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media watch with peoples input an organization of rastriya abhyudaya
month april 17, edition 000484, collected & managed by durgesh kumar mishra, published by manish manjul
Editorial is syndication of all daily- published newspaper Editorial at one place.
For TELUGU EDITORIAL http://editorial-telugu-samarth.blogspot.com
- ASHOK MALIK
- AJIT BISHNOI
- SO MANY DIED -IN VAIN - SANJAY KAUL
- HOW ANDHRA PRADESH SMASHED THE MAOISTS - OMER FAROOQ
- Saugar Sengupta
- YOU HAVEN'T HEARD THE LAST OF THIS, MR THAROOR
- BELLARY MINE LORDS
- PROTECT US FROM RADIATION
- DIGVIJAY'S NOT A LONE CONG VOICE - BY BHARAT BHUSHAN
- THIRD UMPIRE - QAISER MOHAMMAD ALI
- TRANSPLANT CURES GIRL OF THALASSEMIA - BY NEETU CHANDRA IN NEW DELHI
THE TIMES OF INDIA
- NEW FLAMES AND FLAMINGOS
- WHY THE DRAGON SHOULD CARE
- BETTER WAYS TO VOICE DISSENT
- PARTIES MUST ALLOW CRITICISM -
- THE POWER OF INFORMATION -
- LOOK AT THE MID-RANGE TOO
- LOSING THE EDGE? - BARKHA DUTT
- LECTURE ME NOT, IT'S BARBARIC - PRATIK KANJILAL
- THE THIRD OPTION
- WAIT AND WATCH
- THANK GOD THEY FOUGHT - SHEKHAR GUPTA
- TELL US SOMETHING NEW - MURTAZA RAZVI
- THERE HAS BEEN A GRAVE TRAGEDY AND I DID NOT LOSE MY NERVE... I DO NOT FEAR THE NAXALITES'
- A TALE OF TWO VOLCANOES
- UN REPORT - RUCHIKA TALWAR
- KOCHI'S CLOUD
- DRIVING THE POINT HOME
- LET COURTS SORT OUT SEBI IRDA DISPUTE - JAYANTH R VARMA
- SHOULD ASIA BEGIN TO LOOK WITHIN? - AMITENDU PALIT
- UP TURNS REFORMIST - SANJEEB MUKHERJEE
- LEARNING FROM FAILURE
- DOING SCIENCE IN A NEW WAY
- HOW TO FEED YOUR BILLIONAIRES - P. SAINATH
- TRIBUTE TO A TRUE AMBASSADOR - SUJAN CHINOY
- ICELAND'S RAGE AT BANKERS IS YET TO ERUPT
- ALDA SIGMUNDSDOTTIR
- INTERNET: SIGNS OF AGREEMENT BETWEEN U.S. & RUSSIA - JOHN MARKOFF
- MORE OF THE SAME
- AGENDA FOR CHIDAMBARAM
- FAILURE OF GSLV
- LAWMAKERS BEYOND LAW - BY JAGDEEP S. CHHOKAR
- MAN AND THE MACHINES - BY RANA NAYAR
- INVESTING IN PEOPLE - BY B.S. GHUMAN
- J&K: STRIKE OFF, PROBLEMS REMAIN - BY EHSAN FAZILI
- COST OF LIVING QUITE HIGH IN LUDHIANA - BY HARPREET KAUR BAINS
- NAVI MUMBAI AND JHARKHAND
- MY WIFE'S A REAL 'LOO-NATIC' - KISHORE SINGH
- CREATING THE NEW 'LOCAL' - GEETANJALI KRISHNA
- AN ENCORE FROM DR MANMOHAN SINGH - RAMA BIJAPURKAR
- A SESHAN: COPING WITH THE WHEAT CRISIS - A SESHAN
- THE COST OF DEVELOPMENT IN BIHAR - ADITI PHADNIS
- ZADIE SMITH'S PASSAGE - V V
- GDP NO INDEX OF CONTENTEDNESS - K NATWAR SINGH
- PEOPLE IN THE IPL'S GLASS HOUSES - SUNIL SETHI
- DEEPAK LAL: WHITHER OBAMA'S AMERICA? - DEEPAK LAL
- A MAHARAJAH'S PLIGHT - T N NINAN
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
- COME CLEAN
- MAKING UP ACRONYMS?
- WHITE HEAT: ERUPTIONS FROM ICELAND
- REGULATING UNLISTED COMPANIES - K G SARAF
- UNITED STATES SIDELINES INDIA - C P BHAMBHRI
- FROM HERE TO ETERNITY - VITHAL C NADKARNI
- DESI CONNECTION - BY FARRUKH DHONDY
- GREEN MASSACRE
- FLEXING MUSCLE IN PARLIAMENT
- DESI CONNECTION - BY FARRUKH DHONDY
- GREEN MASSACRE - THE LIVING AND THE DEAD
- WHO'LL BE UK'S PM? - BY ROGER COHEN
- THE RETURN OF RETRO IN POLITICS - BY ANTARA DEV SEN
- SAVIOUR SOLDIERS
- LEFT IN THE LURCH
- FLUNKED SCORES
- INDUSTRY IN THE HILLS - BY BHARAT JHUNJHUNWALA
- NEW DIMENSIONS OF NARCO-CRIME
- ON RECORD
- DELHI DURBAR
- STANDARD HERALDS
- A DIFFERENT VISION - SUNANDA K. DATTA-RAY
- NEEDLESS FIGHT
- UNCERTAIN TIMES
- THE CHOSEN FEW - BY SUDHANSHU RANJAN
- THIS ABOVE ALL... SQUANDERMANIA - KHUSHWANT SINGH
- EXPANDING UNIVERSE - BY KAMALA BALACHANDRAN
THE NEW YORK TIMES
- WATCH THIS CASE
- WHAT HAITI NEEDS RIGHT NOW
- THE WHOLE RAVITCH RESCUE
- JUSTICE AND COMFORT
- LET'S JUST INDICT THE DEFICIT - BY GAIL COLLINS
- PUT VENDORS IN THEIR PLACE - ABY EDWARD C. WALLACE
- A MIGHTY PALE TEA - BY CHARLES M. BLOW
- MURDER BY NEGLECT
- A NEW LOW
- A RESPONSIBLE NUCLEAR STATE - ARIF NIZAMI
- PAKHTUNKHWA TO HAZARA - SALEEM SAFI
- FIGHTING ONE'S OWN PEOPLE - PRAFUL BIDWAI
- VIOLENCE IN OUR UNIVERSITIES - DR SOHAIL MAHMOOD
- ONE STEP AT A TIME - BABAR SATTAR
- WHO KILLED BB? - ANJUM NIAZ
- BB'S MURDER: VAGUE UN REPORT
- MOTHER NATURE APPEARS TO BE ANNOYED
- WHEN WILL WISDOM PREVAIL? - MOHAMMAD JAMIL
- GOD-GAP IN STATE AFFAIRS - DR S M RAHMAN
- OBAMA'S AMBITIOUS COMPROMISE - SYED MUHAMMAD ALI
- EDUCATION MATTER OF LIFE & DEATH OF NATIONS - ATIF NOOR KHAN
- TIME NOT ON MIDEAST'S SIDE - CLAUDE SALHANI
- WIDENING TAX NET
- KITE-FLYING FESTIVAL
- TWO TWITS AND THEIR TWEETS! - ROBERT CLEMENTS
- EXPECTATIONS FROM THE JUDICIARY - KHORSHED ALAM
- ACHIEVING A US-CHINA STRATEGIC UNDERSTANDING - WENRAN JIANG
- OPINION - MASWOOD ALAM KHAN
- HOW TO DECIDE WHO COMES
- JUST HOLD THE IDEOLOGY
- TIME FOR CANBERRA TO GET SERIOUS ON MENTAL HEALTH
THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD
- THE LAW'S SENSITIVITY SHOULD BE THE SAME FOR ALL
- WHO KNEW MPS ARE SUCH SCRIBBLERS
- CAN OUR POLITICIANS BE BOUGHT? THEIR TIME CAN
- LIFT THE VEIL ON SCHOOL BUILDING
- GOLDMAN SACHS: AT WAR WITH WASHINGTON
- CRACKS IN THE OLD MOULD
- UNTHINKABLE? A FLIGHT-FREE DAY
THE JAPAN TIMES
- BOOST FOR NONPROLIFERATION
UN PROBE ON BENAZIR KILLING DISAPPOINTS
The UN report on former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto's assassination that was released on Thursday confirms what had already been known. It will be recalled that a three-member UN committee was set up in July last year in response to a request by the Pakistani Government. The committee was tasked with the job of unearthing the circumstances surrounding the assassination of Benazir Bhutto two years ago as well as probing the investigation that followed. What it found is a noxious concoction of conspiracy, deceit and cover-ups. Its findings confirm that not only were there clear, perceptible threats to Benazir Bhutto's life but also that the Government of the day had failed to provide sufficient security to the former Pakistani Prime Minister. The committee has also indicated that there was a huge cover-up operation following the assassination, something that could not have happened without the knowledge those in the top echelons of the Pakistani establishment, and that the subsequent investigation lacked professionalism and zeal. It puts a question mark on the role played by Pakistan's current Interior Minister Rehman Malik who was then Benazir Bhutto's designated security officer. Mr Malik was with the Pakistani leader the day she was assassinated but fled the scene before the assassins struck.
But the committee's most scathing criticism has been reserved for the Pakistani intelligence and security agencies which it says have been compromised due to the close association that the latter have with jihadi organisations. It has said that the Pakistani Army and institutions under it have used jihadi groups to further their own vested interests and that this is also the tactic that has been used by Pakistan against India in Jammu & Kashmir post-1989. The committee believes that it is this association between the Pakistani security agencies and terrorist groups that has subverted the overall security environment in that country, leading to a dilution of Government authority over these institutions. In other words, what the UN committee is essentially saying is that Pakistan, having bred the monster called terrorism, is today at the receiving end of its own creation. The Pakistani establishment has been so completely infiltrated by the jihadis that it is practically impossible to have a functional democratic country where the rule of law is supreme. Benazir Bhutto was a victim of the circumstances that she had in her own way helped create by being a part of the Pakistani establishment. This is the verdict of an independent UN committee that was set up on Pakistan's own request. What more evidence does Islamabad want to wake up to the reality that the strategy of using terrorism to serve certain short-term objectives has backfired completely?
The bottom-line is that the rot in Pakistan runs deep. For all purposes it is a failed state that has fallen to prey to the jihadi ideology. And those who oppose the present order or are deemed as a challenged to it will be dealt with severely. This is what Benazir Bhutto found out at the cost of her life. In such a scenario, to expect the Pakistani Government, or for that matter the Pakistani Army, to effect a course correction is nothing but wishful thinking. The cancer has really reached the terminal stage.
