighbouring state in question Pakistan is acutely aware of that reality and may be biding its time.

As happened within a few years of the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan in 1989, Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) set-up established effective control over Afghanistan through their proxy the Taliban. It seems very unlikely that the Pakistani army and the ISI, in perpetual search for "strategic depth" against India, will not pull off the same virtual arrangement once again after the US and NATO presence is no longer there in any meaningful way. That is the main reason why they continue to protect the leadership of the Afghan Taliban. In a few years, the vacuum can again be Pakistan's to fill by proxy.

American and British efforts to integrate as many Taliban fighters as possible have begun as part of a counter-insurgency strategy. It makes sense to carry out such an effort. After all, as you step up a military offensive you should also offer a way out for those who are willing to lay down their arms and switch sides. But, in pursuit of a quick exit plan, any premature negotiations with the Taliban leaders sheltered in Pakistan will be playing right into the hands of Pakistan's military. The Taliban have gained considerable influence in Afghanistan over the past few years. Negotiating with its leadership without first decimating their ranks through fighting as well as incentives can be a huge mistake.

Unfortunately, there are those in US and British policy circles who would not mind letting the Taliban regain effective power thereby facilitating Pakistani control after obtaining promises from the leadership to maintain stability and renounce al-Qaeda. Astute think tank analysts, such as Ashley Tellis and Lisa Curtis, have warned against such a danger in testimonies before the US Congress. Writes Curtis in a recent paper: "The US must be clearheaded about Pakistani goals in the region and accept that Pakistani interests often run counter to US efforts to protect the US homeland from future 9/11 type attacks. While the US seeks to prevent Afghanistan from again serving as a safe haven for international terrorists, Pakistan's primary goal is to curb Indian influence in the country."

India, which has devoted more than a billion dollars to help Afghan reconstruction, is almost a bystander in the process. But, along with Russia, China and Iran, India has as vital an interest in stabilising Afghanistan, and Pakistan, as the US. Terrorism emanating from the region is planned and executed by malevolent minds infesting that non-existent Af-Pak border. They are protected and assisted by the Pakistani military. Hopefully, the prime minister made India's position clear to the White House.

The writer is a FICCI-EWC Fellow at the East West Centre.







The Congress rath yatra today to mark its 125th anniversary starts a new phase of political mobilisation in the state. Ten other rallies are expected to criss-cross UP in the coming days. The BSP suspects that the rath yatra has been launched on April 14, the birth anniversary of Babasaheb Ambedkar, to wean away Dalits, the main base of the party, to the Congress. The party has organised a protest to counter the Congress initiative.

Political activity can't be limited to holding media debates. Mobilisation of cadre is intrinsic to democratic politics and must be allowed. Rath yatras too are a form of democratic politics. They help a political outfit to spread its ideology and agenda among voters. There is no reason to get upset about these cavalcades7, the exception being if they instigate violence against specific ethnic groups. That the rallies have been described as rath yatras is no reason to worry, or even worse, ban them. The focus must not be on the form or nomenclature of rallies, what matters is their content.

Advani's rath yatra became notorious because its political message targeted minorities and instigated riots against them. The communal groundswell it created led to the destruction of the Babri masjid and divided the country. Don't blame the rath for the fallout of the yatra. The medium isn't the message in this case. The fault lay entirely with the message propagated by the BJP leadership.

The Congress rally is a different kettle of fish, as it doesn't appear to incite hatred towards either Dalits or upper castes. The current political ferment in UP is focused on building broad social coalitions.






The BSP doesn't have a political patent on Ambedkar. Rahul Gandhi is right to flash this message on the Dalit icon's 119th birth anniversary. But did he have to take on Mayawati by flagging off "rath yatras" to cover UP's Dalit-majority areas? Rahul has till date presented a shining contrast to UP's CM. Take his stress on poverty rather than caste as a criterion for affirmative action. Or the endearing way he's reached out to the poor, by spending quality time with them. Mayawati's statue-building sprees and cash garlands neither flatter her nor empower Dalits. They only make her adversary look good. Why, then, does Rahul need to bank on rath yatras, a risky political tool going by past experience?

Challengers of ruling netas must choose their arsenal wisely. Some will argue the instrument of the rath yatra once benefited the BJP hugely. Only, recall the price paid in terms of social strife. True, cross-state charioteering has mass-mobilising powers and vote-garnering uses. But, like it or not, the rath yatra has come to be associated with a certain brand of socially divisive politics. If the BJP used it to court Hindus, the Congress is wooing Dalits. How different are the two in principle? Isn't it about time parties moved away from identity politics?

Moreover, mass mobilisation can often descend into politically instigated mass hysteria. Mayawati has been bristling at the Congress's revival bid in UP. So, 49-day rath yatras may be construed as a different order of provocation. With Maya now launching anti-Congress protest rallies, there may even be political violence. If Rahul wants to best Maya, he has a ready weapon in his political humility. Signature-style sobriety will stand him in better stead than political pyrotechnics.








The TOI's Kolkata edition celebrated its 10th anniversary with a 15-part series which concluded today, on auspicious Poila Boisakh. It was called 'Best Head Forward'. Could we have dared choose any other theme in a city said to have the largest number of intellectuals, certified, pseudo and sidelined? But, the point is: Does Kolkata like being trapped in the nation's cranial cavity, forever condemned to being the brain of India? Or does its cerebrated head itch with all that swarming brilliance inside? Does it secretly yearn to let its hair down, and shimmy as the item girl of India?


Kolkata is not alone in this identity trap. Each city has its metro-metric UID. While pretending to bask in it, it's actually considered a pain in its sewerage drain. Yes, urban entities, like Arundhati Roy, often become victims of their own image, and would happily give up their JNNURM grants to be able to be the exact opposite. BOT fun! Build, operate and transfer should it get too difficult to manage.


All our cities are changing faster than Mamata Banerjee's position on the Maoists or the chances of the different IPL teams, but age-old stereotypes are difficult to shake off. So, in the popular imagination, if Kolkata is the brain of India, then Delhi is its brawn. (New Delhi doesn't enter this discussion because it's not a city but a political ego with a flashing red-batti, bamboozling its way past all the problems which beset the rest.) Mumbai, i guess, would be the toned abs of India and Chennai its thunder thighs.


Second-level metros suffer the same fate. Nagpur is well on its way to becoming a cargo hub, but people will always think of it as an orange on its good days, and as a creaky RSS sevak on its bad days. Hyderabad may be replete with futuristic IT parks, but it's still associated with nawabs and nikahs. Only Bangalore has made the transition in the public mind as well, and that's only because America got affected so the whole world got to hear of it.


Having spent the better part of the past month in Kolkata editing that anniversary series, i could see that it was desperately seeking a change of address. It was dying to get out of its crumbling mansion and put a down-payment on the mall-tiplex, but it was being sent on a Victoria Memorial-sized guilt trip by the sepia die-hards, most notably those who have gone away and now live in high-rise splendour in sleeker cities. These were the people clamouring loudest to keep their old hometown shackled to its image of a poetic garret falling apart in iambic pentameter. Nostalgia is reverse outsourcing, and can be as fatal for the economy.


Nostalgia's ancillary industry is heritage, and whereas Delhi never had much of an intellectual reputation to preserve, it does share this conundrum with Kolkata. It's actually worse off because just as 'you can't throw a stone in Goa without hitting a pig or a priest', you can't shift a stone here without getting hit by the Delhi Urban Heritage Foundation. Conservation is undoubtedly noble, but it's tough not to sympathise with owners of decrepit heritage buildings who can't repair the plumbing without requiring nuclear-plant-grade permissions.


Mumbai as usual is ahead of the game. One, because it is no great culture shock when an item girl turns into an IT girl, and, two, since it had mowed down much of its heritage long ago, there's little to bother about keeping INTACHT.








'I'm gonna miss President Bush. Because Barack Obama is not easy to do jokes about… See, this is why God gave us Joe Biden.' This is one of the many jokes made by Jay Leno about the US vice-president who seems to have replaced George W. Bush as a staple on the late night comedy shows. So why are we getting our knickers in a twist over the fact that India was not invited to a lunch hosted by Joe Biden for Non-aligned Movement (NAM) member-States? What is it that we are missing? Certainly not Mr Biden's scintillating wit and repartee, or is it that we were salivating at the thought of old Joe's all-American menu? But we know why Joe is being snarky with us. He is smarting from his experience in Israel when no sooner had he landed in Tel Aviv with his message of peace and reconciliation, the Jewish brothers announced the construction of new settlements in Jerusalem.

Did Joe tell them where to get off? No siree. He went home and wept on Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's shoulder and she told the Israelis where to get off. Oh, sorry, said the brothers, we meant no insult, it is just that this is a good time in the market for cement. So, our point is thank God

Mr Biden did not extend the dreaded invitation to us. Imagine having to sit around yammering about a defunct political formation like NAM and claiming credit as a founder member when Joe probably thinks that Jawaharlal Nehru, if he knows who he was, is still around.

The truth is that Joe doesn't count for a hill of beans on the Hill. So, it is better that our delegation spends its time more fruitfully trying to impress Michelle and Barack. Now we Indians are not ones to look for a free lunch in the mouth.

But if it is at chez Biden, let's go for the delights of the local deli. So Joe doesn't like us. Let us mangle the immortal words of Sarah Palin, 'say it's so Joe.'





The third season of the Indian Premier League (IPL) has established that cricket can be a hugely paying proposition. It is commendable that the league has broken even in its second year of existence and things can now only get better. Dipping into a national obsession to make profits comes with its share of responsibilities though. The intense media spotlight on the six-week event raises the bar on transparency in deals cut by the managers of India's largest sporting event. What can pass muster as confidentiality surrounding the run-of-the-mill contract does not hold true here. This is highlighted by the public spat between minister of state for external affairs Shashi Tharoor and IPL commissioner Lalit Modi. Since IPL makes money on the number of eyeballs it attracts, the brains attached to them have legitimate reason to wonder at the conflict of interest inherent in shadowy ownership of the playing clubs.

If the IPL gets free press from the public auction for players, it cannot justifiably deny a similar interest in the less public auction for clubs. Messrs Modi and the grey eminences in the Board of Control for Cricket in India need to work this out. Till then, a via media is for the owners to take their clubs public. This serves the purpose of getting a proper fix on how much each club, and hence the IPL franchise, is worth. At the same time it imposes disclosure requirements that ought to satisfy both the legalistic and public scrutiny imperatives. The framers of the rules for the IPL have allowed listing from the third season and there is media speculation that at least one club is actively considering it. More should follow, if for no other reason than the fact that there is not enough advertising going around to sustain a growing media circus like the IPL without upsetting corporate media buying for the rest of the year.

That does not take away from the fact that the franchise's managers have cast their net wide to tap new revenue streams. The brand building cannot be faulted, what can is the intrinsic value of the offering. The English Premier League is the pre-eminent sporting event it is because of the level of soccer played in it. The cricket on display in the IPL after three seasons is not significantly higher than what is available in the T20 format in lesser brand conscious tournaments around the world for the rest of the year. Shorn of the hype, that is what will lift the IPL to its place among the great sporting events in the world.





You seem to be off somewhere? Holiday in the hills?

Holiday, yes. But not in hills. Going for a vacation to Kochi.

In this summer heat?! You gotta be kidding me! Oh, I know. You're off to do some hush-hush thing on the side.

[Nervously] What? No! I'm going on a holiday! Can't you see? I've always wanted to go to Kerala and spread the word about what it has to offer when I'm back.

Oh, so you're now some kind of mentor or brand ambassador for Kochi?

Well, there's nothing illegal or hanky-panky about me wanting to extol the virtues of a wonderful, underrated part of the Indian economy... er, I mean, geography.

But isn't your girlfriend also planning to open a shack or something there?

What has that got to do with me and my going to Kochi? She's opening the Rendezvous Lounge Bar and Restaurant there on the beachfront. I'll be staying at a guest house across the Vembanad Lake.

At the company guest house?

Yes, as part of my annual perks.

So you should be happy about the new IPL team from Kochi.

I'm more of a football man. Can't you see I'm wearing an FC Kochi T-shirt and a scarf?

That's an angavastram, but I'll let that pass...

Do say: Pune's a nice travel destination too.

Don't say: Are you a shareholder?






The recent fires in Delhi's Mundka plastic scrapyard and the radioactive leak at the Mayapuri scrap market are a wake-up call for Indian cities to find innovative ways of safe scrap trading.

The scrap trade in Delhi is one of the biggest and most robust in India. Before the ascent of China, in the mid-1990s, it was believed to be one of the biggest trading spots in Asia. Approximately 2,000 tonnes of Delhi's scrap is recycled here. In addition, waste from Pune also comes here. All of this rests on the work of a giant army of over 80,000 wastepickers, over 25,000 small scrap dealers, a few thousand itinerant buyers and over 50,000 sorters and bailers, apart from e-waste dismantlers.

A World Bank estimate says that over 1 per cent of the population of a big city in the developed world comprises waste recyclers. In India, this sector, predominantly informal, works like a pyramid, with wastepickers at the bottom and the reprocessors at the top, employing over 15 lakh Indians. This is India's recycling mechanism — driven by the enterprise of the poor who are largely unrecognised and face enormous health risks. It saves huge amounts of money for the various municipalities.

Despite the Delhi incidents, they are a city's allies, not a nuisance and our policy makers know that. The National Environment Policy, 2006, and the National Action Plan on Climate Change, 2009, both specifically mention the importance of the informal recycling sector and urge government agencies to work with them. The Comptroller and Auditor General's (CAG) report of 2008 indicted some municipalities for making their work harder instead of collaborating with them.

A UN-Habitat report released at the World Urban Forum a few weeks ago points out that informal recycling is a global phenomenon. Policies and research aside, we must work with the recycling sector because of the sheer importance of its work in keeping our cities clean and waste recycled economically. Contrast this with New York, where recycling stopped briefly because of the expense involved. Besides, there are hundreds of urban poor whose livelihoods depend on the recycling industry.

How to make the sector safe? For a start, every municipality must undertake a census, starting with the scrap shops. These shops must be licensed and trained to set up simple fire safety systems. The informal sector finds it hard to invest in fire safety systems if it's stuck with forced "illegality." Such shops must be helped to set up a paper trail for all metals, cables, intact items and bulk purchases made. This will help the authorities to track the source of origin of noxious items. They should also have access to authorised help to implement these and other performance standards, and to solve other problems.

But most of all, they need adequate space. Electronic waste is dismantled in the living rooms of the poor because there is no other space. In Delhi, the plots for plastics at Tigri Kalan are tiny. Expecting a scrap shop to move into these is like asking a man wearing size 9 shoes to squeeze into size 5. Besides, small scrap dealers need localised space — nearly six are required for a 100,000 population. In Delhi, the Masterplan 2010 allocates space for recycling but bans junk shops that trade in anything but glass and paper. This is absurd. How can a city indirectly ban recycling — a process the Municipal Waste Rules of 2000 mandate?

The Delhi government has to push for re-drawing a realistic masterplan that enables, not impedes recycling. Only when there is basic livelihood security, and an attempt to draw in these players participatively into their own safety, can we expect to sustainably upgrade their work and green our cities.

Bharati Chaturvedi is Director, Chintan Environmental Research and Action Group, New Delhi


The views expressed by the author are personal







I admit it, I'm on Twitter. I'm not sure why. I tweet maybe once in three days, and I'm learning to keep myself busy while my wife smiles and snickers her way through what were once our couple moments, glued to her Blackberry (alas, I gave it to her). The no-mobiles-in-the-bedroom rule has crumbled, and even a cinema offers no relief. When she looks dangerously at you in the middle of a darkened theatre and continues twittering, it's best to sink into the seat and sulk.

As in Twitter, so in life.

Women appear compelled to tell us what they're feeling, what they just did. Men tend to be boastful, hide their feelings and appear ever ready for a feud or abuse.

I suppose that's why Shashi Tharoor, India's minister of state for Twitter affairs, declared on his feed on Tuesday: "I've had enough", as he carried on his somewhat bizarre twar (Twitter-war) with Indian Premier League (IPL) supremo Lalit Modi, who clearly knew what he was doing when he tweeted the ownership patterns of the Kochi IPL team (implying one of them was obviously Tharoor's friend Sunanda Pushkar).

If you can limit yourself to 140 characters per message — a hard thing to do for hacks like me who have the luxury of 900 words — Twitter is a brave, sometimes irksome and all-consuming, new world, where you can become a one-person broadcasting corporation, if, of course, enough people are tuning in.

There are probably more people tracking Tharoor than anyone else in India. A month ago, he had around 500,000 followers. Last I checked, that number had crossed 700,000, way ahead of Shah Rukh Khan (iamsrk) with 266,107.

Tharoor's anti-Modi tweets are making news now, but the former United Nation's Assistant Secretary General's lesser known tweets certainly fit the look-at-me male persona.

"Signed an Investment Promotion & Protection Agreement with Planning Minister of Democratic Republic of Congo. Will help Indian investors in DRC," said the tweet that followed the one declaring war on Modi. The tweet before: "Riyadh Governor Prince Salman is in town. Attended dinner 4 him by Vice-President Hamid Ansari. Momentum of PM's recent Saudi visit maintained."

You can discern the self-absorbed tone with king Khan too: "i may soon lose my job as a lover if fighting comes into vogue. somebody stop it. start a society prevention of cruelty to romantic heroes."

I, me, myself. Twitter is new, but men will be what they always have been since they lived in a cave, pounded their chests and dragged women by the hair. As for women, they seem to flower on Twitter, revealing their wit, wisdom, attitude — and what they are feeling now.

As I write this, I've just seen my wife's latest tweet. "Yawnnnnnnnnn," it says. Don't ask. But you see what I mean. Still, she has more than five times as many followers as I do, lapping up her smart-alecky approach to life.

At the cost of sounding sexist, I reckon women can't help their online garrulousness. In Wednesday's HT City, actor Gul Panag (of the deep dimples) said she was once addicted to Twitter, "but now if I have nothing to say, I don't tweet."

Oh? Well, there she is, saying nothing with six tweets (one about a meeting with an animal husbandry officer in Punjab), sandwiched in my Twitter feed between Anand Mahindra (who tweets about his company's achievements, no surprise there) and the ubiquitous Tharoor.

SRK's twittering again.

"100 days on twitter. thanx everyone. saw a 3 month old baby yesterday...seems like i am one on the twitter now. its been a good life so far."

If SRK's having a good twitterlife, can Salman Khan be left behind?

Bollywood's bad boy created his own big bang in the twitterverse on Tuesday in typically laconic fashion. "Arbaaz ne kaha ke tweet kar toh banta hai boss" (I'm unsure how to translate this, so I won't try).

That was his first tweet with the handle Beingsalmankhan. Here's the second: "Challo nw, who ever was being me, party over, baju hatto plz."

Within minutes of his swagger-filled entry, 3,000 people were following Salman (and I thought I was doing all right with my 437 followers in two months). That number climbed to 18,000 in less than 20 hours.

Twitter fuels our innate voyeurism, removes intermediaries like the media and is the first truly online expression of who we are. It's hard to be someone else in less than 140 characters.


I am unsure what to be on Twitter.


Candid? Er, no. My life is my own. My most exciting confession thus far: buying a motorcycle.

Newsy? Since I am a journalist, I sometimes comment on random events. But, really, I bore even myself.

Brief? That makes sense. I tend to ramble, and twitter has forced some discipline on me.

I am more twittered at than a twitterer. No, I am no fan of Twitter.

Yet, I don't want to be disconnected. While I sort out my Twitter persona, its seductive appeal has sorted out the reasons why I'm @samar11.

I am on Twitter to see how spats like Modi-Tharoor play out; it's part of my job. I am on Twitter because I am curious to see how people talk and act in the this-instant life; because I don't want to be left behind; because, oh well, like all men, I guess I too want to have my say. But mostly I'm on Twitter, for one believable, somewhat prehistoric reason: to see what my wife is saying.







There is some irony in law breakers mouthing the jargons of law. Khaps are an informal grouping of clans and "gotras", whose rough justice demands obeisance from villagers they lord over. Their coercive diktats — most recently on annulling marriages within the same "gotra", and imposing exile and social boycotts on those who defy them — are a direct affront to the state. So there was a sense of surprise when a Mahapanchayat in Haryana, claiming to represent 36 khaps, passed a resolution asking for amendments to the Hindu Marriage Act. Their demands were twofold: those from the same "gotra" must be prohibited from marrying each other, and parents must sign off on their children's marriages.


Of course, there is no basis to ban intermarriage within gotras; the Hindu Marriage Act does ban certain "degrees of prohibited relationships", but "gotra" is not, and cannot, be one of them. And requiring parental consent before marriage is as retrograde as it gets. The motive for these amendments is to preserve the power of these bodies that derive it from nothing more than the ability to intimidate. It is not just that the khap leaders feign ignorance of the trajectory of modernising that has informed reform in personal law, for instance the Hindu Marriage Act. Passed in 1955, the law, part of a Hindu Code Bill, was piloted through by a determined Jawaharlal Nehru amidst stiff opposition from President Rajendra Prasad and members of his own party who deemed it too progressive.


The bigger issue is, why is the Haryana government reluctant to take action against these unlawful law givers? The votebanks that these khaps claim to represent too easily dissuade politicians from taking stronger action. The actions of khaps are punishable by existing law. But if ever there is a change required, it is to our criminal laws to specifically target khap panchayats for taking the law into their hands.







The US treasury secretary will have to decide soon if China is a "currency manipulator". Certainly, it is hard to say that the Chinese yuan is anything but undervalued. The question of whether it is then "deliberately undervalued" has a tint of ridiculousness — once everyone agrees it is undervalued, and the currency is managed by a monetary authority, can it be anything but deliberately undervalued? Saying that out loud, however, as the new European Union trade commissioner did recently, is likely to cause China's leaders to adopt a familiar, crab-like, hyper-nationalist stance, one that panders to that increasingly vocal section of China's middle class that remains convinced the rest of the world is out to bully it.


This is deeply unfortunate. For it is not just the rest of the world that suffers when China subsidises its exporters by intervening in currency markets to keep the yuan cheap. That policy exposes the Chinese economy, too, to unconscionable risks. First of all, of course, there's the straightforward question of inflation: allowing the yuan to become more expensive compared to foreign currencies will make dollar-denominated goods cheaper to those on Chinese salaries, helping keep China's rising cost of living down. That will tie neatly into what China's long-term strategy should be: to raise consumer spending in its unbalanced internal economy, in order to create permanent, domestic demand for its own goods.


But, most of all, the yuan needs to be allowed to find its own level so the Chinese monetary authorities can turn to their own interest rates. Big Chinese real estate firms slid in value this week as a consensus began to form — led by the Asian Development Bank — that real estate there is in a bubble. That is deeply problematic: 60 per cent of China's GDP is construction related, and it is the source of most of that country's vaunted growth. Rates will need some micro-management if the bubble is to burst before it reaches unmanageable proportions. Hopefully, political stubbornness won't get in the way.








Lalit Modi, the Indian Premier League's commissioner, has never been shy of overstatement, so the swing to subtlety on Wednesday was conspicuous. He called the Kochi controversy a "small matter", one that would nonetheless be dealt with. That small matter has drawn to Minister of State for External


Affairs Shashi Tharoor allegations of abuse of authority, and by implication to the Congress party and the UPA government the onus of taking a clear-eyed view of his conduct. In that sense, it is a not-so-small matter that must be handled by both party and government. That really is not Modi's domain. But the matter thrown up by Modi's unexpected act of whistle-blowing, one that falls quite squarely upon the Board of Control for Cricket in India, too is much larger than just the fate of the Kochi franchise. Modi's weekend-ful of tweets has exposed the power struggle within the BCCI and confirmed suspicions about the arbitrariness and, worse, personal interests that dictate the conduct of Indian cricket. And given the context, the imposition of transparency on the sport must begin at the IPL.


As a concept that arrived in its first season in 2008 fully actualised, the IPL has awed with its scale and success. Its eclipse of international cricket has been so complete it is easy to forget that it is essentially a domestic tournament of the BCCI — and that while the IPL is a commercially canny construct, it derives its legitimacy to harness talent because of the BCCI. This IPL is the BCCI's. It's an obvious thing that must be restated because the current illusion of the league's separateness obscures the damages wrought on Indian cricket by the IPL's functioning. Sport is by necessity a public activity, one that must be transparently conducted and be accountable to a larger set than the society or federation in charge. This is also because sport benefits from government assistance, but that is only a part of it. Therefore, for all the private money infused into the IPL by franchisees, the implications for cricket in India must be carefully weighed. Take, for instance, the possibility of conflict of interest through association with the IPL of those who run the BCCI or state cricket bodies or those mandated with selection or coaching. This, too, is why transparency on the shareholding of all franchises is crucial. The air must be cleansed of the allegations and suspicions being tossed around.


For too long into the IPL's existence, a culture of non-criticism has been inflicted on the way the game is broadcast and opened to scrutiny. That the murkiness within has been exposed by infighting by IPL stakeholders and cricket bosses is not just an irony. It is a sign that something is very wrong with cricket in India.








One can sympathise with the empowered group of ministers (EGOM). It is caught in a cleft stick and much of it is the government's own doing. First, the government has made a hash of identifying the poor. Should one use the NSS (National Sample Survey) in identifying the poor, even for subsidy transfers from the Centre to the states? Large-sample NSS data surface with a time-lag and NSS is a survey, not a census. Using the 2004-05 NSS, we have four sets of poverty numbers floating around — the Planning Commission's original 27.5 per cent, the National Commission for Enterprises in the Unorganised Sector's 77 per cent, Suresh Tendulkar's 37.2 per cent and the rural development ministry's 50 per cent. While the original data source is identical, what differs is definition of the poverty line.


In June 2009, the president addressed Parliament and set out what can be called this government's reform agenda. This mentioned decentralised identification of BPL beneficiaries through gram sabhas and urban local bodies (ULBs), with lists placed in the public domain, so that they can be challenged. Whether this can at all work through ULBs is debatable. But it should be workable through panchayats and gram sabhas. However, there must be criteria for automatic exclusion from BPL and automatic inclusion in BPL. When the EGOM now refers the BPL issue back to the Planning Commission, we are revisiting the use of socio-economic parameters.


These are not new and the Planning Commission has used them since at least the Ninth Plan (1997-2002). Across the Ninth and Tenth Plans, assorted parameters were used — ownership of land, possession of consumer durables, type of house, literacy, means of livelihood, access to water and sanitation and so on. While one can add and subtract parameters, there can be no debate that these are reasonable indicators of deprivation. However, using them implies two things: first, getting away from NSS; and second, acceptance that poverty is an individual-cum-household characteristic, imperfectly captured in collective categories like caste, gender, ethnicity and religion. To state the obvious, using collective categories leads to a double mistake — including (because they are part of the collective) those who should be excluded; and excluding (because they aren't part of the collective) those who should be included. This government's mindset, across policy interventions, is based on collective generalisations. Therefore, regardless of what the Planning Commission comes up with, the EGOM will remain in a cleft stick. In six years, counting from 2004, the government hasn't progressed at all on identifying BPL and one should have resolved the issue before plugging it into the president's address.


The second problem concerns the definition of food. As a digression, there is an all-embracing definition of food in the Prevention of Food Adulteration Act (1954), where food is defined as "any article used as food or drink for human consumption other than drugs and water". The president's address to Parliament also mentioned the Food Security Act and interpreted food as rice or wheat. (Whether it should be 25 kg or more and whether it should be Rs 3 per kg or less is a separate matter.) Notice there has been a switch away from cereal consumption even among the poor — towards fruits and vegetables, dairy products, eggs and poultry. How can food then be defined as rice and wheat? It should include coarse grains, fruits and vegetables, pulses, sugar, edible oils, even dairy products, eggs and poultry.


India's performance is pathetic on the Global Hunger Index, assorted other publications by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) and the UN (Human Development Report included). This becomes worse with food price inflation and medium-term reasons behind increases in food prices (environmental changes, income and consumption growth, stagnant supply) aren't going to go away. How can one have a narrow and strait-jacketed definition of food as rice and wheat alone? There must be a universal definition of food. And because transition from collective to individual/ household-based determination of poverty is politically unacceptable, there must be universal access to food security. Targeting is unacceptable. To again restate the obvious, problems with the definition of food should also have been anticipated before plugging this into the president's address.


Should one do a calculation that has been done several times before? An annual food subsidy bill of Rs 56,000 crore and a BPL population of 300 million means a subsidy of Rs 1,867 per capita per year, Rs 156 per month. With five people per poor household, that is Rs 778 per month per household. Even if one assumes retail price of Rs 20 a kg for rice/ wheat (considerably higher than the procurement price), this translates into almost 39 kg a month, higher than the promised 25 kg and higher than the Supreme Court's 35 kg. Earlier, only economists used to criticise the PDS (by implication, also FCI) as inefficient and corrupt. Now a Supreme Court-appointed committee has also done so.


There was a National Development Council meeting on December 19, 2007 and P. Chidambaram, UPA-I's finance minister, said it cost the government Rs 3.65 to transfer Re 1 of food to the poor. Even more directly, here is another quote from Chidambaram as finance minister: "In the Tenth Plan document, the Planning Commission had suggested that a system of distributing food stamps should be tested on a pilot basis. Every eligible family will be entitled to collect its monthly quota of food stamps from a designated distribution centre, and such stamps could then be used to buy foodgrains from any food shop.


I propose to introduce a pilot scheme for distributing food stamps, instead of distributing food through fair price shops, in two or three contiguous districts in a selected state."


Most of us have forgotten, but that is a quote from UPA-I's first Budget in 2004-05. Stated differently, the agenda for conditional cash transfers (even if we don't accept unconditional cash transfers) has been pending for six years, since food stamps can be interpreted as a system of conditional quasi-cash transfers. The agenda for identifying the poor has been pending since at least the Ninth Plan, if not earlier. It is because UPA-I didn't address them that UPA-II's EGOM is now caught in a cleft stick. The 1991-92 Budget speech is historic because it unleashed reforms and concluded with a quote from Victor Hugo to the effect that no power on earth can stop an idea whose time has come. One of its minor details was that it abolished the sugar subsidy. During UPA-I, the prime minister mentioned subsidy-targeting in 22 of his speeches. Had some of it translated into action, the EGOM would have had an easier time. After all, the right to education can be interpreted as government abdicating its role and opting for private sector delivery. That's what we should do with right to food too.


The writer is a Delhi-based economist








Over the years, the Indian scientific establishment has faced various hurdles because of non-cooperation in technology transfer by major powers. India was denied various technologies because of its nuclear posture for many decades. When the Indo-US nuclear deal was signed in 2005, it was argued that this one event is going to end India's so-called technological apartheid. One great advantage of this apartheid was that the Indian scientific community was forced to involve itself fully in developing various key technologies indigenously. India's nuclear weapons programme is one example. Now, India's premier space organisation, ISRO, is planning to demonstrate indigenously developed cryogenic technology.


On April 15, ISRO is planning to launch a 49m tall Geo-synchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle (GSLV-D3), with an indigenously developed cryogenic engine. Such engines are the highest performing rocket motors and provide high fuel efficiency. During the early '90s, then-Russian President Boris Yeltsin had offered a $350 million deal between ISRO and the Russian space agency, Glavkosmos, to deliver cryogenic engines and space technology for India's space programme. However, this promise was not delivered because of pressure from the United States. The US authorities believed that any technological transfer in the field of cryogenics could be diverted to ballistic missile development knowledge. With the ISRO-Glavkosmos proposed cooperation, the US believed that such exports violated the rules of the missile technology control regime, which banned the sale of production technology for missiles which are able to carry a payload of 500 kilograms to a distance of 300 kilometres or more. For the last few years, India has used "off the shelf" purchased cryogenic engines from Russia for some of its satellite launches (luckily this deal was not objected to, too).


Cryogenic technology has a long history. It was being studied even during the period of World War I. However, even today, only five countries — the US, Russia, Japan, France and China — possess this technology. This technology could, in a way, be said to have its origin in missile technology. Scientists of the erstwhile USSR were looking for more powerful boosters during the '40s and '50s for their nuclear warheads and this demanded investments in cryogenics. In 1957, the USSR successfully tested the R-7 Semyorka intercontinental ballistic missile (ICMB). Its global range and large payload (around 5 tonnes) demonstrated its effectiveness as a strategic delivery system for nuclear warheads. More importantly, it also demonstrated its use as an excellent basis for a space vehicle.


For India, the launch of the GSLV-D3 mission on April 15 is of big significance. It took 19 years for ISRO to put the cryogenic technology in place. This period looks very long but it needs to be understood that any scientific experimentation takes time for its fructification. This technology is crucial for putting communication satellites weighing more than 2,000 kg into a geo-synchronous transfer orbit (GTO).


A successful test on April 15 would also demonstrate ISRO's capability to launch heavier communication satellites weighting 4,500 to 5,000 kg in future.


This launch would attract the attention of many international customers. Already, ISRO has undertaken commercial launches for countries like Italy and Israel with its PSLV and by this launch it would also demonstrate its capability to launch heavy satellites in the orbit. Many developing countries are keen to have their own communication satellites in space to provide them a worldwide link-up of radio, telephone, and television and may request ISRO to conduct such launches for them.


During the last 19 years, while developing these cryogenic engines, ISRO must have developed many other complex technologies like operating rotary pumps and turbines that run at 42,000 revolutions per minute (rpm) at very low temperatures. Also, the entire process must have helped them understand material sciences better. All this will help their future space missions.


Will the development of cryogenic engines help India's missile programme? That is not likely since the DRDO already has a successful missile programme and a well-articulated missile roadmap for the future. On the other hand, ISRO runs a civilian space programme. Today, transfer of this technology to military purposes could put ISRO back under the international sanctions regime. Even today, ISRO depends on other countries to import critical components and it would not like to swim in troubled waters. However, since the technology is being developed within the country, indirect benefits cannot be ruled out.


The time has come for India to look beyond ISRO's success in the space arena. The era of bloodless warfare is fast approaching. Recent reports indicating large-scale cyber attacks on Indian soil having a Chinese signature are alarming. China has already spelt its designs in space by launching its own satellite in 2007. Space is the battleground of the future. India needs to understand that, in the 21st century, it is not only important to launch satellites, but also prepare to guard them against any enemy attack.


The writer is a research fellow at the Institute for Defence Studies & Analyses, Delhi








The transparency of ownership in the Indian Premier League, or IPL, has garnered much attention of late, with much of the focus being on the equity ownership of the new Kochi franchise. While it would be premature to speculate on whether or not the ownership of the ten franchises is of questionable antecedents, what seems to have gone relatively unnoticed in all the fuss is that this is an extremely positive development, albeit if carried out under duress.


There shouldn't be an iron curtain when it comes to information on team and league ownership in professional sports leagues. Indeed, the IPL is one of the only global sports leagues about which so little is known when it comes to the stakeholders. Until now this was not really an issue; but transparency in ownership is a must, as is accountability of the league and confidence in its conforming with legal and ethical considerations.


It is, after all, about to enter the next phase of its existence. Investments in the teams are imminent. So are, reportedly, changes of ownership and of control of the franchises. Prior to these contracts taking place, there should be a clear cut methodology in place that governs how the league does its due diligence when it is to induct new ownership.  


Globally, there isn't a hard and fast rule that describes the structure of professional sports leagues; nor is there any such rule when it comes to the ownership pattern of the teams within them. Yes, it is true that the fact remains that ownership in professional sports leagues — especially where there are large consortiums owning a particular team — are hard to regulate and verify. However, the first step is transparency, and a clear-cut guideline of ownership which would stipulate the ownership eligibility criterion. Once the eligibility criterion is met, then one can verify the funding and ownership.


The National Football League and the English Premier League are two of the most profitable and popular sports leagues in the world. Their respective league rules however mandate contrasting ownership structures.  


The NFL, arguably the most lucrative and successful professional sports league in the world, has a somewhat unique ownership structure, one which allows it to maintain strict control over management and ownership of teams. Unlike other leagues, there is absolutely no corporate ownership allowed, and the ownership groups must contain twenty-four or fewer individuals. The general partner and his/her family must together own thirty percent or more of the team, and any change in ownership is strictly regulated. The reasoning behind this is also linked to ensuring focused management with a singular vision as well as consistent and long term ownership. The ownership for the most part is transparent, and for all intents and purposes, above-board.  


The EPL is the exact opposite, where size and influence have mattered. The sale or purchase of Manchester United, Chelsea, Liverpool and Arsenal are frequently debated, and due diligence and background checks that have been conducted are sometimes questioned with respect to their thoroughness. The ownership guidelines have been questioned, too, along with their implementation.


The EPL faces, as well, questions about the nature of foreign investment in its clubs. While foreign investment has propped up the league and made it a global powerhouse, many of the clubs are debt-ridden, and the cleanliness of the funds and ownership has been a subject of mass speculation.   


Other professional sports leagues follow different patterns. Some leagues own their teams outright; investors then pay for the rights to manage and host a particular team's games. There is no clear-cut formula for how leagues are owned globally. 


While foreign ownership in the US leagues hasn't been much of a factor, the EPL on the other hand has seen a mass influx of foreign investment, and there are concerns as to whether or not the ownership guidelines would need to be tweaked. The Thaksin fiasco with Manchester City — in which the controversial former Prime Minister of Thailand briefly became the storied club's majority shareholder before selling out to an Abu-Dhabi based consortium — led to calls for curbing foreign investment But what the debt-ridden EPL clubs desperately need is equity financing.


What is more likely is a more rigorous 'know your investor' credential and background check, so as to ensure the sanctity of management and ownership of these teams. This is also something the IPL can adopt so as to avoid future spats, and ensure there is a systematic procedure in place. If it learns from the EPL, then it has found a good model to emulate. 


The writer is a Delhi-based sports attorney







There's something about the IPL we cannot understand. And that's the commentary. Don't you find yourself straining your ears to make sense of Danny Morrison & Co?


IPL has employed cricket commentators and former international players from around the globe for the tournament including India, Sri Lanka, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, the West Indies and England. Like the IPL, this is a great advertisement for the globalisation of the game — but cricket commentary it is, often, not. Our hearing aids (namely, ears) find it difficult to convert sound waves into comprehensible words when accompanied by Australasian or West Indian accents. By dint of watching Hollywood films and TV shows we manage to get what Americans mean when they speak — but only just. These voices from Down Under? They're like a verbal jigsaw puzzle: baffling until you get it.


More so since commentators speak in the heat of the action. In their excitement, they increase the speed of their speech delivery to match the game's tempo. Words run into one another and the resulting collision is, unfortunately, not music to the ears. Sometimes, it's difficult to differentiate between a commentator and the Zoozoos in the Vodafone TV commercials. Honest.


And if we, who claim to speak English, find the hearing tough, what about those who don't know A from B? Non-English speakers love their cricket too. Apparently, Sony Max does offer Hindi commentary that apparently DTH companies pass on to their viewers. Web comments on the quality of this commentary are mostly unprintable. The kindest remark is that it is like Doordarshan's used to be.




So what do you do? Why, just watch the matches.


A funny thing happened to the TV serial on the way to the small screen. It began to look like big brother. So if you are a besotted devotee of Sapna Babul Ka Bidai (Star Plus), you would, no doubt have watched the rain scene last week when the male and female characters were drenched in water, their clothes clinging to them like a first skin. As the raindrops kept falling on their heads and faces, partially blinding them, the music increased to keep up with the shower. The man's body parts were becomingly sculpted (all the better to appreciate his physique) as he swung into action and walloped the miscreants who were trying to separate him from her and him from his clothes. A fight followed in which our man was floored by several blows before he hit back. The villains hastily escaped in a vehicle, our hero turned to the girl who appeared to be weeping but you don't know for sure — it was raining, remember?


From rain scene via fight sequence, to song and dance. On Yeh Pyar Na Hoga Kam (Colors), the lead pair was seated on a park bench. It was a sunny day (no rain!), they exchanged smiles, the music went romantic, a cue for the girl to rise and coquettishly give him the come hither before walking away whereupon he extended an arm and burst into song. It was so, so Bollywood. 


The star-crossed lovers, the wicked mother-in-law, the cycle of death and rebirth, the gargantuan bungalows with central stairwells, all that glitters and is not gold, are just a few other examples of Hindi film's influences on TV.


This inheritance of gloss, stock characters and plots from Bollywood suggests that television entertainment has not evolved into a unique cultural form. It's taken the melodrama out of films and made a serial business out of it. Viewers know the terrain, it is well traversed and comforting. Path-breaking shows are few and far between. Those that try to be different — such as Mahi Way (Sony) — don't seem to curry much favour with viewers. As for sitcoms, that's a laugh: where are they? On Sab TV and with very poor viewership. So the only competition to the serial is reality TV. So are you surprised the IPL is doing so well?








It is perhaps both tragic and ironic that Aligarh Muslim University professor Srinivas Ramachandra Siras went from virtual anonymity to being certain to be remembered — but not as the exemplary teacher of Marathi that he was, but as the man who may have died because he was caught on camera having sex with a rickshaw-puller. As we wait on the judgment whether his death was a suicide, a murder or had 'natural' causes, there is widespread and bitter outrage among the gay community across the Indian subcontinent.


Only 4 per cent of India's population of 1.2 billion are 'out' lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and inter-sex people (LGBTI); only a minuscule number of people have dared to come out of the closet on a university campus; and of that, an even smaller percentage are living in situations of relative safety with a modicum of dignity. Despite a growing number of queer-friendly pockets supporting the fledgling queer community, university campuses continue, sadly, to be a vexed space for teachers who decide to come out as queer or LGBTI.


It would be easy to dismiss the Siras incident as stray and attribute it to small town attitudes. But, unfortunately, many of our so-called progressive spaces are not free of homophobic attitudes — especially when it comes to a queer teacher on campus, given that university authorities have now taken it upon themselves to set up their own moral police brigades and are already deciding who is and isn't fit to teach.


Take the instance of Dr Shivaji Panikkar, the former Head of Department of Art History at the Faculty of Fine Arts, Maharaja Sayajirao University, (MSU) in Baroda.


For those who missed the news, Panikkar was suspended after his support of student N. Chandramohan, who was attacked by right-wing cadres for some of his art works that formed part of the final exams at the Faculty Gallery. The faculty was pressing for a letter of apology from Panikkar, who stood up to the vice-chancellor and university authorities. They then unanimously agreed upon Chandramohan's immediate suspension and dismissal from the campus, on the grounds that he had hurt the sentiments of "certain" religious groups, through his interpretation of Durga and Christ.


This was not surprising. As a teacher and guide, Panikkar believed in pushing boundaries. He encouraged his students to look beyond their prescribed syllabus and even held seminars on art and activism — where this reporter once presented a paper, in a momentous coming out on a campus that was largely hostile to her identity as a queer person.


