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month april 16, edition 000483, collected & managed by durgesh kumar mishra, published by manish manjul
Editorial is syndication of all daily- published newspaper Editorial at one place.
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- PAKISTAN'S SLY CANARD
- THAROOR BRAZENS IT OUT
- FROM TRAGEDY TO FRIENDSHIP? - PREMEN ADDY
- THE MIRROR DOESN'T LIE - RUDRONEEL GHOSH
- ARE THEY BACK AGAIN? - KALYANI SHANKAR
- HARYANA'S KILLER KHAPS - ANURADHA DUTT
- PROTECTIONISM UNDER GREEN GARB - CAROLINE BOIN & ALEC VAN GELDER
- SIBAL FAR TOO HASTY OVER EDUCATION REFORMS - MUJTABA KHAN
- THINK THROUGH THE MAOIST FIGHT CAREFULLY
- IPL NEEDS A CLEAN UP ACT
- WHAT'S UP WITH SHEILA?
- WHEN A LOVE STORY CAN HURT - BY AMRITA IBRAHIM
- THE LAHORE LOG - BY NAJAM SETHI
- UAV'S FIRST TEST F LIGHT TO SNIFF OUT MAOISTS - BY SAHAR KHAN IN RAIPUR
THE TIMES OF INDIA
- DON'T LET UP
- FAITH AND FEAR
- WHEN WILL THE BUBBLE BURST? -
- ''THE GOVERNMENT WANTS TO SCUTTLE THE PDS'
- BUG'S BABY - JUG SURAIYA
- PREJUDICE IS NOT SKIN DEEP
- 2ND INNINGS ENCORE
- THE RAJ STILL SURVIVES - GEORGE MATHEW
- LET'S PLAY IT STRAIGHT - RAJDEEP SARDESAI
- WE DESERVE THIS? - SUHEL SETH
THE INDIAN EXPRESS
- TESTING TIMES
- IRON IT OUT
- CALL IT TEAM SPIRIT?
- COLOURS OF HUMILITY - SEEMA CHISHTI
- A HOUSE OF THEIR OWN - C.V. MADHUKAR
- IN ITS OWN COIN - MIHIR S SHARMA
- BUSY ON THE SIDELINES - G BALACHANDRAN
- ESCAPING HISTORY
- THE COMMANDING HEIGHTS OF KNOWLEDGE - BVENKATESHKUMAR
- IT'S NOT CRICKET
- TAKE THE PPP TRACK
- THE MESSY BATTLE OVER ULIPS - RAJESH CHAKRABARTI
- WHAT RBI HAS IN MIND FOR APRIL 20 - MADAN SABNAVIS
- RETAIL'S RESURGENCE - PARESH PAREKH
- MURKY IPL GAMES
- ANOTHER POLICY DILEMMA
- HAMID KARZAI'S RECONCILIATION STRATEGY - M.K. BHADRAKUMAR
- TESTING OUT GANDHI-STYLE PROTEST - HEATHER SHARP
- ON THE FRONTLINE OF THE COLOMBIAN DRUGS WAR - VANESSA BUSCHSCHLUTER
- HOW EASY IS IT TO BUY ENDANGERED SPECIES? VERY - SONIA VAN GILDER COOKE
- CONGO: REPORT SHOWS RAPE IS WIDESPREAD - AMY FALLON
- TAKE THE CALL, RESERVE BANK OF INDIA
- LIVES OF OTHERS
- SEEDS OF A VIOLENT STRUGGLE - AMULYA GANGULI
- WHY BRING SEX TO THE REALM OF GODLINESS? - FARRUKH DHONDY
- TACKLING N-TERRORISM
- GUJJARS' PROTEST MARCH
- THUMBS UP TO I-CARDS
- DITHERING OVER DINAKARAN - BY INDER MALHOTRA
- PESTICIDE DEFICIENCY - BY SARVJIT SINGH
- WHAT HONOUR IN KILLING? - BY SAJLA CHAWLA
- WOMAN AS HEAD OF HOUSEHOLD - BY O.P. SHARMA AND CARL HAUB
- CHIRANJEEVI: TOLLYWOOD CALLING! - SURESH DHARUR
- MUMBAI'S CIRCLE OF LIFE
- THE TASK AT HAND
- W(H)ITHER THE EURO - A FABLE - JAMAL MECKLAI
- IS APPRECIATION OF RUPEE INEVITABLE? - JAIMINI BHAGWATI
- SHE-CHANGE IN INDIA INC - SHYAMAL MAJUMDAR
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
- OUR FIRST RICH, JUICY SCANDAL
- F(R)EEDOM FROM LOADS
- MARCH INFLATION NEEDS POLICY RESPONSE
- THE RIGHT KIND OF MATERIALISM
- SOME 'A' AND 'B' GROUP COS CONTINUE TO TRADE BELOW THEIR BOOK VALUE - SHAILESH MENON
- SMALL COS KNOCK ON HNI DOORS FOR DEBT FUNDS - GEORGE SMITH ALEXANDER
- FMCG COS MAY SEE STRONG PROFITS ON VOLUME GROWTH - KIRAN KABTTA SOMVANSHI
- A CONTINUAL FLIGHT FROM WONDER - MUKUL SHARMA
- FPO LIKELY BY JULY WHEN WE HAVE ALL INDEPENDENT DIRECTORS: EIL CHIEF - RAJEEV JAYASWAL & ARINDAM GHOSH
- 'PROLONGED CONFUSION OVER ULIPS IS DAMAGING' - DEBJOY SENGUPTA
- 'INDIA ONE OF THE BEST RECYCLERS IN THE WORLD' - NIKHIL MENON & RAMKRISHNA KASHELKAR
- AFTER FAILURE, ISRO HAS A LOT OF WORK
- LESSONS FROM THE PAST - BY ARUN KUMAR SINGH
- DREAMING UP A FEMINIST NIKAHNAMA - BY RAFIA ZAKARIA
- VACCINES: IS THE LEFT RIGHT? - BY ASHOK MALIK
- THE ENERGY OF MINDFULNESS - BY THICH NHAT HANH
- ABOUT GOVERNANCE - BY DOT WORDSWORTH
- A BUFFER FORCE
- NOT GOOD ENOUGH
- ARUNACHAL CLASHES
- TOTAL NUCLEAR DISARMAMENT - BY RAJINDER PURI
- FIGHTING SHY - SUSHIL KUMAR
- STORIES FROM THE RAVINES - BHARAT DOGRA
- 100 YEARS AGO TODAY
- NEW ATTITUDE
- TAKING LEAVE
- BENT AND BEAUTIFUL INDIA - SWAPAN DASGUPTA
- WHAT AILS THE SYSTEM - MALVIKA SINGH
- ILL-ADVISED MOVE
- PREDATOR PRIESTS
- CASTLES IN THE AIR - BY NILOTPAL BASU
- ISRAEL'S ACTIONS STRAIN RELATIONS WITH THE US -BY MICHAEL JANSEN
- CLINICAL APPROACH - BY RADHA PRATHI
- AS JERUSALEM MAYOR, OLMERT THOUGHT HE WAS BEYOND REPROACH - BY EYAL HAREUVENI
- PROMOTE CELLULAR COMPETITION - BY HAARETZ EDITORIAL
- AS INDEPENDENCE DAY NEARS, ISRAEL WOULD BE WISE TO HEED OBAMA - BY YOEL MARCUS
- ISRAELI ACTIONS ARE TURNING JERUSALEM INTO A SETTLEMENT - BY ZEEV STERNHELL
- FEAR NOT - BY YOSSI SARID
- FROM A STATE OF THE PEOPLE TO ONE OF THE PRIVILEGED
THE NEW YORK TIMES
- THE GUN LOBBY'S COLONY
- NOW IT'S THE PRESIDENT'S PLAN
- FIGHTING FORECLOSURES
- SPYING, CIVIL LIBERTIES AND THE COURTS
- WHERE HISTORY'S MARCH IS A FUNERAL PROCESSION - BY OLGA TOKARCZUK
- A TALE OF TWO VOLCANOES - BY SIMON WINCHESTER
- POLISH HEROES, POLISH VICTIMS - BY WIKTOR OSIATYNSKI
- THE FIRE NEXT TIME - BY PAUL KRUGMAN
- WILL THERE BE CALM NOW?
- HUMANITARIAN HELP
- THE ART OF INVENTING PROBLEMS - AYAZ AMIR
- THE DAMAGE-CONTROL PLOY - SARDAR MUMTAZ ALI BHUTTO
- COMMODIFYING DRINKING WATER - AHMAD RAFAY ALAM
- DEFIANCE IRANIAN STYLE - M SAEED KHALID
- PARALLEL WORLDS BEGINNING TO COLLIDE - SHAFQAT MAHMOOD
- SIDE-EFFECT - HARRIS KHALIQUE
- GILANI'S SUCCESSFUL WASHINGTON VISIT
- EFFECTIVE ACCOUNTABILITY
- INDIA'S DILLY-DALLYING TACTICS
- FOR THAROOR & LADY FRIEND, LIFE'S NOT CRICKET - M D NALAPAT
- HINDU EXTREMISTS ATTACK CHRISTIAN INSTITUTIONS - SULTAN M HALI
- ISLAM: THE TRUE RELIGION - ABU AMEENAH
- A NIGHT TO REMEMBER - BURHANUDDIN HASAN
- INDIA'S NUCLEAR EXAMPLE - RORY MEDCALF
- TWISTER HITS HARD
- THE NUCLEAR SUMMIT
- CLEAN UP YOUR PIPELINE..!
- THE THREAT OF AN EVER EXPANDING N-CLUB - SYLVIA MORTOZA
- DOES MR OBAMA CARE ABOUT INDIA? - G. PARTHASARATHY
- STATES SQUANDER GST WINDFALL
- A LAND RIGHTS LEADER
- COSY CHATS IN CANBERRA NOT IN NATION'S INTERESTS
THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD
- COWDERY'S LEGACY
- NOW ART IMITATES ART
- SACKING A SCAPEGOAT WON'T ERASE BLACK SATURDAY'S FAILURES
- IN PRAISE OF VOLCANOLOGISTS
- ELECTION DEBATE: NICK CLEGG'S NIGHT
- IRAN: BRIDGEABLE DIFFERENCES
THE JAPAN TIMES
- UNDERSTANDING U.S. NUCLEAR POLICY
- U.K. SEARCHING FOR THE CENTER - BY DAVID HOWELL
- CRUELTY OF CHANCE DEALS POLAND ANOTHER BLOW - BY NINA KHRUSHCHEVA
THE JAKARTA POST
- CHALLENGES OF SHAPING A REGIONAL ARCHITECTURE
- HADI SOESASTRO
- PERSECUTION AND BEING HUMAN - JENNIE S. BEV
- ANOTHER QUAKE: CAN WE LEARN FROM IT? - IWAN GUNAWAN
- HOPE FOR QUAKE VICTIMS
- AN ACCELERATING REBOUND
- TOWARD FINANCIAL RECOVERY
- SAVING EARTH'S WONDERS
- TAPPING THE POTENTIAL - BY SUN HONGBO (CHINA DAILY)
- WHAT DO TOP ENGLISH WORDS TELL? - BY XIAO XIAOYAN (CHINA DAILY)
- EU-CHINA TIES FACE NEW QUESTIONS - BY TOM RAFFERTY (CHINA DAILY)
- HIGH INTEREST RATES CAN CHECK INVESTMENT SPREE - BY LIU YUHUI (CHINA DAILY)
- A REALITY THAT HITS HARD
- BETEL HARVEST: DON'T BITE OFF MORE THAN YOU CAN CHEW
- THE ETHICS OF VIOLENCE - BY ISHTIAQ AHMED
- MANY AMENDMENTS! DOES IT MEAN OUR CONSTITUTION IS WEAK? - BY KAMAL SUNETH PERERA (A STUDENT OF SRI LANKA LAW COLLEGE).
- 'BASE' BALL IN KYRGYZSTAN
THE MOSCOW TIMES
- NOTHING NORMAL ABOUT IT - BY MICHELE A. BERDY
- RUSSIA'S NEW PLACE IN NATO - BY DMITRY TRENIN
PAKISTAN'S SLY CANARD
IT'S STILL WAITING FOR 26/11 'EVIDENCE'!
It is absolutely astounding that Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani has demanded more "effective evidence" against the Lashkar-e-Tayyeba and its involvement in attacks in India so that his Government can take action against the terrorist organisation. The statement, coming as it did during the just concluded Nuclear Security Summit in Washington, DC, exemplifies why the Pakistani establishment cannot be trusted to crack down on terrorist groups operating from its soil. India has provided Pakistan numerous detailed dossiers on the Lashkar's nefarious activities, highlighting the role of individual LeT commanders including the chief of the organisation Hafiz Saeed. All questions posed by Islamabad on the 26/11 attacks on Mumbai in particular as well as the Lashkar's activities in general have been painstakingly answered by New Delhi. Also, the body of evidence against the Lashkar has been corroborated and confirmed by foreign intelligence and security agencies such as the CIA. Yet, Mr Gilani feels that more "effective evidence" is required to dismantle the Lashkar-e-Tayyeba for good and bring its members to book.
The way Islamabad has been avoiding taking action against the Lashkar has been telling indeed. In the aftermath of the 26/11 attacks, Pakistan's Interior Minister Rehman Malik had termed India's dossier as incomplete, suggesting that Indian investigators had not done their job properly. He then went to the media and bragged how his investigators had turned India's dossier into concrete evidence but more was required from the Indians to initiate judicial proceedings against the 26/11 perpetrators. What followed could be termed as comical but for the seriousness of the issue Islamabad kept asking questions and New Delhi dutifully kept answering them. Then at the Foreign Secretary-level talks between the two countries in February this year, Pakistan's Foreign Secretary Salman Bashir termed the Indian file detailing the terrorist activities of Hafiz Saeed as "mere literature"; clearly something that will not hold up in a Pakistani court of law. Now it seems that what Pakistan requires is not just evidence but 'effective evidence' to move against the jihadis. Meanwhile, Hafiz Saeed and his ilk, despite the Lashkar-e-Tayyeba and the Jamaat-ud-Dawa'h both being proscribed by the UN's Security Council and the Pakistani Government, continue to hold massive rallies in the heart of Lahore and openly call for jihad against India.
It is also noteworthy that by asserting that more 'effective evidence' was required to crack down on the Lashkar, Mr Gilani is tacitly admitting that no meaningful action has been taken against the terrorist organisation and its members and that it does not plan to do so in future as well. The amount of evidence that has been provided to Pakistan is more than comprehensive. Pakistan's strategy seems to be to use colourful adjectives to devalue the body of evidence. But the facts are there for all to see. If they cannot convince the Pakistani authorities to take action against the jihadis nothing will. On the other hand, Pakistan's tactics should convince Prime Minister Manmohan Singh that the former is least interested in giving up terrorism as an instrument of state policy. It is foolhardy on his part to continue believing that Islamabad might have a change of heart and crack down on anti-India terrorism so that the two countries could look forward to a future of peace and security. It would be better for India to accept the fact that Pakistan both state and non-state actors in that country will continue to pose a security challenge. That way we can at least be prepared.
THAROOR BRAZENS IT OUT
CONGRESS BACKS HIM, RESORTS TO DIRTY TRICKS
The Shashi Tharoor-IPL saga continues to get murkier by the day. What has been established so far and cannot be denied by either the beneficiary or by the man who is said to be her fiancé is that equity worth a whopping Rs 70 crore was gifted to a Dubai-based Indian entrepreneur for no ostensible or convincing reason. A couple of years later, this equity will be worth thrice, if not more, its value today. Those who bid for an IPL franchise do not do so only because they are cricket enthusiasts (that is, provided they are enthralled by the game to begin with) but to reap profits out of a high-value sporting venture, which, of course, is perfectly legitimate so long as financial rules and regulations are followed. Therefore, it is surprising that the consortium, led by Rendezvous Sports World Pvt Ltd, which won the bid for IPL's Kochi franchise should have gifted away as much as 25 per cent of its equity to certain individuals, among whom is the person known for her proximity to Mr Tharoor. Whatever may have been the sins of omission or commission of IPL and its high-profile chairman, Mr Lalit Kumar Modi, they do not in any manner lessen the perceived sin of commission committed by a member of the Union Council of Ministers. Mr Lalit Kumar Modi is a private entrepreneur; Mr Tharoor is a public servant: There's a clear distinction between the two. Mr Modi's affairs, as also those of IPL, can be looked into by the appropriate agencies. But Mr Tharoor must answer questions of probity that have been raised; as a public servant, he is obliged to do so.
What is astonishing is that despite the evidence that is perceived to have compromised his ministerial integrity, Mr Tharoor continues to brazen it out, insisting that he will not resign from the Government. It is the Prime Minister's prerogative to decide who shall serve in his Council of Ministers; if Mr Manmohan Singh feels comfortable with a Minister whose reputation has been visibly tarnished in the past few days, then there's nothing more to be said about this issue. But Mr Tharoor could have redeemed himself had he stepped down voluntarily till all questions had been conclusively answered. Instead, he has chosen to cock a snook at those who have rightly raised questions of ministerial probity. Worse, the Congress, rather than act against the Minister, has resorted to its old trick of trying to browbeat its critics and shift the focus of public discourse. A pathetic attempt has been made to drag Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi into the murky affair. That ploy has left those covering up for Mr Tharoor looking utterly silly. Meanwhile, the Income Tax Department has been put on the job to harass Mr Lalit Kumar Modi. A throwback to old times?
FROM TRAGEDY TO FRIENDSHIP?
The plane crash near Smolensk in western Russia, which killed Polish President Lech Kaczynski, his wife Maria and their party of 95, including the country's top Army brass, senior civil servants, head of the national bank and myriad dignitaries, was a mind-numbing tragedy too awful to contemplate. They were on their way to commemorate an earlier tragedy 70 years ago, during World War II, when 20,000 Polish officers, prisoners of war of the Soviet Union, were massacred by their captors in the forest of Katyn. It was a hideous atrocity, one of many, that scarred a conflict that on scale and destructive power was the greatest ever fought on Earth.
For years the Soviet authorities refused to acknowledge their country's responsibility for the shameful deed, dissembling, initially, that it was the work of Hitler's Wehrmacht. It has taken a long time, including the dissolution of the USSR, for the ghastly truth to be finally told. But accepted it was. A Polish film on Katyn has been shown on mainstream Russian television and long queues of Russians laid wreaths, some in Poland's national colours, at the Polish Embassy in Moscow. President Dmitri Medvedev signed the condolence book and will attend the funeral in Warsaw for his Polish counterpart. Russian Prime Minister Minister Vladimir Putin and Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk were seen embracing at the site, a symbol of their close cooperation in the inquiry into the crash. Russia declared a day of national mourning.
The Polish Government expressed its appreciation, and one Polish commentator suggested that Russia's atonement for Katyn might become the seedbed for a new relationship between these two Slav nations. Poland and Germany, once sworn enemies, are friends today. More dramatic was the reconciliation between Germany and France under Charles de Gaulle and Konrad Adenaur. As a young student in Britain, I witnessed it on television and was moved by the words of the two men and their warmth and affection for each other. The Franco-German axis is what fashioned the Common Market and its exalted progeny, the European Union.
So will Poland's tragedy do for its historically troubled relations with Russia, what two World Wars did to bond France and Germany? In the first instance, it will drain much of the poison out of the relationship at a people-to-people level. Between Governments there will certainly be an easing of tension. The late Lech Kaczynski, as a militant nationalist, was something of a Russophobe and also far from friendly toward Germany.
In 2008, Polish media reported that pilots flying Kaczynski to Tbilisi in Georgia refused his order to land there because of the country's conflict with Russia. Poland's membership of Nato, the mooted stationing of America's anti-ballistic missile shield on its soil, plus the deployment of Polish forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, neither particularly effective, as it happens (in Afghanistan Polish soldiers were reported to have made regular payments to the Taliban for their safety), clearly had an anti-Russian dimension. There will certainly be some dispersal of this historical baggage, so the official Polish-Russian relationship is set to improve. But unlike France and Germany or Germany and Poland, Warsaw and Moscow will not be on the same side. Not yet, anyway.
The US and Britain need the Polish card in their Great Game with Russia. Even as Russian leaders and people were grieving for Poland, a BBC radio interviewer, a cold warrior of yesteryear, hinted ever so slyly to his Polish guest that a Russian hand may have played a part in the downing of the Polish aircraft. Expect the Anglo-Saxon allies to commence the symphonic melody of Poland as an outpost of Western civilisation, the latter a "good idea", as Mahatma Gandhi memorably remarked; but the outpost as barrier to the barbarian hordes, has been, and continued to be, an incendiary concept refracting Anglo-American militarism and racial conceit, not to speak of imperial ambition.
Looking into his glass, darkly, an American commentator in a discussion on French television opined that Russia's ultimate goal beyond friendship with Poland was to rid Europe of American influence, while for a young Polish Parisian in equally unforgiving mood, it was plus ca change: Russia was simply buttering Poland because it feared its reach as President of the EU in 2011. Chauvinist Poles, alas, have frequently been the architects of their nation's miseries down the ages, even allowing that their country was more sinned against than sinning.
Like the witches brew, primordial conceits boil and bubble. Take Jad Adams's title, Naked Truth, an extensive debunking of Gandhi, as a sex-obsessed and crazed guru. So in a way was Tolstoy, without reducing by a cubit the genius behind War and Peace and Anna Karenina. However, a defence of the Mahatma against an author so slight would dignify his work. The great man's fads are known well enough and scarcely worth repeating or reporting ad nauseam. The give-away came in the book's concluding pages. Its geometric reasoning is as follows: Pakistan is a mess, but for Gandhi's obduracy Pakistan would never have darkened our doors, therefore it was all Gandhi's fault, his experiments in self-restraint with naked women simply compounding his original sin of 'Hindu' nationalism. There is grinding disappointment among many of England's great and good that India escaped its pre-ordained coolie raj for the sunlit uplands of non-alignment and the energising territory beyond.
The Tory Daily Mail devoted its centrespread to Adams's Gandhi retold, and an irate Gerald Warner in the upmarket Daily Telegraph admonished his Government thus: "What on earth are we doing, pouring UK taxpayers' money into the maw of a nation (India) that can afford to send rockets to the moon?" Perhaps the natives were scouring its suface for a suitable site for a Commonwealth conference of heads of Government. Perhaps the devilish Oriental mind was plotting to consign the Commonwealth to the big bang limits of outer space. Not a bad idea, admittedly, but beyond our present capacity. Who knows what the future may bring?
THE MIRROR DOESN'T LIE
One often wonders why our Parliament or State Assembly proceedings frequently degenerate into a Sunday fish market characterised by unseemly shouting matches, storming of the Well of the House and other not-quite-parliamentary behaviour. The distasteful scenes that were on display when the Women's Reservation Bill was being tabled in the Rajya Sabha stand out in stark contrast to the proceedings in the British House of Commons or the US Congress. Till very recently I used to find solace in the understanding that our politicians are barring a few honourable exceptions a raucous lot. But now I am not sure anymore.
I never attend my community Resident Welfare Association meetings, but last Sunday I thought I would for a change. As it so happened, the main agenda for the day was to decide whether elections to the executive body of the association should take place or not. According to the constitution of the RWA, the executive body is elected for a two-year term after which it could be allowed to continue for a second term if it is so decided in a general body meeting through a voice vote or a show of hands. But elections are a must after every four years of the previous one. Since the current executive body had just finished its first term in office, the proposal for its continuance was being debated. Majority of those present were in favour of giving the executive body a second innings. But there was a small though loud group that wanted elections.
The proposal for continuance was put to vote and sure enough the executive body secured a second term. But the small group of misfits just wouldn't give up. They stormed the dais where members of the executive body were seated and wouldn't disperse till their demand was met. They shouted down calmer voices and accused the executive body of not informing everyone of the general body meeting a ridiculous assertion since even a non-enthusiast like me knew about the meeting. In the end the executive body relented and elections were called.
It seems that it has become fashionable to run down politicians. What we should really do is take a hard look at the mirror.
ARE THEY BACK AGAIN?
THE RECENT DECISION OF THE THIRD FRONT TO MOVE A TOKEN CUT MOTION AGAINST THE FINANCE BILL IN THE SECOND HALF OF THE BUDGET SESSION HINTS TOWARDS THE REVIVAL OF THE ALLIANCE. HOWEVER, IT REMAINS TO BE SEEN WHETHER THESE PARTIES ARE ABLE TO STICK TOGETHER FOR LONG OR NOT
Does the country need a Third Front and is it a viable alternative? This question keeps on popping up time and again though the Third Front Governments have not lasted long in the past mainly because of the inherent contradictions. Once again there are talks of forming a third alternative by the non-Congress, non-BJP parties. However, the only difference this time is that these talks are taking place when there are no elections in near future.
Thirteen of the political parties have come together to show a united face in the second half of the Budget session to attack the Congress-led UPA Government. All the leaders of these political parties led by the Left are clutching at straws to remain relevant in politics and the floating of the third alternative is yet another attempt to do so.
Though the Congress may term the Third Front as the mirage of Indian politics which appears every now and then and disappears soon, the Congress managers are quite nervous about facing its onslaught in the House in the coming days. It is apparent that the UPA 2.0 which is about to finish its first year of the second term is still in honeymoon period. To get this kind of reaction from a totally disoriented Opposition must serve as a warning to the Congress-led UPA Government.
Why there is a move for a Third Front at this point of time? The price rise and the inflation have given the third alternative a weapon to attack the Government. The Opposition has realised the strength of this weapon and can create an impact in the public if they go about it in the right manner. While the BJP-led NDA is also on the same wavelength as the Left front, the two do not want to be seen working together for obvious reasons. But behind the scene, they are quietly strategising together to embarrass the Government. They have shown that they can pass and stall any Bill. The controversial Women's Reservation Bill was passed only with the support of the Left and the Right in the Rajya Sabha and the Nuclear Civil Liability Bill was blocked because the two had opposed it.
However, RJD chief Lalu Prasad Yadav spilled the beans by declaring that the intention of the new third alternative is not to overthrow the UPA Government. "But we want to mark our protest against the wrong policies of the Government," he said. The Congress realises this potential and is getting ready to face the onslaught. In the first half of the Budget session, the Congress successfully got the Opposition divided on the Women Reservation Bill but the second half is going to be different. The Congress cannot expect to get the same cooperation from the Left and the Right on issues like Nuclear Liability Bill, Food Security Bill as it got for the Women's Reservation Bill.
If go by the numbers then the Third Front is an impressive alliance. But the problem is to sustain this alliance for the next four years as there are no elections until 2014. Going by the past experiences, the glue of power, which should bind them, is not there.
Second, the interests of these regional and smaller parties are not the same as that of the Left and other national parties and, therefore, frictions are likely in future.
Third, there could be ego clash between leaders. The two Yadav chieftains are together at present but one does not know for how long they would remain united. The AIADMK has been in and out of this front even earlier.
Fourth, the constituents often view the alliance as a springboard for political advancement and they can jump in and out any time they want. It can be recalled that how quickly SP chief Mulayam Singh Yadav jumped out of the earlier Third Front bandwagon before the polls when he decided to support the nuclear bill. Even BSP chief Mayawati, who was promoted by the Left as the prime ministerial candidate, jumped out of the Third Front bandwagon when she felt it was not to her advantage to remain with the others.
So what does this new front want? The Left's strategy is to merely bring together various groups from the socialist camp to sharpen its attacks on the Government. According to the Left leaders, they want to build a platform for the Left and secular parties to launch a joint fight against the Congress-led ruling alliance. The 13 parties of the front will move a token cut motion on the Finance Bill against the hike in prices of petroleum products and another proposal against fertiliser price hike. To buttress these, the front has also called for an all-India strike on April 27. The cut motion may have little impact on the survival of the Government as all these parties put together have just about 88 MPs. However, this does go to say that the Congress can afford to be off-guard.
So tough times are ahead for the Congress in the second half of the Budget session when tax proposals will be discussed. The Women's Reservation Bill may not come up in the second half of the Budget session while the Nuclear Civil Liability Bill is being re-worked. The Congress has to look for some other issue which is likely to divide the Opposition. The other option is to lure some of the constituents and break the front. Therefore, how long and how effective the new front will be entirely depends on its constituents and how serious they are in remaining together.
More importantly, the front should aim at discussing and debating the issues rather than making noisy scenes and staging walkouts. The Third Front could become a viable alternative only when the constituents make the people of the country believe that they are serious about issues affecting the aam admi.
HARYANA'S KILLER KHAPS
SHAMEFUL BARBARISM IN THE GUISE OF CASTE SYSTEM
Haryana's khap panchayats, whose writ rules over Jats, are up in arms against the forces of modernity. On Tuesday, 20 khap leaders conferred at a mahapanchayat at Kurukshetra to work out a common strategy for safeguarding their social customs and insulating them against reforms. Village elders resolved to press for an amendment to the Hindu Marriage Act, which would safeguard their right to contract marriages as enjoined by tradition, and presumably punish those who dared flout convention. It was a clear reaction to the growing demand for the Government to clamp down on these bodies, which freely exercise their powers to strike terror in runaway couples that dare to defy their rules.
One khap or cluster of villages, sharing the same gotra or genetic marker, is governed by a common panchayat in social matters. Marriage within the same gotra (genetic marker) or khap is prohibited on the grounds of 'bhaichara' or brotherly relations. Violation of the rule usually invites death for the offending couple, while family members are ostracised. To what extent such prejudice hinges on the science of eugenics is not known. But it has served to terminate many young lives, either through murder or forced suicide. A Karnal Sessions Court passed a landmark judgement last month, condemning five people to death for killing Manoj and Babli, who married within the same gotra and village, at the behest of the khap panchayat. Another accused was sentenced to seven years in jail on charges of kidnapping and conspiracy.
The mahapanchayat was hastily convened in order to help the culprits as well as send a message to the Government and courts that the khap panchayats were independent of the laws of the land. These medieval village-level panchayats function as parallel courts, quite like Sharia'h courts in rigid Islamic milieus. They govern social norms and pronounce verdicts, which are in contravention of the modern, equitable laws that post-independence India adopted as a democracy. Though on the development fast-track, Haryana remains completely feudal and patriarchal in terms of attitudes to marriage, inheritance, caste and gender relations. The predominant Jats, as a wealthy farming community, zealously guard their land, females and customs. Exercising control is the key to their social formulations, and khap panchayats serve as instruments towards this end. They are also found in other States, harbouring Jats.
The courts and Government needs to speedily curtail their powers. India cannot afford to have a parallel justice system, which undoes all the good that was ushered in by our founding fathers. Sadly, consistent genuflection by political parties before people, whose concerns may be contrary to the Indian Constitution, laws and democratic ideal of equality, is to blame for this situation. To cite an instance, the Rajiv Gandhi-headed Government in 1986 stymied an attempt at initiating progressive reforms among Muslims by repealing a Supreme Court verdict, awarding maintenance to Shah Bano, a 70-year-old woman, divorced by her husband. It thus tried to quell their anger over unlocking of the Babri Masjid at Ayodhya on the direction of a Faizabad judge in February 1986. Poor Shah Bano was deprived of maintenance on the grounds that it was unIslamic.
This policy of appeasement has resulted in the colossal failure to implement a uniform civil code, as per the constitutional directive. While Indian Muslims have the freedom to be governed by their personal laws, these do not always conform to the Sharia'h. For instance, the men can freely marry four times and pronounce divorce simply by uttering talaq thrice, or stating it in a letter or telegram. Yet, under the Sharia'h, to marry again, a man has to take formal consent from earlier spouses or spouse. And divorce, in its correct application, is obtained after two periods of reconciliation. None of these rules are observed here, with Muslims implementing their laws according to their own convenience. And, most political parties, through fear of losing their support, do not dare take them on.
But there are limits to appeasement, and the khap panchayats must be expeditiously cut down to size. The gotra system, devised by them, derives from names of villages and landowners. Ancient Hindu gotras derived from the names of the maharishis, considered the original progenitors. Hindu law books worked out an intricate system of marriages. Same gotra alliances were taboo. However, the tyranny unleashed by khap panchayats on the pretext of safeguarding tradition needs to be quelled under threat of severe punishment.
PROTECTIONISM UNDER GREEN GARB
RICH COUNTRIES ARE WORKING ON PROTECTIONIST CARBON TARIFFS THAT WILL HARM THEIR OWN ECONOMIES AND HARM THE POOR EVEN MORE. OBVIOUSLY, INDIA AND CHINA ARE THE MAIN TARGETS, WRITE CAROLINE BOIN & ALEC VAN GELDER
International climate talks in Bonn, Germany, last weekend attempted with little success to salvage December's failed Copenhagen summit. Meanwhile, some rich countries are imposing their own carbon limitations anyway and threatening to curb imports from poor countries that are not. This will cripple their own economies and harm the poor without doing much about emissions.
Various Governments want such Green protectionism, including taxes on carbon-intensive imports, or all imports from countries that do not cut emissions, especially the main targets, China and India. US climate legislation before the Senate calls these "a border measure."
"I think everyone today considers the question of an adaptation mechanism at Europe's borders to be an unavoidable and essential matter," French President Nicolas Sarkozy said in March, using the European Union euphemism for Green tariffs.
These ideas threaten international trade, growth and recovery. "If they impose such a tax, we will take them to the WTO," Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh said recently, referring to the World Trade Organisation's dispute service.
Industries in rich countries face punitive and expensive measures against climate change. Many fear they will be unable to compete with countries that do not have emissions restrictions and fear manufacturing and jobs will move away to them.
The EU wants to cut emissions by 20 per cent by 2020, while proposed US legislation aims for 80 per cent by 2050. But other large emitters of greenhouse gases such as India and China are more worried about growth and tackling poverty.
Carbon restrictions on trade, however, will do little to reduce emissions.
Taxing carbon-intensive imports from China, for example, will have a negligible impact because the vast majority of its emissions-laden exports go to other developing countries.
Carbon barriers to trade make even less sense when one considers the nature of global production today.
Rich countries "import" around one-third of their CO2 emissions (meaning the amount of CO2 released in making the imported goods), often from developing countries.
The production of a single good often involves trading components between many different countries. Complex supply chains have brought cheaper and better goods and high-paying jobs to rich countries, and infrastructure, ew jobs and higher incomes to developing countries.
Over a quarter of all global trade in manufacturing is now in intermediate components, not final goods. The total value of component trade has gone up from $ 404 billion in 2002 to $ 1,258 billion in 2004. Rich countries cannot restrict imports without damaging their own production and growth.
They would just protect their inefficient companies that are vulnerable to competition, at the expense of globally competitive companies.
A few months ago, for example, the EU extended tariffs on shoe imports from East Asia at the behest of its uncompetitive shoe producers. But such tariffs harm efficient shoe EU companies that have invested heavily in manufacturing in Asia: They provide EU consumers with cheap shoes and also support many high-value jobs in Europe, such as in innovation and design. A tax on cheap imports is a tax on efficient European companies and all consumers and it creates unnecessary tension with important trading partners.
Barriers to trade in the name of climate control would have the same effect and push up prices everywhere.
Confusingly, US President Barack Obama warned just last summer that "we have to be very careful about sending any protectionist signals out there" in the midst of a global recession.
Yet the US with the EU and Japan rejected demands before Copenhagen led by India, with China and other developing countries, that these rich economies would "not resort to any form of unilateral measures against goods and services imported from developing countries on grounds of protection and stabilization of the climate."
One World Bank model estimated that EU and US Green protectionism could cut Chinese and Indian exports by 20 per cent. The US Bill could affect some 25 developing countries.
The inter-dependent nature of global trade means that any such carbon barriers would damage growth in developed and developing countries alike. Mr Sarkozy, the EU and the US Senate can smash trade or face up to reality.
Caroline Boin and Alec van Gelder are Project Directors at International Policy Network, a development think-tank based in London.
SIBAL FAR TOO HASTY OVER EDUCATION REFORMS
THE GOVERNMENT MUST SAVE THE NATION FROM THE DANGERS OF ACADEMIC IMPERIALISM, WRITES MUJTABA KHAN
The haste with which Human Resource Development Minister Kapil Sibal is pursuing the 'reforms' of the education sector has generated enormous confusion in the society. Every morning national dailies carry disturbing news of rapid changes in the existing system from school education to university studies and the functioning of the UGC.
It is needless to iterate that education has come to be universally recognised as a sine quo non of development. As such the demand for higher education is fast growing, particularly in Afro-Asian societies. Visionaries like Jawaharlal Nehru, Maulana Azad and BR Ambedkar had created a solid foundation for the evolution of various institutions, including the education sector, within the frame of secularism, democracy and social justice. During the course of the last 65 years, these institutions have gained in strength and, in spite of an incompatible socio-economic environment, India has successfully produced several universities and research centres comparable to some of the best in Europe and the US. The idea of establishing a SAARC university in Delhi is clear vindication of India's education system and also symbolic of the desire to evolve the same into a regional bastion of academic excellence. A cursory look at the number of foreign students enrolling in Indian universities, particularly in professional courses, reveals a sharp upward trend. A majority of these students come from West Asian, South-East Asian, Central Asian and African countries. Quality, affordable education remains the main strength of Indian universities.
While Mr Sibal's decision to withdraw 'deem to be university' status accorded to several private institutions is a welcome step in the direction of preserving the quality of education, nonetheless, his enthusiasm in giving a clean chit to foreign players without properly scrutinising and verifying their global ratings in terms of research output and academic standing is bound to have adverse effects on India's 65-year-long distinct achievements in the education sector. According primacy to exotic actors will be humiliation to indigenous talent. Further, it will also encroach upon national values and culture. The idea signals greater difficulties for the middle class youth and an end to the dreams of the poor and marginalised to grow. Mr Sibal may make lucrative loan provisions, but given the state of the job market in the country, it is doubtful if the loans will ever be repaid. In such a situation many students will be left with no other option but to toe the farmer's line and commit suicide under the pressure of mounting debts.
Following the oil boom, the late-1970s witnessed a growing demand for education in the Gulf countries. Consequently, European and American universities attracted rich students from the region. The universities and professional institutes that sprouted subsequently in West Asia, North Africa and Malaysia recruited more Indians to their faculties in comparison to the universities in Europe or the US. In the process the former also made substantial monetary savings. During the 1990s when foreign universities were spreading franchise networks in the Arab world, India missed the bus and failed to recognise its education sector's potential for commercial gains.
Today the foreign actors are conscious that in the backdrop of the emerging international dynamics India will come up as an educational hub for Afro-Asian students, especially rich Arabs, by virtue of its geographical proximity, cultural affinities, accommodative and tolerant political culture and, above all, reasonable cost of living. Hence the rat race to get on Indian soil to make profits. Mr Sibal's belief that the entry of foreign universities will stop the outflow of money is absurd. On the contrary, more money will go out as the neo-rich and upper-middle classes shift to the new set-up.
Privatisation and corporatisation of educational institutions may be an acceptable proposition in developed capitalist societies but definitely not in India where the state has a major role in ensuring social justice. Curiously, Mr Sibal's idea goes against the UPA's inclusive agenda and equality of opportunity philosophy. Political parties need to take a serious note of the issue and save India from the dangers of academic imperialism.
THINK THROUGH THE MAOIST FIGHT CAREFULLY
CLEARLY a lot more is needed in the Congress party's policy to tackle Maoism than better quality paramilitary forces. The party needs to figure out just what its policy is going to be and how it will execute it. Typical of how things are done in this country, the questions and caveats are pouring in a year after the police operations were launched, and after a major setback in one of them. Nothing of significance was raised in those All India Congress Committee, Congress Working Committee meetings or the periodic meetings of the legislature party; those were ceremonial events where nothing of significance ever happens.
Given the involuntary pause in the paramilitary operations following the Dantewada massacre of the Central Reserve Police Force, it would not be a bad idea for the Congress and the UPA to take some more time and convene a meeting in which a clearer, and perhaps more consensual, policy towards the Maoists can be worked out.
There is no doubt that the socio- economic conditions of the people of the Maoist- affected states are a major factor in the rise of radicalism there. However, without some kind of a police action, it is impossible to turn the clock back and make good the long string of broken promises. The Maoists today are too powerful and do not appear to be in the mood for any compromise.
Home Minister P Chidambaram now claims that the actions taken have been at the behest of the affected states. But you would need acute hearing to hear the respective chief ministers raising their voices in support of a tough policy. Mr Chidambaram has done most of the talking. The Centre now needs to put much more onus on the states to lead the fight, rather than allow them to conveniently sit on the sidelines.
IPL NEEDS A CLEAN UP ACT
ONE OF the hallmarks of a great sporting nation is that its sportsmen and its sporting bodies are accountable to those that support it the most the paying and the viewing public. If India has to advance to such a status, all of its sporting bodies will have to be made accountable to the public and will have to maintain the highest ethical standards off the field and not just on it.
The Indian Premier League ( IPL) imbroglio has brought out into the open the problems associated with any sport when there is systemic opacity and when there is a tendency on part of the administrators to run it like a fiefdom. Cricket, perhaps more than any other sport in the country, needs to take the lead when it comes to public accountability.
The IPL is not a small tournament. A recent brand appraisal put its value at more than $ 4 billion, making it one of the biggest sporting leagues in the world. When the stakes are this high, the temptation to hold on to power and retain control of the money is even greater.
But a tournament is not known for its pecuniary wealth alone. If the IPL has to earn respect around the world, it would have to do so by starting to clean up its act and make itself accountable first.
WHAT'S UP WITH SHEILA?
WHAT is it with Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit these days? Some time back she grilled her own minister on the floor of the Delhi Assembly. And we now have her taking a dig at her own government. At a conference in the Capital on Wednesday, the lady commented that sixty three years after Independence ' we' still rule like the British, bemoaning the archaic character of rules, regulations and decision- making in the corridors of power.
Had Ms Dikshit been a political and social commentator, her remarks would be understandable.
We are all aware that the Indian state functions in ways that can't be called desirable or even proper. But Ms Dikshit must remember that she happens to be a chief minister who has uninterruptedly held the reins of power for the last more than ten years. If for instance the poor find it difficult to procure a ration card or have to live in shanties, as she has pointed out is the case, a good part of the blame for it should rest on the government that she leads. Are we to infer that Ms Dikshit is becoming cynical or frustrated or is it that age is catching up with her?
WHEN A LOVE STORY CAN HURT
BY AMRITA IBRAHIM
INDIAN audiences have a great affection for Indo- Pak love stories, it seems.
Among some of the highest grossing films from Bollywood have been on this theme: Gadar , Veer- Zara , Henna , Refugee . In all of these, love has endured despite the distances of religion, most notably, but also class; fraught border crossings, and evil Pakistani fathers who are invariably hell bent on marrying their daughters off to an unsavoury but politically lucrative match.
The final scenes invariably involve the lone hero ( Sunny Deol at his best in Gadar ) schwazzeneggering his way through the entire Pakistani police, army, and air force, on his way to gathering up his beloved and escaping, unscathed, with his family and future intact. The Sania Mirza- Shoaib Malik telenews drama came the closest one can on the small screen in the genre of non- fiction to acquire such cinematic potential despite everything else that befell the country in the past week or ten days, the Sania- Shoaib- Ayesha triangle dominated the air waves. Proclamations of love, accusations of duplicity, threats of arrest you can't get better than this, for real.
Perhaps some of the twists and turns that we usually see in the Indo- Pak/ Hindu- Muslim love story were missing, but given the Hindi film industry's penchant for stereotyping the Muslim community both within India's borders as well as how it imagines the perpetually feudal Pakistanis to live, certain themes are unmistakable in their recurrence.
The Indian Hindu man fights all odds for his Muslim captive lover and emerges victorious, amid fervent cheering and whistling in the cinema hall. The audience leaves happy; love has won the day; India has won again.
At the same time, there are some differences, which make the Sania- Shoaib- Ayesha saga, like the movies themselves, less about love enduring above all else, and more about the politics of religion, class, and the never- ending obsession that India has with proving itself to be better than Pakistan. The doggedness with which the Indian media gouged out every little detail, sordid or otherwise, about the saga is both a testament to just how superficial Indian journalism can be, as well as our intense attachment to gossip, salaciousness, and drama. For those of us who enjoy the latter, Sania- Shoaib- Ayesha was the new soap opera; for those of us who revel in the former, it became an occasion to bash Pakistan ( in the figure of Shoaib who was duping Ayesha), or to wax eloquent on the drawbacks of Muslim Personal Law in India without the first clue as to what a complex and dynamic field of law it is.
But if we were to make a movie of this love- story, would it be a hit? What are the elements that draw us to Indo- Pak romances that make them so successful for Indian audiences? Some things appear quite obvious the love of the young triumphing over the prejudices of the parents' generations, is in fact, one of the most significant reasons why Indian, especially Punjabi, audiences in India and around the world have loved films of this nature. The prejudices of Partition, however they may be inherited within the family, are sought to be erased through the simplicity of love shared across borders both in the mind and in physical space through the cinematic experience.