PARTY SPEAKS WITH FORKED TONGUE ON MAOISTS
It is evident that the Congress is speaking with a forked tongue on the issue of fighting Maoists and meeting the threat to internal security posed by Left extremists. The Prime Minister has been consistent with his position that the Maoists pose the single largest threat to internal security and urgent action is called for to stamp out the menace. Minister for Home Affairs P Chidambaram has pro-actively sought to push the Chief Ministers of the Maoist-infested States into collaborating with each other and with the Union Government in dealing with the problem. Unlike his predecessor, Mr Shivraj Patil, who was clueless about his job and had made the Home Ministry dysfunctional, thus allowing the Maoists sufficient time to expand the area dominated by them, Mr Chidambaram has crafted a strategy and is in the process of trying out various tactics. Yes, the police action against Maoists has not yielded spectacular results and the Government has suffered setbacks, most noticeably in Dantewada where 76 CRPF personnel were butchered by the insurgents. But that by itself is no reason to give up the fight against Red terror on the contrary, as this newspaper has argued, each setback should be used for re-calibrating tactics at the ground level and the war should be stepped up, not scaled back. Sadly, there is a section of leaders in the Congress which seems to be bent upon sending out mixed signals to the insurgents and thus weaken the Home Minister's hands. That in the process the Government looks silly appears to be of no concern to them.
Thursday's debate in Parliament has served to highlight the differences within the Congress on this national issue. Instead of closing ranks behind the Home Minister, Congress leaders are busy taking potshots at him. Worse, there are some who have brazenly expressed their disagreement with the Government's policy of taking on the Maoists and stamping out Red terror. Are we then to believe that the Congress is trying to play two cards at the same time? One, that the Government will persist with a hardline approach, and second, the party will promote a soft line no different from that of the jholawallahs. If this is true, then nothing but grief will result from such cynical duplicity. The Maoists will make full use of the division within the Congress; the Home Minister will feel increasingly frustrated; and, the Prime Minister shall stand isolated. The BJP has done well to come out in support of Mr Chidambaram and berate the 'half Maoists' who want the Government to step back. But that alone may not help Mr Chidambaram take the war on Maoists to its logical conclusion.
They say a man is known by the company he keeps. Going by this benchmark, how do we judge Mr Shashi Tharoor, Minister of State for External Affairs? The past week's events have been a revelation, and here one is not referring to Mr Tharoor's female friends and controversial recipients of 'sweat equity'. Rather, the conduct of Mr Tharoor's Officer on Special Duty in the Ministry of External Affairs has been remarkable and telling in terms of just how seriously he, and presumably his boss, take their duties.
The OSD entered the Tharoor-Lalit Modi battle with gusto. First, he used his Twitter account to point out Mr Modi, the Indian Premier League commissioner, had once faced a drugs charge. Mr Modi, as per the OSD, was "a convicted drug peddler and kidnapper" and had brought "disrepute to the game of cricket".
Next, when a text message reached Mr Tharoor, purportedly from the Dawood Ibrahim gang, warning him to steer clear of the IPL business, the OSD rushed to the media and announced his boss had been threatened with assassination. Finally, the aide released the Kochi team's recruitment policy: "We will bid for Pakistani cricketers to nullify threats from Modi. The Kochi consortium is strongly determined to ensure that this event no longer remains a one-man show."
Mr Lalit Modi may well have a history. The question is, does it become an officer in the MEA even a political appointee who is only there temporarily to use such words in a public forum? That aside, a threat to murder a Minister of the Government of India is a grave matter. The text message was later found to have been a crank's work. Even so, it required to be taken seriously and notified to the Home Ministry and the police. Did it really need to be sensationalised before the media?
Most important, what is the OSD's job description? He is being paid a salary or at least being provided office space and facilities by the Union of India to assist the Minister of State in the MEA in the conduct of Indian diplomacy and the furtherance of Indian foreign policy. He carries a business card with the Ashok Stambh embossed on it. Should he be using his official status to play spokesperson for the Kochi IPL team, putting out details of its conversations with IPL officials, recalling his memories of the meeting at which the bids were opened a meeting he had no business being present at in the first place and deciding which country's cricketers would be priority selection for the franchise?
Mr Tharoor's OSD has become a bit of a joke figure in New Delhi's power circles. At the height of the 'cattle class' controversy silly as it was he rushed to Mr Tharoor's side and tweeted comments made by others that were critical of the Congress spokesperson, Ms Jayanthi Natarajan. Ms Natarajan, in accordance with party policy, had disagreed with Mr Tharoor's categorisation of economy class as 'cattle class'.
Perhaps the Congress needn't have taken umbrage at a weak attempt at humour. Perhaps Ms Natarajan was too harsh on Mr Tharoor. These points can be debated. Yet, is it the job of an officer in the MEA, even one there for a short period, to take on a senior politician and a party spokesperson in this manner? For that matter, how does it help the MEA and Indian diplomacy if the OSD enters into a brawl with Mr Modi, stokes regional sentiment and insists the admittedly opaque IPL commissioner is biased against Kerala?
In recent days, the OSD's behaviour and response has been nothing short of obnoxious. He has bolstered the unfortunate perception that, as Minister, Mr Tharoor is an amateur who has surrounded himself with a series of arrivistes, all of whom have an eye on the main chance. New Delhi is a cruel city. For a politician to allow this impression to be created is the kiss of death.
Frankly, what Mr Tharoor chooses to do in his personal life is his business. However, when his associates seem to influence his public dealings and when, as in the case of the motor-mouth OSD, they plonk themselves within the 'system' and within the Government of India it does become a broader concern.
One doesn't know what fate awaits Mr Tharoor over the weekend, once the Prime Minister returns from Brazil and takes a decision on his most beleaguered Minister. Even so, if things have come to this pass, Mr Tharoor would do well to ponder his performance in the MEA. Rather than blame the media and the Opposition, he should ask himself if he could have managed things differently and if his penchant for entering silly controversies and allowing himself to be led by people such as his bumptious OSD gave him political or intellectual heft in Lutyens's Delhi.
It is not as if India has not had NRI politicians or clever-clever MPs earlier. Mr Jairam Ramesh, to take one example, is as much of a pun-a-minute fiend as Mr Tharoor. Nevertheless, as Minister, Mr Ramesh has just shut up. He speaks to the media only when necessary, avoids off-the-cuff remarks and has restrained his itch for one-liners.
Whether one thinks well of Mr Jairam Ramesh as Minister of State for Environment or not, nobody can accuse him of not being serious. Unfortunately, this is exactly the charge Mr Tharoor faces, from diplomats in his own Ministry, from fellow politicians, from business leaders, from New Delhi's strategic community. The charitable view is he is a lightweight.
In terms of political leadership, the MEA is extraordinarily bereft of specialists. Mr SM Krishna, the Cabinet Minister in the Foreign Office, is a well-spoken man and a veteran administrator. However, the bulk of his career has been spent in domestic politics. In this situation, Mr Tharoor had a huge opportunity before him when he entered Government in 2009. Sadly, he has thrown it away, and irrespective of whether he survives this round or not that is unlikely to change.
It is possible that in the company of his OSD he may choose to blame India for not appreciating his talents. Centuries ago, Nero, the Roman Emperor, committed suicide with the last words, "What an artist the world is losing." Appropriately, they were uttered to his secretary.
This is a story of a famous saint. He was born in a Brahmin family. He received good training in his childhood. But he was not interested in the family profession of conducting rituals for others; he wanted to become a devotee of god. Therefore, he left home when he was 16 and settled in Rishikesh. He began to study various scriptures and held discussions with those with similar leanings.
He would chant god's name for several hours every day. Gradually, calm descended on him and he began to feel connected to god. People began to notice that he was special and came to him for spiritual advice. Some stayed on and became his disciples.
As the number of disciples grew, serious thought was given to housing them. They looked around and located an ashram not far from Rishikesh. It was a large property that was lying vacant. They got in touch with the owner who agreed to let them stay for a minor rent. The saintly person moved with his disciples to the new location.
Everything was going well with the disciples collecting enough money through donations for their subsistence. However, the saintly person was beginning to get very impatient with different things; he wanted everything done perfectly, which was not always possible. Things began to get worse and the disciples started finding themselves at the receiving of their spiritual teacher's anger. Still they tolerated him and life went on.
One day there was a long delay in the preparation of food. The saintly person lost his temper and spoke very harshly to his disciples who were engaged in kitchen duties. Things appeared normal till the sage found that no one came for the regular evening class. After waiting for his disciples for sometime, he came out to investigate. He found all his disciples huddled together and discussing something quite animatedly. He quietly went and listened in on them. He realised that they were upset at his getting angry frequently. He understood his mistake and vowed to try and control his anger. Getting angry and staying angry, no matter what the provocation, is a demonic quality. We must not fall prey to this weakness.
SO MANY DIED -IN VAIN
THE BJP'S RUSHING TO OFFER UNQUALIFIED SUPPORT TO THE CONGRESS TO FIGHT A FIRE OF ITS OWN MAKING IN TRIBAL INDIA IS SEEN BY MANY AS BEING MORE ROYAL THAN THE KING. BUT NOW CONGRESSMEN THEMSELVES ARE QUESTIONING CHIDAMBARAM'S CREDIBILITY
Eleven days is a long time to understand the difference between incident and incidence. Public angst over a death toll which beats that seen in any insurgency theatre in the country's troubled history is understandable. What isn't, however, is the policy paralysis in government and the absence of a clear direction in strategic terms.
Should we be particularly angry because we lost 76 good men on a single day? Would we be, and are we not, a lot less angry if we lost them on 76 different days spread over the year? So is this about per capita decapitation? Or is it about an error of judgment, a procedural slip of intelligence in the course of a normal counter insurgency operation? Or, in fact, is it about the sorry state of governance, or tribal rights, or an operation called "Green Hunt?" Whatever the case, it is patently obvious that we are using this incident for the wrong ends, but it is fortuitous that in the process we are revealing the abject lacunae in policy and politics, in strategy and tactics, in discourse and direction.
The delay, or disinterest, in integrating tribal communities into the national mainstream has exacerbated the problem. What we like to call the 'red corridor' is merely the geographical contiguity of depressed communities and depressing conditions that constitute the grazing grounds of radicals. Add to that the legacy of the Communists, the assistance of a neighbouring country and the economies of gun running, and you have what you have. Then whether you call it insurgency, or terrorism or Marxism or Maoism is a mere quibble.
The arguments for and against salwa judum notwithstanding, it is clear to anyone that there is a principle of depreciating returns in a strategy where we use the people against the Maoists. This strategy in the long run is dangerous because you end up creating an environment where weapons and violence starts seeping into daily life. You will see that when, and if, you recover from the scourge of Maoism, you would have laid a fertile bed for another resistance force to come up sooner or later if follow up actions are not in place, and they most often are not if we know our governments. The Congress should know this from the Bhindranwale experience. The strategist should know this from text books.
I offer no solution in its place except that law and order is the business of the State. Disaffection is not unusual in democracies but a combination of efforts to build resistance and consider recompense for earlier lapses is a doable thing. So why does it not happen?To understand that we would need to cleave the subject of the aspect that repeatedly dislodges rational debate, viz. the reasons for the Maoists' progress and, inter alia, the argument of tribal rights, livelihood and development. There is so much commentary on this, that we need to either take our own view of it and hold our peace, or suffer the indignity of being lectured by punctilious professors who, having relatively recently visited the area, have come to a serendipitous conclusion on a subject that has its roots in the decades when most of them were gangly adolescents queuing up for ice-cream sodas.
The reported response of the Home Minister to the ghastly attack on CRPF jawans in Chhattisgarh by Naxalites left us agog. He was so careful with choosing words at a time when the State was watching itself inflicted with one of the highest ever casualties in peace time, that it makes us wonder if the blight of 'fiddler' Home Ministers is still upon us. The last Home Minister was shown the door because he was too concerned with changing suits on a day of similar massacres. This Home Minister is doing the same thing, but his choice of decorative apparel is words and their textures. [He is at pains to make clear that he did not use the word 'war'. Look at the decorous decoding of the message that has been sent to him in casualties!]