Although Panikkar's indefinite suspension has been widely protested, his career as an academic continues to hang in limbo as the university refuses to rehire or fire him.   


One cannot help but note that the faculty was more vocal in their support of Panikkar's 'radical activities' when he was safely closeted within the space of marriage.


Panikkar knew he was tilting at windmills when he stepped out of the closet, chose to move in with his gay partner and adopt a child after his divorce. What he did not factor in is that he would be charging them alone. While he continues to lecture at more queer-friendly spaces like the India Art Summit, and the Nigah Queer Festival, his life's work is clearly at MSU. We are still waiting for his reinstatement.


Then take the case of Aniruddhan, a junior research fellow at Chennai University. His dissertation examined queer subtexts within English literature; he was unable to find a guide willing to support it. He finally found one; but, as he began stepping out of the closet through political, visible action as a queer activist, his guide began expressing increasing discomfort. She had hoped that her support of his dissertation would remain a token to a queer student who wouldn't ruffle too many feathers. Chennai had virtually no support systems on campus at the time and the only encouragement Aniruddhan got was from authors Salim Kidwai and Ruth Vanita whose book Same Sex Love in India has been a path breaking study of queer representation in Indian literary texts. Under duress, Aniruddhan decided to pull out of the university. He now heads Sakti Research Centre for LGBTI.  


The one silver lining to this dark tale is the University of Pune where author Raj Rao — encouraged by the wave of appreciation generated by his first novel The Boyfriend — started a queer study circle on campus. The positive attitude generated in literary circles translated into a supportive attitude towards Rao's work, and he has not faced any direct attacks of homophobia. Instead, Pune University has encouraged his plans to hold seminars, screenings and talks on queer issues.  


As the community mourns Siras' death, groups of concerned individuals are uncovering gorier stories of victimised students, and many more dismissals of professors that have so far gone unrecorded. The teacher's intervention petition filed by sixteen educationists across Delhi and Mumbai in the high court this April asserts that the voice of dissent against such heinous acts will only rise. Educational institutions must become safe spaces for students and teachers, no matter what their sexual orientation may be.









Editorials in the latest issues of the RSS mouthpieces Organiser and Panchajanya discuss the Naxal menace, stressing the need to "have political will" and "national resolve to finish Maoists till the last." "They (the Naxals) claim that their war is against class enemies, against the state, to overthrow democratically elected governments. Their ideological fraternity who masquerade as intellectuals, writers and human rights activists move in elite circuit, write columns, live in style and comfort. They rationalise, downplay, and confuse the government and civil society. India is a soft state," says the editorial in the English mouthpiece, Organiser, without referring to any particular political parties. The Panchajanya editorial argues along similar lines that "partisan politics must not be part of fighting Maoism-Naxalism." It also goes on to pat Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Raman Singh in the back for undertaking the Salwa Judum drive in the state that, the editorial argues, proved effective in pinning down Naxals. The editorial in the RSS Hindi mouthpiece also says that the "Church, Jihadis and comrades are abetting activities of anti-India Maoists-Naxalites." Both call for "giving a free hand to security personnel to exterminate the insurgents till the last cadre."



After both RSS mouthpieces carried editorials in defence of Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi, this week Organiser carries a picture of Modi on its cover, headlined "Modi a victim of vicious Left-Islamist canard"; a full-page article is carried on an inside page by O.P. Gupta, a retired IFS officer, who writes that "chief ministers and ministers are required to limit themselves only to laying down policies and hold periodic reviews thereof."


He compares Gujarat with Orissa, in his write-up. "Chief Minister and ministers are neither authorised by law nor by convention to get involved into day-to-day operations, much less directing deployment of platoons and battalions of police constables. Whether police force should go to place X or to place Y is to be decided by district SP and not by a chief minister. Therefore the question 'why did Modi not send police to (Ehsan) Jaffrey residence' is just not maintainable," claims Gupta, and goes on to add: "Can Naveen Patnaik, the chief minister of Orissa, be held criminally liable for murder of Swami Laxamananda and his four disciples as he had failed to provide security to Swami, though he had written to the chief minister months before, seeking police protection?"



The BJP's new team may have reiterated that development would remain its thrust area, but Organiser columnist Jay Dubashi has a few posers for the party. "There is no organisation in the world which says that it's against development. So development in itself cannot be much of a policy. You need a policy that favours the common man directly," he writes. He cites the passage of the recent health reform bill in USA, and exhorts BJP to further sharpen its development agenda. "The Democrats in the USA have passed a new reform bill that benefits or is supposed to benefit 45 million Americans from the word go. This is a revolutionary achievement, whatever its eventual cost, which is precisely why the Republicans don't know how to react to it," he writes. Talking about inflation and unemployment, he says that "any party that comes out with a clear blueprint for jobs will win hands down."



The BJP's in-house journal Kamal Sandesh carries an editorial on rising prices, and says that the party is committed to making its show of strength on an anti-price rise stir, on April 21 in the capital, "a huge success". "Steadfastness in ideology, strength of commitment and call for struggle has infused a new sense of life in the party. April 21 will be a day for re-injecting a sense of faith in Indian politics... The signature campaign on the anti-price rise plank is having an echo in every nook and corner of the country. The government of the aam aadmi is openly oppressing the aam aadmi..."













The US government will soon take a final call on whether to label China a 'currency manipulator'. If the US government does take this unprecedented step, it will likely follow it with sanctions on China. This could trigger a bigger trade war between the world's two most important economies. Of course, there is plenty of evidence which clearly suggests that the yuan is undervalued. By definition, that would require intervention and manipulation by the Chinese central bank. Needless to say, such a strategy has helped China boost its exports and led it to amass a huge trade surplus, not just with the US but also with a lot of other economies, large and small. Still, there is good reason to argue that the US should not try and use political pressure to force the Chinese to revalue their exchange rate. The trade war that is likely to follow will be damaging to the global economy that is just about recovering from a protracted slowdown. As we have argued in these columns before, it is increasingly in China's self-interest to allow an appreciation of the yuan.


China's economy has recovered smartly from the global slowdown. In fact, there are genuine concerns about asset price bubbles, overheating and inflation in the economy. The single best way to tackle these would be to let the yuan appreciate. Remember also that it is impossible to have free capital flows and a fixed exchange rate and yet retain independence of monetary policy—the impossible trinity. China should give in on the exchange rate front and acquire more flexibility on the monetary policy front. There is also a longer-term structural issue that has emerged after the global economic crisis—China needs to begin consuming more, and countries like the US need to consume less, to maintain a balance in the global economy. Again, it is in China's interest not to be over-dependent on exports. The economics of the matter, even from the Chinese perspective, is in favour of an appreciation of the yuan. Nationalist political pressures in China and the US make the issue more complicated than it otherwise might be. At this stage, it is in everyone's best interest that politics not derail a necessary adjustment. There is much at stake for countries other than the US and China in this adjustment. India and other emerging economies also suffer because of China's undervalued exchange rate. Everyone will welcome a revaluation of the yuan without the messy politics.







The ministry of finance is clearly pleased about the money that will come its way owing to the 3G auction and through the sale of shares in PSUs. But revenue for the government is the least important aspect of both these important issues. A glance back at the story of mobile phones is instructive. The rise of private and foreign companies offering mobile phones to Indian consumers has been a boon for the Indian economy. It has bolstered India's GDP growth and facilitated poverty reduction. These are the issues that matter. Whether mobile telephony generated revenues for the government or not is unimportant. Revenues for the government should come out of GST and personal income tax. Good governments in the world fund themselves by building a sound GST and a sound personal income tax regime. Chasing other sources of revenue is at best a distraction or at worst a source of distortions. As an example, it is easy to build a policy framework for mobile telephony or 3G that makes more money for the government but reduces access to these services for citizens. But that would be wrong.


In the 1990s, many years were wasted in telecom reform, when the entry of private and foreign companies into telephony in India was caught up in the complexities of trying to obtain very large payments from them. However, this was a mistake on two counts. First, it induced a loss of time, and each year of delay in bringing in state-of-the-art technology is lost time for India's GDP growth. Second, it is wrong to impose a large burden of taxation on any one sector. Big payments from telecom firms to the government are tantamount to imposing an excise upon telecom consumers, which is wrong. The only role for the auction is an allocative one: to choose which firms have the highest capability to utilise the scarce resource (spectrum). Beyond that, a revenue-maximising stance by the government is wrong. Similar issues prevail with privatisation. The first purpose of partial or complete privatisation should be to improve the efficiency with which labour and capital are used in the country, so as to boost GDP growth. We must avoid any hint of government gifting away assets to cronies. But short of that, the government's job is to constantly sell off these assets and get out of the world of business, without worrying about whether the proceeds are too low or whether a few more years of delay can increase the proceeds. The government must think about how to help India grow, and not about how to fill its coffers.








It can be nobody's claim that India's remarkable growth over the last two decades has eradicated all forms of poverty and under-development. It is also difficult to dispute the fact that those parts of the country (mostly in central and eastern India) that are now in the grip of Maoist rebels are the most under-developed. But to then argue, like some sympathisers of the Maoist cause do, that somehow the influence of private capital (and the accompanied 'exploitation') is responsible for the Maoist uprising, is incorrect. It is equally incorrect to argue that the Maoists, who cling onto a violent and failed ideology, are somehow acting in the interests of uplifting the people (mostly tribals) of the regions they now claim to dominate. Here's why.


Think back to what perpetuated the under-development in the first place. It wasn't the presence of massive amounts of private capital (that usually leads to the opposite in development outcomes) but rather the complete absence of it. The famous Left-wing Cambridge economist Joan Robinson once quipped that the only thing worse than being exploited by markets was not being exploited by markets.


The absence of markets in India's poorest regions was, of course, directly linked to the absence of even a semblance of the authority of the state in these regions. To function at all, markets need institutions of the state that can set and enforce some basic rules of the game. But since the state abdicated its role, markets or private capital never had a chance. It was this combination of complete state failure and complete market failure that created a vacuum both in terms of development and in terms of a structure of governance. The scenario was perfectly laid out for some group or the other to fill the vacuum and the Maoists did so.


India's experience with this type of insurgency is hardly unique. Hardline Left-wing revolutionaries found similar vacuums and occupied them in a number of countries—Shining Path in Peru and Farc in Colombia are notable examples. The pattern is uncannily similar. The complete absence of state and markets creates pockets of deprivation and under-development. Armed revolutionaries seize power locally, and set up a semblance of a state beginning with a system of justice enforcement (police and courts) and moving on to delivering certain public goods like schools and hospitals. All these activities are funded through a combination of taxes claimed from the local population and illicit activities like kidnapping and extortion.


For the local population, which had no pervious access to even a justice machinery, let alone schools or employment opportunities, the provision of some basic services by these non-state actors is often welcome at the initial stages. So, it is quite likely that Maoists acquired some popular support in India's tribal belt, at the initial stages of their takeover, just like they developed pockets of support in the most under-developed parts of Peru and Colombia.


But the sheen wears off the revolutionaries as quickly as it does with regular governments. As the Maoists take on the functions of the state, they too would be afflicted with common problems that face a lot of governments, like miscarriage of justice, which often translates into the brutality of justice handed out by a group that adheres to an ideology of violence. Gathering taxes from the local population is never popular. And over the medium term, the Maoists don't have any strategy to actually bring any semblance of prosperity to the locals. Add to that the fear of being caught in the crossfire between state forces and Maoists, and it is reasonable to assume that the Maoists are not likely to be quite the popular saviours of poor tribals, the Robin Hoodesque avatar in which some urban romantics like to view them.


It's just that the local population has no means to express their disapproval—no elections and the fear of retribution maintain the silence that is unfortunately seen by some as consent.


For all its many flaws, at least Indian democracy allows its citizens the right to decide who rules them once every five years. And citizens, including many of the poorest, have exercised that right judiciously. And while it is possible to be dissatisfied with outcomes, the state in India does eventually respond to the demands of its citizens, even the most deprived—the UPA government has, for example, spent much political and financial capital on NREG, loan waiver and other social sector programmes directed at the most needy.


The Maoists, on the other hand, are in no position to offer any of this. They are only willing to offer a violent overthrow of the Indian state, something that hardly guarantees tribals more development, or a better life. The only real way to development, for tribals and all others, is to get the right mix of state intervention and access to markets. The erstwhile Maoists of China realised this in the 1970s. The Maoists of India, like their counterparts in Peru and Colombia, are unlikely to see any virtue in the mainstream, not while they maintain what they believe is a superiority of their armed forces over the state's forces. So in the short run, the state has no option but to get tough. In the longer term, the state must persuade both the tribals and the Maoists who are willing to enter the mainstream that the Indian state, with the help of private capital—the exact policy mix can always be debated—can deliver development to even the most backward parts of the country.








The narrative of China's meteoric rise in the last couple of decades appears to have been taken straight from a textbook of economics. The country had a shortage of capital but an abundant, cheap labour force. The West had capital in abundance but an expensive labour force. The logic of arbitrage and specialisation then prompted multinationals to head towards China. Their profits soared, consumers in the West got accustomed to cheaper goods imported from China and the country started prospering. Everyone connected to this process seemed happy (except workers in the West who lost jobs), until the global recession kicked in.


Now, China bashing has become a favourite pastime of the western media due to its alleged role in manipulating the renminbi (RMB). The market for foreign exchange in China is strictly controlled by official regulations and the Chinese government sells RMB and buys up dollars (and other major currencies) to keep the value of the RMB in the neighbourhood of 6.80 RMB to the dollar. To be fair, the rate was around 8.25 in 2005 and China followed the path of gradual adjustment until the rate hit its current level in the wake of the global recession in 2008. Detractors claim that an artificially weakened RMB is contributing to global imbalances because it gives Chinese exporters an undue advantage at the expense of global competitors. In the run-up to the November election to the Congress and unemployment levels hitting close to 10%, law-makers in the Democratic party have started pressurising the Obama administration to initiate steps against the Chinese policy of keeping the RMB weak through its transactions in the world currency markets.


Different studies offer different estimates of undervaluation. These range from 40% (based on the presumption that the current account balance is the sole determining factor of exchange rates) to 12% (based on the purchasing power parity argument). China's current account surplus was $46 billion in 2003 and is expected to rise to $360 billion by the end of 2010. Many critics argue that such a phenomenal rise in trade surplus can partially be attributed to currency manipulations.


So far the Chinese authorities have resisted pressure on this front. From China's point of view, there are several reasons that explain their reluctance to follow a market-oriented policy in the foreign exchange market. First, severe capital flight during the Asian crisis of 1997 taught many countries a lesson, leading all of them (not China alone), to accumulate large reserves of foreign exchange. Second, many Chinese officials believe that the decision to revalue the Japanese Yen, in the wake of pressure in the mid-nineties, prolonged a severe recession in the country and China does not want to repeat the mistake. Third, noted MIT political scientist, Professor Yesheng Huang, argues that it is not the appreciation of the RMB but the speed of appreciation that matters most to China. If done gradually, it will lead to a speculative bubble because investors will believe that sooner or later, the currency will appreciate again. In order to make arbitrage gains, they will invest heavily in real estate, which will generate a bubble in the property markets. This is already happening in Beijing, Shanghai, Hong Kong and other big cities and a slower adjustment in the rate of currency appreciation will make things much worse by fuelling the markets' expectation for further adjustment. On the other hand, a one shot big-bang appreciation will make the export sector vulnerable to bankruptcies and may lead to widespread unemployment in the country. The West argues that their stimulus programmes to boost aggregate demand are being undermined by an artificially low exchange rate in China because consumers in the West are buying Chinese, not domestic, goods. As a result, many countries are imposing non-tariff barriers to China's exports and China's complaints to WTO have increased dramatically, in spite of a 46% increase in exports to the rest of the world.


The situation thus mirrors the post depression era when the beggar-thy-neighbour policy of competitive currency devaluations and unfair trade practices delayed global recovery. The IMF and WTO were created to ease tensions between nations and to coordinate both finance and trade policies across the globe. It is time now for them to show that they have a set of teeth strong enough to bite when the parties involved in a dispute are the incumbent and would-be economic giants of the world.


The author is reader in finance at the University of Essex








The Sebi-Irda tangle over Ulips will have an impact on how retail investors will invest their money in the future. Ever since Ulips were introduced in the market, they have been a successful product; agents drove sales aggressively because of the hefty commission they received. Sebi had earlier banned entry load on mutual fund products that diverted agents' attention away from these products and into Ulips.


By selling Ulips, an agent gets a commission of around 40% of the premium in the first year and around 15-20% in the second. After the third year, the agents are left with little incentive to sell the product and they start selling new products. Sebi banned entry load on mutual fund products last year and agents were selling this mutual fund product camouflaged as insurance products. Data suggests that the total amount of first-year single premium collected by Ulips in the last one year was Rs 15,838 crore, accounting for about 41 lakh policies. In contrast, for traditional life insurance plans, the premium collection was Rs 2,063 crore from about 6 lakh policies. This clearly shows that Ulips were clocking much higher sales than traditional insurance covers.


Last month, in March, when most people plan their tax savings, many insurance companies launched an innovative Ulip product by promising to repay the investor on the basis of highest NAV that the fund achieved. Though a lot of investors got attracted to the scheme, what was actually offered was an investment system with a very long lock-in period where protection is achieved by putting the gains in fixed income assets. Moreover, these schemes do not provide a wide range of product categories, such as equity-oriented growth funds and balance funds.


The so-called guarantee was actually a marketing gimmick—the market regulator does not allow mutual funds to guarantee returns. But since the insurance regulator Irda can approve such schemes, insurance companies lined up products at a time when most investors draw up their annual tax saving plans. Such misselling of financial products must be regulated by the market regulator, Sebi.








The painfully protracted saga of P.D. Dinakaran is becoming more embarrassing by the day with the Karnataka Chief Justice's brazen and continuing defiance of judicial propriety. His refusal to go on leave, as recently advised by the Supreme Court collegium, has exposed the powerlessness of this body, headed by the Chief Justice of India, and further dented the image of the higher judiciary. It was in the face of such recalcitrance that the ill-considered proposal to transfer him as Chief Justice of the Sikkim High Court was mooted. While the collegium evidently saw a transfer to what is the smallest High Court in the country as a form of punishment, it failed to ask the obvious question: if Justice Dinakaran, who faces charges of corruption and land-grab, is unfit for Karnataka, how can he be suitable for Sikkim or, for that matter, any other State? This is exactly what the Sikkim Bar Association was asking during its protests, which eventually torpedoed the transfer proposal. Rather than resign in the face of a total lack of public confidence in his reputation, Justice Dinakaran has decided to brazen it out. At one level, his refusal to go on leave exposes the limitations of the collegium. While this panel has the power to recommend the appointment, transfer, and elevation of judges, it does not have the authority to compel a judge to proceed on leave. This lacuna draws attention to the urgent need for a quick and effective statutory mechanism to remove errant judges, now governed by the cumbersome and time-consuming process of impeachment.


The impeachment process is so unwieldy that judges could be tempted to remain in office and ride it out. This is exactly what Justice Soumitra Sen of the Calcutta High Court is doing. It was two years ago that impeachment proceedings were kick-started against him on the recommendation of the Chief Justice of India following allegations of financial misappropriation, but the matter is still at the inquiry stage. Impeachment proceedings have also been initiated against Justice Dinakaran but it is far from certain when or whether the various steps required under the Judges Inquiry Act, 1968 will be taken before the matter comes up finally for vote in Parliament. In the only instance when an impeachment motion against a judge was voted upon by Parliament — in 1993, when Justice V. Ramaswami was in the dock — it was defeated. Justice Dinakaran's continuing defiance underlines the importance of seriously pursuing the proposed Judges Standards and Accountability Bill, which promises to strengthen judicial accountability by introducing a more efficient mechanism to govern the removal of errant judges.







It is unlikely that the government of Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva in Thailand will last much longer. Over the last few weeks, it has been the target of protesters who have poured into Bangkok from the rural hinterland. Grouped under the banner of United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship, the protesters owe allegiance to Thaksin Shinawatra, who was ousted from the premiership in a military coup in 2006. The demonstrations, which had been peaceful from the time they began in mid-March, turned violent last Saturday, resulting in the death of 21 people in clashes between the protesters and the security forces. The government's heavy-handed approach to dealing with the "red shirt" protesters has led to the deepening of the turmoil. Apprehensive of getting tainted by the crisis, the Thai Army, which manoeuvred Mr. Abhisit into office through deft backroom moves at the end of December 2008, has suggested dissolution of the government. This more or less seals the Prime Minister's fate. The sole option left to him is to call fresh elections. Should he try and dig his heels in, there is every possibility of a military coup to remove him. To add to his troubles, the country's election commission has ruled that his Democrat Party received illegal donations during the 2005 elections.


There is no guarantee, however, that elections will restore political stability in Thailand. The present struggle between the Red Shirts and the government is a battle for establishing the real centre of power in the Southeast Asian nation. So far, a combination of the military-backed urban and business elites has called the shots in politics and governance. Rural Thailand now wants a say in how the country is run. The reason it backs the fugitive Mr. Thaksin, an enormously wealthy businessman charged and convicted of corruption after his ouster, is that during his time in office, he assiduously built a base in this constituency with generous welfare schemes aimed at the rural poor. Should the pro-Thaksin forces seize power, the pro-establishment camp will go all out to wrest it back and the political situation will continue to be volatile. The Thai crisis is a copybook study of benighted civilian-military relations in a country where democracy is yet to take strong roots. Since 1932, when the last absolute monarch was overthrown, Thailand has experienced 18 military coups. Even after the 1992 transition to democracy from military rule, the Thai Army has remained a strong political force. Since the 2006 putsch, it has played a "guiding" role in politics. In Thailand, as in Pakistan, the failures of civilian politicians give the military all the advantage.










The forthcoming launch of the Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle (GSLV) will be a watershed for the Indian Space Research Organisation, marking the culmination of the quest for cryogenic technology that dates back to over 25 years and has seen many twists and turns.


Cryogenic technology involves the use of rocket propellants at extremely low temperatures. The combination of liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen offers the highest energy efficiency for rocket engines that need to produce large amounts of thrust. But oxygen remains a liquid only at temperatures below minus 183 {+0} Celsius and hydrogen at below minus 253 {+0} Celsius. Building a rocket stage with an engine that runs on such propellants means overcoming engineering challenges.


The United States was the first country to develop cryogenic rocket engines. The Centaur upper stage, with RL-10 engines, registered its first successful flight in 1963 and is still used on the Atlas V rocket. America's early mastery of the technology paved the way for the J-2 engine, which powered the upper stages of the immensely powerful Saturn V rocket that sent humans to the Moon.


Other spacefaring nations followed. The Japanese LE-5 engine flew in 1977, the French HM-7 in 1979 and the Chinese YF-73 in 1984. The Soviet Union, first country to put a satellite and later a human in space, successfully launched a rocket with a cryogenic engine only in 1987.


ISRO recognised the importance of cryogenic technology fairly early. A rocket stage based on a cryogenic engine offered the simplest way of transforming the Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV), intended to carry one-tonne earth-viewing satellites, into the far more powerful GSLV that could put communications satellites into the orbit.


In December 1982, six months after the PSLV project was cleared, a Cryogenic Study Team was set up. A year later, it submitted a report recommending the development of a cryogenic engine that could generate about 10 tonnes of thrust. The 15-volume report went into every aspect of developing the engine and rocket stage indigenously.


Then, strangely, ISRO went through a long period of indecision, dithering on whether to buy the technology or develop it on its own. Acquiring the technology from abroad would greatly reduce the time that would otherwise be needed, it argued.


But the U.S., Japan and France would either not provide the technology or do so only at an exorbitant price. Finally in January 1991, a deal was signed with the Soviet company Glavkosmos to buy two cryogenic flight stages as well as the technology to make them in India.


The 11D56 cryogenic engine had been developed for one of the upper stages of the mammoth N1 rocket, the Soviet equivalent of Saturn V. But after four successive launch failures, the N1 project was scrapped and its engines were mothballed. Under the Indo-Soviet deal, ISRO would get a stage built around the 11D56 cryogenic engine that could produce 7.5 tonnes of thrust. The stage would carry 12 tonnes of propellant.


But the deal violated the Missile Technology Control Regime, which was intended to prevent the spread of missile-related technology, and fell foul of the U.S. laws meant to enforce its provisions. Despite warnings from within the organisation, ISRO opted to go ahead with the import. In May 1992, the U.S. imposed sanctions on ISRO and Glavkosmos. A year later, Russia, which inherited the contract after the break-up of the Soviet Union, backed out of the deal.


ISRO then had no option but to develop the technology on its own. The Cryogenic Upper Stage project was launched in April 1994. Its aim was to develop a cryogenic engine and stage closely modelled on the Russian design.


At the time, ISRO gave the impression that much of the technology had already been acquired and further development would be quick. A GSLV with an indigenous cryogenic engine would be ready to fly in about four years, Chairman U.R. Rao told The Hindu in July 1993. The space agency's engineers were privately saying then that a flightworthy cryogenic stage was 10 years away. Instead, it has taken 16 years.


The Russian design involves a complicated 'staged combustion cycle' to increase the engine efficiency. Hydrogen is partially burnt with a little oxygen in a gas generator. The hot gases drive a turbopump and are then injected at high pressure into the thrust chamber where the rest of oxygen is introduced and full combustion takes place. Before going to the gas generator, the incredibly chilly liquid hydrogen is used to cool the thrust chamber where temperatures rise to over 3,000 {+0} Celsius when the engine is fired.


Reproducing the Russian design meant ISRO engineers also learning to deal with new materials and manufacturing methods. A process, known as vacuum brazing needed to make the engine's thrust chamber, for instance, took considerable time to master. Then there was the challenge posed by the powerful turbopump that rotates at a tremendous speed in order to send up to 18 kg of propellants every second into the thrust chamber. It must do so in the face of a sharp temperature gradient, with hot gases at over 500 {+0} Celsius driving the turbine, which then spins the pumps for freezing-cold propellants.


Steps were also taken so that materials required for the engine and stage could be made within the country.


The Indian cryogenic engine is produced by Godrej and the Hyderabad-based MTAR Technologies working together as a consortium. Instead of ISRO first mastering the technology and transferring it to industry, the two companies were involved from the start and even the early prototypes were built by them. Failure on their part was not an option and the space agency had to make sure that these companies succeeded.


Finally, in February 2000, the first indigenous cryogenic engine began to be test-fired on the ground. According to one source, things went wrong in one test and an engine ended up badly damaged. However, by December 2003, three engines had been ground-tested for a cumulative duration of over an hour and half. One of those engines was fired continuously for more than 16 minutes, four minutes longer than it would operate in actual flight. More tests with the engine integrated into the full stage followed. The cryogenic engine that will fly in the forthcoming GSLV launch was tested on the ground for a little over three minutes in December 2008.


Meanwhile, the Russians had supplied ISRO with seven ready-to-fly stages. But their 11D56 cryogenic engine had not flown before and the Indians faced some unpleasant surprises.


The first was that the Russian-supplied stages turned out to be heavier than expected. In order to carry the extra load, it is learnt, the Russians increased the maximum thrust that the 11D56 engine was capable of — from 7.5 tonnes to a little over eight tonnes. The engine operates at the higher thrust for only part of the duration of its flight. The Indian engine too had to be tested and made to work at the higher thrust level. Moreover, the Indian stage is lighter than the Russian one.


When the GSLV was first launched in April 2001, the Russian cryogenic engine was found to be less efficient

than predicted, based on a measure that rocket engineers call specific impulse. The increase in stage weight and decrease in efficiency together reduced the rocket's payload capacity significantly.


Where the GSLV with the cryogenic stage was intended to put 2.5 tonnes into the orbit, the rocket carried a satellite weighing just 1.5 tonnes in its first flight. With further optimisation of the Russian cryogenic stage and other parts of the rocket, the GSLV could successfully launch the 2,140-kg Insat-4CR in its fifth launch in 2007.


Sources told this correspondent that the last two stages supplied by the Russians carry an engine with a maximum thrust of over nine tonnes and are capable of accommodating an additional three tonnes of propellant. The GSLV with this stage would be capable of delivering a payload of 2.5 tonnes into the orbit. With further ground testing, the Indian engine too would be upgraded to a similar thrust level.


But the immediate challenge for ISRO and its engineers is to demonstrate in the GSLV launch that they have

indeed mastered the intricacies of cryogenic technology.







  1. Study based on better data, more sophisticated statistical methods
  2. Among poor countries progress varied considerably
  3. The improvements represent "hope at last"


For the first time in decades, researchers are reporting a significant drop worldwide in the number of women dying each year from pregnancy and childbirth, to about 342,900 in 2008 from 526,300 in 1980.The findings, published in the medical journal The Lancet, challenge the prevailing view of maternal mortality as an intractable problem that has defied every effort to solve it.


"The overall message, for the first time in a generation, is one of persistent and welcome progress," the journal's editor, Dr. Richard Horton, wrote in a comment accompanying the article, published online on Monday. The study cited a number of reasons for the improvement: lower pregnancy rates in some countries; higher income, which improves nutrition and access to health care; more education for women; and the increasing availability of "skilled attendants" — people with some medical training — to help women give birth. Improvements in large countries like India and China helped to drive down the overall death rates.


Pressure to delay publication


But some advocates for women's health tried to pressure The Lancet into delaying publication of the new findings, fearing that good news would detract from the urgency of their cause, Horton said in a telephone interview. "I think this is one of those instances when science and advocacy can conflict," he said.


Horton said the advocates, whom he declined to name, wanted the new information held and released only after certain meetings about maternal and child health had already taken place.


He said the meetings included one at the United Nations this week, and another to be held in Washington in June, where advocates hope to win support for more foreign aid for maternal health from Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton. Other meetings of concern to the advocates are the Pacific Health Summit in June and the U.N. General Assembly meeting in December.


"People who have spent many years committed to the issue of maternal health were understandably worried that these figures could divert attention from an issue that they care passionately about," Horton said. "But my feeling is that they are misguided in their view that this would be damaging. My view is that actually these numbers help their cause, not hinder it."


He said the new study was based on more and better data and more sophisticated statistical methods than were used in a previous analysis by a different research team that estimated more deaths, 535,900 in 2005. The authors of the earlier analysis, published in The Lancet, in 2007, included researchers from UNICEF, Harvard, the World Bank, the World Health Organisation and the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health. The World Health Organisation still reports about half a million maternal deaths a year, but it is expected to issue new statistics of its own this year.


The new report comes from the University of Washington and the University of Queensland in Brisbane, Australia, and was paid for by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. A spokesman for UNICEF said it had no comment on the new findings, and there was no response to messages that were left late on Tuesday for WHO officials.


Dr. Christopher J.L. Murray, the director of the institute for health metrics and evaluation at the University of Washington, in Seattle, and an author of the study, said, "There has been a perception of no progress."


But, he said, "some of the policies and programmes pursued may be having an effect, as opposed to all that effort with little to show for it."


The researchers analysed maternal mortality in 181 countries from 1980 to 2008, using whatever information they could glean from each country: death records, censuses, surveys and published studies. They ultimately gathered about three times as much data as the previous researchers had found.


Among poor countries with longstanding high death rates, progress varied considerably. For instance, from 1990 to 2008, the maternal death rate dropped 8.8 per cent a year in the Maldives, but rose 5.5 per cent in Zimbabwe. Sub-Saharan Africa has the highest maternal death rates. Brazil improved more than Mexico, Egypt more than Turkey. Six countries accounted for more than half of all the maternal deaths in 2008: India, Nigeria, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Ethiopia and the Democratic Republic of Congo.


But India has made steady progress, and because its population is so large, its improvements have helped considerably to decrease the worldwide rate of maternal deaths. China has also made considerable progress. In India, there were 408 to 1,080 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births in 1980, and by 2008, there were 154 to 395, the new study found. In China, there were 144 to 187 deaths per 100,000 live births in 1980, and 35 to 46 in 2008.


Murray said the findings came as a surprise. What also surprised him and his colleagues, he said, was the number of pregnant women who died from AIDS: about 60,000.


"Really to a large extent that's why maternal mortality is rising in eastern and southern Africa," Murray said. "It means, to us, that if you want to tackle maternal mortality in those regions, you need to pay attention to the management of HIV in pregnant women. It's not about emergency obstetrical care, but about access to antiretrovirals."


Horton contended that the new data should encourage politicians to spend more on pregnancy-related health matters. The data dispelled the belief that the statistics had been stuck in one dismal place for decades, he said. So money allocated to women's health is actually accomplishing something, he said, and governments are not throwing good money after bad.


An advocate for women's health, Dr. Flavia Bustreo, director of the Partnership for Maternal, Newborn and Child Health, said the improvements described in the new report represented "hope at last." She said her organisation, affiliated with the World Health Organisation, was not one of those that tried to delay release of the findings.


Report well done


She said the report was well done and called The Lancet a "scrupulously" edited journal. She said the findings made sense and were consistent with other reports from large countries like India, which can drive global figures.


"For 20 years, the safe motherhood movement has been conveying an impression of no progress," Bustreo said. "To hear confirmation of improvements is good news. ..."


Her group issued its own report on Tuesday, noting improvements that were saving the lives of women during pregnancy and birth in various countries. For instance, India pays women to get prenatal care and skilled care for delivery. Nepal provides home visits for family planning. Malawi is training nonphysicians to perform emergency caesarean sections. Brazil has set up a health system that provides free primary care and skilled attendance at birth for all.


—©2010 New York Times News Service







  1. Some banks are charging interest rates of
  2. 100 per cent or more from their customers.



In recent years, the idea of giving small loans to poor people became the darling of the development world, hailed as the long elusive formula to propel even the most destitute into better lives.


Actors like Natalie Portman and Michael Douglas lent their boldface names to the cause. Muhammad Yunus, the economist who pioneered the practice by lending small amounts to basket weavers in Bangladesh, won a Nobel Peace Prize for it in 2006. The idea even got its very own United Nations year in 2005.


But the phenomenon has grown so popular that some of its biggest proponents are now wringing their hands over the direction it has taken. Drawn by the prospect of hefty profits from even the smallest of loans, a raft of banks and financial institutions now dominate the field, with some charging interest rates of 100 per cent or more from their impoverished customers.


"We created microcredit to fight the loan sharks; we didn't create microcredit to encourage new loan sharks," Yunus recently said at a gathering of financial officials at the United Nations. "Microcredit should be seen as an opportunity to help people get out of poverty in a business way, but not as an opportunity to make money out of poor people.''


The fracas over preserving the field's saintly aura centres on how much interest and profit are acceptable and what constitutes exploitation. The noisy interest rate dispute has even attracted congressional scrutiny, with the House Financial Services Committee holding hearings this year focused in part on whether some microcredit institutions are scamming the poor.


Rates vary widely across the globe, but the ones that draw the most concern tend to occur in countries like Nigeria and Mexico, where the demand for small loans cannot be met by existing lenders.


Unlike virtually every Web page trumpeting the accomplishments of microcredit institutions around the world, the page for Te Creemos, a Mexican lender, lacks even one testimonial from a thriving customer — no beaming woman earning her first income by growing a soap business out of her kitchen, for example. Te Creemos has some of the highest interest rates and fees in the world of microfinance, analysts say, a whopping 125 per cent average annual rate.


The average in Mexico itself is around 70 per cent, compared with a global average of about 37 per cent in interest and fees, analysts say. Mexican microfinance institutions charge such high rates simply because they can get away with it, said Emmanuelle Javoy, the managing director of Planet Rating, an independent Paris-based firm that evaluates microlenders.


Unwitting individuals, who can make donations of $20 or more through Web sites like Kiva or Microplace, may also end up participating in practices some consider exploitative. These Web sites admit that they cannot guarantee every interest rate they quote. Indeed, the real rate can prove to be markedly higher.


Debating microloans' effects

Underlying the issue is a fierce debate over whether microloans actually lift people out of poverty, as their promoters so often claim. The recent conclusion of some researchers is that not every poor person is an entrepreneur waiting to be discovered, but that the loans do help cushion some of the worst blows of poverty.


"The lesson is simply that it didn't save the world," Dean S. Karlan, a professor of economics at Yale University, said about micro-lending. "It is not the single transformative tool that proponents have been selling it as, but there are positive benefits."


Still, its earliest proponents do not want its reputation tarnished by new investors seeking profits on the backs of the poor, though they recognise that the days of just earning enough to cover costs are over.


"They call it 'social investing,' but nobody has a definition for social investing, nobody is saying, for example, that you have to make less than 10 per cent profit," said Chuck Waterfield, who runs, a Web site that promotes transparency and is financed by some of the big microfinance investors.


Making pots of money from microfinance is certainly not illegal. CARE, the Atlanta-based humanitarian organisation, was the force behind a microfinance institution it started in Peru in 1997. The initial investment was around $3.5 million, including $450,000 of taxpayer money. But last fall, Banco de Credito, one of Peru's largest banks, bought the business for $96 million, of which CARE pocketed $74 million.


"Here was a sale that was good for Peru, that was good for our broad social mission and advertising the price of the sale wasn't the point of the announcement," Helene Gayle, CARE's president, said in an interview. Gayle described the new owners as committed to the same social mission of alleviating poverty and said CARE expected to use the money to extend its own reach in other countries.


Outgrown its charitable roots


The microfinance industry, with more than $60 billion in assets, has unquestionably outgrown its charitable roots. Elisabeth Rhyne, who runs the Centre for Financial Inclusion, said in congressional testimony this year that banks and finance firms served 60 per cent of all clients. Nongovernmental organisations served 35 per cent of the clients, she said, while credit unions and rural banks had 5 per cent of the clients.


Private capital first began entering the microfinance arena about a decade ago, but it was not until Compartamos, a Mexican firm that began life as a tiny nonprofit organisation, generated $458 million through a public stock sale in 2007 that investors fully recognised the potential for a windfall, experts said.


Although the Compartamos founders pledged to plough the money back into development, analysts say the high interest rates and healthy profits of Compartamos, the largest microfinance institution in the Western Hemisphere with 1.2 million active borrowers, has pushed up interest rates all across Mexico.


According to the Microfinance Information Exchange, a Web site known as the Mix, where more than 1,000 microfinance companies worldwide report their own numbers, Compartamos charges an average of nearly 82 per cent in interest and fees.


The microfinance industry is pushing for greater transparency among its members, but says that most microlenders are honest, with experts putting the number of dubious institutions anywhere from less than 1 per cent to more than 10 per cent. Given that competition has a pattern of lowering interest rates worldwide, the industry prefers that approach to government intervention. Part of the problem, however, is that all kinds of institutions making loans plaster them with the "microfinance" label because of its do-good reputation.


Yunus said interest rates should be 10 to 15 per cent above the cost of raising the money, with anything beyond that a "red zone" of loan sharking. "We need to draw a line between genuine and abuse," he said.


Yet by that measure, 75 per cent of microfinance institutions would fall into Yunus' "red zone," according to Mix. — ©2010 New York Times News Service


( Elisabeth Malkin contributed from Mexico City.)







Dr. Asko Parpola, the Indologist from Finland, is Professor Emeritus of Indology, Institute of World Cultures, University of Helsinki, and one of the leading authorities on the Indus Civilisation and its script. On the basis of sustained work on the Indus script, he has concluded that the script — which is yet to be deciphered — encodes a Dravidian language. As a Sanskritist, his fields of specialisation include the Sama Veda and Vedic rituals. Excerpts from replies that Professor Parpola gave over e-mail to a set of questions sent to him by T.S. Subramanian in the context of his being chosen for the Kalaignar M. Karunanidhi Classical Tamil Award, 2009. The award, comprising Rs. 10 lakh and a citation, will be presented during the World Classical Tamil Conference to be held in Coimbatore from June 23 to 27, 2010. The award announcement said Professor Parpola was chosen for his work on the Dravidian hypothesis in interpreting the Indus script because the Dravidian, as described by him, was close to old Tamil. The award, administered by the Central Institute of Classical Tamil, Chennai, was instituted out of a donation of Rs. 1 crore made by Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi:


You are a Vedic scholar. What brought you to the field of the Indus script?

As a university student of Sanskrit and ancient Greek in the early 1960s, I read John Chadwick's fascinating book on how the Mycenaean 'Linear B' script of Bronze Age Greece was deciphered [ The Decipherment of Linear B, Cambridge University Press, 1958]. Michael Ventris succeeded in doing this without the aid of any bilingual texts, which in most cases have opened up forgotten scripts. Then my childhood friend Seppo Koskenniemi, who worked for IBM, offered his help if I wanted to use the computer for some task in my field. As statistics and various indexes have been important in successful decipherments, we took up this challenging problem of Indian antiquity.


There is some criticism that the Indus script is not a writing system.

I do not agree [with that]. All those features of the Indus script which have been mentioned as proof for its not being a writing system, characterise also the Egyptian hieroglyphic script during its first 600 years of existence. For detailed counterarguments, see my papers at the website


If it is a writing system, what reasons do you adduce for it?

The script is highly standardised; the signs are as a rule written in regular lines; there are hundreds of sign sequences which recur in the same order, often at many different sites; the preserved texts are mostly seal stones, and seals in other cultures usually have writing recording the name or title of the seal owner; and the Indus people were acquainted with cuneiform writing through their trade contacts with Mesopotamia.


Indus signs are generally available on seals and tablets. It was presumed that the seals and tablets had short Indus texts because they were meant for trade and commerce. However, a 3-metre long inscription on wood inlaid with stone crystals was found at Dholavira in Gujarat. It was also presumed that Indus inscriptions would not be available in stone. Again, in Dholavira, a large slab with three big Indus signs was found recently. The Archaeological Survey of India's website says the Dholavira site "enjoys the unique distinction of yielding an inscription made up of ten large-sized signs of the Indus script and, not less in importance, is the other find of a large slab engraved with three large signs." What, in your assessment, is the significance of Indus signs engraved on a large stone slab?

These finds show that the Indus script was used in monumental inscriptions too. It is natural to expect writing to be used in such contexts as well.


What are the impediments to deciphering the Indus script? Is the short nature of the texts a big impediment? If we get a text with about 70 signs, will we able to decipher the script?

The main impediment is the absence of such a key as the Rosetta stone, which contained the same text in different scripts and languages. Nor is there any closely similar known script of the same origin which could give clues to the sound values of the Indus signs. And not only is the script unknown, there is much controversy also about its type (alphabetic, syllabic, logo-syllabic) and about the language underlying it. Apart from the likelihood that the Greater Indus Valley was probably called Meluhha in Sumerian, there is no historical information concerning the Indus Civilisation: it was the names and genealogies of the Persian kings (known from Greek historians and the Bible) which opened up the cuneiform script. The texts are so short that they hardly contain complete sentences, probably only noun phrases. But a text some 70 signs long would not lead to a dramatic decipherment of the script, although it can be expected to throw some new light on the structure of the underlying language.