However, the formula for success is a strict one, and perhaps in the Sania- Shoaib story, the film might be a flop. For it is one thing for an Indian man invariably Hindu or Sikh to marry the Pakistani/ Muslim woman and bring her home to India. It is another altogether for the Pakistani man to come to India looking for an Indian wife to take away to Pakistan.
The roots of the discomfort with this formulation lie in the legacy of Partition and in the stories and politics around the abduction of women during it. There is another aspect too, to this discomfort, which stems from the rules of marriage and residence that are largely followed in South Asia.
Women leave their fathers' homes to live in their husbands' homes; the bidaai is the subject of much mourning in songs
and stories that cut across communities where patrilocality is followed. The father's home, or baabul , is forever lost, and the newly married woman must make a new life for themselves in the land of their husbands' families, never able to return fully to the fold of their childhood.
This all sounds a bit archaic in the context of the Sania- Shoaib drama, aside from the fact that they will very likely not make a home in either Pakistan or India, but instead a third destination, like Dubai. However, the tone with which much of the discussion over Sania's choice of Shoaib as a spouse has taken place reflects some quite deep- seated and rigid aspects of our own assumptions around the right kind of marriage. Should she have chosen an Indian Muslim instead? Should she, the product of a modern secular education, have chosen a non- Muslim instead? It seems quite audacious to suggest that Sania should be compelled to demonstrate some kind of syncretic ideal for India. What does she, a highly educated woman, see in him, who has barely passed class 10? Why are we so sore about cross- class marriages? Are Indian men not good enough for her ( a remark that most Indian women who have a non- Indian partner will at some time or another be asked)? Should she continue to play for India? Indeed, should she be allowed to play for India ( our saffron brigades must of course have their say)?
These remarks point to a deep irritation at best, and disgust at worst, that Sania Mirza, an Indian woman is to be taken away at the hands of a Pakistani man. The subtext seems to be: she will become " theirs" in an irreconcilable way, somehow lost to her community in Hyderabad, as well as to the Indian community at large, which has, ironically, been one of the most fickle fan bases over her career. Aside from the discomfort of having a Pakistani son- in- law, Hyderabadi Muslims are also apparently feeling disgraced that Sania rejected her own class in favour of a lower one. Not only is marrying a Pakistani Muslim a rejection of her Indianness, in a way, but by marrying beneath her, Sania has been saddled with the burden of upholding the honour of the entire feudal, practically defunct, Muslim Hyderabadi elite, who feel that she has tarred them with the brush of unwanted publicity and scandal.
For someone who didn't get the consistent support she needed when she was first trying to make it as a world- class tennis player on the international circuit, Sania was saddled with a huge responsibility overnight to proclaim her genuineness; to set herself up for scrutiny yet again in matters that were entirely personal and none of any of our business.
In all of this, I am not only thrilled at the reception Sania bhabhi seems to be getting in Pakistan, but also cheering from my front stall seat for the Sialkot underdog that managed to take his dulhania as ( somewhat) planned.
The writer is doing her Ph. D. at Johns Hopkins University and is currently on field work in India
THE LAHORE LOG
LEARNING FROM INDIA AN OPTION
BY NAJAM SETHI
THE Senate, or Upper House, is expected to pass the 18th amendment bill despite the furore triggered by the violent agitation ( which left 8 dead) in Hazara division for separate provincial status following the National Assembly's approval of the name Khyber- Pakhtoonkhwa for the old NWFP. The PMLQ, the old pro- Musharraf rump that is desperately trying to remain relevant in the anti- Musharraf environment but still prides itself as the " establishment's party", is to be principally blamed for fingering the anti- Pakhtoonkhwa sentiment in this region. But the ANP government's brutal response cannot be condoned. If this is a measure of how it intends to react to minority demands in the future, there will be big trouble ahead.
In any case, the demand for a new Seraiki and a new Bahawalpur province is likely to be fueled by the events in Pakhtoonkhwa last week. Indeed, talk of a clutch of new provinces via another constitutional amendment administrative, ethnic, linguistic or some combination of all such factors is the hot topic of debate already. Analysts are peering over the border to determine how India has managed to increase the number of its states since independence without too much social upheaval undermining its sense of nationhood.
Much the same exercise is being carried out to understand how India is dealing with three subject lists for federal governance provincial, concurrent and federal since the 18th amendment transferred the concurrent list in Pakistan's constitution into the domain of the provinces.
But all this is not likely to go anywhere soon. It has taken 18 months to hammer out a consensus on the 18th amendment on issues that were previously settled informally, more or less. Consensus on more provinces is going to be much more difficult to cobble, despite the " establishment's" desire to dilute the sub- nationalism of the insurgent Baluch and religious Pakhtoons by opting for many more administrative units. Equally, how the provinces are going to manage 47 new subjects of the concurrent list without the administrative experience or money that goes with the job is anybody's guess.
As it is, the provinces have jeopardised the IMF programme by refusing to levy a VAT on services, citing popular pressure and lack of tax- collecting machinery. At least 200,000 jobs are on the line in Islamabad as these ministries are wound up and handed over to the provinces, another potential source of social unrest in the heart of the country.
The lessons of India are also in hot demand on another front. Pakistan's selfappointing Supreme Court favours the self- appointing 3 member " collegiate system" in India and frowns on the 18th amendment that establishes a seven member judicial commission and an eight member parliamentary committee to oversee such appointments in the future.
Pro- SC vested interests among the bar associations are thundering against the new provisions and threatening to move the SC to strike them down on the ground that they violate the " basic structure of the constitution" by diluting the independence of the judiciary.
OF course, this is nonsense, not least because the basic structure of the constitution was not seemingly altered when two military dictators played fast and loose with it in the past and the judiciary was hand- in- glove with the executive. But law and politics have got so terribly mixed up in Pakistan following the emergence of the bar and bench as a major new political force almost a political party in the last three years, that anything is possible. Certainly, if the SC strikes down clauses in the 18th amendment that relate to it we could witness an unprecedented clash
between Parliament that is supposedly supreme and the Supreme Court which is super- supreme, whatever that may be.
Unfortunately, that is not the only imminent clash on the horizon. A clutch of petitions lies before the SC against the person and government of Asif Zardari. In one, Mr Zardari's presidential immunity from prosecution in criminal cases will be adjudged. In another, his right to be both President of Pakistan and co- chairman of the PPP is at stake. In the third, the prime minister, law minister and others in government are facing contempt of court charges for not writing to the Swiss government, as ordered by the SC, to reopen the money laundering case against Mr Zardari.
Unfortunately, despite the anti- Zardari sentiment in much of the country, the SC is increasingly viewed as being onesided and even " vindictive" in its pursuit of accountability against Mr Zardari and the PPP government.
Certainly, neither the president's immunity nor his right to be both head of a party and president of Pakistan has ever been challenged before because it was received as conventional constitutional wisdom. Equally, the response of the Attorney General in Geneva that Mr Zardari's immunity must first be withdrawn in Pakistan before he can reopen the cases against him has not been lost on most Pakistanis. That is why, the argument goes, the SC is keen to get the PM to write to the Swiss authorities to reopen the cases against Mr Zardari so that it can then be argued that the PM's letter proves that the government believes President Zardari doesn't enjoy immunity. In the same vein, the law minister's refrain is understandable that the government will write to the Swiss authorities in compliance with the SC's order " only over his dead body". For all these reasons, notwithstanding the national consensus over the 102 clauses of the 18th constitutional amendment, Pakistan's consolidation as a cohesive and functioning nation- state is still very much " work in progress" even after 63 years. From two units of East and West Pakistan to four units in the old West Pakistan ( now Pakistan) to five again ( the new province of Gilgit- Baltistan has been carved out of the old " Azad" Kashmir without regard to its disputed status under international law) has been a convulsive journey. How much more will it take to resolve the new issues that are cropping up? The writer is the editor of The Friday Times ( Lahore )
LO, ITNA mein look forward kar rahi thi na to Shoaib and Saniya's wedding and they've gone and done it chup chup kar ke in some hotel in Hyderabad and that also India wallah Hyderabad and not ours which belongs to MQM and is near Sucker. Spoil spots jaisay.
For the last five days I've been following all their tamasha with Ayesha Siddiqui who says he dumped her because of her weight issues and the snatching of his passport and Saniya's pictures in those little little skirts ( littler even than Jemima's) on the inner net.
One thing I discovered about Shoaib which I think so no one else knows is that he is not really a cricketer. It's true. Promise by God. I read it with my own eyes. You know in cricket there are only two types of players, even a child knows that. There are ballers and there are batters. And some times they all become catchers and fielders but vaisay tau they are just ballers and batters.
Well, Shoaib is neither. Instead he is skipper. Ji, haan, instead of doing balling and batting he skips. With rope. I told Janoo and Kulchoo over dinner and they both looked at each other and then covered their mouths with napkins. I must tell to this new cook not to put so much of spices in food. Unlike me, poor things they can't take na.
Kulchoo says I've become a cyber stalker and Janoo says why I am invested so heavily in this wedding business.
Haw, I said, mein ne kya investment kee hai, bhai? Not one anna even I've given. I'm not the one who is going
to give them golden crowns when they reach Sialkot. I'm not the one who is paying for their wedding ki feast. Apparently they are going to have 1000 guests and 23 main kay courses including something called pathar kay kebab ( I knew Indians were veggies but honestly, even committed vegetarians like cows and sheeps draw a line at stones and gravel vaghera). And also there are going to be 17 deserts.
But I think so despite of making all that much prize money in Wimbledong Saniya is a bit of a kanjoos. Why? Haw don't you know she wore her mother's 25 years old sari to the nikah? And he tau is even bigger kanjoos makhi choos because he is going to give Ayesha Rs 15,000 a month for chutkara money. Lo, 15,000 tau isn't for monthly on shampoo soap vagehra. But maybe Indians use stones for that also. . .
UAV'S FIRST TEST F LIGHT TO SNIFF OUT MAOISTS
BY SAHAR KHAN IN RAIPUR
AN UNMANNED aerial vehicle ( UAV) of the kind the US is using to target the Taliban in Pakistan made its first test flight on Wednesday evening for anti- Maoist operations.
The exercise, conducted over the heavily forested Bastar's Kanker district which is located about 180 km from Raipur, comes close on the heels of the Dantewada massacre that left 76 security personnel dead.
The trials continued till 10 pm and were held in the presence of officials from the Centre, Chhattisgarh and other states.
They were aimed at assessing the viability of unmanned micro- aerial vehicles ( MAVs) at various elevations. Also on test was their detection capability during low illumination and at night across the vast swathe of dense forests and inhospitable terrain where Maoist bases are located in Chhattisgarh.
The UAVs will be deployed for the first time to locate the hideouts of the Red rebels.
The remotely piloted flying machines will monitor the movement of Maoists and assist the security forces on the ground by providing realtime information.
The exercise was conducted
on the premises of the Counter Terrorism and Jungle Warfare College. Brigadier B. K. Ponwar, the director of the college, said the trials were held to ascertain whether the UAV manufactured by American company Honeywell would serve its purpose.
" Its effectiveness would only be known during the monsoon when the forest cover gets thick. We have been told that the UAV works well under such conditions," Ponwar said.
The authorities expect the UAV's maiden run to be conducted in Chhattisgarh.
Other states through which the Red corridor passes would follow suit if the initial results are satisfactory.
The decision to use UAVs was taken by the Union home ministry after the April 6 attack and field trials were ordered immediately. Cruising over the hills, the UAV was checked for providing thermal images of any movement on the ground as well as detection of improvised explosive devices ( IEDs) and ammunition dumps. However, in certain cases of mine detection, the UAV could not pick up signals properly and only showed some disturbance on the surface.
The UAV, known as TMAV, is a compact machine. The company claimed that its deployment and stowing operations could be accomplished in less than five minutes. It can go up to a height of 10,000 feet, fly at a speed of 70 km per hour and can provide 240 minutes of sensor imagery to the ground station.
" We are assessing and gauging its feasibility very closely, because it will be vital during the fight against Maoists," a senior police officer said.
Companies from the US, Germany and Israel have offered to give demonstrations of their machines, Kanker superintendent of police Ajay Yadav added.
Though the officials refused to spell out the nuts and bolts of the strategy on the use of UAVs, they said the decision on their deployment could take some time.
Goa cops blame vanishing seized drugs on ants
By Shweta Kamat in Panaji
CAUGHT with their pants down in a case related to the disappearance of seized drugs from its lockers, the Goa Police have invented an innovative excuse for the missing drugs.
The anti- narcotic cell of the state police has told the Goa bench of the Bombay High Court that bags of charas seized by the cell have disappeared because white ants feasted on them.
A crime branch investigation has found that 24 kg of charas out of 280 kg seized by the police was found missing from the malkhana , where seized drugs are kept before being disposed of.
The nexus between the police and drug dealers was exposed through a video uploaded on social networking website youtube. com . Israeli drug dealer Yaniv Benaim alias Atala was arrested after the expose.
The arrested drug dealer has alleged that anti- narcotic cell personnel have been filching drugs from the malkhana lockers and selling them in the open market through him.
Six policemen, including inspector Ashish Shirodkar were suspended. Out of the six policemen, five were arrested under the Narcotics Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act and Prevention of Corruption Act.
The policemen were emboldened by the fact that the drug destruction committee, which is responsible for destroying seized drugs, had not met for over a decade. The drugs worth crores of rupees in the international market were lying in the lockers.
The investigation has also found that the suspended constables were involved in pushing drugs in various night clubs. Sanjay Parab, a constable who is absconding, had procured SIM cards in the name of a night club owner and was peddling drugs.
FIGHT TO THE FINISH?
TWO senior Congress ministers are said to be locked in a no- holds- barred race with each other to push their case to rise and shine during any ' unforeseen eventuality'. The elderly one is believed to be keen on ordering a probe into the business ventures of his colleague's son. Not to be outdone, the younger minister has resorted to a sting operation of sorts by getting the phone of someone close to his senior colleague tapped on some wheeling dealing and sent the recordings to the powers that be. Wonder, where all this would lead to.
LATE TO RISE
IT HAS become increasingly difficult to get a morning appointment with BJP president Nitin Gadkari.
Though most RSS- trained politicians are early risers, Gadkari seems to be a little different.
Recently, a well- known young politician of the party tried his luck to meet him at 11 in the morning, but the appointment could not materialise because the boss was sleeping. The grapevine has it that the BJP chief works late into nights in the company of some party colleagues.
Needless to say, he finds it hard to rise early and strategise about the party's affairs.
THE FUZZY FUTURE
THERE is an air of uncertainty over the rumoured wedding date of Shashi Tharoor and Sunanda Pushkar.
Initially, Tharoor had zeroed in on June 27, which happens to be Sunanda's birthday. But now it looks unlikely if a birthday gift will be delivered on time. For some strange reasons, Tharoor's ministry officials are keeping mum over the entire issue. So the fire- fighting on behalf of the minister has been done by his personal secretary and Sunanda.
Apparently, Tharoor's senior S. M. Krishna does not want the ministry of external affair's press and public relations wing to get involved in the muddle.
BLAZE OF ILL LUCK
ADOLF Hitler once said when you are in light, everything will follow you, but when you enter dark, even your shadow will not follow you. So it seems, with Dalit leader Ram Vilas Paswan who was the lord of all he surveyed in his steel empire. Now the blaze of misfortune has broken out twice in his Janpath house, after he lost at the hustings.
Alas, the fire charred two luxury cars a latest model Audi and a Honda Accord, the chariots of this ' austere' leader besides pieces of rare art and artifacts. What was not let out was the more expensive " items" which were also charred. Massive modernisation of steel units may have helped in many ways but it did not help make his dwelling fireproof! The fire of obsolescence is a fear that stares at many a politician when he is downhill.
THE TIMES OF INDIA
DON'T LET UP
Following a sessions court ruling, which sentenced five people to death and another to life imprisonment for murdering a young married couple in Haryana on the orders of a khap (caste) panchayat, khap chiefs have demanded a ban on same gotra marriages. A khap mahasammelan in Kurukshetra has demanded an amendment to the Hindu Marriage Act and threatened a march to Delhi if its demands are not met. Its position is patently against the Indian Constitution, which was openly challenged by some of the khap leaders during their public demonstration. Such demands should be rejected outright and the police should come down heavily if khap leaders resort to breaking the law.
The young couple in Haryana was murdered in 2007 because they married despite belonging to the same gotra. This is no isolated incident. Same gotra marriages are a crime in the eyes of khap members. There have been several instances in the recent past where khaps have been party to honour killings. According to one survey, at least a hundred men and women have been victims of khaps for not adhering to traditional norms.
This cannot be allowed to continue. The sessions court verdict should be used as a springboard to launch vigorous action against khaps, which have been operating as a parallel judiciary and enforcing a medieval form of justice in parts of northern India. Unfortunately there are influential people, such as a former DGP and a prominent farmer leader, who are backing this form of medieval justice. If any allowance is made to khaps, this would open a Pandora's box with different communities demanding that their customs and traditions be given legal status. This would be completely unworkable and against all principles of human rights and justice. Traditions and customs are fine, so long as they don't infringe on the principle of the Indian Constitution and the laws of the land.
The government is rightly considering amending the Indian Penal Code to make honour killings a separate offence with appropriate punishment. This should go some way in deterring honour killings which are sanctioned not only by khaps but other groups too. Raising literacy levels and empowering women in parts of northern India where khap panchayats wield maximum power must accompany legal measures. The mother of one of the victims has led the fight for justice in this instance. That itself is a hopeful sign.
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FAITH AND FEAR
The Vatican has finally responded to complaints about covering up sexual abuse scandals by making it clear, for the first time, that bishops and clerics everywhere should report such crimes to police authorities. It has also announced that Pope Benedict XVI will be meeting with more abuse victims. It's high time that such a turnaround happened, and we hope the Vatican has turned a definitive corner. For a long time, despite complaints by the Catholic church and its defenders about being victimised disproportionately and tarred by association because of the crimes of a few aberrant priests, it did a good job of painting a bull's eye on itself in the child abuse scandal that has rocked the Vatican.
Paedophilia, of course, is hardly exclusive to the Catholic church. But it is among the most abhorrent of crimes, made even worse when it is perpetuated by those who are supposed to be the ultimate repositories of trust and faith. Pope Benedict XVI and his advisers have been less than effective in dealing with both the problem and the fallout of its exposure. But it is also an institutional issue that has existed before this Pope and will continue to do so after him unless he takes firm action. That such action may still be elusive is indicated by Vatican secretary of state Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone's attempt to deflect the issue by linking paedophilia with homosexuality. Rather than relating sexual abuse cases to the church's existing taboos, re-examining one of its core tenets celibacy for priests may address the issue at its root, difficult though this will be.
THE TIMES OF INDIA
WHEN WILL THE BUBBLE BURST?
IPL commissioner Lalit Modi is undoubtedly a financial wizard, but his latest exploit of bagging a staggering sum of Rs 3,250 crore from the two newly added franchisees has left almost all open-mouthed and some even deeply suspicious of the entire episode, especially after the recent controversies.
After all, what is it that is driving the IPL brand to such dizzy heights, which is estimated today at a whopping $4.13 billion in less than three years? Some people believe that IPL will soon overtake the English Premier League (EPL), currently valued at around $12 billion. It sounds absurd to me because EPL is the world's most widely watched sporting league with a viewership of over 500 million, spread across over 200 countries. It not only rides on football's universal appeal, but also on the deep-rooted league culture of Europe.
IPL neither has a world audience nor a genuine league culture. It is merely about owning teams on the strength of economic and not sporting power, and attracting crowds through a variety of sporting and non-sporting gimmicks, including foreign cheerleaders, and late night partying for those who can afford it.
Even though IPL's brand valuers attribute its so-called success to what they call 'a huge amount of intellectual property being created by the complete IPL ecosystem', to me that appears nothing more than hollow jargon and outright hype aimed at vulnerable Indian cricket fans! The heady mix of glitz and glamour plus an insatiable craving for instant riches appear to have taken control of the wheels of the IPL juggernaut, which now perhaps is not even in BCCI's control. In such a situation, a big crash is surely imminent!
In my view, IPL is long on showbiz and short on substance and, hence, it's unlikely to sustain beyond the initial euphoria. First, BCCI seems to have abandoned its not-for-profit character by directly promoting IPL business, which could endanger its own position. Second, BCCI is indulging in rent-seeking by exploiting its monopoly privileges, which is highly questionable. Third, excessive hype around IPL has artificially jacked up its 'brand value', which is extremely fragile. Fourth, there is little transparency on who the real owners of some IPL teams are and how all IPL franchisees are faring. Finally, many believe that gambling is the real driver behind the IPL dhamaka which, if true, cannot hoodwink law-enforcing agencies forever.
By directly promoting IPL business, BCCI has seriously compromised with its regulatory role, now even more diluted with some IPL franchisees also being on the BCCI management. With such a permissive attitude, how can anyone expect BCCI to function objectively, especially when franchisees have coughed up such astronomical fees? Look at the relationship between the Football Association (FA), which governs football in England, and EPL. FA maintains arm's length distance from EPL and does not have any financial interest in it. But BCCI, IPL's promoter with deep revenue-sharing arrangements with its franchisees, is engaged in profit maximisation, which is certainly not what its constitution demands of it.
The astronomical bids are nothing but the premium franchisees have paid to own teams and insulate themselves from outside competition. In fact, ICL, the pioneer of T20 league in India, was thrown out of business by BCCI because it saw a threat to its own monopoly. BCCI went to the extent of threatening its players with debarment from representing India if they played for ICL. What a pity even ICC took sides to strengthen the BCCI's hands. BCCI's action is not only bad for sports, but also a highly questionable business practice. And so is the case with the highly commercial use, in the garb of sports, of prime land given to BCCI and its affiliates by the government for promoting amateur sports.
Some argue that IPL is neither about serious business nor about serious sports, but merely about high net worth individuals willing to dish out obscene sums of money to become celebrities overnight. For me, that does not cut much ice because today you can hog the limelight and even get paid for it by featuring on a TV reality show. Why should anyone then be willing to pay such obscene amounts as franchise fee? The problem is mainly that of poor disclosure and lack of transparency in the functioning of these entities, which can end up in a scam, especially since some franchisees are already posturing to go public shortly.
Finally, on the possible role of gambling in IPL, in my opinion, the best option would be to make sports betting legal so that it is conducted in a fair and open way and the money is not used for nefarious activities. It will not only generate huge revenues for the government, but also help eradicate the possible nexus or cosy relationship that sometimes builds up between legal and illegal businesses.
I too am a cricket fan and would welcome the emergence of league cricket in India provided it is clean and does not compromise the true spirit of sports which, to my mind, IPL certainly does not fulfil. I am open to a counterview, but it has to be more than just a bubble!
The writer is a civil servant. Views expressed are personal.
''THE GOVERNMENT WANTS TO SCUTTLE THE PDS'
N C Saxena , chairperson of the ministry of rural development's committee on BPL (below poverty line) surveys, is one of the food commissioners appointed by the Supreme Court to monitor the implementation of orders related to the right to food. Saxena, a member of the previous National Advisory Council, spoke to Rema Nagarajan on the proposed National Food Security Act (NFSA):
What is the biggest drawback of the proposed NFSA?
The Act is to be enforced through the public distribution system (PDS) which is notorious for its leakages and flaws. The Planning Commission report says that 60 per cent of ration cards/BPL cards are with the non-poor. Only 36 per cent of the poor have any card. And about 20 per cent have no cards at all, and this must be the poorest, who have been left out altogether. So, in effect you are subsidising the non-poor. The Centre cannot say that it is the responsibility of the states to ensure implementation of PDS. The food ministry needs to have a greater sense of ownership of the scheme and should improve its oversight mechanism.
How can the government make the NFSA effective?
First, the government has to determine how many poor people there are in the various states. The states need a good methodology to capture inter-district and intra-district differences in poverty. However, states have never attempted to determine the district level numbers for poverty. Once you know how many poor there are, you need to identify who these poor people are. Next, the government has to ensure that foodgrains reach them. For this, the Centre has to be held accountable. It has to monitor, evaluate and put pressure on the states to ensure delivery.
How has the PDS worked well in Chhattisgarh?
In Chhattisgarh, the CM himself had a meeting with MLAs and told them not to make money out of PDS if they wanted to win elections. He replaced all private dealers with panchayats. The panchayats were given an advance of Rs 90,000 to ensure they had enough funds. Almost 500 people were put behind bars for blackmarketing and other similar crimes. A toll-free number and call centres were set up to take complaints on PDS and calls were monitored to ensure that action was taken. The state government recruited 500 motorbike riders to go out and check if foodgrains have reached the people.
Why can't similar systems be put in place to ensure successful implementation of the NFSA?
The government is not receptive to any ideas to reform the PDS. It doesn't want anything in the NFSA that makes it responsible for implementation. It wants to give the programme a bad name. It wants to scuttle PDS. It is willing to spend Rs 60,000 crore on the programme but not willing to spend even Rs 70 lakh on monitoring and implementation of the programme. That means spending just about one rupee out of every one lakh rupees on monitoring. But the ministry is not ready to do even that. The government has a surplus of 30 million tonnes of foodgrains and yet it will not give it to the poor starving people. It allows rats to eat the foodgrains but it will not distribute it. Its main interest is to export foodgrains despite the ban on export. The Economic Survey report 2009-10 shows that in 2008 we exported 14.4 million tonnes.
THE TIMES OF INDIA
Now that it's been phased out of Delhi, i'll miss the Maruti 800. Or the M'ruti as it's called in north India. One of the first things Bunny and i did on getting to Delhi was to buy a M'ruti 800. This was in 1987, when the so-called 'people's car' cost a not-so-people's Rs 60,000. Being very much people's in fact i've seldom met two people more people's than us Bunny and i did not have Rs 60,000 with which to buy anything. Fortunately the TOI chipped in with an interest-free loan which helped.
And that's how Bug became a member of the Suraiya household. It looks so cute, said Bunny when she saw it. So let's call her Bug, because that's what she looks like, said Bunny. With her big, wide-eyed headlights and her Smiley-faced grille, Bug did look like a bug, a bug not of the creepy, crawly but of the cute variety. But before we could take Bug home, a mandatory ceremony had to be performed: it was called sho-sha. What's sho-sha?, we asked Bir Singh. As neither Bunny nor i could drive still can't we'd signed on Bir Singh, a local lad, to do the necessary on our behalf. You don't know what sho-sha is?, said Bir Singh shaking his head at the ignorance of supposedly educated people. Come, i'll show you sho-sha, said Bir Singh, and took us in Bug to the big automobile accessories market in Lajpat Nagar II, or LPN II as it was generally known, and which was just around the corner from the rented second-floor barsati where Bunny and i then lived.
Though the auto mart was literally next door to us, i'd never paid it much attention. I'd never thought that automobiles required so many accessories. I'd always believed mistakenly as it turned out that all that was required, car-wise, was four wheels, an engine and a steering wheel. But no one had told me about the sho-sha, which was as important an integral part of a car as the internal combustion thingummy which powered it.
This is sho-sha, said Bir Singh, with a sweep of his arm. I looked at the sho-sha. There were dayglo stickers which you stuck on your rear bumper which read 'I'm a Gujjar cowboy', or 'Frisky after whisky', or 'Jai Mata Di!'. There were small, plastic mannequins little naked baba log who did fluorescent pee-pee at the push of a button and which you stuck on the rear window. There were fake tiger and leopard skin furs to cover the dashboard with. This was sho-sha. But the most important part of sho-sha, Bir Singh told us, was to never, ever remove the transparent plastic seat covers that the new car came with. Never take those off, said Bir Singh, otherwise how will everyone know that your new car is new, no?, he said.
So Bug was suitably sho-sha-ed, though i drew a line at the bumper stickers and the fluorescent pee. With her shining plastic seat covers, Bug looked like a bride on her wedding night. And that's what it turned out to be. A rumbling, lowing noise woke me in the early hours of the morning. It was the resident LPN II bull, a massive creature of midnight black. The beast had snuggled up to Bug and was licking her bonnet with great slobbery slurps. Go away: get away from her, i yelled. But it was no use. The huge beast was in the throes of uncontrollable passion. And was it my imagination or did Bug reciprocate with a coy simper of her grille? Was i witnessing the conjoining of primeval Bharat and modern India? As the father of the bride, i gave my blessings to the union.
Bug has been gone a long time now. But as her sister M'rutis are phased out, i'd like to believe Bug left behind a legacy of that honeymoon night in LPN II. It took over 20 years in coming, but it's here at last. M'ruti's successor, Bug's baby.
Where did you think the Nano came from?
PREJUDICE IS NOT SKIN DEEP
There is a fine line dividing personal prejudice and intolerance. This was breached with fatal consequences in the case of Professor Srinivas Ramchander Siras of Aligarh Muslim University (AMU). Under the guise of doing their duty as mediapersons, three so-called journalists intruded into Siras's home and conducted a sting operation which showed him having consensual sex with another man.
What followed this gross invasion of the privacy of an individual was the hounding of Siras by the university until the court revoked his suspension.
Many people may have biases against same sex partnerships. They are entitled to their own opinions, howsoever objectionable they may be. But to actually use a person's sexual orientation to deprive him of his livelihood and reputation is a criminal offence. Though the three mediapersons and four AMU officials involved in the hounding of Siras have been charged with criminal trespass, they are out on bail and not the least bit remorseful of literally having driven a respected academic to his death. This only goes to show that despite the courts decriminalising homosexuality and revoking Section 377 that deemed it unnatural and against the law, the stigma attached to it remains. In the case of Siras, nothing at all justifies this sting operation. He was not conducting himself in an unbecoming manner in public, he had broken no laws. His suspension was based on the dubious grounds that such immoral conduct could not be tolerated in an august institution like AMU. That the vice-chancellor himself colluded in the persecution of Siras makes it doubly tragic. If those who committed the original sin of barging into Siras's private space with the intention of 'exposing' him do not receive suitable punishment, many more 'investigative' journalists may deem it fit to bring private matters into the public domain merely for the sake of a 'good' story. This is unethical and criminal. No public good was served by the harassment of Siras. In fact, it has set the wrong precedent and given the media a bad name.
This sort of intolerance is not limited only to homosexuality. We have seen examples of people taking the law into their own hands in the form of khap panchayats in which a bunch of bullies decides whether a marriage is legitimate or not. Siras's tragic fate shows that apart from intolerance, there is scant regard for the law that protects the right of people to make their own lifestyle choices, whether in matrimony or sexual orientation. It really is time to lay down the law to those who breach it with impunity as happened in the case of Siras.
2ND INNINGS ENCORE
Speed has got Virender Sehwag places. Well, speed and longevity on the crease. So while the world and its twits jaw-jaw about funny money and the Indian Premier League, the Indian opener has become the 'Wisden Cricketer of the Year' for the second time in a row. He was given the coveted distinction for scoring "more quickly than any specialist batsman in Tests or one-day internationals". In 2010 when Sachin Tendulkar was picking on bowlers like boys on wanton boys, it was Sehwag with a Test score average of 70 and a strike rate of 108.9 that made the big score in the long run that spanned the year 2009. In the One-Day level, too, the Jat with the Bat has a strike rate of 136.5 with an average of 45 runs.
Lest it be forgotten, 'Veeru' was also the recipient of the 'Wisden Leading Cricketer in the World' title in 2008. If annual consistency is a benchmark, it's Sehwag who's got it going. The highest score made by an Indian in Test cricket
which was also the fastest triple century (300 off 278 balls came from his bat in 2009 against the Sri Lankans in Mumbai. And as if he and Tendulkar decided to divvy up all records, it's Sehwag again who scored the fastest century (in 60 balls) by an Indian in an ODI in 2009 against New Zealand scoring the seventh fastest hundred in ODI history.
The man who suffered from bad form in 2006-07 is now in the summer of his content, made gloriously warm by the blade of his bat. Wisden simply confirms what we are supposed to know but may have forgotten in the blur of a tamasha version of cricket: that Virender Sehwag was the finest cricketer of 2009-10.
THE RAJ STILL SURVIVES
The Open Society and its Enemies by Karl Popper saw way back in the 1940s how open society was being wrecked from within, something the enemies of the panchayati raj are doing at present. All efforts to give power to the people through democratic decentralisation and empowerment of the disempowered are being undermined by the vested interests. We have created a structure but it is like an edifice without a base.
The Standing Committee of Parliament on Rural Development (2009-10) in its fourth report says it all. It is indeed shocking how grants to panchayats are not being used optimally. As the report says, the utilisation of funds and other schemes are deteriorating, technical knowhow, personnel and infrastructure in the panchayats are dismal, if not absent and the vacancies of panchayat functionaries are not filled. The pace of devolution is extremely slow. All this is because of "a flip-flop approach."
It is universally accepted that the local governments, which are nearer to the people are the base of any democratic system. In order to give power to the people, a strong, vibrant local government is a necessary sine qua non. The creation of an independent Ministry for Panchayati Raj by the UPA government made all the difference. It gave a push for national debate on various issues affecting the lives of ordinary people and created a lot of hope in the minds of the common man. However, by failing to provide the basic structures and transfer of funds, it has provided not only enough grounds for skepticism but also enough ammunition for the Opposition. Today, an impression has been created that power to the people is an empty dream.
When one observes how the political leaders try to subvert political decentralisation and power to the local governments, I remember how true Professor Dantwala's observation was: "Whatever may be their rhetoric, politicians are averse to the idea of decentralisation due to political compulsions to prevent the emergence of rival political forces." Members of Parliament and legislative assemblies are there to discuss and legislate on national and state issues as well as to bring to the national attention the policy issues affecting their respective states and constituencies. But today they prefer to be development agents. How else can one explain Rs 2 crore per year (now the demand is to raise it to Rs 10 crore) being allocated to an MP for local area development fund? When the panchayats are starved of funds, the MPs get crores to create their vote banks, patronage and clientelism. Most of the states are nowhere closer to implementing their panchayat acts as the government agents create roadblocks.
The bureaucracy in our country is not at all happy to see panchayats emerge as institutions of self-governance. Our administrative culture is to retain the powers of the line departments and not to give power to the people. Their structure and procedures are deeply mired in the imperial model of governance and they retain their distrust of local governments. Hardly anything has been done to change the mindset of the bureaucracy despite civil society activism and the Right to Information Act in operation.
The contractors and power-brokers are a formidable force against the people. "To the people of India let us ensure maximum democracy and maximum devolution. Let there be an end to the power-brokers. Let us give power to the people," said Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi on May 15, 1989, when he introduced the first- ever amendment (64th) to the Constitution to give constitutional status to the panchayats. These power-brokers about whom Gandhi spoke continue to hold sway. They appear as contractors, middlemen, mafia and so on. They always prefer centralised corridors of power to decentralisation.
Among the politicians and bureaucracy there is a minuscule section that is committed to the principle of power to the people. Their commitment and conviction have kept our flag flying at least in a few areas. The present government has an arduous task at hand. The time has come to make decentralisation a reality. Tokenism will not do. If the enemies of devolution are allowed to hold sway, the present civil strife which has gripped more than one-third of our country will not end.
George Mathew is Director, Institute of Social Sciences, New Delhi
The views expressed by the author are personal
LET'S PLAY IT STRAIGHT
Here's a story that perhaps best exemplifies how far Indian cricket has travelled. In the mid-1950s, India was playing New Zealand. At the time the players were paid a princely sum of Rs 250 for representing the country. When India beat the Kiwis in four days, a cheque of just Rs 200 was handed out. When asked by the players, a board official replied, "Who told you to win the match in four days? Fifty rupees per day is what we give you and since the match has not gone into the fifth day, we can't pay you the full amount!"
Five decades later, the Indian Premier League (IPL) has dramatically altered the rules of the game. There are IPL players who may not even represent their state side, leave aside the country, but will still in the span of seven weeks earn more than what distinguished Test players from a previous generation earned in an entire lifetime. Which is why the success of the IPL should be celebrated: the era when even some of the finest cricketers struggled to make ends meet is well and truly over. The IPL is easily the biggest blockbuster of our times, a multi-million dollar entertainment brand which, to use the words of its chief impresario, Lalit Modi, has become 'recession-proof'.
But as the controversy swirling around Modi and Minister of State for External Affairs Shashi Tharoor now suggests, being 'recession-proof' doesn't make you immune to sleaze and scandal. The staggering sums of money involved in IPL means that the 'gochi in Kochi' was waiting to happen. That it took a series of tweets to expose cricket's grimy underbelly is also not without irony. Tharoor, after all, is India's most famous twitterer, while Modi too tweets daily. Twitter is premised on the principle of making information flow open and transparent. Often, information that may have been considered sensitive in a pre-Twitter era is now available almost instantaneously through a one-line tweet.
Unfortunately, the IPL, for all its phenomenal success in becoming a global brand in barely three years, has lacked a certain transparency in its functioning. Do we, for example, have full disclosures of all the stakeholders of the IPL teams, including 'related parties' and 'associate businesses'? Do we know how bids and valuations were decided in the first auction and who were the other bidders who lost out and by what margin? Isn't there a conflict of interest when a senior cricket board official also owns an IPL franchise?
These are questions that haven't been fully answered because the IPL has been run like a tightly-knit Boys Club, a clique of the rich and famous who appear to have mutually decided the rules of engagement with Modi and Mammon as the presiding deities. IPL Kochi, let's be honest, tried to gatecrash into the party. The owners weren't business barons (or at least none we'd heard of), nor were they filmstars. The only recognisable 'face' they possessed was a high-profile minister with an unquestioned passion for cricket.
Of course, not every passionate cricket fan would choose to 'mentor' an IPL team with uncertain financial connections. Not if you happen to be a public figure in a responsible position. Tharoor may have had the perfectly justifiable ambition of becoming a Kerala folk hero, but it was naïve of him to confuse a primarily commercial enterprise with the so-called 'spirit' of the game. By allowing himself and his friends to be drawn into a high stakes IPL auction, Tharoor left himself exposed to charges of influence-peddling.
But why single out Tharoor? Sports, especially cricket, has always been an intoxicant for our netas. Virtually every sporting body in this country is headed by a politician. At least a dozen state cricket associations are presided over by politicians, many with little interest in or knowledge of the game. A majority of them run the cricket associations like fiefdoms, with decision-making confined to a small group of people who are accountable to no one.
The BCCI, the country's richest sporting body, exemplifies this culture of non-accountable administration. A few years ago, a lawyer Rahul Mehra had petitioned the Delhi high court claiming that the cricket board was functioning like a private empire. While ruling that the BCCI was subject to judicial review, the court observed, "We must not forget that cricket is no longer what it used to be. It is not just a sport which people dressed in white flannels and rolled up shirt-sleeves enjoyed on lazy summer's afternoons in England between sips of tea and munches of scones. It is no longer the reserve of the nawabs, the maharajas, the brown sahebs and the rich who had the time and the inclination. It now permeates all levels of society."
Unfortunately, the democratisation of Indian cricket has not transformed the way it's administered. The IPL, in a sense, was uniquely positioned to effect a change since it is not dependent on political patronage. But while it has achieved great success in integrating the sport with consumer needs and market demands, it has failed to usher in the ethical standards of corporate governance that professional Indian sport so desperately needs. The Kochi controversy is a timely wake-up call for the IPL to clean up its act and observe due diligence before it's too late. The IPL needs to become the Indian Public League, not end up as a secret society.
Post-script: The 250-rupee story was told to me by the sardar of spin Bishen Singh Bedi. Bedi's classical style might have been ill-suited to 20-20 cricket but you can bet your last rupee, he wouldn't have minded being auctioned for a few crores!
Rajdeep Sardesai is Editor-in-Chief , IBN Network
The views expressed by the author are personal
WE DESERVE THIS?
The President of India finally conferred the Padma Bhushan last week on Sant Chatwal in a glittering ceremony held at the Durbar Hall at Rashtrapati Bhavan. Chatwal is known for his honest business pursuits that include starting and shutting many businesses in the United States as also for his amazing proximity to Bill and Hillary Clinton.
Chatwal has lived a life of dedicated service to India even while living in New York. He has helped millions of Indians realise their aspirations of coming closer to the US even though they may never ever get to (or even care to) see the Statue of Liberty. In fact, many would argue, if it had not been for Chatwal's red shoes and virginal white clothes, India as an economic superpower would have gone unnoticed.
But then Sant Chatwal is a modern Indian icon. He has made a lot of money and it doesn't matter how. He knows everyone there is to know. He also defines the icons that India so desperately seeks: he has friends across the political spectrum; he knows every single bureaucrat that matters; his son's wedding was attended by the who's-who even though many many ask who he is?
But then this is contemporary India. To hell with merit and the fact that you may never deserve an award: what matters is getting the job done. Which is what Sant got done.
The question that begs an answer is will we ever know why Sant Chatwal got the Padma Bhushan? And why Shailesh Patel, the owner of the largest motel chain in the United States has not? Is it because they are too sartorially conventional? Or is their contribution to the world very meagre?
When Sant Chatwal walked out of Rashtrapati Bhavan he told the waiting press that truth had prevailed. Truth? The truth about audit fiddles in the US? But then when you sit back and think about it, I guess, this is what India deserves.
Suhel Seth is the CEO of Counselage, a Delhi-based brand and marketing consultancy.
The views expressed by the author are personal.
THE INDIAN EXPRESS
To be able to wear a black gown and argue in an Indian court currently you need just a law degree. The licence to practice is a formality for every LL.B. graduate. This is unlike other jurisdictions notably the US and UK where law graduates need to pass a separate test or course in order to appear in court. In the US, in fact, graduates have to take separate examinations for every state they wish to practice in. Now comes news that the Bar Council of India (BCI) is planning to follow suit. Indian law graduates might have to take a separate examination if they are to enter court.
The move follows a Supreme Court directive to the Centre, and its benefits are obvious. Apart from ensuring a uniform standard, the single test aims to check the many fly-by-night institutions that the BCI itself is responsible for giving law school status. That brings us to the counter-view. If someone is good enough to graduate from a law school that has been recognised by the BCI, why another examination? Isn't it simpler for the BCI to up standards in the law schools it is meant to supervise? And surely clients (and judges) can distinguish good lawyers from the bad ones by their ability to argue in court? Success is its own certificate; why another exam?
If the BCI does decide to go through with the entrance test, its independence from business-as-usual BCI politics is a must. Like other professional guilds statutorily tasked with regulating their profession and disciplining errants, the BCI has begun acting as a lobbying group for lawyers. It is hoped that the BCI examination is transparent and independently administered. Otherwise it will fall prey to the same unprofessionalism that it is meant to combat.
IRON IT OUT
What was initially identified as a "zero permit" operation in Karnataka anti-corruption unit Lok Ayukta's first report (December 2008) on illegal mining a text that focused mostly on overloading trucks and forest encroachments pertaining to illegal transport of iron ore, has ballooned into the seizure of 5 lakh tonnes of iron ore (valued at Rs 150 crore in the export market) transported on forged and fake permits at the Belikeri port, where they had been brought from Bellary district. The Lok Ayukta believes it has only just begun to discover the extent of the "zero permit" operations from Bellary; so this seizure is probably just a fraction of the problem. Such permits are thought to number many and have been available for a fairly long time. That the documents are fake implies transportation without valid mining or forest permits, without paying royalties and taxes.
Last month, this newspaper exhaustively documented the run of the Reddy brothers in Bellary and their success in emasculating the local administration, with their accompanying hold over Karnataka and Andhra politics. It's not surprising that Bellary is paramount on the "illegal" mining radar; but the Karnataka government's prolonged and continued failure on the problem notwithstanding the successful seizure of the iron ore at Belikeri emphasises the need for the two "R"s: reform and regulation. Broadening and deepening regulatory oversight, including more staff to buffer overwhelmed regulators, is imperative given the allegations and discoveries of subversions of mining regulations. (It had taken the Supreme Court to force state administrations to move on the Reddys, showing how local-state officials in the vicinity of the mining interests may not be able to enforce a proper clean-up.)
But, above all, the mining sector needs an overhaul. That can come through legislative reform that gives incentives to prospecting (for new resources), that creates competitive bidding, that maximises state revenue and allows fair, sustained compensation of those displaced by mining projects. Such reform will clash with entrenched interests; but without transparent supervision and operations, it will not be easy to grab even the "tip of the iceberg" as the Belikeri seizure is.
THE INDIAN EXPRESS
CALL IT TEAM SPIRIT?
We have now learnt to expect too-clever-by-half political moves from Digvijay Singh, but this time he has outdone himself. In a newspaper article criticising P. Chidambaram's "intellectual arrogance" and excessive focus on law and order in combating Maoism, Singh seeks to erode the home minister's aura at a time when he needs it most. It is also the latest in a long line of attempts within the
Congress to insinuate an ideological rift between the Congress party and the governing coalition.