The PM on the other hand is circumspect in the best traditions of procrastination and would like to consider all options. And yet, he is not sure that this deserves any change of policy since 'we are too close to the event'. So let a few months pass, until the wounds heal and the breaking news syndrome peters out and then we have to do nothing. No paper to push, no policy to change - a bureaucrat's response to a situation that demands leadership and forward vision.
Then the Home Minister plays the resignation card - curiously, after the opposition had already committed itself to unconditional support on the day of the incident. It looked like the Home Minister was looking for safe passage, but the BJP's quick intervention seemed to have neutered his escapist ambition. Then the entire Opposition came together in support of the government and finally there seemed a glimmer of hope that a concerted, unified thrust will emerge towards a proactive policy modification or change. But this was clearly not something the Congress had wagered.
The jury is out on whether the BJP bought into the Congress gambit and was forced to support the government when it could have ripped its namby-pamby policy on the Naxalite issue. It is argued that it may not have been possible to do otherwise, poised as the chess pieces were at the time. But the speed with which the Government was endorsed by the BJP was eventually seen by some as decidedly supplicate. We don't remember the Congress party 'solidly behind the government' during the Kargil war when the NDA was in power. We remember Congress cadres making inflatable buses to ridicule the Lahore foray by Mr. Vajpayee. We also remember that it took potent, public advocacy campaign to bring them to heel.
The Congress stratagem of occupying all posts, even those from where invectives can be launched against their own government is a total-domination game where they ease out real Opposition by positioning faux opposition, who are really their own front men or in alliance with them due to shared subliminal interests. The Communists, for instance, have played that role as the B team of the Congress for many years.
So, just as the entire episode begins acquiring a consensual shape with media and civil society rallying for a combined effort to flush out the Maoists, the Congress calls in its game changers. Now a senior leader in the organisational hierarchy within the Congress launches a broadside against the Home Minister, who seems to have almost everybody else's confidence, including the Opposition's. Anything, it seems, to scuttle a consensus that creates conditions requiring decisive action. What is the Congress afraid of? Or is there a secret understanding to go only that far and no further on the Maoist issue. With whom, and in return for what, is the priceless question.
There is no need to question the support given by the BJP to the UPA at this stage. This is an issue which has its origins in the approaches of successive governments since Independence - and which by default have been mostly Congress led - to the issue of development of marginal communities, particularly adivasis and tribals. There has also been no attempt to inculcate a sense of nation within them. It may in fact be the time to demand a comprehensive strategy from the Centre for leapfrogging development in consultation with local communities in fast forward mode. Only that, coupled with decisive deterrent action, will make any dent in the armour of the Maoists, or the hearts of the people in areas like Dantewada.
Sanjay Kaul is a member of the Bharatiya Janata Party and can be reached at email@example.com
HOW ANDHRA PRADESH SMASHED THE MAOISTS
DISSENTING INTELLECTUALS AND OBTRUSIVE MEDIA NOTWITHSTANDING, THE LATE RAJSHEKHAR REDDY, ALONG WITH A TEAM OF COMPETENT STATE POLICE OFFICIALS, ROOTED OUT THE MAOIST MENACE WITHIN A SHORT TIME. IT'S TIME THOSE LESSONS WERE RECALLED
Following the horror of Dantewada, the UPA government embarked upon a public soul searching exercise to identify the vulnerabilities in its strategy against the Maoists. It was a needless exercise. All they could do was take a leaf out of the book of Andhra Pradesh, whose government has done wonders in its anti-Maoist campaign.
The reasons behind the success of Andhra Pradesh government's drive against the Maoists over the past six years are complex. On the one hand, the government adopted a three-pronged strategy of treating left wing violence as a law and order as well as socio- economic problem and adopting a carrot-and-stick policy towards the Maoists. It was also fortuitous for the regime of the late Rajshekhar Reddy that the ultras themselves dug their own graves by committing a series of strategic blunders. However people like Vara Vara Rao and Ghaddar were in the forefront of criticising the government and the police for what they called "fake encounter killings" of Maoist leaders. "The State is acting like a terrorist. They are talking about the issue as a socio-economic one but both the Centre and the Andhra government wants to deal with it as a law and order issue", said Ghaddar as Maoist losses mounted.
Though land reforms has been always the major plank of Maoist or Naxal struggle, the state government's programme of distribution of land among the landless has failed to get the support of these intellectuals as they dismissed it as "too little too late". Ghadhar said: "Look at the government figures itself. It tells us that 1.26 crore acres is available for distribution among the landless poor. Now out of that you choose a meagre 2 lakh acres. Then why do you expect us to support such meaningless decisions?"
Many of these intellectuals had anti-government leanings. The state has seen several confrontations between the pro-Maoist intellectuals and human rights activists, as the police alleged that they had nexus with the Maoists and were helping them. Ghadhar himself was underground for close to a decade till a government amnesty enabled him to come out in 1990. Vara Vara Rao, a founder of Revolutionary Writers Association, who was arrested several times, does not mince his words when it comes to supporting the Maoist movement.
In the context of the spiraling violence in other states like Chattisgarh and Jharkand, VV blames the government's policy of depriving tribals of their land and livelihood by taking over their forests and lands. Alleging that Operation Green Hunt was directed against the tribals, VV says: "It is to weed out the adivasis and to loot the natural resources which would be handed over to multinational like Tata, Vedanta and Lakshmi Mittal".
The intellectuals don't think they are breaking any law. Rather they charge the police with having acted extra-constitutionally by killing people in fake encounters. The clash between the two has some time taken bloody turn.
Vara Vara Rao says that several rights activists were abducted and killed by the police in the name of shadowy organisations like "Green Tigers". The attempt on the life of Ghaddar in 1997, when unknown assailants fired at him and injured him serious is counted among such incidents.
Despite such incidents, Maoists sympathisers are quite active and have been raising their voices from different platforms and on different issues. Reacting to the killing of a prominent Maoist leader, Shakhamuri Appa Rao, last month, Ghaddar said: "the police is killing those fighting for the poor and oppressed in continuing". Adds VV: ""If the state stands for violence, then counter violence will continue".
Even before the short-lived peace process between YS Rajasekhara Reddy's government and the then CPI (ML) People's War and CPI (ML) Jana Shakti in 2004, the State had started getting an upper hand over the extremists by modernising its police force in terms of weapons, communication networks, intelligence gathering and training of forces, especially the Greyhounds.
The State believed that the Maoists agreed to come to the peace table as they had suffered a series of setbacks and had started losing ground. This explains why the People's War leadership readily agreed for negotiations and nominated three of their known sympathiser intellectuals: VV, writer G Kalyan Rao and balladeer Ghaddar. These people were expected to bargain for safe passage for the underground leaders.
The police's change of strategy also helped them gain an upper hand. Instead of pursuing the hackneyed tactics of targeting the villagers and sympathisers for giving shelter or providing food and water to the Maoists, the police started to go only after the big fish, sparing ordinary villagers. The government's policy of announcing rewards on the head of the important leaders ranging from Rs 15 to Rs 20 lakh. It offered the same sum to the Maoists if they surrendered and availed rehabilitation schemes.
The police also adopted a more humane attitude towards the villagers who had helped the policem in intelligence gathering and tracking the movements of the armed squads. "Strengthening the intelligence network at the grassroot level marked the turning point in this fight", said former Director General of Police Swaranjit Sen, whose tenure saw many major successes against the Maoists.
The emphasis on socio-economic aspects of the problem, especially employment generation in the under-developed rural areas and recruitment of tribal youth in the police by raising a tribal battalion, helped in weaning them away from Maoist influence. But above all the complete political unanimity on the need to fight against the Maoists and curbing the violence and lawlessness played no minor role in changing the situation.
The drastic fall in the Maoist violence in Andhra Pradesh could be gauged from the few statistics. In 2003, the state witnessed the killing of 339 people both in Maoist attacks and the counter action by the police. They include 151 civilians including 15 policemen and 175 extremists. In 2005 the total number of extremist related incidents went up to 576 in which 166 civilians and 25 policemen were killed and police killed 162 extremists.
By 2006 tide had started turning against Maoists as the number of offences came down to 212. The loss of civilian life and police men came down significantly and many top Maoist leaders were killed. That year Maoist killed 52 people including 11 policemen and police in turn killed 134 extremists including 42 senior leaders like a central committee member called Chandramouli and state committee chief "Burra Chinnaiah" alias Madhav.
By 2008 the number of incidents came down to only 96 as 45 civilians and 37 extremists were killed. However the year was bad for the police as Maoists killed 34 policemen, 33 of them were drowned in a lake in Orissa when Maoists attacked their launch. In 2009 the state recorded an all-time low level of violence with 56 incidents. No policemen were killed, but the Maoists slaughtered 15 civilians and lost 16 of their own including important leaders like central committee member Patel Sudhakar Reddy.
The writer is The Pioneer's Hyderabad correspondent
Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee and Mamata Banerjee have reduced Bengal to an effete State ripe for Maoist takeover. Here India is a rumour, democracy already a shroud, and the babble of decadent bards are pearls of wisdom
The Maoists nurse a dream to "capture Delhi" by 2050. Their politburo member, Kishanji, who is a household name in Bengal today thanks to an impotent government, has even expressed confidence that the capital of India would fall to the "revolutionaries" well before that deadline. But the intellectuals of Bengal are not overtly bothered with that prospect. They thoroughly enjoy the media tamasha whenever the so-called Kishenji appears before TV cameras, albeit face hooded. The incompetent state government, whose leaders had themselves harboured dreams of "revolution" in their own heyday, partake in the entertainment, much to the bewilderment of the rest of India.
It was perhaps against this backdrop that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh made some assertions: first, the Maoists were the biggest threat to India's internal security and second the intelligentsia should unanimously come out against the Maoists who have often drawn succor from the circuitous backing they received from the Kolkata sushil samaj (intellectuals).
Mahasweta Devi, who is a figurehead of sorts for those in West Bengal who believe that the Maoists should be tackled diplomatically rather than militarily, talks with a forked tongue. While denying the presence of Maoists in Jangal Mahal, she demands that the Centre withdraw central forces from the tribal boondocks to facilitate peace talks. With whom? The Maoists, is her retort.
"I am against any kind of violence and killings. The government should immediately sit for talks with the Maoists and scrap Operation Green Hunt. This operation will not help in solving the Maoist menace. It will only increase the oppression of tribal and I am against it," Mahasweta Devi had appealed. Her fellow intellectuals, Bibhas Chakraborty, Joy Goswami and human right activist Sujato Bhadra, say much the same. Bhadra, who recently wrote a letter to the government demanding withdrawal of paramilitary forces, is the most media savvy of the lot. In the "footsteps" of the central forces they heard the "footsteps of a police State"; but the brutal killing of hundreds of poor villagers failed to move them.
In short, their stance seems as duplicitous as that of Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, who emphatically rejects stories of abject poverty and hunger in the tribal villages. He reprimands his comrades from the tribal zone in closed-door state committee meetings for "failing" to ensure regular work and supply of ration among the poor.