Can you explain what you mean by the "Dravidian solution of the Indus enigma?"

I mean by it obtaining certainty that the language underlying the Indus script in South Asia belongs to the Dravidian language family. For this, it is not necessary to decipher the entire script (which in any case is impossible with the present materials) but we need a sufficient number of tightly cross-checked sign interpretations.


It is 16 years since you published Deciphering the Indus Script. What is the progress you have made since then in deciphering it?

Some progress has been made, and I shall talk about it at the Classical Tamil Conference in June. Progress is very difficult, however, also because our knowledge of Proto-Dravidian vocabulary and especially phraseology is so incomplete. This knowledge is critical for reliable readings, and here Old Tamil offers precious but unfortunately limited material.


Some Indian scholars feel that the Indus Civilisation is Aryan and connected with the Rig Veda. You are a Vedic scholar and you specialise in the Indus script too. So what is your reaction to this standpoint?

Rigvedic hymns often speak of horses and horse-drawn chariots, and the horse sacrifice, ashvamedha, is among the most prestigious Vedic rites. The only wild equid native to the Indian subcontinent is the wild ass, which is known from the bone finds of the Indus Civilisation and depicted (though rarely) in its art and script. The domesticated horse is absent from South Asia until the second millennium BCE. Finds from Pirak and Swat from 1600 BCE show it was introduced from Central Asia after the Indus Civilisation. The earliest archaeological finds of horse-drawn chariot come from graves dated to around 2000 BCE in the Eurasian steppes, the natural habitat of the horse. There are also ancient Aryan loanwords in Finno-Ugric languages spoken in northeastern Europe (for example, the word for 'hundred' in my own language Finnish is sata). Some of these Aryan loanwords represent a more archaic stage of development (that is, are phonetically closer to the older Proto-Indo-European language) than Rigvedic Sanskrit. It is very likely that these words came to Finno-Ugric languages from Proto-Aryan spoken in the Volga steppes.


You have published two volumes of Indus Seals and Inscriptions along with J.P. Joshi. Will there be a third volume?

Shri J. P. Joshi was the co-editor of the first volume of the Corpus of Indus Seals and Inscriptions, S. G. M. Shah of the second. Volume 3, Part 1 is in the press and will come out by June 2010.


Tamil-Brahmi inscriptions dating back to 1st century BCE to third century CE offer the fundamental evidence that Tamil is a classical language. Would you like to comment on the threat posed to these Tamil-Brahmi inscriptions in the hills in and around Madurai by the granite-quarrying lobby?

The Tamil-Brahmi inscriptions are important monuments, which should be adequately protected. The possibility of new finds must also not be forgotten. In my own country, Finland, the government has been much concerned about the damage caused to scenery by sand-quarrying and has passed restrictive laws.










It is no more just a tweet war between minister of state for external affairs Shashi Tharoor and Indian Premier League (IPL) commissioner Lalit Modi.


It is not about Tharoor's personal friend obtaining a "free" stake in Rendezvous Sports World, which has bagged the Kochi franchise. It goes beyond the clash of egos between Tharoor and Modi.


In the spirit of the times, where commercial success seems to gloss over everything else, the fact that IPL raked in big money — about Rs1,500 crore — from the sale of the Kochi franchise did not alert the media or the tax authorities to sit up and take notice. There was a sense of false euphoria all around as everyone was enveloped in a haze of unclear and rather irrational happiness over the IPL.


The BCCI was happy that the IPL has turned into a profitable venture and its coffers would be overflowing. Lalit Modi was basking in the glory of IPL's success because he had single-handedly pushed it and kept it going for the last three years.


A big, maverick idea was made feasible and successful. The players were happy and so were the team owners. Until Modi unintentionally tilted the apple cart as it were, when he fidgeted and probed the Rendezvous Sports equity structure.


While Modi's enquiries may have raised a ruckus over Tharoor's indiscretion and impropriety, for the first time questions are being raised over what kind of money is flowing into IPL's other franchises too. It has turned out to be a classic instance of the law of unintended consequences.


Now that there is public furore it will be better for all the stakeholders — and mostly for the lovers of the game — if the details of the financial flows into the IPL are laid on the table. There is no need to assume a dark underbelly for the venture but IPL has to put its best foot forward by making its financial system an open one.


The purists of the game will never forgive Modi and the BCCI for commercialising and allegedly vulgarising the game. But what is of greater concern for players and spectators is that cricket will be dragged down to dark, abominable depths of sleaze. It has to be rescued from the clutches of mere money-makers. Cricket may not be the religion of the people, as claimed by the game's zealots, but it holds immense sentimental value.


That is why it becomes so important to clean up the mess.







A primary sign of good governance is the ability to effectively uphold the law of the land. Any nation that does not do so threatens its own sovereignty.


As is clear today, the law of the land has been sidestepped, flouted and neglected when it came to the spread of the Naxals.


The Indian government must be clear that the same mistakes do not happen when it comes to the khap panchayats and their "tradition" of honour killings to uphold their rejection of sub-caste marriages within the same gothra.


After five people were sentenced to death for the murders of Manoj and Babli in 2007 for their "crime" of being from the same sub-caste, the khap panchayats of Haryana have come out in full force in defence of their brutal customs.


In defiance of the law of the land, they want the Hindu Marriage Act to be amended to accommodate their arcane ideas and ban intra sub-caste marriages. If this is done, they argue, honour killings would automatically stop.


The first task is to make it clear to the khap panchayats that no matter what their customs are, murder is simply not on. No law anywhere in the civilised world would allow this. The second is more complex: those subscribing to the khap laws have to be educated and made aware.


This much is clear so far: politicians — regardless of their political dispensation — are not going to be of much help. They use khaps to build their vote banks and appear to be unwilling to upset the apple-cart, judging from the non-committal and obfuscatory comments being made.


The onus then falls on the government, on non-governmental organisations and civil society to bring these villages into the 21st century and explain why their customs need alterations.


It is significant that the khap panchayats are singularly short of women in their ranks. This is often a sign of a backward society in need of understanding and awareness and many parts of north India continue with their oppression of women, using custom and tradition as excuses.


According to historians, khap laws in any case are not as old as they imagine —only a few hundred years. The fact that young people are falling in love and running away together, in spite of the dangers they are well aware of, means that some are crying out for change.


The khaps have to be made to understand why they are not above the laws that we all follow and why their practices are being condemned.







The sex scandals in the Catholic Church and our own gurudoms (Nithyananda, et al) serve to bring home a simple point: that sexual abstinence is an overrated virtue even for those chasing a holy life.


There is absolutely no reason on earth why people seeking god or nirvana should be shunning normal sexual relationships with willing partners. The sooner this is acknowledged by civil society and the religiously inclined, the holier we can become in actual life.


The pretence that we can force ourselves to abstain from what is the most natural of human impulses has been the bane of many an organised religion.


Not only does this make our holy men hypocritical, but it also makes ordinary people think our priests and gurus are somehow beyond human drives and desires — which is rarely the case.


While there are genuine swamis and padres and phoney ones, celibacy enforced by rigid rules and public expectations can only lead to obsessive and furtive sexcapades — as the pope and assorted Hindu religious congregations are finding out to their embarrassment.


The interesting point to speculate about is this: where did we get the idea that sexual abstinence is a good thing for priests and swamis? The celebration of Krishna and the gopis in popular Hindu culture indicates that we were not a puritanical people. Islam has no problem with sex either. Some Christian denominations and orders have no problem allowing priests to marry. If sex is good enough for the ordinary mortal and some religious orders, why do others make such a big deal of celibacy?


I could be wrong on this, but my observation is that celibacy is more a male obsession than a female one. What makes some men crave sex and celibacy at the same time?


I think the answer is power. Or rather a false sense of powerlessness when it comes to women. We all know that men and women have different sexual drives. Men tend to have all-weather inclinations while women's sexual needs are different. I am, of course, talking both of the physical and emotional dimensions of the sex drive. From a purely male perspective, this makes the demand for sex much higher than available supply.


The thought that women have the power to give or deny sex makes some men crazy. Most men work out a compromise with their partners in a kind of give and take that is characteristic of good relationships.


Men who cannot accept this try to overcome their sense of powerlessness through one of two means:

domination, or celibacy. Domination gets you what you want by an overt exercise of power over women; celibacy is about trying to dominate your own sexual instincts.


The reason why we have come to equate celibacy with power is thus clear: ordinary mortals know they can't conquer their sexual urges completely; they thus elevate those who can — or claim they can — to exalted status.


It is no wonder that our gurus and swamis seek celibacy to attract followers. Gandhi went to elaborate lengths to prove to himself that he could control his sexual thoughts.


The Buddha banned women from entering his Sangha because of the implications mixed sex groups would have for congregational discipline. His mother forced him to abandon the ban on women, but even she could not stop him from making his misogynistic lament that with the entry of women his Sangha would last only half as long as he had hoped for earlier.


The Roman Catholic Church, the strongest of them all, resists the idea of ordaining women priests and allowing marriage possibly due to this same fear of female power. This is also why it is scared of acknowledging Jesus's human inclinations on this front.


So, is celibacy out of synch with reality? Not quite. Only forced celibacy is. Celibacy is not right or wrong in itself. But only the individual can decide whether it is right for him (or her, occasionally).


Celibacy may be the right thing at a stage in life when you have already been there and done that and are looking for greater spiritual experiences. It may also be right for those who are able to transcend the sex drive by sublimating it into a higher consciousness. (See Osho, from Sex to Superconsciousness).For the rest, priest or plebeian, sex isn't sin.


It is time to abandon the notion that sex and sacredness cannot go together. While it may be true that some people may want to dedicate themselves to god and other holy purposes to the exclusion of all other human drives, these cases will be exceptions and can flow from genuine individual choice.


For the vast majority of people who choose to take up religion or good deeds as a profession, celibacy is pointless.







There are many differences between Iraq and Afghanistan, but they do resemble each other in one critical way.


In both countries, the "bad guys," the violent jihadists, are losing. And in both countries, it still is not clear if the "good guys" will really turn out to be good.


And the big question the Obama team is facing in both countries is: Should we care? Should we care if these countries are run by decent leaders or by drug-dealing, oil-stealing extras from "The Sopranos" — as long as we can just get out? At this stage, alas, we have to care — and here's why.


I've read a lot of analyses lately criticising president Obama and vice president Biden for coming down so hard on Afghan president Hamid Karzai's corruption. Karzai's the best we've got, goes the argument. He's helped us in our primary objective of degrading Al Qaeda and done good things, like opening schools for girls. Sure, he stole his election, but he is still more popular than anyone else in Afghanistan and would have won anyway. (Then why did he have to steal it? Never mind.)


Once Karzai was installed, president Bush ignored the corruption of Karzai and his cronies. All the Bush team wanted was for Karzai to hold the country together so the US could use it as a base to go after Al Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Unfortunately, the Karzai government became so rotten and incapable of delivering services that many Afghans turned back to the Taliban.


So the Obama team came with a new strategy: We have to defeat the Taliban in Afghanistan if we are going to keep Al Qaeda in check there and in Pakistan — and the only way to do that is by clearing them out of the towns and installing decent Afghan police, judges and bureaucrats — that is, good governance — in the Taliban's wake. Obama's view is that, to some degree, idealism is the new realism in Afghanistan.


I still wish we had opted for a less intrusive alternative; I'm still sceptical about the whole thing. But I understand the logic of the Obama strategy and, given that logic, he was right to chastise Karzai — even publicly. If decent governance is the key to our strategy, it is important that Afghans see and hear where we stand on these issues.


Otherwise, where will they find the courage to stand up for better governance? We need to bring along the whole society. Never forget, the Karzai regime's misgovernance is the reason we're having to surge anew in Afghanistan. Karzai is both the cause and the beneficiary of the surge. I'm sure the surge will beat the bad guys, but if the "good guys" are no better, it will all be for naught.


Unlike Afghanistan, the war in Iraq was, at its core, always driven more by idealism than realism. It was sold as being about WMD. But, in truth, it was really a rare exercise in the revolutionary deployment of US power. The immediate target was to topple Saddam's genocidal dictatorship. But the bigger objective was to help Iraqis midwife a democratic model that could inspire reform across the Arab-Muslim world and give the youth there a chance at a better future.


Again, the Iraq story is far from over, but one does have to take heart at the recent elections there and the degree to which Iraqi voters favored multiethnic, modernising parties.


So, while Obama came to office looking at both Iraq and Afghanistan as places where we need to be focused more on protecting our interests than promoting our ideals, he's finding himself, now in office, having to promote a more idealist approach to both. The world will be a better place if it works, but it will require constant vigilance. When Karzai tries to gut an independent election commission, that matters.


When the Iraqi prime minister, Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, refuses to accept a vote count certified by the UN that puts him in second place, that matters.


Friends don't let friends drive drunk — especially when we're still in the back seat alongside an infant named Democracy.










Leave alone being apologetic about the brutal murder of Manoj and Babli for marrying within the same gotra (sub-caste), the Sarv Khap Mahapanchayat at Kurukshetra on Tuesday cocked a snook at civilised society, with some leaders openly saying that many more such murders might take place if the Hindu Marriage Act was not amended to ban same-gotra marriages. The meeting was rowdy, and so were the decisions taken at it, including the one to disrupt traffic and march to Delhi if their demands were not met. That shows the mindset of these lumpen groups, who think that laws of the land do not apply to them. By deciding to collect money to fight the case of those sentenced to death for Manoj-Babli murder, the khap leadership has indirectly admitted that the honour killings were committed on its bidding. That is a very dangerous development and may worsen the situation in the country if the government does not take remedial measures.


There are two issues involved here. Issuing virtual death warrants against those who marry within the same gotra – or even the same village – amounts to murder pure and simple. All those who act in such barbaric manner must be dealt with appropriately. But even those issuing illegal "fatwas" ordering social boycott of "guilty" families or asking couples to annul their marriages and live like brother and sister commit an equally heinous crime. It is strange that the government has been dealing with such unwanted elements with kid gloves.


All raving and ranting of the khaps has been condoned by politicians because the latter think that the support of khaps is helpful in winning elections. But they should realise that by doing so, they are losing the sympathy and support of right-thinking persons. It is a matter of regret that there are many even in the police force who sympathise with the khap cause and allow the culprits to get away lightly. Such male-dominated groupings have brought a bad name to Haryana in general and Jat community in particular. Fortunately, voices of sanity are getting louder. If those horrified by khap fulminations say in unison that "enough is enough", these people living in medieval times can be brought to heel. It is time for their social boycott.








While the Union Minister of State for External Affairs, Mr Shashi Tharoor, is no stranger to controversy, the emerging details involving him and the franchise of a cricket team in the Indian Premier League are possibly the most embarrassing in his short political career. His long and laboured explanation of being just a 'friend, mentor and guide' to a consortium that bid a whopping Rs 1,500 crore to secure the franchise of the team that would be identified with Mr Tharoor's home state, Kerala, has not cut much ice. Because, while he himself may not gain financially from the franchise, he is yet to explain how his 'friend', some have called her his fiancée, Ms Sunanda Pushkar, came to own a stake in the franchise and that too for 'free'. Born in Kashmir and based in Dubai, she does not seem to have any known connection to either Kerala or cricket. Yet, she was considered worthy enough to be rewarded with Rs 70 crore worth of 'free' equity. One cannot really blame the Bharatiya Janata Party for concluding that the payment was meant for the efforts put in by the minister to secure the franchise.


Nor is it particularly edifying to find the minister's Officer On Special Duty posting murky details about the past of the Indian Premier League Commissioner, Mr Lalit Modi. While Mr Modi himself is not quite Mother Teresa, the loyal OSD's desperate 'tweet' about Modi being held in his student days for having drugs and for 'kidnapping' may have done more damage to the minister than to the IPL's poster boy. More details about the till-recently-cosy relationship of the minister with Mr Modi are tumbling out by the day and their self-destructive 'tweets' hint at many more skeletons in the closet.


The controversy has thrown up uncomfortable questions about the 'mysterious ownership patterns' of the IPL franchisees. It does need to be ascertained why some of these franchisees have registered themselves in Mauritius and not in India. One hopes the government and the Board of Control for Cricket in India ( BCCI) will get to the bottom of the controversy. As for Mr Tharoor, he has a lot of explaining to do when the Prime Minister returns from Brazil and may well find his seat in the ministry too hot to retain.








Panjab University and DAV College of Chandigarh, once known as centres of excellence, are gaining notoriety for violent student skirmishes and scuffles. The last few days have seen a spurt in student violence as rival groups settle scores with firearms. It is amazing that a handful of student leaders are allowed to tarnish the image of a premier institute. This could affect student placements. If the university collects hefty charges for various courses, the authorities are duty-bound to provide a peaceful academic environment and banish the anti-social elements masquerading as student leaders with or without police help.


The Vice-Chancellor cannot escape responsibility for the deteriorating law and order situation on the campus. If the VC lets hoodlum flourish, the principals of colleges are not expected to control them. Every time a major incident takes place, the police is called in and cases are registered. But before courts reach the conviction stage, students work out a compromise. It seems so easy to take the university authorities and the police for a ride. The police has failed to disarm them. The parents of the students are either not informed or they too appear helpless. From scuffles students have graduated to the use of firearms because no one has stopped them and given the lesson they so badly need. If not checked at this stage, they could get emboldened to take the law into their own hands whenever things don't go their way.


Higher education is still a privilege. There is a shortage of good academic institutions. For every student admitted to a university course there are many others rejected for not performing well enough. The students who don't value the worth of their being in the university and, instead of studying, resort to illegal activities, should be thrown out to accommodate the more deserving.
















American Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner thrilled corporate audiences in Mumbai by showering praise on the performance of India's economy and referring to the growing interest of corporate America in the "prospects" for cooperation and investment in India. Earlier, in his State of the Union Address, President Obama had proclaimed: "These nations (India and Germany) are not playing for second place. They are placing more emphasis on maths and science. They are rebuilding their infrastructure".


In the same speech, however, he reiterated his aversion to outsourcing to India, stating: "It is time to finally slash the tax breaks for companies that ship our jobs overseas." Though the Indian corporate sector has not been too concerned about Mr Obama's pronouncements, there are naturally queries regarding his mindset about India when President Obama proclaims: "Say no to Bangalore, say yes to Buffalo."


Mr Geithner's visit came just after the revelation that President Obama had issued a Presidential directive stating: "India must make resolving its tensions with Pakistan a priority for progress to be made on US goals in the region". It has also been reported that the Obama wish list includes a number of "do's and don'ts" for India. We are told that because the Obama Administration requires Pakistan's help for facilitating a speedy withdrawal from Afghanistan and getting a deal with the Taliban, India is absolutely forbidden from undertaking any effort to train the Afghan National Army. This is because General Kayani wants to train the Afghans, who in turn have little trust and even less affection for the Pakistan Army and the ISI.


India, it is asserted by the worthies in the Pentagon, should be "more transparent" and "cooperate more" about developments along its borders with Pakistan. We are also required to reduce the number of troops in Jammu and Kashmir to enable Pakistan to deploy more forces along its western borders.


New Delhi should realise that it is dealing with an American Administration which just does not know how to deal with the Pakistan Army that trains, arms and provides safe haven to the Haqqani network in North Waziristan and hosts the Mullah Omar-led "Quetta Shura", which moves around freely, all across Pakistan. Rather than dealing with this issue by turning the squeeze on Pakistan and compelling it to end support for those killing American forces in Afghanistan, the whiz kids in the Pentagon appear to have decided that the easier way out would be to compel a government in New Delhi, which is seen to be "receptive" to American "persuasion", to fall in line with everything General Kayani demands from India, even as he continues assisting the Taliban in Afghanistan and the Lashkar-e-Toiba against India.


"Kayani appeasement" seems to be the policy being advocated by Generals James Jones, David Petraeus, Stanley McChrystal and Karl Eikenberry and Admiral Mike Mullen. And President Obama appears more than ready to follow the advice of his military brass.


Addressing his troops at the Bagram airbase, near Kabul, on March 30, President Obama proclaimed: "We are going to disrupt, dismantle, defeat and destroy Al-Qaida and its extremist allies and deny Al-Qaida safe haven. We are going to reverse the Taliban's momentum. We are going to strengthen the capacity of the Afghan security forces and the government". Strangely, President Obama's reference of wanting to strengthen the Afghan Government came almost immediately after his National Security Adviser Gen James Jones had reportedly bad-mouthed President Karzai and his government for their alleged inefficiency, corruption, nepotism and incompetence in a briefing for American correspondents.


"Karzai bashing" appears to have become a favourite sport of American officials ranging from General Jones to Special Representative Richard Holbrooke, who show little regard for the fact that the Afghan President is a proud Durrani Pashtun and certainly has more legitimacy that many others the Americans have supported in the past. Turning on those who have allied themselves with the Americans while appeasing those who plot the killing of American soldiers seems to have become a favourite pastime for what appears to be a confused and badly divided American Administration.


Prime Minister Manmohan Singh may have received soothing assurances on American policies when he met President Obama on April 11. New Delhi should realise that in its dealings with China and while handling the situation in the AfPak region, the Obama Administration appears quite prepared to disregard Indian sensitivities and interests either when it finds China useful on issues like Iran's nuclear programme or Pakistan claims that it will facilitate the American exit strategy. Timothy Geithner may have flattered Indian egos in Mumbai, but his real business was to secure Chinese approval to revalue the yuan, when he went to China immediately after his visit to India. This was reminiscent of Henry Kissinger stopping by in Delhi in 1971 en route to Beijing via Pakistan.


It should also be evident that the White House will continue to play down the Pakistani support for terrorism and the supply of military hardware, including F-16 fighters, missiles and frigates, while endeavouring to marginalise India on emerging developments in Afghanistan. India is now quite appropriately widening its diplomatic options by active participation in forums like IBSA (India, Brazil and South Africa) and BRICS (Brazil, India, Russia and China). Our effort should be to get full membership of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation and work more closely with Russia, Iran, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan on developments in Afghanistan.


Despite these developments, India's bilateral relationship with the US will remain its most important one for the foreseeable future. The potential for cooperation in areas ranging from agriculture and education to space and high technology transfers is immense. Moreover, the corporate sectors in the two countries have set the stage for rapidly expanding trade, business and investment cooperation. But in a climate of strategic uncertainty brought about by what can only be said to be strange handling of foreign and security policies by the Obama Administration, it would only be appropriate for our political parties and parliamentarians to carefully examine the provisions of the proposed Nuclear Liability Bill.


The Bill should be passed only after wide-ranging consultations and studies about the practices across the world even if such examination takes a year to complete. Similarly, while there are suggestions that defence supplies from the US should get preferential treatment, we need to look at the possibilities of increasingly linking defence purchases to the consideration and sensitivity that suppliers show for our security concerns. Moreover, close consultations with Russia, China and countries like Brazil and Turkey are needed in fashioning our response to American concerns on Iran's nuclear programme.








LOVE is "hurt me not" and liquor is "taste me not". This was an important lesson my mother taught me early in life. Now she takes pride in the fact that she inculcated an anti-liquor spirit in me since I am a teetotaller. And its smell can make me sick and trouble my soul as well.


But don't try telling this to ardent lovers of Bacchus. Every tippler I have come across goes all out to prove that I have not graduated from soft drinks and thus am not a grown-up man.


Several pass me off as henpecked and others say I am under the thumb of my wife. Well, she has faced many such braggarts who tell her to let me live, as if wine was the elixir of life.


The other day, I was in the august company of tipplers comprising policemen, journalists and sportspersons. "You should take one or two pegs to avoid indigestion, son," advised a considerate pot-bellied elderly. 


"But it is injurious to health," I tried to argue.


"Rubbish, I am drinking for decades. Even today I can down a bottle," said another, gulping a Patiala peg while fitting with difficulty in the garden chair. 


In walked a frail Uncle holding a drink. "I made my wife respect me a lot today," he said. All heads turned towards him as if he had won an Olympic medal.


"She started nagging before my rendezvous with my first love (read liquor) began today, called me a drunkard bastard, who ruined her life. Then I told her about you (he pointed at a retired cop) who drinks with the dawn and ends with the dusk. I begin with sunset only," he said chuckling at his wit.


The ex-cop made a face. "I am not a drunkard. Has anyone found me lying on roadside, unable to reach my house? People found on roads are real drunkards," he chuckled.


"It's no big deal," said a veteran player,"One should not be found in a drain. That means you lost it."


"I disagree," butted in another. "If you reach home on your own after falling in a drain, the booze hasn't overpowered you. It does when you are brought home," he argued as all knew he fell in a drain a few times but had reached home by himself.


"No, sir," a journalist chipped in," It is still OK if you are escorted home. But it is all gone if you are licked by a dog, when you are in the drain," he said munching a tandoori chicken leg piece brutally.


"I say, if a dog licks you and you know what he is doing, then all is well," said a sportsman as all broke into guffaws with their pot bellies jumping up and down vigorously.


I sat and blinked unbelievingly at the group of Bacchus lovers. True, as someone said, "Daaru di yaari, sab to waddi te nyari" (No bond is stronger than the one between booze and the boozer).n









WE are sending the men to slaughter. If Maoists don't get them, malaria will. There is no drinking water in the camp and the men are forced to venture out, at great risk, to fetch water from sources which are 4 km away. The mobile towers are too weak and the connections erratic. The roads are bad. There is no electricity. And the people are hostile. " It is easy to sit in airconditioned rooms and criticise but why don't the arm-chair critics come and spend a week here," a jawan is quoted as saying.


The upshot of these reports in the media from Ground Zero, Dantewada in Chattisgarh, is that the men need to be better equipped. Their living conditions must improve so that they are in better health and a better state of mind to fight.


When CRPF battalions first arrive in these areas, they are first forced to set up a rudimentary system of supplies, ration, cooking, water, toilets etc. for themselves. They also fortify the camps and then they wait. Or they go out for 'area domination', which involves marching through poor villages with even poorer people, mostly the old and the emaciated as the younger lot would have fled to escape harassment.


The tragedy is that security forces cannot hold or dominate an area by a mere show of firearms or by marching through villages and undertaking LRPs ( Long Range Patrols). They achieve nothing by beating up the rare village youth they come across during the day and then by retreating into their fortified barracks at night.


Mosquitoes and reptiles do not discriminate between villagers, CRPF jawans and Maoists. All of them are equally vulnerable. Scarcity of water, absence of electricity, bad roads, absent doctors and no hospital –complaints voiced by the jawans in Chattisgarh—are again a sad commentary on governance. While CRPF jawans find such conditions unfair and unreasonable, their adversaries and the people , it must be noted, have lived with these handicaps for years.


Recovery of dry fruits from bunkers abandoned by Maoists indicates that some of them do survive in the forests on dry fruits. But most of the Maoists possibly survive on biscuits and water or on rice and salt offered to them by villagers. It is also safe to presume that the Maoists do not move around in armoured vehicles, buses and trucks. They have little or no option but to walk through the forests and hills.


The jawans' living conditions are difficult no doubt. Maintaining a vigil in the night against an invisible and unpredictable enemy is both stressful and thankless. While the men can fire back and retaliate, they rarely know when they are going to be attacked next, where and from which direction and by whom. The suspense can be killing. The fittest of them can have a nervous breakdown if they are forced to live in the unfamiliar war zones for too long. Most of the urban youth will not last even a week.


The question is, what can the security forces do in these areas and under such grim conditions ? While the experts need to reflect on the question, one possible option is to attach a magistrate and a small police force to every CRPF battalion deployed in Maoist strongholds. Their brief should be to provide a security umbrella to development schemes and to ensure that Maoists do not disrupt development activities, that classes are held, hospitals function, roads get built and the villagers get their due from the public distribution system and the poverty alleviation programmes.


Policing the police can be another area where the para-military forces, assisted by the presence of the magistrate and the detachment of the police, can make their presence felt. The anger against the policemen often borders on hatred in these areas. So the policemen also need to be protected. But once villagers are encouraged to reach out to the magistrate attached to the central forces , in case they have grievances against the policemen and other government functionaries, it will go a long way to win back their confidence in the system.


'Hunting' Maoists is always going to be a tough proposition. But that is why the government needs to re-establish its credibility first. Waging a war on corruption in government agencies and delivering justice to the people in the affected areas must be the first steps to win the war.


There is need for a multi-pronged strategy with its focus being on the people rather than the Maoists. Without a clarity of purpose, mindless deployment of more paramilitary forces will only ensure a lull before the storm.


Maoists have an edge

*Security forces are easily identified by their uniform, vehicles etc.

( Maoists also have uniform but often take it off and merge with the people)


Security forces are confined to their barracks except when they go out on patrols


( Maoists move more freely and in smaller or bigger groups)


Security forces are reluctant to operate at night in remote areas, forests etc.

( Maoists have no such inhibition and they are more active at night)


Security forces are largely outsiders with little knowledge of local terrain, people, language etc.

( Maoists are far better conversant with local conditions)


Security forces are forced to blindly trust information furnished by arrested Maoists


( Maoists are known to have received expert advice from ex-servicemen and have access to more credible and accurate information)


Security forces cannot obviously use mines

( Maoists have been using Improvised Explosive Devices, land-mines and pressure mines extensively)


Movement of security forces in Maoist strongholds is a sure give-away because they move in large numbers and use armoured personnel carriers, anti-landmine vehicles etc.


( Maoists flit in and out of the forest, walk or use the bicycle or public buses and go largely undetected )


Police have acquired such a bad name in the countryside that men in uniform rarely enjoy the confidence of the local people.


( While not all Maoists are Robin Hood, they enjoy greater rapport with the villagers)








Recent international negotiations on climate change, particularly on reducing greenhouse gas emissions, have revealed a situation in which reduction of GHGs is being very widely regarded as a huge burden. Hence, attempts to shift the burden on others.


However, it is possible for the rich and prosperous sections and to some extent also the middle class to visualise a future in which the reduction of greenhouse gas emission in their lifestyle instead of being burdensome can be accompanied by increasing happiness. To some extent, the reduction of GHG emissions can be achieved by increasing energy efficiency and improving access to renewable sources of energy. But this will not be adequate and certainly reduction of wasteful and non-essential consumption will also be needed.


This is something which many commentators on this issue avoid stating clearly because they think that this will be very unpopular. But the fact is that the changes in GHG emission reduction and other related changes that are required are so huge that in addition to a significant shift to renewables and increasing energy efficiency, significant reduction in wasteful and non-essential consumption will also be required.


This is all the more important because those who are poor and still do not meet their basic needs will need to increase their consumption. Even if the increase of consumption by them follows a path of more energy efficiency and higher reliance on renewables, keeping in view the increase in consumption some increase in GHG emissions may be unavoidable. This increases the responsibility of the rich and the middle class to reduce their wasteful and non-essential consumption so that the highly justified task of meeting the basic needs of all present-day poor people has adequate carbon space.


While it is essential for the rich and to some extent also the middle class to reduce their non-essential and wasteful consumption, this need not be considered burdensome and actually the time of reducing GHG emissions can also become happier and more purposeful for them.


The existing consumerist lifestyle is not necessarily a happy and contented life. In fact, there are several indications that even those leading highly consumerist lifestyle of excessive consumption and spending are suffering from high levels of depression, insecurity, alienation, loneliness and social disruption not to mention chronic health problems like obesity. To some extent these problems exist due to because of high consumption and income. Links of high and wasteful consumption (for example in the form of overeating) to chronic health problems like obesity are obvious enough. Not so obvious is the fact that high-income levels sometimes create social attitudes of not caring adequately for close family (and other) relationships. Times of economic hardship are sometimes and in some cases better for closer family and social relationships compared to times of affluence.


With a better understanding of these relationships, we can create conducive conditions for the time of reducing GHG emissions to also become a time of more healthy life and closer family/social relationships contributing overall to increasing happiness and purposefulness. The fact that a family is contributing to lowering GHG emissions can itself lead to increasing purposefulness in life.


Jeremy Seabrook writes, "Politicians in the West insist that the one thing that is sure to guarantee electoral defeat is to talk about radical change, about renunciation, about lowering the standard of living. This is, I believe a mistake.... The truth is that human resources are as vital a component of our growth and development as monetary ones; and it is this simple lesson which needs to be relearned by a West which can price everything and know the true value of nothing."


While voluntarily reducing consupmtion, he argues, people can "rediscover all the things that human beings can make and do and create and invent and give freely to each other - things that have been enclosed, marketed and sold back to us in the West".


We may add that this applies not just to people in the West but also to rich persons all over the world.









As mercury rises, people of Tamil Nadu have one major relief. Small sheds beside roads and streets provide cool shade for them. Women clad in AIADMK tri-colour saris welcome people who take shelter under sheds with ice-cold water, buttermilk or lemon juice kept in cold pots. This is done as per the instructions of party supremo J Jayalalithaa.


Immediately after the AIADMK's poor show in the recent bypoll, Jayalalithaa asked cadres to mitigate the sufferings of people under the scorching sun (The symbol of the DMK is the rising sun).


As a proof of the party's continuing service to the people, the cadres should set up sheds for people and give water and buttermilk, she said.


Besides water and butter milk, lemon juice and water melon pieces are also provided at some places. People who quench their thirst and relax under these sheds, will not miss the pots painted with AIADMK tri-colours, the party's flag and the "two leaves" symbol.



When the Mumbai Indians arrived at Chennai airport, they were perplexed by the black flags and angry slogans which greeted them. As Sachin's men tried to know the reasons for the black flag demo, the agitators too were baffled. Because, the target of their agitation, Sanath Jayasuriya, was nowhere on the scene and the whole exercise turned out to be much ado about nothing.


Knowing about the protest, Sanath did not accompany the team which arrived at 11.45 am. Instead, he chose to fly from Colombo and arrived at 8.45 am and was escorted through a special exit. Unaware of what has happened, the activists of Puthiya Thamizhagam (PT), a Dalit party, based in South Tamil Nadu had gathered at the airport at the wrong time.


Later, some of the party cadres bought tickets and entered the stadium, expecting to register their protest in front of Jayasuriya. However, to their utter disappointment, the Mumbai Indians did not field the dashing Sri Lankan opener. Despite their disappointment, the PT leaders claimed that their protest was a success since it has forced Jayasuriya to change his plans.


Why protest against Jayasuriya alone, when so many Sri Lankan cricketers are playing in the IPL? He was a staunch supporter of Sri Lankan President Rajapakse and a member of the ruling party, the party cadres explained.



An industrialist has appealled to the state government to give Tamil names to cars manufactured in Tamil Nadu. The industrialist, an ardent supporter of the government's efforts to promote Tamil in all spheres, ahead of the World Classical Tamil Conference, said most of the Japanese goods were named in their mother-tongue. Most of the Chinese and Swiss manufacturers too give names in their own languages, he said.


The Union government promotes Hindi by giving names to various establishments, missions and space programmes, he noted. Naming commercial products in Tamil would be one way of popularising the language, he reasoned.


Chennai has become Asia's automobile hub and most of the leading manufacturers have operations in the city. They can be asked to name some of their new products in Tamil. It would be good for them since their companies would earn the love and affection of Tamils all over the globe, he added. 









Canada's Alice Munro (b 1931) was the winner of last year's Man Booker International Prize 2009 for her lifetime's work which includes seventeen books of short stories, two of them Selected, and one, with interlinked stories published as a novel. Last year she published Too Much Happiness (Chatto and Windus, UK), an atypical book in which she moves from ordinary life (never ordinary for the people who live it), to characters for whom the bizarre is normal.

In his introduction to one of Munro's books, Jonathan Franzen writes, "Alice Munro has a strong claim to being the best fiction writer now working in North America. But outside of Canada where her books are No. 1 bestsellers, she has never had a large readership." His introduction, he says, is an attempt to take "some guesses at why her excellence so dismayingly exceeds her fame."

Franzen faults readers and reviewers, the Swedish Royal Academy for not conferring the literature Nobel on her. There's even a note on Munro's p h o t o g r a p h s . "Her jacket photos show her smiling pleasantly, as if the reader were a friend, rather than wearing the kind of woeful scowl that signifies really serious literary intent." For him, the basic and unchanging pattern of a Munro story involves a "bright, sexually avid girl who grows up in rural Ontario…the girl, as soon as she can, escapes…by way of a scholarship or some decisive self-interested act…she returns to Ontario, finds the landscape of her youth unsettlingly altered…the world of her youth, with its olderfashioned manners and mores, now sits in judgment on the modern choices she has made. Simply by trying to survive as a whole and independent person, she has incurred painful losses and dislocations; and she has caused harm."

Alice Munro's daughter Sheila Munro, who has written a biography of her mother writes, "So unassailable is the truth of her fiction that sometimes I even feel as though I'm living inside an Alice Munro story. It's as if her view of the world must be the way the world really is, because it feels so convincing, so true, that you trust her every word."


My own experience of reading Munro was coloured initially by enthusiastic friends who have been reading her for years. I read one story and thought, That's it? Then I found, over the next day or two, that every detail of the story stayed with me, every character, including that of Flora, the little white goat who has been missing for days.
   Here is a sample of the writing, from a story called "Soon." Juliet is looking at an old letter she wrote to her partner Eric when she was visiting her parents. "When she read the letter, Juliet winced, as anybody does on discovering the preserved and disconcerting voice of some past fabricated self. She wondered at the sprightly cover-up, contrasting with the pain of her memories. Then she thought that some shift must have taken place, at that time, which she had not remembered. Some shift concerning where home was. Not at Whale Bay with Eric but back where it had been before, all her life before. Because it's what happens at home that you try to protect, as best you can, for as long as you can."

What is more, Juliet feels, in retrospect, that she let her invalid mother (now dead) down. "But she had not protected Sara. When Sara had said, soon I'll see Juliet, Juliet had found no reply. Could it not have been managed? Why should it have been so difficult? Just to say Yes. To Sara it would have meant so much-to herself, surely, so little. But she had turned away, she had carried the tray to the kitchen…She had put everything away."








The current trend in crude oil prices gives cause for much concern and if this persists, many of the calculations indicating further recovery and improved growth for the economy can be nullified. This year, oil prices have risen from $70 per barrel to briefly touch $87, falling back somewhat thereafter. Such levels have not been seen since October 2008. That year, oil crossed a historic $140 per barrel, falling sharply thereafter to under $40 as recession gripped the global economy. It is the continued upward trend through the latter part of last year, which shows no sign of abating even after crossing $80, that has the tea leaf readers worried. Globally, the rising price underlines the fact that recovery is gaining ground, but if the price continues to rise, it can stall the recovery, which is not yet fully established, in mature economies. Some analysts have even gone on to say that high energy prices have the potential to trigger a recession. Should this happen in the mature economies, the fallout in the emerging economies can only be adverse and can stymie their more buoyant growth.


High oil prices, which rein in growth, will be bad news for India in more than one way. Slower growth will take away some of the buoyancy that revenue collection is now displaying. But India's problem is compounded by the fact that oil prices are not fully passed on and thus result in under-recoveries for the oil marketing companies. Last year, under-recoveries nudged Rs 50,000 crore, with the government chipping in Rs 12,000 crore. According to a senior oil ministry official, if oil prices again touch $87 and refuse to come down then, with current consumer prices, the current financial year can end up with a massive under-recovery of Rs 80,000 crore. And should prices reach $100 per barrel, the under-recovery will touch Rs 1.2 lakh crore. Under-recoveries, if nothing else, ruin the finances of the oil marketing companies, and sap their energy and desire to run themselves efficiently.


All this points to what is simple and widely understood. For India to be on a sustainable growth path, its energy prices will have to be market-determined and go up if global prices go up. There is a double negative to under-pricing of energy. First, it ends up as higher public sector deficit, hidden or open. Plus, the lower prices send the wrong signal, offering no incentive to becoming more energy-efficient. This undermines what is the best insurance in a world that will have to live under the shadow of high energy prices — becoming more energy-efficient and thus not having growth and prosperity held hostage to the energy shortage plaguing the global economy. The imperative before the government is thus clearly laid out. With oil at over $80, a rise in consumer prices is overdue. This will make an already worrisome inflation scenario worse, but with better-to-full recovery taking place, inflationary expectations will go down, thus bringing down prices in general over time. Since an election is not round the corner, the government should not hesitate to act in the right direction.








Recent industrial production numbers confirm that industrial growth is on track. The year-on-year growth rate of 15.1 per cent for February 2010 was a tad lower than expected, but strong enough to give confidence to producers that demand for their products is robust. The monthly growth number is still benefiting from a low base effect of last year, and the month-on-month sequential growth has slowed down marginally. But the manufacturing sector still grew by 16 per cent, though a tad lower than the nearly 19 per cent growth experienced in the more recent past. Capital goods and consumer durables grew at 44 and 30 per cent, respectively. Mining output grew at a healthy rate of over 12 per cent, and electricity growth rate was up at close to 7 per cent. Basic and intermediate goods' output grew at a more modest rate of 8.4 per cent and 15.6 per cent, respectively. Consumer non-durables continued to show weakness, although there was improvement from the previous month. This sub-category includes fast moving consumer goods, and one explanation for its continued weak showing is that inflation is causing households to shift from branded grocery items to staples. If this explanation is correct, then non-durables will do better only when inflation abates. Otherwise demand robustness is also revealed by the spurt in non-oil imports as reported in the latest balance of payments data. Yet another independent corroboration of industrial revival is the data on bank credit. The incremental credit to deposit ratio is close to a remarkable 130 per cent, indicating that banks may soon face funding crunch, which, in turn, will put pressure on interest rates. If you juxtapose demand for industrial credit along with the government's borrowing requirement, there is no question which way the interest rates are heading.


Against this backdrop of industrial health, clearly the focus of economic policy will be inflation control. Despite repeated promises, if with shifting dates, from various ministers and economic policy-makers that inflation is all set to come down, it has stubbornly refused to do so. Indeed, the yawning gap between prediction and outcome on inflation has seriously damaged the reputation of various economic policy-makers and spokespersons for the government. Apart from inflation, another macroeconomic parameter that is bound to impact on industrial production is the exchange rate. The recent appreciation of the rupee has begun to worry not just export-oriented sectors but also import-substituting industries. Policy-makers cannot afford to ignore the employment effect of an appreciating rupee if both export-oriented industries and import-substituting industries take a hit. In short, to sustain industrial production growth, the government must pursue a holistic monetary and fiscal policy that ensures price stability as well as exchange rate stability. The bottom line is simple — India needs a much bigger and more employment-intensive manufacturing sector if it has to sustain rates of growth upwards of 8 per cent. While the services sector remains the most important source of white collar employment, blue collar jobs have to come from manufacturing and infrastructure sectors.









The cornerstone of any efficient financial market is certainty and coherence in its regulatory framework. Unfortunately for India, the turf war between the Securities and Exchange Board of India (Sebi) and the Insurance Regulatory and Development Authority (Irda) in relation to unit-linked insurance plans (Ulips) has dispelled the belief that the regulatory system governing India's financial markets is becoming increasingly sophisticated. A brief review of the Sebi order (prohibiting life insurance companies from raising finances from investors under existing or new policies or marketing any new products, up to such time as they register with Sebi) is a case in point as this order has no basis in the present legal framework.