By presenting Chidambaram as a managerial robot on a rampage with no appreciation of the wretched context of Maoism, and insisting that responsibility ended with Raman Singh, Singh might be trying to offload resentments on one individual and let the Congress play it both ways. Or it could be an attempt to position himself as the party's bleeding heart. Or it could be part of the strategic undermining of the prime minister that his one-time mentor from Madhya Pradesh, Arjun Singh, specialised in. (Recall his sycophantic insistence two years ago that Rahul Gandhi be prime minister one that had to be decisively scotched by Sonia Gandhi.) Over the past few years, Digvijay Singh's signature tune has been one of disharmony a few months back, he went to Azamgarh and suggested that Batla House be reinvestigated, much to the embarrassment of the government.
The UPA has acquired a disconcerting reputation for undercutting of rivals from Jairam Ramesh and Kamal Nath sparring over highways and reforestation, Ramesh and Kapil Sibal facing off on GM crops, to Shashi Tharoor's inexplicable questioning of his own ministry's policy on visas. Sometimes it is transparent jostling, sometimes it is presented as substantive disagreement. Either way, when it spills out of the frame of a constructive and informed debate, it jars. Political parties define lines, shape issues, stage the big disputes and spur public discussion but when they helm a government, they are expected to know what they are doing. With his carping intervention, Digvijay Singh has not so much handed over a club to the opposition to beat the UPA with he has sought to isolate a key member of the cabinet. If he gets away with these actions on the strength of some rumoured closeness with the Gandhis, these actions would have a destructive, sapping effect on the government's credibility. The Congress party leadership must step in to counter the fiction that Manmohan Singh and P. Chidambaram's priorities are not their own.
THE INDIAN EXPRESS
COLOURS OF HUMILITY
When the UPA won in 2004, humility and a sense of wonder at the victory seemed to have been its hallmark. Acts that followed buttressed the view, that the government was serious about governance, intent on enlarging the notion of entitlements of those at the bottom of the pile, broadening the space for governmental responsibility, and appearing even-handed and sensible. It was no-nonsense time and a time to bid goodbye to the grandiose "India Shining" gee-whizism of the immediately preceding regime.
There also seemed to be a sense of hesitation in being seen as too flamboyant or cut-off from the people. Consciousness of the people having returned the Congress to power after eight years was also a tempering factor when the UPA chairperson, in an unprecedented move, said she didn't want the prime minister's job (the renunciation cast "governing" as a service and duty rather than "leader-y"). Maybe it was that contrast of a sober, sensible incumbent that won them the second term, the crossing of the 200 mark came as a surprise to many winners as well.
Of course scandals, allegations of financial impropriety and misuse of office are nothing new. Virtually each government at the Centre is recalled by the particular "scam" to have hit it it could be Tehelka, petrol pump, Bofors, Sukh Ram, the list is endless.
There have been people identified as the epicentres of allegations too, and they too are remembered. People holding high office at the Centre have been of all kinds some quiet and happy to simply evade, as in the ongoing telecom matter, a no-comments mode. Contrast this with Sukh Ram's brazen use of the telephone as his party's election symbol in Himachal Pradesh.
Popular culture, with novels, plays and several movies being made on the politician as villain, has found it easy to draw a picture of the scamster, with a UP-Bihar accent, pan-chewing, a man of few words, very little knowledge of English and so completely out of the elite social circle. This made it easy to vilify and stick tags on a certain type of politician. This was quickly termed the "old" way of doing politics and of using power to swing business deals.
At the centre of the IPL affair, though, we have a person of very different mettle. A new-age lateral entrant into India's oldest party. Well-read, lettered, well-travelled, with a pucca UN accent still in place and a stupendous electoral victory to cite, Tharoor earned admiration for getting into the pit from a difficult constituency. A man without a "maai" or a "baap" in politics, a career abroad (a middle-class dream), he landed a ministership after his first election. But do even those who may have admired him want to see the cookie crumble the way it seems to be going? Feigning ignorance about the "Indian" way of things, when the minister almost makes it seem he did the nation a favour by trying to "change" the way politics is conducted in the country, or by "giving up a substantial salary" to come here (read: reside in the boondocks with those who need to be civilised).
As time passes and as the defence is one of being "angry" and "deserving better", the condescension gets worse as it is kicking a larger story in the face. No one denies that Indian politics needs cleaning up, the age-old nexus between big industry, politics and crime needs to be kicked but not when those at the centre of controversies start riding on the narrative of having come from a "straightforward" universe and being shocked at seeing what they did. While the other reason being peddled of doing the "constituency" thing, by giving Kerala a "psychological boost", can be laughed off as this clearly isn't about giving Kochi piped water or even the metro, what irks is how the so-called "old way" of doing things is being countered by the paper-thin excuse of being the naïve "outsider" in the big, bad world of Indian politics.
Each of these attempts to brazen it out chips away at the myth of a solid government which UPA-II seemed intent on creating just under a year ago. The National Advisory Council, the emphasis on the right to education, then the right to food, gave signs of a government keen to appear empathetic and listen to real concerns. Days of endless visuals showing its members linked to the biggest tamasha with mind-boggling team prices and alleged "proxies" would be bad news for even mediocre regimes and most certainly so for governments which wish to set high standards, or at the least talk of being focused on the aam aadmi.
The Congress has tried to portray itself as not being simply a replay of the '70s and '80s, but one with a different gene. It seemed to hark back to its pre-Independence ethos when the Congress president spoke at a book release function on the difficulties of "remaining a saint in politics" and the "need for humility in politics". Even when the PM spoke on the right to education on AIR, he didn't invoke the usual suspects, but startlingly quoted Gokhale from a century ago.
For a viable future, the Congress has many "pasts" it can hope to recall the early Nehru years, the '70s or even the 2004 avatar. The IPL saga though threatens to put it on a slippery road, where by association the government is likely to get tarred as being a party awed by the glamour brought in by stars, big sunshades and dubious big bucks.
Interestingly, the earliest scandal to hit Indian Parliament was also about people in power favouring big business, to boost share prices for a businessman. To complicate matters, the Haridas Mundhra matter finally led to the Union finance minister resigning and a major shake-up in the Life Insurance Corporation. The twist of course is that leading the charge were Congress dissidents, notably the prime minister's son-in-law, the very upright and feisty Feroze Gandhi, MP from Rae Bareli.
THE INDIAN EXPRESS
A HOUSE OF THEIR OWN
The recent resolution passed by the Tamil Nadu legislative assembly to re-establish a legislative council in the state has opened up an important debate. Tamil Nadu was one of the states that had a legislative council for a number of years, until the state legislature passed a resolution in 1986 to abolish it. Since then the legislative assembly under the leadership of K. Karunanidhi has tried to re-establish the council, while J. Jayalalithaa as chief minister has opposed it.
But beyond the politics of these decisions, it would be useful to look at how the idea of legislative councils came up when the Constitution was being drafted. The Constituent Assembly debates indicate that legislative councils were seen as necessary to ensure wider representation of all sections of society in large states. While the basic idea of having legislative councils was borrowed from British rule, it was also seen as a transitional provision in the Constitution. Subsequently, after states were divided into smaller administrative units, some state legislatures such as West Bengal and Punjab moved to abolish their legislative councils. Andhra Pradesh also abolished its legislative council in 1985, which was originally created in 1957. This was, however, re-established in 2006.
In defending the re-establishment of the legislative council in Andhra, the government presented several arguments to the parliamentary standing committee that was called to examine this legislation in detail. First, there are some under-represented sections of society, and the council would provide a mechanism to ensure wider representation. Second, the council could act as a "revising" chamber. Third, sending legislation to the other house would involve some delay in the passing of a bill, and would ensure that there will be adequate time to scrutinise legislation before it is passed. In addition, it was felt that the second chamber would ease the pressure of time on the state assembly.
Those opposed to the idea of creating legislative councils have vehemently argued on various grounds. If there was inadequate time available for the assembly to consider matters concerning public welfare, then the number of its sitting days should be increased. Instead, the past several years have seen a steady decline in the number of days that state assemblies meet. This is despite repeated efforts in the whips conference to persuade state legislatures to increase the number of sitting days.
It is a fact that many bills in state legislatures are introduced and passed with almost no time for effective scrutiny, often reducing such legislatures to mere rubber stamps expected to carry forward the will of the government of the day. But the way to address this shortcoming is by instituting a watertight process in state legislatures and, if necessary, mandating that there be adequate time allowed for scrutiny of legislation before it is passed. It would indeed be very sad if we were to depend on the physical delays caused by debating bills in two houses as the way to improve the effectiveness of the legislative process.
For Tamil Nadu, the case for or against re-establishing a legislative council may not be too different from those advanced in the case of Andhra. There are several issues that need to be freshly examined if the decision is to indeed re-establish a legislative council in Tamil Nadu. For instance, legislative councils have a reservation for graduates and teachers. These categories might have had relevance at a time after independence when they were a small minority. But in today's India, there appears to be no obvious justification for such reservation for graduates and teachers as much as there can be for other groups such as veterinarians or software engineers.
In any decision of this nature, there is only one prism that of public interest that needs to be used to view the issue. This would mean asking the following types of questions: how much of a difference have legislative councils made in the widening of representation in large states? Is there any evidence that having a legislative council positively impacts the quality of governance and law-making in any state? Unfortunately, there is little research or evidence that can answer any of these questions satisfactorily.
In the absence of a clearly defined set of roles for our legislators, it is a fact the citizens often look upon MLAs and MPs as glorified corporators, expecting them to fix street lights, ensure clean drains, etc. We would be better off as a nation if the debate were not about creating a legislative council in any single state, but instead focused on a thorough re-examination of the institution of legislatures, how well they have served the purposes for which they were created, and what needs to be done to make them more effective and responsive to the rapidly changing needs of India.
The writer is director of PRS Legislative Research, New Delhi
THE INDIAN EXPRESS
IN ITS OWN COIN
MIHIR S SHARMA
A roundup of the latest research relevant to today's headlines
Following the attack on a CRPF company in Dantewada last week, in which 73 policemen were killed, the question of whether anti-Naxal operations needed support from the Indian Air Force began to be widely debated. Even the Air Chief Marshal P.V. Naik weighed in, saying he was not in favour of the IAF being used; it was further implied that history showed it would be a bad idea.
But is that where conventional wisdom in the rest of the world stands on the subject? In the last few weeks, the use of "kinetic force" actual firepower from the air began to be questioned again after a video leaked from the Pentagon.
The excerpts opposite are from a study conducted by the Rand Corporation for the US Air Force, which lays out what the researchers believe is the history of air support for counter-insurgency (COIN) operations. It makes it clear that the most useful aspect of air power would be in aiding the mobility of ground forces, as well as in surveillance. However, even kinetic force, it points out, has been effective historically in countering insurgencies in particular, in preventing the kind of massed, militarised, near-conventional attack that the Dantewada ambush was.
This research, in 2008, came after the 2006 "COIN field manual" FM 3-24 issued by the US army and marines, credited in large part to General David Petraeus, which de-emphasised the role of air power. However, the reduction of violence in the Iraq insurgency in 2007 was attributed by experts to the discriminating use of air power; one analyst, writing in Perspectives, the journal of the US Army war college, said that "what has been game-changing in this regard is the increased availability of various long-loiter, armed unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) platforms."
The Rand study makes the point that air power can be effectively used both to constrain the insurgents' tactics and to open up options for the paramilitary or military forces fighting on the ground. It also makes the claim that, particularly in situations where local human intelligence is hard to acquire or act on, intelligence gained through aerial surveillance has proved to be particularly important.
However, this study, together with similar studies, reinforce the claim that the speed of reaction is crucial to the effectiveness of air power. If forces on the ground say, an ill-equipped CRPF company cannot expect a speedy response to a call for help, air power will not be sufficiently effective. Intelligence, meanwhile, depends on persistence and patience with high-tech UAVs. Doubt about these two aspects might help explain the IAF's very public reluctance.
What is the historical record?
Although its contributions may be less obvious to the casual observer, the historical record is clear and consistent: Air power has made major contributions to counterinsurgency in a broad range of settings. ...Countries with more-limited resources have used relatively simple systems to great effect. For example, although Rhodesia also flew more-advanced fighter and bomber jets, light civilian aircraft also played an important reconnaissance role during its insurgency. "Pilots and observers, flying low and slow, became adept at spotting guerrilla tracks and signs in the bush and passing the information to the fire force." In El Salvador, a mix of older, relatively simple systems, including AC-47 gunships, OV-2 reconnaissance aircraft, and Hughes 500 and UH-1 helicopters were highly successful in joint air-ground operations. "What always gave the armed forces the edge was air power."
... In sum, the unique advantages of air power its speed, range, persistence, flexibility, and lethality made it integral to counterinsurgency operations in the 20th century.
How does it constrain the insurgents' tactics?
Air power constrains the adversary's options from the strategic to the tactical level. Because of its ability to conduct wide-area surveillance and destroy massed forces in the open, air power makes it difficult for insurgents to shift to conventional tactics. It is easiest for air power to do this against mechanised forces in the open, but air power has successfully done this against some light infantry foes in more-rugged terrain and foliage. For example, after several years of pummeling, FMLN [the insurgents in El Salvador] abandoned battalion-level operations in 1984 and for most of the remainder of the conflict. Thus, air power can help bound a conflict and deny the enemy some escalation options.
Today in Afghanistan and Iraq, airborne surveillance makes it difficult for insurgent forces to move in large numbers or to mass on a target without detection. This allows friendly forces to patrol in small numbers or be stationed in isolated villages without risk of being overwhelmed by a large insurgent force. In short, air power makes it difficult for insurgents to shift to a conventional phase or even to mass for a raid.
How does it aid the government's tactics?
Enduring airborne surveillance of enemy operating areas, when combined with other sources of intelligence, increases the number of opportunities for counterinsurgency forces to take the initiative. For example, such surveillance might lead to the detection of an insurgent base... More routinely, air power has moved patrols deep into enemy terrain, resupplied them, and provided fire support and extraction as required. Air power can help gain the initiative at the tactical level as well. For example, reconnaissance platforms can support patrols by flying ahead to detect potential threats. Once detected, the ground force can maneuver around the threat or call in air or other fires against it. Air power also supports raids by monitoring likely insurgent escape routes and directing U.S. forces to insurgents or weapon caches.
How does it open up the government's strategic options?
...Insurgents generally enjoy the advantage of the initiative, choosing the time and place to conduct combat operations. All else being equal, they will choose targets that are isolated, allowing them to attack, then disappear before reinforcements arrive. A classic example from the Vietnam War was the nighttime attack by the Viet Cong on an isolated village or military outpost.
Without air power, government forces had limited means of responding to such attacks. With air power, multiple options open up. The speed and range of aircraft make it possible to respond to emergencies across distances and terrain that would be slow or impractical to cross on the ground. Ground forces can be moved rapidly by air to reinforce embattled patrols or outposts...
Extracted from 'Air Power in the New Counterinsurgency Era', by Alan J. Vick, Adam Grissom, William Rosenau, Beth Grill and Karl P. Mueller. Available online at rand.org
THE INDIAN EXPRESS
BUSY ON THE SIDELINES
The Nuclear Security Summit, called by US President Barack Obama and attended by either the heads of state or senior leaders of 47 states seems to have gone to the satisfaction of all participants. This is not surprising since, except for the US, none of the others had any pressing interest on the subject of nuclear security. They had other interests from mundane reasons as getting a photo-op with Obama to getting legitimacy for their own nuclear programmes. Even in the US, there were many more reasons for the summit than just concerns about nuclear security. For the US, Iran was a subject matter of considerable interest in the various bilateral talks with the heads of state attending the summit.
Nuclear security and nuclear terrorism are matters of concern to all. However, the work plan that finally emerged from the summit did not bind states to commit to any specific action. But there are certain benchmarks that will enable the international community to evaluate the sincerity of the states that attended the present summit by the time the next summit meets in 2012 in the Republic of Korea.
In two international conventions the International Convention for the Suppression of Acts of Nuclear terrorism (ICSANT) and the 2005 Amendment to the Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Materials (Amendment to CPPNM) the participating states agreed to achieve universality of the two conventions. This will be one of the benchmarks to evaluate the summit. Of the 47 states attending the summit, only 19 have ratified the ICSANT. Of the remaining 28 states which includes the US as well as some other nuclear weapons states 21 have signed but not ratified it, and another seven are yet to sign the convention. Given the fact that the convention was open for signing and ratifying since 2005 and with the overwhelming majority of the summit participants not having ratified the convention, the progress of the summit participants in ratifying the convention will be a test of their commitment to the objectives of the summit.
As regards the Amendment to CPPNM, 31 countries are yet to ratify that as well, and that includes the US. This amendment has been open for ratification since 2005 and only 35 of the 142 states party to the CPPNM have ratified it. Incidentally India has ratified both these while Pakistan has ratified neither. Once again, how far and how soon the summit attendees ratify the amendment will be test of their commitment. In fact only eight of the 47 states attending the summit have ratified both these India being one of these eight states. It is not surprising, therefore, that India was reportedly satisfied with the summit outcome.
As mentioned earlier, many of the states participating had their own agenda in addition to nuclear security issues. The US was able to highlight matters involving the Iranian nuclear programme. Pakistan was able to claim that its nuclear programme was given legitimacy even going to the extent of offering to host an international nuclear fuel cycle services enrichment facility in Pakistan. This was a bold move considering that it has neither sufficient uranium resources even to fuel its own programmes nor any competitive technology to offer. Its own enrichment facilities were based on clandestine pilferage of technologies from elsewhere, and its facilities are still dependent on the clandestine network established by A.Q. Khan.
India for its part, offered to host a Global Centre for Nuclear Energy partnership with an initial focus on developing proliferation-resistant nuclear technologies. This is a move as bold as the Pakistani one, considering that India's three-stage civilian nuclear programme is an intensively proliferation-friendly one. The fast breeder programme requires reprocessing of spent fuel to obtain plutonium and the thorium route resulting in the production of U-233, a fissile material as usable in nuclear weapons as HEU 235.
China offered to draft a UN resolution that would address the Iranian nuclear programme, all while working behind scenes to water down any meaningful sanctions against Iran, as working towards encouraging North Korea to engage in its nuclear weapon programme by shielding it from any meaningful international action.
So all in all, while the summit did address some real issues, its usefulness lay more in the non-summit agenda of the participating countries. The US aimed to get a more meaningful NPT review conference outcome, given the fact that US will not be ratifying the CTBT for some time. Pakistan aimed to get some international recognition on nuclear issues, other than being always cited for its proliferation activities. To India's credit, it has signed all the conventions, has a good non-proliferation record and its programme is not dependent on any foreign inputs. To that extent, India's participation was not one motivated by any hidden agenda but one whose purpose was one in consonance with the summit objective namely to prevent nuclear terrorism.
The writer is visiting fellow at IDSA and the National Maritime Foundation
THE INDIAN EXPRESS
My first thought, hearing of the Polish tragedy, was that history's gyre can be of an unbearable cruelty, decapitating Poland's elite twice in the same cursed place, Katyn. My second was to call my old friend Adam Michnik in Warsaw. Michnik, an intellectual imprisoned six times by the Communists, once told me: "Anyone who has suffered that humiliation, at some level, wants revenge... But I also know that revanchism is never ending. We should have a revolution that does not resemble the French or Russian, but rather the American, in the sense that it be for something, not against something. A revolution for a constitution, not a paradise. An anti-utopian revolution. Because utopias lead to the guillotine and the gulag." Michnik's obsession has yielded fruit. Poland's president is dead. An explosion in the fog of the forest took him and 94 others on the way to Katyn. But Poland's democracy scarcely skipped a beat.
"Katyn is the place of death of the Polish intelligentsia," said Michnik. "This is a terrible national tragedy. But in my sadness I am optimistic because [Russian PM] Putin's strong and wise declaration has opened a new phase in Polish-Russian relations."
Michnik was referring to Putin's words after he decided to join, for the first time, Polish officials commemorating the anniversary of the murder at Katyn of thousands of Polish officers by the USSR at the start of World War II. Putin denounced the "cynical lies" that had hidden the truth of Katyn, said "there is no justification for these crimes" of a "totalitarian regime." The declaration mattered less than Putin's presence, head bowed in that forest of shame. Watching him beside Poland's prime minister, Donald Tusk, I thought of François Mitterrand and Helmut Kohl hand-in-hand at Verdun in 1984: of such solemn moments of reconciliation has the miracle of a Europe whole and free been built. Now that Europe extends eastward toward the Urals.
I thought even of Willy Brandt on his knees in the Warsaw Ghetto in 1970, a turning point on the road to a German-Polish reconciliation more miraculous than the German-French. And now perhaps comes the most wondrous rapprochemen: 96 lost souls would be dishonoured if Polish and Russian leaders do not make of this tragedy a solemn bond.
Poland should shame every nation that believes peace and reconciliation are impossible, that believes the sacrifice of new generations is needed to avenge the grievances of history. Competitive victimhood, a favourite Middle Eastern pastime, condemns the children of today to join the long list of the dead.
For scarcely any nation has suffered since 1939 as Poland, carved up by the Hitler-Stalin non-aggression pact, transformed by the Nazis into the epicentre of their programme to annihilate European Jewry, land of Auschwitz and Majdanek, brave home to the Warsaw Uprising, Soviet pawn, lonely Solidarity-led leader of post-Yalta Europe's fight for freedom, a place where, as one of its great poets, Wislawa Szymborska, wrote, "History counts its skeletons in round numbers" 20,000 of them at Katyn.
It is this Poland that is now at peace with its neighbours and stable. It is this Poland that has joined Germany in the EU, that has just seen the symbols of its tumultuous history (including the Gdansk dock worker Anna Walentynowicz and former president-in-exile Ryszard Kaczorowski) go down in a Soviet-made jet and responded with dignity. So do not tell me that cruel history cannot be overcome. Do not tell me that Israelis and Palestinians can never make peace. Do not tell me that the people in the streets of Bangkok and Bishkek and Tehran dream in vain of freedom and democracy. Do not tell me that lies can stand forever.
Ask the Poles. They know.
THE INDIAN EXPRESS
THE COMMANDING HEIGHTS OF KNOWLEDGE
Three years after the National Knowledge Commission (NKC) submitted its report suggesting the creation of an over-arching regulator in higher education, and after the report of the 24- member committee to "advise on renovation and rejuvenation of higher education" (YPC), the HRD ministry has finally come out with a draft bill the National Commission for Higher Education and Research (NCHER) due to be introduced in Parliament shortly.
While the case for a new regulatory and governance regime in the higher education almost universally acknowledged, the specific remedies proposed seem to be more drastic than the disease. Both the NKC and the YPC, as well as the HRD ministry in its concept note for "innovation universities", recognise that an essential ingredient of a healthy and dynamic higher education system is an autonomous self-regulating university. A principal requirement for such a university is that it must be a stakeholder and partner of equal standing in any framework of governance. This is recognised in the original UGC Act, but never implemented. It notes: "it shall be the general duty of the commission to take, in consultation with the universities or other bodies concerned, all such steps as it may think fit..." This requirement was converted over the years to a mere procedural formality, in effect converting what was a partnership of equals into a master-servant relationship. This change will be given statutory approval in the proposed bill by making consultation a procedural requirement. There is little opportunity for a stakeholder aggrieved with a regulation to appeal to an appellate body. The appeal clause is limited to grievances against specific orders; it is silent about dissatisfaction with the regulations framed under the general powers in Section 24.
In a number of specific provisions, the existing autonomy is further reduced or eliminated on the pretext of removing malpractices. For instance, the proposed NCHER is endowed with exclusive control over the potential appointments of vice-chancellors. While it is true that at both the state and Central level, appointments of vice-chancellors have been opaque and subject to political rent-seeking. The remedy proposed is even worse than the disease. There are worrying prospects of rent-seeking and lobbying in the proposed collegium method. Both NKC and YPC talk in terms of strengthening the search committee process with effective rules for transparency and disclosure. The bill could have sought to empower the regulator with oversight authority and the power to frame rules to promote transparency and fairness, but has instead sought to do away with the process altogether.
The YPC as well as other studies on higher education have lamented excessive political interference in university processes, structures and funding especially at the state level. The NCHER could have been given powers to intervene on behalf of the universities to prevent such political interference. But here the bill is silent. Instead, what is proposed are a variety of rules and regulations to control various facets of university functioning, reinforcing the belief that what is wrong is purely within the university and all that needs to be done is to more tightly control its behaviour.
In a number of other areas the bill merely transfers sections and clauses from the UGC Act to this new bill. Thus the NCHER is sought to be given funding power for both higher education and research. This conflation of regulation and funding creates the scope for conflict and reduces the autonomy of universities. Elsewhere, research funding is separated from higher education funding as a vehicle to enhance university autonomy and flexibility. What is needed here is to ensure that any funding is not diverted to fly-by-night operators. When regulatory authority and funding are conflated in the same agency, as in the UGC, the scope for regulatory failure is enormous and is likely to be replicated in the new bill. What is needed here for funding to be explicitly done by separate agencies both in the Centre and the states, with Central funding to state universities being conditional on their setting up such arms-length agencies.
Having said this we recognise that the internal administration and procedures of universities leaves much to be desired, often because of their blind adherence to government rules of business more suited to bureaucracies. Universities need to evolve mechanisms of governance which are transparent and efficient. This can happen only through a process of research dialogue, and facilitation by the NCHER. This would require, in many cases, amendments to the university legislation, but through processes which involve the universities and develop their confidence. Perhaps as an analogy, we should consider placing universities on par with panchayati raj institutions and local bodies in the 73/74th amendments, as a fourth tier of the state to be run by academia. This is an idea in the spirit of the YPC, which had come close by seeking constitutional status for the NCHER.
Any solution that seeks greater centralisation and uniformity in practises and structures will not help in restoring health to higher education. Only through one that embraces diversity and encourages innovation and experimentation can we seek to build a world class academia.
Anant teaches economics at the Delhi School of Economics.
Kumar is at TISS, Mumbai
IT'S NOT CRICKET
Over the last few days, news from the IPL has been dominated by events off the field rather than the cricket being played on the field. The open spat, between IPL commissioner Lalit Modi and Union minister of state for external affairs Shashi Tharoor over the Kochi franchisee, has revealed the extent of opaqueness and murkiness in the functioning of India's richest sport leaguethe IPL is valued at over $4 billion. What the spat has done, and this is a positive, is open the door to greater scrutiny of the functioning of the IPLparticularly the exact shareholding patterns of the different franchiseesand its parent body, the BCCI. The Income Tax authorities raided the IPL offices housed at the BCCI headquarters on Thursday evening in an attempt to gather information on the funding sources of the various IPL franchisees. And the general public has every right to know this information. The Supreme Court had ruled in 2005 that even though the BCCI was not a government organisation, it was carrying out a public service and would, therefore, be required to subject itself to public scrutiny. The IPL is simply an extension of the BCCI, and so the principle of scrutiny and transparency applies equally to it. The business of cricket is ultimately sustained by the viewing public of India and they have a right to know much more than what is being revealed by the BCCI and IPL top brass.
Of course, the Kochi franchisee, in particular, has a lot to answer. It is most unusual for any corporate entity to give away 25% of the total value of the company in 'sweat' equity. And it is not clear what service the beneficiaries of the sweat equity have rendered to the franchisee. Of particular concern is the sweat equity handed out to Sunanda Pushkar, a beneficiary and a close 'friend' of Union minister Shashi Tharoor who had earlier lobbied hard to get Kochi a franchisee. This reeks of impropriety. It is difficult to believe that the minister was completely unaware of this link. In any case, was it necessary for a Union minister to put the weight of his office behind a venture that was never going to meet the highest standards of transparency? But the issue has gone well beyond just the Kochi franchisee. It remains to be seen whether the IPL will reveal the exact shareholding patterns (and sources of funding) of all the franchisees after the IT department has gone through its motion. Either way, many more conflicts of interest may yet roll out. Whatever the fallout, it's time for full disclosure.
TAKE THE PPP TRACK
Indian Railways have reportedly drawn up two financing models to attract private sector investments to the planned expansion of India's rail network. This indicates that the railway minister has given top priority to her budget promise of developing new business models to partner with private companies through the PPP mode. The next step should be to act on the second part of the promise and quickly put in place a separate structure for implementation of the business models. After all, this is not the first time we have heard about Indian Railways initiating efforts to use PPP models to attract private sector players for expanding the railway infrastructure. But progress on this front has remained tardy, with actual forays remaining limited to a few areas like the manufacture of equipment, container freight movement and luxury train services. And some projects like the optical fibre cable network have even floundered. The slow pace of the pick up in PPPs has dashed hopes of raising the share of private sector investments in the railways from 0.4% in the 10th Plan to 9% in the 11th Plan. And it was only in this year's Rail Budget that the government laid out a vision of extending the role of the private sector to other areas like building new lines, world-class stations, auto hubs, ancillary industries, manufacturing units of rolling stock, multi-modal logistic parks, high-speed train corridors, port connectivity, multi-level parking and mine connectivity.
The reason for the sudden attraction of PPPs has been the growing realisation that Indian Railways not only continues to lag but is also losing market share in the freight business. It is failing in its efforts to keep pace with technological changes like the super-fast trains introduced in other countries. Keeping pace with the competition, and meeting the ambitious targets laid out in the new Vision 2020 document, requires that the railways raise resources from the widest possible sources. As per the new estimates presented in the document, the total investment needs of the railways is a massive Rs 14,00,000 crore. Of this amount, the railways can at best mobilise about two-thirds through surpluses, borrowing and PPPs. And it is only right that the first priority for the new PPPs be the extension of the rail network as the Vision document envisages laying out 25,000 km of railway track by 2020, which is around 2.5 times the length of railway track added in the last 62 years. Developing, awarding and executing network extension projects is relatively simple compared to the real tough task of the Indian Railways extending PPPs to new areas, which is more complex and can pose more serious challenges.
THE MESSY BATTLE OVER ULIPS
This was just waiting to happen. Really. While Sebi's decisionunexpected in some quartersto stop 14 major players from issuing new Ulips, and Irda's instructionarguably even more surprisingto these players to ignore the Sebi diktat have succeeded in bringing high drama to the usually staid world of financial regulation, the spat is actually the clearest pointer to the problems of the fragmented regulatory structure in India.
First, some basics. Ulips are time-bound insurance plans that invest the premium in stock market portfolios and let the insured benefit from the gains therein. The insurance cover aside, they are practically indistinguishable from mutual funds. Of course, as Sebi's initial order pointed out, these 14 companies have shown as many ways in which Ulips differ from funds. But they do not seem to alter the collective-market-investment-vehicle nature of the Ulips. Additionally, the real motivation of the investor is also relevant. It is probably a rare individual that buys the product for its insurance protectionit is much more of a 'mutual fund with an insurance rider' rather than 'an insurance scheme with possibility of market gain'.
Ulips also happen to be the main driver of the insurance industry. The private insurance players have concentrated on selling Ulips that have accounted for 80-90% of their business in recent years. LIC has been somewhat slow to respond to this shift, but over time it too went the Ulip route in a major way, pushing the industry weight of Ulips to over 70% before the proportion dipped a bit in the wake of the equity market slump. So, there is no doubt that Sebi's control over Ulips would practically cover much of the insurance industry's new business. The stakes could scarcely be higher.
Further, as the Irda chairman observes in his order, the stopping of new issues of Ulips can land insurance
companies in liquidity problems, jeopardising payments on existing policies underlining the inter-connectedness
of the financial sector.
Sebi certainly has a point, but the manner of asserting its claim appears to be a bit brash. On the other hand, under the current system, there is no agency that would fix the issue, unless Sebi itself acted on it. The issue does not require any change in laws. Reportedly, Sebi had sought and obtained the Attorney General's opinion on the matter. Sebi's stand seems to mean that irrespective of who you areinsurance company or local investment clubif you are launching what looks like a fund and inviting the public to participate in it, you need to be registered with Sebi. The sector regulator's permission to conduct business is immaterial. For Ulips, there is the additional issue of no entry loads. Irda's standpoint is that insurance agencies can do whatever it has permitted them to do. As of now, there are no statutory mediators between these two tier-I regulators to settle the issue.
Who is right? The FM seems to have leaned towards Sebi making registration mandatory for new Ulips. The final decision is best left to the courts. But a related question is: why did things come to such a pass? The sensible and gentlemanly way of sorting this out would have been a discussion between the two regulators, which appear to have taken place without resolving the debate. The High Level Committee of Capital Markets has reportedly taken up the issue as well, again without much success. There just seems to be no mechanism to settle inter-regulator disputes. And financial products and institutions appear increasingly difficult to fit into narrow, rigid pigeonholes. The Rajan committee had pointed to multiple examples of regulatory overlaps, including those between Sebi and MCA about issuer companies; Sebi and RBI over FIIs; RBI and state governments over cooperative banks; and gaps like MFIs or financial planners and advisors. Each of them can mushroom into a crisis like this one.
Every cloud has a silver lining, though. This clash helps underline how much overdue is the Financial Stability and Development Council (FSDC) promised in the Union Budget. Issues like this are best settled behind closed-door meetings in an agency with statutory power and responsibility to make the final call. Conflicting diktats reduce the prestige of both the regulators. Early reports suggest that the FSDC's sub-committee on regulatory coordination will be headed by the RBI governor. I am not sure if that is a good idea since RBI is a regulator itself.
With due sympathies for the deciding judge, the Sebi-Irda case should provide interesting arguments to delineate the powers between the regulators, something that the FSDC should also find useful. It deserves at least as much attention as the Modi-Tharoor duel.
The author teaches Finance at the Indian School of Business, Hyderabad
WHAT RBI HAS IN MIND FOR APRIL 20
The Annual Credit Policy to be announced on April 20 is significant for several reasons. To begin with, we would get a clearer picture of the state of the economy. For the moment, we have claims made by various ministries on the progress of their sectors such as agriculture, industry and trade as well as the forecasts of various analysts. RBI's review will tell us whether the overall GDP growth figure is at 7.2% or closer to more optimistic numbers in the vicinity of 8.5%. The GDP growth number may not have been more than a number in normal circumstances, but at this point in time, the entire policy stance for the year hinges on the actual state of the economy, which, in turn, is encompassed in this number. This will be the starting point of the theme of monetary policy for the rest of the year.
Now, conducting monetary policy has often been likened to manoeuvring one's vehicle through inclement weather with a fogged windshield, keeping an eye on the rear view mirror and shuffling one's foot between the accelerator and the brake. This analogy will prevail during the year that will make monetary policy more interesting. The 2009-10 picture is the rear view, which should be clear at the time of the policy announcement when we will find out whether we are back on a high growth path. The windshield will continue to be foggy given the imponderables such as monsoon, industrial growth, foreign inflows, global recovery and actions of other central banks, inflation, etc. The decision has to be taken based on these silhouettes.
But, what is certain today is that inflation will be the big challenge during the year, even though numerically it would be lower than the current double-digit rates due to the high base year effect. A double-digit level of both WPI and CPI is serious business and while it has been argued that these numbers were brought about on the food side, the scenario is changing gradually. The high IIP growth numbers show a distinct sign of robustness that is supported by the better trade numbers. Hence, there is reason to believe that the economy may be heating up and that core inflation will begin to surface. This is a close call that RBI has to take since monetary policy has to be forward-looking and pre-empt inflation rather than act when inflation has occurred. So, any action on interest rates will be the revealed stance towards the quality of inflation. The GDP growth figure will only make RBI's decision a bit easier to take, as the classic trade-off between growth and inflation does not exist if growth is robust.
But what about the CRR? Currently, there is adequate liquidity, as evidenced by the flows into the reverse repo auctions, which are of the order of over Rs 50,000 crore. RBI has already buffered for the government's borrowing programme of Rs 4.57 lakh crore by announcing higher level of auctions of GSecs during the first half of the year, which by itself is an effective way of absorbing surplus liquidity while simultaneously meeting the fiscal deficit requirement. Also, RBI has announced that it would start picking up MSS bonds worth Rs 50,000 crore. These bonds did come in handy in 2009-10 in helping RBI complete the borrowing programme of Rs 4.51 lakh crore along with steady OMOs. The two did help to cover 24% of the gross borrowing programme. Therefore, given that RBI has set high targets for the first half for the government's borrowing programme as well as MSS, there is reason to believe that a CRR hike may be deferred for the time being and the focus will be more on interest rates.
However, the reaction of banks to rate changes appears to be uncertain. In the past, it has been observed that they have been swifter to change deposit rates rather than lending rates. Over the last year, while the average PLR has come down by just 50 bps, deposit rates (1 year tenure) came down by 150 bps. Further, the implementation of the base rate concept would make banks rework their rates, which may not be in alignment with the policy rate changes.
However, RBI's core focus will still have to be on liquidity management, as it has to balance the government's borrowing requirement with the demand from industry for bank funds. Last year there was lower growth in both deposits and credit, which is unlikely to be the case this year. Demand from industry will increase and hence monetary policy has to be interactive through the year to balance liquidity with demand. Hence, we should probably be prepared for more fine-tuning à la Keynes during the year.
The author is chief economist, CARE ratings. Views are personal
The Indian retail industry is showing signs of recovery and players are focusing on operational efficiency, growth and collaboration with foreign players. The industry is also seeing a paradigm shift on the direct tax, indirect tax and regulatory fronts that have the potential to define the evolution of the sector.
From an operational perspective, the supply chain and logistic functions define the key mechanics of the retail industry. So, the introduction of GST will have a huge impact on its functioning. The introduction of DTC will also have a ripple effect. The corporate tax rate of 25% proposed in the DTC appears well-calibrated. But proposals relating to the levy of MAT on 'gross assets' at 2%, DTC provisions overriding tax treaties and introduction of Branch Profit Tax of 15% could have a detrimental impact. DTC holds that where liaison offices are involved only in purchasing products exported by Indian suppliers, the same would not create a taxable presence in
India. Renovation expenditure is now considered capital expenditure if there is an extension of business, substantial replacement of equipment or a new asset is bought. Fees paid towards infrastructure have been held as not liable to withholding tax, and free use of trade name and trademark ancillary to service agreements has been held as not taxable.
In Budget 2010, the FM reiterated the need for greater opening up of retail trade. This indicates that there is hope for opening up of the sector, enabling the infusion of FDI. However, though the government is warming up to the idea of opening the gates for FDI in multi-brand retail, the consolidated FDI policy has introduced certain restrictive changes for wholesale cash and carry trading, in which 100% FDI is permitted.
On the single-brand retail trading front, from the second half of 2009, there has been an increasing trend in the numbers of approvals granted to foreign retail players dealing in products ranging from mobile phones and body care to jewellery. Thus, several Indian and foreign companies are collaborating to set up shop in India through the single-brand retail route. The significant impact created by the tax and regulatory regime makes it imperative for Indian as well as foreign retailers to structure retail operations appropriately to ensure a successful foray into the Indian retail space.
The author is associate director, tax & regulatory services, EY
MURKY IPL GAMES
The Indian Premier League is an ingeniously conceived and spectacularly executed show. It features genuine sporting skills along with elements of the burlesque. Now into its third edition, it has acquired not just a mass following but also new cohorts of fans among those who did not know they would love cricket lite. But success has brought a stiff price: serious questions about the league's integrity and internal governance. As controversies engulf the IPL's Kochi franchise, acts of impropriety and wrongdoing are becoming evident at more than one level by more than one party. Suave Minister of State for External Affairs Shashi Tharoor is Casualty No. 1 for his so-called mentoring of the Kerala franchise. It is now established that with the stated aim of giving young people in Kerala, his home-State, a cricket team to cheer for, Mr. Tharoor sought to use the power and influence arising out of his public office improperly in the interests of a business consortium that won the bid, Rendezvous Sports World. Although Mr. Tharoor is not a shareholder in Rendezvous, his close friend Sunanda Pushkar was given substantial 'sweat equity' in the consortium for no immediately apparent reason. Mr. Tharoor's undue interest in helping a commercial enterprise exploit the IPL boom, prior to the bidding and also subsequently, is a prima facie case of ministerial misconduct. The Prime Minister must ask him to step down from his ministerial post immediately, pending an investigation into his conduct.
According to IPL chairman Lalit Modi, the Minister called him with a request not to make public the list of shareholders of the consortium. Mr. Tharoor admits he contacted Mr. Modi on the matter, although his version of the nature of his interest is quite different. The Franchise Agreement does have a confidentiality clause, which prohibits disclosure of the agreement, other than as might be required under the law, without the prior written agreement of both parties (the consortium and the IPL arm of the Board of Control for Cricket in India). But there is no justification for the existence of such a clause in the first place. The IPL draws heavily on public resources, not only for security purposes, but also in terms of tax exemptions and tariff concessions. There is an undeniable public interest in requiring consortiums bidding huge amounts for cricket franchises to disclose to the public their funding sources and shareholding particulars. However, Mr. Tharoor is not the only one in the dock in this murky affair. A Kochi consortium co-owner has alleged that Mr. Modi offered the owners $50 million as a 'bribe' to withdraw from the bid after they had won it. The IPL Chairman has strenuously denied this. Actually, the original invitation to tender for ascertaining the two new franchises was cancelled after BCCI president Shashank Manohar found that stiff clauses involving binding financial obligations were included without the IPL governing council's approval. The subsequent tender invitation dropped the clause requiring the bidders to demonstrate a net worth of $ 1 billion and to pay an advance guarantee of $ 100 million. Evidently, within the IPL, there are serious conflicts of interest and vested interests lobbying for, and acting clandestinely on behalf of, big business and powerful politicians. The league owes its success to millions of cricket fans across the country and, to some extent, abroad. The time has certainly come for the BCCI as well as government authorities to look into the nature and size of the amounts flowing into the IPL, and ensure greater transparency and accountability on the part of both the organisers and the franchisees.
ANOTHER POLICY DILEMMA
The Reserve Bank of India is confronted with a new policy dilemma on the eve of its scheduled unveiling of the annual credit and monetary policy statement on April 20. Monetary policy has for long tried to balance the imperative of maintaining price stability with the objective of ensuring credit availability for the real sector. This time too, the RBI has to strike a middle course while pursuing the often conflicting goals. Inflation is well above the RBI's target range and, far from being a supply-side phenomenon , has become more generalised. Economic growth continues to be robust and, even as credit disbursements by banks seem to be gaining momentum, there is expectation all round that the RBI would hike its policy interest rates and, probably, the Cash Reserve Ratio as well. The RBI will also articulate its stance on the hardening Indian rupee. The rupee is currently trading at an 18-month high. Over a 13-month period till the second week of April, the rupee has appreciated by 13 per cent.
The rising rupee affects the competitiveness of India's exports, which are only now recovering after a long period of slump. Interestingly, the currency has strengthened although India is having fairly large trade and current account deficits. It is mainly the large-scale resumption of foreign institutional money flows into the stock markets that, in the absence of central bank intervention, has caused the rupee to appreciate. Between April and December 2009, the net portfolio inflow amounted to $23.6 billion, as against a net outflow of $11.3 billion a year earlier. These inflows have offset the current account deficits and propped up the balance of payments. Yet that alone cannot explain why the central bank has not intervened. The two-stage process involved in intervention purchase of dollars in the first instance, followed by sterilisation of rupee liquidity has quasi-fiscal costs. Besides, it will have to be dovetailed with the other policy objectives.
LEADER PAGE ARTICLES
HAMID KARZAI'S RECONCILIATION STRATEGY
TO WHAT EXTENT THE U.S. AND THE U.K. ARE ACTING IN CONCERT WITH PAKISTAN TO SABOTAGE HAMID KARZAI'S INITIATIVE IS DIFFICULT TO JUDGE BUT ALL THREE PROTAGONISTS SEEM TO BE ON THE SAME SIDE.
With just a fortnight left for the "jirga" or tribal council to be held in Kabul, the prospects do not look good. Pakistan is determined to torpedo the Afghanistan government's plan to work out a societal consensus for ending the war through the traditional means of a consultative assembly. The convening of the jirga, for May 2-4, was a pledge made by President Hamid Karzai in his inaugural address last November. The idea has been viewed favourably by the bulk of the Afghan society. On the other hand, western powers, especially the United States and the United Kingdom, acquiesced in manifest reluctance.
To what extent the U.S. and the U.K. are acting in concert with Pakistan to sabotage Mr. Karzai's initiative is difficult to judge but all three protagonists seem to be on the same side of the fence. Their concerns appear to converge on a single point a successful jirga would take the wind out of their sails and put the Afghans in the driving seat and, in the process, Mr. Karzai might succeed in unifying the national opinion behind him.
For sure, the jirga can prove a turning point. Mr. Karzai proposes to invite 1200-1400 representatives from various walks of life tribal elders from every district, members of Parliament, women, civil society, etc. Masoom Stanekzai, national security adviser and confidant of Mr. Karzai, entrusted with the planning of the jirga, said in a recent interview that the event would give shape to a peace process that is acceptable to the entire country, including all political and ethnic groups. "We don't want a peace that undermines the rights of some. The jirga is about rallying broad support behind the whole policy."