That the Prime Minister's appeal is bound to fall on deaf ears can also be proved by the very composition of this neo-intelligentsia class collectively called Vidwatjan. One set comprises former beneficiaries of the Marxist gravy train like Sankho Ghosh, Aparna Sen and Kaushik Sen. The other coterie, led by the painter Suva Prasanna and poet Joy Goswami, have Congress links. A third lot is made up of 'reformed Naxalites' like Dola Sen and Dipankar Bose. And yet another clan is the likes of Kabir Suman, the Trinamool Congress MP, and a strong follower of Mahasweta Devi. Recently, the maverick MP who withdrew his resignation declared: "I can even stand before a blazing gun if Mahasweta Devi orders me."
While the Maoists are a unified, deadly force, the intellectuals of Bengal are divided along partisan lines. So bitter are their differences that intellectuals like Kabir Suman would never attend a meeting in which Subha Prasanna is present. Those who thought Kabir Suman (earlier Suman Chattopadhyay) a pioneer songsmith was a comic character in the political circles, have just started to be proved wrong. Suman is now a bone stuck in the throat of TMC chief Mamata Banerjee.
Ms Banerjee's predicament is understandable as senior leaders in the party have started asking questions on the rebel MP's reported links with the Maoists more so after he composed a full set of songs on arrested Maoist-PCPA leader Chhatradhar Mahato, the younger brother of Maoist leader Sasadhar Mahato. Though Suman claimed that the songs were products of his independent persona of a lyricist, what raised eyebrows was the way it reached Kishenji days ahead of its official release at the Kolkata Book Fair. The doubts in the party became stronger after he openly took on the party chief for failing to protest the Centre's decision to pump in CRPF battalions in Jangalmahal.
And yet Ms Banerjee cannot cast him off on her own for fear of not only losing a seat in the Lok Sabha, but also angering her support base among the Muslim voters of South 24 Parganas where her party holds the Zilla Parishad but with indifferent performance and is plagued by allegations of poverty. Experts have already started doubting whether Suman is a Maoist plant in Trinamool ranks. The theory is plausible if one goes by the history of the Communist movement where the role of a bourgeois democratic revolution is paramount in shaping a proletarian uprising and all such bourgeois movements are ignited by communist elements.
Apart from intellectuals, the dream of a concerted response to the Maoist menace is challenged by other professionals too. There are reports that a number of industrial houses, particularly into banking and financial services, are making money out of the insurgency. This not because these companies have a weakness for Maoism, but because they make millions by laundering the millions extorted by Kishenji from contractors and other tradesmen in Jangalmahal. According to reliable sources, the investment from poverty-stricken districts in some of private insurance companies have increased by leaps and bound in recent years.
The Prime Minister's call for a unanimous voice and a united struggle against the Maoists may continue to remain a non-starter while anti-Maoist operation goes on to mature into a "counter-insurgency industry".
The author is Principal Correspondent of The Pioneer
YOU HAVEN'T HEARD THE LAST OF THIS, MR THAROOR
MINISTER of State for External Affairs Shashi Tharoor's inability to make a statement on the Indian Premier League controversy in the Lok Sabha on account of the ruckus created by the Opposition is not just an indicator of the heat the issue has provided.
By having to read out his statement outside the House, it is also clear that the Congress party is in no mood to throw its weight behind him and wants him to get out of the mess he has landed himself in on his own.
Perhaps there is good reason for the party doing so. Mr Tharoor is yet to explain convincingly why his ' close friend' Sunanda Pushkar was granted an equity worth Rs 70 crore by the consortium that successfully bid for the Kochi IPL franchise. He has been trying to give a regional spin to the affair by claiming that IPL commissioner Lalit Modi and others wanted to deprive Kochi of the opportunity of owning a franchise.
Earlier, he accused Mr Modi of breaching the confidentiality agreement by going public about the shareholding pattern in the Kochi franchise. Mr Modi and his cronies may well be guilty on these counts but any wrongdoing on their part does not by itself exonerate Mr Tharoor of the charge he is facing. He must explain how and why a middle- level executive like Sunanda Pushkar about whose management skills the world knows little as yet should be granted a humongous ' sweat equity', that too ' undilutable in perpetuity'. Mr Tharoor may emerge out of this controversy with his job intact, but his image is dented. It is up to the government and the Congress party to decide as to whether he remains an asset for the United Progressive Alliance government or is now irretrievably a liability.
BELLARY MINE LORDS
THE powerful mine lords from Bellary in Karnataka have a reputation for being brazen about their vast business interests.
The recent raids by the state anti- corruption bureau, the Lok Ayukta, exposed some illegal operations. Yet, this has not inhibited them from running their businesses, which straddle Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh, exactly as they want to.
This newspaper has a report on a non- existent steel plant in Andhra Pradesh's Kadapa district owned by mining tycoon and Karnataka minister G. Janardhan Reddy and his brothers. Yet, the Brahmani steel plant is being sold off to the Jindals for a hefty profit following talks on majority stake sale. While this can be argued as a regular business transaction, the Reddy brothers have shockingly exported huge quantities of iron ore from the captive mines at Obalapuram owned by them.
There are fears that this mining in violation of the licence conditions has endangered the sustainability of the upcoming steel plant in Kadapa district.
This is a cause for concern. The Bellary mine lords who wield substantial political influence in both states are proving to be a law unto themselves. Their actions are harming legitimate local interests.
An independent audit and inquiry should be ordered into their businesses because transgressions by the tycoons involves not merely losses to the exchequer but holds out the dismal prospect of ruining natural resources.
PROTECT US FROM RADIATION
IT is not enough for the Delhi government to amend the waste disposal laws to check the danger of radioactive waste affecting the citizens of the capital. There is need for the Union government to adopt and implement a stringent policy that will involve screening of waste scrap as it is imported through our major and minor ports.
It is not only Indians who work in the scrap industry who are in danger. Actually the smelted material recast into steel items of everyday use like bicycles, umbrellas, elevator buttons poses a danger to people across the world. According to one report, out of the 123 shipments of contaminated goods that were denied entry to U. S. ports since screening began in the wake of Nine Eleven by the US Homeland Security department, 67 originated in India.
DIGVIJAY'S NOT A LONE CONG VOICE
BY BHARAT BHUSHAN
BY no stretch of the imagination can the Congress general secretary, Digivijay Singh, two- time chief minister of Madhya Pradesh, be called a Maoist sympathiser or a supporter of armed insurgency. Why then did he choose to voice criticism of Home Minister P Chidambaram's policy of tackling Maoist violence in the public domain? Mr Singh's views suggest that in a party used to a multiplicity of voices and in which a wide range of views co- exist, the home minister's rigidness bordering on self- righteousness is not acceptable to all.
It also raises the possibility that the party may not fully endorse the manner in which the government has chosen to deal with the Maoist insurgency.
It cannot be easy for someone with Singh's experience in public life to claim openly that he was given short shrift when he tried to discuss the Maoist issue with Mr Chidambaram and that he has been " a victim of his intellectual arrogance many times". When he cited the principle of collective responsibility of the cabinet he was critical of Mr Chidambaram for not addressing the social ramifications of the problem (" when I raised this issue with him he said it was not his responsibility").
Mr Singh made it known that he and Mr Chidambaram entered parliament at the same time, in 1985.
What he left unsaid was that their trajectories diverged after that the former remained with the Congress throughout and became its chief minister twice in Madhya Pradesh while Chidambaram left the Congress on the eve of the 1996 general election and joined the Tamil Manila Congress of G K Moopanar; was finance minister of two non- Congress governments of H D Deve Gowda and I K Gujaral; and in 1998 was reported to be playing footsie with the BJP although nothing came of it.
Mr Chidambaram is not seen by all as a traditional Congress man nor have his political shifts earned him equity within the party. Both on his economic thinking and his social thinking he seems to be on the same page as the party's bête noir, the BJP. Consider how the saffron party came to his rescue in his resignation drama after the Dantewada massacre, describing him as " senapati" or commander- inchief.
In the neo- liberal consensus that exists in the country today, many Congressmen may share the BJP's perspective on economic policies, but there is an unbridgeable difference between the two on their social perspective.
Mr Singh represents, along with Mani Shankar Aiyar and others, the social conscience of the Congress party.
This is not the first run- in that the general secretary of the party has had with the mercurial minister. Mr Singh is one of those in the Congress who has been demanding a review and reinvestigation of the controversial Batla House encounter with " terrorists" in Delhi. He had the courage to go against the establishment and visit the families of the victims in Azamgarh and to announce that Rahul Gandhi would visit the famous Shibli College there. The aim was to apply a healing touch to a community that felt slighted by being branded as antinational and terrorist. The home ministry and the security establishment scuppered the plan through their short- sightedness.
The Maoist issue is much larger in its dimensions than acts of terrorism carried out by foreign- sponsored actors in which occasional elements from the Indian Muslim community might participate. As an entirely indigenous phenomenon it demands a more complex response and should not be treated as another kind of terrorism. One cannot limit one's approach to one end of the spectrum, the hawkish policy of the home ministry ( or the mawkish romancing of violence by Maoist sympathisers). Some in the Congress are therefore calling for a wide range of views to avoid what Mani Shankar Aiyar calls a " one- eyed approach". It is entirely possible that Digvijay Singh was speaking on behalf of the party saying things which neither Sonia Gandhi as the president of the party or Rahul Gandhi as the heir apparent can openly say. After all, the massacre at Dantewada is not the right context for criticism of the government by the Family. Yet, if Dantewada is indeed a " wakeup call", then what should be done after waking up needs to be debated. Sleep walking into Maoist death traps is not a good option. The Home Minister's chest thumping is not so germane to solving the problem as defending our democratic system, with all its faults, from the alternative politics being offered by the insurgents to large swathes of our tribal population.
After Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's gag order on his ministers on the Maoist issue, who else was going to comment on the emperor's new clothes but the party? Sonia Gandhi and by derivation, the party, is much more receptive to civil society voices than the technocrats who are running this government. Voices other than those of elected representatives or those of specialists inducted into the governing structure, as in the NAC or the Planning Commission, are not illegitimate, irrelevant or undemocratic. The party which at the end of the day has to win elections knows this better than the indirectly elected or virtually unelectable managers of the state. These voices are telling the party to exercise caution in the use of armed force.
There is also the tribal vote which at 8.2 per cent of the population represents a huge electoral constituency. In the bigger states of Central India, the tribal population stands at 32 per cent in Chattisgarh, 20 per cent in Madhya Pradesh, 26 per cent in Jharkhand and 22 per cent in Orissa. In none of them has the fifth schedule protection for tribals been implemented efficiently. They are all rich in minerals located on tribal lands and sought with rapacious greed by all the votaries of development irrespective of the political cost of making the tribals landless as well as ecological refugees.
And in all of them an armed Maoist movement exists.
There is no political alternative being offered in these states to the unrelenting march of ' development' at all costs backed by the state machinery on the one hand, and the illusory relief that the Maoists offer to the tribals on the other.
The Congress as the party which has lost its traditional tribal vote, has to look for an alternative politics in the tribal belt and its government must therefore explore diverse ways of dealing with the extremist politics of the Maoists. The collateral damage by using the air force or drones would alienate the tribals for ever.