The legislature enacts primary legislation to establish regulators and delegates powers to them to formulate secondary legislation. Sebi was set up under the Sebi Act and its powers are derived from that Act itself. Any regulation notified by it that is beyond the scope of these powers would be without any legal basis. The Sebi Act (as well as several committee reports of Sebi) clearly recognises the fact that, conceptually, a mutual fund is in the nature of a Collective Investment Scheme (CIS), which Sebi is authorised to regulate. Section 11AA of the Sebi Act expressly states that a contract of insurance which comes under the Insurance Act shall not be deemed to be a CIS.

Interestingly, the Insurance Act defines the life insurance business to include any contract where the payment of money is assured on death or on the happening of any contingency dependent upon human life and further includes annuities granted on human life. As is evident from the broad scope of such definition, the subject matter of an insurance contract could very well be investment, while the contingency on which the sum assured is payable could be the survival of the insured up to a certain age, and not merely the death of the insured.

 Sebi contends that since Ulips are a combination of insurance and investment, they are not purely contracts of insurance (subject only to regulation by Irda), and are also subject to regulation by Sebi because of their investment component. However, given that the intent of the legislature appears to have been to provide as broad a definition of the "life insurance business" as possible, Sebi's argument appears to be built on a shaky foundation. 

The position on Ulips under English law (which has been recognised by Indian courts as forming the jurisprudential basis of Indian insurance law) is no different. A century ago, English courts held that merely because an insurance product also contains an investment component and the contingency upon which money is payable in such products is not only death, but linked to other events contingent upon the duration of human life (i.e. survival of the insured up to a prescribed age), it does not imply that such products would not be regarded as purely contracts of life insurance.

In addition to the exclusion of a contract of insurance, a review of all other exemptions from the provisions dealing with CIS under Section 11AA of the Sebi Act reveals that all exempted arrangements are such that they are the subject matter of separate regulatory framework — the rationale clearly being to avoid a multiplicity of regulatory authorities on the same subject matter. For instance, the exempted categories include pubic deposits raised by companies and non-banking financial companies (NBFCs) which are already regulated by the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) and the Ministry of Corporate Affairs.

While Sebi has concentrated on the fact that collective investment and subsequent unitisation of fund value are a feature of both Ulips as well as schemes of a mutual fund, it appears to have disregarded the fact that conceptually, Ulips are significantly different from units of a mutual fund. The benefits under a Ulip in case of death of a policyholder are typically the higher of the sum assured or the fund value represented by the number of outstanding units as on the date of death; in a mutual fund, in all circumstances, the benefit is linked and limited only to the fund value of the units held by the unit holder and never to the death of the unit holder. Thus, unlike mutual funds, unit-linked products are inextricably interlinked with the life of the policyholder and the sum assured. Also, if one were to trace the historical development of Ulips, one would conclude that Ulips are only an advanced form of an endowment policy (with profits), with the only difference being that in this case, the investment made by the insurer in various financial instruments is represented in the form of units lying in the account of the policyholder for the purpose of determining the benefits payable under the policy. Tracing this historical development is important in order to understand that endowment insurance policies have been in vogue from much before the amendments that empowered Sebi to regulate CIS were made to the Sebi Act. Inevitably, one is led to conclude that the legislature had not contemplated a role for Sebi in the regulation of any contracts of insurance and by necessary implication, in the regulation of contracts in the nature of endowment policies in any form whatsoever.

Another reason why the Sebi order is flawed is that as per the Insurance Act, the sole purpose and activity of a life insurer can be to undertake the life insurance business. If the Sebi's directive is accepted and life insurers are required to register themselves with Sebi for the Ulips for conducting mutual fund business, Sebi would, in effect, be mandating life insurers to conduct a business other than the insurance business. Obviously, a regulatory body cannot overturn, by a simple ruling, the mandate prescribed by the legislature for life insurance companies and the Sebi's directive, therefore, cannot be accepted as correct. On the other hand, if Ulips are held to be insurance business, then quite naturally, Sebi does not have jurisdiction under the Sebi Act to regulate such products. In other words, under the present laws, compliance by life insurers with Sebi and Irda directions on Ulips can only be mutually exclusive events.

Also at a policy level, the need to have an additional regulatory authority supervising Ulips is unclear. While there are genuine concerns regarding the high commission structure of Ulips because of which they are aggressively and misleadingly sold, this surely cannot form the policy basis for another regulatory authority to exercise its jurisdiction, especially given that Irda has in recent times taken several steps to ensure that Ulips are sold in a transparent manner and that the commission costs are reduced.

If today we were to accept Sebi's directive, would we also be encouraging Sebi to subsequently argue that it would be within its right to regulate the newly launched pension products, which the government had intended to be within the exclusive domain of the Pension Fund Regulatory Development Authority? Would it mean an end to India's avowed policy to have separate regulatory authorities for each specific sector? This issue has become more complex and twisted since Irda subsequently issued a mandatory direction to all life insurers under the Insurance Act, stating that the Sebi order will seriously jeopardise the interests of the policyholders and the insurers and that notwithstanding the Sebi order, the life insurers should continue to carry out the Ulip business. Could this embarrassment of a public spat between two national regulatory authorities have been avoided by a more effective consultation process between them, especially given that both of these authorities regularly meet as part of the High Level Coordination Committee on Financial and Capital Markets? Although the government has finally intervened to restore the status quo until the matter is resolved by courts, this issue is far from over.  

The author is a senior associate at Luthra & Luthra Law Offices








For long, Europe was viewed as the "nice" guy of the global trading system. To its partners in the Third World countries, the European Union (EU) came across as less aggressive and more understanding of developing country problems than the US; it offered preferential treatment to the poorest nations and, overall, it enjoyed a reputation, not always deservedly, for being sympathique. Not in recent decades, though. The trade agreements that it is driving with developing countries are turning out to be as predatory as those of the US —  harsh pacts that trap poor nations in intellectual property (IP) regimes that are much worse than what the World Trade Organisation has mandated under its TRIPS or trade-related IP rights agreement.  Europe, it could be said, has bared its fangs by pursuing an IP maximalist agenda that it is embedding in its free trade agreements (FTAs) across the globe.

Look at its FTA with Colombia and Peru which is scheduled to be signed in May. Taking its cue from similar FTA that was rammed through by the US in 2006, the EU is demanding sweeping provisions on pharmaceutical patents apart from other IP rights. It has managed to wrest test data exclusivity — this is a stratagem for protecting clinical information necessary for getting marketing approval for medicines and goes beyond the TRIPS agreement — for a five-year period. The consequence: entry of generic versions of branded drugs will be delayed for much longer than the patent protection period and will push up healthcare costs for these two Andean countries.

 According to a study published last year by Health Action International (HAI), a non-profit organisation working for healthcare access, data exclusivity for a decade, would have forced Peruvians to spend an additional $300 million on medicines by 2025. Incidentally, more than half of Peru's population lives in poverty. The 27-nation bloc is also pushing for tough IP protection clauses to be included in the "association agreement" that is being negotiated between the EU and six Central American nations: Costa Rica, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Panama and Nicaragua.

One of the measures it is pushing for is a clause requiring customs authorities to impound consignments of goods that "violate IP standards". Although the EU maintains it is intended to curb the trade in counterfeit goods, India knows from experience that the trade bloc is targeting its production of generic drugs by trying to make it appear that these are counterfeits. EU's trade halo was badly tarnished in 2008 when it began implementing a deeply flawed IP protection regime by seizing consignments of Indian drugs meant for customers in third countries at its ports. It allowed its customs authorities to seize generic medicines from India on the ground that these were "counterfeit drugs". It was clearly a ploy to stop exports of generics from this country which has supplied low-cost medicines to a huge swathe of the developing world which is fighting AIDS epidemics.

The FTA is seen by activists here and abroad as the final attempt to close down the pharmacy of the world. As another round of talks was kicked off this Monday in Brussels, much of the world is taking unusual interest in this controversial FTA. Although the provisions of the FTA are still secret despite a well-publicised "leak" on the Net and commerce ministry officials maintain there is no text as yet. But that has not helped Delhi to dodge the spotlight. Protests by a motley group of activists in Delhi and a high-profile global campaign have kept the pressure on India not to make any IP concessions on health-related issues.

Leading the protest is the international humanitarian aid group Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) which points out that the FTA would make it more difficult for the world's poorest patients to access AIDS drugs. Apart from worries on data exclusivity, the big concern is about the reported EU demand to extend the patent term beyond the regulation 20 years to "compensate" pharmaceutical companies for any delay in grant of patent by the Indian authorities.

Such invidious proposals have prompted several members of the European Parliament also to join the extraordinary global campaign against provisions of the FTA that would impact public health policies. But can they stand up to the powerful lobby of BusinessEurope which brings together the 40 leading national business federations? BusinessEurope wants a no-nonsense approach to tough IPR standards that it believes are critical for Europe's competitiveness. Outlining its priorities for the next five years, it exhorts the EU to "address the scourge of counterfeiting and piracy in its bilateral relations with key strategic partners (e.g. China, Russia, India and Brazil) and in the framework of the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement negotiations" (a secretive pact promoted by the US). It, therefore, wants the EU to "press for the adoption of the highest standards of IPR protection in the domestic legislation of its trading partners". Given this, and the various legal challenges to India's patent law mounted by European pharma giants in the Supreme Court, Delhi clearly needs to watch out.







Sunday, 1.30 pm: A text message from an unrecorded mobile number exhorts me to "STAY FIT Reduce fat(8inch)use-SAUNA SLIM BELT-(650/DELHI)*(700/NCR)+Free YACO + Free HOME DELIVERY CALL NOW:…".

Saturday, noon: TM-HOTOFFER tersely informs me: "Coming Soon Jaypee Kensington Business Park Commercial Space in Sec 133 on Noida Expway@5588/-ft on DP 5min from S.Delhi Book now… ."


 Tuesday, 6 pm: Now it's TM-HOTINVEST's turn. "Havent invested in DELHI-NCR yet? Do not miss JAYPEE 1st Commercial Park at Noida. Prime spaces ONLY 5588PSF on DP!"

TM-HOTINVEST appears awfully anxious about the fate of this project. Within 10 minutes, three messages arrive. All of them read: "Haven??????t invested in DELHI-NCR yet? Do not miss JAYPEE…", and so on.

The hard-seller of the SAUNA SLIM BELT had been off the radar for almost a year. Messrs HOTOFFER and HOTINVEST are newcomers to my inbox. They're part of a resurgent tide of marketers who have a grossly inflated idea of the salary Business Standard pays me. Jewellers, premium cosmetic brands, companies offering car loans, home loans, any loans, manufacturers of power-saving devices…, they've all managed to get round the Do Not Disturb (DND) registration and bombard my mobile.

If their quirky punctuation, eccentric use of capital letters and urgent, cramped shorthand convey one compelling message, it's that the economic slowdown is over. And, after about a year's respite, so is the consumer's peace of mind.

I am not a lone victim of this bulk text onslaught. A web search for the identity of these messengers throws up a plaintive complaint from a DND-registered mobile owner listing 21 unsolicited calls and text messages he received between March 22 and 28 this year — the HOTties figure as does the sauna belt seller.

Marketing gurus such as Kotler et al have disgorged reams of earnest, scholarly works advising companies on the principles of marketing, but none of them have dealt with the issue of irritating selling techniques. Tele-marketers, of course, top the list of annoying marketers, a problem the DND registry has partly addressed. But the text-marketers are pretty much on a par with their timing (Sunday afternoon?) and frequency (once a week, sometimes more).

It is unlikely that any of these annoying marketers have read Kotler's magnum opus; they're merely mail-list owners leveraging a cost-effective medium to scatter-shot messages over a wide consumer universe.

Their persistence is puzzling because the offers are couched in terms that hardly enhance their credibility, which, even if you haven't read Kotler, is surely a common-sense rule for marketing anything from steel to lipstick.

The purveyor of SAUNA SLIM BELT is a case in point. To check it out, I decided to make a customer call. A helpful lady answered after three rings and enthusiastically answered my queries.

SAUNA SLIM BELT was a direct sales outlet based in Naraina in west Delhi. The belt was supplied to it by a company called S L Sky Shop. Did S L Sky Shop make the belt or was it imported? The salesperson could not say. But they could deliver in 24 hours and the product carried a one-year guarantee.

And what was this free YACO? Apparently, this meant the belt could be adjusted to suit the user's height — even children, I was assured, could use it — and helped you maintain your blood pressure if you wore it during your morning walk. YACO???

A web search revealed one online yellow-page entry for S L Sky Shop in Patel Nagar (also in west Delhi) that was listed under the category "Utility Shops and Services". This didn't in any way suggest that it was a trusted maker of health equipment. So, despite the conscientious efforts of its sales outfit in Naraina, I decided not to test its credentials further by ordering a belt.

The Jaypee messages are of a different order. There was no phone number to call, just a text reply code. This is not an unknown company but the realty arm of a powerful northern construction company that builds roads and power projects. It is also possible that its marketing arm may not be aware of the messages sent by the HOTties, no doubt co-opted by brokers. But messages of this ilk are unlikely to enhance its reputation and, surely, it should wield some influence in how its projects are marketed.

Scale this up to banks and consumer companies that have re-discovered the virtues of text marketing as economic growth picks up, and the issue of credibility acquires more serious dimensions. If there's one lesson irritated consumers can teach marketers, it's that whatever the medium, the message of credibility does not change.








The meticulously planned attack by the Maoists on the CRPF in Dantewada has shocked the Delhi establishment. This episode has come soon after the stopping of the Rajdhani Express near Midnapore and the Maoist gains in Lalgarh. The time has come for the government to explain the adequacy of the security strategy put in place last year and the measures being taken to address the deep-seated grievances about development, natural resource management and governance in the tribal heartland of India.

Five years ago, when the two main Maoist groups, the Peoples War Group (PWG) and the Maoist Communist Centre (MCC), came together to form the CPI-Maoist, I wrote a column* in this paper that sounded a warning. Not a word in that article would need to be changed if I were writing now. That is the measure of failure of the government's policy on Maoist insurgency.

In fact, the situation has worsened as the home ministry's figures on the deaths due to Naxalite violence for the past six years bring out: 566 deaths in 2004, 677 in 2005, 678 in 2006, 696 in 2007, 721 in 2008 and 908 in 2009.

 When the two Maoist groups came together, their immediate aim was to create a Compact Revolutionary Zone (CRZ) — from Nepal through Bihar in the north to the Dandakaranya region, where Dantewada is located, and Andhra Pradesh in the south. They are not yet there but they have extended their influence eastwards into Bengal and are able to move cadres through this region to escape from or respond to security pressures.

Most of the talk now is about escalating the security effort, including some suggestions about bringing in the air force and the army. Some security analysts have questioned the strategy of establishing territorial control in the affected areas aimed at denying the Maoists the comfort of safe havens where they have people's support. They argue for a search and pursue strategy more specifically directed at the training grounds and assembly points of the Maoist cadres.

I 'm not competent to comment on the security strategy. What I do believe is that democratic societies should not wage war against their own people. Yes, they have to maintain public order. But when the breakdown of order is due to some serious grievance, the main thrust of the response must be to correct that grievance.

The area for concern is the tribal belt in the eastern part of India that stretches from Bihar and Bengal through to Karnataka. The Maoist presence is not limited to tribal areas, nor is the Maoist agenda limited to tribal uplift. But these remote and forested areas, where they seem to have popular support and protection, provide them with a base that allows them to elude the battalions of police who are chasing them. That is why the grievances that we need to address are those of tribal India.

The development gap between the tribal population and the rest of India can be summarised in the percentage of rural population below the poverty line, which was 47 per cent for STs, 37 per cent for SCs, 27 per cent for OBCs and 16 per cent for others, according to the 2004-05 National Sample Survey. The SCs and OBCs have now acquired the political clout to assert their interests at the national and state level. But the STs are peripheral in the complex dance of coalition politics.

This is not new. When the Constitution of India was being framed, the adivasis (tribals), the original inhabitants of India, were almost forgotten and it was only the eloquent plea of Jaipal Singh Munda that ensured them a place in the Constitution. We remembered then to do the right thing. But since then the adivasis are the Indians we forgot. It is high time we undo this lapse of memory.

The answer does not lie in throwing money at the problem. What we need to do is to recognise the rights of tribals to their patrimony and to create the space for them to exercise effective political power. The tribal belt in eastern and southern India is actually rich in natural resources and that is part of the problem. Large-scale land alienation to non-tribals, near-criminal exploitation by mining mafias and bureaucratic (and often corrupt) control over forest resources have marginalised and alienated tribals in their homelands.

One positive measure taken in 2006 was the Forest Rights Act. But its implementation leaves a lot to be desired. As of end February 2010, out of the 27 lakh claims filed, 7.6 lakh have been accepted, 9.3 lakh have been rejected and the rest have still to be decided. There are also problems about recognising community rights and the linkages with Joint Forest Management.

The rights of the tribals to capture the value of the natural resources in their homelands have never been fully accepted by the rest of us. We displace them in the name of development, compensate them for the loss of their meagre livelihood but fail to accept that they should have a share in the rents that accrue today to mining mafias, forest contractors and corrupt officials.

All this reflects a serious flaw in the way in which we place tribals in our polity. It is almost like we treat them as interlopers or squatters, a bit like the way the mainfest destiny doctrine of the white colonialists in America denied the rights of indigenous people to their land and resources. The adivasis of India have a long history of territorial sovereignty over the areas that they inhabit. There were independent tribal kingdoms (for instance the Gond Rajas) and a long history of organised tribal revolts (for instance by the Santhals against the British). We need political arrangements (for instance autonomous district councils) that give them effective political power in their home areas.

Adivasis are not quite like the Dalits who are an oppressed part of Hindu society. They were outsiders to Hindu society and often had a relationship of equality with their Hindu neighbours. In fact, Hindu society recognised this in several ways in its mythology and scriptures. Remember the sage Valmiki, who was a tribal, and the story about Sabari in the Ramayana and Eklavya in the Mahabharata?

What the tribals need is not hand outs. They need honour and dignity. Give them this and the pool of discontent in which the Maoists swim will dry up.

* Watch the Red Signal,Business Standard, May 17, 2005







It is to India's advantage to let Indian entrepreneurs tap and deploy under their control as much of foreign capital as they can to grow the Indian economy. Current policy truncates this advantage. Press notes 2,3 and 4 of 2009, now consolidated with minor tweaks into a new one, categorises as foreign any company with more than 51% foreign ownership.

Foreign ownership would take into account not only foreign direct investment but also portfolio investment, foreign currency convertible bonds, American and Global Depository Receipts as well as convertible preference shares and holdings by nonresident Indians.

India's largest private sector banks ICICI and HDFC Bank would now be 'foreign' , even if fully Indian-controlled . This is a needless confusion that the RBI and the government should resolve. These norms make a few more banks — Yes Bank, ING Vysya and IndusInd Bank — run the risk of being dubbed foreign.

Such classification has major implications. The banks would have to adhere to existing caps on foreign ownership in subsidiaries such as for insurance (26%). More important, as foreign banks, they would suffer stringent restrictions on opening bank branches. While foreign banks are allowed to open branches in India based on reciprocity (how many branches Indian banks are allowed to open in their parent country), domestic banks are allowed to open any number of branches in conformity with the RBI's branch-licensing policy.

The banks in question have no parent country either. So, the problem is not just one of semantics. Policy must neither restrict Indian entrepreneurs' access to capital nor allow foreigners to control sensitive sectors by masking some forms of ownership. Extant policy fails both tests.







Dubai is really happenin' these days. Again. A little controversy may end up being good for business. For years it was the mecca for shoppers from the subcontinent , even though the Indian government was wary about some of its less savoury denizens who set up home and headquarters there.

Fortuitously, the iffy credentials of that bunch were later offset by some more acclaimed names who bought into the Dubai story — quite literally — and put their palm-prints on reclaimed real estate there. Everything went swell until recession and that sinking feeling very nearly made those prime properties in Dubai become a real Atlantis. Forced to lie low, Dubai must have been chafing at being neglected by its former devotees.

Then the Sania-Shoaib love-match swung the spotlight its way as the gulf city has proved to be a safe and salubrious haven for many a beleaguered Indian celebrity. Foreigners love it too: cricketer Andrew Flintoff is based there.


Cricket-crazy and bananas about Bollywood; what more could Indians want in a home away from home? As for standards of living, before Qatar came forward to offer citizenship to MF Husain , the flamboyant painter was quite happy to pursue his art in his posh apartment near Dubai creek. Even now as a Qatari national, the nonagenarian has been zipping across to Dubai for shows and socialising.

The latest plugs for Dubai in the Indian news circuit, however, may not be quite as beneficial. As the Sania-Shoaib story was eclipsed by the Sunanda-Shashi saga, the focus shifted to Dubai again as the personal and professional pied a terre of the lady in the limelight, and the base of some backers of the Kochi IPL cricket team. Meanwhile, two Indians were sentenced in Dubai recently to three months in jail for exchanging "steamy" cellphone messages. Sms-happy Indians heading there should take note.







Congress general secretary Digvijay Singh's criticism of the government's strategy against the Maoists, through his article on this page on Tuesday, raises a number of issues. The strategy per se, of course, is the first. The second is the role of a political party vis-àvis the government which it effectively controls. And the third is how public policy debates within a political party should be.

Let us start with the last. For a party to have people with different views who can articulate these views forcefully is an asset. Only through such debate and clash of opinions can ideas cross-fertilise one another to produce richer, more complex and eventually more rewarding operational strategies. But should such debate take place in the public domain or be confined to party fora?

The Congress Working Committee has never met to discuss the Maoist problem. The broader All India Congress Committee set up a task force on the subject way back in 2004 but never published or discussed its report. When party fora fail as platforms for policy debate, the choice is either to have no debate or for debate to take place in the public domain.

The choice is clear. Even when party bodies do discuss policy and reach a conclusion, the notion that dissenting voices should never be heard outside the party is a prescription for Stalin's gulags. Politics demands that ideas travel from parties to the public and back to the parties, such traverse amending, augmenting or refining those ideas and enriching democracy. Should a ruling party dictate policy to the government? In elections, people vote for and against parties, based on what they stand for.

In order to redeem this primary tryst with the people, a party must ensure that the government it forms carries out its promise to the people. Further, for the party to function as an organic link with the people, gathering popular sentiment and transmitting it to the government for action and mobilising the people to implement official policies and programmes effectively, the party must be in constant dialogue with the government.

Mr Singh's concerns, shared by a quite a few other Congressmen, seek to not so much contradict as to complement the policy of using force against Maoists. Rural development, tribal affairs, mining and forests are ministries that must play a coordinated role with Home, to tackle the Maoist challenge in a holistic fashion. This is sense, not personal challenge. Failure to accommodate sense would, of course, be rigidity and worse.






Franz Kafka, whose scenarios often replicate themselves empirically in India, has this little story called Before the Law. In brief, a man walks up to a door, closed and watched over by a guard, which we are told is some sort of entry point, aportal, to the Law. The door does not open; we don't know if it will or can, it is immutable and implacable. Firmly silent and shut. Years pass.

Finally the guard tells the man that only he could have walked through, and since he didn't , the door will remain forever closed now. Replace the man with an image of whatever your conception of an Indian aam aadmiis , and the guard with perhaps your local policeman, and the "meaning" of the puzzling parable is closer at hand.

It is a truism that most Indians view the police with a certain amount of trepidation. Employing one of those image-association psychological games, it'd be fair to say 'police' evokes the usage of nouns like alarm, anxiety, terror and nightmare.

And when a human rights group releases a report on torture in India which points out that taking 2000-01 as the base year, custodial deaths have since risen by around 41%, including a 70% rise in deaths in prison and 12% rise of custody deaths, nobody quite bats an eyelid. But precisely why is the police seen as being quite the antithesis of its supposed role as protector of ordinary citizens?

Barring most nations in the West and a few elsewhere, roughly the same situation exists in other parts of the world. Wherever there's a history of either authoritarianism, political instability, poverty, corruption and deep socioeconomic schisms in society, or a combination of some or all of these factors. The police being the first, most immediate point of contact between citizens in their everyday lives and the State, the issue clearly is linked to systems of governance and democracy .

Then again, given our propensity to slip into paeans about our democracy, how can we stay content with being placed alongside troubled or failed states on this issue?

An answer lies in the genesis of most of our modern institutions: colonialism. That may well be often used as an excuse to deploy blame elsewhere, much of academic 'poco' (post-colonialism ) stuff can cause exasperation . But then, we also have to question if the envisaged role, functioning and perceptions of the police have fundamentally altered after we started to govern ourselves based on our own Constitution.

The colonial state envisaged its first line of enforcement, the police, as a means of controlling unruly masses, of enforcing its writ and law by force. Colonial citizens naturally viewed the police as the hostile entity — even though the rank and file was drawn from among them — representing an oppressive regime.

The state mightn't be colonial anymore, but its systems, institutions are still opaque, impassive, or downright indifferent to a vast majority of people in everyday life. And liable to quickly turn coercive, oppressive, denying or stripping the citizen of even the most basic of rights enshrined in the Constitution. And that encounter is often enacted on the State's part by the police.

Part of the systemic dysfunctionality is the state of the police itself. Its unaccountability , low ethical and professional standards , its being overstretched, operating in abysmal conditions, all make up for its being far removed from conceptions of citizen rights, and often resorting to 'short cuts' — ranging from bribes, using torture, illegal detentions or custodial killings et al — to deal with a situation. That only posits the far bigger nature of the problem. And that is one of our polity. How we envisage our democracy and politics, how the state redraws its contract with the citizen.

Yet, while the larger, deeper change might yet take time, while political thought and practice evolves, there is no recourse except constantly seeking to enact and enforce laws and rights. And involving and enabling the citizenry to invoke those rights.

Far removed from Kafka, the Hollywood image of the cop reading the detainee his rights while arresting him might sound pat. But if, say, that practice was introduced, enshrined , institutionalised, with active penalties for its breach, with adequate safeguards and compensations for people denied such a right, could we say we have hopes the door of the Law will one day open?







Aeons before Cecil Rhodes (the man who wanted to annex other planets, if he could; and who maintained that the empire was always a matter of the stomach), King Midas of Phyrgia wanted to turn the world into gold at the touch of his hand. The king begged the god Dionysus to give him that power, says Eduardo Galeano in his monumental retelling of the world's stories, Mirrors.

Dionysus, the god who came from the enchanted East into Europe, who believed in emotional ecstasy rather than in cerebral calculation; in wine not in gold; reluctantly granted it to the mortal king.

Midas broke off the branch of an ash tree and it turned into a rod of gold. He touched a brick and it turned into an ingot. He washed his hands and a rain of gold poured from the fountain . And when he sat down to eat, his food broke his teeth and no drink could flow down his throat . He hugged his daughter and she turned into a statue of gold. Midas was about to die of hunger , thirst and loneliness. Dionysus took pity on him and dunked him in the Pactolus River.

From that moment on, the river has a golden bed, and Midas, who lost his magic metal touch but saved his life, had donkey's ears which the king tried to hide discreetly under a red bonnet.

The myth focuses on overarching pride. This forces the protagonist unknowingly into making foolish choices. The gift of turning everything he touches into gold becomes a life-threatening liability. But the king redeems himself by admitting his folly and begs forgiveness from the gods. His humility thus heals the wounds that his hubris has caused.

The moral of the myth also turns on the importance of the golden mean: Midas was extortionately wealthy but he wanted even more, far beyond 'normal' needs . The gods allow his fantasy to come true only to make him realise how futile the wish is. Fortunately , he's humble and quick to retract and gets off with a risible rebuke: merely to be saddled with asinine ears which can nevertheless be concealed in cloth.

He could have done worse, like that anti-hero of featherbrained flight, Icarus does in his myth — he soared closer to the powers on borrowed wings crafted from waxen seals only to have them run on his arms like blood.
Midas lived to pay for his greed in an ancient version of a bailout. Icarus paid for his with life. Moral of the myths? Whatever Gordon Gecko might say in Wall Street: Greed isn't all that good.







There is a subtle international trade war going on. Since emerging markets (EMs) are growing faster than the West, there is pressure on EMs to allow their currencies to appreciate, thus helping the West to export their way out of recession. Never mind that the poor have to grow faster than the rich to catch up. EMs' own growth is to come more from domestic demand.

At the same time, capital from the West is flooding EMs with high growth in order to participate in the returns from that growth. Left to itself, this appreciates local currencies. So, intervention can be blamed as going against market wisdom.

But markets have not demonstrated much wisdom lately. Capital flows are excessively volatile, and their coming and going can be unrelated to economic fundamentals. Moreover, capital has to be repaid, requiring current account surpluses at some stage. While countries with strong surpluses like China should appreciate, a country running a current account deficit is not obliged to do so.

Insisting that EM exchange rate polices contributed to excess reserves, and these were a prime cause of the global crisis, is a strategy to force a sharing of adjustment costs. Many pre-crisis warnings were about global imbalances and a dollar crisis, but few about poor regulation and excessive financial leverage. It was the financial sector that had imploded. Continuing risks in this sector are being ignored in keeping the spotlight on imbalances.

So far, there has been more noise than reform. Banks have resumed trading as the way to recoup losses. Without reform to address the disease of volatile capital flows, the cure of exchange rate management cannot be faulted. The Chinese fix and excess US liquidity constrains our options.

We were at the receiving end of crises originating elsewhere, and have also suffered unemployment and a fall in exports. Even so, EMs benefited from globalisation and must contribute to keeping the system going. But they must do it without hurting themselves. Adjustment must be symmetric and fair.

Some short-term appreciation can benefit India today, since it is going through a high inflation phase. Insofar as the exchange rate channel aborts inflation, it reduces real appreciation. It helps consumers and cheapens oil imports. Expected depreciation after excessive appreciation allows domestic interest rates to exceed international without inviting interest sensitive inflows, thus accommodating the difference between domestic and foreign monetary cycles.

Two-way fluctuations in the nominal exchange rate encourage laying off of currency risk, but fluctuations beyond the 10% range, as in the last couple of years, impose a large cost on trade.

Longer-term real exchange rates must be competitive, to prevent widening trade deficits. Therefore, appreciation beyond current levels should be resisted. Given larger government borrowing requirement, sterilisation of major reserve accumulation will be difficult. Inflows forcing an appreciation beyond 44 should be moderated through a selective tightening of capital controls.

India has many options since it does not have full capital account convertibility. It already restricts less desirable types of inflows such as debt, which do not share risk. Taxes can help change the time profile towards longer-run inflows. With more active signaling, the market can also help the RBI achieve its exchange rate objectives.







To let the rupee be on its own or not is the question on everyone's mind. As global investor sentiment see-saws from pessimism to one of cautious optimism, a surge of capital inflows has led to significant appreciation of emerging market (EM) currencies. Understandably, policymakers are trying both conventional and unconventional measures to stem volatility.

Let's get the context here: 2008 was the year of the financial crisis while 2009 witnessed a global recession. Against that backdrop, 2010 is seeing a better-than-expected, but uneven, recovery. The West is entering a period of extended stagnation while the recovery in East is expected to be swift. This has led to a wall of cash flowing into EM assets.

While the rupee has rallied smartly in the last few months — particularly post-Budget 2010 — the appreciation over the past year has been modest. Latin American currencies have led the gains, with the Brazilian real appreciating by over 30%. The other strong performers have been the South African rand and Indonesian rupiah. The tide seems to be turning in 2010, with the market focusing on the laggards like the rupee.

The rupee's recent rise has raised concerns around export competitiveness. Our in-house real effective exchange rate (REER) model shows the rupee is now expensive, only slightly though, in real terms. The rupee could edge higher into year-end as India's strong growth profile and balanced macroeconomic policies continue to attract capital inflows. Importantly, we expect the yuan revaluation theme to increase appreciation pressure.

The discussion, however, needs to be more comprehensive and strategic. After all, exports comprise only 15% of the country's GDP whereas imports are 23%. Thus, the implications of exchange rate pass-through for domestic prices should not be ignored. Besides, a strong currency inspires confidence in the quality of growth.

The issue really is not the direction, but the pace of the rupee's move. The RBI normally uses sterilised intervention to guide the rupee. But liquidity management concerns have highlighted the possibility of capital controls. The management of capital inflows for the time being is likely to be passive, as long as inflows do not significantly exceed the absorptive capacity of the economy.

A surge in inflows, however, may force policymakers to resort to more active means, a la Brazil. The debate on the effectiveness of a Tobin Tax kind of instrument has new-found respectability in the context of the disruptive effects of hot money on sovereigns. This is a risky path to tread and India should draw on the lessons of other countries.

Arguably, capital controls failed in Thailand as the implementation of the policy was not backed by comprehensive controls. In contrast, Malaysia implemented a combination of administrative and regulatory measures that ensured positive outcome. An IMF study on this concludes that prudential policies are key for the Tobin Tax to achieve desired objectives. Given the long-term prospects for India and its financing needs, the secular trend calls for a stronger rupee. Also, the focus has to be on the quality of flows and its impact on the real economy. The policymakers have won a lot of respect for the way they have managed 'the dirty float' on the rupee. Letting it be might not be a choice in the context of the disruptive effects of hot money on sovereigns. As the financial crisis has showed, Adam Smith's 'invisible hand' can't be relied upon at all times.








Air India, the brand that today encompasses both the erstwhile Air India and Indian Airlines, is in serious trouble . The National Aviation Company of India (NACIL), formed by the merger of the two airlines, ran up losses of Rs 2,200 crore in 2007-08 . Losses for 2008-09 estimated at over Rs 5,000 crore. In 2009-10 , losses could exceed Rs 12,000 crore. How did the airline get into such a mess?

Parliament's Committee on Public Undertakings (COPU) has come up with a report that seeks to identify the underlying causes. The report does not put its finger on why Air India has run up huge losses. But it has posed the right questions and provides information that helps zero in on the causes of the problems at Air India today.

It is useful to begin by listing some perceived causes of Air India's losses and examining how far these are valid:

Public ownership is the problem: Governments just can't run commercial enterprises. There is no way that Air India and Indian Airlines could have survived in the face of greater competition.

There is a problem with this story. Several public sector enterprises have successfully weathered greater competition post-liberalisation and are doing better than before. In the period since 2001, Air India made a profit every year until 2006-07 . Indian Airlines made a profit in three out of those six years.

Losses in aviation are not unique to the Indian public sector. Private airlines in India too have been in the red. The airline industry is notoriously prone to losses. Worldwide, the International Air Transport Association estimated losses at $17 billion in 2008, $11 billion in 2009 and $3 billion in 2010.

Air India suffers from a bloated work force typical of the public sector: Air India performs in-house a wide range of functions that other airlines outsource. Still, Air India's workforce per aircraft of 214 compares favourably with that of several other airlines: Malaysian Airlines (230), Virgin Atlantic (282), KLM (220), etc. Wages account for just 16% of total costs, so the scope for reducing losses through wage or employee reductions is quite small.

The failed merger is responsible for non-performance and losses: There is little doubt that the merger of the two airlines, done in 2006-07 , has turned out to be a nightmare. But it is hard to ascribe the mounting losses to the merger per se. The synergies expected from the merger were fairly modest in the first place: around Rs 900 crore. Of these, Rs 500 crore was realised in the first year itself.

The failure of the merger cannot explain losses of over Rs 5,000 crore in 2008-09 and the even higher losses projected for 2009-10 . Merger makes it more difficult for Air India to respond to the situation it is in, it is not the cause of the situation.

Thus, none of the perceived causes can explain the mess Air India is in today . The report provides useful clues. Air India's problems, it turns out, arise from two errors, one strategic and the other structural.

As the accompanying table shows, in 2007-08 , one-third of the increase in losses was on account of increased interest and depreciation charges. Increase in wage costs contributed a little less than a third. In 2008-09 , estimates indicate that half the increase in losses will be on account of increase in interest and depreciation.

It is clear that the root cause of the present situation is the massive fleet expansion plan initiated by the two airlines prior to merger. Was such an expansion necessary? Officials have justified on the ground that the two airlines needed to replace their aged fleet and also augment their fleet in order to maintain market share given that the market was expected to grow faster than in the past.

The market has not grown as fast as expected. As a result, NACIL is stuck with planes with low utilisation and is having to lease out aircraft. In the case of Air India, 46% of addition to fleet was towards augmenting capacity; at Indian Airlines, the figure was 30%. (The rest was towards creating new capacity).

At least, this component was avoidable . In a market that is expected to grow faster than in the past, it is not necessary to maintain market share. Several PSEs have lost market share over the past decade but profit growth has been better than ever thanks to an exploding market. The focus on market share is often a source of value destruction. In the case of Air India, it appears to have been a major strategic error.

The second cause of Air India's problems is structural. The airline industry is inherently problem-ridden because it combines high capital intensity with volatility in revenues. Leverage in this business is bound to be high but it must be kept within reasonable limits. Air India embarked on a fleet acquisition plan costing Rs 44,000 crore on a paid up capital of Rs 145 crore. This was a recipe for disaster.

Additions to fleet should have been more gradual and should have been governed by the need to keep leverage within limits. There is a tested formula that the government has followed in exposing PSEs to greater competition: recapitalise and restructure; go public and list; revamp governance. Regrettably , this sequence was not followed in the case of Air India and Indian Airlines. The government should have strengthened their equity base even as it deregulated the airline sector.

But that is in the past. What is to be done now? The government has reconstituted the board. It has brought in a foreigner as chief operating officer. Neither will dissolve the structural problem . The government will have to infuse substantial equity. It may try to induct a strategic partner into some of Air India's subsidiaries and sell some property. Leasing out excess capacity can, perhaps, be expedited under an empowered committee of the Board.

Pushing ahead with the merger will only further sap the energies of the company. It is best to put the merger on hold and settle for a virtual merger for now. As the report suggests, NACIL may be made a holding company with Air India and Indian Airlines operating separately under its aegis.











Italian clothing major Benetton expects its business from India to contribute a significant chunk of its overall revenues in five years. The Benetton Group, with brands such as casual wear United Colors of Benetton, the glamour-oriented Sisley and the leisurewear brand Playlife, has a presence in 120 countries. Its network of around 6,000 stores around the world generates a total turnover of over euro 2 billion. Weaving design into brand, Benetton India is now confident of becoming a $250-million company in three years. In an Interview with ET, Benetton India MD, Sanjeev Mohanty outlined the company's DNA and its expansion plans. Excerpts:

What is the co-relation between design and brand Benetton?

Design is essential for brand differentiation. Especially for an apparel industry, where trends change every other day, unique designs of not only the clothes but of the store is crucial to make a brand different from others. For Benetton, we convey what we are through the design and brand is just about giving a name to that uniqueness.

How do you arrive at the right kind of look and feel for products?

We, as a brand, ensure that we are in touch with current trends. That plays a major role in deciding the look and feel of our product. Also, we take up a lot of below-the-line activities, which allow us to be in touch with our real consumers. We have presence on social networking sites like Facebook. We listen to our users and pick up trends from there. We incorporate that in our merchandise planning.

It is a kind of real time research. Moreover, we have consciously positioned ourselves as a colourful brand; therefore, colour is the basic factor when we decide the look and feel of our product. Also, when it comes to window dressing, the same strategy applies. We make sure that the ambiance in our stores, the window merchandising is in line with our product.

Is it a challenge to cater to the global needs with the same offerings? How do you take care of regional variations in demand?

We do not change our product line geographically. Our products are same in all our markets we are present in. We do not believe in tweaking our line for a particular market. Customisation is an excuse for brands, which do not do well.

Global brands work everywhere. Moreover, the effort that goes into reaching to four or five additional customers is not worth it. Consumers currently are very global and they are accepting products that have a global appeal. Consumers no more want products tweaked specially for them. We do not need to tweak our strategy for India. In fact, we have positioned ourselves as a colourful brand since the beginning and it has worked wonders for the Indian market.

Where does India fit into the group's global scheme of things?

India is an important market for the group. The share of India in overall revenues is not much currently, but, it is a core market and we see it becoming majority contributor in next 10 years. In India, we crossed the $100 million turnover mark last year. In next 4-5 years, we expect to touch $250 million. So, the Indian operations are going to be big in few years. The growth opportunities will come from smaller cities also, where we are expanding. These areas are already contributing about 20% to our growth. We see it increasing further since these areas are recording better growth than even the metros and 'A' class cities. Contrary to popular perception, the consumers in these cities are not too conscious about prices.

Traditionally, Benetton has not been too high on advertising. What is your strategy going forward?

That is true, we are not very high on advertising. We spend more on consumer experience like store ambience and window merchandising. Almost 40% of our budget is spent on that. However, we are now looking at in-film placements as our next branding strategy. In fact, we have already tied up with an upcoming John Abraham movie 1-800-Love. We will do more tie-ups in that area for sure. We would also look forward to being clothing partners of programmes or events, which are true to our product.








India's banks are flush with funds and are in the midst of an expansion spree. But low credit offtake continues to be a cause of concern for most of them. Bank of Baroda chairman and managing director M D Mallya says there is a strong pipeline of financial closures that will help the bank increase offtake in the coming months. Mr Mallya outlines the bank's growth plans in an interview with ET. Excerpts:

How do you plan to expand operations?

M D Mallya: have achieved a credit growth of around 21.5% in 2009-10. We are now looking at 25% growth and hence, we will follow a diversified approach. We will target customers at the bottom of the pyramid and also bringing generation-next under the banking umbrella. We have opened six Gen-Next branches at important IT hubs and software parks. These branches will target young customers who have disposable income and help them choose various investment options from the bank.

Are you looking at overseas expansion?

M D Mallya: As far as our foreign operations are concerned, we are present in 25 countries across and now close to setting up a banking subsidiary in Malaysia. We have got the clearances from the Indian regulators and are awaiting regulatory approvals from the Malaysian authorities. We hope to get them in the first quarter of the fiscal. We're looking at a credit growth of 25% through our global operations.

Is the bank looking to diversify into non-banking services? How has been the experience so far?

M D Mallya: Our insurance venture is doing well. We would expect this (IndiaFirst Life Insurance) company to break even in the next five years. The company has mopped up about Rs 250 crore since it commenced operations in November 2009. Of the Rs 330 crore equity capital of IndiaFirst, we hold 44% and the insurance products are available at 1,750 branches of our bank. We'll take further decisions if there is any opportunity.

There is surplus liquidity in the system and yet credit offtake hasn't increased. Is that a concern? What you expect from the regulator?