Second, he said, the jirga would be asked to endorse a government plan for the reintegration of insurgents in line with the decision taken at the London Conference of January 28. Third, it would set the ground rules for holding talks with the insurgents.
Mr. Stanekzai said the government hoped to get endorsement for its three basic principles for holding talks with the Taliban that the Taliban would sever all links with the al-Qaeda and other extremist groups; abide by the Afghan Constitution; and recognise that in a plural society, all groups have equal rights. As he put it: "We don't want to go back to the era of the Taliban."
Fourth, the jirga would discuss "what people expect from the government, the international community, and NATO forces," to quote Mr. Stanekzai. Herein probably lies the bitter pill for the western countries the jirga may well choose to discuss a timeline for the vacation of foreign occupation of Afghanistan.
It is not difficult to see why Pakistan is opposed to Mr. Karzai's peace plan. Its strategy aims at a Taliban takeover in Afghanistan incrementally, whereas Mr. Karzai's plan intends to precisely prevent such a calamity. His plan will inexorably expose that the militia, despite robust ISI backing, remains unacceptable politically to the majority of the Afghans. What unnerves the Pakistani military leadership is that Mr. Karzai, who hails from a powerful Pashtun tribe, intends forging a peace process which will underscore Afghanistan's plural society.
Mr. Karzai's plan refuses to envisage any centrality for the Inter-Services Intelligence in the peace process. Actually, most Afghans resent the ISI's diabolical role in their country and Mr. Karzai himself does not really need its help to get in touch with the Taliban. The Afghans have always had their own native networking. Even at the height of the conflict in the end-1990s, Northern Alliance leaders kept up their contacts with the Taliban. Mr. Karzai is equally well placed to contact the Taliban as many elements within his coalition maintain communication channels with the insurgents.
The ISI, on the other hand, insists on its being the sole channel for contacting the Taliban so that Pakistan can dictate the terms of any political settlement. This strategy will go awry if Mr. Karzai's jirga succeeds and leads to a genuine pan-Afghan peace process of national reconciliation in line with the Afghan traditions of conflict resolution, and results in the formation of a broad-based government under his leadership. Thus, a systematic disinformation campaign has been let loose to tarnish the image of Mr. Karzai for "appeasing" the Taliban. Many gullible foreigners promptly lapped up the ISI's dissimulation.
The recent arrest of the number 2 in the Taliban hierarchy, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, has virtually snapped an important communication channel between the Afghan government and the Taliban leadership. The Washington Post reported: "Senior Afghan officials in the military and presidential palace accuse Pakistan of orchestrating the arrest of Baradar and others to take down Taliban leaders most amenable to negotiations. Some of them say that Afghans had been in secret contact with Baradar before his arrest and that he was prepared to join the 1400 people descending on Kabul next month for a peace conference [jirga]."
What works to Pakistan's advantage is that there is no unanimity of opinion among the western powers on Mr. Karzai's peace plan, either. Senior U.S. officials continue to maintain that the Taliban needs to be degraded militarily before reconciliation can commence, while some others especially the U.S. military commanders assigned to Afghanistan are reportedly more open to Mr. Karzai's thought process that the search for reconciliation need not wait. Whether this schism within the American camp is for real or a smoke-screen remains unclear. But the fact is, added with the strong antipathy to Mr. Karzai often bordering on a visceral dislike at a personal level among some key U.S. officials piloting the AfPak diplomacy, Pakistan has secured elbow room to manipulate the peace process.
Above all, Pakistan calculates that time is in its favour as the clock begins to tick for the U.S. presidential election in 2012, and Barack Obama finds himself hard-pressed to show "results" in the Afghan war. The Pakistani estimation is that if Mr. Karzai's jirga fails to gain credibility, Islamabad will have derived political mileage by demonstrating that there can be no viable Afghan peace process that does not recognise the ISI's pivotal role. Islamabad can play these games endlessly and hope to extract maximum concessions from Washington. Typical of the ISI's shenanigans is the reported development that, after getting senior U.S. officials like AfPak special representative Richard Holbrooke to commend Pakistan for arresting some Taliban leaders recently, the ISI has quietly been setting them free.
Sadly enough, the forthcoming jirga is a replay of two defining moments in the Afghan civil war that have faded into oblivion. The first instance was in the period immediately preceding the Soviet withdrawal. Diego Cordovez and Selig Harrison describe vividly in their masterly work Out of Afghanistan how Moscow tried desperately to bring about a reconciliation between the communist government in Kabul led by Najibullah and the Afghan Mujahideen. Eduard Shevardnadze, then Soviet Foreign Minister, visited Islamabad in February 1989 to meet Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto and the Pakistani military and ISI leadership in a last-ditch mission to persuade Islamabad to accept a temporary sharing of power between Najibullah and the Mujahideen as a means of avoiding a bloody civil war.
The second occasion was the Loya Jirga convened by Najibullah in May 1990, soon after the Soviet withdrawal that formally ended the communist party's monopoly over executive power. To quote Najibullah: "The present Loya Jirga held at a crucial moment will go down in the history of our beloved homeland. Let this Loya Jirga be identified with the notions of National Reconciliation, national unity and peace and tranquillity in Afghanistan."
Yet, the ISI refused to oblige any Afghan-led national reconciliation. A political compromise was not in its plans as that would have been inconsistent with the Pakistani military's objective of gaining "strategic depth." History is set to repeat itself next month even as Pakistan actively sabotages Mr. Karzai's jirga.
What is not so obvious, however, are Washington's motives in not only not giving Mr. Karzai a fair chance to hold a successful jirga but also systematically undercutting him. In 1989-90, Washington had the burning desire to avenge the humiliation in Vietnam, no matter how many Afghan lives perished. Therefore, the CIA urged the ISI to stand firm against the Soviets as the U.S. wanted to celebrate a total communist debacle in Kabul. But there is no ideology involved in today's war and there is no conceivable reason why the U.S. should allow itself to view the forthcoming jirga through the prism of the Pakistani military leadership even if one were to make allowance for elements within Mr. Obama's AfPak team which may be the vestiges of the Afghan jihad of the 1980s and cannot easily break with the past mindset.
(The writer is a former diplomat.)
TESTING OUT GANDHI-STYLE PROTEST
PALESTINIANS HAD A "BAD IMPRESSION" OF NON-VIOLENT RESISTANCE, WHICH HAD BECOME ASSOCIATED WITH PACIFISM AND CONCESSIONS TO ISRAEL. NOT ANYMORE.
Holy Land Trust, which trains protesters in non-violent tactics, is determined to keep things peacefulGandhi's message has penetrated far-flung corners of West Bank
It is strangely quiet. About 40 mainly Palestinian protesters face off with a line of armed Israeli soldiers over coils of razor wire. They calmly explain they want access to land Israel has confiscated to build its West Bank barrier. Chanting begins, followed by impassioned speeches in Hebrew, English and Arabic.
"You soldiers standing here, blocking Palestinians from walking on their own land, you need to think about what you're doing," lectures one young woman. "What will you tell your children?" asks an older man. The troops stare impassively ahead.
'Excuse to shoot'
Beit Jala is one of a growing number of Palestinian villages holding regular protests against Israel's occupation of the West Bank. Many end with Palestinian youths throwing stones and Israeli troops firing tear gas and sometimes rubber-coated bullets.
But organisers in Beit Jala, such as Ahmad Lazza of the Holy Land Trust who trains protesters in non-violent tactics, are determined to keep things peaceful. This is partly out of personal belief, and partly about avoiding escalation with Israeli soldiers.
"You don't want him to feel threatened, because it is a very good excuse for him to shoot you," he says.
Protesters in the area have recently chained themselves to olive trees to protect them from Israeli bulldozers and rebuilt a destroyed garden on land cleared for the barrier which Israel says is for security, but Palestinians see as a land grab. They have also forced their way into the main checkpoint keeping Bethlehem Palestinians from Jerusalem.
In the past, Mr. Lazza says, Palestinians had a "bad impression" of non-violent resistance, which had become associated with pacifism and concessions to Israel. But recently, he has seen "a big change."
Palestinian Authority (PA) officials have started attending protests, holding up regular demonstrations in the villages of Bilin and Naalin as models of "popular resistance," and calling on Palestinians to boycott goods produced in Israeli settlements in the West Bank.
This month PA Prime Minister Salam Fayyad defied Israeli rules and ploughed a furrow on West Bank land controlled by the military, as well as citing the Indian independence and American black civil rights struggles. Martin Luther King III, the eldest son of the American civil rights activist, is visiting Ramallah on Wednesday, a week after one of the grandsons of Indian independence leader Mahatma Gandhi Rajmohan Gandhi spoke passionately about his grandfather's belief in non-violent struggle to a packed hall, urging Palestinians to appeal to the principles of justice in Judaism. "Never, never, never, never lose your patience,'' he entreated. "Never lose your faith in ultimate victory." But despite giving him a standing ovation, few in the audience would completely adopt Gandhi's purist approach.
"I came to promote non-violent resistance," said Mahmoud Ramahi, secretary general of the Palestinian Legislative Council, and a member of the Islamist movement Hamas. "We support all types of resistance non-violent, economic, political and armed resistance," he said apparently missing the point of strictly peaceful campaigns.
Hind Awad, 22, a campaigner for an international boycott of Israel, said non-violent methods had historically been a "major tool" of the Palestinians. "I also think that under international law, armed struggle is just, for people that are living under occupation," she added.
A recent poll suggested that nearly half of Palestinians support armed struggle. Many of these, like Hossam Khader, a long-standing activist with the Fatah movement which dominates the PA, believe Israel would not have agreed even to negotiate without years of Palestinian militant activity. He disagrees with suicide attacks against civilians inside Israel, and backs a two-state solution. But he says Palestinians "have the right to resist" soldiers and armed settlers by military means. Popular protest "is good," he says, "but it will change nothing."
"I can go and I can shout... but the wall is still the wall, the settlements are still the settlements."
Even Rajmohan Gandhi says the Palestinians face a "much tougher battle" against U.S.-backed Israel, than the Indians, with strong international support, did against British colonial rule. But he is not convinced by suggestions that some cultures are more suited to non-violence than others often made in connection with the culture of heroism around Palestinian armed struggle and those considered ``martyred'' during it. ``In India too, there were many occasions when non-violence was not strictly observed," he says. "Gandhi had to fight against it, it's not as if Indian culture was terribly favourably disposed to non-violence."
But Gandhi's message has nevertheless penetrated far-flung corners of the West Bank. Najmadeen al-Husseini, 62, lives squeezed between the West Bank barrier and an Israeli settlement near the Palestinian village of Qatana. He can only access his land through a huge military gate. Without Israeli permission to build, he lives with his children and grandchildren 17 people in all in a three-bedroom house.
He is an example of a concept in Palestinian culture, known as "sumud" in Arabic. It translates as "steadfastness" and is usually understood to mean staying put on your land, living with dignity despite adversity. "I was born here. My parents are buried here. I will stay on my land even if they kill me," he says. In his view, two decades of negotiations have yielded little, yet "military resistance will get us nowhere what are Kalashnikovs against tanks?"
"If the world supports us, peaceful resistance will get us something back," he says. "Whatshisname... Gandhi...
the world supported him, and he kicked the British out of India," he says.
But if you ask Israelis about a possible wave of non-violent Palestinian protest, most say they will believe it when they see it.
Anshel Pfeffer, military correspondent for the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, says the demonstrations so far have been little more than "a nuisance" for the Israeli military. He says the Palestinian Authority is "walking a tightrope" between boosting its credibility among Palestinians and maintaining its security cooperation with Israel, and is therefore wary of supporting protests too strongly.
The numbers attending protests remain relatively low, and advocates of total, Gandhi-style nonviolence are even fewer. But Ahmad Lazza still sees huge potential: "We believe that non-violence is stronger than militant action, once we have a big mass of people. Once people want something, nothing can stop them."
© BBC News/Distributed by the New York Times Syndicate
ON THE FRONTLINE OF THE COLOMBIAN DRUGS WAR
Production is down in the world's biggest cocaine-producing country. Ten years ago, Colombia churned out almost 1,000 tonnes of cocaine annually, now it is down to less than 300 tonnes.
"It's still one of our country's biggest problems," says Col Jose Angel Mendoza, deputy head of the Colombian anti-narcotics police force. "But we're on the right track."
However, success has brought its own problems, the colonel says. "A couple of years ago you'd find a 30-hectare coca field and you'd use a plane to spray it with herbicides. "Now, the coca fields are much smaller, hidden in dense jungle and hard to access. Often, the plants have been booby-trapped, and the surrounding area is mined, making it risky to eradicate them by hand."
The enemy, too, has changed, Col Mendoza says. The big drugs cartels have been broken up, smaller criminal gangs which are harder to target have taken their place. And after the capture and death of many of the top leaders of the Farc, Colombia's main rebel group is also becoming more fragmented, making it in some ways harder to fight.
So, the battle goes on. Dressed in combat gear and armed with M4 rifles, the anti-narcotic force's 7,200 agents look more like soldiers than police officers. They even have their own 600-strong special operations force, the Jungla, or jungle squad.
Sgt Alfredo Nino is one of them. Soft-spoken and a little shy, he seems an unlikely candidate for an elite fighting force. Sitting next to his wife in their neat home in Villavicencio, 90 km south of Bogota, he talks about his decision to join the police at the age of 18.
"No one in my family had been in the security forces, so I don't know why it grabbed me. I just saw an ad and it looked like a good career path," he said.
The initial training took him far from home. He adapted well, he insists, but the first time his father came to visit, he wanted to leave with him and rejoin the family. "But the guards stopped me." But he soon took a liking to the work of the special operations team. He joined Copes, a police group specialising in urban combat. A natural sharpshooter, he became an instructor teaching others to shoot, among them his future wife, Liliana Martinez.
When they got married, he joined her squad in Villavicencio, which provided police escorts for politicians. Three years ago, Liliana left the force to look after their two children, aged 12 and six.
After a while as a bodyguard, Sgt Nino volunteered for the Jungla. "Our mission is to combat the drugs trade, and we're trained to fight and survive in the most inhospitable areas of the country for days, weeks, months, whatever it takes," he said.
Liliana backed his decision but found the three years he spent with the Jungla tough for the family. "He'd call me in the morning from Bogota, and a couple of hours later he could be at the other end of the country, deployed on some highly dangerous mission," she said.
Sgt Nino says it was a privilege to be a Jungla. "You know your colleagues are as well trained as you are and you are always on the frontline of the battle." But the missions could be relentless and there were times when he didn't come home for six months. "When I finally did return and wanted to embrace my 18-month old daughter, she didn't recognise me and ran away crying," he recalls.
That's when he decided something needed to change, and he asked for a transfer from the Jungla to an anti-narcotics group in Villavicencio.
Sitting in his windowless office at police HQ filing fuel expenses, Sgt Nino still wears combat gear.
"I always carry a gun," he says, "you never know whom you may have crossed in my line of work." He has no regrets about taking on a job with more administrative duties. ``I have spent nine years at the sharp end of the war, I've done my bit, now I'm taking it easy for the sake of my children,'' he says. Then his eyes light up: "But when there is a raid, I'm the first one to be called. Once a jungla, always a jungla!"
When the call comes, Sgt Nino puts on his flak jacket and helmet, picks up a rifle and leads his team into another raid on a cocaine lab in the jungle or a drug bust in the city. And it is not just drugs they are looking for. These days, the unit seizes arms and ammunition too.
While I am with them, they get a tip-off about a suspected Farc rebel hiding in a local hotel. They believe he could be an explosives expert and are keen to catch him, as an increasing number of their colleagues are being killed by bombs planted by the Farc. The suspect is apprehended with two illegally held weapons and Farc propaganda material, but no explosives. It could be enough for a sentence of one to two years, but not quite the coup they had been hoping for.
I ask him if there is one thing which could tip the balance in this protracted conflict. The answer is: helicopters.
© BBC News/Distributed by the New York Times Syndicate
HOW EASY IS IT TO BUY ENDANGERED SPECIES? VERY
SONIA VAN GILDER COOKE
From Burmese pythons to pygmy marmosets, there is a roaring illegal trade in animals online. A recent convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species found one rare species the Kaiser's spotted newt (an orange and black salamander in the highland streams of Iran) now numbers fewer than 1,000 adults in the wild because of internet trading. So what can you find on the Internet? In just one day, I discovered dealers who appear to be selling some of the rarest species on earth.
Ploughshare tortoise: Within a few hours, I was staring at an advert for one of the world's most endangered creatures. It read, "Very superb, jumbo size and most of all very rare". Only 200 mature ploughshare tortoises survive in the bamboo scrublands of north Madagascar; the rest, it seems, are online. And what would this pair of 30-year-old tortoises cost? £24,000, and a trip to Kuala Lumpur: there's no international shipping.
Burmese starred tortoise: It is against the law to remove the critically endangered Burmese starred tortoise from the forests of Myanmar, but I easily found an apparent seller in Bangkok, Thailand. The dealer's picture features 35 turtles in a laundry basket lined with newspaper and wilted lettuce.
Ten years ago, a survey by the Wildlife Conservation Society found few specimens in the wild. They did, however, find a tortoise trader in every village. This seller was asking £320 in cash for each specimen.
Bosc's monitor lizard and ball python: One classified advert offered a "snake show" and "horse riding" along with Bosc's monitor lizards (£70) and ball pythons (£75). International law requires that these African species come with permits from their country of origin conservationists worry that few wild-caught Bosc's survive to maturity in captivity and supplies are replenished from wild populations. The ad doesn't mention permits.
Elephant ivory: In 2008, eBay banned the sale of ivory, finding it impossible to ensure trade was legal. It's still available online, however. I called one dealer who seemed knowledgeable about the required permits; the same can't be said of many online sellers. Some nod to legality by claiming their ivory is antique; others don't bother. On Craigslist I found an "Endangered Species Ivory Neclace" [sic] in California ($120). The seller claims it's "circa 1980", but without a permit, there's no way to tell.
Hawksbill turtle: In Japan, artisans began carving hawksbill shells the only true source of tortoiseshell in the 1700s, but banned import of the critically endangered sea turtle in 1993. I found what appeared to be a tortoiseshell item on eBay: a "Brand New Takayama Ex-Takahashi Chikudo Model Shamisen Bekko Bachi Plectrum." It's a pic for a banjo-like Japanese instrument. The seller in New York promised a "natural material" of premium grade. Price $370, will ship worldwide.
Shahtoosh: It takes the wool from five dead Tibetan antelope to make one shawl. That means you could get about 30,000 luxury garments from the herd estimated to remain in north-western Tibet. It's illegal worldwide to sell the wool, but I found an online dealer in Kashmir claiming to sell shahtoosh shawls along with "fancy wicker baskets." Price unlisted.
Radiated tortoise: In the wild, the radiated tortoise spends its days munching cactus in the bushlands of southern Madagascar. "Sub zero", a dealer in Prai, Malaysia, has two that are two-and-a-half years into a life that can last for 100. This pair could outlive the population as a whole: scientists have predicted it is headed for collapse in the next half century because of habitat loss and the wildlife trade. Price £710 and £1,220, although Sub zero is offering a "mega discount."
Parrots and macaws: A Google search for pet birds turned up an eight-year old Tucuman Amazon (£450) in Canada. The seller claimed the bird is from the wild, which would make it illegal: after 20,000 Tucumans left Argentina in the 1980s to become pets, international trade in the species was banned in 1990.
© Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2010
CONGO: REPORT SHOWS RAPE IS WIDESPREAD
Sexual violence has become increasingly pervasive in the east of the Democratic Republic of the Congo where rape has risen 17-fold in the past few years, says a report released on Thursday by Oxfam.
Armed groups including the army and Congolese and Rwandan militias have raped tens of thousands of women in Congo. But the study found that 38 per cent of rapes were committed by civilians in 2008, compared with less than 1 per cent in 2004.
The report, Now, the World is Without Me, said that about 56 per cent of sexual assaults were committed by armed men in homes in the presence of the victim's families, including their children.
About 16 per cent were reported in fields, and 15 per cent in forests.
Incidents of sexual slavery were reported by 12 per cent of women surveyed, with some held hostage for years. The number of rapes increased during military operations. More than 9,000 people, including men and boys, were raped in 2009 as the government and its Rwandan military allies moved against Rwandan militia groups operating on Congolese soil.
The report was commissioned by Oxfam and carried out by Harvard University experts.
More than 4,000 rape victims were interviewed from 2004 to 2008 at Panzi hospital in the eastern Congo city of Bukavu.
Oxfam said the findings of the survey were alarming.
© Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2010
TAKE THE CALL, RESERVE BANK OF INDIA
The last fiscal has ended with a 'bang' on the price front. The inflation rate based on the widely-followed wholesale price index orWPI was a whisker short of the 10%-mark during March.
Ever since the price spiral began in September last, sound and fury has emanated from the government but little by way of positive action to tame this beast that now has a free run in the economy.
How else one could explain the surge in the monthly inflation rate from as low as 0.5% to 9.9% in a span of a mere seven months?
To the extent, food articles within the primary group of the index and food products in the manufactures segment have fueled the high generalised level of the price rise - after all, food articles and food products have become dearer by nearly 17% now compared with the year ago - one can adduce the deficient monsoon as the main villain. But, with judicious deployment of the huge food inventories and timely imports, this problem need not have assumed such serious proportions.
The character of inflation, too, undergone a change with the spurt in the wholesale index being across the board the broader primary group, fuel group and manufactures leading to the steep increase in the overall inflation rate.
Hence, the new worry is that, apart from supply constraints, demand pressures may have also played a role in queering the pitch for inflation.
Consider the March index in its disaggregated form; what emerges crystal clear is that, in terms of weighted contribution, it is not the primary group or the fuel group that is calling the shots. It is the manufactures that has contributed as much as 40% to the inflation number in the latest month.
Even on a standalone basis, manufactures index has risen by over 7%. With growth impulses strong, demand for manufactured goods has been gaining in strength and high prices are a reflection of this reality.
Here, the Reserve Bank of India must take the call and use the forthcoming annual policy to tighten the monetary screws at its command to rein in inflation and more importantly, inflationary expectations.
The March inflation number is a wake-up call to both the central bank and the government for success can be had only when both work in tandem.
LIVES OF OTHERS
Aah, the joys of prying into the lives of others. And the Sania Mirza-Shoaib Malik-Ayesha (Maha) Siddiqui nikah-talak-nikah drama has given us everything we could have wanted and then some. Vicarious perhaps, but thrilling nonetheless.
In earlier times, it was all frowned upon if no less engrossing and being called a peeping tom was an insult. Using a telescope to infiltrate your neighbour's privacy could even have you arrested.
Hypocrisy is one way of looking at it. Pretending that you don't want to know when indeed we thrive as a species on gossip. Now it's all legitimate, thanks to 24 hour news television and our all-consuming celebrity culture.
The question is: what do we do now that the wedding is done? How will we fill up our hours and days with entertainment? Since Ayesha (Maha) Siddiqui's broken heart, bolstered perhaps by that innate desire in all of us for our requisite 15 minutes of fame, required her to play out the sordid details of her relationship with Malik in the public eye, we have been hooked. That issue settled, even if all the questions remained unanswered, we were swept into the wedding itself.
Did it disappoint? Of course not: We had an early, surprise unscheduled nikah, we saw that speculation about which designer Sania would choose thwarted by the tennis star's decision to wear her mother's sari and we saw that a satisfactory Rs61 lakh was decided for the mehr. Of such pointless minutiae is our prying finally satisfying. We feel that we are in the know of things, we have private access.
Interestingly, our desire for privacy is matched by our desire to breach that of others. If they are famous, as we all know, they are fair game. They have voluntarily surrendered all such rights.
The Mirzas and Maliks seem aware of this and very swiftly hired a publicist to dish out tasty titdbits of information about the guestlist, the clothes, the wedding arrangements and so on.
The Siddiquis had meanwhile relied on their outrage to guarantee them constant attention. The manipulative and intrusive media was itself manipulated. All games have more than one player.
But now this drama is over. It can no longer hold our attention. Was Malik a fool or a fraud? Was Ayesha for real or a con? Does Sania know what's she's doing?
These questions are in the past. We have to look for new excitement and fresh prey because this one is past its sell-by date.
In the German film, The Lives of Others, prying changed people's lives. Can we say the same for ourselves?
SEEDS OF A VIOLENT STRUGGLE
The Maoists seem to have learnt a few valuable lessons from the failure of the first phase of their movement in the late 1960s and early '70s.
The uprisings of that period were based on two false premises. One was the belief that the CPM's ascent to power in West Bengal in 1967 marked the beginning of the revolution which the party was preaching to its cadres till then. Hence, the call to arms by Charu Mazumdar, Kanu Sanyal, Jangal Santhal and others who were all in the CPM then in Naxalbari, which became a generic name for the movement.
It is worth noting that the CPI's success in assuming power in Kerala in 1957 did not spark off a similar rebellion presumably because the Chinese line was not a predominant element in the party at the time. It assumed importance only after the CPM's formation in 1964.
In 1967, however, Mazumdar and Co. soon realised that their supposedly pro-Chinese party was not all that different from the "revisionist", pro-Soviet CPI since Jyoti Basu and Promode Dasgupta lost little time in discouraging the Naxalites from continuing their agitation. The latter had no alternative but to form their own party, the CPI(M-L), in 1969.
The second false premise was their assumption about China's wholehearted support. Yet, notwithstanding Beijing Radio's description of the Naxalite rebellion as "spring thunder", China's wariness about the movement was evident from its advice to a visiting Naxalite delegation comprising Kanu Sanyal, Jangal Santhal and 10 others against the use of the slogan: China's chairman is our chairman.
Within three years of the party's formation, Mazumdar was dead and his line of killing landlords and policemen equated with anarchism by his followers.
What the Maoists appear to have learnt from that period is, first, that dependence on a foreign power is of no use. The party has to stand on its own feet. And, secondly, that its base has to be in the countryside in true Maoist tradition.
During the earlier phase, much of the Naxalite activities took place in the towns, especially the killing of policemen and rival party workers, mainly of the CPM. It did not take long for the police, therefore, to infiltrate the local units, not least through the hoods who constituted the bulk of the cadres, and carry out fake encounters.
The Bengali matinee idol, Uttam Kumar, was credited with seeing one such encounter during his early morning walk on the Calcutta maidan. It has to be pointed out that these extra-judicial killings were enthusiastically supported by the CPM, with Promode Dasgupta once expressing dismay that the police were not bumping off enough Naxalites. "Do their bullets wear condoms?" he asked despairingly.
The failure of the movement around this time led to its splintering with two main factions the People's War Group and the Maoist Communist Centre finally emerging in the Andhra region. But few gave them any importance mainly because of their past record of bickering and extravagant rhetoric.
The fatal nature of this mistake is now evident. But to understand how the CPI (Maoists) could acquire its present strength following the merger of the PWG and MCC, one has to look at the manner in which degenerate state administrations facilitated this process.
The Congress spokesman, Abhishek Sanghvi, now acknowledges the "feckless" nature of the administration in the Maoist strongholds. But its decline began not long after the steel frame of the ICS gave way to the bamboo frame of the IAS.
However, even up to the sixties, the bamboo frame was not all that rickety. The district magistrates and superintendents of police carried on the tradition of being virtually the kings of the areas under their jurisdiction.
They were key figures who knew almost everything that was happening behind the scenes in the districts. Had their authority not been eroded, it would have been impossible for the Maoists to establish their bases, acquire arms, recruit personnel, indoctrinate and train them and attack chosen targets.
There are two reasons why this gradual accretion of their strength was not detected and nipped in the bud. First was the decline in the calibre of the young men and women who joined the all-India services.
With the raising of the age of admission and the introduction of quotas, it was inevitable that only those who could not get into, say, engineering and medical colleges or private firms chose IAS and IPS as their professions.
Secondly, the criminalisation of politics one-fourth of the MPs of the last Lok Sabha had an unsavoury background meant that the district magistrates and superintendents of police learnt to turn a blind eye to illegal activities in their areas.
There is one lesson, however, which the Maoists do not seem to have learnt. It is that indiscriminate killings is not revolution. Sooner or later, therefore, the second phase of the movement, too, will fail.
WHY BRING SEX TO THE REALM OF GODLINESS?
A young Indian, 23, and his Indian girlfriend, 20, drag their worldly possessions, two rucksacks around the streets of Earls Court and Notting Hill looking at shop notice boards, scribbling numbers and addresses, locating streets in a ragged AtoZ, counting coins for the public phone, making the calls and shuffling to the next notice board with a shrug.
The late sixties and we are looking for a room to rent in London's bed-sitter land advertised as vacant. The accent, the name and finally our faces and complexions spell refusal. No room at the inn.
"Sorry darlin', it's gone," the landlady says at the street door. The more imaginative say "Sure! Twenty pounds a week" knowing that anything above three will drive the blacks and browns away. The more sympathetic confess: "Look it's not me, but the other lodgers object to sharing bathrooms and toilets with....you know what I mean."
Eventually someone rents you a room, but even then there is the chance that they will ask you for a marriage certificate before they have you sleeping together under their roof. So also in hotels around Europe, giving rise to an additional anxiety or barrier against travel. One either adopted a Bohemian, defiant, free-love advocate's air or devised some subterfuge about having just lost the second passport.
All that is history. Unless a hotel reception desk or a landlord suspects that a known prostitute is plying her trade and using the place as a knocking shop, there are no questions asked. The stigma of being 'free lovers' without the sanction of church, Kazi, Brahmin or state, no longer exists.
As for being off-white, there are now pretty tough laws against denying anyone a room or a service on the grounds of race. No one does it openly in Britain, though there are those who might ask "Now that we have the recipe book for curries, why do we allow them to stay?"
So when Chris Grayling, the Conservative Party's spokesman for Home Affairs said that he thought it excusable for an elderly Christian couple who owned a Bed-and-Breakfast establishment to turn away a male gay couple seeking a room for a night, a storm in a soup bowl ensued.
The law, strictly applied, would characterise the action of the B&B couple as discrimination on the grounds of sex and would penalise them. B&B is rooms in one's own house rented out as in a hotel with breakfast supplied, probably in one's own kitchen or dining room.
The Christian couple excused their refusal on the grounds of their religion which they were convinced disapproved of gay sex. Grayling wouldn't have taken the line of legal leniency if the discriminationhad been racial rather than sexual, and he daren't support anyone who demanded a marriage certificate before admitting you into a hotel because that would lose the Conservative party half the votes of Britain.
Leaving aside the fact that not one of my gay friends would want to stay a night in a B&B with owners who held such views, I am convinced that the Christian couple are on weak theological ground. Jesus himself said nothing about sexual morality and made no sexual prescription or proscription. He definitely did say render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's and unto God the things that are God's.
I have always regarded sex, as Marx and Lenin are my witnesses, as belonging firmly in the realm of Caesar and therefore subject to etiquettes of courtship and chat-up and also to earthly human-made laws of rape, marriage, age-limits, mono or poly as the social mores determine and of course protection against sexual discrimination.
Religions have made the mistake of annexing sex to the realm of Godliness and invented all manner of stories about apples, virgins and vows. I think they should take Jesus of Nazareth's advice and render the whole bang shoot back to Caesar.
INDIVIDUAL COMMITMENTS NOT ENOUGH
The Nuclear Security Summit, held in Washington DC has brought into sharp focus the urgent need for securing the world from nuclear terrorism. The leaders representing 47 countries went beyond underlining the need for "strong nuclear security measures" so that it was rendered impossible for "terrorists, criminals or other unauthorised actors" to acquire the ultimatum weapon to annihilate the world or a part of it. The world leaders set a clear-cut target of achieving their objective in four years, which showed how serious they were in meeting the challenge posed by non-state actors. In their customary joint statement, the leaders admitted that "nuclear terrorism is one of the most challenging threats to international security", the view India has been expressing for a long time. India can draw satisfaction from the fact that its wake-up call has been heard at last. Mr Obama's achievement lies in the assembled leaders' appreciation of his unprecedented "call to secure all vulnerable nuclear material" in a time-bound manner.
However, the task is not as easy to accomplish as it appears. The target of having a world free from nuclear terrorism can be achieved only when a collective drive is launched. The voluntary commitments made by the participating nations will not produce the desired results automatically. Nuclear experts are skeptical about the success of the strategy discussed at Washington DC. There is need to have a fresh look at it for securing the world from "catastrophic consequences", which may follow once Al-Qaida or any other terrorist group is able to lay its hands on the nuclear weapon or material required for making the bomb.
Countries with weapons of mass destruction who have dubious credentials need to be watched more closely. Terrorists have made many attempts in Pakistan to forcibly capture such weapons. They have demonstrated the capacity to strike at will and anywhere they want. These non-state actors have a widespread support base which extends to the establishment, which may help them in achieving their dreaded goal. Incidents of groups and individuals trying to steal fissile material in some Central Asian countries have also come to light. The Georgian President informed the world leaders that his country had "foiled eight attempts of illicit trafficking of enriched uranium during the last 10 years". The strategy to prevent nuclear terrorism from becoming a reality must be formulated keeping these factors in view.
GUJJARS' PROTEST MARCH
GEHLOT GOVT MUST ENSURE FOOLPROOF SECURITY
The Gujjar protest march from Hindon to Jaipur in Rajasthan to build up pressure on the Ashok Gehlot government for five per cent reservation for the community in government jobs under a special category has given a new twist to their agitation. As the agitation in 2008 had turned violent and claimed 40 lives and caused considerable hardship to the people, the authorities should make adequate arrangements to maintain law and order this time. Apparently, the government seems to have "limited options". If it agrees to five per cent quota under the Special Backward Class (SBC) category, it would mean withdrawing the Reservation Act of 2009 that has been challenged in the Rajasthan High Court. As the quota for various categories has already touched 49 per cent (16 per cent for SCs, 12 per cent for STs and 21 per cent for OBCs), the government will have to bring forward a new Bill to provide five per cent quota for SBCs. While doing so, it should keep in mind the 50 per cent cap fixed by the Supreme Court.
Significantly, in October 2009, the Gehlot government had received a jolt when the Rajasthan High Court stayed the 5 per cent quota for Gujjars and 14 per cent to the Economically Backward Classes as it breached the 50 per cent ceiling set by the apex court. Subsequently, while reverting Gujjars to the OBC category, the government said it had provisionally modified the reservation system following the high court order that indicated Gujjars, Rebaris and Gadia-Lohars would have to wait longer for quota under the SBC category.
Unfortunately, successive governments have given a raw deal to Gujjars though they constitute 7.5 per cent of the state's population. They complain that while they have been deprived of their slice of the development cake, Meenas and Jats have become upwardly mobile, with berths in the IAS, IPS, state civil services, etc. While the Vasundhara Raje government dithered on Gujjars' demand for Scheduled Tribe status, often putting the onus on the Centre, the Gehlot government is in a bind following the High Court order. Indeed, how to provide quota for Gujjars within the apex court's 50 per cent limit has become a challenge for the state government.
THUMBS UP TO I-CARDS
BUT INFO MUST BE DULY PROTECTED
Eight fingers, two thumbs, two eyes and full face these are the 13 biometric features that each Indian resident would be identified with, while his or her 16-digit Unique Identification (UID) number is being allotted, according to the Unique Identification Authority of India (UDAI). The National Population Register, database, on which these cards are issued, will also have information like name, gender, date of birth, present and permanent address, names and UIDs of parents, marital status, the name of spouse, if married, etc.
While the exact numbers are not known, around 1.2 billion Indians will have their UID cards. The government recognises around 20 different kinds of documents as ID, and Indians have been long used to IDs of various kinds, including the ubiquitous ration card. One multipurpose card that eliminates the need for multiple identity proofs is being widely welcomed. Among the perceived benefits are targeted public delivery of goods and services and the elimination of what is euphemistically called "leakage".
Census 2011, which is already underway, will collect, for the first time, a photograph and biometric data of all individuals above 15 years. This data will be the core of the NPR database. Of course, UID cards are just the beginning, the real power of the project will come from the sharing of information among various Central and state organisations, especially those connected with security. Privacy advocates and human rights activists are understandably concerned about how various databases will be linked together, thereby potentially providing an environment where such information could be misused. While the UDAI maintains that such data will be secure, the public will need to be reassured abut the security, safety and inviolability of privacy of the personal details. The UID is a huge undertaking, with a lot of potential, but the devil is in the details. Putting a face and giving a number to a billion people is a monumental task. The data is already being collected, and the rest shall follow, soon, we hope.
DITHERING OVER DINAKARAN
JUDICIARY'S CREDIBILITY AT RISK
BY INDER MALHOTRA
IN the early 1950s, when the training of the IAS and other all-India services used to take place at Delhi's Metcalfe House, the faculty had, as its vice-principal, a genial ICS officer named Waghiewala. He used to banter with his students that they were on to a very good thing: a permanent career in plum posts, hardly any accountability "no matter what you do", and the "worst that can happen to you is that you would be transferred". Has this syndrome infected the country's higher judiciary?
Sadly, the answer must be "yes", judging by the contortions through which all concerned have gone through over the shocking case of Justice P. D. Dinakaran, who is facing impeachment proceedings on charges of having involved himself in highly questionable practices as Chief Justice of the Karnataka High Court. Only some days ago, the Collegium of the Supreme Court consisting of Chief Justice K. G. Balakrishnan and two senior judges had advised Mr Dinakaran to "go on leave", obviously because he was unable to discharge any judicial function. This advice he defied. Nor did he bother about Union Law Minister M. Veerappa Moily's hint to him that no one was "above the law".
Rather than do anything about the brazen defiance of its directive, the Collegium reportedly recommended to the government that Mr Dinakaran be transferred to Gangtok to be the Chief Justice of the Sikkim High Court. Nobody denies that such a recommendation has been made. But the Union Law Ministry maintains that it has not yet received it. However, what happens when the recommendation does arrive at Mr Moily's desk?
For, the situation the Law Minister would face would be bizarre beyond belief. For this, let it be added with respect, the Collegium would not be able to absolve itself. This is so because at the Collegium's own recommendation the President had appointed only on March 30 the former Chief Justice of the Jammu and Kashmir High Court, Justice Brian Ghosh, as the Chief Justice of the Sikkim High Court.
Incidentally, another of the Collegium's recommendation the Law Ministry is "processing" is for the appointment of the acting Chief Justice of the Delhi High Court, Justice Madan B. Lokur, as the Chief Justice of the Karnataka High Court! Never before has the country witnessed anything like this.
Yet even this does not exhaust the list of the distressing features of the Dinakaran affair. Initially, the Collegium had wanted him elevated to the Supreme Court but dropped the idea when he was accused of land grab. But Mr Dinakarn remained acceptable as Chief Justice of the Karnataka High Court. However, his functioning there became impossible because of the agitation by Bangalore lawyers that was at times regrettably virulent.
It is no surprise, therefore, that the moment the news of Mr Dinakaran's likely transfer to Gangtok appeared, the Bar Association of Sikkim served notice that it would do unto him exactly what the lawyers of Bangalore had done. Quite rightly the agitated lawyers asked whether Sikkim was a "dumping ground".
Justice V. R. Krishna Iyer, a retired judge of the Supreme Court and an iconic figure among the jurists has made this point more bluntly. The proposed transfer to Sikkim, he has written in The Hindu, implies "as if litigants of Sikkim can submit to corrupt justice". To this one must add that Sikkim is a border and sensitive state and it should be spared avoidable controversies.
There is no doubt that of all the democratic institutions of the Indian republic the highest judiciary is the most respected. For, the people know it to be the last and dependable defender of their rights constantly under threat from executive and legislative action. But let me point out that this was not always so.
During the Emergency (1975-77), the judiciary had blotted its copybook so badly that it took successive benches some years to restore the judiciary's earlier position in the public mind. It would be a tragedy of grave dimensions if the credibility of, and respect for, the higher judiciary were eroded once again. Unfortunately, this danger exists today and not merely because of the foregoing.
There are several other cases of alleged wrongdoing by judges that have also been brushed aside one way or the other. One of these in Punjab has been dubbed the "case of mistaken identity". The broad facts are these: One night someone delivered a packet containing Rs 15 lakh at the residence of Justice Nirmaljeet Kaur of the Punjab and Haryana High Court. Infuriated, she called in the police.
During the subsequent inquiry, which the CBI took over later, several suspects were arrested and the investigators concluded that the money was really meant for another judge, Justice Nirmal Yadav. She, of course, denied this emphatically. But the Chandigarh Bar and sections of the public agitated for legal action her. The way out of the problem: Justice Yadav's transfer to the Uttrakhand High Court amidst great resentment in that hill state. Meanwhile, Punjab newspapers have been reporting that the CBI has filed an application in the trial court where some persons are still arraigned seeking to withdraw the whole case because the premier investigation agency is denied the permission to prosecute the judge concerned.
By contrast a Delhi High Court judge simply resigned when he discovered that the prosecuting authorities had built up a watertight case against him. Thereafter the case against him was mysteriously dropped. He then tried to withdraw his resignation but without success. No less curious is the case of Calcutta High Court Judge Justice Soumitra Sen whose impeachment was sought by none else than the Chief Justice of India. After a ding-dong legal battle in Kolkata, the matter disappeared into limbo.
This is not a pretty picture, My Lords. How extremely difficult, if not impossible, it is to get an erring judge impeached should be clear from the 1993 case of the Supreme Court Justice V. Ramaswamy. The Congress party decided to abstain from voting. So there was no way to secure the necessary two-thirds majority. Something else has to be done, therefore. That is where Justice Krishna Iyer's sage advice comes in. After asking whether the Indian Penal Code "is in coma", he suggests that the Penal law "must begin functioning against the robed brethren", too.
BY SARVJIT SINGH
Arjun Singh, our riding instructor, the 6'3" retired President's Guard, whose voice tore across the riding ground and even poured through the closed windows of our hostel rooms in Lal Bahadur Shastri Academy, Mussoorie, had high hopes from Amandeep Gill, our only friend in the Indian Foreign Service who matched him in height. But to Arjun Singh's dismay Amandeep was never keen enough to keep his knees pressed against the belly of the horse.
The last straw came the day Sultan, the notorious horse, sensing lack of interest in our friend, ducked all of a sudden whilst cantering, making Aman slide to, swirl around and hang from the horse's neck, his arms garlanding it, all in one swift motion. Arjun Singh could no longer contain his anguish and burst out, "Arre Sahab Sardaron kee izzat ka kuchh to khayal karo."
Amandeep had, however, realised years ago girls prefer brains to brawn. While we, the lesser mortals were dreaming of becoming Collectors of districts, Amandeep seeing in himself the country's ambassador to France in due course, had started learning French, even before selection.
His philanthropic side had come to the fore in the preparation days, when side by side, he would tutor a circle of friends, co-aspiring for civil services. As they say God takes care of those who care for others; his best looking Student did not make it, but fell for Sir's charms and they lived happily ever after.
Having worked in Geneva, the US, Iran and Sri Lanka on important assignments, Amandeep's deep humanism surfaced again a few years back when he floated "Farmers First Foundation" to promote organic farming and to make it viable for the farmer by way of a mix of interrelated activities.
On a recent visit he paid us, he veered the conversion to his passion and explained how the use of pesticides and plant hormones to maximise yield of fruit and vegetables and make them picture perfect, is eating into the foundations of our physiques like termites. Grains and pulses are no different. The pesticides are seeping into our cells, resulting in unexplainable conditions like infertility, allergies, deformed dentures, breast cancer, tumours and other conditions that were unheard of, just half a century ago. The way he narrated it, shook us, making it difficult to turn a blind eye to the subject.
On being asked how the economics works out, he explained, organic food does cost more, may be 50 per cent or so but then food and air are the only things that enter our systems. Isn't it prudent to spend more there, than change sofa covers and curtains to keep up with the trends and suffer in hospitals later?
Seeing hope in my eye, he promptly handed me the number of a friend, doing organic farming near Chandigarh.
After he left, I pondered over the issue for some time and SMS-ed him, "Ok Aman, we will switch to organic food but you will have to assure us that our bodies, so used to contaminants will not start suffering from "pesticide deficiency", making us take "pesticide supplements" alongside organic food.
WHAT HONOUR IN KILLING?
LESSER CRIMES DO NOT BOTHER US
BY SAJLA CHAWLA
Another honour killing in India a young boy of 18 strangles his 16-year-old sister when he sees her in a compromising position with her boyfriend on April 9, 2010, in Sonepat, so near the national capital of New Delhi.
Ved (27) was killed in 2009, by a mob from his wife, Sonia's village after he arrived to retrieve her, as she was being held by her family against her will.
The bodies of Manoj (23) and Babli (19) were found floating in an irrigation ditch in Karnal district in July 2007, their hands and feet tied, after the Banwala panchayat ordered their deaths for marrying within their sub-caste, or gotra.