Still it would be wrong to see this as a signal that the party wants to send to Chidambaram to desist from his hard- line approach. It only means that the party is open to other points of view on how to tackle the Maoists. Mr Singh's statements help to open that space within the party from which alternatives might emerge if a course correction was required. It would explain why the reaction from the party spokespersons was so mild not amounting to even a rap on the knuckles.
The future strategy of dealing with the Maoists may develop as a complex clutch of strategies. The public mind is not yet fully made up on how to deal with them despite the shrillness of television commentators.
Mr Singh has joined an important debate. It needs to be intensified one needs to hear many more voices and many more opinions. Democratic politics functions best when there are contending ideas, policies and prescriptions.
QAISER MOHAMMAD ALI
IPL is not just about plain cricket for Modi
THE Indian Premier League ( IPL) may have had a grand launch and a dream run since then but the recent controversy over the people who own its franchises has put a question mark over its future. The unprecedented success of IPL has only seen the rise and rise of its architect Lalit Modi.
But inside the IPL management it has not been rosy all the way.
IPL governing council members seem to have started fighting in the boardroom within months of the pompous announcement of its constitution on September 13, 2007. So, the latest row between the Kochi franchise and IPL chairman and commissioner Modi is nothing new, really. The friction within the council is exposed through the acrimonious emails that have been exchanged between its members in the last couple of years of IPL's existence.
And Modi, a master at using the Blackberry, would have easily sent more e- mails than the rest of the council members put together. In the initial phase, he used to break the news of IPL sponsorships to his council colleagues and franchisees from his prolific Blackberry many times after midnight.
The mails exchanged by council members have often been terse or sarcastic or have contained complaints. For instance, BCCI president Shashank Manohar had in May 2008 snubbed Modi in a stronglyworded e- mail, quashing a grand Modi proposal aimed at " self glorification". It was about starting an ' IPL Founders and Shakers Club' but it never saw the light of the day after the Manohar rebuff.
As per the grand and glamorous Modi plan for which he proposed a budget of $ 15,00,000 and an additional $ 500,000 every subsequent year 50 founding members were to be nominated for their " contribution" to the IPL and would also receive expensive gifts. It was planned that in subsequent years, those who contributed to the event would be included in the ' shakers' category. Essentially, as mentioned by Modi in the five ' purposes' behind launching the club, these members were to be " likeminded people" who would come " together to enjoy future social occasions, annual dinner etc." The IPL Nights being held these days have a stark resemblance to that proposal.
Modi's friend IS Bindra, a governing council member and president of the Punjab Cricket Association, termed it as a " great idea" and felt " we can refine ( it) as we move along. I think we should have first eight captains as members". But Manohar shot down the proposal straightaway. " The concept proposed by you is contrary to the constitution of the board, apart from the fact that the concept is nothing but self glorification of the board officials," Manohar, a no- nonsense lawyer who always calls a spade a spade, had thundered in his reply. " The IPL has taken off in an excellent manner and we do not need to indulge in such gimmicks. The board is a sporting organisation and the concept proposed makes it look like a fun organisation which has no connection with the game." Manohar had reasons to be furious. The ' IPL Founders and Shakers Club' was to start by including all the members of the IPL governing council; all BCCI office bearers; the 10- member IPL core team, including its CEO; 18 franchise owners; title sponsor DLF; IPL media rights and marketing partners as well as contributors; and a special nomination by Modi " for an individual contribution".
DID WE HEAR OF A BCCI CHANNEL?
THE immense success of IPL ( so far) has overshadowed everything else. The blinding razzmatazz of the lucrative Twenty20 tournament has even made the public forget the promises made by BCCI officials. One such promise was made regarding the launch of a cricket channel in 2005. That was almost two and a half years before the IPL was formally launched, with two key BCCI officials making the announcement.
In early 2005, Punjab Cricket Association president IS Bindra he still occupies that post and Lalit Modi, had pompously announced that the BCCI would launch its own cricket channel. But five years hence there is no apparent progress towards fulfilling the promise made by the two friends in Mohali.
Many other weird proposals/ suggestions have been made at various forums of the BCCI since its inception in 1928. Some years ago, before the likes of Lalit Modi started hiring chartered jets to transport teams and television crews, some board members had proposed buying a plane to avoid problems faced in booking flight tickets for officials and teams.
They felt that if the BCCI had its own plane not only would it help transport Indian and visiting teams, but it would also serve well in ferrying teams during domestic tournaments.But the proposal never materialised.
In this party there are no losers
WHEN IPL was launched in 2007, it was proposed to have as many as 16 franchise teams by 2010. " IPL hopes to grow from eight franchises to 16 by 2010," was what Modi had hoped in September 2007. In hindsight, it's a big relief for the connoisseurs and fans of cricket that the number of teams did not grow as rapidly as was envisaged.
Just imagine the mess cricket would have been in had the number of teams gone up to 16, considering the amount of muck being thrown around following the addition of two teams last month to the existing eight.
While the franchisee number has not grown as much as planned, the IPL governing council has doubled in less than three years since its formation.
From being a seven- member group, appointed for five years, it now has 14 members! Did someone say only cricketers benefited from IPL?
EX- PLAYERS TOO HAVE ISSUES WITH IPL'S FUNCTIONING
SOME BCCI/ IPL members recently said that Modi often makes public announcements without taking into confidence his colleagues. That doesn't seem to be the grouse of only the board members but also of at least one of the three eminent former India cricketers on the IPL governing council.
For instance, former India captain Ravi Shastri had shot off a stinging letter to the council members after Sourav Ganguly and Shane Warne were fined 10 per cent of their match fees and on- field umpire GA Pratap Kumar was suspended by match referee Farokh Engineer. The issue was a controversial catch during a Kolkata Knight Riders- Rajasthan Royals game in Jaipur in 2008.
" As good a bloke he may be, it's important that Farokh be told not to get carried away. His handling of the Ganguly incident was appalling. If the umpire was served a Level- II offence with a suspension then Ganguly should have been banned for five games at least for instigating the problem which was just not in the spirit of fair play," Shastri wrote.
" This entire umpiring episode should be handled in a much better fashion with the right protocol followed. Just for everyone's information there happens to be a chief ( IPL) referee in Vishy ( GR Vishwanath) who hasn't even been brought into play. This is just not on." Shastri further wrote: " One just can't understand the hurry in passing a judgement. Brian Lara was banned in India for a couple of games for doing a similar thing.
Just like the gentlemen concerned in the incident, Farokh should also be told to zip up in the media before he adds more fuel to the fire.
" I sincerely hope that protocol is observed in the future. At times even a discussion with cricketers on the governing council who have played a bit of cricket would help," he added. Apart from Shastri, Sunil Gavaskar and MAK Pataudi are also on the council.
TRANSPLANT CURES GIRL OF THALASSEMIA
BY NEETU CHANDRA IN NEW DELHI
HELENA, a two- year- old thalassemia major patient, has become the first person to receive a successful mother- to- daughter bone marrow transplant in the Capital.
The transplantation was performed at the Rajiv Gandhi Cancer Hospital and Research Centre ( RGCHRC) on February 10 and the doctors have ruled out complications anymore as more than two months have passed since the procedure.
" She ( Helena) showed the usual problems initially but she has no complication now and has been cured of Thalassemia," said Dr Dinesh Bhurani, a senior consultant ( haematology) at the RGCHRC, who did the transplant.
Bone marrow transplant is a rare procedure owing to the difficulty in finding a tissue match. And a parent- to- child transplant is particularly rare as the probability of a tissue match in such cases is a mere three per cent.
Only transplants between siblings show a better probability of tissue match with a one in four, or 25 per cent, chance.
" For a bone marrow transplant to be performed, the human leukocyte antigens, or HLA, in the donor cells must closely match those in the recipient cells. HLA are cell surface proteins. The immune system recognises cells as ' self ' or ' foreign' based on these proteins," said Dr J. S. Arora, the general secretary of National Thalassemia Welfare Society and Federation of Indian Thalassemics.
Dr Gauri Kapoor, a senior consultant ( paediatric haemato- oncology), RGCHRC, echoed Arora. " In bone marrow transplantation, the donor's immune system replaces that of the recipient.
If the tissues don't match, this new immune system may recognise the recipient's body as foreign and attack organs and tissues," she said.
In Helena's case, although the HLA in her cells didn't match that of her siblings Raunak and Sanjana, they matched those of her mother Meena Kaur.
Helena, whose father Indra Kumar is employed with a multinational company in Russia, developed health problems when she was one.
She underwent treatment at the Mata Chanan Devi hospital in West Delhi and later at the Deen Dayal Upadhyaya hospital.
Doctors at Deen Dayal hospital told the child's parents that she would need blood transfusions for life. " She needed blood transfusions every month but then her condition started deteriorating," Kaur said. Helena had to discontinue schooling as her health deteriorated.
When there was no sign of improvement in Helena's condition, her parents consulted doctors at the RGCHRC, and they suggested a bone marrow transplant as the last resort and only cure for the condition.
FROM MOTHER TO DAUGHTER
A parent- to- child bone marrow transplant is rare as the probability of a tissue match is just three per cent
Though the HLA ( human leukocyte antigens) in Helena's cells didn't match that of her siblings Raunak and Sanjana, they matched those of her mother Meena Kaur
Helena is the first person in Delhi to receive a successful mother- todaughter bone marrow transplant
No threat to her life now
INDIAN PRIEST IN A SPOT IN ITALY OVER PAEDOPHILIA
AN INDIAN priest who confessed to sexually abusing a 10- year- old girl in central Italy has been placed under house arrest.
The priest, identified only as David, was transferred to an unnamed location, believed to be a local convent after being charged with sexual violence in the town of Teramo, 175 km northeast of Rome.
His lawyer, Giovanni Gebbia, said that the 40- year- old priest from south India was completely " demoralised" by his arrest on Thursday and expressed concern about his client's mental health.
" He is very worried about his profile because he is both a priest and a foreigner.
He is very depressed." The priest on Wednesday admitted to visiting the girl at her home on December 19 last year.
Gebbia downplayed the accusations, saying the hand of his client " brushed against" her intimate area. " He approached her private parts, he brushed against her private parts," Gebbia said.
" He did not have any bad intentions." Gebbia said his client had been singled out because of the " current climate" after a wave of sexual abuse allegations by priests has shaken the Catholic Church across the world. The priest will face Italy's criminal law before the church took action under canonical law.
MAN OF INFLUENCE
THERE'S only one person who can bring warring Kerala Opposition leader Oommen Chandy and chief minister Achuthanandan on the same platform in a spirit of bonhomie. He is a top functionary in the Prime Minister's Office ( PMO).
The miracle happened at a recent function to release the logo of a shopping mall in Kochi. Setting aside their bitter differences, Chandy and Achuthanandan waxed eloquent about Kerala's success in many fields.
It was the same functionary who served as a cushion between the CPM supremo, a country cousin and the UPA- I. A strong believer in the maxim ' charity begins at home', the man in the PMO rushes back home whenever there is a recess.
But this often gets him into controversies.
For, he loves rubbing shoulders with people of all shades providing fodder to gossip mills which run overtime in God's own country.
The real reason
TOBACCO chewing is hazardous to health, but Union health minister Ghulam Nabi Azad has a personal reason to work hard to bring a law to prevent chewing tobacco.
Way back in 1975 when Azad was a Youth Congress leader, a friend from Bhopal had given him a betel leaf laced with tobacco. Azad had never had tobacco before that and when he chewed it, he was taken ill within minutes.