M D Mallya: Yes, credit pick up has not been substantial. But there is a strong pipeline of financial closures, sanctions for most of them are already there and the rest will pick up this year. So credit growth will be much better. As far as the monetary policy is concerned, inflation will be the primary concern for the regulator. Now there is plenty of liquidity in the system and hence I don't expect any change in credit reserve ratio (CRR). But RBI can give signals for increase in interest rates and that will determine the plans for all banks.

Are you looking to raise capital for business expansion and how much recapitalisation support from the government you expect?

M D Mallya: Now, the current government holding in the bank is 53% and hence we don't have any immediate plan for raising resources through a follow-on public offer (FPO). We have submitted a road map and the required monetary support that we expect from the government's recapitalisation plan. At the same time we are very well positioned. Our capital adequacy ratio is 14% and tier I is at 8.7% till December '09. We've got sufficient headroom. We'll decide on the nature of instruments as and when we would go in for fund raising.

The government is going big on financial inclusion. But banks have concern whether its a viable operation... There is a lot of commercial value in financial inclusion. We have also prepared a road map to spread our banking service in rural and semi-urban areas. We have appointed 250 business correspondents so far and we will surely increase this number. We are currently riding on the support of non-governmental organisations, but we need to explore other options as well. Kirana stores is a viable model because of the scalability and pan-India possibility.


The change in calculation of interest to daily basis has increased the cost of funds. Banks are looking at alternate sources of revenues. Are you planning the same? We have a savings bank portfolio of around Rs 50,000 crore, which is around 25% of the total deposits. So, as per our assessment there will be an additional burden of around Rs 250 crore. There will be a notional increase in the cost of deposits but overall margins will be maintained. The increase in cost can be offset by growing faster to achieve higher volumes of current and savings accounts (CASA).



                                                                                                               DECCAN CHRONICAL




Cynics may not be entirely over the top if they were to see the recent Nuclear Security Summit, organised at the US President, Mr Barack Obama's initiative in Washington, as a gigantic photo-op. After all it was the biggest gathering of world leaders since the conference held to found the United Nations 65 years ago. But the opportunity was squandered to mount a serious international effort to confront nuclear weapons countries that pose a security risk, such as Pakistan and North Korea. The logo issue of the summit was to see how best to stop nuclear weapons and bomb-making materials strewn about in the world from falling into the hands of terrorists and criminals. The question is palpably important. As Mr Obama has noted, the chances of the use of nuclear weapons by state actors has reduced since the end of the Cold War but that by non-state actors significantly increased. It is easy to see why. It is precisely in this period that jihadist terrorism has spread. The centre of gravity of this activity is unquestionably Pakistan. And yet, the United States has treated Islamabad with kid gloves on the matter of nuclear security. From what was officially said, Mr Obama merely expressed his "disappointment" in his bilateral interaction with the Pakistan Prime Minister, Mr Yousaf Raza Gilani, over the issue of Islamabad blocking progress on international negotiations for a treaty to cut the production of fissile materials in the world. This is because Pakistan is busy increasing the size of its nuclear arsenal. The point is that the more nukes that Pakistan makes, and the greater the quantum of bomb-making materials lying about in that country, the easier for terrorists and nuclear thieves to lay their hands on these as the country has been intrinsically unstable for years and its leaders have given every sign of lack of ideological uprightness on questions relating to international security. The trouble is that Washington believes it must pander to the Pakistan Army in order to serve its interests in a volatile part of the world, made more so — ironically enough — by the Pakistan Army itself. Once a professional soldiery, this army has bred international jihadist terrorism of every range and variety, and under its benign gaze A.Q. Khan, father of the Pakistani bomb, smuggled and artfully sold nuclear materials and secrets to those with nuclear weapon ambitions. So until an international gathering has something more concrete to say about how to finesse countries like Pakistan and North Korea, there will be expression of good intentions but no serious results. The British foreign secretary, Mr David Miliband, was more forthright than Mr Obama when he told the BBC that nuclear nations like Pakistan were "vulnerable". He also said: "The message from this summit is that any country can be treated as a normal country on nuclear matters if it behaves like a normal country." This applies as much to Pakistan as Iran, the non-nuclear weapon country the Western powers are focused on while overlooking Pakistan. While the photo-op aspect of the summit is clear enough, there is no gainsaying that half the countries present announced national plans to further the cause of the summit.







For nearly five decades after the World War II, nuclear weapons dominated the agenda of international politics. In the past few years, though, they have been displaced by concerns about climate change. The prospect of a carbon summer now seems far more menacing than that of a nuclear winter. Yet, nuclear issues have a knack of coming to the fore periodically — usually in crisis mode. The recent developments on the nuclear front are all the more interesting because they afford an opportunity for considered and concerted action. The United States' Nuclear Posture Review, its new arms reduction treaty with Russia, the Nuclear Security Summit, and the forthcoming Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) Review Conference, all mark the beginning of an important debate on nuclear weapons. It is essential that India informs and shapes this debate. In his speech in Prague last year, the us President, Mr Barack Obama, stated that the US would "seek the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons". He admitted that this ambitious goal may not be realised in his own lifetime. Nevertheless, he expressed his willingness to move towards that objective.

The recently released Nuclear Posture Review takes some steps in this direction. It declares that the US will not use or threaten to use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear weapons states that have signed up to the NPT and that have complied with their nuclear non-proliferation obligations. The message is aimed mainly at North Korea and Iran. But it is unlikely to have the desired effect. On the contrary, it might well accentuate their desire to procure nuclear weapons.

The review signals another important shift in US nuclear doctrine. It affirms that American response to a chemical or biological attack will be conventional — not nuclear. This stance, too, applies only to non-nuclear states that are in compliance with NPT. Then again, the review muddies the waters by adding an awkward caveat. The US reserves the right to abandon this assurance in the light of future developments in biological weapons capabilities. In short, the review takes some essential, if halting, steps towards reducing the role of nuclear weapons in American strategy.

The key feature of the review is the importance accorded to preventing nuclear terrorism and nuclear proliferation. Since the attacks of September 11, 2001, the possibility of terrorist groups acquiring nuclear weapons or material has been a major concern for Washington. The nuclear security summit is an effort to generate international consensus on confronting this challenge. The upcoming NPT Review Conference will focus on the non-proliferation regime.

In both these areas India could inject a much-needed dose of fresh thinking. New Delhi has already indicated its interest in establishing a nuclear security centre. Such a centre could be useful in pooling together the available international expertise on securing nuclear materials and weapons. But India should also push for measures to deter states from transferring nuclear material to terrorist outfits. This may seem a far-fetched scenario. But given the history of the Pakistan Army's involvement in shadowy nuclear transfers, it cannot be dismissed as wholly improbable.

To prevent such an occurrence, the international community should affirm that the responsibility of safeguarding nuclear material rests with the state that controls it. This would reduce the cover of deniability on the pretext that the material was stolen. It would also put the onus on the state to share with other countries any information about loss or theft of nuclear material.

It is likely, of course, that the state might entirely deny that the material used by a terrorist group originated from its stockpile or arsenal. To obviate this possibility, we need the ability to trace back an explosion or attack to the originating state. This would require the creation of sophisticated methods to infer weapons design and isotopic details of the fissile material used — methods that will enable us to match an explosion to the nuclear fingerprint of a state. The proposed nuclear security centre could become the hub for international efforts in nuclear forensics.

On non-proliferation, India's reservations about the NPT are well known. But New Delhi needs to do more than merely protest. As a responsible nuclear power it needs to identify ways of strengthening non-proliferation and arms control efforts. On the former, India could declare its willingness to abide by the responsibilities of a nuclear weapons state under the NPT — without formally becoming a part of it. On the latter, India is understandably sceptical. Its efforts in the past — such as the Action Plan for Nuclear Disarmament proposed by Rajiv Gandhi in 1988 — had cold reception from the established nuclear powers.

But the current wave of enthusiasm for disarmament could usefully be harnessed by India. Unlike the earlier waves of the 1950s and 1980s that were driven by popular protests against nukes, the initiative is now being taken by political elites. The spectre of nuclear terrorism has underlined that the international community is indeed riding its luck. The tricky part of disarmament is not in the initial large cuts, but in dealing with the smaller residual arsenals. Doing away with these would require great confidence that nuclear weapons have outlived their utility. Therefore, an important component of any move towards eventual disarmament would be to create a taboo against the use of nukes. A useful first step would be an international treaty on no-first use.

New Delhi has desultorily aired this idea in the past. It is time to pursue it with vigour. Such a move would also entail modifications in our own nuclear doctrine. After the 1998 tests, the Indian government announced a policy of no-first use. This was later changed to include the possibility of a nuclear retaliation against a chemical or biological attack. The credibility of such a posture is dubious. It also undermines our overall no-first use stance. By offering to rethink its stance as part of a wider international treaty, India could begin to reshape the global agenda on nuclear weapons.

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






There are many differences between Iraq and Afghanistan, but they do resemble each other in one critical way. In both countries, the "bad guys", the violent jihadists, are losing. And in both countries, it still is not clear if the "good guys" will really turn out to be good.

And the big question the Obama team is facing in both countries is: Should we care? Should we care if these countries are run by decent leaders or by drug-dealing, oil-stealing extras from The Sopranos — as long as we can just get out? At this stage, alas, we have to care — and here's why.

I've read a lot of analyses lately criticising the US President, Mr Obama, and the vice-president, Mr Biden, for coming down so hard on the Afghan President, Mr Hamid Karzai's corruption. Mr Karzai's the best we've got, goes the argument. He's helped us in our primary objective of degrading Al Qaeda and done good things, like opening schools for girls. Sure, he stole his election, but he is still more popular than anyone else in Afghanistan and would have won anyway. (Then why did he have to steal it? Never mind.)

This line echoes the realist arguments during the Cold war as to why we had to support various tyrants. What mattered inside their countries was not important, the argument went. What mattered is where they lined up outside in our great struggle against Soviet Communism.

The Bush team took this kind of "neo-realist" approach to Afghanistan. It had no desire to do state-building there. Once Karzai was installed, President Bush ignored the corruption of Karzai and his cronies. All the Bush team wanted was for Karzai to hold the country together so the US could use it as a base to go after Al Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Frankly, this low-key approach made a lot of sense to me because I never thought Afghanistan was that important. But, unfortunately, the Karzai government became so rotten and incapable of delivering services that many Afghans turned back to the Taliban.

So the Obama team came with a new strategy: US has to defeat the Taliban in Afghanistan if it is going to keep Al Qaeda in check there and in Pakistan — and the only way to do that is by clearing them out of the towns and installing decent Afghan police, judges and bureaucrats — i.e., good governance — in the Taliban's wake. Obama's view is that, to some degree, idealism is the new realism in Afghanistan: To protect our hard-core interests, to achieve even our limited goals of quashing Al Qaeda and its allies, we have to do something that looks very idealistic — deliver better governance for Afghans.

I still wish we had opted for a less intrusive alternative; I'm still sceptical about the whole thing. But I understand the logic of the Obama strategy and, given that logic, he was right to chastise Karzai — even publicly. If decent governance is the key to our strategy, it is important that Afghans see and hear where we stand on these issues. Otherwise, where will they find the courage to stand up for better governance? We need to bring along the whole society. Never forget, the Karzai regime's misgovernance is the reason we're having to surge anew in Afghanistan. Karzai is both the cause and the beneficiary of the surge. I'm sure the surge will beat the bad guys, but if the "good guys" are no better, it will all be for naught.

In the Cold War all that mattered was whether a country was allied with us. What matters in Obama's war in Afghanistan is whether the Afghan people are allied with their own government and each other. Only then can we get out and leave behind something stable, decent and self-sustaining.

Unlike Afghanistan, the war in Iraq was, at its core, always driven more by idealism than realism. It was sold as being about weapons of mass destruction. But, in truth, it was really a rare exercise in the revolutionary deployment of US power. The immediate target was to topple Saddam's genocidal dictatorship. But the bigger objective was to help Iraqis midwife a democratic model that could inspire reform across the Arab-Muslim world and give the youth there a chance at a better future. Again, the Iraq story is far from over, but one does have to take heart at the recent elections there and the degree to which Iraqi voters favored multiethnic, modernising parties.

So, while Mr Obama came to office looking at both Iraq and Afghanistan as places where we need to be focused more on protecting our interests than promoting our ideals, he's finding himself, now in office, having to promote a more idealist approach to both. The world will be a better place if it works, but it will require constant vigilance. When Mr Karzai tries to gut an independent election commission, that matters. When the Iraqi Prime Minister, Nouri Kamal al-Maliki, refuses to accept a vote count certified by the UN that puts him in second place, that matters.

As I have said before, friends don't let friends drive drunk — especially when we're still in the back seat alongside an infant named Democracy.







The Ministry of home affairs' anti-Naxal strategy requires an orbital jump. The suggestions that are currently doing the rounds — including the use of air power, of the Army and the whole idea of "jungle warfare" — are coming from people who are completely uninitiated in the field.

Naxalism is largely a state problem, and to deal with it the states must raise their own forces, must have total control, and must work through their DGPs (Director-General of Police). It is crucial that allocated resources are not diverted to other uses, as has often been the case. Of course, I do not discount the role of the Central paramilitary forces, but this is an additional resource and should not be projected as the main operational force, as is currently the case.

When I was in Chhattisgarh, my basic concept was to strength the local police; increase their numbers; give them the wherewithal. Very little of what I had recommended has yet been implemented. Even today, the number of state police personnel involved in anti-Naxal operations is abysmal. While I was there, there were about 500 Chhattisgarh Armed Force personnel deployed for counter-insurgency (CI) operations. Today, that number has gone up to about 2,000. Such a tiny force is meaningless, considering that the Bastar division alone, the densely forested tribal area which is the heart of the insurgency, covers 39,114 square kilometres. The present DGP has been pushing for change, but there are many defects in the system, and everything is obstructed. Even constables' transfers are decided in the Secretariat. Simply demanding that the DGP do a good job without giving him the authority or the wherewithal is counter-productive.

Various proposals, such as the use of the Air Force, are downright wrong. Of course, I had asked for UAVs in Chhattisgarh, and they had been used to some effect in CI operations despite various institutional frictions. However, to think that this is a war that can be fought with hi-tech devices and helicopter gunships is plain wrong. I remember, a former deputy Prime Minister wanted helicopter gunships to be used in Jammu and Kashmir, but I said, "Don't do it… don't read magazines and watch movies and start imagining things".

Everyone is talking about "jungle warfare" as if this is some Viet Cong-type of operation. These are small groups engaging in ambushes and using improvised explosive devices. This is far from the kind of warfare we saw in Vietnam. Our strategies and tactics, our equipment and our training have to be tailored for the kind of conflict our forces are confronting, not some stereotype we have read of in books.

— K.P.S. Gill, former DGP, Punjab, and former security adviser to the Chhattisgarh government

Strategy is fine, training a must

A.S. Gill

The strategy of the Union home ministry to send in security forces to reclaim areas dominated by Maoists and then initiate developmental works is a correct one. In the Naxal-hit areas there is practically no road construction activity, very few teachers in schools, hardly any doctors in hospitals, scarce electric supply, destroyed schools and telecom towers, and unbuilt police stations. Civil servants are kidnapped and extortion is rampant. For any development to commence, the agencies concerned should have the confidence to move in. The local population has to develop faith in the system. A sense of security is a sine qua non for development in the tribal areas.

There are no security forces in large tracts in districts like Dantewada and Bijapur, and in some areas — such as the one where the April 6 Naxalite attack on the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) occurred — the forces are too thinly spread. This shortage was the reason the Union home ministry decided to concentrate special operations in areas of heavy concentration of armed Maoist cadres. These are mostly on the borders of Chhattisgarh-Maharashtra, Orissa-Andhra Pradesh and Jharkhand-Orissa. The thin spread of the forces is a serious concern.

The area in Dantewada district where the CRPF was attacked is, strictly speaking, not a part of the special operations plan of the home ministry, but such places too need the special attention of the state and the Central government. The terrain and the constant threat of improvised explosive devices planted by the Maoists makes it extremely difficult for reinforcements to move in quickly. When more forces are deployed to gain the larger objective, the fear of the Maoists will gradually decrease among the local people. The civil administration should be ready to move in and take up development activity as soon as the security improves.

The tactics employed by the security forces have to be dynamic and must change according to the terrain, the time of the year and climate conditions. The tactics of the Maoists will have to be closely studied. Though the CRPF and the state police forces are being trained in counter-insurgency schools opened in Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand and Orissa, they need to constantly hone and upgrade their skills. In the Dantewada attack, it appears the security personnel did not apply what they had learned from the training. The role of training is extremely important.

It takes time for the effect to show. We must remember that it is only recently that we acknowledged the seriousness of the problem of Left-wing extremism.

— A.S. Gill, former DG, CRPF







It is all very well saying Asia is replacing Europe as the prime creator of wealth, but is there any evidence that new superpowers like China and India will be able to supply the cultural magnificence which once accompanied European productivity? We take European art for granted. But its profusion and variety, and the thoroughness of its penetration into every aspect of life, are unequalled. I have been repeatedly to the new medieval and Renaissance galleries at the Victoria and Albert (V&A) Museum since they opened. Many wonderful artefacts never before seen, or at any rate never properly displayed, are now on view in all their opulence. They overflow with objects which testify sometimes to the genius but always to the ingenuity, invention, skill and taste of the craftsmen who created them. What remarkable creatures Europeans were before they committed collective suicide in the two world wars of the 20th century, just as the ancient Greeks destroyed themselves in the Peloponnesian disaster.

One is struck by the sheer density of the achievement. If we look at what emerged in the second decade of the 16th century alone, the mind is overwhelmed by the abundance. Of course the years are dominated by Raphael's cartoons, which pulse with the almost frantic energy of the High Renaissance. While Raphael was working on his cartoons, Dürer was engraving his magisterial portrait of Erasmus, shown at his writing desk in all the stunning detail of his crowded study, and Lucas Cranach was likewise engraving on copperplate his bold head of Luther, radiating raw-boned defiance and terrifying determination.

The same decade brought two masterpieces of the plastic arts. Holbein's father designed an exquisite piece in silver, not much more than a foot high, showing St. Sebastian assailed with arrows. It is amazing to me that such a horrific martyrdom should be so delightful to contemplate for its artistry of conception and skill in execution, yet I must admit that of all the countless treasures of this museum, London's finest, it is the object I would most like to possess. For life and vigour, however, it is challenged by an uproarious bronze made perhaps the same year. It is known as "The Shouting Horseman", and is exactly that — a mounted man roaring out his heart, though whether in terror or rage or simply bellowing for his men to follow him is for us to guess. Hard to say which is more arresting, the horse itself neighing fiercely, or its bareback rider; the noisiest statue I know despite its diminutive height (33 centimetres). The artist is Andrea Briosco (1470-1532), one of the greatest Renaissance sculptors. Andrea is usually known as Riccio because of his abundant curly hair, and he produced his wonderful bronzes despite suffering from podagra, an acute form of arthritis or rheumatism.

The years around 1515 were thus fertile in high art of all kinds, but it is characteristic of European culture that it encompassed also countless works of beauty that were for everyday use, or adorned living rooms and bedrooms. I am captivated by a sumptuous dish, about 40 centimetres across, made to hold fruit I would think, which was baked and glazed in Carfaggiolo just at the time when Raphael was working on his cartoons. It is in the then-fashionable grotesque style, in many colours, and is crowded with erotic figures, so that each time a guest removed an apple or an orange, something new and shocking came into view, with Leda and the Swan as a climactic centrepiece.

So much so, in fact, that the humblest of objects assumed a role in the endless and stately procession of Renaissance art. If, for instance, a leisured lady, a contemporary of Luther's, wished to perfume herself, she could use a sprinkler made in Venice. The V&A has a superb example, enamelled and gilded, with a fine tapering spout and a luscious belly, engraved with the arms of the Hirschvogel family. And if Erasmus himself had wished to own an inkpot out of the ordinary, but not of ostentatious gold or silver, he might have possessed himself of an earthenware one such as the V&A displays — a most enviable piece of work, created by a minor master of the genre, Giovanni di Nicola Manzoni, just at the time Dürer was busy with his engraving. This adventurous treasure rests on the backs of two large dogs, proto-Labradors I should say. The structure they carry, furnished with one big pot and two smaller ones (for red ink and gold leaf), is constructed in the form of a manger, with the Virgin Mary and the infant Jesus, guarded by a long-haired St. Joseph, and an ox and an ass peering out from under a green-tiled gable roof.

Hard to find in these glorious galleries anything, however humble its purpose, which is not a thing of beauty. How fortunate the Europeans have been over the centuries! Evelyn Waugh used to say that, until the Industrial Revolution, any object to be found in the house of a well-to-do European was artistic in its fashion, and worth preserving for posterity. In fact the industrialisation of Europe itself produced vast quantities of fine workmanship in its purely utilitarian artefacts — look, for instance, at the bridges, locks, roadworks and canal lodges of Thomas Telford, or Isambard Kingdom Brunel's rail sheds, stations and viaducts.

Into the 19th century and beyond the quality of European culture was attested by its density and concentration. The ranks of the artists, craftsmen and contrivers of genius ran deep. Because of his bicentenary celebrations this year, all of us now know that Frederick Chopin was born in 1810. But few may be aware that the year before, 1809, Mendelssohn had been born, or that Schumann was born the same year as Chopin, and Liszt the year after, 1811. Two years later, 1813, saw the births of both Richard Wagner and Guiseppe Verdi. Thus, within five years, five of the greatest musical geniuses in history came into the world. That is, indeed, richness.

I recall General de Gaulle, at a press conference, expressing his regret that the uniting of Europe placed so much stress on the purely material structure of life, and so little on its cultural superstructure, and its Judeo-Christian substructure. For me, he said, Europe is not about coal and steel and tariffs, "C'est l'Europe de Dante, de Goethe et de Chateaubriand". To his annoyance, I interrupted him: "Et de Shakespeare, mon Général?" "Oui, Shakespeare aussi", he replied, with a sad Gallic shrug of his shoulders at the hopelessness of confronting an uncomprehending philistine world. I fear that in the 21st century, and beyond, the dawn of an oriental age in the production of new and efficient material goods and services will lack the sursum corda, the lifting of the heart and mind which the era of European supremacy once provided.






Many years ago a French Catholic nun artist organised an exhibition in Indore Town Hall which was titled, Ishwar Manav ki Talash Mein, ("God in search of man-woman"). That was 40 years ago. The exhibition left a profound impression on me and I never tire of speaking about its theme.

The artist through her paintings, was trying to exhibit the fundamental Christian Biblical truth that it is God who has loved us first and that we need not struggle hard to search for God. Or better still we need not toil to get God's attention through various ritual offerings and sacrifices. For it is God who comes down in search of us. And He does that because He loves us. Some Biblical scholars believe that the whole Bible can be summed up in just one word, "Love". The rest is just commentary.

According to the book of Jeremiah the Lord says, "I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with loving-kindness". Rick Warren in his famous book Purpose Driven Life writes, "The Bible says that God is Love. It doesn't say God has Love. It says God is Love. Love is the essence of His character. God created you as an object of His Love. You were made to be loved by God — that's your number one purpose".

Similarly, in the New Testament we find St. Paul in his Epistle to the Romans writing, "But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us" (Romans 5:8). And, "Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword... Yet, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Romans 8:35-39).

One of the major agendas of Jesus, as he preached to the masses, was precisely to tell them about developing an intimate relationship with God. He addressed God as Abba (daddy) which was not only totally unheard of but became one of the charges levelled against Him and led to His crucifixion. The charge was that He had dared to address God in such intimate terms, making Himself equal to God. That was blasphemy. But Jesus said, "As the Father loved Me, I also have loved you; abide in My love" (John 15:9). Again John in his first letter writes, "And we have known and believed the Love that God has for us. God is Love and he who abides in love abides in God and God in him... We love Him because He loves us first" (1 John 4: 16 & 19).

Priests and teachers of the time had made God an unreachable reality for ordinary mortals. Jesus turned that practice upside down by making God and His love accessible to everyone. That there would not remain even an iota of doubt about God's unconditional love Jesus demonstrated that in action by shedding the last drop of His blood.

John Powell, convinced that the only way God knows to Love is with unconditional love, in his famous book, Fully Human, Fully Alive, writes, "Real love is a gift. Real love is unconditional. The God I know would say to the person striving to earn or be worthy of His love, 'You have it backwards. You are trying to change so that you can win my love. It just doesn't and cannot work that way. I have given you my love so that, you can change. If you accept my love as a gift, it will enable you to grow".

In my limited experience of spiritual counselling I find that one of the most difficult propositions for us to accept is that God's love is gratuitous and that He loves us unconditionally. If only we could accept in our lives that God loves us with an everlasting love, we would soon be making good progress on the ladder of spiritual life.

— Father Dominic Emmanuel, a founder-member of Parliament of Religions, is currently the director of communication of the Delhi Catholic Church. He was awarded the National Communal Harmony Award 2008 by the Government of India.








THE next time the chief minister holds forth on the state of healthcare, or indeed on law and order, he would need to provide an assurance that health care is protected not only against noise and other irritants, but against the greater menace of rampaging mobs. The mindless violence perpetrated by locals at two Kolkata hospitals on Tuesday is a take-off on the culture of lawlessness that has seen medical superintendents being beaten up on charges of negligence by doctors and touts, and outsiders calling the shots at government hospitals with tacit support from unionised staff. In recent times, health care in the state had appeared to have opened a new chapter with the arrival of private enterprise. While operating within the broad guidelines of the government, they are expected to pursue a set of corporate objectives substantially different from services offered by state-run establishments. A mob is not expected to respect the rules but it could only have committed the horrible excesses that it did because the state machinery was again shown up for what it is ~ incorrigibly incompetent. A police station that was less than ten minutes away from the accident site took more than an hour to send a force. By then the damage had been done and police had to resort to the unprecedented action of firing on the hospital premises with critically ill patients and doctors running helter-skelter, blood banks and operation theatres in ruins and anti-socials running away with loot.

All this is not to condone the two hospitals approached by the accident victims who, in any event, had no business travelling in a vehicle not licensed to carry humans. There are orders by the court and the health department which hospitals are obliged to observe. The question here is whether any failure on the part of the hospitals was justification for the vandalism that endangered the lives of patients and created panic among doctors and hospital staff. 

There are welcome investments in this sector, although the culture of sloth that permeates even private institutions sometimes forces citizens to seek treatment in Chennai and Bangalore. What is the guarantee that the new health establishments can function without basic assurances of safety and security? The administration will adopt the old gimmick of ordering an inquiry to allow another cruel evidence of non-performance to fade from public memory. At the root, though, of such vandalism is the attitude carefully bred by the Left over decades that mobs, specially unruly mobs, have greater rights than individuals and institutions.








THE Supreme Court has "spoken" for more than the judiciary when turning down the Delhi government's plea to rework its Dussehra holidays to cover the Commonwealth Games fortnight. There is much too much sarkari about the forthcoming event, the welfare and the interests of the common man seem to count for nothing. If the local authorities had their way they would force a suspension of all regular activity in a bid to provide Games-related relatively free movement. Nothing wrong with that on the face of it,  non-Dilliwallahs might contend but the motivation is skewed ~ camouflaging the congestion and chaos with which the citizen has to contend every day. Already motorists are being subjected to much inconvenience, roads around sporting venues are being shut for even the preparatory events: imagine the plight of aam aadmi during that October fortnight. Politicians, officials and athletes will move smoothly in sticker-bearing vehicles, to hell with the people who, in theory at least, are hosting the Games. They are allotted to a city not a government, but try explaining that to the netas and babus. Closing the courts would have waved a green flag to shutting down a whole lot more. Of course the Central government could come to the rescue and reschedule its holidays, which would affect the working of courts too.

At the heart of the matter is the governmental-culture of the Capital. Most of what passes as festivity ~ Republic Day, anniversaries etc ~ remain limited to political/official circles. Sure there is some public participation: petty government servants being directed to attend, schoolchildren pressed into several hours of standing before they wave flags to foreign dignitaries, sing the National Anthem. Whether it is a musical concert or a cricket match, it is the same horde of presumed-VIPs who hog the front rows. No wonder there is so little spontaneous enthusiasm at such events. From day one the Commonwealth Games have been diverted down that dubious path, every attempt is being made to put a mask on harsh realities: only the exteriors of Connaught Place are being given a makeover, bamboo "screens" are to be grown around juggi-jhonpri clusters. Charade is the name of the game!









Cruel irony has marked the commemoration of history ~ ruthlessly malevolent in 1940, enormously tragic in 2010. Poland is in grief on the 70th anniversary of the massacre of Katyn by Stalin's secret police. The country's leadership, led pre-eminently by the President, Lech Kaczynski, has been wiped out in the aircrash at Smolensk in western Russia. It is quite another story that the aircraft was outdated, if not obsolete ~ a Tupolev 154, designed by the Soviets in the 1960s. The delegation was about to land in Russia to commemorate one of the darkest chapters in the history of the Soviet Union and Poland ~ the murder of 20,000 Polish officers soon after Nazi Germany and Stalin had carved up the state of Poland. The nation's grief as much as the enormity of the tragedy are reflected in the Solidarity leader, Lech Walesa's evocative comment: "This is the second disaster after Katyn." Katyn is more than a place on the map; more tragically does it symbolise an event that no Pole can ever forget. Historically, it remains a symbol of Soviet domination. And one must summon the metaphor of Walesa to share the numbness of a nation in mourning again ~ (then) "they wanted to cut off our heads; here the flower of our nation has also perished". 

Kaczynski was remarkably assertive in foreign policy, chiefly Poland's equation with the European Union. Though the country joined the bloc in 2004, the Polish President was decidedly more comfortable with the American-led NATO. He was ever so keen on inducting both Georgia and Ukraine into the North Atlantic alliance, a move that was deeply resented by EU, notably Germany. The fear was not unfounded; an expanded NATO would be a threat to Russia, even lead to a renewed bout of East-West tension. Though a member of EU, Kaczynski never dithered in his preference: "Membership of NATO will mean benefits for Poland," he once told the International Herald Tribune. Small wonder he was never too close to the Kremlin, indeed the reason why he wasn't invited to the joint Russian-Polish commemoration ceremony on 7 April. He was intent on the one organised by Poland in Katyn three days later. Such tragedies have shaped the history of Russia and East Europe as have more momentous events.







Poila Baisakh was a day of merry-making for rural Bengal when tax collectors had gone, it was time to enjoy the summer and for accountants to open their new book of accounts, says Devdutt Pattanaik
Perhaps one has to thank the Mughals for two famous festivals of India - Vaisakhi in Punjab and Poila Baishak in Bengal. Since ancient times, these were major agricultural festivals when farmers worshipped the sun. It was the day that the sun entered the Zodiac of Aries, or Mesha Rashi, one of the few festivals in India that follows the solar calendar and falls usually on the same day, 14 April. It traditionally marks the vernal equinox, that day in the spring when the length of the day is equal to the length of the night.

For the Sikh community, it marks the day when the Khalsa was established at Anandpur Sahib by the 10th Guru, Gobind Singh, in 1699. The Khalsa or the military arm of the Sikh religion was formed to resist the tyranny of the Mughal empire that had resulted in the killing of two gurus, Arjan Dev and Tegh Bahadur, by the emperors Jehangir and Aurangzeb.

In Bengal, this was the time that the Mughal officers collected taxes. Earlier, the Mughals followed the Hijri calendar to collect taxes. Being a lunar calendar of shorter duration compared to the solar year, the day of tax collection moved by a month every year and did not always coincide with harvest time. As a result, there were times when the day of tax collection fell during harvest time, which was good, and times when the day of tax collection fell at sowing time, or even the monsoon season, which was bad.

The Mughal Emperor, Akbar, ordered his courtiers to fix a specific time in a year when taxes could be collected. The month chosen was Vaishakh. And the work ended on the vernal solstice. Naturally 14 April was a day of merry-making for rural Bengal. The tax collectors had gone; it was time to enjoy the summer and for accountants to open their new Halkatha or book of accounts. It was the day when Lakshmi was worshipped with Ganapati. She brought in the wealth and he ensured that the year ahead would move without any obstacles.
Up north in Assam, the spring-summer harvest festival is known as Bihu (Rongali Bihu to be exact to distinguish it from other agricultural festivals or Bihus celebrated in October and January). It extends over several days, first with prayers to cows, then to elders and finally to the gods. It is characterised by a dance of women with movements of the hips that indicates it was an ancient fertility rite, celebrating the bounty and fecundity of nature.

Not wanting the wealth of farmers to be wasted on drink and gambling, women across Punjab, Bengal and Assam converted the extra wealth into gold. Gold was the best mobile asset that could be protected and carried easily in times of war (in Punjab especially) and in times of floods (in Bengal especially). It could be sold in peacetime and following floods or in times of drought, to generate capital for a new life. Gold buying, therefore, became an integral part of this agricultural festival. It also was left to the women because men were often called to war or to the fields, away from the home.

With the women stayed the gold, the children and the cows - the wealth of the community. The more gold she had, the more it meant that the man was prosperous. A woman bedecked in gold was a sign of a wealthy and happy village, wealthy because there was so much excess crops, and happy because the husband had the time and the energy to indulge his wife with gifts.


The writer is associated with the World Gold Council








DEAD men do tell tales. The ones being scripted in the wake of the massacre of 76 policemen in Dantewada are mostly horrific, few are heroic. They confuse rather than clarify, but collectively they indicate a grave shortcoming in the capacity to deal with what cannot be called a crisis ~ just one huge eruption of many a long-festering sore. Tragically, the nation has been presented with denials, contradictions and controversies, all of which point to there being more style than substance to governance. Certainly nothing substantive enough has emerged to suggest that the powers-that-be are taking a hard, if difficult, look at all that came unstuck. The "crowning glory" of it all (perhaps an unprintable term depicting the diametrically opposite would be more apt) being the rejected resignation of the home minister: meaningless political melodrama.

Had P Chidambaram been truly serious about accepting culpability ~ accepting responsibility would dictate a commitment to reversing the situation ~ he would have insisted on stepping down. By accepting the rejection of his quit-letter by both the de facto and de jure governmental heads he has invited the charge of seeking nothing more than political re-pampering; and that he did so being well aware than Manmohan Singh is no Chanakya to "do a Narasimha Rao" on him. Surely he was not desirous of the accolades that a humble Lal Bahadur Shastri had earned when relinquishing office after severe railway accidents. In that case he would have kept his lips zipped after submitting his resignation letter: but when it did not percolate to the media he himself made a tantalisingly brief mention at a police function. Sophistry?



NOTE that prior to his "announcement" his personal handling of the situation had not come under attack, despite widespread doubts if an offensive was strategically sound. The query/quip from the leader of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha about where the buck stops was essentially a turning of the tables on the minister's previous assertion. Actually the main Opposition party displayed maturity by slamming the Maoists and calling for re-doubled efforts to eliminate them, of course that gung-ho line is typical BJP. But after the resignation affair it rightly pointed out that quitting would be handing out "victory" to the Naxals. In fact even tendering a resignation would have the rebels believe they have North Block rattled. That the CPI-M advised him against politicking and Nitish Kumar said "talk less, work more" amount to self-inflicted injuries.
A key drawback to the counter-Naxal policy, which could have been rectified given the mood that obtained immediately after the massacre, was securing more political support. Was the situation not serious enough to warrant the Prime Minister holding an immediate meeting of party leaders present in the Capital, briefing them fully, seeking a level of endorsement? And simultaneously eliciting feedback. Why even till now a session of the chief ministers of the affected states has not been called to take stock of new developments, explain current difficulties, iron out the creases that hinder coordination. It is so easy for those who have never headed state governments to offer text book advice that simply does not match up with ground realities.
While the report of the Rammohan inquiry, hopefully, will identify the dirty details, it is already clear that the CRPF unit was not adequately prepared for the job. Maybe some of its personnel did undergo training capsules but it is so palpable that they learnt little ~ for they allowed themselves to walk into a trap. There are conveniently varying theories about the level of the involvement of the local police, and now the post mortem reports knock the stuffing out of the initial line that it was a heavily-mined area. The majority died of bullet wounds: it was a firefight in which the men with presumably superior fire-power were worsted. Medical evacuation facilities were minimal, the conditions in the CRPF camps abysmal. Reports of mosquitoes/malaria being as menacing as Maoists had been so frequent they had lost their "newsworthiness" ~ was much done about that?


THE reaction from North Block to valid points made by some highly experienced former police officers reflects a smug "we-know-best" attitude. That the government is "hurting" after both the air force and army chiefs pulled no punches about wishing to have no direct role in an offensive against "our own people" is also evident: there are reports of the Cabinet Secretariat having issued orders that henceforth only the home ministry will speak on the subject. Muzzling dissenting, questioning voices might serve to keep some egos inflated, but that will not silence the Maoists. Indeed that could hinder the reworking of policy, strategy and tactics ~ for inputs could dry up.

It is not just the "military" policy that requires a makeover (there is some merit in the argument that development cannot be initiated until ground is reclaimed and held), the traumatised people in the affected regions need to be convinced where their interests will be best served. While the terms "media management" and "using the media as a force multiplier" are revolting to journalists, the reality is that if taken into full confidence by a transparent, upfront administration, the media can help convince the masses. But that would require the burra sahibs on Raisina Hill to get their hands dirty, involve the local, vernacular newspapers and regional TV channels. None of the jaw-jaw on the "elite" metropolis-based channels so attractive to ministers, high officials, and party spokespersons will trickle down to jungles in which a scrap for the writ of the government is well and truly underway. As long as the panic button is not pressed and a determined effort is made to implement an action plan in which force is just one component there is no cause to apprehend failure. It's a hard grind ahead, a committed and comprehensive effort is inescapable. There could be further setbacks, the national resolve must not waver. Yet even at this seemingly early stage one message must sinkin: when (not if) the Maoist menace is negated no individual will be entitled to claim it was his success.

The writer is Associate Editor, The Statesman







An elderly female in one of Agatha Christie's novels, when questioned by the police about a murder that had taken place in her locality, said that she was not even aware that such an incident had occurred in her neighbourhood. The police inspector in charge pointed out that the news was published in the newspaper on the front page. To which she replied, "Oh, I don't read the newspapers, I only do the Crossword puzzles in them."
I am not as bad as Agatha Christie's character, but I come a close second. Although I do read the newspapers, I first target the crossword puzzles in them. I have also been an avid Scrabble player for many years. I used to play this game on the Scrabble board in the past with members of my family or like-minded friends. But now I've been living on my own for the last few years, and I haven't been able to find any Scrabble enthusiasts in the area where I live. In fact, some of the people I've questioned have not even heard of the game. So I tried to play the game against myself, turning the board around every time I completed a word. But I found this exercise too tiring and not worth the trouble, so I gave it up.

So, imagine my delight when I discovered recently that Scrabble could be played on the computer. Not being at all "computer savvy", I got someone to install a Scrabble disc in my computer. Now all I have to do is click on the Scrabble icon on the desktop and the screen opens up with a Scrabble board on display. I have a choice of contestants in varying categories that I can play against. They start with "Beginner" and "Apprentice" and end with "Master" and "Genius". But while the computer produces the required word in a flash, I need time to think about the best option that can score me some points before I make a word of my own. At first I would feel that I was holding up my opponent by taking time mulling over my next move, but then I realised that the computer always produces facts in a flash, and I was a mere human being and was not expected to keep pace with this hi-tech gadget. In the beginning, playing against disembodied contestants seemed a bit unsettling, but gradually I got used to it. And it was pleasing to know that with a minimum of physical effort I could get plenty of mental stimulation. But I discovered that I was at a disadvantage. My contestants had at their command words that were unknown to me, and they used these to score points against me. The words that they used were available only in a Scrabble dictionary and I had no idea what they meant. But I decided that I would also use such words, so I began to make a note of some of the unusual words that were used to outwit me. There were times when I took a wild shot and put in any odd sounding word that could fit into the empty squares on the board. At times my shot turned out to be correct, but more often than not a message on the screen informed me that the word was not contained in the Scrabble dictionary, and I had to delete it.

However, with many more words now at my command from the Scrabble dictionary, I began to feel more or less equal to my contestants, excluding the ones in the category of "Master" and "Genius". And if I lost more than two games to any of my opponents and felt that I needed an ego lift, I moved down to play against one in a lower category. After all, according to the computer, the competence of the average human is rated as below that of the contestant in her lowest category of players. So winning against any contestant listed on the computer would boost my morale.

But I find that playing Scrabble on the computer has its minus points too. Whenever I find that I have time on my hands (and this is beginning to happen too often) I turn to the computer to play Scrabble. In fact, I even find myself thinking of excuses to avoid doing tasks that must be done but are less pleasurable than playing Scrabble. So I take the point of least resistance. In fact, I am now spending so much time playing Scrabble on the computer that my epitaph could well read: "She died playing Scrabble". Om

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Poland's air disaster has devastated the country. But was it surprising? Not to the Polish writer Magdalena Rittenhouse, who argues that a fatal tendency to take risks is an ingrained national flaw
The President, top military commanders, and the head of the National Bank– they were all on the same plane? My American friends, who keep calling me to express their sympathy, cannot comprehend it. "How is it possible? Whenever people in my company travel to a conference, they put us on at least two separate flights,"one of them observed in disbelief. Yes, they were on the same plane, and it was an old Soviet-made Tupolev-154. It doesn't take much to imagine it was rusty, right?

I come from a nation of rebels who braved Nazi tanks with their bare hands or on horseback; my maternal grandfather did just that after the Germans invaded Poland on 1 September 1939; he was captured and sent to a POW camp three days later. Call it pathetic or beautiful, paranoid or courageous, but mine is a nation of countless suicidal uprisings, including one in Warsaw in August 1944, perhaps the most tragic of all.
I come from a country whose President travels on a plane that quite likely was not checked thoroughly before it took off. And whose pilot saw fit to attempt a landing in dense fog, despite being warned not to do so.
Upon hearing the news on Saturday, most Poles found it hard to think about what happened in pragmatic or rational terms. Instead, we saw the forest – bare trees, no leaves – where the plane crashed and thought of the graves that President Lech Kaczynski and those accompanying him were going to visit. Symbolic graves of 22,000 Polish reserve officers – university professors, doctors, lawyers – who were arrested upon the Soviet invasion of eastern Poland in September 1939 and then shot in the back of the head. Their bodies were found in Katyn and several nearby villages by the Germans, after they fell out with Stalin and invaded Russia. It happened in the early spring of 1943, after they noticed paw prints of wolves who were digging up the bones.
"A people whose collective memory has relied so much on mystical coincidence will be tempted for a moment to think that Katyn will never be over, that Lech Kaczynski and his companions are not just part of the tragedy but part of the crime," wrote the British historian, Neal Ascherson.

Yes, we cannot help but think of our history and the demons that have been haunting it for centuries. "This is unbelievable; this tragic, cursed Katyn," Kaczynski's predecessor, Aleksander Kwasniewski, said. "It's hard to believe. You get chills down your spine."