Prabhjot Kaur and Pradeep Singh of Ferozepur were shot down in broad daylight as they arrived at a school so that the bride could sit for her English exam.
Though honour killings have taken the lives of so many women, surprisingly, it is the first time that there has been actual punishment the death sentence to six people who were involved in the 2007 case of Manoj and Bubli in Haryana.
These heinous crimes against women are isolated stray cases if one studies them in juxtaposition with other causes of death as in natural calamities or diseases or wars. So maybe we can continue are somnambulistic lives after a bit of horror and pity.
But are we forgetting that this is the society we live in, where such extreme reactions to women are still permissible? Then no wonder the lesser crimes like domestic violence, rapes, desertions, social pressure, unequal opportunities, lopsided or no education do not bother us at all!
For every honour killing that occurs in the world, there are thousands of women suffering silently, through lesser trauma of all kinds of oppression. When we let the lesser crimes be permissible, we pave the way for more heinous crimes. We live it and we accept it in its milder form and thus it gets validity to be taken to its logical conclusion and that is to kill a woman who cannot be controlled by milder forms of suppression.
This concept of honour, of course, is more applicable to women than to men since they are objects, symbolising the home and the hearth, and carry family traditions like chastity, dress codes, morality and submissiveness to patriarchy. For every woman who dies of honour killing, there are hundreds who die a daily death when they are less privileged than their brothers in the family, when their career options are narrowed down to suit the family's needs, when their desires to reach beyond their limited social status is continuously crushed, when they are made to feel lesser by their husbands for not contributing o the finances of the family, while their paternal homes had never equipped them to do so! For a majority of women in South East Asia and the Islamic world, every little achievement is a triumph, because it is achieved against so many odds.
Women's sexuality is socially a very difficult aspect to handle in a patriarchal set-up. In such a society the Man symbolises the external world of wars, occupations, finances, livelihood and sexuality. The woman, though, is confined to the home and thus reflects the culture, home, family values, morality, compromise, submissiveness and subordination.
While a man's sexuality can find expression in many ways outside the family and home, and yet, let order prevail, the woman's sexuality can subvert that order and the family, as in cases where she looks outside her marriage or if she gets involved with a man of another caste or tribe, or if she flaunts her body or sexuality as in transgressing dress codes.
Since the unwritten rule of her subordination is so imbedded in the psyche of people, any kind of defiance on her part is viewed as a threat, not just to patriarchy as a whole but very immediately, to her male family members who are not accustomed to such courage from their female counterparts.
The essence, then to be understood, is that honour killings are just extreme symptoms of a disease that afflicts our whole society. We cannot root out a symptom unless we reach the malaise itself. Any kind of discrimination against women, whether mild or extreme, needs to be dealt with seriously.
Empowerment, through reservation in the elected seats of the legislature, through education, through equal opportunities needs to be the prime objective on this path of providing a levelled platform to women.
In many cases women's plight is seen only after their death, because society is so used to seeing them in a subjugated position, that unless the media highlights a case, it is given no cognizance at all.
Why do we as a society wait for our media or our police or our politicians to take all the initiative and onus? How many of us at one time or another have been witness to violence or discrimination against women in our neighborhoods or with our maids, or in offices or sexual exploitation against innocent children and how many of us have actually had the courage to confront the violator or inform the police about it? Why do we resign ourselves to the plight of women and to the barbaric unwritten laws they are subjected to, till they are actually killed?
Unless we as a society recognise the discrimination against women which is done at a basic level in their everyday lived reality, in their paternal homes, in their marriages, at their work place; the extreme form of crimes against them, like honour killings will continue to happen.
Women have so long and so tremulously walked on uneven and unlevelled ground that society has often not heard their whispers unless they became wails. Let us hear those whispers, while there is time, before crimes like honour killings silence them forever.
The writer is a freelancer based in Goa
WOMAN AS HEAD OF HOUSEHOLD
BY O.P. SHARMA AND CARL HAUB
The Census of India defines the Head of a Household as the person who generally bears the chief responsibility of managing the affairs of the household and takes decisions on behalf of household members. The head of the household need not necessarily be the oldest male or an earning member. The head of the household can be a female or even a younger member of either sex.
According to the 2001 Census, the number of households in India was 194 million. Of these, 0.5 million were living in various types of institutions like jails, hospitals, hostels, hotels, messes, and orphanages, where a group of unrelated persons lived and were labeled as "houseless households". The remaining households were categorised as "normal households".
The prevalence of females as the head of the household is quite common among all the major religions. Of the 20 million female heads of households, 16 million were Hindu, 2.4 million Muslim, 0.8 million Christians, 0.3 million Sikh, 0.2 million Buddhist and 71,617 were Jain. The highest proportion of female heads of households per 1,000 males was among Christians (179/1,000) and the lowest among Jains (97/1.000). The ratios among the two major religions Hindu and Muslim were quite close to each other 113 and 118 respectively.
The number of members among 193 million households varied tremendously. There were 7.6 million single-member households and, in 44.5 million households, the number of members was between 7 and 14. It is quite interesting to note that the deeply rooted joint family system is in existence even today in India as 2.3 million households had 15 or more members living together and taking meals from a common kitchen.
On average, in one among every 10 households the head was a female. Of 193 million households, the heads of 173 million households were males and 20 million were females.
By definition, the head of the household need not necessarily be the eldest member or of a particular sex, 1.9 million among them were of less than 20 years of age and, among them,1.5 million were males and 0.4 million were females. Similarly, among the aged heads, numbering 11.0 million, the heads of household were aged 70 and above, 9.0million of them males and 2.0 million were females.
Of the 173 million male heads of the households in India, 4.7 million were never married and 161.3 million were currently married.
Female heads of households have an interesting story to tell. It is not expected that women play the role of head of the household only after the death of the male head. Of the 20 million female heads of households, the highest number was of widows 13.2 million but 5.4 million were currently married.
The share of younger female heads of households who were less than 20 years of age was 3.5 per cent of the 20 million female heads of households which was significantly higher than the younger males 2.7 per cent.
Younger girls at their tender age of less than 20, irrespective of their marital status, also shared the burden of successfully managing a household. The total number of such girls in India was 411,047 and the majority, 347,308, were never married and 43,339 were married. The remaining 20,400 were widowed or divorced.
We have thus to appreciate that women are gifted with more tolerance, patience and ability to face challenges, perform well and even outshine men. Of the 3.6 million elected representatives in the local self-governing bodies more than 1.0 million were women who were elected from among 5.0 million who contested the elections. The present step of reserving 33 per cent of the seats in Parliament for women is quite heartening and a major step in the direction of empowering women in our society.
It will be most interesting to see how many more women are listed as heads of households in India's next census, coming up in 2011. Look out, men!
CHIRANJEEVI: TOLLYWOOD CALLING!
Life has come full circle for Chiranjeevi, the popular film star whose foray into politics has been a flop show.
Faced with a bleak political future, the chief of the Praja Rajyam Party is contemplating getting back to doing what he is best at: Acting. The 53-year-old megastar, considered the Amitabh Bachchan of the South commanding the highest remuneration in the industry during his heyday, says he is ready to don the grease paint to entertain his fans.
"If the people and the industry want me, I am ready to get back to acting," declared the ageing star, who had acted in over 150 films in a three-decade-long career before taking the political plunge in 2008.
Dark and handsome, Chiru, as he is referred to in film circles, is a mass hero. When he entered politics, he was instantly projected as a harbinger of change who could storm to power with his star appeal like his predecessors NTR and MGR.
However, his party came a cropper in the last year's general election, drawing a blank in the Lok Sabha and managing to win just 18 seats in the 294-member Assembly.
Questions are now being raised over the survival of the PRP as a cohesive political entity.
As a premier institution ranked among the top ten engineering colleges in the country, the National Institute of Technology, Warangal, was only used to accolades and top honours. It was least prepared for the dubious record that came its way recently.
In an unprecedented development, the agitating students at the NIT(W) campus surrounded and grilled the Director, Prof Y.V. Rao, and forced him to resign over graft charges and lack of basic amenities in the hostels.
The angry students alleged that over Rs 60 crore had been misappropriated during the construction of hostels, a guest house and laboratories.
After being grilled for over three hours by the students, Prof Rao handed over the resignation letter to them and walked away silently. Taking a serious note of the charges, the Union HRD Ministry asked him to proceed on leave.
Who's this girl?
For weeks the Sania-Shoaib saga remained a sub-continental obsession. However, a key player in the romantic drama aired live by news channels remained behind the camera. Ayesha Siddiqui, a Hyderabadi girl, who claimed to be the first wife of the Pakistani cricketer and had a last laugh by forcing him to divorce her, did not come out in the open during the entire drama. No one got to see her as she chose to speak to TV channels only over the phone, citing problems of "overweight".
Despite a large contingent of the media camping near her house in Banjara Hills round the clock, Ayesha refused to come out in the public.
Though her family physician, Dr Shams Babar, said she was nervous and depressed, Ayesha was her articulate best in her phone-in interviews to news channels and used them to hand out quick and sharp rebuttals to Shoaib's charges.
MUMBAI'S CIRCLE OF LIFE
ONCE A DUMP FILLED WITH NOTHING BUT GARBAGE AND COCONUT SHELLS, HORNIMAN CIRCLE GARDEN TODAY IS ONE OF THE FEW NATURAL PARADISES LEFT IN THE CITY
Here is one beautiful natural paradise (read as green), which stands out in the concrete jungle that surrounds the BSE. The Horniman Circle Garden, a rather welcome cluster of grass and greens, is surrounded by some of the bigger banks of the country and is spread over 12,081 square yards. It is actually a replica of the Park Crescent in London and has a neo-classical colonnade that faces a park and overlooks the town hall.
In the 18th century, this area was known as Cotton Green, which was primarily meant to be an open space in a walled city and had well laid out walkways with trees planted all around. It was planned to be a large town square with inspiring structures. However, by 1,842, the area had become a dump full of garbage and coconut shells. But for the pioneering efforts of one man, Mr Charles Forjett, who renovated the greens into a circle surrounded by buildings. In 1863, Forjett conceived and inaugurated the project of converting the old and dusty C o t t o n Greens into something better and he was warmly supported by Lord Elphinstone and Sir Bartle Frere. The municipal commissioners bought the entire plot and resold it at a considerable profit after constructing buildings in lots to English business firms and by the end of 1865 two years after Forjett had proposed the scheme the buildings were completed and ready for occupation. So popular was Forjett that people cried openly when he went back to England in 1885 and even had a street named after him Forjett Street (originally Forjett Hills) located between Nana Chowk and Tardeo.
Later, this was renamed as Elphinstone Circle after the Governor of Bombay at that time, Lord Elphinstone. In fact, there were two governors by the name Elphinstone, the first one being Mountstuart Elphinstone (between 1819-1827) and the second was his nephew Lord John Elphinstone who was the governor in the 1840s (since 1842). History seems to point towards the latter after whom the garden had been named since he had completely supported Forjett's proposal for the resurrection so to speak of the erstwhile Cotton Green. Restoration work (read as foundation) for the garden started in 1869 and was completed in 1872. The garden was festooned by an ornamental fountain which was located right in the centre but later this was replaced by a piece of modern art which was made up of deco iron pipes design. Two beautiful statues (priceless artwork) were badly damaged by political activists in 1965 and were finally shifted to the 'Jijamata Garden'.
In earlier times (read as before the independence), the Horniman Circle Garden was a favourite with the Parsi community and there used to be a musical band, which would perform at the garden every evening. The current naming ceremony took place in 1969 as a tribute to Mr Benjamin Guy Horniman (whose office was located in the 'Mumbai Samachar' building), the Irish pro-freedom editor of the 'Bombay Chronicle' who had earlier been deported for his steadfast support of the 'Satyagraha'. Just outside the garden is the legendary banyan tree, which is the root cause (literally speaking) of the BSE when just 22 stock brokers started trading under this tree in 1851, which finally led to 318 brokers forming the BSE in 1875.
Currently being managed by the Horniman Circle Garden Trust, the garden hosts the annual Sufi music festival 'Ruhaniyat' and is also one of the venues of the Kala Ghoda Arts Festival.
Next Week The fourth part of a close look at some of the historical landmarks near the
THE TASK AT HAND
RBI'S OPPORTUNITY TO ASSERT ITS ROLE
The Bible's Book of Isaiah warns that there is no rest for the wicked. The same could be said of the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) and of central bankers in general. RBI's tireless efforts to put the economy back on track seem to be paying off but it can hardly afford to take a break. Inflation has been climbing up steadily and wholesale price inflation for March is likely to print in double digits. What is more worrying is the fact that inflation is no longer confined to food. Core or non-food inflation has moved up sharply in the first quarter of 2010 and is likely to climb higher as more companies respond to improving demand for their products by hiking prices. In December 2009, core inflation was 0.5 per cent; by February 2010, it had moved up to 4.5 per cent. High commodity prices that currently prevail in global markets aren't helping either. Unfortunately, the central banker's book has a limited set of tricks. In a situation of rising inflation and robust growth, the only option for RBI is to hike policy rates and tighten liquidity to rein in inflation expectations. A hike in reverse repo and repo rates of a quarter of a percentage point each and a half percentage point increase in the cash reserve ratio would suck out roughly Rs 23,000 crore from the system.
Why not a sharper increase? There are a couple of arguments against excess tightening at this stage. The first is that the recovery, particularly in investments, is still nascent and a sharp escalation in interest rates could take away the punchbowl before the party has begun. Besides, there are hefty borrowings by the central bank (Rs 287,000 crore in the first half itself) and it is best to be cautious at this stage when it comes to interest rate policy. Second, one could argue that the central bank needs to really press hard on the monetary brakes only when the credit market shows signs of overheating. While credit growth has certainly picked up over the last quarter (the current year-on-year growth rate is about 16 per cent compared to 12 per cent in December), it is still fairly sedate. Third, a sharp increase in rates breeds the prospect of inducing large capital inflows chasing yield arbitrage and could pressure up the rupee further. Given the sharp appreciation in the rupee and the fears of eroding currency competitiveness (the real effective exchange rate of the rupee has gained a whopping 4 percentage points since December), RBI should enunciate its long-term strategy for the currency in the policy. This newspaper believes that for the economy to get back on a higher growth trajectory, a competitive exchange rate is critical and the central bank must affirm its dharma in the management of the rupee.
Finally, RBI might want to use this occasion to assert its role as the key financial regulator. This is important given New Delhi's plans to create the financial stability and development council that is likely to be a super-regulator in the financial sector. This newspaper has argued that instead of creating yet another regulatory entity, RBI should be entrusted with this task. But to take on this mantle, RBI will have to play elder statesman. The odious controversy over Ulips could perhaps have been avoided if RBI had pulled its weight in the High Level Coordination Committee of regulators and prevented the public spat between the insurance and stock market regulators. The time has come for the central bank to stand up and be counted.
JAMAL MECKLAI: W(H)ITHER THE EURO - A FABLE
A STORY OF EUROPE IN 2035
The year is 2035 and Helmut Kazantakis has just been sworn in as the first president of the New European Republic.
Mr Kazantakis, who is half-Greek, has an unusual first name (for a Greek), but his mother, who was from Leipzig, had sworn that she would name her first-born after German Chancellor Helmut Kohl, who had unified East and West Germany during that very difficult time of change. She had been vacationing in Greece soon after the unification and had fallen in love with a swarthy sailor who took her group on an excursion to the islands, and the rest, as they say, is history.
Consolidating his pan-European DNA, young Helmut's upbringing took him to Paris, Geneva and Frankfurt. His mother, though hopelessly in love with Niko, the wild-haired, hard-drinking sailor, retained enough of her Teutonic values to ensure that her young son was spared the indisciplined joy of growing up au naturel on the islands. She sent him off to a gymnasium in Frankfurt, followed by college in arts and letters at the Sorbonne, and, finally, finding that his wayward genes were still expressing themselves, finishing school in Switzerland.
And, it was here, on a skiing holiday, when he inadvertently tumbled in the snow with a very fetching French cabinet minister, that he was recognised as a potential Eurostar and groomed for a role in Brussels.
By 2010, when the first cracks in the Euroland were beginning to show, young Helmut was dispatched back to Athens as a peacemaker between the Greek government and the unions. He was quite a laughingstock, at first, with his strange name and rather formal ways. However, he won over the protestors with a worthy show of ouzo-inspired Greek dancing and extravagant promises, key amongst which was that he would get Angela Merkel, the sternish then-Chancellor of Germany, to wear an itsy bitsy, teeny weenie yellow polka dot bikini to the next meeting of the European Council, which was to be Santorini later that year.
Of course, he was not able to deliver on that promise Ms Merkel, with whom he had worked for some months, loved him dearly, but not that much. Despite that failure, however, his mission was a resounding success. The Greek government, supported by the ECB and, on the sidelines, the IMF, was able to impose some pretty serious service and benefit cuts, the weakened euro helped pick up tourism revenues, and all seemed well, at least for a while.
Unfortunately though unsurprisingly the inherent conflict in the birth of the euro, akin in some ways to the conflict in Helmut's own gene pool, continued to reassert itself in succeeding years. Helmut was dispatched in turn to Portugal, Spain and Italy as the ambassador of choice to ensure that people were entertained enough to accept the pressure of reduced benefits and having to learn to work. He also took the initiative to set up special events to stimulate frivolity in Frankfurt, Cologne, Düsseldorf and even, once, in Munich during Oktoberfest, when he ended up so drunk that he made advances at the mayor, a large man in lederhosen, who tried to have him whipped.
Over time, Helmut's work began to change the way Europeans behaved and acted. They started becoming more and more like each other. The Germans and the Dutch became a little more wild-haired; their attitude to work and productivity became, shall we say, a little more Mediterranean, and, Allah be praised, the clinical surplus that the North enjoyed with the South started to slide. On the other side, the Greeks and the French and the Italians started becoming a little more circumspect, a little harder working, and Real Madrid and Barcelona no longer qualified for the European Cup as a matter of course.
By 2020, seminal research in cosmetology by the Yves St Laurent foundation began to merge skin tones across the continent. Pioneering work in active voice alteration by Nokia brought languages and accents closer together. Only wine and cheese remained parochial, but by 2025 it was even possible to get a very Neapolitan pasta in places as far north as Hamburg. The culmination of this almost genetic unification of Europe was seen in 2029 when the Italian finance minister, a nephew of the late Silvio Berlusconi, one-time Italian president who was not renowned for either fiscal prudence or probity, was made head of the European Central Bank.
And when, at long last, the great European experiment reached its desperate conclusion of political union, Helmut Kazantakis, the widely acknowledged Father of Modern Europe, was the unanimous choice as the first president of the Republic.
The euro surged on the news, rising from a multi-decade low of 72 US cents to nearly parity with the dollar.
JAIMINI BHAGWATI: IS APPRECIATION OF RUPEE INEVITABLE?
IT IS NOT IN OUR INTEREST FOR THE RUPEEE TO RISE AGAINST THE DOLLAR IN WHICH OUR EXPORTS ARE INVOICED
The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) deserves all the praise it received at the celebrations for the 75th anniversary of its founding at the beginning of this month. RBI's prudent and pre-emptive approach has steered India's economic ship through rocky and often shallow waters in the last several years. RBI's interventions are crucial in determining domestic interest rates and the Indian rupee exchange rate, and movements in these two prices of the rupee have repercussions throughout the entire economy. This article discusses whether the appreciation of the rupee in the last one year was justified or inevitable.
The nominal rupee exchange rate steadily depreciated over the period April 1992-April 2002, going from rupees 30.6 to 48.9 per US dollar. From 2002, the rupee reversed direction and appreciated every year, except in 2006, till it reached rupees 40 to a dollar in April 2008. Over 2008-09, as the global financial crisis unfolded, the rupee depreciated sharply to 50 to the dollar by April 2009. Since then, the rupee has appreciated to 44.35 on April 12, 2010. In comparison, the Indian trade account (oil plus non-oil) has been systemically negative over the last 30 years from 1980-81 till 2010. The current account has also been consistently negative from 1980-81 to the first nine months of 2009-10, except for the three-year period from 2001 to 2004.
FACTS & FIGURES
* As on April 9, 2010
It could be argued that nominal exchange rate numbers are not material and what matters are movements in the real effective exchange rate (REER). However, daily decisions of bank and corporate CFOs are influenced more by nominal than real exchange rates. In any case, RBI's 36-currency, export-weighted rupee REER shows an appreciation of over 10 per cent since March 2009. By contrast, China has kept the renminbi pegged to the dollar since the start of the global economic slowdown in mid-2008.
One reason perhaps why the rupee has been allowed to appreciate is the periodic surges in forex (FX) inflows. For instance, FX reserves rose in fiscal 2007-08 by $92.2 billion, which was followed by a decrease of $20.1 billion in 2008-09 and again an increase of $11.3 billion in the first nine months of 2009-10. Given such fluctuations in capital inflows, it has to be difficult for RBI to let the rupee gradually depreciate by adding to its FX balances. If there is an accretion in FX reserves, the consequent rise in rupee liquidity would have to be drained to contain inflationary pressures, which could lead to a rise in domestic interest rates. This, in turn, could complicate the management of the government's burgeoning borrowing programme.
The arguments against rupee appreciation are that: (a) India's budget deficits have widened to worrisome proportions in the last two years; (b) current account deficits have moved from the 1-2 per cent range to around 3 per cent of GDP. On a related note, net inward NRI remittances in 2007-08, 2008-09 and the first nine months of the current fiscal year were $41.7 billion, $44.5 billion and $39.5 billion, respectively, i.e. between 3-4 per cent of GDP. Most of these inward remittances are from the Gulf region and are vulnerable to shifts in the strategic political climate in that region.
An important element of the post-1991 reforms was the phased and orderly depreciation of the rupee. On balance, it cannot be in our interest for the rupee to appreciate, in nominal and real terms, against the dollar in which India's exports are invoiced and the currencies of our principal trade competitors. If the on-going Greek tragedy teaches us anything, it is that countries which do have exchange-rate flexibility should use it, and in the right direction.
One of the past orthodoxies was that capital controls invariably result in inefficient allocation of capital and hence should not be used. Reasonable people are now inclined to look for practical ways to balance the requirements of competing priorities. India could aim at discouraging FX inflows, whenever rupee appreciation pressures are heavy, without adversely impacting FDI or ECB debt inflows. There should be less concern about a reduction in portfolio capital inflows since the Sensex price-to-earnings (P/E) ratio, as of end-March 2010, has nearly doubled to about 22 in the last 12 months. Potentially, a sustainable remedy could be a 1 per cent charge on all non-FDI and ECB inflows, and this number could be titrated up or down depending on the volumes of flows. Incidentally, since the beginning of 2009, US banks have been charging an additional 1 per cent foreign transaction fee for any credit card/ATM transaction outside the US.
As of now, the cap on foreign investments in Indian government securities is $5 billion and the ceiling for corporate bonds is $3 billion. These are not large amounts. However, foreign investments in government securities could be phased out. At the same time, the ceiling for corporate bonds could be raised commensurately to redirect foreign investor interest to this market. As the table shows, yields on Indian treasury bills (T-bills) are considerably higher than on T-bills issued by the US, Japan or Germany, and the Indian sovereign's credit is better than what S&P and Moody's would have us believe. Additionally, secondary market liquidity in Indian government securities is better than that for our corporate bonds.
Although all RBI policies are followed closely, there seems to be more scrutiny when there are changes in rupee interest rates and cash reserve ratio levels, than in exchange rate movements. This is probably because the consequences of interest rate changes are immediately visible whether it is through returns on bank deposits or the cost of borrowings. The average person would sense the consequences of changes in rupee exchange rates more directly if energy, including petroleum, and fertiliser prices were to be made more pass-through. If it is needed, this is yet another reason for reforms in energy pricing and fertiliser subsidies.
It is instructive to observe the continuing obfuscation of pertinent issues by financial sector lobbies in the global debate on regulatory reform. To sum up, financial sector interests tend to prevail over those of real sectors universally can India be an exception?
The author is India's Ambassador to the European Union, Belgium and Luxembourg. Views expressed are personal
Comments at: firstname.lastname@example.org
SHE-CHANGE IN INDIA INC
THE EXECUTIVE SUITES OF MOST MAJOR COMPANIES STILL REMAIN LARGELY BOYS' CLUBS, BUT THINGS ARE IMPROVING
ICICI Bank MD and CEO Chanda Kochhar says India Inc has gone much beyond recruiting women as a part of its corporate social responsibility drive. "We don't ask for special privileges; we would rather get the job on merit," she said, while moderating a panel discussion at the Business Standard Awards ceremony held a fortnight ago.
Kochhar should know as she belongs to an organisation that has in recent times seen the maximum number of women CEOs across the group and where women make up 40 per cent of the senior management.
That's also perhaps the reason why a survey by international executive research firm EMA Partners International shows that around 11 per cent of Indian companies have women CEOs, compared to just 3 per cent in the Fortune 500 companies in the US. A sector-wise analysis of Indian women CEOs shows that over half the women CEOs (54 per cent) are from the banking and financial services sectors, followed by the media and life sciences (11 per cent each).
However, the good news on the she-change in corporate boardrooms ends here. The percentage of Indian companies having women CEOs may be more than in the US, but it is far less than most other countries. For example, the comparable numbers in Germany, the UK and France are 25, 30 and 35 per cent, respectively.
It's also interesting that most women CEOs (35 per cent) in India are from the promoter families if they are taken out of the equation, the number would drop drastically.
Many say that overt discrimination is rare in Indian companies; still, the executive suites of most major corporations remain largely boys' clubs as India Inc has still not been able to shake off the stereotypes about women. For example, there was a recent case study where a group of employees was discussing the new logo for their company. When a woman suggested red, a colleague remarked that she was recommending it as it matched the colour of her sari. All the men laughed indulgently. Examples such as this show that there are quite a few people who still have a kind of institutional sexism that assumes women are less able than men.
But the HR head of a large consumer electronics and durables firm says while it's fashionable to attack the so-called sex discrimination in Indian workplace, the fact is women themselves are partly responsible for this. He quotes a BBC report which said at the heart of the matter is the Cinderella complex where no matter how successful a woman is, subconsciously, she still expects that a prince is going to come along and rescue her. He also says that the business door is wide open but women, looking for different and more balanced lives, have not been interested in entering.
He may have a point. In his book Why Men Earn More, author Warren Farrell says women make sacrifices at work in exchange for greater happiness in their lives as a whole. His book offers 25 reasons for a pay gap between men and women: Women work fewer hours, for example, and they don't stay at jobs as long as men do. Whether it's nature or socialisation driving their decisions, women tend to choose lives that allow them to spend more time with their families, Farrell contends.
A global study, also conducted by Catalyst, found that men worldwide desire the top jobs more often than women. Result: it will take 70 years for there to be as many women as men on the boards of the largest US companies at the pace women are getting such positions. The rate of progress over the past decade has been, on average, one-half of one percentage point each year globally.
A related issue is time off. Studies have found that women MBAs were more likely than men to have taken time off from their careers, which can be a huge misstep for those aspiring to reach the pinnacle of corporate glory.
Axis Bank MD and CEO Shikha Sharma puts this in perspective. Sharma agrees that a lot of talented women do leave after becoming mothers, "The first two-three years after becoming a mother are the toughest," she says, recollecting how her heart would sink at the thought of leaving her child at home. "Even if you are doing really well at work, but feel you are not a good mother, the guilt can shatter you," she says. But Sharma was lucky to have a "terrific" support system at home a reason why she has been able to maintain a 12-hour work routine and give her best to the job.
Sharma, however, says if the company is willing to walk that extra mile and can engage these women and pull them back, they can cope and be star performers. She was obviously lucky to have found an organisation which allowed her to cope.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
OUR FIRST RICH, JUICY SCANDAL
It's a bit puzzling. This brouhaha about franchisees and who owns what in the IPL. Why can't people look at it in its proper perspective, which is that we have well and truly arrived on the international scene? A scintillating show of the confluence of big money, sport, spectacle and politics leading to a scandal is what can firmly put us on the global scene. That's the way really prosperous nations grab eyeballs.
Time was what'd really shock us was the bureaucrat or politician sitting in the sarkari office, that mysterious towel firmly draped over the back of the sarkari chair, piles of files on the table gently being dusted off by the periodically groaning overhead fan, asking for a bribe. Then, we progressed a bit. Scandals meant ripping off from howitzers and chow for cows. We were still at the jawan-kisan stage, but things were moving on from socialist origins. With the odd stamp paper ghotala thrown in for good measure. That didn't quite measure up to global standards. Every great nation , it is averred, must have equally good scandals. Ones that really represent them.
Look, offhand, at the Berlusconi-Sarkozy stuff, isn't it so like them Italians and French ? Thus, we must pause our chatter. For, have we ever have such a plot: juicy, ripe with speculation, salacious gossip, involving at least a couple of rich or powerful chaps, a suitable 'woman-in-the-picture' , possible political fallout, and last, but not least, loads of money?
The IPL, remember, is really big. Have we ever been this big except our population in anything else? An event that involves money and glitz to match the big sporting leagues we'd watch with awe when cable TV first arrived. And here we are, getting stuffy about some alleged impropriety, shady deals and whatnot. Hello? Have we forgotten we liberalised? We wanted to be rich, isn't it, and get a slice of that high-class action and gawk at the sums involved? It wasn't going to happen without some burps. Don't you get it? We've arrived!
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
F(R)EEDOM FROM LOADS
We welcome finance minister Pranab Mukherjee's suggestion to make all financial products load-free and adopt a fee-based model. A load-free regime will bring mutual funds, pension and insurance plans on an equal footing, allowing these products to compete purely on their intrinsic merit, based on individual investor needs. A fee-based model will enable an investor to negotiate charges directly with her agent. Ideally, this is the way financial products such as unitlinked insurance plans (Ulips) should be sold.
Ulips are like mutual funds, with an added life cover. A lenient regulatory regime, however, allows insurance agents to charge hefty upfront commissions on Ulips. This is unfair to investors as they are often in the dark about how much of their premium goes towards insurance. Insurance companies should phase out commissions and finally transit to a fee-based model, as proposed by a government committee on investor awareness and protection . An agent who offers a service to the investor should charge a fee that is mutually agreed upon, and not solely fixed by the seller of the insurance product. Sure, this would make the task of agents more difficult, but they should reconcile to that correction.
Sebi has done well to scrap the entry load for mutual funds. The pension fund regulator has done even better, adopting a load-free model. Although this runs the risk of slow offtake of pension products, buyers will go by the product's features rather than the immediate commission . Globally, incentive models for financial products vary.
In the US, financial products carry loads, while in the UK, they will be load-free from 2012. India can set the trend for others to follow. But that would require more coordination among regulators. Investors need choice and better disclosures in financial products to make informed decisions. In a country where many don't understand the difference between term insurance and investment-linked insurance, the regulator should go all out to improve financial literacy
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
MARCH INFLATION NEEDS POLICY RESPONSE
As was widely expected, inflation measured by the wholesale price index (WPI) has inched up from the February level of 9.89% to 9.90% in March 2010. True, it is a whisker short of the dreaded 10% mark. But that is small comfort. At 9.9%, inflation is not only well above the RBI's target of 8.5% for March-end but is also well above the comfort zone for any democratically-elected government. More to the point, while food inflation shows scant signs of abating, inflation in manufactured products (7.13%) and fuel and power (12.71%) is now significantly higher than a year ago.
Thus, the contribution of non-food inflation to overall inflation is now almost 50% up from almost zero a few months ago. This clearly calls for action. While the RBI is expected to tighten its monetary policy stance in its policy statement due next week, monetary policy alone cannot win the battle against inflation. The government must do its bit to remove supply constraints (read offload more from its buffer stocks) and at the same time exit more aggressively from its excessively accommodative fiscal stance.
As there are no elections, barring assembly elections in Bihar this year, the government may not have to face a wrathful public (and that, perhaps, explains some of the lethargy on its part in tackling inflation). It might also be able to deflect some criticism on the grounds that containing inflation is the responsibility of the states, rather than the Centre. But that will not wash. While combating inflation is the joint responsibility of the Centre and the states, the latter can at best play a supporting role, say, by ensuring a more efficient public distribution system.
In contrast, fiscal and, to a lesser extent, monetary policy, both of which have a major role in determining the overall demand-supply balance in an economy, lie squarely in the Centre's domain. Whatever the justification for an easy policy stance earlier, the situation is vastly different today. February's 15%-plus industrial growth is only the latest in a fairly impressive list of indicators suggesting growth is now back on track, inflation isn't . The Centre would do well to heed that warning.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
THE RIGHT KIND OF MATERIALISM
Nobody wants to be thought of as materialistic. Back in the late 1970s, academics Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and Eugene Rochberg-Halton conducted lengthy interviews with several dozen families about their possessions, asking them a battery of detailed questions about which were most important to them and why. A number of their subjects insisted that the researchers had their priorities out of whack material objects aren't important, people and human relationships are. But one of the themes that eventually emerged from their work, described in their book,
The Meaning of Things: Domestic Symbols and the Self, is that some objects matter a great deal. It's worth lingering a moment over what it was that made some things mean more than others and why not all materialism is the same.
Csikszentmihalyi and Rochberg-Halton interviewed members of three generations of 82 families, asking their subjects: "What are the things in your home which are special to you?" Their interviewees mentioned a total of 1,694 objects, divided into 41 categories . Objects in the top 10 categories accounted for around half of the total mentioned : visual art, photographs, books, stereos , musical instruments, TVs, sculptures, plants and plates. The subjects gave 7,875 reasons why their chosen things were special , and these were divided into 11 broad "meaning classes," such as "memories."
Part of what the authors found was that the most meaningful objects were rarely chosen on the basis of some intrinsic, rational property, like marketplace value, cutting-edge quality, simple aesthetic pleasure or anything that an economist might describe as "use-value" or "utility." They were chosen instead for connections to something else: family or social ties, a particular episode in the narrative of the subject's life, perhaps religious faith or some other belief system affiliation. That is to say, their "meaning" tended to be a function of what the thing represented.
Csikszentmihalyi has continued to address materialism in some of his work, extending ideas from that earlier study, in particular by way of what he calls "psychic energy." This essentially means attention, or simply what we choose to think about. "Objects are generally tools," he wrote in his contribution to a book Psychology and Consumer Culture: The Struggle for a Good Life in a Materialistic World.
Devoting "psychic energy" to objects can make sense, he argued, if it is part of an effort to "transcend self-interest" and "reach outside (our) own needs and goals and invest in another system, thus becoming a stakeholder in an entity larger than (our) previous selves." Problems arise when people use "material goals and experiences" not to reflect , but to construct who they are. The Meaning of Thingsdrew a distinction between "instrumental" materialism and "increasingly expensive symbolic demonstrations of our autonomy and power," which the authors gave the label "terminal materialism." If you are a terminal materialist, you surround yourself with what you wish you were.
Those two versions of materialism seem vastly different, but in practice they are easily confused, especially in contemporary , ad-soaked consumer culture. We are thirsty for meaning, for connection, for individuality, for ways to tell stories about ourselves that make sense. Meanwhile , all brand-makers generally have to sell is a product that may have use-value , but is hardly equipped to fulfil those needs. We know customised sneakers or a new car or deodorant can't really make us more of an individual; we know that mutual admiration for the same T-shirt brands or electronic devices aren't really forms of community. But as one contemporary ad agency executive has put it: "Few stronger emotions exist than the need to belong and make meaning. And brands are poised to exploit that need."
There's no point, of course, in demonising branding professionals, simply doing their jobs as effectively as they can. But there's also no point in decrying "materialism" in general, either. Chances are there are objects in your life that do mean something to you. The crucifix, the wedding ring, the diploma and the trophy are some obvious examples of things that exist purely to join us to to symbolise something else (a belief system, a union, an achievement, a memory). It's up to us to make sure we're being the right kind of materialist.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
SOME 'A' AND 'B' GROUP COS CONTINUE TO TRADE BELOW THEIR BOOK VALUE
MUMBAI: Despite solid gains in the broader market, there are several companies still trading at prices well below their book value. While market experts hope to see multi-baggers in this group of undervalued stocks, the process of picking potential winners and backing it up with conviction is fraught with risk, they say.
An analysis of numbers sourced from ET database reveal that there are about a dozen 'A' group and over 600 'B' group companies that are currently trading below the net asset value or book value. Book value means the value of company's total assets (with goodwill) less the liabilities. Price-to-book value (PBV) is a good metric to value stocks of companies which have large amount of tangible assets in their balance sheet.
Going by conventional wisdom, if a company is trading at a price-to-book value of less than 1, the company's assets are either overvalued or it is earning a poor return on its assets. Ironically, multibaggers spring out of this group, as companies with lower PBV are generally not widely tracked and are underowned. "There could be several good companies in the low PBV segment that could be a future multi-bagger. Banks and NBFCs that are currently trading below PBVs are good buys," said Anil Bhattar, president-equity, KC Securities.
According to Mr Bhattar, investors should ignore large-cap index stocks that are currently trading below book value. "Index-based large-caps fall below book value when the outlook on the business is negative," he added. Aditya Birla Nuvo, Videocon Industries, India Bulls Real Estate, Lanco Infratech, Reliance Communications and IVRCL Infrastructure are among companies that are trading below book value.
Analysts said that investors should understand the nature of business before investing in these companies. Most
companies trading below book value have issues relating to scalability of business and earning future profits. Some companies may value their assets at prices higher than market value; this could result in higher PBVs and lower stock price. In other instances, companies with lower corporate governance may have lot of cash the benefit of which will only be going to promoters. This cash component will not reflect in the stock price.
"PBV less than 1 is definitely a good buy, but then, it should be taken on a case-to-case basis. They should never take a sectoral call in companies trading below book value. Investors should understand buying a stock on just one parameter is fraught with multiple risks," said Manish Sonthalia, senior VP, fund manager, Motilal Oswal Securities.
According to investment experts, it is good to use book values in companies that are in investment phase and are yet to have stable earnings. "In cases like banks where capital determines your ability to conduct business, it is a useful parameter. Also, if there are companies which have a book value, but most of those assets are unproductive, then the book value does not have much utility," said Huzaifa Husain, head-Equities, AIG Investments.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
SMALL COS KNOCK ON HNI DOORS FOR DEBT FUNDS
GEORGE SMITH ALEXANDER
MUMBAI: High net worth investors are turning out to be a new source of debt funds for promoters of mid-sized companies, including property developers. These companies are offering high rates to rich investors who are in a position to put in bulk funds of Rs 2 crore to Rs 8 crore in debt issued against security of shares or real estate.
According to bankers, in the past few months, a host of promoters have raised over Rs 1,000 crore through this route. These include a media company, a real estate company from Delhi and a telecom company with property developers dominating issuances. Currently, there are two real estate companies looking to raise Rs 200 crore from high net worth investors.
The debt issue is a private placement where the issuer's investment bank or private banker gets in touch with their high net worth customers. "We are seeing the trend more in the real estate sector where they are not able to get competitive rates from the commercial players, like banks. Interest rates that the HNIs would earn is significantly higher. It could be around 16-18% against 10-12%, which he would have earned normally," said Richa Karpe, director, investments of Altamount Capital.
The loan could be for any purpose increasing promoter stake, to plug a cash flow mis-match or to start a new business. The interest rate depends on the creditworthiness of the borrower, use of the proceeds and tenure of the loan. "There is a demand for high-yield debt in the Indian market. We have seen some fund raising by promoters who offer better yield than AAA and AA corporate debt," said Satya Narayan Bansal, CEO, Barclays Wealth, India.
Such borrowings are usually for short-term, 12-18 months; and to reassure borrowers, issuers usually offer collateral that is two to two-and-a-half times of the borrowing. "HNIs have a different way of thinking and accept securities such as land or property, which banks are not comfortable with," says Ms Karpe. The main consideration for such investors is that the market cap of the promoters' company should be above Rs 300 crore, the stock should be liquid. "They also look at the profile of the promoter, his background, performance of the company over the past 52 weeks and the purpose of funds utilisation." said Sutapa Banerjee, CEO Private Wealth, Ambit Capital.
At times, the funding is routed through an NBFC, which invests in bonds issued by the promoter company in the first instance. These bonds are later sold to HNIs. In most cases, the ticket size is in the range of Rs 3 crore to Rs 8 crore per investor. Some deals are in the ultra-high net-worth space where the ticket sizes per investor is around Rs 25-50 crore. In these cases, there would be very few investors. HNIs also invest by extending loans. "In case of loans, the comfort with promoters have to be really high," said Ms Karpe.
"What has changed in a year's time is the sentiment and people's ability to take risk. There has been a definite change in investor sentiment and deals have picked up in the past couple of quarters," she adds. These investments form a small percentage of the overall investments of the client in the fixed income space.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
FMCG COS MAY SEE STRONG PROFITS ON VOLUME GROWTH
KIRAN KABTTA SOMVANSHI
FMCG Companies are expected to log a healthy performance for the March quarter on strong volume growth coupled with a robust increase in earnings. Godrej Consumer Products (GCPL), Marico, Asian Paints and ITC are likely to report the strongest growth in earnings.
The average of the total estimates of ETIG and three other brokerages for leading eight fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) companies point to a strong 28% increase in net profits during the March quarter, against the corresponding quarter in the previous year. In view of price cuts effected by companies during the quarter, the growth in revenues is likely to be volume-driven for the second consecutive quarter. The eight companies are expected to log a modest growth of 14% in revenues. The net profit margin is likely to increase by 180 bps to 15.8% year-on-year.
This is largely due to lower raw material costs over the same period last year. Ad spend is likely to remain high for most companies as they have aggressively chased volumes through spending more on the ground level (below-the-line) marketing activities. Companies advertising in the ongoing IPL tournament are also likely to report higher ad spend. For most companies, ad spends are estimated to account for over 10% of their net sales.
Raw material costs typically constitute 40-50% of the turnover of FMCG companies. Fall in prices of certain commodities like sugar and copra are likely to give some respite to companies such as Dabur, Nestle and Marico. However, rising crude oil prices are a cause for concern as they raise packaging costs. Rising inflation poses a threat to consumer spending which is a negative for the sector.
Sector heavyweight Hindustan Unilever (HUL), unlike its performance in the previous quarters, is likely to post a recovery in the March quarter. The company has been quite aggressive in regaining its market share across key product categories. Forceful marketing and varying amounts of price cuts taken on specific products is likely to increase its volume growth, albeit only in single-digit. Tobacco-to-FMCG major ITC is expected to witness a healthy 30% growth in earnings on a 20% increase in turnover. In case of Godrej Consumer (GCPL), its March quarter results are not comparable with the same quarter in the previous fiscal due to consolidation of Godrej Sara Lee during the fiscal FY10.
Going forward, sustaining volume growth in times of rising inflation will be a challenge for the companies in the sector. The increase in raw materials and higher ad spend may make it difficult for companies to log high expansion in profit margins. Companies with niche product portfolios, strong brand recall and products across various price points are better equipped to protect and sustain their growth.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
A CONTINUAL FLIGHT FROM WONDER
In his critique of Practical Reason , the philosopher Immanuel Kant named the two things that filled him with wonder and awe: the "starry heaven" above and the "moral law within" . The latter, however, this did not inexorably lead him to believe in God. The closest he came was when he thought that the idea of a divine cause could not be separated from the relation of happiness with morality as the ideal of the supreme good.
That is, in order to have an intelligible moral dimension God was necessary from the practical point of view. Something like what the French philosopher Voltaire had in mind when he said "If God did not exist, it would be necessary to invent him."
The starry heaven has evoked in many famous scientists too a similar sense of wonder and awe and, indeed, some of them have often been believers to begin with or have felt the need to capitulate later. Among them are such luminaries as Copernicus, Kepler, Galileo, Newton and, yes, Max Planck the founder of quantum mechanics that bizarre and counterintuitive theory of the subatomic world which is based on chance, probability and the uncertainty principle. In spite of this he remained a church warden from 1920 until his death, and believed in an almighty , all-knowing , beneficent God though not necessarily a personal one.
But to the everlasting chagrin of both sides who try to rope him into their corral, Einstein, arguably the greatest of them all, unfortunately waffled in his views throughout his space-time . His wonder, though, was so great sometimes that on one occasion he famously proclaimed "Science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind" yet later reinvented himself with "I am a deeply religious nonbeliever" . Whatever that means.
Shakespeare on the other hand had adifferent take altogether on this thing called wonder. A well known sonnet ends with the lines, ... for they look'd but with divining eyes,/ They had not skill enough your worth to sing:/ For we, which now behold these present days,/ Have eyes to wonder, but lack tongues to praise.