His head started spinning and he was down with nausea for two days. That was his first and last experience with tobacco.
So, we are not surprised why he speaks of bringing in an anti- tobacco legislation. But Azad must take cue from his predecessor Anbumani Ramadoss who had a tough time preventing smoking in public places.
CHARGES of financial irregularities against the Prasar Bharati CEO had been referred to the CVC. Currently, the case is pending before the Supreme Court, which has taken a serious note of the lack of progress in the case.
When quizzed, an ex- member of the CVC conceded that attempts to secure information in the case had come to nought. " Information was either delayed or withheld and sometimes doctored," he alleged.
Ask the PMO and its standard answer is: " The CVC is looking into it and the matter is before the court." Any comments?
Turf tussle brews
THE CENTRE and the Chhattisgarh government claim there's excellent cooperation between them while battling Naxals despite being on either side of the political fence.
But an ego tussle is brewing between Chhattisgarh DGP Vishwaranjan and CRPF special director general Vijay Raman. The latter is posted in Raipur and is the national coordinator of anti- Naxal operations.
The problem is while Vishwaranjan is a 1973- batch IPS officer from the Madhya Pradesh cadre, he is being forced to take orders regarding the coordinated anti- Naxal operations from Raman, two years his junior in the same cadre. After last week's Dantewada massacre, Vishwaranjan was heard complaining that all he was left to do was feed the media with sound bytes.
As the two top policemen slug it out among themselves, the Naxals, who they fight, must be stifling a laugh.
THE TIMES OF INDIA
NEW FLAMES AND FLAMINGOS
Humans are experts at loving and leaving? Tell it to the birds. Yes, eight marriages behind her, ex-actress Liz Taylor is pooh-poohing a ninth. TV interviewer Larry King's filed for an eighth separation. Golfer Tiger Woods is fixing his personal 'affairs'. And a cricketer has divorced a lady to wed a tennis star, confused if he was previously betrothed. Still, only birdbrains will say we wingless creatures have a monopoly on love, marriage or dhokha.
Consult The Bird Detective, a York University biology professor's book. You'll realise humans aren't the true masters of the serialised mating game. Building nests, cootchie-cooing elsewhere, then migrating across aviaries? Avian 'scores' can best us. It takes just a few months for (mythical) lovebirds to de-couple. Greater flamingos are specialists, with a near-99 per cent 'divorce' rate! Straying female birds often seek more colourful mates, better serenaders or providers of safer environments. Birdwatching males become lotharios with neighbouring Tweeties, whose cuckolded companions rear the stork-borne hatchlings. All too familiar, eh?
Imagine, then, a birds' paradise. Honeymoons in Macaw would be short-lived. High infidelity would be where eagles dare. Songbirds wouldn't sing from the heart. Kiwi-ka-biwi No. 1 wouldn't exist. Cheating birds wouldn't thrush it out in divorce courts. Nor would they get too emu-tional about child (or egg) custody.
Coalition era netas, flock with these birds of the same feather. No more tears for political marriages of convenience, where upstart crows periodically avenge dominant partners' hen-pecking. Are NCP-Congress listening? No more shame feathering one's nest in government's cuckoo-land till the next migratory cock-a-snook season. What say, Trinamul and DMK? No more guilt being lovey-dovey while keeping a hawk eye on alternatives. Lalu, for one, wasn't too remorseful deserting Soniaji in pre-poll Bihar. In short, no more rona-dhona over parroting 'i do' and chirping 'i don't'. Who wants to be pigeon-holed?
Well, one strange bird does, its annual divorce rate being zero. No, it's not the dodo, dodo. It's the wandering albatross that doesn't wander. Stranger still, Playboy Hugh Hefner would admire this embodiment of monogamous virtue. A bird in hand (or albatross around the neck), he's recently suggested, is worth 100 Playboy bunnies! Suffering a 32-year marriage-gone-stale, Bengal's Left constituents may not agree. In contrast, Mamatadi's age-old political promiscuity may finally help her cook the Left's goose. Only, in politics, can you count your chickens before they're hatched? Shedding allies, the NDA did so in 2004. Then power flew the coop.
Now, a little bird tells us nothing's fair or fowl about love, ex or mauka (opportunity). Dump or get dumped by other halves, allies or voters but always act like the cat that swallowed the canary. As long as we humans remember one preening lesson. Lame ducks can (ad infini)-tom-tom their amorous pirouettes. Flamingos still make better dancers.
THE TIMES OF INDIA
WHY THE DRAGON SHOULD CARE
We live in very exciting, but equally very perilous times. This was already the case since at least the beginning of this millennium, but is even more so since the global economic crisis of 2008-09. The crisis has indeed been more than just economic: it is above all a systemic crisis.
Because of the profound transformations the global economy is witnessing transformations arising out of new actors on the central arena of the global market economy and out of the amazing new information and communications technologies there is an imperative need for efficient and equitable global governance, robust global cooperation, strong institutions, leadership and perhaps especially a powerful global rule of law.
As the global economic crisis, the paralysis of the WTO Doha round and the confusion of Copenhagen amply demonstrate, the world is in very short supply of all of these necessary attributes. Though action is needed on many fronts, it seems especially important that we focus as much effort and energy as possible on getting the Doha round concluded this year. And China should particularly push for this outcome.
The multilateral rules-based trading system was established in the wake of World War II. The war itself had been preceded by the Great Depression in 1929 and the very intensive trade wars that ensued in the 1930s. There were no international trade rules, hence anarchy prevailed. The struggle for global geopolitical and military power followed a struggle for global economic power, including over access to energy and natural resources. Whether a global rules-based system would have prevented the war can only be pure speculation; however, the system that was established after World War II was based on a philosophy that open and fair trade between nations constituted a critical means of establishing peace between nations and promoting prosperity.
The system has been far from perfect, but still in the course of its 60 years of existence it has acted as a major force for peace and prosperity and has significantly contributed to the emergence of new global trading powers, especially from East Asia, notably South Korea and Greater China including Hong Kong, Taiwan and, of course, now the People's Republic, the world's biggest trading nation.
As tortuous as some earlier General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) rounds may have been GATT was the predecessor institution to the WTO nothing could quite compare with the mess the Doha round is in. The round was launched in Doha, the capital of Qatar, in December 2001, the year China joined the WTO. An attempt to launch a round two years earlier, in Seattle, had been a dismal failure. Much of the problem arises from the reticence of the "established" trading powers, mainly the EU, Japan and the US, to meet the demands of the rising new trading nations or of the 'least developed countries' that want to level the playing field. Alas, the launching of the Doha "development" round has not narrowed the gap.
This is not to say that the round has totally disappeared from the global trade policy agenda. In all major global or regional meetings, as part of an invariable ritual, commitment is made to the conclusion of the Doha round. The G20 in this respect has taken up where the G7 left off. Thus at the Washington G20 summit in November 2008, the commitment was made to conclude the round that year. This failed. At the London G20 summit in April 2009, commitment was made to conclude it in 2009. By the time the Pittsburgh summit was convened in September, it was clear it would fail again; hence the summit concluded that the round should be concluded by 2010.
As the round remains paralysed, there is increasing global trade tension generally and between China and the US especially. It is essential that the round should be concluded for mainly two reasons. One, we need a robust institution and rule of law in international trade, that is, the WTO must be strengthened. And nothing would do this more than successfully concluding the round, as the more time passes, the weaker it gets. Two, we need, as noted, stronger and more cooperative global governance: by failing to meet its commitments, the very legitimacy of the G20 is brought into question, as is the capacity of countries to cooperate.
A G20 summit will be held in Seoul in November. I know South Korea well, having been there for the first time in 1967. It was at the time one of the world's poorest countries. Its rise to prosperity has been remarkable. It has mainly been driven by trade. It would be highly appropriate for the announcement of the Doha round's conclusion to be made in Seoul in November. This would be an extremely positive and a highly reassuring step for the world.
With China still engaged in seeking to bring prosperity to all its people, a stable, robust and dynamic rules-based global trading system is of vital importance. China should be actively committed to concluding the Doha round in 2010.
The writer is professor of international political economy at IMD, Lausanne, Switzerland.
THE TIMES OF INDIA
BETTER WAYS TO VOICE DISSENT
In the wake of the Dantewada ambush, one could have been forgiven for assuming certain things that did not, in fact, come to pass. That the BJP would take the opportunity to knock Union home minister P Chidambaram down a notch or two, and the Left would get its own back for his earlier comment with regard to the Maoists that the buck stopped with West Bengal chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee. Given Indian politics, all this would have been par for the course. But both the BJP and the CPM confounded expectations and, in fact, backed Chidambaram publicly. Those who targeted Chidambaram were actually his own party members. First there was Digvijay Singh's startling condemnation of Chidambaram's policies, then Mani Shankar Aiyar's strong endorsement of Singh's stand. This is both unnecessary and counterproductive.
Certainly, ruling party politicians have a right to voice dissent with decisions the government may be taking. But that dissent is best voiced within party forums, to avoid the impression of a government at sixes and sevens with itself. It's not smart for ruling party politicians to be themselves at the throat of government to pre-empt the opposition from doing so, because that would mean nobody is accountable for anything. In a situation as precarious as the one that confronts the government now with the Maoists upping the ante, it is vital that the administration is seen to be decisive and coherent.
Singh's and Aiyar's outbursts have achieved precisely the opposite, doing nothing to actually bring to the table any genuine issues they might have with Chidambaram's policies. Instead, it merely creates the perception that the home minister does not have the backing of his own party and makes implementing policies whatever they might be that much more difficult. One would have thought that politicians as experienced as they are would have imbibed the virtues of subtlety a little more.
PARTIES MUST ALLOW CRITICISM
The Congress has sought to underplay the criticism of the home minister's strategy to counter the Maoist rebellion and wants members to restrict their comments to party forums. This is going too far. Congress leader Digvijay Singh's views are not exceptional. Many public intellectuals have criticised the Union government's approach to Maoist insurgency. If Congress politicians find merit in the criticism and feel the government ought to listen to these views, what's wrong about it? The prime minister has described the Maoists as the gravest internal security threat facing the country. If a senior politician thinks there must be a public debate about the state policy to counter this threat, why should he restrict himself to party forums? A politician is not merely a party member, he's also a public figure. He's expected to debate state policy on public platforms.
Singh is not a minister in the UPA government. He is not beholden to a state policy formulated by the government. He must respect the party's political vision, of course. But does the Congress have a policy on how to tackle the Maoist rebellion? It's the home ministry that has crafted 'Operation Green Hunt' and, expectedly, the home minister is the public face of the government approach towards Maoists.
The party and the government are two different entities. The government's functioning is constricted by the norms and traditions of statecraft. The party is bound by its constitution and, unlike the government, has a direct link to the people. It is the intermediary between the people and the government and party workers are better placed to gauge public mood. So, it is in the best interest of the Congress that it gives space to leaders with views independent of the government and allows them to speak out without fear of a gag. Free and frank debate enriches the culture of democracy.