I learned about the Polish officers who died at Katyn from my parents. I am not sure how old I was – 10 or so – but I clearly remember them instructing me to keep quiet about it in school. For half a century, Russians and the communist government they installed in Poland after Yalta maintained the crime was perpetrated by the Nazis. That was what we read in our history textbooks, and only occasionally a brave teacher would dare to whisper and encourage students not to believe everything we were fed.

It was only under Gorbachev and his perestroika, as the Berlin Wall began to crumble, that the official line crumbled as well. In 1990, 50 years after the fact, Russians for the first time admitted their responsibility – something that by then was obvious to most Polish teenagers. It was in no small part a result of many efforts and struggles undertaken by Lech Kaczynski and his friends in the Solidarity movement. A staunch anti-communist, Kaczynski fell out with many of them in later years. As President, he would put Poland on a collision course with Russia many times, too, trying to prevent it from reasserting its influence over Eastern Europe or attempting to forge stronger ties with Nato and the West, particularly George W Bush's America. His demands to open the Katyn archives and conduct a full investigation certainly did not win him many friends in Moscow.
It may only seem like a bitter irony that, three days before Kaczynski's tragic death, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin became the first Russian leader to join a Polish delegation commemorating the 70th anniversary of Katyn. Putin stopped short of apologising for what happened or calling it a war crime. Nevertheless, he reached out: "In our country, there has been a clear political, legal, and moral judgment made of the evil acts of this totalitarian regime, and this judgment cannot be revised."

Kaczynski, who was not invited to the ceremony – instead Poland was represented by Prime Minister Donald Tusk – chose to take part in a separate celebration. He was joined by families of the victims, military commanders, bishops and priests, several ministers and MPs. Also on board the ill-fated plane was 90-year-old Ryszard Kaczorowski, Poland's last "president-in-exile" during the Soviet years, and Anna Walentynowicz, the shipyard worker whose dismissal in 1980 sparked the Solidarity strike in Gdansk (similarly to Kaczynski, she also later became estranged from many of its leaders). "Back then, they shot our intellectual elites in the back of the head, and now we lost part of our intellectual elite in a plane crash," Lech Walesa, the legendary Solidarity leader and former President, told Gazeta Wyborcza daily. "It's Katyn Two."

Apart from Katyn, another geographical location and another fatal accident is coming to the mind of many Poles. It took place over Gibraltar on 3 July 1943, and it also claimed the life of their leader – General Wladyslaw Sikorski, Prime Minister of Poland's government in exile. Just months after the news about Katyn emerged, Sikorski challenged Stalin, demanding an independent investigation. The Allies, who so far had been lending Sikorski their support but who were depending on the Russians in their struggle against Hitler, were not willing to alienate Moscow. Some still voice doubts about whether Sikorski's death was an accident.
Based on what is known so far, any reasonable person has every reason to believe what happened on 10 April 2010 was indeed a bad accident: dense fog, overconfident pilot, perhaps stressed. "Poland today is not cursed by destiny but by a brutal share of bad luck," writes Ascherson. To think otherwise is "a paranoid nonsense which any Pole can be excused for entertaining for an awful moment – but which then blows away in the fresh air".
I know. I really hope the demons that have been haunting us for centuries will blow away in the fresh air; that our presidents shall travel on safer planes in the future; that we shall learn to buy insurance, run a fire drill once in a while, and read a safety manual.

There are many reasons why we should learn from, cherish and feel proud of our history. But it would be good if it could remain confined to the history books – along with the mystical coincidences, phantoms, and demons that keep haunting us.


The Independent






India honours the outstanding figures of its history by declaring holidays on their birthdays. The debt to greatness thus paid, it seems no longer necessary to remember some of the most important aspects of their achievements or visions. B.R. Ambedkar, remembered though he is as the saviour of the oppressed and the backward, seems to have been forgotten as a maker of the Indian Constitution. In this age of quota politics, most recently with the tumult surrounding the women's reservation in legislative bodies bill, the wisdom and rationality of Ambedkar's vision of affirmative action through reservations have been quietly jettisoned. Ambedkar, together with his colleagues in the constituent assembly, saw reservations as a way of making all Indians equal. As the Constitution indicates, it may be necessary to extend special provisions to those whom the injustices of history had put at a disadvantage. But Ambedkar felt that such provisions should be extended within a time frame, with the aim of gradually closing the distance between 'minorities' and the majority. Reservations would thus not become a crutch, neither would they become a political tool. His suggestion of a time frame was 15 years, with necessary modifications and adjustments perhaps, till a disadvantaged group was ready to merge with the 'mainstream'. The driving principle behind Ambedkar's vision was equality: there would come a time, he hoped, when caste would no longer matter in an Indian's life.


Indian politicians have seized upon reservations and thrown away Ambedkar's principle. There is no question of a time frame, and no one thinks of periodic reviews either. The quota system has become purely a political tool, and caste identity a political asset to be used forever. Inevitably, this use of positive discrimination is beginning to undermine one of the most important principles of democracy, that of equality. By turning the principle behind the constitutional direction to protect the disadvantaged on its head, India's politicians are filling their vote kitties on the strength of difference and fragmentation. Far from equality, distinction by caste has now become a part of everyday Indian life. Ambedkar's vision was one based on the future equality of Indian citizens where caste will not matter. Indians have gone in precisely the opposite direction by letting politics annihilate principle.








The mob violence that was witnessed in Peerless Hospital on Tuesday morning is situated within the great divide in Indian society. In West Bengal, and elsewhere in India, the rich have access to the best medical care and the poor have to live with a reality where health care is non-existent or has only a nominal existence. Faced with this colossal indifference, it needs only a trigger to transform incremental resentment into violence. What happened on Tuesday morning in a rather posh hospital on the EM Bypass is an example of this. It would be facile to argue that private hospitals have no obligations to treat those who cannot afford the treatment. Or to say that it is the duty of the State to provide adequate healthcare for the underprivileged. The State has failed to do this and the private hospitals would be profoundly underestimating reality if they believed that they have no responsibilities beyond meeting the legal obligations. Legality is not the issue here (thus the question whether the concerned hospital actually refused admission to an accident victim needing emergency treatment is irrelevant); what is critical is the attitude.


Private hospitals located within an ocean of poverty and deprivation need to be conscious of their own vulnerability. One way to overcome this is to make an attempt to reach out to the surrounding community. Having a proper emergency section, not refusing emergency patients, and having free beds are only the first steps. It is not difficult to conceive of other measures. Doctors or even a team of doctors attached to a hospital could take turns to visit the poor of the locality and to treat them gratis. Camps for polio vaccination for children or for the treatment of malaria (when there is an outbreak) are steps that come easily to mind. It only requires time and some amount of organizational and logistic support from the hospital. It goes without saying that many similar steps could be thought of. Will such steps fill the enormous vacuum created by the State's failure to provide adequate healthcare to the poor? The answer is an obvious no. What such steps will demonstrate is that a hospital is not insensitive to local needs and grievances; that it takes the Hippocratic oath seriously; and is not driven by the pursuit of Mammon. A little thought and consideration could eliminate a lot of anger and the potentialities of violence.









Watching American Idol with my daughter, I realized that the main difference between my generation (born in the late 1950s) and my children's generation (born in the early 1990s) is that I and my cohorts accepted that modernity happened first in a Western elsewhere but my children expect it to be available to them as it happens, in 'real time'.


The difference is easily illustrated. I can remember going to a cinema hall in the early 1970s to watch a film about the Mexico Olympics, three years after the Games happened. It was a feature-length documentary but the time lag between event and screening made no difference to us. Another example of this willingness to wait, of our patient acceptance of the fact that the contemporary world would trickle down to us slowly and partially, was the way Indians received the half-hour of cricket footage that they were shown by Doordarshan weeks after the epochal 1971 Test series victory in the West Indies. We weren't outraged at the meagreness of the coverage; on the contrary, we were grateful for Doordarshan's crumbs.


Contrast this with my daughter's irritation that her favourite show, American Idol, is telecast in India the day after it's shown live in the US. I once made the mistake of reading her an online newspaper report on the latest singer to be eliminated from that talent contest, and she didn't speak to me for days: the thought that tens of millions of people were privy to something that hadn't happened in her world yet made her experience of American Idol feel second class, ersatz, not just time-delayed. Her brother's proprietary keenness on English Premier League football is based on the simultaneity that she craves: my son has a sense of ownership about the EPL because he sees the matches live, at the same time as every other Arsenal fan, which makes him a citizen of the world. How do I explain to them the canned excitement of watching Bob Beamon soar to his world record years after the event?


Indian standard time flowed stickily in autarkic, non-aligned India. We missed the booms and busts of the connected world: as late as 1997 the Asian financial crisis stopped at our borders because we were still sufficiently detached from the global economy to be relatively immune to its fevers. Our triumphs and disasters were local: a win against Pakistan in 1971, a drubbing at the hands of China in 1962. Come to think of it, even before Nehru and non-alignment, the history of the subcontinent set it a little apart from the highways of 20th-century history. If the signature events of the last century were world wars and revolutions, India had no direct experience of either. Indians fought and died in large numbers in both world wars but India was spared the horror being a battleground. The country also managed to sidestep bloody revolution and the millenarian dreams and violence associated with such transformation.


When Raj Krishna minted the term 'the Hindu rate of growth' to describe India's feeble economic expansion between 1950 and 1980 as compared to the more rapid economic development of Taiwan or Korea, he wasn't so much proposing a number (3.5 per cent) as offering a metaphor that captured India's laggardly nature.


For India's middle class this meant that its life was lived in a time delay. So English-reading Indians of my generation kept poring over Enid Blyton years after their English counterparts had moved on. No Indian schoolchild of the Sixties had ever heard of Roald Dahl even though some of his best children's fiction was written in the early Sixties: James and the Giant Peach was published in 1961 while the classic Charlie and the Chocolate Factory changed the rules of children's fiction in 1964. Meanwhile, Indian schoolchildren in the Sixties and Seventies continued to read writers who had established themselves in the early decades of the century: Frank Richards (the Billy Bunter stories) and Richmal Crompton (the William books). My school library didn't have a single book by Dahl though it had the complete works of G.A. Henty, a writer who made Kipling seem liberal, who was born in 1832 and whose oeuvre of adventure stories for boys had been entirely written in the 19th century.


This was a world where the university syllabi for the history of Europe ended at 1939 (the Second World War was too dangerously recent to teach), where school anthologies of English verse closed with the Romantics or "Dover Beach". I remember being envious when a friend doing the Indian School Certificate (or Senior Cambridge) exam, told me that To Kill a Mocking Bird, a novel published in 1960, was one of his prescribed texts. The board that my school subscribed to had a literature paper that ended with Thomas Hardy.


At a time without cable television or the internet or foreign exchange to travel with, anglophone Indians in the Sixties and Seventies inhabited a self-sufficient, slightly anachronistic world frozen in the mid-20th century. Our cars were time-warped in the 1950s (the Fiat was based on the 1100-103, first produced in 1953 and the Ambassador on the 1956 Morris Oxford III), our ideas about English were shaped by the old Empire broadcasting style of BBC's World Service, even our constellation of desirable imported things remained constant: Black Label whisky, Quality Street chocolates, 555 cigarettes, and a curious passion for Kraft cheese. Popular Western culture was hard to come by: music was only available via HMV and Polydor which produced warped long-playing records in ratty sleeves and English (that is, American) films either came late, or not at all.


So when I hear my daughter complain about American Idol not being telecast live, or read Indian tech columnists moan about the intolerable hardship of not being able to access Apple's online iTunes store from India, I know this is a new world, not the one I grew up in. I'm not nostalgic about that world and I wouldn't wish it on my children, but there is something about the newly au fait Indian that doesn't sound right. The tech guru on the cable news channel world-wearily telling you not to buy Apple's iPad till it gets a camera added on might well be right, but his knowingness is a virtual knowingness.


The cosmopolitan modernity that he affects can't be sustained. It's impossible for Indians to be securely modern regardless of how much they consume or 'know' because the premise of modernity is the promise of generalized well-being. It's a promise that has been largely made good in the countries that English-speaking desis admire; not so in India. A knowing hedonism is legitimate in places where you don't have to step over maimed street people in your Nike Air trainers. Thus Thais in Bangkok have earned the right to be hip because their city isn't stalked by wretchedness. In cities like Delhi and Calcutta, where the poor are a kind of landscape, the aspiration to consume the world 'live' is not just unpersuasive, it is grotesque.








One would think that the Dantewada massacre would be big news in Chairman Mao's country. Many in India have expressed anger that China is helping the Maoists with arms, and that the latter follow an ideology that gave rise to a dictatorship which kept China "backward" for years. But the attack was covered here in just one report on the front-page of the official China Daily, with lots of pictures. Interestingly, nowhere was the word, "Maoist", mentioned. The Maoists were referred to as "Naxal rebels" or "left-wing rebels", with an explanation of the word "Naxal". The word, Maoist, was edited out of P. Chidambaram's quote.


Was it to dissociate the ideology from the movement? Funnily enough, the captions to the photographs accompanying the report used the M-word freely! They had been accessed from news agencies, and the censor's keen eye probably missed the lapse. The report explained the Maoist movement: "They have tapped into the rural poor's growing anger at being left out of the country's economic gains and are now present in 20 of the country's 28 states. They have about 10,000 to 20,000 fighters."


Was the Communist Party of China apprehensive that millions of their own citizens similarly left out of their country's economic gains would get ideas from their neighbour's Maoists? Or that some Chinese might even recall their own violent revolution led by Mao, which now seems a distant dream? The violence that accompanies mass protests here is nothing compared to India's Maoist violence; the desperation of many who have been wronged by the powerful leads them to burn themselves or jump off bridges.


Last year, in a span of two months, 12 persons threatened to jump off a bridge in Guangzhou, the capital of Guangdong province in the south. The 13th was pushed off by an irritated onlooker. The bridge had become the favoured spot for protesters as its location ensured instant visibility. The police would try to get the protesters down first by pleading, then by using rescue vessels with air cushions to ensure a safe jump. All this would hold up traffic for hours.


In public interest


Guangzhou's main streets are anyway a nightmare of noisy traffic jams. The reasons for which the would-be jumpers used this dangerous method to attract attention ranged from unpaid wages to injuries at the workplace that had gone uncompensated. The 13th was a young man who claimed to have lost 2 million yuan in a failed construction project.


An old man first approached the police offering to mediate with the jumper. Refused permission, he broke through the cordon and climbed up to where the man was. The next few moments were caught live on TV: the old man sat close behind the would-be jumper, talked to him, but was ignored, and then he put his hand forward in a handshake. As the jumper gave him his hand, the old man yanked him off the bridge.


What happened next was even more shocking: the old man turned to the shocked crowd below with a smile and a salute. The TV showed one of the policemen returning his salute, even as he and other cops dragged the man to a waiting ambulance. He had fallen on an air-cushion, but the 26-foot fall resulted in spine and elbow injuries.


"I pushed him off because (these) jumpers are very selfish. Their action violates a lot of public interest," said the old man. "They do not really dare to kill themselves. Instead, they just want to raise the relevant government authorities' attention to their appeals."


Just how serious the appeals are can be gauged from the fact that it took four more months of such protests for the authorities to come up with a solution: greasing the bridge's railings so that no one could climb up.







Having always loved Calcutta, Alaka M. Basu tries to rediscover it by looking at it from the perspective of someone with no family ties to, or personal knowledge of, the city


Growing up in crass and commercial Mumbai (Bombay in those days), nothing made me cringe more about the crassness and money-mindedness of my city than meeting a Calcuttan and getting a lecture on the plain living and high thinking culture of that city. By the time I finished college, my nose was well and truly ground in the dust because I had many friends (two actually, but they sounded like many, so incessant was their chatter) from Calcutta and because there was nothing I valued more than plain living and high thinking. I made some attempts to find high culture in Bombay by rediscovering my Marathi roots and searching out Marathi theatre and music and some literature, but by now the local culture had moved to the fringes of the city and it was too much bother to go looking for it. It was much easier to wallow in my regret about not being a Calcuttan.


One summer, during college, I made my way to Calcutta for four days with a Malayali friend who wanted to know what I was so hung up on. I think she came back converted. We both loved the fish curry and the sandesh, we bought between us three-fifty-rupee off-white saris with red borders (this was a long time ago, when a sari could be had for fifty rupees), we perfected our accents for saying "Ami tomake bhalobashi" and "Cholbe na", we delighted in being insulted by the staff at the National Library. The finale was an overcrowded train ride to Bolpur, where, quite ignorant of much more about Rabindranath Tagore than vague facts about Santiniketan, a Nobel prize and Gitanjali, all we did was eat some more fish curry and buy another red-bordered sari.


Then, when I had moved on in life and forgotten about my youthful angsts, out of the blue I met and married a man from Calcutta, and suddenly I was spending every summer and winter here — the cultural contrast made even sharper because I was living in Delhi by now — even more crass and ruder than Mumbai (actually, Mumbai was never rude, just indifferent).


Those summer and winter holidays were willfully reinforcing my love of the city — I learned to copy the artistic script, I could soon tell one Rabindrasangeet from another, I ate so much mishti doi that I developed an allergy to all dairy products, and I was always the first to jump into the car for yet another visit to Belur Math.


Not even being constantly referred to as an abangali could dampen my spirits. After all, I spoke Bangla, and so I was a very warmly welcomed abangali, shown off to whoever dared to doubt my credentials. But at last I have become a bit more clear-eyed. Either that, or Calcutta has changed drastically. Whatever the reason (and it is probably both — I have changed and the city has changed), there are inescapable reasons for surprise, some of them disillusioning.


In the last few years, I have been trying to be a Martian in the city — to view it with no preconceptions, and to view it from the perspective of someone with no family ties or personal knowledge. This means that all I have are street observations. And I try to define the city by whatever I see most frequently and most visibly.


What are these most enduring images of contemporary Calcutta? If I had to pick four, they would be all (except, perhaps, the last) unrelated to the high culture, high emotion and insatiable appetite for conversation that have made up my imagined Calcutta for so many years.


The first of these is the obsessive interest in gold. I have not seen so many hoardings for jewellery stores in any other place I have visited. Enormous pictures of known and unknown, usually loose-haired, women shackled in necklaces and bracelets hurt one's eyes from every direction. Is Calcutta discovering a love for gold and diamonds that other parts of the world have now got over, or at least learnt to be less blatant about? Or was it always this way? I need to brush up on the sociological theories of material acquisitiveness. Except that it does not seem to be an unusually strong interest in all things material — loud ornaments seem to hold a special fascination. Gold biscuits would make more sense to me, at least they can be owned discreetly; masses of metallic adornment, on the other hand, physically weigh down their owners, while, at the same time, making a public spectacle of them. It's an intriguing and completely unexpected taste.


Jostling with the jewellery shops are the pharmacies. Every few yards, the Martian me observes the red cross signifying a chemist. I thought morbidity had decreased and longevity has increased over time. But Calcutta's streets suggest either an unhealthy obsession with illness or an alarming rise in disease and debility. Perhaps it is the latter, brought on by all that heavy jewellery.


It may also be brought on by the third striking image of the city that any outsider must carry back: the crowds outside the sweet shops. Whatever the time of day, it seems to be always the right time to pop another rosogolla down one's throat or to bring tears to one's eyes over another hot singara. Again, I can't tell if this phenomenon has got accentuated by economic growth or if my own tunnel vision kept this ordinary feature of street life out of my sight in the past. So much sugar and so much spice must increase the need for medication, and perhaps that explains the chemists. I certainly know of at least two popular remedies for all matters gastrointestinal that I had never heard of until I came to Calcutta — isabgul and Aqua Ptychotis — to the latter, I too have now become addicted, but isabgul I absolutely refuse to even touch.


The last unshakeable image of the city: the flocks of women outside every school, government or private. These young mothers seem to have no occupation or interest other than the education and nutrition of their school-going offspring. In sun and rain, they stand or sit outside the school gates, rushing to feed their charges in the break, rushing again to escort them home when the last bell rings, rushing to escort them right back to a tuition class. I suppose all this maternal rushing around could be seen as proof of the city's intellectual heritage and love of learning, but that is not the association that comes readily to my mind.


Luckily for me, I am not really a Martian, and so these four incongruous images of Calcutta life can be camouflaged by retreating once more into the other Calcutta I grew up envying and then loving — the city of poetry and music and anger and endless talk, talk, talk.



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





Politics and questions of conduct are bound to follow the course of big money everywhere, including sports. The Indian Premier League (IPL) has great entertainment value and that has made it an investment destination also. The controversy over the Kochi IPL team and the conduct of the minister of state for external affairs Shashi Tharoor and IPL commissioner Lalit Modi have exposed the seamy underbelly of the popular cricketing event. The conduct of both and the spat between them have given rise to suspicions of improper dealings, use of unaccounted money, backroom manoeuvres, manipulations and even use of threats in the IPL business. The mutual attacks have also become personal.

The Congress has asked Tharoor to explain himself and the BCCI has convened a meeting to discuss Modi's conduct. Both are guilty of improprieties. Tharoor had claimed that his association with the consortium which won the Kochi IPL team for a whopping Rs 1,533 crore was as a well-wisher but now it has turned that a close female friend of the minister has a substantial stake in it. Modi has been accused of trying to undermine the consortium bid, allegedly to secure it for other interested parties, or to get an IPL team for Ahmedabad. Both sides have said the other had tried to put pressure on the process and wrongly influence decisions.

The BCCI has not taken kindly to Modi's revelation of the shareholding details of the Kochi team's consortium. If that can be made public, similar details about other IPL franchisees also need to be in the public domain. There have been questions, for example, about the shareholding pattern in the Jaipur IPL with which Lalit Modi is thought to be associated. Charges of proxy ownership are there in the case of other teams too. There have also been questions about the transparency of the IPL bidding process. The present controversy may give an opportunity to clean up the process, but it is unlikely to be seized, as big money and interests are involved. In any case, if Tharoor has acted wrongly and in a way unbecoming of his position, the party and the prime minister should take action against him. This is not the first time that he has created embarrassment for both. The BCCI should also ensure that Modi does not play his own games at the expense of cricket and does not become larger than his position.








The call to promote effective security of nuclear materials worldwide, made by the two-day Nuclear Security Summit held in Washington, highlights a major international concern which has deepened in recent years. The fact that 47 heads of government attended the summit shows the importance the international community attaches to nuclear security. The threat of pilferage of sensitive nuclear information and material and their falling into wrong hands is not unrealistic. Terrorist groups like al-Qaeda are known to be working to get access to nuclear weapons. The success of A Q Khan in selling nuclear secrets is well-known. The consequences of a terrorist group acquiring a nuclear device are unimaginable, and it is difficult to predict how the world will deal with a real Fifth Horseman scenario.

The communique and the work plan adopted by the summit seek to commit all countries to the best policies and practices of storage, use, transportation and disposal of nuclear materials so that leakage of sensitive information or materials is eliminated. There is need for co-operation and co-ordination between countries and there cannot be a difference between NPT signatories and others in this respect. Governments have a big responsibility in ensuring the safety of nuclear facilities within their borders. If Pakistan had taken sincere measures, A Q Khan would not have been able to do what he did. Good intelligence is also crucial in tracking the activities of dangerous groups and non-state actors and in ensuring that nuclear facilities are not penetrated by those who seek expertise or materials.

An initiative to establish the best practices for security was made by India, with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh announcing the setting up a Global Centre for Nuclear Energy Partnership. The centre will do research and development in evolving safe, secure and proliferation-resistant design systems. The participants also accepted President Obama's suggestion that all nuclear materials in the world should be secured in the next four years. Some countries also announced their decision to give up highly enriched uranium as a nuclear fuel. The decision of the US and Russia to dispose of a part of  their weapons grade plutonium stock is also a good signal. The key to total security, as the summit emphasised, is total commitment by all.







The Other Backward Classes (OBCs) in the country have had two setbacks in the recent political manoeuvring of Sonia Gandhi and Manmohan Singh. The pushing of the Women's Reservation Bill in the Rajya Sabha and also starting the process of census without initiating the caste-based enumeration of population that gets released in 2011.

On both these issues the OBC leadership of the nation has not shown enough strength and imagination to counter the strategies of the ruling Congress. The Congress party was clever enough to work out its strategy around a bill that has a national moral appeal to various sections of people in the country to counter the rise of the OBC political forces.

As of now, the OBCs have no reservation in the legislative bodies. Without having such a reservation, if this bill is passed, OBC men, who are organising their own base in certain constituencies and also in certain regions will slowly get displaced.

The possibilities of many of them losing out because these constituencies get specifically targeted for reservation for women are very much there. The possibility of OBC women getting their own share in parliament and Assemblies is not there because they cannot compete with the upper caste women who have money and material resources.

Of course, on the question of Women's Reservation Bill there is some organised resistance. The Congress might face a critical situation in case it introduces it in the Lok Sabha. Reluctance of many male members of almost all parties may put the the bill in cold storage for some more time. The question of quota within quota is a serious issue and its resolution becomes difficult because unless the OBC reservation in all legislative bodies is introduced, application of the principle to OBC women would become difficult.

The general mood of the upper caste parliamentarians in the country is to oppose the OBC reservation at all levels. On this score, the OBCs may not be able to succeed in achieving reservations in the legislative bodies but they may stall passing of the bill in the present form.

Since Mamata Banerjee is very adamant about the share of Muslims, the resistance to passing the bill in the present form comes from her as well. If only Muslim women get reservation within women's bill, that may help the process of reform among Muslims in general and Muslim women in particular.

Lost opportunity

But at another level, the process of census has already started. Quite tragically, the OBC political class did not show any enthusiasm in forcing the government to obtain the caste-wise census of all sections. Even in this census the question of enumerating the caste-wise division of the people other than that of SCs and STs will not take place.

For the next 10 years on many matters of the OBC reservation their strength remains a disputable issue. Though the upper caste political class has always been opposed to the caste-wise census, the judiciary has been playing a double game on this question. On one hand it has been asking for properly computed numbers of the OBCs and on the other, it refused to direct the Centre to initiate a caste census so that this confusion could be removed.

Collecting the exact population data on each caste would resolve many problems of policy making. In fact, when the 2001 census was taken senior BJP leader L K Advani, as then the home minister mooted that caste should become a category of data mobilisation, but within no time he backed out of it and the data mobilisation was done as usual in old pattern.

Now again there was some debate about caste getting deployed as critical category of data mobilisation, but Union home minister P Chidamabaram always remained silent about such a step. May be because Sonia Gandhi herself was opposed to it. Unfortunately, the DMK — which is playing a crucial role in the UPA, which heralded many agendas of the OBCs — also remained silent on this issue.
Ever since the Mandal agenda was set in motion in the early 1990s the fear of OBC mobilisation is the most significant issue in working out national policies by all upper caste leaders.

Mahatma Jyoti Rao Phule, whose Jayanthi was celebrated on April 11, is becoming a rallying point of OBCs who are divided on many counts. But the problem is in north India. Both Mulayam Singh and Lalu Prasad don't use Phule as an icon of OBC mobilisation. Their ideological icon is still Ram Manohar Lohia, whom the OBCs of the south and Maharashtra do not accept.

Unless the OBC leaders work around a common iconic figure across the country and build an ideological agenda of transformation of the whole society they will not be able to force the upper castes to accept their critical demands. It is better that all OBC leaders accept Mahatma Phule as their common modern symbol and work for the progress of the OBCs across the nation.









'A new chapter in education' screamed newspaper headlines. The Right to Education (RTE) Act has been passed. The Centre hails it 'a landmark moment for India's children.' The prime minister declares: "It is the key to progress for the education of our children and will determine the strength of our nation". Our education planners vow that this Act will address the "scourge of poverty and underdevelopment that dogs our country's new generation".


Touching indeed. Except that we have heard it all before. While we cannot deny that quality education will make India's children 'vibrant, well informed and confident members of society,' there is a certain déjà vu about the whole thing.

Was it in 1947 that we heard India's first prime minister announce in a voice choked with tears that making education accessible to all children irrespective of caste, creed and economic status was the highest priority in his government's agenda? That was 63 years ago. In 1966, his successor echoed the same sentiments while making elementary education compulsory for children aged 6 to 14 years. In 1986, the next successor devised a National Policy of Education to ensure primary schooling for all of India's unlettered kids.

A mirage

This subject has been of great concern to successive governments since Independence. Universal primary education has been the mantra chanted for over half a century. Yet, millions of children have eluded the government's plans. And, among those who were dragged into this grand scheme of things, some more millions have dropped out of school giving an opportunity for each successive government to renew its pledge to make them literate and draw up more plans.

That's because nobody asks questions. What happened to the District Primary Education Programme (EDEP) that received aid from Unicef and other international bodies? What happened to the much touted Navodaya Vidyalaya project except to pamper the rural aristocracy while the neglected village orphan continued to remain blissfully illiterate?

Despite these myriad grandiose plans for children, why are they still stubbornly lagging behind? Now, we have the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan which is said to be the world's largest educational effort, followed by the latest Act 'to protect children's schooling.' While politicians shed copious tears over the child, he continues to play truant and wallows in his illiteracy.

If only those in charge of education, both at the Centre and in the states, relaxed from these frenzied activities (which may garner votes but not literacy) and concentrated on long-term planning. Our education planners must first of all visualise a programme that would make every child want to come to school. India's children, like children all over the world, do not attend school because it is their constitutional right. They do not attend classes because schooling is compulsory and the alternative is incarceration in a state-run juvenile home.

They will not even be attracted if told that schooling will make them useful citizens or fetch them lucrative jobs. The average child goes to school because he can play organised games in a huge games field with other children. He will be enthused if he can sit on a comfortable chair in a bright and airy classroom that has lots of colourful books, educational toys and interesting learning material. Above all, he will want to come to school because there is a teacher who understands his needs and answers his questions patiently. A teacher who can teach without exerting pressure on his young mind and who examines him not to find out whether he is a good pupil, but rather whether she is a good teacher. Has the Centre — or the state governments — bothered to provide children with such schools? Education being a concurrent subject, both are equally responsible.

Where are the school buildings in the first place? Dilapidated structures where hundreds of toddlers are crammed into small and dingy spaces? Schools with no drinking water facilities or toilets; schools where children are driven onto public spaces to play with no games equipment; schools where a single blackboard must cater to three classes; schools with ill-ventilated classrooms with no furniture or learning material; schools with no teachers which is the ultimate insult to the child. Tens of thousands of rural schools are single-teacher schools. Thousands more have no teachers at all.

Even in urban India, there is hardly a government or municipal school that can boast of well equipped playgrounds or proper classrooms with decent furniture, or competent teachers who can deliver the goods. We are told that thousands of teachers' vacancies remain unfilled. And, when they do get filled, the teachers are hardly qualified to do this sensitive job of teaching a child between 6 and 14.


In this scenario, it is nothing short of mockery to talk of a child's right to free and compulsory education.









Such an obese and greasy lump of envy had stuck over my creativity in one lost season of balefully locked doors, when I was attacked by a pair of reckless red shoes! They stumbled out of that sewer of fat lard, and bullying bluster clogging every stairwell of my pen and ink!

It seemed unfair to be saddled with a pair of highly unsuitable red shoes. But they locked me up in their rather winsome red leather of recklessness! Then they began to put out a curriculum for each and every gruesome day that I had been tolerating till they came. Too much had been curdling in a sewer of waste and silences leading nowhere.
The red shoes began to scrape away at the mountain of phlegm stuck over every important pocket of power and pleasure that had made work worthwhile. As I began to listen to the timetable of the red shoes I found that they were in accord with mine! They did not badger me to confront, corner, fight, speak up, shout, screech or scrape off the malice and mischief hiding wisdom and worth. Instead they told me to bolt with them!
I agreed greedily. Being the meek and wormy sort who loves bolting of all types from the expected response of confrontation, I took off. The post box red of those shoes also carried mail from my dithering and dallying calamity of misery and mess. The shoes took me underground to find that silver nuggets in sullen rooms sneak out as if sorrow is bringing you soup like a kindly neighbour. Away from the carcinogenic corpulence, I discovered a new poem emerging from poisoned old chaos! Deep inside my muddle and murk, and too much mischief to tackle safely, I hid. But at least the rattlesnake ruckus crumbled away.

It was as if Mozartís heart-rending Requiem was inspecting my horrendous mountain of dismay and disarray with such tender interest, that the calamity became enchantment. It was an endearing note from life, to let go and shimmer in Mozartís mesmerising magic. To listen to music talking to your personal hell, is one of lifeís most astounding delights. A mysterious magic that made every muddle, every gruesome game vanish into the sewer of turbulent twittering that is best left to its own dribbling.

My checkbook of courage was still used up. But the riches under the rubble were coaxing. Luckily, life's real treasures are always within the red shoes and the fattest turbulence cannot ferret them out.









Ala Hlehel's permission to travel to Beirut to receive a prestigious literary prize came from the High Court of Justice and not from the person authorized to grant it - Interior Minister Eli Yishai. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also failed to understand the significance of the trip to Lebanon and turned down the request.

The "accepted" view in the Arab world holds that a visit to Israel by an Arab author, artist or filmmaker is an act of treason, or at least a violation of the bylaws of professional associations. As a result, for example, the noted Egyptian author and playwright Ali Salem suffered the prolonged ostracism of his Egyptian author colleagues, who viewed his visit to Israel as a gesture of normalization.

Other Arab artists and writers who wish to visit Israel must do so surreptitiously to avoid the backlash. And now none other than Israel, which has made normalization a precondition to the peace process and is demanding at least tiny gestures of normalization as a show of good intentions, has joined the coalition of the ignorant.

It is doubtful that Yishai or Netanyahu have read the writings of Hlehel, who is among the most highly regarded Arab writers. It was enough for them that an Israeli citizen would ask to visit an enemy country to justify banning the request. The event, conferring awards to 39 Arab writers up to the age of 39 as part of a UNESCO project, was seen by the Israeli government as a plot to link Hlehel to evil organizations whose very essence is to harm Israel.

It should also be noted that in the Arab world the status of Israeli Arabs is not reasonable. While in Israel they are looked at like suspicious objects, in the Arab world they are seen as collaborators. One can imagine what political tribulations the prize jury underwent before deciding to give the award to an Israeli Arab writer. With foolish glee, Israel rushed to play into the hands of opponents of normalization and banned the trip. Very fortunately, Hlehel chose not to throw up his hands and appealed to the reason of the High Court of Justice, which did not disappoint.

The ministers of education and culture would do well to congratulate Hlehel on his award and the members of the jury on their choice. The interior minister would do well to embrace the High Court ruling and draft proper rules for visits by Israeli citizens to enemy countries.








The first two years of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's first term were amazingly similar to his second term's first year - quiet on the security front, economic success and a stalemate on the peace process. Netanyahu scored quite a few points between the summer of 1996 and the summer of 1998 but failed to achieve a breakthrough on peace. In the '90s, like today, his alliance with the nationalists and ultra-Orthodox allowed him to advance the peace talks. Internal conflicts - ideological, political and personality-related - led him to a dead end.

The result was 30 months of running in place and dejection. The Americans raged, the media slammed and the public was torn to pieces. Only when his time ran out did Netanyahu finally take a chance. On October 15, 1998, Netanyahu and Yasser Arafat opened negotiations at the Wye River Plantation. On October 23 they signed an interim agreement at the White House in the presence of then-U.S. president Bill Clinton and Jordan's King Hussein. Very long overdue, Netanyahu overcame ideological inhibitions and political fears and did the right thing. He is the last Israeli leader to sign an agreement of value on the peace process with a Palestinian leader. Two months later his government collapsed.

The Wye trauma was the formative trauma of Netanyahu's political life. In the autumn of '98, on his return from Wye, he lost the right wing and remained at the left wing's mercy. Netanyahu expected the left to do what was best for peace and the country by supporting the right-wing leader who had swerved sharply to the left. But Ehud Barak and Haim Ramon's left did not live up to expectations and could not resist the temptation. With the dispassion of backstabbers, Barak and Ramon used Netanyahu's courageous act to knock him down. They preferred power to peace, put the kibosh on Wye and left an eternal scar on the personality of a man whose innate suspicions were fortified and set in place.

It is not clear whether in the next few weeks Netanyahu will make the major decision he must make - a move toward a peace agreement with Syria, or with the Palestinians, or a combined move. But he cannot be expected to make the big decision without a safety net below. No political leader would bungee jump without knowing he was firmly tied to a strong rope that would prevent him from plunging into the abyss.

In Netanyahu's case, the rope's name is known. It is Tzipi Livni. As long as Netanyahu fears that Livni and Ramon would do to him in 2010 what Barak and Ramon did to him in 1998, he won't jump. As long as Livni doesn't promise Netanyahu she won't stick a knife in his back as soon as he turns toward peace, Netanyahu won't turn toward peace. Livni is the one who will determine whether Netanyahu finally leaps or stays paralyzed on the bridge.

Here's the catch: Netanyahu was elected with the votes of a right-wing bloc including Shas and Yisrael Beiteinu. Any significant move toward peace will cause the bloc to crumble and lead to political chaos. Thus the only person capable of making Netanyahu come out of his bunker is Livni. The only way Israel can get out of its dead end is if Livni declares that she will join this government, providing it makes a resolute move toward peace by the end of the summer. Not rotation, not nuances of status - a decisive move toward peace by the end of the summer.

So far Livni has refused to rise to the challenge. Like Barak in 1998, she prefers her narrow personal interest to the state's interest. Her demands are not designed to allow for a dividing of the land but to cut Netanyahu off from his allies and make him a hostage. Instead of advancing Ariel Sharon's vision, Livni is succumbing to Ramon's intrigues. Instead of displaying national responsibility, she is deriving pleasure from personal sparring. With her own hands, Livni is perpetuating the political tangle that prevents any way toward a breakthrough on the peace process.

One thing cannot be taken away from Livni: She is a person of values. Her commitment to the Jewish-democratic state is genuine. So is her concern for the future. But this summer, abstract ideology is no longer enough. Livni must practice what she preaches about a different kind of politics. Paradoxically, Israel's future now largely depends on the opposition leader.








The whole country is seething over the Anat Kamm affair, and only one man will decide how it can end: the director of the Shin Bet security service, Yuval Diskin. If Diskin determines that Kamm and Haaretz journalist Uri Blau should be punished severely, that is what will happen. If he decides they should be forgiven - so it will be.

The prosecution and the courts will accept his decision in a frighteningly automatic manner, the government and the opposition won't open their mouths, the media will cheer, and public opinion will either have nothing to say or roar belligerently. That's the way it is in a Shin Bet state, that's how things go in Diskinland.

At first, Diskin handled the case "with silk gloves," as he defined it; then he decided "to take off the gloves." It's a matter of mood. When he was in good humor and still wore silk, Diskin suggested that Blau return all the documents and not be prosecuted. When he threatened to take the gloves off, nobody asked what he meant.

Was he thinking of abducting Blau in London? Perhaps he intended to have him assassinated? The head of the Shin Bet threatens a journalist, and it's business as usual, nobody says a word.

Nobody got into a tizzy after these brutal words were uttered, nobody even asked what exactly Diskin was getting at. Nobody even bothered to ask if it was in fact the Shin Bet that broke into Blau's apartment and ransacked it.

Does the Shin Bet burglarize journalists' residences? Hello! What kind of country are we talking about here? Have we returned to the days of Isser Harel, who at David Ben-Gurion's behest kept politicians and journalists under surveillance?

And what about the disclosure by Aluf Benn in yesterday's Haaretz that President Shimon Peres, the Nobel Peace Prize laureate, had in the past instructed the Shin Bet to do the same to members of the Progressive List for Peace? Should we forget how this same organization behaved in the Bus 300 affair? How its members smashed in the skulls of captive terrorists and then had the audacity to try to pin the blame on Yitzhak Mordechai, a highly respected officer at the time.

But let's leave Diskin and the shadowy spy agencies out of it. They are responsible for security, and perhaps they even have the right to do what they do. Where are the checks and balances that are supposed to prevent the Shin Bet from acting arbitrarily?

When Diskin gave the signal, the prosecution stood to attention. The prosecution toes the line by condoning and obeying; it came up with an indictment charging Kamm with aggravated espionage, with the possibility of life imprisonment, nothing less.

The court zealously toed the Shin Bet line as well, imposing a protracted and ridiculous blanket gag order. The media, too, immediately aligned with the Shin Bet, almost to a man.

That's the way the incitement campaign began against Kamm, Blau and Haaretz - you document thieves and endangerers of security, you traitors you. But the real betrayal has been that of the journalists, who have betrayed their profession - journalists who take sides with the security apparatus against colleagues who are doing their job bringing light to the dark. The outcome has been fraught with disaster: A democracy as fragile as ours, with such a limited and distorted grasp of the role of the media, is a fertile breeding ground for a general systemic breakdown.

If it depended on public opinion, Kamm and Blau would be executed and Haaretz would be shut down on the spot. The general who gave the assassination orders revealed by Kamm and Blau has come out of the affair unscathed, while the journalist and his source are enemies of the people.


This turbid wave has been greeted by a thundering silence. The prime minister, who calls himself a democrat, has said nothing about the affair, and neither has the defense minister. Not a word from ministers Dan Meridor or Benny Begin, also democrats in their own eyes.

The opposition? Don't make Tzipi Livni laugh. Former Supreme Court presidents Aharon Barak and Meir Shamgar? They and their colleagues, who mobilized the struggle against what they perceived as justice minister Daniel Friedmann's threat to democracy, have not said a word against the threats posed by the Shin Bet.

Only the president of the Press Council, former Supreme Court justice Dalia Dorner, has stood up on her own.

Now we can only hope that Diskin will back down and that this unfortunate affair will end with a whimper.

But if his aggressive impulses overcome him and he decides to carry on without his famous silk gloves - the ones he wore when he was the tough regional director of the Shin Bet in Nablus known as "Captain Yunis" - then Kamm and Blau can expect a bad and bitter fate. In Diskinland, the only democracy in the Middle East, all that's left to do is to pray that Diskin finally comes around.







Moshe Ya'alon's posting as Israel Defense Forces chief of staff was curtailed in 2005, a few months before the Gaza disengagement, due to a combination of reasons that included miscommunication with his superiors - Ariel Sharon and Shaul Mofaz. But the main reason for the decision not to have him serve a fourth year, as was the custom, stemmed from his objection to the withdrawal. Sharon and Mofaz knew that Ya'alon, an outstandingly disciplined officer, would obey the government's directives to the letter. Still, they preferred to replace him with Dan Halutz, who was more commited to them and therefore to the implementation of the plan.