Even though it was written in a different context it could easily be construed as a believer's idea of an atheist's anthem. Here lies the fine line they would say; no skills to sing, no tongues to praise. Cross that supposedly impregnable fortification of Maginot's mind and, who knows, perhaps you're home.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
FPO LIKELY BY JULY WHEN WE HAVE ALL INDEPENDENT DIRECTORS: EIL CHIEF
RAJEEV JAYASWAL & ARINDAM GHOSH
Public sector engineering consultancy firm Engineers India (EIL) share price has jumped over four-fold in about 12 months. Chairman & managing director A K Purwaha is confident about company's strong fundamentals and bright future. In a conversation with Rajeev Jayaswal & Arindam Ghosh, he shares reasons for his optimism. Excerpts:
EIL's scrip has jumped from a 52- week low Rs 560 in April 2009 to all-time high last month. What explains this performance?
It reflects strong fundamentals of both the sector as well as the economy. Companies that deferred their projects due to the economic slowdown are now implementing them. Our order book position is strong. At this point in time, it is around Rs 7,000 crore. Out of this, about Rs 4,600 crore is LSTK (lump sum turn key) or EPC projects and orders worth Rs 2,400 crore is purely consultancy works.
Recent talks of disinvestment and bonus issues could have also made some impact.
The dates are not yet announced but by the end of May bonus shares are expected. Around the same time share split (one share Rs 10 split into two shares of Rs 5 each) is likely. It would be done before the proposed FPO (follow-on public offer). But proceed of FPO will go to promoters, (the government). We have already paid a special interim dividend to our shareholders.
When will the FPO hit the market?
It could be something in July. In fact, there are certain regulatory requirements to be met before the FPO can be launched. We need to have required number of independent directors before the public offer. The government, who is the promoter, is working on it.
Are you planning to expand your portfolio?
Most of oil & gas sector projects in the country are executed by us. About 60% of country's oil and gas pipelines have been designed by EIL as project consultants or project engineers. All refineries in the country except for Reliance Industries' Jamnagar refinery, have been developed by EIL. All gas processing plants of ONGC and GAIL are developed by EIL as EPC (engineering, procurement and construction). We are implementing HPCL-Mittal Energy's Bathinda refinery and BPCL's Bina refinery. Almost all refinery upgradation projects are handled by us.
But now we are planning to extend our services to power and fertiliser projects. The government's policy is encouraging use of natural gas in power and fertiliser plants. While implementing refinery projects, we have gained expertise in captive power plants of 60-100 MW. Now we are set to take balance of plant areas for power and fertiliser projects. Nuclear power could be another area. We are looking for the balance of plant for nuclear power also. Besides, our future growth will also come from projects in foreign land.
What are major projects you bagged recently outside India?
EIL has executed jobs in several countries of West Asia, North Africa, Europe and SE Asia. Our international portfolio constitutes about 10% to consultancy business and we plan to double it. We may go to Saudi Arabia in the next six months. Brazil is another potential market. But our expansion will be limited to sectors dealing with hydrocarbons and non-ferrous metals.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
'PROLONGED CONFUSION OVER ULIPS IS DAMAGING'
As one of the 14 insurance companies to be served a Sebi notice, Bajaj Allianz Life has got dragged into the Sebi-Irda tussle over Ulip regulation. Kamesh Goyal, country manager of Allianz and MD & CEO, Bajaj Allianz Life Insurance, shared his thoughts with Debjoy Sengupta on the effect of the recent spat between the two regulators.
What in your view will be the impact of the recent spat between Irda and Sebi on the life insurance industry?
For an industry which deals with public money and offers long-term benefits, any confusion in the minds of customers is damaging. Over the past few days, we've seen customers getting anxious about the premium they have paid under various Ulips. Agents and sales people are worried about their career and income, they are afraid to face customers. I hope all these don't impact our stock market which has been going northwards after the excellent Budget presentation by the finance minister.
Don't you think the high cost of Ulips is to blame ?
We need to look at things in their entirety. Life insurance penetration was 1.3% of the GDP in 2000, which has increased to 4%. One fourth of the premium and nearly 40% of the policies are from rural areas. Such reach has costs attached. While people always talk about high commissions of 35-40% in Ulips, hardly 10-12% of new business would be with commissions in this range. The cost of Ulip has, in fact, declined from January 1, 2010, with the new expense capping guidelines from the regulator.
There is a general impression that Ulips have a high possibility of miss-selling. Do you agree?
If we look at sales of Ulip policies over the past few years, it would have exceeded 5 crore and it has been found that in a large number of cases, one person holds more than one policy. Are we saying that every policy has been wrongly sold; if that was true, why would customers buy a Ulip again?
If customers had any apprehensions, they would have taken recourse to the free-look cancellation facility to get their money back. Yes, there would be some cases and we need to continuously act against people indulging in mis-selling.
What is your view about 'no load' structure for Ulips?
Insurance business is highly capital intensive, hence we need to ensure that insurance companies have strong capital and a balance sheet. This is the lesson that we've learnt from the recent financial crisis. For companies to remain strong, one needs a predictable and continuous revenue stream and this would take a huge hit with 'no loads' structure. Direct model sounds very good in theory but doesn't work in practice. The penetration of mutual funds after recent changes and NPS clearly are prime examples.
Worldwide, this hasn't been implemented. I am sure we should learn from others. Lastly, 'no loads' structure works well for banks who act as distributors but doesn't for individual agents. You can't deprive 50-lakh agent families of their livelihood. Will it be beneficial for customers if only 10-12 banks become sole distributors of all financial products? What happens to the livelihood of 50 lakh agents?
Let us agree that Ulips are a combination of risk and investment, why can't they be segregated for convenient regulation?
When you merge two elements, it becomes a compound, and you can't segregate the two. Traditional policies also have an element of investment, which is what life insurance companies offer worldwide. They provide a tool for financial protection and savings. In our country, pure risk products are not popular although it is available through some general insurance covers, which don't sell unless it is compulsory or there is a lender involved. Low commission, and thereby the revenue stream for agents, have been one of the big reasons why general insurance penetration hasn't increased in the last 10 years. The intermediaries do not find it lucrative to sell two-wheelers, personal accident or household insurance products. We have a savings driven culture, and it is very difficult to go against that.
Are life insurance companies a favourite punching bag ?
This is really sad. Life insurance is the only tool for long-term savings and provides direct employment to over 275,000 and indirectly to at least 50-60 lakh people. Let us not forget that when capital markets were going down and FIIs were pulling out money, the life insurance industry stood like a rock for the stock market. Total investment in private life insurance industry exceeds Rs 17,500 crore. An industry, which plays such an important role in the economy and accounts for 4% of the country's GDP, deserves better treatment.
What is the way ahead for the life insurance industry?
We need to come out with products which offers minimum guarantee with some upside linked to stock indices. It is only the life insurers who can offer such products & guarantees. Today, commissions in Ulips are linked with the term of the cover, if customer continues to pay premium for full term its costs turn out to be lower than mutual funds. However, if someone selects a longer term policy, but pays premium for say five years, it turns out to be costly. Expenses should be capped at the end of five years. This will ensure that costs are under control even if policyholders want to exit at the end of the fifth year.
What happens to insurance company valuations? All large corporates have stake in these entities?
The profitability of the insurance industry has been bad in both life and non-life for some time now. One doesn't see things improving soon. The uncertainty will further impact the life insurance industry a lot. A large numbers of investors of the companies which have promoted insurance companies could lose out severely if things get worse.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
'INDIA ONE OF THE BEST RECYCLERS IN THE WORLD'
NIKHIL MENON & RAMKRISHNA KASHELKAR
The Green technology space is hotting up in India and private equity funds are getting excited about new companies here. Nikhil Menon & Ramkrishna Kashelkar speak to Vivek Tandon, general partner at Aloe Private Equity, about the funds' plans for India and the sectors it's keen to invest in.
What is Aloe PEs investment philosophy?
We are focused on investing in green tech. We always look at the environmental and social sustainability of all investments. Our goal is to find global technology leaders and to help them expand in India, China and Europe. The technologies are normally proven and tested and hence there is zero technology risk. Unlike most PE firms that have an average investment horizon of 3-5 years, we look for promoters and entrepreneurs to team up with us for 6-8 years to build solid global assets.
How are your investments in India shaping up?
We have three funds and are now investing from our second and third funds. These are focused on India and China. We typically do 6-8 deals per fund and the average ticket size ranges from $10-40 million. Aloe looks at product-based as well as service-based companies. The fund has two major investments in India todayHyderabad-based Greenko Group, a renewable energy developer and producer, and Mumbai-based Polygenta, which has a disruptive PET recycling technology. Greenko has been listed on the Alternate Investment Market of London Stock Exchange and its current m-cap is over 12 times our initial investment cost.
While investing in a company, how much stake do you normally pick up?
We are majority stakeholders in most companies. Most people say Indian entrepreneurs are fixated on being majority stakeholders and are interested only in the valuation you give them. I don't agree. Aloe has not had this problem. People confuse management control, profit share and ownership. Just because a party owns 60% of the shares in a company, does not necessarily mean that it has 60% of the profits and 60% control. We make a distinction between the three and are aware of the frustrations of promoters in having their ownership in a company diluted as the company grows. We recognise that as a company grows, the promoters should increase ownership of the business.
Do you look for entrepreneurs with relevant experience only?
Lack of experience in the particular sector is not such a concern but we don't want to work with someone who just wants to jump on to the green bandwagon to make quick bucks. We have worked for 8-12 months with the promoters before we actually invested.
Within environment technology, what areas do you find interesting?
India is one of the best recyclers in the worldvery little waste is discarded into landfill sites. Most waste generated in India is collected and recycled but in a disorganised manner and little technology is used to treat the waste. So most products produced from waste are of an inferior quality and are used as low value by-products. Aloe owns technologies that create high value products from recycled material.
Take batteries for example. We have tech which can recycle batteries from mobile phones, laptops, electric cars into high-grade metals for use by battery makers as a direct replacement for lithium, cobalt and manganese. We will also start discussions with Indian firms to recycle steel dust generated by steel plants.
AFTER FAILURE, ISRO HAS A LOT OF WORK
The first reaction of even a fairly informed intelligent Indian to the failure of Isro's space mission could be that Rs 330 crore and 18 years of hard toil by scientists had got drowned in the Bay of Bengal, despite the "auspicious" hour chosen for the Thursday evening launch at Sriharikota. Even sadder is that it happened to be India's maiden space effort using an indigenously-developed cryogenic engine, trying to shake off our dependence on the Russians for this technology. On a personal note, it was also the first mission for Dr K. Radhakrishnan after he took charge as Isro's chairman. While it is too soon to say why the mission failed and the GSLV-D3 rocket carried its precious payload of the advanced GSAT-4 communications satellite into the sea within five minutes after what appeared to be a perfect launch, there is a debate within the Isro community on whether the cryogenic engine responded to commands from the onboard computer to ignite. The rocket, said the dejected Isro chief, tumbled uncontrollably after behaving beautifully till the 293rd second after the launch at 4.27 pm, that is, when moving from the "burnout" of the second stage into the critical cryogenic stage. The cryogenic phase would have been the third and final stage in the flight of 1,022 seconds before the rocket could place the 2,218-kg communication satellite in its gyosynchronous transfer orbit 35,975 km from the earth. This did not materialise as the mission failed. Dr Radhakrishnan has said his scientists will now work undeterred by this setback and try to launch another GSLV mission with an indigenously-built cryogenic engine within a year. Besides, a communications satellite named GSAT-5B will get into orbit in September 2010, and another GSAT-6 soon afterwards. Isro will try out both these missions using two Russian cryogenic engines that it has been holding in its kitty even before the Russians stopped supply because of American sanctions. During that difficult phase, when India was coming under increasing US pressure over its nuclear and missile capabilities (and with America reserving its warmth for Pakistan no matter what that country did to unsettle peace in the region), the reports of hundreds of Isro scientists working round-the-clock to develop an indigenous cryogenic engine had warmed many Indian hearts. For the media covering events at Sriharikota in the past several years, there were two standard questions at the Isro chief's post-launch briefings when would the cryogenic engine be ready, and when would an Indian spaceship land on the moon? While the moon mission appears to be doing well and Chandrayaan-2, with Russian collaboration, is due to land a rover on the lunar surface by the end of 2013, the experience with the cryogenic engine has now suffered a major setback with Thursday's mission ending in the sea. Interestingly, Chandrayaan-2 is also scheduled to be lifted into space by a GSLV launch vehicle powered by an indigenous cryogenic engine. This is why it is even more important for our scientists to quickly assess the GSLV-D3's performance so that corrective action can be taken well ahead of the promised moon mission. Success with cryogenic technology will catapult India into the elite space club that has just five members the United States, Russia, China, the European Space Agency and Japan.
LESSONS FROM THE PAST
BY ARUN KUMAR SINGH
The April 11 Washington meeting between the Prime Minister, Dr Manmohan Singh, and the US President, Mr Barack Obama, appears to have cleared the air somewhat. While Dr Singh deserves praise for some plain speaking, Mr Obama, too, deserves praise for his stated understanding of India's concerns, and for reiterating American commitment to strategic ties with India. At home, the Indo-US Navy bonhomie continues, with the latest round of Indo-US Malabar annual naval exercises scheduled off India's west coast from April 22 to May 2, and US Navy Chief Admiral Gary Roughead's visit to India from April 12 to 15. However, history and prudence suggest that we wait and see how events shape up as the Great Game unfolds again in Asia.
Former Soviet Prime Minister Nikita Khrushchev was not joking when, during his 1956 India visit, he reportedly said, "As a Communist I don't believe in God, but after seeing India, I am convinced that God is running this country". History records that it was the Soviet Union which disintegrated in 1991, while India continues to "survive", albeit from crisis to crisis. But this survival timespan since 1947 is tiny when compared with the history of invasions and subjugation between 711 AD and 1947. Unfortunately, history has a habit of repeating itself, unless we learn from it.
India's blunders since 1947 have come to haunt it once again. Listed below are a few:
* Despite military gains in Kashmir in 1948, India refused to give its Army a fortnight more to take over what is now Pakistan-occupied Kashmir. Instead, it went to the UN, and the results are there for all to see today.
* The inability to clearly demarcate the Siachen border after the decisive Indian victory in the 1971 Indo-Pak war.
* Putting an embargo on boosting defences and infrastructure along the China border, between 1990 and 2007. We slept while China furiously worked.
* Various reasons have contributed to the continued emasculation and demoralisation of the poorly-equipped Indian military. Its complete absence from the team providing strategic inputs to the political leadership is just one of them. The results are visible, the latest being the Maoist massacre of 76 CRPF personnel, reportedly due to poor leadership and poor training.
* The sorry state of our cyber security was recently exposed by the Chinese hacking into our government's classified data banks.
After signing an important April 8 nuclear arms reduction agreement with Russia, Mr Obama moved quickly towards the next logical step of first hosting a 46-nation Nuclear Security Summit on April 12-13 (that called for securing all nuclear material by 2012), and laying the foundation of his "global vision" for the world. The new American doctrine on use of American nuclear weapons only against other nuclear powers and "rogue states" needs to be studied very carefully for any implications on India's miniscule nuclear arsenal. My informal discussions with strategic thinkers indicate that Russia and the US will never allow their nuclear arsenals to fall below 1,000 weapons each, while China will continue expanding its nuclear arsenal till it catches up with the US. Hence, despite US secretary of state Hillary Clinton's "advice" to India (and Pakistan, but not to Israel or China) to "limit its stockpiles", India must ensure it has sufficient nuclear weapons (possibly 400) to simultaneously deter China (estimated to have 240 to 400 nuclear weapons, and growing) and Pakistan (estimated 90 nuclear weapons, and growing). Given China's ambitions to overtake the US, this global nuclear arms race can only end if a transparent and verifiable, though improbable, "global zero nuclear weapons" regime is implemented. Back home, the conflict between the Maoists and Indian security forces has taken a predictable turn for the worse given the backdrop of years of poor administration, corruption and poverty. India may now also be subjected to American pressure to make concessions to Pakistan on Kashmir and "cap-roll back-eliminate" its tiny nuclear arsenal.
India could learn from the Chinese. Beijing clamped down with an iron fist on terrorists in Xinjiang, and is not apologetic about its "defensive military rise" which includes nuclear-tipped ICBMs and nuclear submarines. Sino-Indian relations may have thawed recently, and improved relations must be welcomed, but we must cater for China's growing capability.
New Delhi should:
* Use calibrated force to neutralise Naxal-Maoist terror, while concurrently providing a clean administration, food, water, houses, healthcare, education, jobs, infrastructure etc to 350 million people living in poverty.
* Be clear and firm on its Afghanistan policy and relations with Iran, while striving for dignified, mutually beneficial relations with China and the US.
* Stop appeasing Pakistan and providing "terror proof".
* Institutionalise strategic inputs and long-term strategic planning to the government from the military, as is done in about 66 nations.
* Declare national goals and objectives, along with milestones, till 2050, and work towards achieving them.
* Introduce a transparent system of five-yearly holistic defence and nuclear posture reviews.
* In our metros and large cities, designate and equip specific hospitals and emulate the American NEST (Nuclear Emergency Support Teams of Scientists and Engineers) to respond to nuclear emergencies.
* The Indian proposal to set up in India a "Global Centre for Nuclear Energy Partnership" is welcome, but it should not be a prelude to India unilaterally capping or eliminating its miniscule nuclear arsenal, or signing the NPT as a "non-nuclear weapons state".
Prussian soldier and military theorist Carl von Clausewitz said, a couple of centuries ago, "War is an extension of politics by other means". A nuclear terror strike on Indian cities and open conflict in this region is a real possibility given certain destabilising factors (land and water disputes along with foreign and domestic terror) which in the future will be further aggravated by competition in the seas for oil, gas and minerals and increased fishing activity (the US gets 90 per cent of its protein food intake from the sea, while Asia gets only 25 per cent). Add to this the changing global realignment of nations, and a large country like India no longer has the traditional option of "doing nothing".
* Vice-Admiral Arun Kumar Singh retired as Flag Officer Commanding-in-Chief of the Eastern Naval Command, Visakhapatnam
DREAMING UP A FEMINIST NIKAHNAMA
BY RAFIA ZAKARIA
In an opinion issued on the popular Islam Online website a few months ago, Sheikh Yusuf Qaradawi, one of the most prominent clerics in the Sunni Muslim world, responded to whether misyar marriage was valid in Islam.
Qaradawi, who is the head of the Sunna Institute in Qatar, said that such a marriage in which a woman specifically repudiates the rights given to her in Islam is indeed Sharia-compliant. According to Qaradawi, some of the rights a woman can repudiate include, but are not limited to, her claim to inheritance, cohabitation or any sort of financial maintenance.
This re-envisioning of the nikahnama or the Islamic marriage contract is not exclusive to
Sunni Islam. In Iran, a similar recasting of marriage took place almost immediately after the Islamic revolution when temporary marriages known as sigeh in Persian or mutah in Arabic were legalised. According to an article published on the Iranian website Alborz, sigeh marriages have since been made even easier under legislation passed by the first Ahmadinejad administration: the new family law bill, passed despite strong opposition by Iranian women, not only allowed conditional polygamy and sigeh but also removed any requirement of permission from prior wives before the husband contracted another marriage. As the article's author Fatemeh Sadeghi points out, sigeh has been legalised even though there is no consensus among Twelver Shia jurists regarding the basis of its legality.
While sigeh in the Iranian Shia case or misyar marriage in the Sunni case may have varying juristic rationalisations, both represent a reconstruction of the Islamic marriage contract in a way that differs from the form traditionally prescribed. Varying explanations are offered in both the Sunni and Shia cases for such departures from the prescribed forms. In the Iranian case, government authorities are said to have attempted to cast temporary marriages as a means to give legal cover to extra-marital relationships and also enable women to contract such arrangements if they need a man to fulfil the function of a wali for travelling purposes.
Meanwhile, in his opinion justifying misyar marriages, Sheikh Qaradawi emphasises that they potentially allow women such as those of "advanced age" to also be married when they waive conditions of financial support from their husbands. While the justifications differ, the fact remains that both forms of marriage suggest ways of ordering the marital relationship in society.
At the heart of this re-envisioning is the Islamic marriage contract or nikahnama, which is the basis of defining this new form of relationship between a man and a woman. The question posed by such an ongoing redefinition of Islamic marriage is whether similar opportunities for redefining marriage may also be available to women wishing to add more rights to their Islamic marriage contracts. According to Sheikh Qaradawi, "both parties have the right to add terms and conditions".
The biggest obstacle in popularising such a project is the demotion of the nikahnama to a mere formality when it comes to the rights of the woman. Yet it is considered crucially important when it comes to the rights of the man. Simply put, Pakistani women, indeed Muslim women around the world, are discouraged from reading or stipulating the contractual terms. A host of excuses and superstitions discourage women from even perusing, let alone actually negotiating, the terms of the contract. Most nikah ceremonies involve the bride only nominally and primarily constitute the signing of papers whose content is arbitrarily determined or stipulated entirely by the groom's side.
For Pakistani women, the situation is replete with both irony and tragedy. It is ironic because while long negotiations may be held over inanities such as the number of guests each side can invite and the colour of the bride's outfits, crucial details such as the bride's ability to initiate a divorce, the amount of meher, or the custody of any future children are all considered matters too delicate to include in discussions between the families. In this way, the relative cultural powerlessness of women hinders tragically their ability to take advantage of the very open-endedness of the Islamic marriage contract to further the rights of Muslim women. While patriarchal lobbies in societies as disparate as Iran and Saudi Arabia have managed to recast the Islamic marriage contract in a way that reduces women's rights, dismally few overtures are being made in the opposite direction.
The task of changing the dynamics of marital relationships in such a manner that women have some equality within the relationship, are able to obtain a divorce as easily as men, maintain custody of their children, or continue their education or careers could all be achieved by their inclusion as clauses within the contract and in making the nikahnama a basis for serious consideration and negotiation between the bride and groom prior to marriage.
If cultural patriarchy has produced sigeh and misyar marriages, surely women can just as legitimately insist on a feminist nikahnama that provides more rights rather than less and reverses the disturbing trend of making the nikahnama an instrument of maintaining male dominance.
VACCINES: IS THE LEFT RIGHT?
BY ASHOK MALIK
At the simplest level, the right to protest needs to be accompanied by the responsibility of protest. So often in India, this principle is ignored. A case in point is the recent cessation of the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccination project in Andhra Pradesh's Khammam district.
HPV is the leading cause of cervical cancer; the German scientist who first made that link ended up winning the Nobel Prize for Medicine in 2008. In turn, cancer of the cervix is considered the commonest cancer among women in India and a leading cause of cancer death.
In the past few years since the HPV-cervical cancer association was established preventive vaccines have been developed for HPV. Vaccines are not sufficient for disease control, but they are necessary. As such, the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) partnered the state governments of Gujarat and Andhra Pradesh as well as an international non-governmental organisation is administering two different HPV vaccines among communities in one district of each state.
In the past few days, the project in Khammam has run into trouble. The Communist Party of India (Marxist) politician Brinda Karat has campaigned against it. She has alleged the vaccines have caused four deaths and had severe side-effects. The Andhra Pradesh government has issued a detailed statement pointing out not one of the 14,000 girls who were part of the project died due to the HPV vaccine. Two of the four deaths referred to were suicides; one was caused by viral fever. The final death was the result of an unfortunate girl drowning in a village well.
The vaccines being used are not new. They have a proven history in Europe, the United States and elsewhere.
he World Health Organisation has evaluated them for safety. Even so, Ms Karat refers to the Khammam endeavour as a "clinical trial" a situation when a vaccine is under development and being tested on human beings. In reality, this is a "demonstration project" introducing a vaccine that has passed all trials, and been approved for use, to a section of the population, pending broader adoption.
Finally, there has been a disquieting attempt to give public health a crude, denominational edge. "Children from the Scheduled Castes, the Scheduled Tribes and the Muslim communities, who are economically poor", Ms Karat alleged, "were used for experimenting".
It was disagreeable and, at any rate, avoidable rhetoric, but it worked. ICMR shutdown the project till such time as a committee of public health specialists did not study Ms Karat's accusations and decide on the merits or otherwise of her case.
It would be unfair to prejudge the committee. While its conclusions can be logically anticipated, it would be best to wait till it has done its work, and ruled on the safety of the vaccine, the protocols followed by the project managers and the charges of side-effects/deaths.
However, two implications flow from the Khammam episode. First, do consider the paradox that while a demonstration project that gets the HPV vaccine to some of India's most underprivileged people has been stopped, the vaccine itself is available in the market and in the private sector. From Hyderabad to Ahmedabad, Delhi to Mumbai, it can be bought by parents who can afford to pay for it, and want to give it to their adolescent daughters.
This defies common sense. If the vaccine is unsafe and kills people, shouldn't the government ban it and prohibit import/manufacture altogether? In the name of protecting the disadvantaged and the "economically poor", has Ms Karat inadvertently made the HPV vaccine a monopoly of the privileged and so added to the inequity of public health in India? It is a point worth pondering.
Second, Ms Karat and her supporters are absolutely right in arguing that pharmaceutical companies especially global pharmaceutical companies are not driven by altruism. They develop vaccines because they want to sell them and make money. India, with its large population, is a key target for any vaccine manufacturer or inventor.
However, there is a crucial difference between that motivation and believing that multinational pharmaceutical companies are dumping unsafe vaccines on unsuspecting Indians with the intention of murdering them. They may not see it thus, but that is the position the Karat-led campaigners have ended up taking.
In recent years, each new vaccine introduced to the country has met with a template response. Whether it is the hepatitis B vaccine, the Hib (haemophilus influenzae type B) vaccine or the rotavirus vaccine, the same cabal of anti-vaccine groups have protested that these are too expensive, will bankrupt the Indian health system, are not needed. In some cases, a non-choice is offered as the preferred option.
Take the rotavirus vaccine, which protects against leading causes of diarrhoea. It can be contended that clean water, hygiene and nutrition will mitigate (though not entirely remove) the danger of diarrhoea. Even so, till we reach that idyllic world, diarrhoea will continue to exist and thousands of children will continue to die. As such, is there anything wrong in using vaccines as a force multiplier and part of a larger prevention and treatment framework?
The sad part is the vaccines themselves quickly get deployed among the rich and the upper middle classes. The poorest children, often most at risk because of the conditions they live in, don't get the vaccines till the largely bogus and anguished debate about vaccines and their efficacy gets over.
Almost no vaccine is completely without side-effects. Take the oral-polio vaccine (OPV), which every parent enthusiastically seeks to ensure for his child and which India swears by. OPV is a live-attenuated vaccine. There is a small chance one in a million of an infant being actually infected with polio while receiving OPV drops. In 2005, India reported 250 cases of vaccine-derived polio. Yet, would anyone in his right mind propose abandoning India's polio programme and discontinuing use of OPV? It is nobody's case that every new vaccine be immediately accepted for mass immunisation in India. Equally, it would be futile to reject every new vaccine and pretend it is part of a global conspiracy. That is not science, it is scare mongering.
Between 2010 and 2020, pharmaceutical industry analysts are predicting a "technology pile-up" and a "big bang" phase wherein many new vaccines will be in the market. It is crucial that a cool and reasoned debate takes place in the context of each vaccine. Ms Karat's foray into Khammam tells us how not to do this.
* Ashok Malik can be contacted at email@example.com 
THE ENERGY OF MINDFULNESS
BY THICH NHAT HANH
Mindfulness is a kind of energy we generate every day, every hour, every minute and every second by the practice of mindful breathing, mindful walking, mindful sitting, mindful looking, mindful listening. In our daily lives we often live more or less in forgetfulness. We are caught in our regret and sorrow concerning the past; we are caught in our anxiety and fear concerning the future. We are caught by our craving, our despair in the present moment. But with the energy of mindfulness we can establish ourselves in the here and the now. We can be free from our regret concerning the past, our fear concerning the future or the craving or despair that can come up in us in the present moment. With the energy of mindfulness, we can touch the wonders of life within and around us. With the energy of mindfulness we can recognise and embrace our fears, our anger, our craving so that we can bring relief and the joy of life to ourselves.
We know that if mindfulness is there, concentration and insight is there, too. When you are inhabited by the energies of mindfulness, concentration and insight, the Buddha is there; the Buddha can be touched through the Sangha and, of course, the Dharma.
The Sangha is something much more than a group of people. Members of a Sangha share the same affinity, the same kind of aspiration, the same kind of need, the same kind of practice, the same kind of concern. They are aware that suffering is there and there is a need to understand deeply the nature of suffering. Members of the Sangha are aware that the cessation of suffering, transformation and healing are all possible. They are aware of the fact that there are ways to transform and to heal. Members of the Sangha have confidence in the eight-fold path (called Marga in Sanskrit), which leads to the cessation of suffering, to transformation and healing. This way can be seen in the daily practice of members of the Sangha. When a member of the Sangha walks, she walks in such a way that makes life right in that moment. When with her foot she touches the earth, she touches it so deeply that you can see the energy of concentration, of mindfulness in her, emanating from her. She really invests herself in the act of taking a step and when she does that she communicates. She just walks like this, and with each step she takes, she cultivates more freedom, more solidity and more joy. And she can do this every time she needs to move from one place to another place.
We humans, we need to move from one place to another many times during the day, and, therefore, we have plenty of opportunities to practice so that every step can bring more solidity, more joy and especially more freedom. Every step you take with mindfulness helps you to reclaim the freedom that you have lost in the hectic kind of life out there in society.
Thich Nhat Hanh is one of the most respected Zen masters in the world today. He is also a poet and peace and human rights activist. For information in India about Thich Nhat Hanh's Mindfulness
Meditation email firstname.lastname@example.org 
or visit www.ahimsatrust.org 
BY DOT WORDSWORTH
A couple of weeks ago, the Prime Minister of UK, Gordon Brown's people in Brussels insisted on changing the translation of a communiqué so that, instead of speaking of "economic government" by the European Council (EC), it declared "that the EC must improve the economic governance of the EU, and we propose to increase its role in economic surveillance". It was the substitution of governance for government that was held to be a triumph.
The French seemed happy with gouvernement économique instead of insisting on gouvernance and the Spanish got gobierno económico rather than gobernanza económica. The Germans welded the notion into one word, Wirtschaftsregierung, but the German press noted that the British preferred die wirtschaftspolitische Steuerung, which the French press rendered as pilotage économique. It was a riot of what Herman Van Rompuy, the EU's brand new president, called "asymmetric translation".
The use of governance is not so weird as it would have been a generation ago. Sir John Tusa remembers that when Harold Wilson's book The Governance of Britain came out in 1976 "we all thought he was mad. We didn't know what he meant. Today every board of every arts organisation spends hours pondering its governance". At the time, Private Eye had mocked the book as The Governess of Britain. It was an eminently mockable book, written at top speed and published within seven months of Wilson's resignation. Purporting to analyse the workings of government, it degenerated into a series of anecdotes.
It was not that Wilson had invented the word. "We regard it neither with anger, nor with aversion", wrote Newman of the Church of England in 1850. "It is but one aspect of the sate, or mode of civil governance". The word was old then, having been used by Chaucer of the regulation of clocks and by Milton of divine providence. It might mean nothing more than behaviour; Caxton wrote of "folissh and outrageous gouernaunce". But it has also long possessed a strain of meaning equivalent to "mastery, control" which would not please Mr Brown's linguistic mandarins.
Since the 1980s, the word has bloomed. The city was expected to make its governance transparent; hospitals were said to have clinical governance and Oxford its own university governance. In 2007, with no sense of irony, the government began to issue a series of documents on constitutional reform called The Governance of Britain. It was as if Harold Wilson had never lived.
By arrangement with the Spectator
A BUFFER FORCE
CAN BE DANGEROUSLY DISINGENUOUS IN BENGAL
Having burnt its fingers in Silda, it could be dangerously disingenuous on the part of the West Bengal government to raise a relatively untrained buffer unit for the extremist-affected districts. A proposal to beef up security would normally have raised no cavil were it not for the risk that the Special Police Officers (SPOs) will be relatively inexperienced considering the forbidding task at hand. No less critical is the age factor as the government intends to draw SPOs from the ranks of ex-Servicemen and ex-policemen. Bankura, West Midnapore and Purulia cannot afford to be policed by another variant of the civil defence network.
The exercise may turn out to be disastrous if security duties are shared "by the SPOs who will be basically volunteers like home guards", to quote a senior official. To begin with, it is the police stations that call for a dramatic revamp. Predominantly, the SPOs will be locals with the only advantage that they are familiar with the territory, the tribal dialect and the way of life. But considering the level of training of the state police and ~ post Dantewada ~ the Central paramilitary, misgivings that the SPOs might operate as an untrained "auxiliary" are not wholly unfounded. The stark message of the recent Maoist strikes, whether in Silda, Koraput or Dantewada, is that it is the trainer who needs to be trained.
The experience of Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh and Orissa scarcely inspires optimism. In all three states have the SPOs operated as the frontline force, a position so vulnerable as to bear the brunt of the Maoist violence. In Orissa, the raising of the SPOs was an attempt to wean away a section of the tribals to confront the Maoists. Chhattisgarh's record has been quite the most disastrous; the SPOs were made to assist the Salwa Judum, a resistance group consisting of teenagers. In the net, it became a human rights issue with heavy casualties both among the SPOs and teenagers. It is the focus and the training that appear to be at a discount in all the states along the Red Corridor, save Andhra Pradesh. The late Rajshekhar Reddy had been able to contain the phenomenon long before Operation Green Hunt was conceived. Central to that success was the effectiveness of the Greyhounds, a crack force that was as focused as it was specialised. Mobilisation in large numbers is not perhaps the solution.
NOT GOOD ENOUGH
'WARS' ARE NOT FOUGHT IN LABS
TOPICAL the "disclosure" certainly was, but unfortunately there can be only muted cheer for the development of a laser-based bomb disposal kit by the Defence Research & Development Organisation (DRDO). For while the utility of the system to clear landmines and IEDs in Maoist-dominated regions was highlighted to the media by the director of the Laser Science and Technology Centre (LASTEC), a stoic silence was maintained on a critical factor: when would it be made available to the paramilitary and police units deployed on those demanding duties? Sure there is every reason to be impressed ~ the troops on the ground would probably get excited ~ by a device that would detect and neutralise "planted" explosives from a distance of 250 metres. After all, vehicles and personnel have taken several hits in recent times. Seeking to tap the present situation to earn appreciation for what he called LORDS (Laser Ordnance Disposal System) ~ the military's passion for acronyms and abbreviations is highly contagious ~ the defence scientist pointed to its utility in J&K, the North-east and what is now being called the Red Corridor. After 26/11, he added, the DRDO had set up a LIC division (Low Intensity Conflict) to develop weapons, equipment and life support systems for the paramilitary and police. A welcome, pragmatic new focus.
Tragically, there is always a huge time-lag between a DRDO development and its being inducted into service ~ which often necessitates depleting foreign-exchange reserves to procure items that are far from the cutting edge of technology. Surely defence scientists have been on the job long enough to realise that they are not just academics, and the identification/gearing-up of manufacturing agencies must be integral to the development process. An item like the one in question was something "required yesterday". The Army, Navy and Air Force are capable of pressuring the government to take the import route, the paramilitary continues to have to make do with the leftovers. True the DRDO has nothing to do with such priorities, but now that it has an LIC Division it must expedite its act. For the footslogger on CI Ops the products of that unit actually equate with the cover that the other LIC offers!
CHAKMAS MUST BE ADVISED AND WARNED
Arunachal Pradesh has reportedly taken quick administrative action to defuse tensions after clashes between Chakmas and the Singhpho community on 9 April that left scores injured. Reports suggest the trouble started after some Singphos went to M-pen (in Miao sub-division) in Changlang to occupy land claimed by a Singpho woman on the basis of legal documents and which 60 Chakma families had allegedly occupied. The Singhpos were apparently following a court order that had declared the Chakmas were living illegally on that land. Perhaps the process would not have taken such a turn had the police (as is normal) accompanied the Singphos to execute the court order. Not surprisingly, the All Arunachal Pradesh Students' Union ~ long demanding that the Chakmas be ousted ~ has asked the government to take stern action against the offenders failing which it would take steps for which it should not be held responsible. It also wants the Chakmas to confine themselves to the areas where they are settled. That the two communities have refused to meet at the district authority's instance suggests something must be done quickly to bring about an amicable settlement.
In 1964, the Centre settled 20,000 Chakma and Hajong refugees from the Chittagong Hill Tracts on humanitarian grounds ~ today their population has risen to nearly 65,000 ~ in what was then known as the North East Frontier Agency despite it being a special protected area and out of bounds for outsiders. In 1995, a Supreme Court order directed the administration to foil, if necessary by deploying additional forces, any attempt at forcible eviction of refugees "except in accordance with law". If the refugees are trying to encroach on land outside their designated limit, they need to be advised and warned of serious consequences.
TOTAL NUCLEAR DISARMAMENT
WHY INDIA SHOULD LEAD
BY RAJINDER PURI
THE just concluded Nuclear Security Summit in Washington has identified terrorism as the biggest threat emanating from proliferation. If present trends continue, nuclear weapons inevitably will fall into the hands of terrorists. One day a terrorist nuclear attack could surely occur. As the potential target of a nuclear terrorist attack India occupies prime place. It is situated in a region that is the centre of global terrorism, a region that was the source of nuclear proliferation, and a region teeming with anti-India terrorists. It is the belated fear of nuclear weapons being accessed by terrorists that impelled the US and Russia last month to move forward towards nuclear disarmament. As President Obama said after meeting Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Prime Minister Gilani in Washington earlier this week, the possibility of terrorists obtaining a nuclear weapon represented "the single biggest threat to US security, both short-term, medium-term and long-term." That explains why America and Russia agreed to reduce their nuclear arsenals by one-third. But non-nuclear are unlikely to be impressed. The record of big nuclear powers is abysmal.
Outside the NPT
IN the early 1960s Israel helped China become a nuclear power. In 1964 China exploded the bomb. In 1968 the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) was drafted and it came into force in 1970. There are 189 nations committed to it. The NPT recognised America, Russia, UK, France and China as nuclear powers having special rights. These nations are also the five permanent members of the UN Security Council.
There are four nuclear powers that remain outside the NPT ~ India, Pakistan, Israel and North Korea. Despite passing nuclear knowhow to China almost fifty years ago, Israel has yet not acknowledged that it is a nuclear power. North Korea signed the NPT but later violated it and conducted nuclear tests. Pakistan never signed the NPT but in the early 1980s it received nuclear knowhow from China. This was confirmed by the CIA which monitored the movements of Pakistan's Dr AQ Khan. The New York Times published this, quoting official sources. Thanks to China, Pakistan became the beneficiary of nuclear proliferation. It also became China's conduit for proliferating nuclear knowhow and nuclear materials to other nations including North Korea, Iran and Libya. America had full knowledge of China's proliferation record after it signed the NPT. It chose to do nothing. Russia, UK and France, other members of the NPT high table, also remained passive spectators. Meanwhile with China's blessing Pakistan launched its dangerous enterprise of creating the international nuclear bazaar. The big nuclear powers have the effrontery to sermonise to the whole world about the dangers of nuclear proliferation while they sit cheek by jowl with the fountainhead of proliferation ~ China!
They refuse to openly acknowledge the nuclear role of Israel while they voice alarm about Iran.
After the Nuclear Security Summit has concluded in Washington, a two-day nuclear summit will be hosted by Iran this weekend. Sixty nations are expected to participate. Iran's credibility is no greater than America's. It signed the NPT but violated its provisions to invite sanctions. In March 2008 this scribe wrote a proposal to President Ahmadinejad stating: "Some time ago the media had reported you saying that Iran would renounce nuclear weapons if India and Pakistan also renounced nuclear weapons. My question is how you would react to the following proposition: China along with India and Pakistan should renounce nuclear weapons. To make Asia a nuclear-free zone China, India, Pakistan, Iran, North Korea and Israel should form a joint committee to formulate a concrete plan for total nuclear disarmament under the aegis of the United Nations. All existing nuclear weapons in the world would be under the authority of the UN which would have the power of inspection worldwide to ensure that nuclear weapons were not being built clandestinely by any government or non-government body. Till such time as the rest of the world accepts the Asian plan for total disarmament, the Asian powers would retain their deterrent nuclear weapons under joint control for possible use under a single authority representing all the members of the Asian Group. Regardless of which nations accept joining this proposed Group, would Iran consent to join up with India to initiate the process?" Not surprisingly Ahmadinejad did not respond. Ideas acquire legs only when powerful people promote them. He has promised to reveal a plan for disarmament in his nuclear summit. It remains to be seen what it is.
AMONG all the nuclear powers India alone has an unblemished record. Ten years after China became a nuclear power, India in 1974 successfully conducted the Pokhran-1 nuclear test. However, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi remained committed to the peaceful use of nuclear energy. In 1988, Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi proposed in the UN a world without nuclear weapons. He said: "Nuclear disarmament can be achieved through a step by step process underwritten by a universal commitment for global elimination of nuclear weapons." It is only now that Henry Kissinger, Sam Nunn and other American leaders have started parroting this proposal. When Pakistan was about to acquire its nuclear weapons Prime Minister Vajpayee successfully conducted the Pokhran-2 nuclear test in 1998. He declared India as a nuclear weapons state. In September 1998 Vajpayee announced a voluntary moratorium on nuclear testing. He told the UN General Assembly that after India had addressed its security concerns through its nuclear tests it was ready to cooperate in bringing the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) into force.
India, therefore, has not been a recipient of nuclear proliferation, has not indulged in nuclear proliferation, has consistently favoured total nuclear disarmament, and acquired a minimum deterrent only when for security reasons it was unavoidable. India has the best credentials to successfully promote nuclear disarmament. The main issues to address are discrimination between nuclear haves and have-nots, the security concerns of non-nuclear nations, and the need to bring the disarmament agenda under full UN control. These issues were addressed in my proposal to President Ahmadinejad. The proposal may have sounded crazy. But aren't the terrorists we confront crazier?
The writer is a veteran journalist and cartoonist
THE NAXAL CHALLENGE TO THE AUTHORITY OF THE STATE HAS RAISED THE STAKES AND HAS TO BE MET WITH A BOLD RESPONSE, SAYS SUSHIL KUMAR
Is the Naxal threat to the nation's security not serious enough to be countered with the best resources available to us? Why are we fighting shy of employing our main line security forces?
Perhaps we have underrated the vicious nature of this insurgency in much the same way as our Indian Peace Keeping Force in Sri Lanka in 1987 was given the task of disarming the LTTE who were deemed to be just two dogs and a man. The IPKF lost more than a thousand soldiers in this misadventure; which is double the number of casualties that we suffered during the Kargil War. But the lesson from Operation PAWAN was unambiguous tackling an armed struggle against the nation-state with kid gloves only prolongs the agony on all sides of the divide.
The ferocity of the Dantewada strike has clearly shown that the Naxal order of battle will require operational counter-measures that are well beyond the scope of our police outfits. The Naxaltribal problem has festered far too long and is no longer an ordinary law and order situation but a major armed rebellion against the state. And even though this may lie within the domain of internal security, there is no reason why the Armed Forces with their superior resources and expertise cannot be called upon to play the lead role, with the police and paramilitary units in support . This has been successfully done in other counter-insurgency operations, where paramilitary units such as the BSF, CRPF, RR, and Assam Rifles have operated under the control and leadership of a designated army formation.
Home Minister Chidambaram had rightly advised the Naxals to abjure violence before the dialogue process can commence but sadly the time for a patient approach is long over. We have allowed the Naxal insurgency to viciously spread its tentacles across half the districts of India and these radically indoctrinated Maoist rebels may well have already established links with other rebel organizations in the subcontinent. The fallout can be ominous and the situation warrants swift and bold action .
Fears of collateral damage are often quoted to rule out the option of inducting the Armed Forces into the fray . This is a bogey raised by ill-informed sceptics who can only associate a military involvement with armoured columns, artillery regiments and fighter squadrons. This misconception has squarely hijacked our security response to the Naxal challenge . What is also not being appreciated is that our Armed Forces have decades of experience of conducting a variety of counter-insurgency operations with graduated force as the guiding principle.
The Naxal challenge to the authority of the state has raised the stakes and has to be met with a bold response. Operation CACTUS in November 1988 was a good example of how bold decisions can provide the key to success. CACTUS was a tri-service military operation which successfully foiled the coup attempt in the Maldives. Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi himself provided the impetus for this three day hands-on operation which was fraught with incalculable difficulty. It was certainly a lesson in political commitment.
There is a paradox in the Naxal situation. At the drop of a hat we invariably call in the Armed Forces to handle all types of national emergencies but the hesitation to do so, for combating the Naxals, seems rather strange . If Dantewada is the shape of things to come we are facing a serious national emergency with a full blown combat situation at hand. Inducting the Armed Forces is no longer an option but an operational imperative.