THE TIMES OF INDIA
THE POWER OF INFORMATION
Chairman Mao famously said political power grows out of the barrel of a gun. Recent events in Kyrgyzstan and Thailand suggest that bullets are less influential than they perhaps once were. The security forces in Bishkek managed to kill dozens of demonstrators but could not stop the overthrow of President Kurmanbek Bakiyev. In the Red Shirt protesters' clash with the military in Bangkok, nearly two dozen people died, but a shaken government seems on the verge of giving in. There are, of course, great differences between the two 'people power' movements but one thing they share is the power of information. The age of gunpowder is being challenged by an age of information transmitted through the invisible filament of the internet and cellphones.
Images from Bangkok and Bishkek demonstrate the heightened visibility to the world of people confronting state power. They are also illustrative of how a mass of people can be inspired, organised and mobilised. In the post-Vietnam war decades, popular demonstrations became the tool of political change with a very mixed rate of success. The nature of protests changed dramatically with the arrival of CNN and satellite television, which brought such events onto a global stage. The Philippines People Power revolution to overthrow Ferdinand Marcos in 1986 was the world's first such event televised live. There were no cellphones but real-time images of massive protests electrified Filipinos and drew the world's support.
The Tiananmen demonstrations too were fuelled by live television coverage until alarmed Chinese authorities pulled the plug on CNN. Although the movement was crushed, TV coverage ensured that the event remains seared in the world's collective memory. The iconic shot of a lone man standing in front of a column of tanks, armed only with his shopping bags, continues to haunt the Communist Party.
With the emergence of the internet and especially social networking sites like YouTube, Facebook and Twitter, the world has become the stage. And this does not apply only to countries totally enmeshed into the internet age, such as South Korea or Singapore or even Iran. Consider the case of Kyrgyzstan, where only 15 per cent of the population are internet users. But even a small number can act as a relay for a wider population connected by cellphones. The dramatic anti-government protests in Bishkek spread rapidly through internet video and images, captivating the Kyrgyz population and bringing the world's spotlight on the killing of protesters. Given this context, it is no surprise that before launching her opposition movement, Kyrgyzstan's new interim leader Roza Otunbayeva registered a Twitter account (fittingly, she also announced the opposition's takeover of power via tweet).
Internet penetration in Thailand amounts to barely a quarter of the population. And tens of thousands of red-shirted supporters of former Thai prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra who launched a movement demanding fresh elections are mostly poor villagers who are not typical web surfers. But with some 2.5 million Thais on Facebook and 39,000 Twitter subscribers, the country is set for amplifying information. The government shut down the TV station friendly to the demonstrators but the Red Shirts were still connected by a stream of tweets and videos relayed by cellphone text messages. Shaky but dramatic cellphone video of the violence in the street spread over the internet packed emotional punch as on a handheld device the death and violence became personal.
Apart from shooting protesters, the last days of the Bakiyev government were spent in shutting down and blocking websites. The Thai government too has been engaged in swatting opposition sites but it seems to no avail. What has largely escaped the censors' reach so far is the cellphone.
Some four billion mobile phone users more than half the planet's population now have possibilities of information and action unthinkable just a decade ago. With the number of Twitter users skyrocketing (60 per cent international growth in 2009) and their increasing ability to use a mobile platform, the information revolution is reaching new heights. The humble cellphone's ability to inform and misinform, inspire and connect masses of people has created an unprecedented dynamic that authoritarians ignore at their peril.
LOOK AT THE MID-RANGE TOO
There is much irony in the fact that Afghanistan has evolved into a huge rock in the path of relations between India and the United States. Strategically, there is little difference between the two countries. More so than almost any other country, New Delhi hopes that Washington will keep its troops in Afghanistan, defeat the Taliban and establish a democratic and sovereign government in Kabul.
They differ strongly, however, on how this should be accomplished. The cost of the Afghan war and geographical necessity have meant Pakistan has gained a larger-than-life role in Washington's 'Af-Pak' policy. The US has no illusions that Pakistan speaks with a forked tongue on Afghanistan. India may complain, but ultimately it cannot provide an alternative to what Pakistan provides. Thus the irony: Pakistan is more essential to the war than India, but it is far less genuine a supporter of the US's aims.
Unfortunately, neither India nor the US has found out a way to get around this thorny tangle of contradiction. This constitutes a failure of diplomacy on both sides. At the very least, Manmohan Singh and Barack Obama should have provided the relationship enough ballast to let their two countries sail above the Af-Pak conundrum. But nothing of the sort has happened. The conclusion of the civil nuclear agreement left a vacuum in the bilateral discourse and nothing has yet filled that space. The result is that minor irritants and excitable commentary dominate. Access to David Headley is important but hardly the stuff of grand strategy. India is as much to blame as the US. Its feetdragging on various military agreements and bungling of the civil nuclear liability bill's passage is reawakening sceptics in Washington who have long argued India is not ready to be a global player.
Trivial pursuit has replaced chess even when the two heads of government met. What was striking about the Singh-Obama meeting in Washington was how much Pakistan-related issues dominated the proceedings. India lowered its own strategic horizon and the US did not bother to try and lift it. Things can and are likely to change. The US
Af-Pak military game is still unfolding and Pakistan may yet be surprised by its consequences. But more importantly, new and important synergies in education, technology and commerce are just starting to come to fruition between the two countries. It's time New Delhi realises that medium-sized ideas can be as transformational as one big one.
LOSING THE EDGE?
Let's buck the current middle-class trend of mindless politician-bashing and first agree that there are some extremely bright and capable minds in the present government who have shaken up slumbering ministries and used cerebral energy to push the paradigms of conventional thinking. It's also pretty indisputable that a well-intentioned and essentially liberal Congress leadership can be credited with several transformative decisions.
Whether it's the Right to Information Act (RTI), the Women's Reservation Bill or demanding a revamp of the Food Security Bill, it's quite clear that Sonia Gandhi's left-of-centre heart seeks to position the Congress as a party accessible to those who live on the margins. In other words, UPA-II should have been a brainy government with a generous heart that benefited from the brawn of a generous electoral mandate. So, why is it that while the finest ingredients have been laid out on the kitchen table, whipping up a good meal is turning out to be such a tough task?
Even before the UPA can complete a year in its second term, the noise of incoherence threatens to drown out all the other good stuff. What we are hearing is the distinct cacophony of crossed wires that has made the political leadership sound on more than one occasion deeply splintered. It's still unclear if this is a result of personality clashes, philosophical disagreements or merely the absence of discipline and the presence of too many motormouths. But whether it is spats that play out in public or long periods of silence by the party on a contentious government policy or minister (think Sharm-el-Sheikh and Shashi Tharoor), there is a growing perception of internal chaos.
The image of the Congress president thumping on her desk as Home Minister P. Chidambaram took on his critics in Parliament may have done much to silence his detractors on the government's Maoist policy. But, it doesn't make Digvijay Singh's public broadside against Chidambaram any less startling. For a two-time chief minister and the party's senior-most general secretary to be able to personalise his disagreements with Chidambaram in the manner that he did begs the conspiratorial question was he acting on his own or did someone set him up to do this? Of course, the Naxal challenge poses some genuine dilemmas for the party.
If the Congress wants to be the voice of disenfranchised, the image of impoverished tribals trapped between the battlelines can make anyone nervous about an aggressive change of tack. But if those ideological uncertainties are not just made public but also expressed in terms of personal swipes, what chance does the government have of creating a public consensus for its anti-Naxal offensive? If the party can't even curb the ever-garrulous and contrarian Mani Shankar Aiyar, does the prime minister's gag order to his ministers carry any weight or credibility? And why make such a fuss then about the military chiefs' opinions in public? If the netas can't zip up, why should they?
It is true that politics often demands ambivalence above linear certainties but not when that ambivalence becomes visible to the public eye as a sign of indecision.
As the unfolding Indian Premier League (IPL) scam throws up unimaginable levels of muck and sleaze, Shashi Tharoor has yet again exposed faultlines within the establishment. For now, it looks like the government is determined to challenge IPL chief Lalit Modi's testosterone-driven bravado. But along the way, it will also have to tackle the allegations of impropriety that threaten to swallow up its minister of state for external affairs. The fact is that the Congress never quite seems to make up its mind about Tharoor. Is he the great middle-class hope the intelligent professional who won an election without a godfather or a grandfather in politics? Or is he the naïve upstart who has been destroyed by his own hubris?
Tharoor told me that he was "angry and hurt" that his personal integrity had been questioned. But he insisted that his party had not "left him out in the cold". The truth though is that every time Tharoor is embroiled in a controversy, the party appears reluctant to defend him, leaving you and me to decode the ambivalence. If the Congress isn't convinced enough to take a clear stand, why should it expect the opposition to lay off?
A crippled Left and an ideologically confused Right should actually not have been in a position to put pressure on the government. But Parliament has repeatedly witnessed a united opposition effectively taking on a divided government. Much of it is simply a result of shabby floor management and poor planning. But some of it is also emerging from a difference in priorities and the passions they evoke. It's clear that the Women's Bill is to Sonia Gandhi what the Nuclear Liability Bill is to Manmohan Singh. If Sonia Gandhi can dig her heels in for the Rti Act to remain unchanged; the PM is more likely to get determined about a pet foreign policy initiative.
While the media may be overstating some of their genuine differences of opinion to create the clichéd headline of 'party vs government', it's now obvious that the motivations of the Big Two can be very different. The Congress president's assertive intervention on the Food Security Bill is just one example of how the thinking within can often be very divided. In itself these differences need not be a serious problem. But perhaps the multiple articulations of these disagreements or sometimes the studied silence of the party's spokespeople is what creates an impression of disarray.
In the process, the Congress is in danger of squandering away the advantage of its own electoral mandate. Its instincts are honourable. But that is not enough. The party must decide who it wants to be and the government must take a cue from that vision and assert itself with greater clarity. Or else, the battle within, may take up more energy than the real matters of the State.
Barkha Dutt is Group Editor, English News, NDTV
The views expressed by the author are personal
LECTURE ME NOT, IT'S BARBARIC
A couple of weeks ago in Bhopal, Minister for Global Warming and Heated Exchanges Jairam Ramesh lost his cool yet again. He denounced as 'barbaric' the convocation gown and mortarboard cap in which he was handing out degrees at the Indian Institute of Forest Management. I would give way to academic hesitation before calling the garb of the scholastic fathers 'barbaric' but nevertheless, if I had a mortarboard, I would have chucked it in the air. What is the use of this play-acting in Bhopal when in certain ancient Oxford colleges, the coveted high table dinner may translate into a meal of fish and chips, eaten with silverware?
A gown designed for unheated medieval England is an absurd wear for the Indian summer. And what use is the mortarboard? I personally believe the surface like a schoolboy's slate was for academics to write down notes to themselves which they could carry on their person for ready reference. Farras on the indivisibility of the Trinity, or perhaps the decimal value of pi. Or perhaps their bar tab. Unpaid medieval bar bills were politically explosive, triggering battles between 'town and gown', when people in regular clothes fought people in funny clothes.
Ramesh could have enlarged on the theme while he was about it and attacked yet another barbaric artefact of academia the lecture. I have strong personal feelings about this, because the institution of the lecture prevented me from pursuing a career in academics for which I was eminently suited, being endowed with a razor-sharp yet sensitive intellect coupled with a prehensile, Australopithecine grasp on petty, vulgar politics.
My tragic flaw is that I fall asleep the moment someone begins to read out loud something they have written on a sheet of paper. Since it is difficult not to notice someone who is fast asleep in a small seminar room containing perhaps five alert academics, I was constitutionally disbarred from academia.