The case of the current chief of staff, Gabi Ashkenazi, is different. A cabinet decision at the time of Ashkenazi's appointment ensured him a four-year term, one that could be extended to a fifth year "under emergency circumstances." Was Defense Minister Ehud Barak's announcement that Ashkenazi would not get a fifth year connected to a possible Israeli attack on Iran's nuclear sites? Barak and his people say there is no connection. Barak believes that Ashkenazi, whom he describes as an excellent chief of staff, must pass the torch to his successor at the predetermined time.

Even if there is no conspiratorial context for Barak's decision, it may have significant implications concerning the Iranian issue. Ashkenazi will retire in February 2011. About two months before that, the term of Mossad chief Meir Dagan ends. Both Ashkenazi and Dagan are on the moderate end of the balance of power among Israel's top officials. While some in government have been making messianic declarations, the security establishment's top brass has been expressing a more cautious stance.

Ashkenazi, as the main liaison to the American security establishment and particularly to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm. Michael Mullen, is particularly aware of the magnitude of Washington's opposition to an Israeli attack. The departure of the chief of staff and the Mossad head will fundamentally change the system of checks and balances among Israel's top officials on policy toward Iran.

These personnel changes will take place as the clock of nuclear activity slows down somewhat. The United States will be able, at best, to get sanctions against Iran passed only in June. A few more months will go by until their efficacy can be gauged. According to current intelligence forecasts, Tehran is one to three years away from a nuclear bomb. Its rate of progress depends mainly on the regime's decisions, in keeping with its evaluation of the extent of the world's opposition.

The impact of the increasingly severe crisis between Israel and Washington and the freezing of communications with the Palestinians must be taken into account when analyzing future Israeli policy. In an extreme scenario, the rupture with the Obama administration might also push Benjamin Netanyahu's government into attacking Iran. Meanwhile, Netanyahu and Barak are driving the IDF officers crazy, while the forum of seven senior ministers, whose deep and secret deliberations the prime minister is so proud of, rarely invites the heads of the security establishment to its meetings.

This week Maj. Gen. (res.) Moshe Kaplinsky officially dropped out of the running to become chief of staff. Still in the picture are two plus two major generals: Yoav Gallant and Benny Gantz are the leading candidates, and Gadi Eizenkot and Avi Mizrahi are likely to agree to another posting (deputy chief of staff, head of Military Intelligence), under the command of one of the two leading candidates.

Under these circumstances, the identity of the 20th chief of staff will have a major impact on a decision about whether to attack. The candidates' position on the Iranian question could also have an impact on who among them is chosen. An attack on Iran is impossible with a chief of staff who opposes it.







God plans, and the architect laughs. In terms of real estate and town planning, you could say God is responsible for the main master plan, but then come the fat cats, as well as the politicians and their commissars. They take bites out of the areas zoned for the public good, and then the architects show up and turn God's plans upside down, laughing all the way to the hall of fame they are designing for themselves in their own feverish minds.

If I wanted to move back to Jerusalem, I'd buy an apartment in the Holyland project, the great advantage being that if you're inside the place you don't have to see its ugliness which, like an air-raid siren, covers the whole city. If I had enough money to invest I would construct, facing the Holyland and at the same height, a building with French windows and broad balconies only on the side facing the project. In that tower I would imprison all the affair's suspects, including the members of the planning committees that approved the project, the contractors who built it and mainly the architects from the company that planned it. I'd force them to gaze at the hill that has become a monstrosity 24 hours a day.

This is because an architect's mistake, unlike a mistake in, say, a book, affects the entire environment. It sticks out, literally, into the sky, it's a source of grief for coming generations, and it leaves scars. This also works the other way: Architectural successes remain for generations - immortal reminders of the genius and vision of the architects who planned them.

We read about it in "The Fountainhead" by Ayn Rand and we even wanted to be architects, but then we remembered that the only thing we could draw was a block, a skill that maybe could have been useful if we were selected to plan the new Habima Theater. It's a great pity that enough people persevered, realized their dreams and erected, on every blossoming hilltop, a monument to their lack of talent and our eternal abhorrence.

If I were in their place, I would demand that I remain a kind of protected source, anonymous in perpetuity, whatever the courts and the Shin Bet security service might do to obtain our names. But in recent decades they have even had their names carved on marble plaques attached to the atrocities they designed. It seems that according to the architects, there is no such thing as bad publicity.

Not long ago I took my Jerusalemite son to a concert in Tel Aviv's Mann Auditorium, known in Hebrew as the Palace of Culture. Even as he was trying to cram his long legs into the space available, and compromising by doing something like the splits, the kid asked me: "What's this ugly and neglected building?"

Know my son, so I told him that evening, that you are sitting in the very best of architectural achievements. And I don't want to hear you say the word "ugly" about buildings, not when we pass by Tel Aviv City Hall, not next to the Dolphinarium, and certainly not at Kikar Atarim near the Marina. And not at Dizengoff Square, either. Because there is something you should know. In Israeli architecture, ugly is the new beautiful and very ugly means the Israel Prize.

PROMOTION: Mamilla Hotel




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




Watching Attorney General Eric Holder struggle on Wednesday to answer senators' questions about the detention and trial of terrorism suspects made us nostalgic for the old days — back in 2009 — when the United States was making progress toward cleaning up the mess President George W. Bush made with his detention policies.


The Pentagon was working on closing the prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. The flawed military tribunals were improved, at least a little. And the Justice Department announced that the accused mastermind of 9/11, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, would be tried in federal court.


All of that has stopped — because of Republican fear-mongering, administration blundering and Democratic not-in-my-backyardism. And unless President Obama grabs hold, things could get far worse.


Senators John McCain and Joseph Lieberman have a bill that would require the military detention and trial of anyone accused of any terrorism-related crime, including American citizens. That is the stuff of police states.


So the White House has been talking to Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, a former military prosecutor and a rare sensible voice on that side of the aisle. He supports closing Guantánamo and moving the prisoners to a federal prison. He wants to preserve the role of federal courts — specifically for cases like the would-be Christmas Day bomber, who was arrested for trying to attack civilians; for American citizens; and for foreigners charged with supporting terrorist groups financially.


In return, he wants Mr. Obama to try Mr. Mohammed in a military court and back his proposal to create a new court system for suspected terrorists. It would permanently embed in law detention powers that a president properly has only in time of war.


Even if the White House loses on the Mohammed trial because of its poisonous politics, President Obama has to insist on maintaining the long proven system of trying terrorism cases in federal court. People captured in battle may, of course, be held as military prisoners.


There are close to 200 Guantánamo inmates. Some should be released, and some should be tried in federal or military courts. The administration says 48 are a danger but cannot be tried because the evidence is too thin or fatally tainted by abuse and torture.


Mr. Bush created that problem, and it needs to be fixed. But the bigger question is how this nation will deal with terrorism suspects in the future.


The Justice and Defense Departments properly declared last year that the presumption will be that suspected terrorists will be tried in federal courts, which have handled hundreds of these cases. Mr. Holder then announced the Mohammed trial would be in New York.


Unfortunately, Mr. Holder failed to lock in the support of New York's mayor or police chief or its Congressional delegation. Mayor Michael Bloomberg protested about security and inconvenience, and Senator Charles Schumer and Representative Jerrold Nadler jumped on board.


While Mr. Holder blew the politics, he was right about the policy. Apart from the principle, the military tribunals don't have the experience, rules or qualified lawyers for such a case. Although Mr. Holder said on Wednesday that a federal trial for Mr. Mohammed is still possible, the poisonous politics, on display at the hearing, make that a remote possibility. If the administration insists on it, Republican lawmakers will seek to bar the use of federal funds for terrorism trials and timorous Democrats will go along.


Trying Mr. Mohammed in a military court is at least explainable by the attack on the Pentagon. But Mr. Obama should not "reconsider" the prosecutorial code and remove the presumption of federal jurisdiction over acts of terrorism. That would continue the unjust system that has made other countries reluctant to turn prisoners over to the United States, elevates criminals to the status of warrior and serves as a recruiting tool for Al Qaeda.






President Obama's nuclear security summit meeting drew long overdue attention to the terrifying danger that terrorists could buy or steal the makings for a weapon from the world's far-too-vulnerable nuclear stocks.


The meeting also produced some very welcome "deliverables." Ukraine said it would get rid of its highly enriched uranium, left over from dismantled Soviet-era weapons. In anticipation of the gathering, Chile sent its entire stock of highly enriched uranium — left over from a research reactor — to the United States.


Mexico, the United States and Canada pledged to work together to convert Mexico's research reactor to low enriched uranium. Canada said it would return spent fuel to the United States. A week before the summit meeting, Malaysia finally adopted a law tightening control over the sale of nuclear-related materials. And, at last, the United States and Russia reached a deal to — eventually — reduce their huge stocks of excess plutonium.


While all participants endorsed President Obama's call to lock up all vulnerable material in four years, the final communiqué and "work plan" were disappointingly squishy. The plan says only that states "will consider, where appropriate" consolidating nuclear storage sites and "will consider where appropriate" converting research reactors fueled by weapons-usable highly enriched uranium to low enriched uranium.


There were no mandatory standards adopted for securing nuclear facilities. And no universal commitment to stop churning out more weapons-grade material. Pakistan is the main obstacle to a fissile materials ban, but India and China have been resistant. Many players refused to accept firmer commitments on a host of issues.


There are vulnerable nuclear stocks in dozens of states, but the most at risk are in Pakistan, Russia and countries with highly enriched uranium-fueled reactors. Mr. Obama has asked for $1.6 billion next year to help countries shut down those reactors and lock up vulnerable facilities and material. Congress should approve that. And more wealthy countries need to ante up.


With the summit meeting, a new treaty with Russia and a new nuclear doctrine, Mr. Obama has taken important steps toward a more secure world. He has bolstered American credibility as it presses for tougher sanctions to try to reel back Iran's nuclear program.


He and his team will have to keep pressing. The danger of nuclear terrorism is all too real. So is the danger that many of these leaders will forget what they promised the moment they get back home.







As always, I am reading several books at a time — actually, several stacks. One is the stack of heirloom books by my bed, which begins with the engaging and soon-to-be-published "Camel" by Robert Irwin and works haphazardly outward to Rose Macaulay's "The Towers of Trebizond" and Bronislaw Malinowski's "A Diary in the Strict Sense of the Term."


And then there is a virtual stack of e-books. There is Alvin Kernan's "Crossing the Line," which I'm reading on my laptop via ebrary. I'm using other e-book software, like Kindle for the Mac and Stanza. My iPad is on its way.


In one way or another, I've been reading on a computer ever since it meant looking at green phosphor pixels against a black background. And I love the prospect of e-reading — the immediacy it offers, the increasing wealth of its resources. But I'm discovering, too, a hidden property in printed books, one of the reasons I will always prefer them. They do nothing.


I love the typefaces and the bindings and the feel of well-made paper. But what I really love is their inertness. No matter how I shake "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland," mushrooms don't tumble out of the upper margin, unlike the "Alice" for the iPad. I never have the lingering sense that there is another window open behind page 133 of "the lives and times of archy and mehitabel." I can tell the weather from these books only by the way their pages curl when it's hot and humid.


And more. There is never a software glitch, like the one that keeps me from turning the page in ebrary. And there's nothing meta about the metadata of real books. You can't strip away details about the printing of the book — copyright information, place and date of publication — without actually tearing off the binding, title page, half-title and colophon. The book is the book, whereas, in electronic formats, the book often seems to be merely the text.


A paper book aids my concentration by offering to do nothing else but lie open in front of me, mute until I rest my eyes upon it. It won't search for a flight or balance my checkbook or play an episode of "The Larry Sanders Show" or catch up on Google Reader. It won't define a word, unless the book happens to be a lexicon or have a glossary.


The truth is that I need that help to keep reading, especially as much as I always have. The question isn't what will books become in a world of electronic reading. The question is what will become of the readers we've been — quiet, thoughtful, patient, abstracted — in a world where interactive can be too tempting to ignore.









We humans are suckers for certain kinds of wildlife, from lions to elephants. I hadn't known I was a zebra fan until I drove my rented car into a traffic jam of zebras here. My heart fluttered.


As for rhinos, they're so magnificent that they attract foreign aid. Women here in rural Zimbabwe routinely die in childbirth for lack of ambulances or other transport to hospitals, and they get no help. But rhinos in this park get a helicopter to track their movements.


Then there are animals that don't attract much empathy. Aardvarks. Newts. And, at the bottom tier, African wild dogs.


Wild dogs (which aren't actually wild dogs, but never mind that for now) are a species that has become endangered without anyone raising an eyebrow. Until, that is, a globe-trotting adventurer named Greg Rasmussen began working with local villages to rebrand the dogs — and save them from extinction.


It's a tale that offers some useful lessons for do-gooders around the world, in clever marketing and "branding," and in giving local people a stake in conservation. For if it's possible to rescue a despised species with a crummy name like "wild dogs," any cause can have legs.


Mr. Rasmussen was born in Britain but grew up partly in Zimbabwe. He bounced around the world for years as a sailor, zookeeper and kennel owner, surviving a charging elephant, a venomous 12-foot black mamba, a possibly rabid mongoose and a coma from cerebral malaria.


Eventually, he ended up researching African wild dogs. He crashed his small plane in the African bush (he was found a day and a half later, half-dead, as he was being stalked by lions), and while learning to walk again he earned a doctorate in zoology, emerging as one of the world's leading specialists on wild dogs.


Once the African wild dog was found by the hundreds of thousands across Africa, but today there are only a few thousand left, mostly in Zimbabwe, Botswana, Tanzania and South Africa.


Wild dogs are not dogs, which split off from wolves only in the last 30,000 years. In contrast, wild dogs last shared a common ancestor with dogs or wolves about 6 million years ago. They are the size of German shepherds and look like dogs, but they don't bark and have different teeth and toes. And although many have tried, they have not been domesticated.


"Chimpanzees and gorillas are closer to us humans than wolves are to painted dogs," Mr. Rasmussen said.


Note that terminology: "painted dogs." Central to Mr. Rasmussen's effort to save the dogs has been a struggle to rename them, so that they sound exotic rather than feral.


Do-gooders usually have catastrophic marketing skills. Pepsi and Coke invest fortunes to promote their products over their rivals, while humanitarians aren't nearly as savvy about marketing causes with far higher stakes — famine, disease, mass murder.


Mr. Rasmussen is an exception, and his effort to rebrand the species as "painted dogs" caught on. The name works because the animals' spotted coats suggest that they ran through an artist's studio.


Mr. Rasmussen runs the Painted Dog Conservation, a center that offers the animals a refuge from poachers and rehabilitation when they are injured. But most of all, he works with impoverished local villagers so that they feel a stake in preserving painted dogs.


Conservation efforts around the world often involve tensions with local people. But you can't save rainforests if their advocates are 5,000 miles away, and conservationists increasingly are realizing that they can succeed only if they partner with local people.


For Mr. Rasmussen, that has meant turning his conservation center into a children's camp for school groups, sponsored by donors at $60 a child. Kids learn that painted dogs don't attack humans or prey much on livestock.


"It makes a difference," Washington Moyo, a dog-keeper here, said of the villagers' visits. "Once they come, they can differentiate between hyenas and painted dogs. Because when livestock are taken, it is primarily by hyenas, not painted dogs."


The conservation center has also started economic development programs for nearby villages. The idea is for local people to benefit from the dogs' presence and gain incomes so that they won't feel the need to poach wildlife.


"What we're trying to achieve here is a model not just for painted dogs, but something that applies for any species," Mr. Rasmussen said. "Conservation has to be inclusive, and lots of people have to benefit."


If clever marketing and strategic thinking can take reviled varmints such as "wild dogs" and resurrect them (quite justly) as exotic "painted dogs" to be preserved, then no cause is hopeless.






Maryland struck a blow for electoral fairness this week with a new law requiring that prison inmates be counted at their home addresses when legislative districts are redrawn after the 2010 census. Other states should follow.


Counting inmates as residents — prison-based gerrymandering — inflates populations and exaggerates the power of the mainly rural districts where prisons tend to get built. It undercuts the power of the mainly urban districts where the inmates come from, their families live, and to which they return after release.


With 1.4 million inmates nationally, the practice of drawing districts around prisons can easily shift a state's balance of legislative power. And while most states have laws saying that prisons are not legitimate residences, the practice persists for reasons of politics or inertia. Since the national census does not ask for prisoners' home addresses, to get the right count, state bureaucracies need to use other available records.


Lawmakers in Maryland acted after learning how the prison count had distorted their political landscape. In one state legislative district, nearly a fifth of the population are inmates, most of whom hail from elsewhere in the state. In one county commission district, inmates account for 64 percent of the population.


Studies have shown that many states have districts that would probably be illegal had they not been padded with inmates who often come from hundreds of miles away. More than a half dozen states seem poised to follow Maryland's example. That is an important start. The best solution is for the Census Bureau to begin counting inmates at their homes beginning with the 2020 census.








The Internal Revenue Service needs to get way better at marketing.


Somehow the government tax collectors have let the country get locked into the idea that April 15 is a day of sorrow and misery, the culmination of the dreaded filing of the income tax form.


But, in fact, most people who file get money back. (Cue the horns and balloons.)


And according to one much, much-quoted study by the Tax Policy Center, 47 percent of American households didn't have to pay one cent of income tax for 2009. (Marching bands, confetti.)


Thanks to the tax credits in President Obama's stimulus plan and other programs aimed at helping working families, couples with two kids making up to $50,000 were generally off the hook this year.


Naturally, anti-tax groups held rallies to thank the president for doing so much to reduce the burden on the half of the country least able to pay. Not.


"We need to cut taxes so that our families can keep more of what they earn and produce and our mom-and-pops then, our small businesses, can reinvest according to our own priorities," said Sarah Palin, at a Tea Party, anti-tax rally in Boston on Wednesday. This was the most coherent thing she had to say about taxation, although there was quite a bit of "Drill, baby, drill!"


According to the Gallup polls, 45 percent of Tea Party supporters have incomes under $50,000. According to a New York Times/CBS News poll, Tea Party activists are virtually the only segment of the population in which a majority feels its tax burden is unfair. Clearly, these are not the kind of folks who would cancel their anti-tax rallies just on account of not being taxed.


"We're here to take our country back," said a former Missouri House speaker at a Tea Party rally at the State Capitol, where nobody appeared to be grateful for the good news about the bottom 47 percent at all.


Let us stop for a minute and consider this "take our country back" mantra. Some people believe it is the cry of angry white men who don't like seeing a lot of blacks, women and gay people in positions of power. I prefer a less depressing explanation, which is that all this yearning for the golden days of yore has less to do with Washington than with the fact that so many of the Tea Partyists appear to be in late middle age. I think they just want to go back to the country that existed when they were 28 and looked really good in tight-fitting jeans. Which is no longer the case. But we digress. About that 47 percent figure. Even the Tax Policy Center, which came up with it, doesn't seem all that thrilled with the attention it's getting.


"That viral number," sighed Bob Williams, a senior fellow at the center. He is worried that the country is getting the impression that the bottom 47 percent is not paying anything for government services. But there are, of course, a lot of other taxes, particularly the big whoppers that are taken out of paychecks to pay for Social Security and Medicare, the programs everybody seems to like.

"This is looking only at income tax," Williams said. "If we toss in payroll tax, only 13 percent are exempt from both — almost all low-income elderly."







IN the midst of a wave of post-election political violence in Zimbabwe in 2008, Brian James, a white farmer who had been evicted from his property years earlier during President Robert Mugabe's seizure of white-owned lands, found himself surrounded by a throng of black Zimbabweans in downtown Mutare, my hometown. The 50-strong crowd danced, sang and chanted political slogans for more than 20 minutes before Mr. James was finally able to raise his hand, thank them for their support and announce that he was honored to have been elected mayor of the country's third-largest city.


This Sunday is the 30th anniversary of Zimbabwe's independence from white rule and President Mugabe's rise to power. Back then, Mr. Mugabe was hailed as a liberator and conciliator. "If yesterday I fought you as an enemy, today you have become a friend," he told nervous whites at the time. For a long while he was true to his word. By the mid-1990s, Zimbabwe had become one of the most stable and prosperous countries in Africa.


But in 2000, within weeks of losing a constitutional referendum to entrench his power, Mr. Mugabe began the catastrophic land invasions that resulted in the eviction of almost all the country's 4,500 white farmers and the ruin of what was once a model post-colonial African country. Ever since, the narrative of Zimbabwe has been one of race. Rare is the speech in which Mr. Mugabe does not rail against whites, colonialists, imperialists or the West. Members of his ZANU-PF party have spoken of a "Rwandan solution" for Zimbabwe's whites.


Westerners have simply accepted this narrative of blacks and whites pitted against one another. But, in doing so, they have missed the inspiring story of what has actually been happening in Zimbabwe over the past decade. After years of mass unemployment, mutant inflation, chronic shortages and state violence, Zimbabweans simply don't care about skin color. In fact, Mr. Mugabe has managed to achieve the exact opposite of what he set out to do in 2000: the forging of a postracial state.


Brian James's story, taken in full, stands as proof of Mr. Mugabe's unwitting accomplishment. Mr. James was barely interested in politics before losing his land in 2003 — "I just wanted to farm and play cricket on weekends" — but afterward he joined the main opposition party, the Movement for Democratic Change, quickly rose through the ranks and was elected mayor by a virtually all-black constituency.


And Mr. James is not a singular example. One of the most popular politicians in the country is Roy Bennett, another former farmer, known to his legion of black supporters as Pachedu, "one of us." When Mr. Bennett was arrested on trumped-up treason charges last year, hundreds of black Zimbabweans surrounded the prison so that intelligence agents would not be able to smuggle him out to a more remote location where it was feared he might be tortured.


Then there is the inspiring sight of white farmers, who have been contesting the legality of the land expropriations in a regional human rights tribunal, marching into court arm in arm with their black lawyers, often dynamic women who know the laws and Constitution of the land better than those sitting in judgment. This belies Mr. Mugabe's image of a country divided by race.


My parents, owners of a backpacker resort, are part of this new Zimbabwe. Like most whites, they once steered clear of politics. But in 2002, when their home came under siege, my father joined the M.D.C. By 2005, their lodge had become a meeting place for black political dissidents who would disguise themselves as priests to avoid detection by Mr. Mugabe's militia.


In 2008, the lodge became a safe house for three black activists, Pishai Muchauraya, Prosper Mutseyami and Misheck Kagurabadza, who had won seats in Mugabe strongholds and were now on the run from government death squads. My mother, as tough-as-nails a white African as any, still gets emotional when she talks of the courage of her three "fugitives," all of whom are now friends and in Parliament, part of the fractious national unity government set up between Mr. Mugabe and the M.D.C. in 2009.


Mr. Mugabe knows exactly what he is doing in constantly invoking race-based rhetoric. By framing the crisis in Zimbabwe as a struggle against the West — against the white world — he escapes censure from other postcolonial African leaders who understand their own countries' histories in the same way. And when the West allows Mr. Mugabe's narrative to go unchallenged, it plays right into his hands.


Overlooked in the racial invective are some basic and important facts. Mr. Mugabe has accused white farmers of being colonial-era "settlers," but about 70 percent of them actually purchased their land after independence, with signed permission from Mr. Mugabe himself. And far from owning 70 percent of the land in the country, as was widely believed, those white farmers owned only half of our commercial land — just 14 percent of Zimbabwe's total land. With that land, however, they used to produce more than 60 percent of all agricultural crops, and 50 percent of all foreign earnings. One only has to look at the decline in food production and collapse of the economy since 2000 to appreciate how vital white farmers were to the well-being of the nation.


All but ignored was the other major target of the land grabs: black farm workers. Some 300,000 blacks were employed on white farms up until 2000 — two million people, if one counts their dependents — and they overwhelmingly supported the M.D.C. By destroying white farms, Mr. Mugabe wiped out a major base of black opposition. It is hardly surprising, then, that black workers often stood with white employers to resist Mr. Mugabe's violent invaders. When has that ever happened in post-colonial Africa?


I am often asked by friends in the United States if there is any hope for Zimbabwe, and I always answer yes. Then I tell them a story about a funeral.


Not long before he was elected mayor, Brian James lost his wife, Sheelagh, in a car crash in Mutare. Her funeral was held on the lawns of the local golf club and 300 mourners turned up, among them white farmers, black friends and an M.D.C. choir. The day before the funeral, my father was with Pishai Muchauraya, the former M.D.C. fugitive and soon-to-be member of Parliament, when he received a phone call from the leader of the choir. They had a problem, they told Mr. Muchauraya: they had never been to the funeral of a white woman before and did not know what to sing.


"What's that got to do with it?" Mr. Muchauraya snapped. "Mrs. James was an African just like you. Sing what you normally sing." When he turned to apologize for the interruption, he saw my father had tears in his eyes.


Douglas Rogers is the author of "The Last Resort: A Memoir of Zimbabwe."








Pakistan's delegation at the nuclear security summit which concluded in Washington has done all it possibly can to establish itself in the eyes of the world as a responsible state, worthy of being granted nuclear status. In the statement realised at the summit, it has spoken of its efforts to establish greater nuclear safety in the region by developing Confidence-Building Measures with India; it has also offered nuclear fuel cycle services to the world under the IAEA's guidelines and Prime Minister Gilani, at a dinner where he was one of eight heads of state invited to break bread with President Obama, has agreed there was indeed a risk of atomic bombs falling into the wrong hands and suggested that more be done to prevent this. The words of course fall in line with the key decision reached by the 47 world leaders attending the summit: to set up within four years mechanisms that would better secure the world's nuclear materials and prevent them from falling into the hands of those who could threaten security. President Obama's emphatic assertions that this risk was a real one had also once again highlighted concern in Washington over reports that Al Qaeda or other groups of a similar nature could be attempting to obtain nuclear technology. In past years, some of the most alarming reports have questioned the fate of nuclear weapons installed by the former Soviet Union in Central Asian states and asked if they could have been sold to terrorist outfits.

There are of course several key reasons for Pakistan's fervent efforts. It is for one eager to stand on the same rung of the rostrum as India as far as the grant of nuclear status goes. The accords reached in this regard with New Delhi by the Bush administration had left a significant wound. But there are other factors as well. Nuclear assistance from the US in the civilian sector could help Pakistan bridge the enormous energy deficit it currently faces and by doing so also help calm rising public fury over the prolonged lack of power in homes, shops and factories. Islamabad has pitched its point well. The invitation to attend the summit, in itself, demonstrates a readiness from Washington to hear its case. The Obama administration has also made it clear that it has respect for Pakistan's ability to keep its arsenal safe. The line taken by the US has changed. The past accusations hurled at Pakistan have calmed down. The outcomes from the summit, in terms of Pakistan's gains, are still unclear. But at least the chances of acceptance into the nuclear club – and recognition as a responsible nation – have brightened. This is something Pakistan's leadership can build on for the future.







Corruption is notoriously difficult to fight everywhere, and for decades it has permeated every aspect of our lives. Over time we develop a deadening fatalism, a belief that nothing can change and therefore we shoudn't bother challenging the system. But what if there was a model which turned things on their head, where not only the citizen was able to report on how the bureaucracy had dealt with him or her, but a level of that bureaucracy also became critically self-monitoring? Not only does such a model exist, it was 'invented' here in Pakistan and now is being rolled out by the Punjab administration province-wide. It is known as the 'Jhang model', is the brainchild of a civil servant by the name of Zubair Bhatti, and is a paragon of simplicity.

It is based upon the idea of having officials approach the citizen to ask them about the nature and effectiveness of their interaction with various offices and agencies, to seek their views on any difficulties they may have faced, like demands for bribes or other favours. Mr Bhatti tried this approach when he was Jhang DCO and found it remarkably effective, particularly as he was able to challenge people like Patwaris by asking them for detailed daily records of their transactions complete with the phone numbers of buyers and sellers and the amount of tax that was to be paid. Within weeks complaints began to drop. He applied his methods of accountability to government hospitals and education institutions, with similar effect. The Punjab government was so impressed that it decided – 20 months ago – to implement a similar system across the province. Somewhat late this is now beginning to happen, the lateness no doubt connected to resistances to its implementation by assorted baboos that saw their profits threatened. Early reports from Bahawalnagar and Bahawalpur suggest that the Jhang model is popular with citizens surprised to find senior members of the administration calling them up to ask their views and opinions as to the quality of services. The model offers a practical and realistic way of battling corruption as well as engaging with the citizenry in a positive manner. We can do things differently if we have both the will and the way – the Jhang model offers us a way, the will need careful nurturing.












The rift between farmers and the government is a serious one. The Farmers Association of Pakistan has rejected the government's procurement policy as being blatantly unjust. The policy, among other things, sets a timeframe of six to eight weeks for wheat purchase. After this period farmers would be unable to sell the crop. Our government needs to keep in mind that wheat and indeed other food crops cannot be treated like other commodities. In any country, the issue of food security is always a central one. In the not-very-distant past, Pakistan has faced an acute 'atta' crisis which inflicted huge suffering. People waited for hours in queues to purchase a single sack of flour. Everything possible must be done to avoid such a situation . The risk is that if farmers reduce the wheat they sow for future cropping seasons, we will have a grave shortage of the grain that is central to the food needs of people.

It is also true that the agricultural sector as a whole has suffered far too much neglect and indifference. More attention needs to be devoted to it; after all it is crucial that it operate at maximum capacity to safeguard national economic interest. For this the cooperation of the farming community is vital. The current stand-off is damaging. The row over wheat purchase needs to be urgently resolved. Indeed, with the crop already harvested in many places, there is no time at all to lose in reaching an agreement on a key issue central to our welfare.






The April revolution and the overthrow of the regime of Kurmanbek Bakiyev in Kyrgyzstan is the last nail in the coffin of the United States' plans to use the Afghan Northern Alliance as the stepping stone to Central Asia's energy-rich states of Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan, and, ultimately, to Azerbaijan on the other side of the Caspian.

The energy resources of Central Asia were to be the "Golden Fleece" of the Pentagon's mission in Afghanistan, the secret economic justification for a trillion dollars' worth of war in a far-off land. April 8, 2010, saw the completion of Russia's "counter-plan" of reasserting its influence in Eurasia and Central Asia. Borrowing a page from the United States' preventive-war strategy, Vladimir Putin expediently reclaimed Central Asia while the US was still bogged down in Afghanistan. All Putin had to do was fight one quick war in Georgia in August 2008. The rest fell in line without firing further shots.

The emergence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia under Russian influence has already thwarted Western plans for building energy pipelines through the Black Sea to world markets, bypassing Russia. The subsequent end of US-assisted regimes in Ukraine and now Kyrgyzstan firmly re-establishes Russian hegemony in Central Asia. Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and Azerbaijan cannot afford to ignore the neighbour "God has given" them (to borrow a popular local phrase). The Pentagon's brutalities in Afghanistan have led Central Asian states back into Russia's fold for comfort. The people of the region feel threatened by the US.

What factors allowed Russia to reconsolidate its position in Central Asia in such a short time? The answer lies in the paradox of the Pentagon's obsession with Pakistani nukes which kept the US preoccupied with a long-drawn covert operation to destabilise Pakistan through Afghanistan. For this, the US turned its absolute military victory in Afghanistan into a hazardous occupying mission under the misnomer of "reconstruction," during which Afghans were killed pointlessly and driven into Pakistan.

The US, inherently a free-market construct, is ill suited for supervision of a country's economic reconstruction under government control. It therefore ended up mismanaging Afghanistan to epic proportions. With the rise of the inevitable national resistance in Afghanistan, the US was able to coerce Pakistan into carrying out military action against its own population because it harboured Afghan insurgents.

The Pentagon dubbed the Afghan national resistance as "Taliban resurgence," a strategy that allowed the Americans to bully Pakistan on the one hand and, on the other, to get a public-relations cover to their massacre of Afghans. Pentagon's press office fed the illusion that it was the "Taliban" which the Nato forces were killing in Afghanistan, not Afghans who oppose foreign occupation and a puppet regime.

If one were to believe the Pentagon's press releases since October 2001, an average of nearly thirty "Taliban" are killed every day. This means that nearly 100,000 "Taliban" have been killed in the nearly nine years since the September 11 attacks, in addition to the ones killed during the first month of Operation Enduring Freedom (A). The Pentagon, typically, never released the exact number of Taliban casualties. Given the nature of carpet bombing, experts put the figure at between 50,000 and 100,000.

The same "Taliban" are now resurgent? The Taliban must have had a gigantic army at their disposal during their

eign in Kabul.

The entire idea behind partnering with the Northern Alliance was to empower a community within Afghanistan which would facilitate the United States' access to the Central Asian states. Soon after the US victory in Afghanistan, age-old formulas of social engineering were deployed in a multifaceted approach to give northern Afghans with an identity distinct from, and hostile to, the Pakhtuns. Books and movies of average quality were elevated to glorious heights in the media. For instance, the much publicised movie, The Kite Runner, portrays Pakhtuns as ignorant, arrogant, immoral, and brutal, as against peace-loving non-Pakhtun Afghans.

The term "Taliban" has become the Pentagon's blanket term for describing the Afghan resistance to the occupying forces and a corrupt government sponsored by them. Riding the anti-Taliban horse, the US has managed to infiltrate every strategic nook and corner of Pakistan.

The United States' "Taliban" resurgence in Afghanistan may end up becoming an actual Taliban ascendance in Pakistan. By persisting in the falsehood that it is fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan and not winning, the US is lionising the very image of a movement it destroyed in 2001. What is worse, it is doing so in a country with 170 million people, 60 per cent of which constitute under-privileged and under-educated youth. The US is fighting a nationwide uprising against foreign domination in Afghanistan. The reason it is not winning is that no one can ever win in such a situation.

Hence, while the US is busy being a python eating its own tail in South Asia, Russia has utilised the time to regain strategic control of Central Asia. The Central Asian population has turned anti-US after watching American atrocities in Afghanistan for almost nine years. It was precisely the nature of US involvement in Afghanistan that led Uzbekistan to close the American military base at Karshi Khanabad in 2005. Washington's subsequent "Surge for Peace" in Afghanistan was perceived as being so dangerous that it led the people of Kyrgyzstan to call for the closure of the US military base at Manas, despite the escalation of the yearly rent from $17 million to $60 million. While the popular sentiment was against Manas, Bakiyev agreed in early March to establish yet another base in Batkene, which became the catalyst for his overthrow on April 8.

Whether or not the US airbase in Kyrgyzstan at Manas stays open is now Putin's decision. Chances are it will be packed off. The base was an irritant not only for Russia but for China as well. Merely 200 miles from the border with China's westernmost province of Xinjiang, the Manas base puts China's main nuclear testing facility at Lop Nor within easy reach of US air strikes. Even if it is allowed to operate for a limited period during the Afghan offensive, Putin will extract a diplomatic payment on the Nato front.

The United States' options are limited. If it covertly organises a pro-Bakiyev camp in south Kyrgyzstan, it runs the risk of Russia and China covertly paying it back in Afghanistan and Pakistan. In addition, Russia can exercise its energy leverage in Europe. The EU imports 50 per cent of the energy it uses, 45 per cent of which comes from Russia. An American decision to continue to push into Kyrgyzstan will thus be an isolated and bad one.

If Washington wants to have a foothold in Central Asia, it will have to re-conceptualise its entire Central Asia policy, with greater emphasis on a diplomatic approach that takes into account the people of the area, rather than a military one. The main purpose behind the strategy of propelling the Northern Alliance has been defeated by Putin. The fire-breathing dragon, temporarily indisposed, is back to guarding the "Golden Fleece" of Central Asia.

The writer is an analyst of energy geopolitics based in Washington. Email: zeenia.satti@post.harvard .edu







There is a lot of trumpeting and congratulations over the fact that dictatorship has been eliminated from Pakistan forever because of the newly revamped "treason" clause in the proposed 18th Amendment. Whereas abrogating the Constitution or holding it in "abeyance" has always been treason, Article 6 has never stopped anyone from imposing martial laws, even one without the trappings thereof, as the one enacted by Gen Pervez Musharraf in October 1999.

What if there's a "civilian" dictator? If the prime minister either runs amok (like our heavy-mandate democrat Mian Nawaz Sharif did in 1998-9) or the norms of justice about accountability are frustrated, like it is happening now with the government dragging its feet on the Swiss cases despite repeated instructions from the Supreme Court. What will prevent a martial law? Article 6 and the dire warnings of our parliamentarians?

Article 58(2)(b) as an escape clause could have been amended to state that if the president should dismiss the prime minister, the National Assembly (like the Senate) could not be simultaneously dissolved and the president's action would be referred to the Supreme Court for adjudicating within 30 days. The deterrent would be if the Supreme Court did not uphold his action, the president would be disqualified from office--that is, if he did not resign forthwith. If the president's action were considered untenable, he could be held culpable for his action. Without this safety valve, martial law is going to happen again and again, albeit in a more sophisticated manner, not unlike Musharraf's Oct 12 coup, or a "Bangladesh model."

All the martial laws, without exception, were hailed by the frustrated public in Pakistan when they were imposed, because the justice system failed in carrying out accountability. Even those with honest intentions seek intervention for a short time but get to enjoy the trappings of office once they acquire absolute power. Musharraf was the only one among the four coup-makers who planned his coup with every intention of staying in power: after the Kargil fiasco it became simply a question of survival, it was either him or Mian Nawaz Sharif.

Kargil did result in the unexpected political benefit of convincing the Indian government to reopen dialogue on Kashmir, but the military side of it was an unmitigated disaster. Kargil had been planned without the reaction being taken into account and was executed without adequate logistics in place. Even the senior military hierarchy was not taken into confidence. When in June 1999 I suggested in my column that Musharraf and his immediate colleagues should be held accountable for getting a lot of our young men killed without reason and bringing us dangerously close to a nuclear exchange, Musharraf complained to his good friend Shahbaz Sharif who rang up then-senator Mushahid Husain that my column should be stopped.

By coincidence, Arif Nizami, who was sitting with Mushahid Husain, flatly refused. To his great credit Mushahid agreed with him, telling Shahbaz Sharif that it was my opinion and that he would not interfere with my freedom of expression.

Despite routine opposition by the PML-Q, the 18th Amendment Bill will pass the Senate. For a party that does not even have a simple majority to muster the two-thirds vote consensus (and support from all the provinces) to get nearly a 100 amendments approved in one single package without a single dissenting vote in the National Assembly was next to a miracle. Most of the credit must go to the PPP's Senator Raza Rabbani for patently coalescing disparate and conflicting views. A loud cheer also for Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani. Remaining cool and unruffled, he plays the good cop to Zardari's bad cop to perfection.

Some of the amendments are fairly straightforward. However, the haste in doing away with the Concurrent List will come back to haunt the federation sooner rather than later. Just keep watching Uncle Raisani in Balochistan. The renaming of NWFP has clearly become controversial in Hazara and needs to be revisited. It will open up demands for more provinces. By itself this is not a bad idea. Both population density and distances dictate that the amelioration of the lot of our poor requires government being accessible to them. Without gratuitous input from other provinces, the people of the province must decide for themselves whatever name it is to have. Incidentally, the name suggested by the PML-N, "Hazara-Pakhtunkhwa" is far more appropriate than "Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa," although for some reason the party has dropped this as a proposal.

Among the achievements on Zardari's watch are the milestone NFC Award and the extremely successful counter-insurgency campaign in Swat, South Waziristan Agency and other areas of FATA and PATA. Paying a heavy price through the blood of our officers and jawans, the superb action by the army (along with the PAF) has managed an almost 180° turnaround in US policies in the region for their sacrifices. Surely our Shaheeds deserved much than more than passing mention in Mr Zardari's speech to the Joint Session of Parliament. Rather than delivering them more deserving praise, Mr Zardari rubbed salt into the wounds of our soldiers by the sheer calumny of giving individual kudos to undeserving cronies like Dr Babar Awan and Dr (he is believed to claim a PhD in Economics) Rahman Malik. Thank heavens that Zardari didn't also "mention in dispatches" the man installed in the Presidency as Pakistan's "corruptor-in-chief," Salman Farooqi. This former bureaucrat was suspended for being crooked (as an income tax officer) as far back as 1973 by none other than the PPP's first finance minister, Dr Mubashir Hasan, a man of impeccable character and integrity. Brothers Farooqi and Dr Rahman Malik are living symbols of corruption. That he kept these dubious characters in critical governance slots makes his motives suspect! Does Zardari have to wave a red flag and invite extra-constitutional rule should the Supreme Court fail to bring them to justice?

A lot of people (including myself) felt Zardari had served his dues by his long incarceration for eight years and he deserved the chance to prove himself as president since he was elected by a heavy mandate from all provinces. In any case, most major politicians in Pakistan have misused their office for personal gain.

Knowing that his presidential powers were being circumscribed (whether willingly or not is a moot point and doesn't really matter) makes it doubly laudable that Zardari has presided over the conceiving of the 18th Amendment. While he knows he can continue to play the prime minister like a puppet on a string, history will record that it is he who voluntarily surrendered powers that the last two dictators had acquired for themselves through different amendments (crafted, incidentally, by the all-time disfigurer of succeeding Pakistani Constitutions, Sharifuddin Pirzada). Detractors may label it diabolic, but Zardari must be commended for effectively charming his PPP's partner parties in different provinces. Didn't he also mesmerise Mian Sahib for some time? By his judicious cajoling and persuasion he has cobbled together a disparate and motley group into one Pakistani nation. Hopefully the Hazara revolt will be resolved. When he finally signs the 18th Amendment into law, Zardari should deservedly be given his due!

The writer is a defence and political analyst. Email:







Zaid Hamid once looked like an unstoppable juggernaut. It didn't matter that much of what he said was inaccurate, or that he posed every problem in the context of himself being the only saviour. Self-serving arguments were lapped up without question.

Then the ulema challenged him on account of his admitted ties to the false claimant to prophethood, Yousaf Ali. Within a span of a few weeks his whole house of cards came crumbling down. Now Zaid Hamid is no longer able to preach hatred at universities, nor come on TV to satisfy his ego.

The first shot came in the International Islamic University and then in quick succession at Islamia College University in Peshawar where students prevented him from speaking. Prominent among those students were the members of the Islami Jamiat-e-Talba.

But there is such hypocrisy in their targeting of Zaid Hamid. Religious arguments aside, how different are Zaid Hamid and the Jamiat-e-Talba? This Islamic student wing has used Islam for its own ends to justify thuggery elsewhere.

They killed a student in Peshawar for listening to music. One student against scores of their men. They claim "ghairat", but where is the masculinity in lynching, slowly kicking and beating one young man to death? Where in the Quran has the Islami Jamiat-e-Talba been given the right to murder?

When they accuse Zaid Hamid of the murder of Maulana Jalalpuri, have they no shame in looking inwards and thinking of that poor boy?

And then, they have caused the virtual suspension of the University of Punjab after torturing a professor for hours. Islam is unequivocal in its support for education, so how exactly can the Islami Jamiat-e-Talba justify what they have done? Surely, these thugs will not find anything in the Quran to support their violence. How is this different from the allegation that Zaid Hamid's people beat up a student asking critical questions at a lecture of his?