The writer was Director of naval operations during Op PAWAN and CACTUS and later became the Indian Navy Chief
STORIES FROM THE RAVINES
IN A LAND WHERE NOTORIOUS DACOIT GANGS HAVE FLOURISHED FOR DECADES, THERE ARE NOW INITIATIVES FOR DEVELOPMENT IN ORGANIC AND SUSTAINABLE FARMING, SAYS BHARAT DOGRA
Many villages of Jalaun district in UP are famous for their ravines and inhospitable terrain. This is the land where Phoolan Devi grew up and where several notorious dacoit gangs have flourished for decades. Yet it is in these hostile conditions that the Samarpan voluntary organisation, working in collaboration with Laghu Seemant Krishak Morcha, known simply as the Morcha, has taken initiatives for development.
In areas where Samarpan and Morcha have been active, organic and sustainable farming practices have spread. Radhekrishna, director of Samarpan says, "Women organic farmers here have taught us some important lessons. In the beginning we were cautious while advocating organic farming practices because we also apprehended that initially there may be some loss of yield. But we were surprised when several organic farmers informed us that they are not only reducing expenses but also increasing yield".
In fact, several women organic farmers claim to have improved yield apart from minimising expenses. In addition, the quality of their produce is better. Not only do they find it more nourishing but they are able to get a better rate. We heard anecdotes of traders coming to villages and willingly offering a better rate for organically grown peas and other crops.
Ranjana Sharma of Jugrajpur village had picked up information about the benefits of organic farming from books and radio. She was also exposed to the training programmes of Samarpan. She was so convinced about the benefits of organic farming that she prevailed upon her father to set aside five bighas out of the farmer's total holding of 25 bighas for organic farming. When Ranjana's five bighas gave a better yield at lower expense, her father was convinced of the benefits of organic farming.
Many women farmers innovate in their own way. Daangkhajuri village provides an example of how about 35 diverse crops (grains, vegetables, legumes, fruits etc.) are being grown in a relatively small village organically in such a way (using mixed cropping patterns and appropriate rotations) that fields are almost always green and preparations for the next crop are made even as one crop is still maturing. At all times, farmers keep getting one crop or another that provides some earning also meets nutrition needs. In addition, the village makes excellent use of scarce water resources to irrigate as much land as possible. This village has been able to reduce water wastage from artesian wells using makeshift devices. According to estimates they gave on the spot, Rs 2.5 lakhs will be adequate to protect 24 artesian wells in and around this village.
These villages have a fairly elaborate system of savings for difficult days in the form of self-help groups, grain banks, seed banks and a disaster fund. Villagers who are poor save not only for their own difficult times, but also contribute when other villages face difficult times, for victims of fire in Jalaun district and for earthquake victims in the Kutch region of Gujarat.
There are other examples of good practices. In Mau-Chakrapura, people are setting up a cleaner village to escape from floods and waterlogging. One villager Mewalal has donated his land to set up a school at the new settlement. The resettlement effort is taking place at the villager's own expense. There is a scheme to provide goats to poor families. This is another example of villagers working with one another and with self-help groups.
What is perhaps most remarkable is the role of women farmers. It is not that they were not working hard before. But now they are interacting with agencies which advocate sustainable practices. Since women farmers are inherently more inclined towards sustainable farming practices, their assertiveness and their greater role in decision making help create conditions for spreading the practices.
Radhekrishna says that during training programmes when women were asked to name three farmers in their village, they almost never mentioned women farmers and even among the male members, they generally mentioned the influential farmers. From this low level of consciousness, women have now come a long way with a strong sense of their own identity as not just farmers but also decision makers.
This was evident from the way women who were small farmers talked about their "experiences and aspirations''. In Daangkhaujri, women dominated the discussion in the presence of male farmers. When we wanted to go around the village to get a better view, women who led the way. The women, particularly Bitoli who appeared to be a natural leader, had a clear sense of priorities and how to present them well before outsiders so as to get the required help. The way in which farmers find self-help solutions like checking wastage of water from overflowing artesian wells is remarkable. They have calculated that a billion litres of water could be saved in this way in a year in a single village. Several women farmers have overcome serious personal problems to play a more assertive social role. Rekha of Byonaa Raja village is almost blind but plays an important social role.
The quality of women activists is very good. Nujhaat Ansari impresses with her ability to articulate problems. Bindeshwari has overcome serious personal problems to emerge as a champion of women's rights. Now her daughter Kusum is following in the footsteps of her mother. Kusum is very assertive about women's rights and her presentation of village issues is very impressive.
Girija Devi is a remarkable example of a village woman from a poor family in a backward area overcoming serious personal problems in order to become a sort of mother figure for many villagers. A senior local journalist, Anil Sharma, who is the bureau chief of Amar Ujala at the district level, never forgets to touch her feet whenever he meets her. Girija Devi is from a carpenter's family and became a widow at the young age of 24. She had three small children and was so poor that her small house did not have a door. After coming into contact with Samarpan and the Morcha, her leadership qualities flowered and since then she has been very closely involved with the welfare activities in her village. Today her family is well settled and, more important, Girija Devi is recognized for her leadership in activities relating to welfare of weaker sections and for asserting her rights.
There have been several efforts made to provide land to the poor, landless and near landless families.These succeeded well when sympathetic officials were present. The biggest success was achieved when SDM, JP Chaurasia, was posted in Konch Tehsil and about 28 public hearings were organised. Samarpan and the Morcha succeeded in getting land for about 240 families. Several of these were cases in which pattas had been given but possession had not been handed over. The Morcha has also taken up several cases where cultivation rights of poor families were being threatened by the forest department.
The writer is a Fellow at the Institute of Social Sciences, New Delhi
100 YEARS AGO TODAY
BOMB SCARE IN POLICE COURT
A General Stampede
Considerable excitement was caused at the Calcutta Police Court on Tuesday morning over a bomb scare, resulting in a stampede of all the pleaders from the Bar Library and a large number of outsiders rushing inside the second court in an agitated state to see what the matter was.
It appears that at about 10 o'clock in the morning, as the Registrar was disposing of some petty cases in the court room of the Second Presidency Magistrate, an explosion was heard. Sergeant Marsden, who happened to be in the corridor at the time, rushed inside the court room followed by quite a crowd of people. It was noticed that a child was crying aloud in pain, and before the truth could be ascertained there was a general apprehension that somebody had been severely injured by a bomb. Numbers of people writing on the third floor in connection with cases came down and several police officers lost no time in hastening to the spot. It was then found that the girl in question had taken two crackers from a shop, and not knowing what they were, she bit them one after the other causing two explosions. She received some injuries on her face. The girl it appears had come to Court with her mother in connection with a case.
Our Benares correspondent telegraphed on Thursday last: Mr C.A. Wodehouse, M.A., who had been Professor at Elphinstone College, Bombay, and Deccan College, Poona, but had received his appointment only last year, has offered his services free to the Central Hindu College, Benares, and has been appointed as Honorary Profesor of England.
Joe Biden may be ready to forgive and forget the stinging affront from Israel on the eve of his recent visit to the Middle East, but not Barack Obama. In a decisive counterpoint to the vice-president's honey-glazed avowal of friendship with Israel, irrespective of the latter's wilful aberrations, the president of the United States of America toughened his resolve to mediate in the longstanding impasse between Israel and Palestine. Mr Obama had earlier expressed his strong indignation at Israel's decision to carry on building settlements in East Jerusalem, far exceeding the number approved by the US. Israel, though an old hand as far as exasperated or frustrated US presidents are concerned, was yet to face a furious president. The US, too, had so far not made any explicit link between peace in the Middle East and security at home. But now, as anticipated, the US attitude has changed. Mr Obama realized early on that the globalization of terror called for comprehensive strategies instead of localized damage control. He took a long view on Afghanistan and came up with the Afpak policy. Likewise, he believes that as long as the US keeps dilly-dallying in the Middle East, the safety of American soldiers fighting the war on terror will be compromised.
The shift in US-Israel relations is dictated by exigencies that were beginning to be felt during the last days of the Bush administration. In 2007, the then secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice, conceded that Israel-Palestine peace was of "strategic interest" to the US. "The prolonged experience of deprivation and humiliation can radicalize even normal people," she said, by way of a bold suggestion that failed to draw much attention at that time. But even if Mr Obama were able to get Israel and Palestine talking, a formidably difficult task in itself, it would take a long time for a final settlement to shape up. It is not going to be easy for the Israeli prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, to do the right thing both by his people, who elected ultra-nationalist parties last year, and by the US, Israel's prized ally. Mr Netanyahu's predecessor, Ehud Olmert, was shown the door for agreeing to the land-for-peace deal and his willingness to return the Golan Heights to Syria and all occupied territories since 1967 to Palestine. Mr Netanyahu's Zionism, however, is far more aggressive a reputation he will have to defend while trying his best to placate the angry American president.
The holiday mood is India's favourite state of mind. And the holiday mood has descended on the Delhi government with trumpets blaring and flags flying. Although the Commonwealth Games are still a few months away, all Delhi can think of is the holiday it will enjoy after all the hard work of getting ready for the event. Nothing else can explain the games organizing committee's request to the Supreme Court that it should remain closed between October 2 and 17 to facilitate traffic movement. The court is close to the India Gate and the national stadium, and commands heavy traffic in the mornings and evenings, especially because the Delhi High Court and the New Delhi district courts are also located close by. Lawyers and their clients take up quite a bit of road space. But this may be rationalizing after the event, for the holiday seems to have become an obsession in the capital. The government has already declared all schools closed during that period. It is a rescheduling of the Dussehra vacation, it has reportedly said, so that children can enjoy the games unhindered. Obviously, the organizing committee feels that the whole of Delhi will have little else to do but to watch the games. So it is perfectly logical that the justice system, too, should pause. The Supreme Court has refused, of course, but whether its stand has taught the government a sense of proportion is not clear.
The nation may feel grateful to the court for conducting itself with dignity and sense, but that might also prompt it to ask another question. Citizens of India are growing alarmed at the burgeoning backlog of cases that the courts are trying to deal with. The backlog has been the subject of the most concerned comments and advice from senior judges, lawyers and activists for years. But it just keeps growing. The solution does not lie in any one thing, but the courts may be humbly asked in this context whether it is necessary for the judiciary to take so many breaks in a year. One way of beginning to clear the backlog is surely to get more working hours in. The summer vacation, the winter vacation, the autumn vacation, could perhaps be shortened, and some done away with altogether. Hospitals, the fire services, the police, the media do not have any leave. Perhaps the courts too could function like an emergency service as these do. Even a small inroad into the gigantic pile of cases would be useful.
BENT AND BEAUTIFUL INDIA
THAROOR IS ONLY THE SYMPTOM OF A DEEPER MALAISE
Nearly eight years or so ago, just as India was settling into a state of newly-acquired prosperity, a political writer described the country's upper echelons as being dominated by the "bent and the beautiful". Today, that commentator is, alas, a high official in the prime minister's office and gagged by concerns of propriety from proffering his comments on one of the most sordid scandals to hit the country, a scandal that serves to showcase a bent and beautiful India.
The irony of the turbulence that has shaken the Indian Premier League is that it coincides with the astonishing commercial success of an improvised game that departed from the niceties of traditional cricket. India's domination of the economy of international cricket is one of the highlights of contemporary life and its implications have been profound.
In 1988-89, the great unwashed spent an hour each Sunday morning glued to an episode of Ramanand Sagar's Ramayana; two decades later, some 32 evenings of March and April are taken up by a T20 fever that generates Rs 15,000 crore of economic activity. From a reverential preoccupation with a folksy, quasi-religious idiom of entertainment, India has changed gear to a fast-moving, choreographed amusement that involves the best international stars and oodles of glamour.
In the sphere of mass culture, the IPL commissioner, Lalit Modi, has done to today's India what the Beatles did to Britain in the 1960s: secured an image overhaul. The Ambassador-dominated, shortage-ridden India of the past has been subsumed by a curious animal that breathes money, aspires to style and oozes self-confidence. The pom-pom girls at IPL matches may seem farcically tacky but their pathetic gyrations are lapped up by a crowd that is only too pleased to witness Caucasians dance to an Indian tune.
It would hardly be an exaggeration to suggest that the magnitude of the IPL's success was unanticipated. When the initial auction for the teams took place four years ago, there were only a handful of corporate organizations which considered the high investments and the long gestation period as a risk worth taking. This may explain why there was a heavy dependence on high net-worth individuals and glamourous film stars. Today, that scepticism has yielded way to a bout of unbridled exuberance and expectations of near-instant returns. In addition, team loyalties, which seemed somewhat fragile in the first two years of the tournament, have given way to firmer attachments. Compared to the empty stands and the free tickets that were a feature of IPL-1 (IPL-2 was played in South Africa), IPL-3 has been a sell-out. Having an IPL team in the state has become a regional imperative and may explain why politicians are anxious to earn brownie points with the electorate by being perceived as cricket lovers.
It is the commercial and popular success of the IPL that is at the root of the present distortions caused entirely by the involvement of politicians. The controversy surrounding the flamboyant minister of state, Shashi Tharoor, illustrates the point vividly.
That Tharoor detected political opportunities in mentoring a consortium that was intent on giving Kochi an IPL team is understandable. Yet, his role was more than that of a benign 'patron', as he now claims. Tharoor took an active interest in the operational aspects of the bidding process. He personally called on various bigwigs in the Board of Control for Cricket in India, including Sharad Pawar and Arun Jaitley, before the auction and was present in Chennai around the time the bids were opened. After his consortium won the bid and chose Kochi, Tharoor exulted publicly and attempted to extract maximum political mileage for himself in Kerala. From being the outsider, he projected himself as the personification of Malayali pride.
It now transpires that Tharoor did more than assume the role of a mentor to the consortium: he offered them political protection against a rival political grouping promoting the interests of two unsuccessful bidders. According to details given to Business Standard on a non-attributable basis, two of the seven investors in Rendezvous Sports World were "summoned to the residence of a Union Cabinet minister and told to back off from bidding for Kochi or else. 'We have many ways to take care of the likes of you', the two were told at the end of a conversation with the minister that began at 10pm and went on till 4am. They were told to go to Delhi to meet another minister from the same party, who repeated: 'Get out of the IPL. Sell the team.'" Other sources have indicated that Tharoor was used as the conduit to appeal to the Congress leadership to stop this harassment.
If Tharoor did indeed play knight in shining armour, fighting a political mafia, his role is laudable. However, it now seems that prior to taking up the political challenge, he was aware of and 'supported' the allotment of five per cent unpaid or sweat equity to Sunanda Pushkar for her marketing and networking expertise. The market value of the equity donated to Pushkar by RSW is anything between Rs 50 and Rs 70 crore, a sum that hardly stands up to the claim of being a "minor" stake in lieu of services rendered. It is estimated that in three years' time the equity would be worth approximately Rs 500 crore. For this sum, almost every marketing guru in the world would have been queuing before the RSW offices with an application form.
It is a different matter that Tharoor's liaison with Pushkar is an open secret in Delhi, with the venerable Press Trust of India reporting (a day before her stake holding became public) that the two planned to get married after the minister sorted out his divorce with his present wife. Since neither Tharoor nor Pushkar have denied their proximity, the surmise that the five per cent equity was for political consultancy rather than marketing expertise is legitimate. It's a surmise that the Opposition too has made, and the resulting furore could bring Tharoor's political career to an abrupt end.
However, Tharoor is only a symptom of the malaise. It must be remembered that he was brought into the RSW orbit only because the consortium rightly feared an organized bid to 'fix' the IPL auction. As commissioner, Modi has contributed enormously to the innovation of T20, popularizing it beyond the narrow circle of discerning cricket lovers and milking its commercial potential. At the same time, he has allowed himself to be buffeted by pressure from politicians who see it as a convenient business opportunity. At one time, politicians saw business as the milch cow of election funding and nurtured crony capitalism to ensure a reliable source of resources. Today, many politicians have begun to see business as an extension of politics and are less inclined to respect the relative autonomy of business. The IPL is in danger of falling prey to this shift in priorities and the hurdles put in the way of the Kochi franchise is indicative of the blurring of lines.
The shift has to be resisted, not least because cricket involves the public interest. The worst solution would be any increase in the government's role in cricket administration. A more meaningful approach could involve complete transparency of financial transactions and the appointment of a professional chief executive accountable to a board made up of both the BCCI and the different franchise holders. Despite his pioneering role, Modi has shown that his neutrality and fairness cannot be taken for granted. Correctives are needed before the rot sets in deeper.
WHAT AILS THE SYSTEM
BONA FIDE - MALVIKA SINGH
The failure of the Indian State to govern with honesty, integrity and compassion, and to ensure that the laws of the land prevail, has led to a situation that is volatile and explosive. For decades, particularly since the early 1960s, every arm of the administration has steadily corroded its delivery systems, forcing India into abysmal anarchy in every realm of social activity including the denial of minimal rights to food, shelter, health, education and, most important, human dignity. An all-pervasive babudom, led by men and women operating within the parameters of what the colonial rulers had carved out for the administration of India, has suffocated the citizen and society, post Independence, with unacceptable corruption and ineptitude.
Nothing works for the ordinary citizen. The babus serve themselves and the select few who are the inmates of either Houses of Parliament and the legislative assemblies. A sprawling administrative service delivers for a small, albeit powerful, coterie of rulers and their Opposition colleagues. These are individuals who have risen out of the mire, leaving their voters to wallow in the cesspool. Our privileged representatives live off the land, on a substantial dole provided by the men and women who work and generate wealth for India despite the treacherous hurdles they have to cross to do so. Even honest entrepreneurs are compelled by the unreasonable demands of this bizarre class of people to become corrupt in order to continue doing business.
This state of affairs is truly shameful. We are no longer a developing country that can be pitied for being so crude and incompetent. We are an emerging economic power in spite of the horrors of hugely faulty governance that prompted all in the workplace to deviate from the legal norms prescribed to protect the citizen. This gross malfunctioning has pushed the neglected citizens to take up arms to fight for their fundamental rights. No one listened to them for years. Today, because the State stands threatened, it is listening. However, a military-type assault on these people will trigger an escalation of the problem in other poverty-ridden parts.
A sad truth, and a scary price to pay for the selfish manipulation of India and its resources by a privileged set which was mandated to deliver dignity to the citizen. There is not an Indian outside of this 'specially privileged group' that has not been a victim of State corruption. This self-serving class, having grabbed homes in districts, towns and cities, ensured regular supply of power and water for themselves that tax-paying citizens down the road do not have access to. They buzz about breaking traffic rules with red lights and sirens announcing their irredeemable status, and have discredited their profession in a profound way.
They have been far more exploitative than the erstwhile royals, who, when they opt to stand for election from their thikanas and kingdoms in 2010, defeat their nearest rivals with outstanding majorities. Surely, that reality, in the life of a 63-year-old federal democracy, has a lesson worth hearing.
A few simple questions constantly pop up but are never answered by the ruling dispensation. Why are the police reforms not being implemented? P. Chidambaram is an astute lawyer with a fine mind. Surely, he can move this imperative into becoming a tangible reality. Why has the prime minister not ordered the implementation of administrative reforms? Is it because the bureaucrats are scared of being exposed for their malpractice of decades resulting in Maoist upheavals? Do babus rule India or do the elected politicians direct governance? What delays the structural changes that could deliver a sharing of the pie, security and peace?
''THE WAR MEMORIAL CAN COME UP ON A DEFENCE LAND.''
The controversy over the proposal to construct a war memorial at the Indira Gandhi musical fountain park in Bangalore is assuming unsavoury dimensions. The proposal to locate the memorial at an important lung space in the heart of the City, that is afflicted with a high rate pollution is ill-advised, regardless of the patriotic packaging with which it has been wrapped. The proposal itself is opaque, with details coming out in driblet.
There's no clarity about the number of trees that will be martyred for the project nor the space that it will occupy. It required the advocate general to inform the high court that there would be an underground "motivational hall and a museum" as part of the memorial. The design is not public knowledge, nor the identity of the people who would be managing the memorial. The hurry and even desperation with which it is being pushed through and the insistence of the promoters of the so-called memorial to site it in the park and not on the defence land, much of which is available elsewhere in the City, raises questions. The government needs to give up the idea of despoiling a public lung space for a private enterprise.
Apart from the locational issues, the very concept of the memorial calls for revisiting. None questions the need to revere and cherish the memory of the heroes who laid down their lives for the nation. Such pride in the best of our youth is but natural to all nations. But to build a static monument in their memory is less important than ensuring that the families of the fallen heroes and our veterans live in relative comfort and dignity. Many of the Kargil heroes are yet to receive their due. The ex-servicemen have many times raised the issue of pensions, honours and post-retirement rehabilitation for the wounded veterans. Only a week ago did the finance minister put in effect the Sixth Pay Commission's one-rank-one-pay recommendation.
One specious argument put forward by the promoters of the memorial is that it would encourage the youth to join the armed forces. In the era of globalisation, when a career takes precedence over a mission, a better way to convince them would be to make the services attractive in terms of pay and perks, because our soldiers deserve it. The youth of our times, smarter than their elders, can see through empty gestures.
''THE VATICAN SHOULD ACT AGAINST SEXUAL ABUSE.''
A crisis of confidence in the Catholic Church unparalleled in modern times has been triggered by a wave of allegations of sexual abuse of children by Catholic priests and the Church's failure to act against the latter. Allegations of sexual abuse of minors by priests and the cover-up of these crimes by others higher up in the hierarchy are not new. The problem long shrouded in silence erupted in the open in the 1980s in the US when lawsuits were filed against priests for molesting altar boys.
In the years since there have been torrents of lawsuits; yet only one bishop was 'disciplined'. Even this bishop was sent to a job in Rome. Such has been the Catholic Church's shameful record of inaction on sexual abuse of children by its priests. It has emerged now that Pope Benedict XVI, as a cardinal in Germany and later as a top Vatican official, was part of the culture of secrecy that shielded, even abetted child rapists and molesters.
It is alleged that Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, as the Pope was then known, knew that a priest under his authority was raping children. Not only did he not report the priest to criminal authorities, but he retained him as an active priest, enabling him to continue molesting. As a Vatican official, he was in charge of a department that was responsible for dealing with priests accused of sexual abuse. He cannot absolve himself of responsibility for failing to act upon the damning evidence that would have repeatedly landed on his desk.
The right thing for the Vatican to do is to come clean on the rot that has gripped the Church, even own moral responsibility for horrendous crimes that have been committed by its priests and its silence on the matter. Sadly, its officials have dismissed the allegations as 'petty gossip.' There is nothing petty about priests raping children. Even if the numbers of abuse cases is exaggerated as alleged by the Vatican, the latter should realise that even one case of sexual abuse is intolerable.
When confronted by allegations of child sexual abuse in the past, the Church faced the choice of protecting the child victims or its paedophile priests. More often than not, it chose the latter. It would be tragic if it repeated that blunder this time around.
CASTLES IN THE AIR
BY NILOTPAL BASU
The Union budget has failed to allocate sufficient resources required for proper implementation of the RTE Act.
Now the prime minister has competition. Trying to be remembered in history is an infectious disease. Human resources development minister Kapil Sibal appears to be a confirmed victim. He has claimed and, quite volubly at that he has embarked on doing to education what his prime minister had done to economy in the 90s.
The impact of the new economic policy direction which was initiated by Dr Manmohan Singh is a subject on which history will pass its own judgment taking its own time the time for reckoning has not yet arrived. But, surely, the analogy between education and economy is interesting. But, more importantly, Sibal's claim should be subjected to some rigorous scrutiny.
Sibal's claim is prompted by new initiatives to reform the education sector. The plethora of education related legislations that he is aggressively pushing sets out the direction and content of the reforms he is aiming at.
To start with, it is necessary to assert that if there is any sector in India which demands a serious attention the obvious priority should be education. Apart from the fact that this sector and investments herein both financial and intellectual has the greatest multiplier effect for the overall advance of the economy and society, India's current status of educational achievements is, to say the least, sordid.
According to the latest World Human Development Report brought out by the UNDP, India ranks 132nd among 177 nations. An avid reading of this report and a little more focused attempt to delineate the factors for such a poor showing which, any way, also on a continuous downward curve, conflicts with the claim that India is the fastest emerging economy.
The inescapable conclusion that emerges from the analyses of the data thrown up by the report is investment or lack of it as the single biggest reason for this bleak situation. And, it must also be pointed out that as a signatory to the Millennium Development Goals mooted by the UN, India has a major responsibility towards achievement of the global targets, given its humongous deficit.
Sibal's claim for transforming India's education is premised in enactment of a national legislation to ensure right to education. First the supreme court and then the parliament had earlier amended the Constitution to convert the right to education from the directive principles of the state to a fundamental right.
But, the bill had to suffer an unsavoury wait because of the lack of political will to make sufficient financial allocation for the realisation of this fundamental right. That the enactment did not have a clear financial memorandum and apportioning of responsibilities between the states and the Union was a clear pointer to the lack of political will.
The 13th Finance Commission deciding a 55:45 share between the Union and the states underlined a total lack of sensitivity given the mismatch between the extent of state responsibilities and resources to fulfil them. Already discordant voices from states are being heard. The Union budget has also failed to allocate resources commensurate with even the minimal share that has to be borne by the Centre as ordained by the Finance
An obnoxious provision of the Act has imposed all responsibilities on the states to make good for any financial deficit in making RTE Act successful. The catch is it will further open up vulnerability of the school education system and accentuate dependence on the private sector.
Sibal's agenda for reforms acquires a more sinister note as and how the aims and objectives of other proposed legislations are coming to light. The first for which the primary draft of the bill is available aims to create a National Commission of Higher Education and Research which will be invested with a great degree of centralised powers making parliament, the state legislatures, the state governments, the governing structures of universities and other autonomous institutions irrelevant.
Another 'great' idea is the proposed legislation for allowing foreign educational institutions to take care of our higher education. Little is Sibal and his team aware that in countries like Singapore or Israel or the Gulf, this model has failed thoroughly. No worthwhile foreign institution will be interested in coming to India.
A bill to create a national accreditation authority is also on the anvil. The enactment, if it comes to, will lead to the closing down of all institutions, including local schools, if the stipulations for securing an accreditation are not met. Legislative fiat is no recourse to overcoming financial and infrastructure deficits. But, Sibal is so enamoured by his longing to go down in history, that he is nonchalant.
Education, no doubt, is a sector which is crying for reforms. But, India is unique for its diversity. Education in its thousands of years of history has provided lifeline for integration and unity. By recognising and empowering the role of the diverse entities can a true democratic and modern reform transform Indian education. And, it is obvious that we have to find adequate levels of non-profit resources for carrying out such a reform process. That is the key question.
ISRAEL'S ACTIONS STRAIN RELATIONS WITH THE US
THE NEW ORDER IS PART OF A SERIES OF STEPS TAKEN BY THE MILITARY TO EMPTY THE WEST BANK OF PALESTINIANS.
BY MICHAEL JANSEN
Israel continues to defy the international community by enacting policies in the occupied Palestinian territories which undermine US efforts to restart Palestinian-Israeli negotiations. The latest is an Israeli military order, which came into effect has produced an outpouring of criticism from Palestinian leaders and Israeli human rights groups. They say it can be used to deport thousands of Palestinians from East Jerusalem and the West Bank.
Originally adopted in 1969 to deal with Palestinian fighters clandestinely entering the territories occupied in 1967 to resist Israeli rule, the order would classify anyone without Israeli residency permits as an 'infiltrator' and mandate his or her deportation within 72 hours or imprisonment for up to seven years. Military tribunals are to replace civilian courts, which in some instances, have disallowed deportations.
Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat declared that the order contravenes the Fourth Geneva Convention which prohibits occupying powers from deporting occupied peoples.
Ten Israeli human rights organisations called for implementation of the order to be postponed. In a letter to Israeli defence minister Ehud Barak these organisations argued that the measure is worded so vaguely as to lend itself to broad interpretation. They also said the order was introduced with such secrecy that it "raises grave concerns" that the military intended to go ahead "without public debate or judicial review".
The organisations warned that the measure could be employed against "the vast majority of Palestinians now living in the West Bank who have never been required to hold any sort of permit to be present therein". The presence in occupied East Jerusalem and the West Bank of thousands of Palestinians and others without current documentation is a consequence of Israel's 2000 decision to freeze applications for permanent or temporary residence.
Sari Bashi of Gisha, one of the signatories of the letter, stated, "This order is part of a series of steps taken by the military to empty the West Bank of Palestinians, especially by removing them to Gaza." Initially this could mean deporting to Gaza 8,000 Palestinians with Gaza identity cards, many of whom are children born in the West Bank. Next in line could be foreign spouses of Palestinians and Palestinians whose identity cards have been revoked because they studied or worked abroad.
They could be expelled to neighbouring countries or Gaza. Some 35,000 who entered the West Bank as Palestinian Authority officials and security personnel could be exiled. Foreigners working with Palestinian organisations and Palestinian anti-occupation activists could be deported or jailed. 'Infiltrators' could be obliged to reimburse Israel for expenses incurred by their arrest, detention and expulsion.
Call to refrain
The day before the order came into effect, Jordan's King Abdullah and US President Barack Obama called on both sides to refrain from actions that could undermine the US effort to broker indirect talks between Palestinians and Israelis. Abdullah, who is the guardian of Muslim holy sites in Jerusalem, expressed concern that unilateral Israeli actions on the ground are preventing the emergence of a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza with East Jerusalem as its capital, the settlement formula accepted by the international community.
Israel's deportation order was issued against the backdrop of the 47-nation nuclear summit convened by Obama, deepening consternation in Washington at a time relations between the administration and the Netanyahu government are strained. The gathering, the largest in the US after World War II, was called to impose curbs on the proliferation of weapons grade nuclear material and prevent it from falling into the hands of terrorists.
Among the attending nuclear weapons states which are not members of the Non-Proliferation Treaty were India, Pakistan and Israel. Obama called on all three, Israel by name, to sign the treaty.
Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu snubbed the summit because he did not want to face such calls and criticisms from Turkey and Egypt over Israel's refusal to agree to a West Asia nuclear arms free zone. Israel is estimated by security analysts to have 200-300 nuclear warheads and the means to deliver them. This means Israel may be the third largest nuclear weapons power after the US and Russia. Therefore, Netanyahu's boycott of the summit is seen as fresh provocation by the US administration.
BY RADHA PRATHI
Working in a hospital had made a Buddha out of him.
The other day I traced my steps back to the surgeon's chamber in the hospital because I remembered that I had forgotten to take my prescription. I waited deferentially at the open doorway for the doctor was telling a young boy to bring his file along, many times over. The boy apparently had some difficulty in understanding and the instructions were repeated a little more elaborately in more or less the same tone.
I registered this scene vividly because, that was the first thing that I had observed about the doctor, when I first met him his matter of fact, terse, clinical tone. Though I did feel that it was a little odd, I reckoned that someone wielding the scalpel ever so often simply cannot afford to be up close or friendly, given the nature of his job.
Even before I could consolidate my thoughts, the young man turned around and I had to muster all my will power from uttering anything at all. The person who turned around was a disfigured dwarfed man. One could not simply miss the fact that he must have been a victim of great violence. There was a slash of a fresh wound on his balding pate. I winced with shock and pain as I looked at him walk away from the room.
Almost immediately, I heard the doctor saying that working in a hospital had made a Buddha out of him for he was seeing the cycle of birth and death and all that goes in between all the time. I tried to mutter a reply unsuccessfully, and covered my inability to speak with a sheepish smile and went my way, but the scene haunted me. I had never seen a victim of gross violence in flesh and blood for ever before in my life and the reaction of the doctor refused to budge from my mind.
As I mulled over the scene time and again, I realised the meaning of 'stitha prajna' the one with a consistent consciousness someone who could behave the same way no matter what the circumstances. The surgeon had not shown an iota of difference in which he dealt with his mutilated patient.
There was not the slightest sign of sympathy or disgust on his visage. His tone was matter of fact and as precise and lucid as ever. Even as I wondered at the amount of self discipline and sincerity of purpose that formed the backbone of his unique characteristic my regard for him had reached a higher plane!
AS JERUSALEM MAYOR, OLMERT THOUGHT HE WAS BEYOND REPROACH
BY EYAL HAREUVENI
As the mayor of Jerusalem, Ehud Olmert thought he could do anything without being held accountable by the public for his decisions and actions.
In December 1996, the Jerusalem municipal council held a debate on the Holyland project. The opposition councillors asked Olmert why the city indulged Holyland entrepreneurs with building space far beyond any other project in the capital; why they were permitted to build huge high-rises, although the municipality had no policy regarding tower construction.
They wanted to know why the municipality refused to discuss more than 800 objections filed against the project, and why Olmert was pushing so hard for the project's speedy approval.
A violent, domineering man, Olmert did not think he owed anybody any answers. He threatened council members who noted that he and the Holyland contractors share the same accountant, made chauvinistic comments at a female councillor and called one of the main objectors to the project, a Hebrew University professor, "a punk".
Olmert pretended not to know the municipality had refused to discuss the objections to the project. "Lupolianski wasn't in the country at the time, and I didn't know how to get hold of him," he said.
In those days Kol Ha'ir was the only newspaper demanding answers and explanations from Olmert.
The paper asked about other matters as well, such as the mayor's political appointments, excess wages to cronies, benefits to certain contractors and, of course, his numerous and mysterious trips abroad. We never received proper answers. No other news medium took up those
issues that Kol Ha'ir reported about week after week.
Olmert was vindictive and bore a grudge. He slandered the newspaper's editors and reporters as "Hamas supporters," refused to answer their questions and even stopped publishing ads in the paper. The struggle intensified when Kol Ha'ir started reporting the little that was known at the time about Olmert's travels in the column "Olmert in the sky." We didn't know then why this topic of all the scandals we covered bothered him so much. Today this is becoming clearer.
PROMOTE CELLULAR COMPETITION
BY HAARETZ EDITORIAL
Israelis are major consumers of cellular telephone services. According to the Finance Ministry, the average Israeli household spends more than NIS 3,200 a year on cellular services, comprising some 2.4 percent of total household spending. Mobile phones have replaced landline phones in every sector of society and have become a staple, just like water and electricity. But unlike the rates for Bezeq's landlines, which are regulated, the price of cellular services is set by the market.
Articles published in TheMarker this week reveal that when it comes to cellphones, the power of the market has been detrimental to Israeli consumers. The government regulator, the Communications Ministry, has not managed to create the conditions for long-term competition among the three cellular operators. In recent years, these companies completed their penetration of the market, and immediately afterward sharply reduced the level of competition: They curtailed investment in new infrastructure, lowered the level of service to the customer and reduced their marketing budgets.
Without violating the antitrust laws, Cellcom, Partner and Pelephone have nevertheless managed to divide up the market among themselves such that each controls about a third of it. All three companies are primarily focused on preserving their existing customer base and have refrained from fighting to conquer additional market segments.
The cost of this minimal competition is borne solely by the individual customer: The business market remains
competitive because businesses have the tools to compare prices and play the companies off against each other.
The individual, in contrast, is drowning in the various plans, special offers and perks, with no real ability to compare prices and services. Thus individuals can wind up paying as much as 10 times more for a one-minute call than a large corporation does.
The decline in competition is reflected in the companies' financial statements. From 2005 to 2009, the net operating profit of the three cellular companies combined has surged by 54 percent. Profitability, meaning the amount of profit the company earns on each shekel of income, has risen from 29 to 37 percent. And since none of these companies has grown stronger at the expense of its rivals, this growth in profitability has come entirely out of the customers' pockets - and has gone mainly to the shareholders.
During these four years, Cellcom, Partner and Bezeq (which is Pelephone's parent) distributed combined dividends of NIS 17.8 billion. Though part of this sum stems from Bezeq's landline operations and from profits earned before 2005, this figure nevertheless reflects enormous profitability.
The low level of competition will persist as long as barriers to new entrants into the market remain high. A new company seeking to enter the cellular market and set up its own network would have to invest about NIS 1 billion to buy frequencies from the state and construct the necessary infrastructure.
However, the state could lower these barriers: It could encourage new operators by allowing them limited use of their competitors' infrastructure for a limited time; it could allocate frequencies for free and reduce the royalties it charges; or it could reduce interconnection fees, meaning the cost of making a call from one network to another.
The importance of cellular services, and their sizable share in the average household's expenditure, requires the state to ensure that the market is competitive, and that monopolistic profits are not being earned at the consumer's expense.
AS INDEPENDENCE DAY NEARS, ISRAEL WOULD BE WISE TO HEED OBAMA
BY YOEL MARCUS
I don't know how to start summing up the 62nd year since the establishment of the State of Israel. That not one day went by in this country without some scandal among its leadership? That the country's former president has been charged with rape? That the person who was prime minister is now suspected of receiving bribes? That Holyland "rhymes" with unholy corruption? Or perhaps with the unbearable lightness with which an anonymous thief can go into the chief of staff's bureau and take his credit card and revolver? Or a junior clerk can steal 2,000 secret documents because of faulty security arrangements? And this is a country where the prime minister asks Elie Wiesel to intercede with a good word for it to U.S. President Barack Obama, like the Jews in the Diaspora would look for intercessors to put in a good word for them to the nobleman.
And how about the coward Bibi? At the last minute he canceled his trip to the nuclear conference in Washington for fear Obama would not shake his hand and sent Dan Meridor instead. He got not only a warm handshake from Obama but also an intimate photograph? And an extremist like Lieberman is serving as foreign minister and speaks out about everything except peace with the Palestinians? And Defense Minister Ehud Barak publishes a statement saying the chief of staff's tenure will not be extended and overnight turns him into a lame duck - when gas masks are being distributed and Hezbollah is being armed with Scuds?
This is the place to mention that when Barak served as chief of staff, he went out of his way to ensure that the announcement about the end of his tenure would be published only three months in advance. He focused on himself then and focuses on himself now as head of a party that is naught and is completely dependent on Bibi's goodwill.
As for the dilemma of making choices with regard to our situation in the 62nd year, and with the approach of the 63rd year, it is possible to say the country took a big step forward in the economic field. Even though our security situation is reasonable at the moment, we did not move even a millimeter closer to a diplomatic solution. The quiet and the good economic situation have enticed us into sinking into a state of wait and see. Very few soldiers are losing their lives, and meanwhile terror is not raising its head. But we cannot rely on that forever. The relaxed atmosphere is tempting us not to take initiatives toward peace.
It's fashionable now in the world to denounce Israel. The government has contributed to this unpleasant trend with its plans and declarations about construction in Jerusalem. The mayor of Jerusalem does not understand that not every day is Lag Ba'omer, and that it's not necessary to light a bonfire time after time around the issue of construction in Jerusalem. One journalist called him an imbecile, and a well-known columnist described him as a half-wit. In my opinion, he's not as dumb as they think. He's simply toeing the line with Netanyahu.
We talk a great deal about the Iranian threat. But when a senior American official was asked what is happening with Iran, he ignored the question and replied: What is happening with the responses we are expecting from you? Will you tell us what you really want? Bibi is not answering, and the dialogue with Obama is stuck. Obama is a strange bird who sticks to his guns and is not really Zionist. He expects his wishes and questions to be taken seriously, while Bibi treats America as if it will always be on our side and will never fail to veto an anti-Israel resolution. We have to pray we will be proven wrong. Our threat with regard to the Iranian issue - that if you don't act, we will - brings to mind the various jokes about the relations between an elephant and a mouse.
I am in favor of understandings and not in favor of employing force, Obama says, and advises us to deal with those matters about which we owe him responses - as part of the pressure on Iran.
A short while ago, Netanyahu boasted at a special news conference that his government had made 1,500 decisions in its first year of office. This is a worldwide first in the department of political bragging. The question is, how many of these decisions were implemented? Does it include the decision once again to change the staff in his bureau so as to placate his wife Sara? One may ask: Why doesn't he appoint her officially as head of his bureau?
To sum up the 62nd year of our independence is gloomy. The tension between Obama and Netanyahu will not be solved with declarations and speeches. Bibi must bring concrete answers to begin serious negotiations on the basis of two states for two peoples. Since there is no trust between the two leaders and no identical vision of the objective, a great deal of tension has been created. Contrary to what happened in the past, Israel's Democratic friends in Congress are hesitant about confronting the president on the subject of Israel.
The letter from 327 Congressmen [expressing concern over the treatment of Israel] was not sent to the president but to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. And they did not write that they favor construction in Jerusalem but rather proposed that Israel be treated with understanding. Where is this letter, and where is the letter signed by 76 senators to president Gerald Ford to immediately stop sanctions against Israel?
Obama is the Democrats' star and has a large historical achievement behind him and, in front of him, the obligation to justify his Nobel Peace Prize. There is no support for the settlements in Congress and its members are definitely on the side of the president with reference to furthering peace. A sane man at this time would advise the prime minister to open the 63rd year of our independence by acceding to Obama's recommendations, lest it end with an imposed settlement.
ISRAELI ACTIONS ARE TURNING JERUSALEM INTO A SETTLEMENT
BY ZEEV STERNHELL
Thanks to an attempted settler takeover of the Sheikh Jarrah quarter, that quiet neighborhood of East Jerusalem has turned into a kind of microcosm of the illnesses that are poisoning relations between Jews and Arabs. The worst of these is the refusal to recognize the finality of the situation that was created at the end of the War of Independence. It is possible to understand the settler right, whose existential aim is the continued conquest of the land. But how is it possible that state institutions will lend a hand to an act that destroys the very land under our feet?
Indeed, this time the settlement is not being carried out merely with brute force like in other parts of the West Bank, but with documents from the days of the Ottoman Empire. The settlers appeared in court armed with Turkish title deeds, which originally were in the hands of the Committee of Sefardic Jews, and on this basis eviction orders were issued for the Arab residents. The Jews came to prove a principle - land that was once owned by Jews is required to be returned to the hands of Jews. The question is, how much longer will it be possible to maintain a situation in which the Jews will have the right to demand ownership of Jewish property that has been left on the eastern side of the Green Line, while the Arabs are forbidden to demand rights of ownership to their property that has been left on the western side of that same line?
After all, there are Palestinians, among them those who live in East Jerusalem, who have title deeds to homes in Talbieh, Old Katamon, Baka, and other neighborhoods in the western part of the city. If Jerusalem is a united city and all its residents, as the authorities claim, are equal before the law, on what moral basis can they decide that what is permitted to the Jews is forbidden to the Arabs? The state institutions now have a golden opportunity not only to show that equality in the eyes of the law is more than an empty, flowery phrase, but also to declare that there is no way back from the political and legal situation that was created in 1949. Any other approach will be considered intolerable discrimination and will serve as a preface to endless appeals to international institutions.
Sheikh Jarrah has symbolic significance also from a different point of view. The 28 homes that are earmarked for rapid evacuation are those of refugees from 1948 from all over the country. In return for the strip of land on which every family built its house, the residents renounced their status as refugees and the assistance that accompanies this status. These people who are about to be evicted, in actual fact, realized an Israeli interest of first-rate importance - they stopped being homeless and receiving welfare and became integrated in the fabric of life at their place of residence. Had this path been followed in Lebanon or in the Jordanian West Bank, a large part of the problems facing us now would have been solved a long time ago. Therefore, what is better from Israel's point of view - Sheikh Jarrah as a residential neighborhood through which hundreds of Israelis pass daily on their way to the Hebrew University and the government offices or Sheikh Jarrah as another refugee camp that is poverty-stricken and filled with hatred?
Instead of turning Sheikh Jarrah into a paragon of coexistence, Israel is about to enable the settlers to reinstate its residents with refugee status and to turn the entire area into a new symbol of Israeli arbitrariness, aggressiveness and distortion of justice.
Indeed, Jerusalem is not a settlement, but those who are turning it into a settlement now are the settlers themselves. It is not difficult to forecast how this additional fuel will fan the growing flames of delegitimization of Israel in the world.
In this context it is worth noting a fact that was published at the beginning of the week. One of the institutes studying anti-Semitism reported a dramatic increase, in the wake of Operation Cast Lead, of incidents defined as anti-Semitic. It is highly doubtful whether in all the cases, or even most of them, the motives were indeed anti-Semitic. It is reasonable to assume that part of the incidents were caused by growing anti-Israeli feelings. One of the characteristics of anti-Semitism is that it is not conditional on objective acts on the part of Jews or even on their presence. Anti-Semitism existed even in places where they did not see Jews. On the other hand, there is a clear and consistent connection between hostility toward Israel and Israel's actions.
It is no coincidence that "anti-Israelism" is a phenomenon of this generation and its source lies in the intensification of the occupation and the feeling that is taking root, even among veteran supporters of Zionism in the world, that Israel does not have the desire or the capability of putting an end to the control over the lives, freedom and independence of another people. That, too, is something worth dwelling on, between Holocaust Remembrance Day and Independence Day
BY YOSSI SARID
My daughter told us that this time she would allow her children - our grandchildren - to watch the opening ceremony of Holocaust Martyrs' and Heroes' Memorial Day. I wasn't sure this was a good idea but, with my status, I don't interfere any more in the family's pedagogy: Parents are there to raise children; grandma and grandpa are there to coddle.
One could have known in advance that terrifying speeches would be delivered - and why scare tender souls prematurely? In advance, it was clear that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Shimon Peres would compete with each other as to who could frighten us more, and after the ceremony the children would have difficulty falling asleep. Not only them. Every sensible person understands that if the ayatollahs cradle the bomb to their breast, and if that disturbed type has his hand on the button, then we will be in big trouble. Our leaders, however, are threatening us with another Holocaust, as though the ghetto were here: Iran is Nazi Germany, United States President Barack Obama is a namby-pamby appeasing Neville Chamberlain and the world, as always, is flaccid.
Quite possibly someone in Tehran wants to be Hitler but he can't really do that. Not every dog that wags its tongue also shakes the world. Today's world is not a world that is all good but it's also no dummy. And the 20th century tamed its watchdogs and its bloodhounds to sniff out committers of genocide, track them down and turn their plots into dung upon the face of the field (II Kings 9:37).
It is still necessary to hope they will not have the bomb, and the open and secret efforts will disarm it before it is assembled. That will be a great comfort - we will breathe a sigh of relief - even though Peres and Netanyahu will have to find other topics to fulminate about , no less important and less conveniently condemned.
But what will happen if the efforts fail? What will happen if diplomacy can't do the job? And what will happen if no alternative remains and Israel attacks the nuclear weapons installations in Iran, but the attack does not achieve its aim and only unites the people there and reinforces its determination to go nuclear? What then?
If I understood the Memorial Day speeches correctly, then each and every one of us has the obligation to pack a few things in a bundle immediately and flee the village burning the way it burned up my grandmother and grandfather in Poland. The obligation is incumbent upon us to flee from here, together with our children and our children's children, including our grandchildren who listened to Netanyahu and Peres, in the hope they did not understand a single word.
To the best of my knowledge, we aren't planning to do this. We are here, and we are determined to stay here. And it is not at all clear who is evincing the more shocking irresponsibility: our leaders, who are determined to sow mortal panic in our hearts, or we, who are refusing to be scared to death, despite everything.
Be that as it may, in advance of the next Memorial Day, the speakers on the mount would do well to gather their lost wits about them and concentrate in their speeches on life that goes on in any case.
And until they come to their senses, fear not: There is life after speeches.
FROM A STATE OF THE PEOPLE TO ONE OF THE PRIVILEGED
It is not only the press that is behaving as though it is above the law, on the pretext of defending freedom of expression. In effect, this is a battle by an entire class, with deep roots in the main centers of power and influence, which is trying by means of manipulation, deception and disinformation to whitewash acts bordering on treason.
You should know, Judith Miller, why Anat Kamm is only under house arrest for crimes that the law, and certainly most of the public, views as bordering on treason, if not worse. The reason is that members of this class in the prosecution and the judiciary are minimizing the gravity of her deeds to remove the cloud of disgrace that now hovers over the entire class.
The class senses that the public is on the verge of an uprising against its ongoing abuses, and it has mobilized en masse to preserve its status.
The hypocritical bullies in the press, who have never been gagged and have never been called to order (despite having harnessed even the state-owned media to disseminate their political opinions and, like Army Radio, providing a free platform for Hamas members), have thus begun to cry out that freedom of the press is being trampled.
In order to divert the public from the heart of the matter - the theft of thousands of documents, which include operational secrets (for instance, about Operation Cast Lead in Gaza) - they are feeding famous media personalities from abroad false information about the danger to freedom of speech in Israel.
What self-respecting journalist would not take to the printed page and the airwaves (in pieces that are published here, too, to further the psychological warfare that this class is waging against angry Israelis) to defend this freedom, which is being crudely trampled in Israel?
Yet it is the press itself, especially in recent days, that has done the most to undermine freedom of the press, thereby reducing its ability to influence and truly serve as the watchdog of democracy.
It is the press that clumsily and artificially perverted the journalist's true calling in the espionage affair by asserting that darkness was light, such that readers and listeners could not help but become furious.
It is not freedom of the press that the colleagues of Uri Blau and Anat Kamm were defending, but the freedom to act lawlessly, to act on unacceptable urges, and to cause great harm to the State of Israel.
Unfortunately, but unsurprisingly, the legal establishment - which, like the media and academic establishments, is behaving as though l'etat c'est moi - has also rallied around the flag.
The prosecutor in the Kamm case, attorney Hadas Fuhrer-Gafny, was interviewed on Army Radio, which has become Kamm's home station (after all, she was a soldier when she committed the crimes to which she has confessed). Fuhrer-Gafny agreed with presenter Micha Friedman that Anat is "salt of the earth" and expressed discomfort at having to prosecute this idealist. The fact is, she apologized, that Anat is only under house arrest.
And Dalia Dorner, who during her tenure on the Supreme Court approved the detention of a 10-year-old ultra-Orthodox boy (who was arrested on suspicion of throwing a stone at a policeman) until the end of proceedings, this time said that even if Blau has hundreds or thousands of top-secret documents in his possession, he must not be arrested.
The head of the Shin Bet security service said that never in the history of the state has a crime caused such damage to national security. But despite such unequivocal statements, the Shin Bet and the Israel Defense Forces - quite a few of whose leaders see themselves as part of this privileged class, or aspire to that status - did not dare to question the legal establishment's decision that Kamm should live at home, in the company of her family and friends, during her investigation and trial.
And this is happening at a time when suspected bicycle thieves are put under full arrest. But after all, Kamm is no simple thief; the crime she committed was "high-minded." And though the disks that were in her possession "disappeared," she is not dangerous - not like attorney Uri Messer, for example, who was held for many days for fear that he would conceal documents if sent to house arrest.
And not like Rabbi Yitzhak Shapira, the head of a yeshiva in the settlement of Yitzhar, who, due to suspicions that he did not inform the police about a crime allegedly committed by his students, was shackled hand and foot, paraded on television and put under arrest.
In the Kamm-Blau affair, the editorial staff of Haaretz has crossed a red line, as has any other institution that directly or indirectly supports what Kamm and Blau did. Rather than being loyal to the country and the law, they have chosen to be loyal to the class that considers itself above the law and above any duty to the country's security.
The media, which spearheaded the crossing of this line, stained the flag of freedom of the press when it raised this flag to support an inappropriate objective and made manipulative use of it, including by spreading slander all over the world to the effect that the State of Israel is undermining freedom of expression.
The vast majority of the public now understands that these establishments are fighting not for freedom of speech or in order to strengthen democracy, but in order to transform Israel from a state that belongs to the nation to a state that belongs to the privileged class.
******************************************************************************************THE NEW YORK TIMES
THE GUN LOBBY'S COLONY
Cravenness and horse trading are too often the political reality in Washington, but a deal now in the works is particularly cruel.
Congress is poised, finally, to give the tax-paying citizens of the District of Columbia what they have been so long and so unfairly denied: a representative with the power to vote. But the gun lobby has extracted too high a price: the scuttling of vital local gun controls intended to keep the capital city's residents safe.
The district's nonvoting representative, Eleanor Holmes Norton, has reluctantly accepted this extortion. "The strength of gun forces in Congress has grown, not diminished," she declared in explaining why she felt forced to abandon her long fight for a measure free of gun lobby abuses. She estimates that her cause and the Democratic majority may only be weakened in the next election. And she feels the gun lobby is powerful enough to oppress the district with a stand-alone measure.
That all may be true. But it is not inevitable and certainly not enough reason to hand the gun lobby this pernicious victory.
The legislation would intrude on home-rule prerogatives by repealing the district's restrictions on semiautomatic weapons, rolling back requirements for registering most guns and even dropping existing criminal penalties for owners of unregistered firearms.
House Democratic leaders previously opposed gun control attachments, but they, too, seem ready to accept the measure, inserted in the Senate's version of the D.C. voting bill by John Ensign, a Republican of Nevada.
As usual, bipartisan majorities stand by to do the gun lobby's bidding. It has already been endorsed by the Democratic majority leader, Harry Reid of Nevada. It is a cynical, sickening compromise.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
NOW IT'S THE PRESIDENT'S PLAN
When it was unveiled in budget documents in February, we thought President Obama's new approach to human space flight made good sense. But it drew immediate, fierce opposition from states that feared they would lose jobs and from Congressional boosters of the traditional space program.
It called for scrapping the Bush administration's program to return to the Moon by 2020, which had fallen hopelessly behind schedule and relied on outdated technology. It substituted a big investment in developing new technologies to make travel farther into the solar system cheaper and faster. In the meantime, NASA would rely on commercial companies to carry astronauts and cargo to the International Space Station after the aging shuttle fleet is retired.
In a speech at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Thursday, Mr. Obama sought personally to win over his critics, offering a powerful rationale for his plan and some reasonable modifications.
To mitigate the impact of job losses as the shuttle program winds down, the president is now pledging to spend $40 million to promote job creation and economic development in Florida. He will also resuscitate a program to build a space capsule, but a scaled-down version to be parked at the space station for emergency escapes. That would preserve jobs in some battleground states and lay the foundation for upgrading the capsule later.
The administration has given no clue as to how much that will cost and which other NASA programs it will pillage to pay the bill. Congress must make certain that vital research programs are not harmed.
We were concerned that the original proposal had not identified a clear goal for space travel or set deadlines for getting there. On Thursday, the president began to fill in the blanks. He called for picking a rocket design for deep space travel by 2015, allowing production to start earlier than previously planned.
He ruled out returning to the surface of the Moon because "we have been there before" and called instead for crewed missions into deeper space, starting in 2025 with a visit to an asteroid. By the mid-2030s, he expects humans will orbit Mars. We don't know how realistic these projections are since the administration has yet to put forth a thorough analysis.
We also don't know if Mr. Obama will manage to win over opponents. But Thursday's speech suggests that he has learned an important lesson from the yearlong struggle to pass health care reform. He needs to get involved early and not leave it to subordinates to defend plans that will upend vested interests.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
From the start, the central concern about President Obama's antiforeclosure effort has been that it would postpone foreclosures but ultimately not prevent enough to ease the economic strain from mass defaults. That concern seems increasingly justified.
In the first quarter of 2010, there were 930,000 foreclosure filings an increase of 7 percent from the previous quarter and 16 percent from the first three months of 2009, according to recent data from RealtyTrac, an online marketer of foreclosed properties. The surge seems to indicate that homes that were in the foreclosure pipeline are now being lost for good.
The administration's figures are not encouraging either. The Treasury reported recently that as of March, nearly 228,000 troubled loans qualified under the Obama plan for long-term payment reductions; another 108,000 long-term modifications were pending. That's up from February, but still far behind the need. Currently, some six million borrowers are more than 60 days delinquent.
Three oversight groups have issued reports in the past month criticizing the administration's effort and predicting that it would fall far short of its goal of helping four million borrowers by the end of 2012.
And on Tuesday, officials from JPMorgan Chase and Wells Fargo told a Congressional panel that they were not inclined to fully embrace the administration's latest foreclosure-prevention plan. Announced in late March, it calls for lenders to modify troubled mortgages by cutting the loan principal, which restores some equity to borrowers while lowering the payment. The bankers were unpersuasive. They generally objected to large-scale principal reductions, even though the administration's plan applies relatively narrowly to borrowers who are deeply indebted and meet various other criteria.
The testimony was more proof that relying on lenders to voluntarily rework troubled loans is not working.
The hearing investigated a specific obstacle to widespread modifications: Investors, including pension funds and mutual funds, often hold the first mortgages. Banks often hold home-equity loans and other second mortgages. Investors reasonably believe that second liens should be reduced before the primary mortgage is modified, but banks balk at that because it would prompt write-offs they don't want.
Some investors, notably the powerhouse group BlackRock, have called for a special bankruptcy process to resolve the standoff. The court would seek to reduce bankrupt borrowers' total debt to affordable levels, starting with unsecured debt like credit cards, then undersecured debt, like second mortgages, and then, if necessary, the primary mortgage debt.
We have long called for using bankruptcy court to help resolve the foreclosure crisis. A big advantage of bankruptcy over government-subsidized modifications is that bankruptcy is a difficult process that does not entice anyone to purposely default in order to get better repayment terms.
Banks have argued for the status quo, in which bankruptcy judges are not allowed to modify the terms of primary mortgages, and they have prevailed in Congress and, apparently, within the administration. The result is an ongoing foreclosure crisis. It is time to revive the fight to open the courthouse door to bankrupt homeowners.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
SPYING, CIVIL LIBERTIES AND THE COURTS
Succumbing to the politics of fear during the 2008 campaign, Congress seriously diluted the First and Fourth Amendment rights of Americans by changing the 1978 law that governs electronic surveillance.
In addition to supplying retroactive approval for President George W. Bush's warrantless wiretapping, the FISA Amendments Act vastly expanded the government's ability to eavesdrop without warrants in the future. It gave the National Security Agency authority to monitor the international phone calls and e-mail messages of Americans who are not engaged in criminal activity and pose no threat to national security. The measure weakened judicial supervision of how these powers are exercised, making abuse far more likely.
An important case being argued Friday in New York City will help determine the extent of the damage.
At issue is a constitutional challenge to the 2008 law filed on behalf of human rights, labor, legal, and news media organizations whose work requires sensitive telephone and e-mail communication with people abroad. Whether the suit will be allowed to proceed is the question confronting a three-member panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit Judges Guido Calabresi, Robert Sack, and Gerard Lynch.
Embracing the Bush administration's approach, the Obama administration has sought to block the suit, contending that the plaintiffs lack the requisite "standing" to bring the challenge because they cannot show with certainty that they have been spied on. (Of course, any attempt to prove spying would likely be met by a flimsy claim of state secrecy.) Buying the standing argument, a federal trial court judge dismissed the constitutional challenge last year without getting to the merits.
That was a serious error. The communications of the activists, lawyers and journalists challenging the new law fall within the class of material the law allows the government to "acquire" without a warrant. The chilling impact is neither trivial or merely speculative. Plaintiffs have had to take costly and inconvenient steps to safeguard their privacy, including travel to foreign countries to gather information.
The appeal's focus on the technical-sounding issue of standing should not obscure the high stakes here, not least for preserving the judiciary's essential role in enforcing limits on the government's power and acting as a check against abusive conduct.
An appellate court ruling siding with the lower court's cramped approach to standing would immunize the new rules governing electronic surveillance from meaningful judicial review. That means unchecked discretion to the legislative and executive branches inconsistent with the Constitution's checks and balances.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
WHERE HISTORY'S MARCH IS A FUNERAL PROCESSION
BY OLGA TOKARCZUK
IT is hard to come to terms with the deaths of so many people, including the Polish president, from the plane crash last Saturday. And it is hard to believe the uncanny coincidence that the plane went down near the Katyn forest in Russia, the site of the Soviet massacre of Polish officers in 1940. When we heard, everything went quiet. Then people rushed to the Internet and switched on their TVs, because no event, not even the most tragic, exists beyond the media.
The next day, as people began to emerge from church, I received an anonymous text message, sure to have been sent to lots of people, like similar messages announcing candlelight vigils or encouraging people to tie black ribbons to their cars. This message said: "History has come full circle. Mickiewicz's Poland as the Christ of Nations is returning. Let us be united by this love from God. Let us strengthen the fatherland through brotherhood."
I felt a shudder of horror that hasn't really left me to this moment.
Two centuries ago, when our nation lost its sovereignty and was partitioned among Russia, Prussia and Austria, Polish Romantics like the poet and nationalist Adam Mickiewicz declared that independence would come only with great sacrifice. Ever since, this myth of the martyr, or messianic victim, has emerged during times of national crisis. This way of thinking has frequently been exploited by politicians; one famous result was the Warsaw Uprising against the Nazis in 1944, which was doomed from the outset and cost 200,000 lives.
Since the president's crash, the Poles have again united over death.
I turned on the TV Sunday afternoon, and the more the night drew on, the more I heard words like nation, victim, mystical coincidence, sign, accursed place, true patriotism, Katyn, truth. Politicians who only a few days ago were at each other's throats are now speaking, in trembling voices, of "deep meaning" and "the metaphysics of Katyn." Not much more than 20 years ago, some of these same people suppressed the truth about the deaths at Katyn to follow the Communist Party line.
I am reminded that when a major trauma occurs, the kind that is both individual and collective, something happens that Jungian psychology calls an "abaissement du niveau mental" a lowering of the level of consciousness. Intellect gives way to the gloom of the collective psyche. The horrified mind tries to find meaning, but lets itself be seduced by old myths.
I feel for the families of the victims. I can't stop thinking about the 96 people who died and their terror at the moment of death. From death's perspective, there are no differences between people; there are no presidents or flight attendants, no faiths or nations. There is just the person, always dear.
But sometimes I fear that the people of my country can unite only beside victims' bodies, over coffins and in cemeteries. Like tribesmen who dance around old totems, we ignore the living and can only appreciate the dead. While the government prays on its knees, the Catholic Church, which is the custodian of this anachronistic mentality, has a monopoly on communal ritual and collective experience.
I am sick of building our common identity around funeral marches and failed uprisings. I dream of Poland becoming a modern society that is defined not by the crippling nature of history, but by our individual achievements, a sense of our own self-worth and ideas for the future.
Olga Tokarczuk is the author of the novel "Primeval and Other Times." This article was translated by Antonia Lloyd-Jones from the Polish.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
A TALE OF TWO VOLCANOES
BY SIMON WINCHESTER
IN planetary terms, it was just a tiny pinprick that opened up last month underneath the Eyjafjalla Glacier in southern Iceland, when a long-forgotten volcano started to erupt again after a quiescence of nearly 200 years. But insignificant though the rent in the planet's fabric may have been, uncounted millions have been suddenly affected by it.
The North Atlantic winds shifted by just a few degrees, and all of a sudden commercial catastrophe has been visited on northern Europe: air traffic peremptorily shut down, the skies cleared of planes wary of flying through the high-altitude streams of the volcano's brutally corrosive airborne silica dust.
The last time the world was so mightily affected in this way was in 1883, when a similarly tiny vent in the earth's surface opened up on the island of Krakatoa, between Java and Sumatra, in what is now Indonesia. Some 40,000 people died because of that eruption it was a much more fierce event, and in a much more populated place. But the clouds of dust that cascaded upward into the stratosphere affected the entire planet for the rest of the year on the same scale except that the effects themselves were of a profoundly different kind.
Where Iceland's volcano has set off a wave of high-technology panic, Java's event set off something benign and really quite lovely: worldwide displays of light and color that reduced mankind to a state of stunned amazement. Where Iceland has caused shock, Java resulted in awe. And where Eyjafjalla's ashes seem to have cost millions in lost business, Krakatoa's dust left the world not just a remarkable legacy of unforgettable art but also spurred a vital discovery in atmospheric science.
The skies in the fall of 1883 became weirdly changed. The moon turned blue, or sometimes green. Firefighters in New York and elsewhere thought they saw distant fires, caused by clouds of boiling dust. The vivid ash-tinged sunsets, and the post-sunset horizon rainbows of purple and passion fruit and salmon-red, were said to be the most memorable.
Painters in particular did their best to capture what they saw. An obscure Londoner named William Ascroft, astonished by the nightly light show along the Thames, turned out a watercolor every 10 minutes, night after night, working like a human camera. More than 500 Krakatoa paintings survive him. "Blood afterglow," he jotted down on one canvas, noting the magic done by refractive crystals of dust; "Amber afterglow," on another.
Grander artists, like Frederic Church of the Hudson River School, were spurred to action too. In December, four months after the Javanese blast, Church hurried up from Olana, his Moorish castle near Poughkeepsie, to Lake Ontario, and one perfect evening caught the vivid crepuscular purples over the ice on Chaumont Bay, knowing full well as science already did that it was a volcano 10,000 miles away that had painted the sky for him.
And one even more famous painting speaks of Krakatoa as well: recent research suggests that Edvard Munch a decade later painted "The Scream" while remembering a night in Oslo that had been much affected by the volcanic dust. Indeed, the climatic records show that the swirling orange skies behind the terror-stricken face match perfectly those recorded that winter in southern Norway.
It was more than art that resulted from Krakatoa's outpourings of trillions of tons of fine siliceous ash. It left a lasting effect on science as well.
The heavier dust from Krakatoa slowly fell to earth, coating ships and cities thousands of miles away. But the micron-sized particles from the volcano's mouth did not fall back at all. Instead, they were carried ever upward, and ended up floating around the world for years, on streams of globe-girdling winds that were not then even known to exist.
Weather-watchers, carefully noting just when certain skies in certain cities were inflamed and colored by the passing high-altitude dust clouds, produced a map showing just how these wind currents moved around the world. The first name they used for the phenomenon was the "equatorial smoke stream." Today it is, of course, the jet stream a discovery that remains perhaps the most important legacy of Krakatoa.
It is a legacy that, like the night-sky art, remains somewhat more memorable than the flight-cancellation lists at London's airports, which will probably be the most lasting public memorial of the little-volcano-that-roared on the southern flank of Iceland.
Simon Winchester is the author of "Krakatoa: The Day the World Exploded" and the forthcoming "Atlantic: The Biography of an Ocean."
THE NEW YORK TIMES
POLISH HEROES, POLISH VICTIMS
BY WIKTOR OSIATYNSKI
MOMENTS after a plane carrying President Lech Kaczynski of Poland and 95 others crashed near Smolensk, Russia, on Saturday, killing all on board, hundreds of Poles were already in front of the presidential palace, lighting candles.
Soon after the National Assembly gathered to honor the dead last week, the Archbishop of Krakow announced that on Sunday, following their funeral tomorrow, Mr. Kaczynski and his wife would be buried at Wawel Cathedral the Polish equivalent of Westminster Abbey or the Panthéon in Paris. Mr. Kaczynski is to be the first president to be buried there, among the greatest of Polish kings, two revered romantic poets and the three great military heroes Tadeusz Kosciuszko, Jozef Pilsudski and Wladyslaw Sikorski.
But Mr. Kaczynski was not one of these extraordinary men. Just before his death, his approval rating was under 30 percent, while his disapproval rating was twice that. His odds of re-election later this year were meager. He was widely considered the worst Polish president since 1989. Yet in death, he is a national hero.
The reason has nothing to do with Mr. Kaczynski himself, but where he died: Katyn forest, where Soviet troops executed nearly 22,000 Polish officers in April 1940. Indeed, Mr. Kaczynski's death is only the latest chapter in Poland's long-running conflict over the meaning of victimhood, martyrdom and death.
The Soviets blamed the Germans for the massacre, but in 1943 an international commission ruled that the bodies were too old for that. The Polish government in London urged further investigation, but the Allies needed Stalin's help in fighting the Nazis, so they did not push the issue. The world soon forgot about Katyn.
Poles, however, did not forget, though the truth was long suppressed. My peers and I were raised in a society so closely controlled by the Communists allied to the Soviet Union that the very mention of Katyn was prohibited. My wife spent her life wondering why her father, a doctor mobilized as a reserve officer in 1939, never came home.
It was only after the fall of Communism that she learned the truth, when President Boris Yeltsin of Russia gave Poles a list of prisoners to be executed at Katyn, including her father. In 2007, the acclaimed Polish director Andrzej Wajda, whose father was also killed at Katyn, made a film about the massacre and the cover-up that followed.
By the time Mr. Kaczynski took office, Katyn had gone from a secretly remembered event to a symbol of Polish heroism and independence. The very fact that it was suppressed only made the mystique stronger.
Indeed, the story of Katyn took a step forward when Prime Minister Vladimir Putin of Russia and his Polish counterpart, Donald Tusk, met there on April 7. Russia had long played down its responsibility for the massacre, yet Mr. Putin talked openly about the horror of the crimes and how both Russians and Poles were victims of an inhuman system.
Mr. Kaczynski wanted to share in the memory of Katyn and the opening of a new era with Russia. Because he was not invited to the earlier event with the prime ministers, he planned to commemorate the occasion by holding a separate ceremony with the victims' families on April 10. He invited many of Poland's political and military leaders, as well as representatives of the association of Katyn family members.
In their hurry to land, the pilots ignored warnings from the Smolensk air traffic controllers about the weather; diverting the flight would mean delaying the ceremony, where thousands were already gathered.
Though tragic, this was hardly a heroic death. Few will say it, but this was a stupid and useless crash. Calling it heroic dodges responsibility and prevents the development of measures for avoiding future disasters.
Not everyone agrees with the glorification of Mr. Kaczynski's death. The well-known psychologist Wojciech
Eichelberger was one of the first to express disdain for the reaction in the press, saying we should not confuse stupidity with heroism. The decision to bury Mr. Kaczynski in the Wawel crypt has likewise spurred demonstrations in Krakow and Warsaw. Yet most of Poland is, for now, enamored with the idea of Mr. Kaczynski as our latest national hero.
In the end, Mr. Kaczynski has become strangely aligned with Katyn. Had his planned celebrations taken place, they would have most likely had only a slight effect on his popularity. Instead, Mr. Kaczynski became a hero, because in Poland, any death in or near Katyn sounds heroic a reaction that does disservice both to Mr. Kaczynski himself and the memory of those murdered by the Soviets.
Wiktor Osiatynski is a professor at the Central European University in Budapest and the author of "Human Rights and Their Limits."
THE NEW YORK TIMES
THE FIRE NEXT TIME
BY PAUL KRUGMAN
On Tuesday, Mitch McConnell, the Senate minority leader, called for the abolition of municipal fire departments.
Firefighters, he declared, "won't solve the problems that led to recent fires. They will make them worse." The existence of fire departments, he went on, "not only allows for taxpayer-funded bailouts of burning buildings; it institutionalizes them." He concluded, "The way to solve this problem is to let the people who make the mistakes that lead to fires pay for them. We won't solve this problem until the biggest buildings are allowed to burn."
O.K., I fibbed a bit. Mr. McConnell said almost everything I attributed to him, but he was talking about financial reform, not fire reform. In particular, he was objecting not to the existence of fire departments, but to legislation that would give the government the power to seize and restructure failing financial institutions.
But it amounts to the same thing.
Now, Mr. McConnell surely isn't sincere; while pretending to oppose bank bailouts, he's actually doing the bankers' bidding. But before I get to that, let's talk about why he's wrong on substance.
In his speech, Mr. McConnell seemed to be saying that in the future, the U.S. government should just let banks fail. We "must put an end to taxpayer funded bailouts for Wall Street banks." What's wrong with that?
The answer is that letting banks fail as opposed to seizing and restructuring them is a bad idea for the same reason that it's a bad idea to stand aside while an urban office building burns. In both cases, the damage has a tendency to spread. In 1930, U.S. officials stood aside as banks failed; the result was the Great Depression. In 2008, they stood aside as Lehman Brothers imploded; within days, credit markets had frozen and we were staring into the economic abyss.
So it's crucial to avoid disorderly bank collapses, just as it's crucial to avoid out-of-control urban fires.
Since the 1930s, we've had a standard procedure for dealing with failing banks: the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation has the right to seize a bank that's on the brink, protecting its depositors while cleaning out the stockholders. In the crisis of 2008, however, it became clear that this procedure wasn't up to dealing with complex modern financial institutions like Lehman or Citigroup.
So proposed reform legislation gives regulators "resolution authority," which basically means giving them the ability to deal with the likes of Lehman in much the same way that the F.D.I.C. deals with conventional banks. Who could object to that?
Well, Mr. McConnell is trying. His talking points come straight out of a memo Frank Luntz, the Republican political consultant, circulated in January on how to oppose financial reform. "Frankly," wrote Mr. Luntz, "the single best way to kill any legislation is to link it to the Big Bank Bailout." And Mr. McConnell is following those stage directions.
It's a truly shameless performance: Mr. McConnell is pretending to stand up for taxpayers against Wall Street while in fact doing just the opposite. In recent weeks, he and other Republican leaders have held meetings with Wall Street executives and lobbyists, in which the G.O.P. and the financial industry have sought to coordinate their political strategy.
And let me assure you, Wall Street isn't lobbying to prevent future bank bailouts. If anything, it's trying to ensure that there will be more bailouts. By depriving regulators of the tools they need to seize failing financial firms, financial lobbyists increase the chances that when the next crisis strikes, taxpayers will end up paying a ransom to stockholders and executives as the price of avoiding collapse.
Even more important, however, the financial industry wants to avoid serious regulation; it wants to be left free to engage in the same behavior that created this crisis. It's worth remembering that between the 1930s and the 1980s, there weren't any really big financial bailouts, because strong regulation kept most banks out of trouble. It was only with Reagan-era deregulation that big bank disasters re-emerged. In fact, relative to the size of the economy, the taxpayer costs of the savings and loan disaster, which unfolded in the Reagan years, were much higher than anything likely to happen under President Obama.
To understand what's really at stake right now, watch the looming fight over derivatives, the complex financial instruments Warren Buffett famously described as "financial weapons of mass destruction." The Obama administration wants tighter regulation of derivatives, while Republicans are opposed. And that tells you everything you need to know.
So don't be fooled. When Mitch McConnell denounces big bank bailouts, what he's really trying to do is give the bankers everything they want.
David Brooks is off today.
I. THE NEWS
WILL THERE BE CALM NOW?
Though the Senate also has passed the 18th Amendment Bill without too much difficulty, it remains to be seen whether the Hazara issue will simmer on or fade away. As things stand now calm has not completely returned after several days of violence that brought people out on the streets in Abbottabad and other towns in the Hazara belt of NWFP. Remarks by Nawaz Sharif have suggested that his party has no objection to the formation of a separate Hazara province somewhat complicate the matter. It is true a large part of this involves the making of political mileage, knowing that the formation of such a unit is unlikely as it would be up to the NWFP government to move in this direction. The PML-N chief has obviously thought it prudent to try and up popularity in a region that has traditionally voted for one faction or the other of the PML. The question of how many provinces Pakistan needs or should have has now been opened up. Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain, responsible for raising the entire Hazara nightmare in the first place by vehemently opposing name change for NWFP, has said he has no problem in the creation of multiple new provinces, including one in the Seraiki belt. This is all very well but presents a number of problems. If the federating units of the country are to be split on the basis of ethnicity and language the process could be a never-ending one. Each of our provinces consists of groups that vary in terms of lingual identity. This is not a matter to be treated lightly. It needs far more thought. Casual statements only add fuel to the fire.
The question is one of forging unity and a common identity for the country as a whole. To achieve this it is important to accept difference and acknowledge the right of people to determine their own destiny. But there is also a need for caution. We should not encourage thinking along an entirely ethnic line in a country which has already seen violence on this basis. The events that unfolded in the former East Pakistan are not all that distant. Today we continue to see targeted killings carried out on the same basis in Balochistan and more rarely in other places. Given the nature of our nation and the diverse people within it our politicians need to act with reason, responsibility and basic good sense. We need most of all to build harmony rather than to create conflict. The most viable way of achieving this needs to be thought out. Statements made at the spur of the moment are intended simply to win brownie points will get us nowhere and could add to the many complications Pakistan faces today.
I. THE NEWS
When banks begin to pull the shutters down on the ATM machines it is a fair indication that they are expecting trouble. That some banks were doing this in southern Punjab on Wednesday is a signal to all and sundry that the power crisis is pulling the population into confrontation with the state. The whole of the south of Punjab observed a shutterdown on Wednesday in protest against the almost total collapse of the electrical power supply. The small businessmen, the traders, the humble householder, schools and factories everybody is touched and in some way damaged or angered by a power crisis that is almost entirely the making of successive governments. Currently the problem sits in the lap of the PPP government, but there has to be a cross-party ownership of the problem if it is to be tackled constructively. This is a national emergency and now is not the time for petty politics, though whether our myopic leaders will ever allow themselves such a radical move away from their traditional positions is a moot point.
There are now daily protests right across the country against the breakdowns in power supplies. Summer has come two weeks early for many and the major dams went to 'dead' level sooner this year because of a drop in precipitation over the winter. Our already deficient power generation infrastructure decayed markedly in the early months of the year. The RPPs that were supposed to save us all have not yet come on stream and circular debt throttles the power-generators. Oil supplies in some generators are said to be down to a day or less, and we teeter once again on the brink. It could be argued that we are always on the brink of some disaster or other and that we never actually fall into the abyss. This state of eternal brinkmanship has become a norm and we tend to assume that we will survive no matter what. But there is now a conjunction of difficulties that may be aggregated to an existential threat, especially if a pattern of 'rolling riots' develops. Thus far the rioters have done little more than block roads, burn tyres, confront the police and destroy a relatively small amount of public property. If the 'dots' of disorder start to join up then shuttered ATM machines will be the very least of our worries.
I. THE NEWS
Even as we witness more people pouring out of the north-western areas as a result of intensified conflict in Orakzai Agency and the tragic death of civilians due to military bombing in Khyber, the UN has issued a dire warning. It says it has received only a fraction of the funds it had requested in February this year to offer assistance to displaced people in Pakistan. Donors have proved ungenerous. As a result key UN agencies fear they will not be able to sustain the projects currently running to help the over one million who remain away from their homes and are scattered across NWFP.
The situation of these people remains extremely grim. The prospect of it worsening as a result of funding constraints is hard to even think of. As it is host families have currently borne a huge burden in sustaining people forced out of villages and hamlets. They too are in urgent need of support. It could be tragic if this was denied to the affected people due to a lack of sufficient money. This is a situation our government needs to wake up to as well. The future of people from the conflict zone is integral to the stability of the region as a whole. The effort to bring in funds through appeals and contacts with friendly nations must be stepped up before we face calamity. The prospect of this happening is now very real. The UN warning needs to be taken extremely seriously. People who have suffered immensely already must be spared further misery and every possible effort made to ensure this.
I. THE NEWS
THE ART OF INVENTING PROBLEMS
A week is indeed a long time in politics. It has only been a few days since the 18th Amendment was passed by the National Assembly and already the shine is wearing off that 'historic' achievement. The only thing historic about it was its unanimous passage by the National Assembly. Unanimity is a virtue but since when was it alone
a measure of great accomplishment?
To slow minds - and I stress the adjective - it was never very clear in what way the constitution as inherited from Pervez Musharraf was an impediment in the path of good governance? Was there any inherent disability in it which prevented decisive action, say, on power shutdowns or inflation? Did the constitution prevent the prime minister from streamlining his cabinet and making it more efficient? Did it in any manner impede the war against extremism?
And with the constitution cleansed, how precisely will things improve? Will the amended constitution induce national clarity? Will it light the path towards a common education policy or the improvement of public transport? Will we get better municipal services? Will the nation be finally convinced to get rid of that number one nuisance, the plastic shopping bag? Will the mounting tide of sectarian divisiveness be checked? Will Balochistan's anger somehow be appeased?
A constitution is a set of guiding principles much as the Quran, as Muslims believe, is a compendium of divinely-ordained principles. But just as the Quran does not automatically produce good Muslims or lead to the perfect society - for that to happen action must take precedence over lip-service - the best constitution in the world contains no guarantees that it will lead to the promised kingdom.
The 1973 Constitution when first passed was also a unanimous document (although the Baloch leadership of the time has a different take on this point). Doubtless Pakistan would be poorer without it. But merely having that constitution never led to the transformation of Pakistan. And it never stopped tinpot dictators from marching in and seizing power, and adding to the nation's woes.
The 18th Amendment too by itself will work no wonders. But it has already led to one problem, the turmoil in Hazara over the renaming of the Frontier province as Pakhtunkhwa, which is a rebuke to the orgy of celebrations which got going after the National Assembly's passage of the 18th Amendment.
Stemming from the Hazara unrest are (1) calls for a new Hazara province and (2) renewed focus on the demand for a Seraiki province in the south of Punjab. The 18th Amendment was supposed to settle old problems, not open fresh wounds.
The original sin - or call it the first blunder - was the formation of the constitutional reforms committee representing all parties in parliament. Its composition was almost guaranteed to encourage every party to raise its own flag. The ANP's favourite horse, which it was bound to ride, was the Pakhtunkhwa issue. The MQM had its eyes from the start on undoing the Concurrent List. For obvious reasons, it also wanted ports to become a provincial subject (something which, mercifully, hasn't come to pass).
Raza Rabbani and the PPP seemed to have no clear aim apart from wanting to gain credit and political mileage out of shepherding through parliament a consensus document. The PML-N was primarily interested in trimming the president's overweening powers. But in gunning for this it found itself slipping into a swamp in which fresh issues kept rearing their heads.
The first rule the committee imposed upon itself was to keep its deliberations away from the public eye. So well was this injunction obeyed that much of parliament was clueless about what was afoot behind the curtains. The inordinate stretching-out of the committee's deliberations - nine months - was also enough to put parliament to sleep. The parliamentary vigilance that should have been exercised was thus sadly missing. And there were those who doubted that President Asif Zardari would willingly shed his powers. So they convinced themselves that the committee's deliberations were a charade.
The doubters of course were proved wrong and, against commonly-held expectations, Zardari agreed to become a figurehead president, in line with the intent of the 1973 Constitution. But this was just one aspect of the situation. Thecommittee's report when it came, and was ready for signing, was almost a fait accompli. The various parties should have examined it more thoroughly earlier. Not having done that at the proper time, it was too late to go through the contents with a fine comb or suggest meaningful changes at the last minute.
Indeed, when Mian Nawaz Sharif raised two objections which in hindsight - the clearest sight of all - seem entirely valid, this triggered such a storm of criticism that it almost seemed as if he was the Judas bent upon betraying the will of the rest of parliament. True, the timing of the objections was awkward and put the PML-N in a spot. I too was of the opinion that this was no time to quibble. But the fact remains, and as the explosive turn of events in Hazara has amply indicated, the objections were not wholly without merit.
Towards the end, the hype generated became so powerful that endorsing the consensus report seemed more important than examining its contents. Nawaz Sharif had tried to swim against the tide. But he had no choice but to go along with the mainstream when public pressure became overwhelming. Even then he managed to extract two minor concessions, the Khyber prefix to Pakhtunkhwa and a small change in the agreed formula regarding the appointment of senior judges. But as we have seen, the prefix was not enough to forestall the emotional backlash in Hazara.
How much nicer it would have been if instead of the nine-month marathon which the Raza Rabbani committee chose to run over high mountain and plunging valley, it had agreed on just a one-line amendment that the constitution stood restored to its shape as on the evening of July 4th, 1977, the eve of Zia's coup?
As Zia's first victim, the second victim being the nation, the PPP should have gone for this option. But it chose the longer route, thereby opening a Pandora's box whose first contents we have seen in Hazara (although it is not a little pathetic to see the defeated remnants of Musharraf's Hazara supporters, in the shape of the local PML-Q, trying to draw political advantage out of this sad affair. What will discarded politicians not do to attract attention?)
As stated above, the ANP, to the exclusion of anything else, had its eyes on Pakhtunkhwa. The MQM single-mindedly had its eyes on the Concurrent List. When the clause doing away with it was passed in the National Assembly, and the MQM members went giddy with excitement, shouting Altaf Hussain slogans at the top of their voices, I had a feeling that we had rushed into something without fully gauging its consequences.
On closer examination therefore the 18th Amendment looks to be more and more of a half-cooked affair. Consider the deletion of Zia's name from the constitution. His name has gone but his spirit lingers on. The articles he inserted into the constitution (62 and 63 - setting out standards of rectitude for candidates) are still there. They have no practical import. But if something is rubbish what wisdom in preserving it? More to the point, the 8th Amendment validating Zia's coup is still part of the constitution. What does it matter then if Zia's name has been taken out?
Zia and no one else, through an executive order, made the Objectives Resolution a substantive part of the constitution. Of no practical significance, it merely adds to the wordiness of a document already weighted down by unnecessary verbiage, at least in the principles of policy.
Which lends itself to the conclusion that where the committee could have been radical it seized the path of caution, while things best avoided it chose to embrace. Pakistan's problems lie not in the realm of law-making. It's getting things done, of making them work, which require to be the focus of its national energies.
I. THE NEWS
THE DAMAGE-CONTROL PLOY
SARDAR MUMTAZ ALI BHUTTO
Pakistan is ready to explode. The politicians, despite their deep differences, are entwined in the net of reconciliation which is a poor camouflage for abandoning all conflicting ideologies, principles and pride to join the feast of government. This has smothered all complaint and objections, opening the door to a state of hear no evil and see no evil, just do all evil.
Transparency International has disclosed that whereas in 2004 Rs45 billion were pilfered from Pakistan's treasury, in 2009 corruption has cost the people Rs195 billion. This is in addition to the nurturing of the useless MNAs and MPAs, each of whom is paid about 500,000 rupees per month, hordes of ministers, each of whom receives a salary of around three million rupees per month. The prime minister costs about 25 million a month and the president 30 million. The VIPs' security costs us Rs165 billion per year. Last but not least, Rs860 billion is the up-to-date cost of the civil war going on in the north. Of course, the cost of lives lost and property damaged is unfathomable, but Amnesty International has said that in the drone attacks alone, while only five high-value targets have been eliminated, more than 700 innocent lives have been lost as the government just looks on.
Of course, the above is not all that afflicts the nation. The process of accountability has been buried so deep that not a single case has been filed against anyone in the top echelons of government and politics since the Musharraf takeover in 1999, even though the stench of corruption reaches the sky. When a minister's loot and plunder can no longer be ignored and there is uproar in the media, his portfolio is taken away and a less lucrative one allotted.
This background and anger of the people, expressed by protests at the local level all around, only results in one question: when will Zardari go? Quit he will not, despite his constant humiliation. He has already declared that exit in an ambulance is the only option for him. And now that all his corruption cases have been reopened, the only thing keeping him out of jail is the presidential immunity. So he will hold on by the skin of his teeth. The basic cause of all the harm that has been endured in the post-Musharraf era is Zardari and his inability to provide leadership and good governance. It is not surprising that those around him are not only shielding him from accountability but also proclaiming him as a hero on the same level as Mohammad Ali Jinnah and Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. For this, on the one hand, they have mounted a visibly massive campaign to gag the critics (including, it seems, that knight in shinning armour, Ayaz Amir); on the other hand, they are holding on to straws like the 18th Amendment, which only emphasises the desperateness of their situation.
The 18th Amendment is fine, but certainly not a panacea. Nor can it mitigate the harm caused by this government. It has done away with the dictatorial powers of the president, which Zardari could not exercise anyway. Every effort by him to assert himself had ended in his own humiliation. He passed orders transferring the ISI into civilian control but had to hastily withdraw them the next day. We have seen that he surrendered under pressure on the questions of reinstatement and appointment of judges. He had to quickly lift the emergency he imposed in Punjab and was forced to transfer the National Security Authority to the prime minister. As for dissolving parliament and appointing the chiefs of the armed services, Zardari simply does not have the stature and strength to even think of doing so. This is different from ordering transfers and postings of bureaucrats with shady records for services rendered, or rewarding jail mates and being a "friend of friends" to favourites at public expense.
The 18th Amendment, which is essentially a damage-control ploy, has come very late and under pressure, giving little while generating much controversy. The boast that it has restored democracy and blocked subversion of the Constitution is absurd. By removing the requirement of elections within political parties, nurseries for dictators have been opened up as heads of parties have been given absolute powers over their party men. A constitution did not stop Ayub Khan from taking over. Zia tore up and threw away the Constitution with impunity, in spite of Article 6, which made such contempt punishable with death. He hanged the framer of the Constitution instead. Musharraf also violated the Constitution, imposed the 17th Amendment and ruled for ten years. The 18th Amendment is no Great Wall of China. It cannot stop a takeover or save the Constitution and democracy.
There is no escape from the truth that it is only the people who are the protectors of their land and rights, and this is where the weakness lies.
The systematic plan initiated by Zia to corrupt politics for the purpose of shielding unworthy rulers has culminated in Zardari's mind-blowing rise to power, with immunity against all forms of accountability. Unfortunately, in Pakistan the curse of corruption has become so endemic that even the man on the street has become contaminated. He is also running in the rat race for personal enrichment rather than the collective benefits derived from honest and good governance. But this has only delayed the inevitable. Thanks to Zardari, the foundation for a bloody revolution has been laid. When the president refuses to obey the orders of the Supreme Court and continues to hide from corruption cases, aided and abetted by his all-too-willing party men and women, the end has been reached and something has got to give.
We know that the French Revolution, followed by the other great revolutions, started with downtrodden and deprived people being forced to come out in scattered groups to protest. This started a momentum which threw up new leaderships and brought unity among the angry crowds, who then focused on complete change and real solutions. In recent years, we have seen uprisings in Ukraine and Georgia. Only a few days ago, the people of Kyrgyzstan rose to remove their corrupt and incompetent government and install a new one, headed by a woman president.
Who knows what is around the corner for Pakistan.
The writer is a veteran politician.
I. THE NEWS
COMMODIFYING DRINKING WATER
AHMAD RAFAY ALAM
A few months ago, the Lahore High Court had taken suo motu notice of the quality of water served up by bottled-water companies. I happened to be in court that morning, and overheard the judge say something that has stayed with me since: when he was growing up in Lahore, it was unthinkable that water was something that could be sold. This is true even for my lifetime. I have seen drinking water in my city of Lahore go from being a common resource to a commodity. There is much to make of such a radical change.