So, is Zaid Hamid and the Islami Jamiat-e-Talba one and the same? Well, it looks like it. The irony is that the natural friends of violence are at each other's throats. If, as the Jamiat contends, Zaid Hamid is leading his own cult for a false prophet, then are they not themselves insulting the memory and teachings of the Prophet (PBUH) by committing these gross acts of indecent violence in the name of Islam?

It's easy for the Jamiat-e-Talba to lash out at Zaid, whose follies have been well documented by the Khatam-e-Naboowat group. The Islamic parties have always had an issue with the MQM for its secularist stance, again how exactly is the hold of the Jamiat-e-Talba in the Punjab University any different than the MQM during the worst of its excesses in Karachi in the past?

The Ulema are galvanised against Zaid Hamid. There are religious issues on the finality of prophethood involved. But, they are also critiquing his emphasis on nationalism, where he has put country and identity as central to his use of Islam. In other words, they condemn him for fascism with a religious underpinning.

Again, how different is the Islami Jamiat-e-Talba from Zaid Hamid in this respect. They have a narrow definition of what is permissible, and allegiance to the party line, not individual conscience according to the Quran, is supreme. If that wasn't the case, there would be a paralysis of soul searching for what they have been doing. But, not a word of remorse out of them. Shameful.

So rather than getting the neo-fascism of the Islami Jamiat-e-Talba in line, what has been of paramount importance during this time to them, what was so crucial that they could not bring themselves to contain and condemn their own? They spent their time disrupting an event where a shaving company was trying to set a record for the most number of people shaving at one time. Yes, that was most important.

The writer is a Rhodes scholar and former academic. Email:







Blind are your eyes, your heart is unfeeling,

Your mind devoid of understanding,

For lust, anger and burning desires,

You are drowning without water. (Kabeer)

It was a massive gathering of the vote bank for the rich. The ones who constituted the vote bank consisted of the ignoble and the wretched of the earth. They were half-starved, forlorn, penniless, diseased, and without a shelter. Barefoot, they were attired in tatters. It was a rare spectacle. The purpose of their getting together was not to cast their vote in favour of a feudal lord or an industrial tycoon. They had assembled to discuss the refurbished Constitution. They were not interested in the immunity the Constitution guarantees to a president of Pakistan and a governor of a province. They were interested to know what kind of rights were guaranteed to the voters in the refurbished Constitution. All along their miserable life they had lamented the absence of the rights of the voters in the Constitution. They wondered if their basic rights, hitherto ignored, were inducted in the reconditioned Constitution! Once a bald politician had told them, "The conscientious voters provide formidable foundation to democracy."

Conscientious was an alien word for the perplexed members of the vote bank. They on their own tried to comprehend it, but to no avail. Some of them contacted the retired post master of a now extinct post office in the locality. He was considered a wise man for he magnanimously wrote letters for the less learned members of the vote bank. He had often read out scandalous and interesting stories to them from the newspapers. They had every reason to believe that the retired post master genuinely was a scholarly man. They contacted him, and asked, "Master Aaqil Khan, how would you describe the word conscientious?"

Master Aaqil Khan smiled, and said, "If I slap you on one cheek, and you promptly turn your other cheek to me, then you are a conscientious person."

Thereafter, for months they had wondered if they were conscientious people of Pakistan! They had no idea if ignominious death, humiliation, and contemptuous attitude of the ones they had always voted for had anything to do with their conscientiousness! What they knew was a never ending enigma that had been perpetuated for the last sixty three years. During the electioneering seasons they are fired upon. Some of them die with a few bullets pumped into their head and heart. Some of them end up at the hospitals. And, when they leave they leave the hospitals crippled. In order to cast their valuable vote in favour of Waderas, Sardars or Jagirdars they stand in the long queues from dawn to dusk. While sustaining the blazing sun for tortuous hours they very often collapse with exhaustion and dehydration. Being conscientious subscribers to the vote bank they voluntarily absorb the unbearable ordeal with the forbearance of the prophets.

Their wise man, the retired post master had once informed them that the Constitution of Pakistan had nothing special to spell out for them except that a voter ought to be 18 years of age, and holder of a National Identity Card.

A senior voter who had lost one eye in the scuffle of the ruffians during an electioneering season, asked, "Master, can a lunatic cast his vote?"

The post master smiled, and said, "This is exactly what you have been doing all your life."

Stunned, one of the voters asked, "Master, how can you say we are lunatics?"

The post master looked at them, and asked, "Ever heard of a maxim, 'a man is known by the company he keeps'?"

Together they replied, "Yes Master, we have heard about it."

"Good." The retired post master said, "Similarly, the calibre of the voters is determined by the type of the person they vote for."

Head hung down, the perplexed voters dispersed without entering into any kind of argument with the post master. They went into hiding. Some of them contemplated if they were directly responsible for electing unworthy persons to sit in the assembly for running the affairs of the country! They realised it was not their fault in entirety. They were often betrayed by the persons they elected. When in the Assembly they refused to acknowledge the people who had supported them, and voted in their favour. Their elected representatives frequently changed loyalties, and shifted from one political party to other for personal gains. They muttered, "It is not entirely our fault that the incompetent and nincompoops sit in the National and Provincial Assemblies of Pakistan. We feel betrayed."

With the help and assistance of the post master they submitted their recommendations to the authorities for induction in the Constitution that was being cleansed of impurities:


"We are very often betrayed by our elected representatives. They change political loyalties. They refuse to honour promises, and do nothing for their constituency. As we cast our votes in their favour, similarly we may be given the right to cast our vote of no confidence against a MNA or MPA who betrays his vote bank, and topple him or her."

Waiting impatiently for the arrival of the retired post master the massive gathering of the wretched voters became restive. Finally the post master arrived. He ascended a rock, looked at the great gathering, and announced, "As usual the cleansed Constitution guarantees nothing to you. It is a Constitution of the rich, for the rich, and by the rich."

The writer is a creative columnist and short story writer.







All of us who have attended school in the Islamic Republic of Pakistan were taught at one point or the other that the white strip that runs down the flag stood for non-Muslims who make up an estimated three per cent or so of the population.


Now it seems this white is to be washed over with a shade of green that denies the existence of diversity in the country and closes the door of opportunity for citizens who practise a different faith. We may as well change our flag and give up the pretence that there is any space for minorities in our state.

One of the more insidious doings of the 18th Amendment has been to seal off the office of prime minister to non-Muslims by declaring that the post will be held by a Muslim. The presidency has, since 1956, already been reserved for Muslims alone. The original justification given for this was that the post was a symbolic one. While in the kind of state we live in today, there was little practical possibility of someone from a minority religious community moving into the office of prime minister, the existence of the theoretical possibility was important. Indeed it is ironic that this opening has been closed just as real authority has been shifted to the prime minister. It is also ironic that a measure aimed at strengthening democracy should reserve the most important political office in the land for a specific community. The exclusion of all other citizens is, after all, most blatantly undemocratic.

While insiders say the proposal came from the PML-N, the fact is that parties like the 'secular' ANP and the 'liberal' PPP are both guilty of going along with it. One of the legacies of the Zia age has been that, once a 'religious' tint has been placed over any item – no matter how rotten it may in reality be – no one dares speak out. It is true the ANP tabled a suggestion that the presidency be opened to all citizens; but, perhaps caught up in the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa issue, it appears not to have noticed the still more damaging change in rules for the holding of the prime minister's office. It is also a fact that once change of this kind has been made, it is extremely hard to roll it back. Any attempt to do so would bring an outcry from the religious parties and other groups that back them. No political party has in recent years displayed the moral courage necessary to take on such groups. Indeed, already, on internet discussion forums, while an encouraging number of voices have spoken out against the measure, others have argued that it is justified for an 'Islamic' state to have only a Muslim at its head. A long time ago, Mohammad Ali Jinnah, a man who has for any meaningful purpose been virtually forgotten in the country he founded, had warned against states that discriminated or drew distinctions between one community and the other. Jinnah would be mortified to discover that this is precisely the kind of distorted state that Pakistan has become over the 63 years since it appeared on the map. Like Dorian Grey, it has become increasingly warped and twisted, even if these mutations are not always visible on the outside.

The message that the latest change sends out is a dangerous one. It comes at a time when we see at periodic intervals orgies of violence that involve the burning of houses belonging to non-Muslims or the torture of members of minority groups, often after charges of blasphemy have been brought. We have seen lynching carried out in public on these grounds. All around us we see in fact a kind of 'cleansing' on the basis of religion that should leave us ashamed. Hindus from Sindh – sometimes even from communities where they had lived in peaceful harmony with their Muslim neighbours for years – have been forced to flee to escape forced conversions or the kidnapping of their daughters. The few Sikh families who still lived in the tribal areas have been driven out of their homes by the Taliban following the imposition of 'jaziya' taxation on them. Christians have, since the 1980s, begun disappearing to escape discrimination; the names on school registers even at missionary-run institutions in Lahore reflect the change and the monolithic nature of the society we live in.

The attitudes that have created this are for a large part the product of state policies. The laws against Ahmadis, the separate electorate for minorities and the 'Islamisation' policies have all encouraged social and economic discrimination. Opportunities available to non-Muslims have closed down. Employers are less likely to grant them jobs or offer promotions; schools deny them admission. The Basant festival has been labelled as being 'Hindu' and, therefore, undesirable. Even the simple act of flying a kite has been given a religious overture. There can be little doubt this has been a factor in the ban on Basant and the sport of kite-flying that has led to the fluttering paper shapes vanishing from the skies over Lahore, a city that once observed the only secular festival on our calendar with unrivalled passion.

There is evidence too that the unpleasant process of creating a kind of sterile uniformity by rooting out diversity is growing. Muslim sects have confronted the wrath of those who hold they are non-Muslim. The mass killing of Shias in Karachi on two separate occasions as they marked Muharrum is just one example of this. Other groups have faced threats of many kinds. Some indeed, to protect themselves and their children, have chosen to disguise identity. Other groups, such as the small number of Jews who once lived in Karachi, have simply left the country.

The process is an immensely dangerous one. It has already created divisions that in the past simply did not exist. The result has been growing social unease. To create the harmony we so badly need it is vital to alter this, to create a state that treats all its citizens as equal and accepts that this is the true spirit of the democracy that is so often spoken of but rarely put into practice. The question is where we will find the leaders committed to such a vision for their nation.








In the midst of jubilation and celebration on the passage of the 18th Amendment, I may sound like a spoiler or as Babar Sattar says a cynic for pointing out the gender insensitivity of our parliamentarians. A historic opportunity has been missed to remove all constitutional anomalies that negatively affect women, religious minorities and people living in FATA. There is a striking silence in all public forums on the neglect of women-specific issues. Much has been made of the removal of Ziaul Haq's name but his infamous 8th Amendment, which provides legal covers to anti-women legislations such as Hudood Ordinance, Law of Evidence, Qisas and Diyat, has not been touched. Women have been suffering these oppressive and anti-women legislation by Ziaul Haq.

Similarly, the Blasphemy law which is misused time and again against religious minorities has not been touched. The demand for the regularisation of FATA has also been ignored. The committee sacrificed the interest of women, religious minorities and people from FATA on the altar of building national consensus and political expediency.

All men sitting in the Constitutional Reform Committee happily agreed that all those clauses of the constitution that negatively affect women will not be discussed due to their controversial nature. Why did the PCCR deem it fit to build consensus on some controversial clauses of the constitution while ignoring the others. Because only those issues were given priority that had the backing of political parties. Women constitute nearly half of the population but they are unorganised and lack a collective voice, therefore, the issues and concerns related to them were ignored by the male-dominated committee in which no female parliamentarian was given representation. In response to my query, the leaders of various political parties said the women parliamentarians of their parties lacked the required constitutional expertise. This is baseless, and there are many women constitutional experts in the country like Nasira Javeed, Hina Jilani, Asma Jhangir, Majida Rizvi, just to mention a few, who could have been co-opted on the PCCR. The National Commission on the Status of Women was also not given any representation. The lesson learnt is that these legislators should never be trusted by women.

There is also serious concern on introducing some of the clauses in the constitution that undermine citizen's participation in governance and reinforce a non-democratic and authoritarian culture. The Article 17 has been substituted with Clause 6 allowing political parties to do away with the obligation to hold intra-party election for selection of their office-holders and leaders. This will reinforce dynastic politics, strengthening the already tight grip of the political elite belonging to feudal, tribal and capitalist classes on political parties.

Unlike the 6th Schedule which clearly mentions that election of the local government must be held every four year, the Article 140A does not prescribe any time frame for the provincial governments to hold local government elections. That may now be postponed for an indefinite period. The Constitutional Reform Committee has thus established the supremacy of the political ashrafia making sure the exclusion of people in matters of governance.

The entire process of constitutional reform was non-transparent. There was no information on what happened to the proposals sent by the public to the committee. There was hardly any discussion on the parliamentary floor and the 18th Amendment was passed hurriedly.

The failure of women parliamentarians to push women's concerns into the reform package bring the point home that it is high time the women of Pakistan organise themselves independently and have a collective voice.

The writer is freelance contributor based in Islamabad. Email: farzana








BOTH Interior Minister Rehman Malik and the NWFP Chief Minister Amir Haider Khan Hoti have acknowledged that people have the democratic right to peaceful protests but its practical implementation is visible nowhere. As the Minister was speaking in Islamabad and the Chief Minister in Peshawar, the forces directly under their control were engaged in killing of people who were protesting over a legitimate grievance.

Twelve people were killed in brutal use of force on Monday and three more on Tuesday in Hazara Division. It is ironical that the tragedy took place soon after passage of the 18th Amendment by the National Assembly, which is being seen by politicians as a means to strengthen the democratic process in the country. Politicians and elected representatives are supposed to be more sensitive to the aspirations of the people but unfortunately the rulers are trying to portray negatively the genuine grievances of the people. Interior Minister and the Chief Minister are on record having described the situation in Hazara Division as politically motivated. They are unable to see the writing on the wall and not ready to analyse the situation dispassionately. Some leaders of the ANP like Ilyas Bilour and Haji Adeel are compounding the situation by rubbing salt into the wound. Bilour had the audacity to say that those killed were from the NWFP and not from Punjab and, therefore, why people of Punjab are agitating the issue. His statement could mean that killing of people by the Government of their own Province is perfectly right. Adeel has taken the extreme position by threatening that if the name of Pukhtunkhwa was not accepted then there would be fire. It is this attitude of the ANP leaders which raises doubts about their intentions and that is why people of Hazara are skeptical of the move. We would urge the provincial and federal leadership not to give other meanings to the issue than a demand worth consideration. The demand is being made by the people of the same Province and not by others. You cannot pacify injured sentiments by issuing threatening and derogatory statements or terming the problem as a political gimmick. It is time that the Government considers demands and aspirations of the people in Hazara in a sympathetic manner and takes appropriate steps to redress their grievances.







ASIAN Development Bank (ADB) in its Outlook for 2010 has forecast that Pakistan's economic growth rate was likely to improve modestly to 3% against 2% last year. Released on Tuesday, the Report said the country faces three connected development challenges of weak fiscal situation, low growth and competitiveness.

While ongoing power crisis is obstructing growth, extra expenditure on war on terror and relief and rehabilitation of the IDPs is prime reason for increase in fiscal deficit. The Bank has projected that the inflation will remain in the range of 12% as compared to over 20% last year and the current account deficit has been estimated at 3.6% of the GDP against 5.6% a year earlier. This shows that the macro economic imbalances have narrowed and economic fundamentals are showing improvement. These could be described as encouraging signs that economic is slowly and gradually picking up. However when compared to growth in China and India, we are far behind and remedial measures are urgently needed to stimulate the economy. We think unless the energy supply improves, it would be difficult to achieve the desired level of industrial growth and investment. There is also a need to generate a diversified, vibrant and higher value added export base to contain the current account deficit and improve debt profile of the country as well as to ensure faster growth. Another issue facing the economic team is delay in the release of IMF tranche. The ADB stressed that Pakistan's economic prospects are based on successful completion of the current IMF programme by the end of the year, gradual improvement in security situation and reduction in power shortages. President Asif Ali Zardari during a meeting with the visiting Fund team assured that the Government would pursue its economic reform agenda for macro economic stability despite constraints. One hopes that the ticklish issues of levy of VAT and higher fiscal deficit would be resolved paving the way for the release of the much needed assistance. In the given scenario, the country will have to take the bitter pill to cure the ills and set the economy on the path of higher growth that would help in job generation and poverty alleviation.







THE latest reports indicate that the Government has discarded the highly beneficial project for establishment of nine universities of science and technology through cooperation of some friendly countries. According to an official of the Higher Education Commission (HEC) the project stands abolished for all purposes.

The previous Government had launched the project for establishment of state of the art universities in ten years and necessary homework was done for the purpose. The objective was to train scientists and engineers who can contribute to Pakistan's sustainable development and help move the country away from its dependence on agriculture. The universities were to contribute immensely towards sustainable development and prosperity of the people as they were envisaged to carry out research and provide courses relevant to Pakistan's major industries, including agriculture, textiles, energy, and information technology. The all-important project was shelved on the pretext of financial constraints, with the hope that it would be revived when the funding position improves. But now, the project has reportedly been abandoned, which speaks volumes about the real intent of the policy-makers. No doubt, the country is facing financial problems but it is also a fact that necessary funding could have been arranged from friendly countries for this project of far-reaching significance. Billions of rupees are being spent in different sectors which are of far less importance than quality and advanced education, which is an investment in the future of the country. This is a shortsighted approach and with this kind of thinking the country cannot dream to catch up with the rest of the world, which is making strides in education and research and development. Some experts have been pointing out that international donors and some of the influential powers are ready to provide finances for primary education but not for higher education as this could help Pakistan stand on its own feet economically and ultimately become politically sovereign in genuine sense of the word. What happened to the science and technology universities confirms this impression.










PPP government has failed to resolve electricity shortage in last two years and its current policies show little hope of overcoming the acute shortfall in years to come. Government representatives media statements that it will take years to overcome the acute shortage and latest energy riots in different cities are dangerous omens for country's energy deficient stalled economy, allied unemployment and resultant increase in domestic and foreign loans to run the affairs of the country. Under the circumstances, Pakistan needs a National Energy Policy (NEP) to revive country's economy, restore jobs and end corruption.

End Politics in country's energy sector. Domestic and foreign meddling in country's energy sector is stalling the energy sector. Fossil fuel exporters and importers mafia force advanced world and third world governments to maintain thermal based power generation to protect their business interests. Islamabad needs to get rid of these elements in national and public interest and nationalization of Pakistan's energy sector is the first step in the right direction. Government should therefore scrap all privatization plans in energy sector because by removing state control of national energy sector both state and public are directly left at the mercy of private owners of national energy sector that is only there to make profit and leaves the state to bear the financial, economic and social repercussions.

Corruption is a major challenge in the energy sector. Obama had to give $6bln for restoring national electricity infrastructure, which private energy companies failed to maintain and upgrade despite being part of their contract. Pakistan is facing mega level of alleged corruption in its energy sector in form of circular debt, free electricity as perk, furnace oil imports, and reports of waste of foreign debts by power distributors (23-03-2010 national media). Islamabad needs to scrap PEPCO. State run energy sector in China is successfully meeting national energy targets and keeping energy prices affordable. From 2004 to 2009, there were only two energy price increases in China. Today, the price of electricity in China ranges between 1.7 to 4 cents per kWh (2010-03-04, China Daily). In Pakistan the price of electricity is 64 percent of average income. In UK and USA, it is under 3percent and 1.59 percent respectively. Nationalization of Pakistan's energy sector is must to end corruption, cut inflated salaries of top management, reduce energy prices, and restore accountability and transparency. Corruption is a universal phenomenon in energy sector. Failed Enron electricity Plant in India is an eye opener for those seeking Pak-US energy cooperation in energy sector. UK's energy sector is equally infested with corruption Pakistan has its own energy saver scandal.

Beijing has formed a multipronged renewable based energy policy to meet nation's growing energy demands, meet international clean energy standards, provide cheap energy on sustainable basis, replace fossil fuel based energy generation with renewable energy, protect country's economy from volatility in international prices, increase employment and protect national and foreign policy interests. China has added 9 GW of renewable energy in 2008-9 alone. The successful use of thousands of wind power units in western China and shifting of public sector to solar energy has shown critics of renewable energy in the world that it is the future (2010-03-30, Daily China). Mongolia has been provided with Solar-Wind Generators ($512) to power average household. Renewable energy is creating jobs in equipment manufacturing, construction and service sector. In China, clean energy will account for 15 percent of total consumption mix by 2020 (2 March, China Daily). UK is gearing up to adopt renewable energy. A £8.6 bln scheme to help middle class install solar panels funded by £3 levy in next 20 years is in the offing. Solar PV alone has already created 50,000 jobs in UK (3 March, The Guardian). Islamabad therefore needs to come up with NEP with renewable energy as driving force on lines of Chinese and European models to overcome electricity deficiency in next six to nine months. The availability of grid ready, plug-and-play renewable energy options including solar panels, windmills and their mix allows fixing energy shortages in weeks. China's streetlights and most of the government setups are powered by the renewable energy. Islamabad should encourage use of affordable solar panels in Pakistan to reduce fossil fuel based energy consumption. If Islamabad is really serious to restore stalled economy, resultant unemployment and address allied socio-economic challenges including brewing (energy) unrest there is a need to do more. Plans of generating 150 MW from renewable energy are too little, too late.

The media reports show that a sum of $4.2 bln has been allocated for the independent power projects with a total capacity of around 2000 MW. The cost of furnace oil and import bill will be over and above the cost. Reportedly, it roughly costs one million dollar to generate one megawatt of electricity from renewable resources like solar or wind and indigenous production can further reduce the cost. They have a twenty-year life (30 March, China Daily). The experts in Britain are of the view that shipyards of UK can be used to build wind turbines that will not only save money but also generate employment. Islamabad can help shipbreaking industry to start manufacturing wind turbines. The success of Beijing's clean energy policy shows that overcoming energy deficiency in Pakistan has more to do with political will than availability of technology. PPP government therefore has to choose between people of Pakistan and energy mafia.

Energy efficiency is an important part of China's national energy policy. Beijing is improving its industrial infrastructure to reduce energy consumption to meet national Energy efficiency target of 20 percent reduction in energy consumption vis-à-vis economic growth between 2006 and 2010 (4 March 2010, China Daily). Beijing is training country's textile sector comprising of 50,000 textile mills to adopt measures to save 20 percent energy, water and pollution through different steps. Two-hundred ton of "noxious" brew of chemicals and water is used to manufacture one ton of fabric. A mill owner by investing $73000 and adopting efficiency measures reduced water use by 23 percent and coal use by 11 percent. As a result, mill is saving about 5.7 million yuan annually. In addition, it will secure mills international exports. China has drafted Green Energy program (2 March, China Daily) to control pollution under international laws. China exported nearly $160 billion in textiles last year (01 April, China Daily). At the domestic level, National Development and Reform Commission of China is promoting steps to cut energy waste to meet energy efficiency goals. The important ones are standardization of energy efficiency labeling on domestic appliance, energy efficient lights and appliances, allocation of $2bln to give ten percent discount to replace old models with energy efficient new models of domestic appliances and promoting awareness among people to buy appliances using renewable energy like solar water heaters etc. British media has uncovered a scandal in which the energy companies transferred cost of carbon emission to the consumers in utility bills and adopted a policy that wasted distribution Transport is the second largest energy consumer in Pakistan (23 March Daily Times). To cut its fuel import bills by half Islamabad needs to introduce trains and trams in all major cities of the country. Dubai has developed its metro service in record nine months.

An efficient metro service in Pakistan can recoup it prices within no time. On average, 50 million Pakistanis commute daily in Pakistan. Government can earn lot of revenue through metro services and reduce country's (fuel dominated) import bill provided it can free itself of the vested stakes including plans to privatize Pakistan Railways. Reportedly, Toronto metro daily earning is around $2 million. The gas, electricity and CNG should be provided to public because industrial sector is using bulk of domestic energy to profit without providing relief to domestic consumers. The state should arrange for their energy needs. Thus, without comprehensive NEP based on renewable energy, end free electricity and strong will to fight corruption Islamabad cannot make any headway in energy sector, provide relief to public and revive economy.








When partition of India was decided, G A Allana a young member of All India Muslim League had requested Quaid-e-Azam to formulate a draft constitution for Pakistan. Quaid ignored this request and it took almost eight years to pass the 1956 constitution, which was abrogated in 1958. And then whatever happened in this land of purees in the name of legislation to empower the people was nothing else than to impose a set of rulers to defeat the hope and prosperity of our nation. We saw Malik Ghulam Mohammad, a federal minister in Liaquat Ali Khan?Ts cabinet, asking the Governor General Khwaja Nazimuddin to step down and become Prime Minister so that Ghulam Mohammad could become the Governor General. Khwaja Nazimuddin agreed to his suggestion, but within a year or so Ghulam Mohammad dismissed the second Prime Minister. This is a reflection of our chequered constitutional history, which the august members of this constitutional reform committee hardly knew otherwise history would not threaten to replay again, when six prime minister were changed in eleven months and one prime minister worked in office for less then six days.

So, this is to express my utter astonishment about the way this government is running the affairs of the country. Though they succeeded in amending the constitution of the country it is quite clear that they do not even know what are our constitutional requirements? The proposed amendments have not been publicized for public opinion and may be that many members of national assembly might have only voted but not read its actual text also, which might even change the fabric of federation into a lose confederation. The first protest against Pakhtonkhwa are already on and which hand is playing behind this puppet show is not difficult to reach, it appears that perhaps all the four pillars of state have accepted the role of slavery hence all this melee drama is okay. As we all know no prayers can be offered without performing ablution (Wazoo) So, before giving responsibility of service of state to an individual he is administered oath of office, while article 93 and 57 of our constitution duly empowers our Prime Minister to appoint up to five Advisors to PM who can take part in the proceedings of both the houses without right to vote on any matter; hence these advisors are also administered oath under secrecy act.

Now when a sudden need arrived to present this 18th amendments bill before National Assembly, Mr. Raza Rabbani resignation as federal minister was accepted after one year to facilitate law minister to present this before National Assembly but some how Raza was notified as Advisor to Prime Minister so that he could present the 18th amendment in Assembly also, but no oath of office was administered by the President this time, so the bill presented by him before the National Assembly has a question mark on its validity also. The same week another Advisor to PM on finance & planning commission was notified but no oath was administered; he has now access to economic and financial policy documents of the government without any binding on the incumbent. Why this provision has been violated repeatedly if out of ignorance or malice or negligence we can only guess. Raza Rabbani has tried to burn a lot of mid night oil in vain and tried to touch certain issues beyond the scope of this committee not realizing that PPP members may not be satisfied on these amendments who have started to talk about the need of 19th amendment already,. One thing is interesting that they all claim to be the torch bearer to Mohatarma Benazir Bhuttoâ?Ts vision and commitments then why not the unanimously approved declaration of quantum of provincial autonomy under 1973 constitution suggesting only three and half ministry? in the center was not brought before the members of standing committee.

We vividly remember first 6 amendments in 1973 constitution coming in less then three years under Mr Bhutto rule. Due to concentration of powers in PM late Maulana Shah Ahmad Norani had termed the 1973 constitution as clock tower of faisalabad but Mr. Bhutto himself was not satisfied and was thinking to change its nomenclature t presidential form, which led to 1977 disaster. It seems Raza Rabbani has been sidelined by Minister Babar Awan; first he tried to steal the show, when on his own he had announced the schedule for passing of 18th amendment of 26th March 2010 and convened a joint session of parliament, so he should have been little more vigilant, That means that when he was appointed adviser to the PM, he should have taken a fresh oath of office in order to be able to interact with the National Assembly of which he is not a member. This has never happened. On what basis then was he able to present the constitutional amendment to the speaker of the National Assembly?

And that seems to be not a one-time omission by ministry of law and cabinet division, because when Shaukat Tareen was appointed advisor to PM on Finance almost a year ago he was perhaps not administered oath till his election to senate to become a full fledged finance minister, which perhaps he did. The question arises is our ministry of law and Cabinet division sleeping or there is complete anarchy and free for all, This leads us to believe that our parliament and its members are not the vigilant representatives of people; they are not concerned about the agitating issues starring in the face of the nation. Next six months may land us in yet higher cost of living due to World Bank and IMF dictated terms. Pakistan has a host of daunting problems, including high levels of corruption, the continued undue power of the military and of Inter-Services Intelligence, Taliban-driven political violence, and a legacy of support for terrorism in Afghanistan— neither as yet entirely abandoned. High population growth rates, lack of land reform, and relatively low literacy and internet use all threaten to erode the impressive political achievements of the past 3 years. Even the new bill does not provide any parliamentary checks and balances on the power of the prime minister to appoint persons to high-level positions, and so is deeply flawed.

The final fate of this amendment has not been decided, it has to be approved by the Senate and the people of Pakistan who have never been consulted about their opinion in this important matter, if it is not accepted by them a situation may arise within Parliament for in house change repeating the history of turncoats of Unionist party and connectionist playing musical chair not having any concern to common man miseries.








These days nuclear matters are on the centre stage of international affairs. America's 'Nuclear Posture Review' (NPR) and signing of 'Nuclear Arms Treaty' between USA and Russia has set the wheel in motion for the far more trickier event of 'Nuclear Security Summit' (NSS), where around forty seven states would deliberate the measures to strengthen nuclear security regimes. Through NPR America has unilaterally opted to cut its nuclear prowess and abide by stringent conditions in the context of first use of nuclear weapons. Such steps are aimed at demonstrating nuclear restraints. NPR decisions of no further testing, non development of new missiles and not to mate the missiles with multiple independently targeted re-entry vehicles (MIRVs) would significantly scale down American nuclear prowess.

Signing of 'Nuclear Arms Treaty' in Prague, by the Presidents of the US and Russia is another refreshing event. World would have 30% lesser long range nukes by 2017. Moreover, UN nuclear fuel bank would be ready by December this year. This facility would offer nuclear fuel to the countries wishing to produce nuclear power. This would plug a hole leading to proliferation on the pretext of enriching Uranium for peaceful application. Though these non-proliferation related measures would provide a conducive environment, NSS would surely remain a complicated venue to handle. Out of three countries likely to come under focus, Iran and North Korea won't be attending and Israel would have a scaled down presence. While this entire hullabaloo is on with a great fanfare, some of the contradictions in American approach towards nuclear safety are raising the eye brows. Pragmatism demanded that all international nuclear deal be put on hold till the global nuclear management takes a concrete and recognizable format. However, it is interesting to see that some of the affiliated instruments of Agreement 123 (US-India nuclear deal) were concluded in indecent haste. For example, America and India have recently signed a nuclear fuel reprocessing agreement. Prior to signing, India was required to establish a 'Civil Nuclear Liability Regime' to limit compensation by American nuclear companies operating in India, in case of nuclear accidents. So far Indian government has not been able to do so. Yet, America has hurriedly signed the instrument.

As a consequence, India has eight 'liberated' nuclear reactors outside the purview of IAEA churning out sufficient fissile material to produce around 280 nuclear warheads per year! Regions having nuclear or threshold capabilities harbour an environment of inter-state tension. Some of these countries face existential threats form their neighbours. These perceptions have deep rooted historic groundings and cannot just be wished away. Regional dynamics are far different from post cold war US-Russian relations. Hence, each region would need a different approach towards non-proliferation objectives.

Unnecessary singling out of Iran and bracketing it with North Korea is another cardinal error of judgement. North Korea is a de-facto nuclear weapon state whereas Iran has never shown such ambitions. Overplaying Iranian capability to justify tough sanction would always be construed as part of a bigger objective of regime change. Threat perception of Iran needs to be taken care of and ways and means should be evolved to address these concerns. An offer of irrevocable negative assurances alongside provision of missile shield could lessen her anxiety.

A nuclear Israel would continue to remain a potential catalyst for horizontal proliferation in the entire Middle East region. There is a need to bring Israel out of a policy of strategic silence over its nuclear assets and ambiguity over its nuclear doctrine, so that one could quantify the threat which these assets could pose as well as figure out its potential targets. This would demystify the de-facto nuclear environment, functional in that region, at least since Yom Kipper days. Conventional and nuclear doctrines have become so intricately enmeshed in regional settings that it is no longer possible to discern them individually. They have become a mysterious continuum. Practically, regions of these newly emerged nuclear weapon states have lost the option of going into even a limited conventional conflict, without the fear of escalating into a nuclear shoot out. In Pakistan-India setting, at least three wars have been averted due to this fear of escalation.

Nevertheless, sentiments on Kashmir never cooled off. Likewise, though there has been no formal war in the Middle East since 1973, the region has not been at peace, either. These hot spots carry on simmering, looking for an opportune time to explode. Denuclearization of these conflict harbouring regions would unleash conventional wars for settling these disputes. Fissile material management amongst the nuclear weapon states is area needing an imaginative rather than a traditional approach. Arbitrary imposition of a cut-off date for fissile material without taking into account existing stocks is likely to perpetuate the status quo with respect to inventory of weapons which would be detrimental to late entrants of reprocessing club. Though security of fissile material is a genuine concern, it must not be overplayed to impose an arbitrary cut off date. Major attention should focus on transparent inventorying of current holding and future production; security measures can only be implemented effectively when the holding is accounted for, accurately. Such regime must be non-discriminatory having global acceptance, and embodying binding and verifiable instruments.

The writer is a retired Air Commodore of Pakistan Air Force.








By closing our eyes, the devil would not disappear. One seriously doubts if some one has really given any serious thought to US President Barack Hussain Obama's last year's statements. While delivering speech regarding new US strategy in War on Terrorism US President Obama said what should have opened the eyes of many "Al-Qaeda and its allies, the terrorists who planned and supported the 9/11 attack, are in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Multiple intelligence estimates have warned that Al Qaida is actively planning attacks on the United States homeland from its safe haven in Pakistan. And if the Afghan government falls to the Taliban, or allows Al Qaida to go unchallenged, that country will again be a base for terrorists who want to kill as many of our people as they possibly can." He said, "The future of Afghanistan is inextricably linked to the future of its neighbor, Pakistan. In the nearly eight years since 9/11, Al Qaida and its extremist allies have moved across the border to the remote areas of the Pakistani frontier. This almost certainly includes Al Qaida's leadership: Osama bin Laden and Ayman-al-Zawahiri.

They have used this mountainous terrain as a safe haven to hide, to train terrorists, to communicate with followers, to plot attacks, and to send fighters to support the insurgency in Afghanistan. For the American people, this border region has become the most dangerous place in the world." Mr Obama further said that Terrorist attacks in London and Bali were tied to Al Qaida and its allies in Pakistan, as were attacks in North Africa and the Middle East, in Islamabad and in Kabul. If there is a major attack on an Asian, European, or African city, it, too, is likely to have ties to Al Qaida's leadership in Pakistan. The safety of people around the world is at stake." In fact what US President made Islamabad to realize was that the terrorists within Pakistan's borders are not simply enemies of America or Afghanistan, they are a grave and urgent danger to the people of Pakistan. US views that Al Qaida and its extremist allies are a cancer that risks killing Pakistan from within. President Obama has already announced the road map for the conditions to help Pakistan to over come economic crisis.

Washington has declared that campaign against extremism will not succeed with bullets or bombs alone so the bill co-sponsored by John Kerry and Richard Lugar that authorizes $1.5 billion in direct support to the Pakistani people every year over the next five years would be the turning point. This money would be spent on areas including building of schools, roads and hospitals, and strengthen Pakistan's democracy. Another bill co-sponsored by Maria Cantwell, Chris Van Hollen and Peter Hoekstra that creates opportunity zones in the border regions to develop the economy and bring hope to places plagued with violence cannot be ignored irrespective of its present status. In addition, US has spelled out that Pakistan must continue to work with the IMF, the World Bank and other international partners. As regards the military part, US made it clear that it will focus its military assistance on the tools, training and support that Pakistan in order to root out the terrorists. The US President made it ample clear that US will not and cannot provide a blank cheque on mixed results. US clarified that it will provide Pakistan with funds only on confirmation from its intelligence about high-level terrorist targets So Pakistan must demonstrate its commitment to rooting out Al Qaida and the violent extremists within its borders. In fact, the US policy regarding Pakistan resolves around the speech of US President and some hidden objectives. In the US new strategy the key persons, other than those invisible hands in Washington, are General David Petraeus, Bruce Reidel and Karl Eikenberry. US claims that they framed the new strategy after consultation with US military commanders and diplomats in Afghanistan, Afghan and Pakistani governments, partners and NATO allies and the donors and international organizations. It is true that these stakeholders have been informed about the US intentions in the shape of so called 'US new strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan.' But there was no consultation. The new strategy has bee in fact imposed upon us by Washington. There is no doubt that US Washington gave Pakistan only two choices regarding its new strategy in Afghanistan and Pakistan: either to accept the strategy by choice or by coercion and blackmailing.

Now when US President has authorized Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to submit a regional strategy report on Pakistan to the Congress, many things would be quite embarrassing for the Washington to digest. As it is mandatory by the Enhanced Partnership with Pakistan Act of 2009, also known as Kerry-Lugar-Berman Bill to submit this report, there seems no other option. Under Section 301 of this Act, which was passed on October 15, 2009, the US President is required to submit this report to the Congress before April 15, 2010 but one wonders if Washington can ever dare to reveal this report to American tax payers. As per the provisions of the Bill, the US President shall develop a comprehensive interagency regional security strategy to eliminate terrorist threats and close safe havens in Pakistan, including by working with the Government of Pakistan and other relevant governments and organizations in the region and elsewhere.

Those who matters in White House were quoted to have been engaged in whispers that more effective counter-insurgency and counter-terrorism efforts are needed in Pakistan in the NWFP, FATA, parts of Balochistan and parts of Punjab. One wonders that where are the development projects and reconstruction in war devastated areas in Pakistan, as there appears not even a fraction of 1.5 billion dollars "Enhanced Partnership with Pakistan Act of 2009" visible on ground. Can Washington justify renovation of two odd schools and construction of some sewerage lines in streets sufficient progress in a period of over six months?Would anyone be able to justify additional attacks in the country just to make Hillary Clinton's regional strategy report on Pakistan more real and enterprising?









President Obama speaking to ABC´s Good Morning America about sanctions against possible Iranian nuclear weapons compared, "The Iranian regime to the North Korean regime". (The Jakarta Post, 10.04.10). But Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reportedly ducked out of the Washington nuclear security summit in case Israeli nuclear "ambiguity" was mentioned. Israel, like Iran and North Korea has not signed the Non-Proliferation Treaty.

In the old days Russia and America had the bomb. The system was bipolar. So there were only two lots of polar bears, the ones supporting Russia and the ones supporting America. Every bear knew where he stood. And we had nuclear deterrence. If anyone dropped an atom bomb on someone else who had one, then they would get hit so hard that they would have wished tremendously that they had not been so silly in the first place. So every bear, and everywhere, felt safe at night. They could tell their baby bears they would all still be there in the morning. Even when grown-ups got very cross and banged their shoes on the table at the UN, or sent rockets to Cuba. The world was still full of happy bears because of nuclear deterrence. And this idea of nuclear deterrence survived many changes. First the Americans and Russians had the bomb. Then the British and the French. France was considered unreliable, led by nuclear scientists who were communists, outside NATO and not Anglo-Saxon and properly organized. Then came the Chinese, Indians and Pakistanis. This was starting to include people who should run restaurants but not have atom bombs. And Muslims, which really speaks for itself. And more communists.

Then we got to the North Koreans and Israelis, and now the Iranians. More but madder communists, settlers on hilltops with guns sent by God to the Holy Land and Shiites with Ayatollahs. Now the bipolar bears who used to be happy can´t bear it anymore. Does nuclear deterrence still work with such excitable people? Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu could not go to the recent nuclear security summit in Washington in case somebody mentioned his bomb.

He sent his deputy Dan Mivedor instead, who could have comforted everyone by explaining that they haven't quite got the bomb because it is in bits in the basement. But hopefully not as many complicated bits as a flat-board baby-chair. You don't want to be caught out looking for parts A1 and C3 and accompanying nuts and washers F3 and G9 while someone else drops an assembled one on you.

But why would they, if the theory of nuclear deterrence is right? Or is it that at every stage in the growth of the nuclear military club the countries in it made every effort to stop, slow down and discredit new members? Perhaps because the ownership of nuclear weapons is a means to reinforcing political and military power, international recognition and commercial advantage, even if your own economic, political and military clout is in relative decline? I remember a French general who did not like atom bombs who said a long time ago that you can do anything you like with bayonets, except sit on them, and with nuclear weapons it's the reverse. So why bother to build them, except as a symbol? So the fuss about Iran may be more about the political balancing act in the Middle East and not about real military threats. Will this and any future Iranian government always get an elected democratic majority to maintain the right to build the bomb, even if they never finish one? And how is that so different from the Israelis claiming the right to build them without ever assembling one until they need it? Perhaps Iran and Israel get so cross each other because they both pander to religious hard-liners, both maintain democracy alongside an element of repression, and both seek to strengthen their weakening political positions by being mutually aggressive, while maintaining a policy of nuclear ambiguity.

Their problem is not their enormous differences, but their great similarities. If hitting Iran is the best card in the Israeli political pack then God help them, for the attempted undoing of the nuclear ambitions of the one might be the turning point in the undoing of the political illusions of the other.

—The writer is a development economist who writes from Jakarta on modernization in the Muslim world, investment and trade relations with the EU and Islamic banking.








BARACK Obama argues that nuked-up terrorists pose the biggest strategic threat to the world. The US President is not thrilled about Iran's nuclear ambitions either, but at least he can do something about preventing the so-called "loose nukes" falling into the hands of al-Qa'ida and company. Mr Obama is discovering that Iran is a rather harder nut to crack.

The Washington summit he convened this week, which was attended by 47 nations, including Australia, made welcome progress on efforts to lock up vulnerable nuclear material within the next four years. It is good for the planet that Mr Obama has been able to extract from world leaders, promises designed to prevent "non-state actors" from getting their hands on technology to potentially catastrophic ends. The global atmospherics on nuclear management are very positive, with the cheerleader being Mr Obama's newest best friend, Russia. This week, President Dmitry Medvedev was saying Russia needed a "responsible, peaceful, authoritative" America, adding to the general glow around the bilateral arms-reduction deal the two countries agreed to a couple of weeks ago.

All good stuff, but Mr Obama can't escape the bigger, immediate challenge of Iran, whose nuclear ambitions - and failure to send its stockpile of uranium out of the country for safekeeping or reprocessing - are of increasing concern. Mr Obama says he wants tough sanctions against Tehran in place within weeks and is working on getting support from Russia and China as the two key permanent members of the UN Security Counc