Why do I fall asleep at lectures? In protest I find the institution of the lecture deeply insulting because it suggests that I am illiterate. The lecture from the Latin legere, to read is an artefact dating from early medieval times in Europe, when everything had to be read out because audiences were illiterate. Even scribes who copied the holy texts in the scriptoria of monasteries were sometimes uneducated. One can't call them unlettered, because they were artists who worked with the alphabet, but frequently they did not understand what they were copying. Making sense of it was the province of the exegete, who explained the text, and the hermeneut, who translated it into the local tongue and idiom.
That was in the past. This is the present, Indian Standard Time. I can legere. I myself am the exegete. I am the hermeneut, too. I can even spell 'polyphiloprogenitive' without faltering. So my intellectual capabilities are legion, and I fail to appreciate why I must be harangued by a guy who has written something down on a piece of paper when I can read it myself, at my convenience. Perhaps in the loo, speaking of conveniences.
That's it! That's probably why academics still give lectures. For fear that if the audience got their hands on the text, they would read it in the loo.
Pratik Kanjilal is publisher of The Little Magazine
The views expressed by the author are personal
THE INDIAN EXPRESS
THE THIRD OPTION
Forty six years ago, in rejecting Labour leader Harold Wilson's call to a pre-election debate, Prime Minister Alec Douglas-Home had objected to the "Top of the Pops" logic of public personality clashes. In 1987, Margaret Thatcher denied Neil Kinnock a television debate with the retort: "We're not electing a president, we're choosing a government." While both objections probably evoked Tory distrust of a circus, or weakness for propriety, she underlined the substance of what turns debate on the pre-poll TV debate in countries beholden to the Westminster system not an unfamiliar refrain from the naysayers in India. However, unlike India, in the UK, the third party downwards, political opinion counts for little.
Thus the significance of Thursday's TV debate among the big three in Manchester (ironically, a mostly Tory initiative), which catapulted Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg to an equal space with PM Gordon Brown of Labour and Conservative David Cameron, and which he used intelligently, determinedly to not only introduce himself to a national audience but also put across the first genuine third option, in a break from the "same old parties" repeating the "same old mistakes". Whether the near-consensus that he "won" this debate translates into an electoral rebirth for the LibDems may remain uncertain even after the remaining two. However, this first prime ministerial debate is more than a dent in the Labour-Tory duopoly. And undeniably, a nationwide TV broadcast had a lot to do with the "Westminster outsider" looking at least a likely kingmaker.
The debate was not the stale affair the tortuously negotiated rules an audience not allowed to clap, pre-determined questions were feared to make it. In fact, it quickly replicated the Commons floor, despite the missing gaffe or brutal attack. Not everybody's impressed though; certainly not those caring little about "three Westminster politicians" the nationalist parties of Scotland and Wales, for instance, awaiting TV debates in their respective home countries.
WAIT AND WATCH
A monetary policy announcement by the RBI is due next week. In the context of high inflation rates the question on everyone's mind is whether the RBI will raise interest rates or the cash reserve ratio again. The RBI has already moved away from the easy money policy that followed the global financial crisis. A mid-policy interest rate hike has added to expectations that it will further hike rates. The clamour from analysts and bank economists for another rate hike has become louder. But should the central bank hike rates?
As the RBI moved barely a few weeks ago, the best policy would be to wait and watch. The difficulties in the transmission mechanism of monetary policy mean that it's not clear how much and how long it would take for higher policy rates to get transmitted to higher bank lending rates. Further, it's not clear how this would impact credit growth. The lending channel of monetary policy has, in the past, been weak. Credit growth has recently started picking up and this has been seen to be a positive signal for growth and investment. It should be seen what the credit growth will be after the rate hike is fully transmitted in the system before another increase.
The second challenge higher interest rates raise for the RBI is the impact on the interest differential. The US is maintaining its loose monetary policy stance. An interest rate hike in India increases the interest differential and makes the rupee a more attractive asset. This is expected to increase capital inflows. If the RBI intervenes to prevent rupee appreciation it will end up with an addition to foreign exchange reserves. This will increase the monetary base and the RBI will have to find ways to sterilise its intervention by selling government bonds (MSS). The government's large borrowing programme means that the RBI is already selling more government bonds than it ever has had to in the past. Interest rates on government bonds are already on the rise and the appetite of the bond market for more bonds is limited. Intervention and the attempt to prevent intervention also raise expectations that when difficulties of intervention increase the RBI will let the rupee go. This makes the rupee a one-way bet and more capital comes in on the expectation that the rupee will appreciate. This will make the challenge greater.
THE INDIAN EXPRESS
One can only imagine what Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, dealing with great power politics in Washington DC and Brasilia, will have felt as, in the middle of a foreign tour, one of the junior ministers in his foreign ministry suddenly caused, once again, a major controversy. One can only picture the frustration of the UPA's parliamentary managers as the Houses of Parliament had to be adjourned as the opposition happily sailed into the ruling Congress, now looking particularly inept and unable to control a loose cannon in its midst. The links, now plain, between Shashi Tharoor and the consortium that successfully bid for the Kochi franchise in the Indian Premier League have damaged, certainly, the league's credibility, and further eroded Tharoor's; but allowing him to stick around much longer puts a Shashi-sized hole in the UPA's and the cabinet's standing as well.
The simple conclusion: politically, Tharoor is now too much of a liability to have around. There is no reason why a government that has an ambitious legislative agenda, that has to carefully manage its majority in Parliament as well as its support from the party, needs to put any of that at risk for one minister particularly one who is far from irreplaceable at the job he does. Fresh revelations emerged on Friday about the nature of the share that Tharoor's friend Sunanda Pushkar has in the Kochi franchise: it is "undilutable", meaning that regardless of how much money other investors put in, Pushkar's share will remain the same. This is, by any standards, a windfall; and no amount of wriggling will alter the fact that a minister of the Government of India has directly lobbied for a consortium that so tremendously benefits a close associate. The government must know that defending such behaviour would not be without consequence to itself.
So why is he still around? Why does the finance minister, the senior-most member of the government in the absence of the PM, have to give up precious time to meet him several times a day? Why is the UPA chairperson forced to spend time and effort dealing with the mess that Tharoor has caused? The longer the party tries to ride this out, the more closely will the party and government be associated with the kind of impropriety Tharoor is accused of. It is time to bring to this unfortunate sequence of events its long-anticipated end.
THE INDIAN EXPRESS
THANK GOD THEY FOUGHT
At a time when the dominant sentiment on the IPL was breathless adulation, following its "success" in South Africa, this paper took the rather unpopular position that the picture was not so bright when seen in its entirety. The brazen manner with which the tournament was moved to South Africa did not just reek of arrogance, it did a great deal of disservice to India, still recovering from 26/11. It strengthened the impression that India was still unsafe for major sporting events, almost as bad as Pakistan (since that attack on the Sri Lankan team in Lahore had already put that country on the blacklist).
This newspaper stuck its neck out and even stated, editorially, that it almost amounted to an anti-national act. But the captains of the IPL were not to be deterred. They moved the circus, politicians, media, even bureaucrats from many states to South Africa for one big party. Personifying the hubris was, of course, none else than IPL Commissioner Lalit Modi. A dedicated camera ("Modicam" as it came to be known backstage) followed his every move. He signed autographs like a superstar. He also held televised ceremonies in South African schools where he handed over donation cheques, cheered on by (mostly black) children. Riding on the success of the IPL, Modi had become one big sports and entertainment phenomenon, a kind of Jerry Maguire and Hugh Hefner rolled into one. In the process he and his IPL bent, twisted and often rewrote all rules of sports administration and even conventional business. He was getting away with it because "everybody" was in it. There was nobody left to raise a question. All media, TV, print, were in awe of him. My favourite media moment of that period is the question a TV anchor asked him, "The IPL in South Africa has gone so well. So just how proud do you feel about it?" Modi blushed and blabbered on like a spoilt five-year-old just told by his grandmom he is the best in the world.
It was in that heady phase that I tried to draw attention to certain emerging problems that, I said, may bedevil Indian cricket in times to come ('Conflicts of cricket', National Interest, June 20, 2009). It drew immediate protests and disapproval, not merely from the usual suspects but also from many well-meaning cricket enthusiasts who felt that I was nit-picking, unable to accept the success of so innovative a venture without the usual, chronic Indian Express scepticism.
And what were some of the things I underlined about these emerging conflicts of interest? That, for example, the same person (N. Srinivasan of India Cements) was secretary of the BCCI and also the owner of Chennai Super Kings. Further, that K. Srikkanth, as chief national selector, one of the most powerful men in India, was also the brand ambassador of Chennai Super Kings. That using the clout of the IPL, the BCCI had been able to acquire powers over the media that even Indira Gandhi did not have during the Emergency. She censored you, but she did not appoint permanent editors at our newspapers. The cricket board, on the other hand, has contracted Ravi Shastri and Sunil Gavaskar, two of India's finest cricketers, and any channel that may win the broadcast rights for any cricket event where India is playing has no choice other than having these two on the commentary team, giving the Board the incredible power to have its own people cover its own activities. As the hubris and arrogant display of disregard for "log kya kehenge" (what will people say), this has been equalled only now by the shareholders of Rendezvous, including that "marketing whiz" from Dubai, Sunanda Pushkar, getting 25 per cent equity in the Kochi franchise, "undilutable in perpetuity"! That is not a privilege even the founders of Infosys gave themselves. I was not being a spoilsport last year.
I was only raising the red-flag that a brilliant success in rolling cricket, Bollywood, big bucks and Indian city-folks' desperate need for outdoor fun and entertainment was now in danger of becoming a clubby, patronage-driven, cabal-owned property that could bring disrepute to cricket, and India. The central point was, and is, that the laws of conflict of interest must be sacrosanct in sport and business, as they must be in public life.
It was almost exactly around this time that Shashi Tharoor stepped into our politics, a fabulous election victory behind him. He said often that he came after decades in a professional, global environment, and wanted to be a part of the change in India. Many of us were even convinced of his sincerity, in spite of his accent that sounded so foreign in an India now mostly run by HMTs (Hindi Medium Types) who speak 16 dialects of the English language rather than the Oxbridge elite under whose charge Tharoor left it when he went for his UN job.
Tharoor made news with his tweets and other media controversies, but each time, as he defended himself, in a manner so brilliantly articulate, there was no missing the tone of hurt: "India deserves better and, frankly, so do I" being the most breathtaking of those lines. Of course it took an enterprising reporter of The Hindu to tell us a couple of days later that the line, which he had disowned and accused the media of putting into his mouth, was a verbatim lift from one of his own books on Indian foreign policy. He made a dramatic, dismissive exit from that press conference, hoping that all of us would get scared, if not shamed, for our lack of gratitude towards somebody who had given up a flourishing professional career to dedicate his life to our service, particularly when he was here to make a difference.And how did he make that difference? The moment he saw the IPL and Indian cricket, did he try to challenge or change the system of conflicts of interest and patronage that he is now so outraged about? He, instead, sensed an opportunity and joined the boys with a sense of entitlement. He can today abuse Modi, call him a thief, scoundrel, his OSD may describe him as a convicted drug peddler. But until the stuff hit the fan last Sunday, he was thick as thieves with him, discussing all kinds of things, from the interests of the Kochi franchisees he was "merely mentoring", to Modi's alleged request to block the visa of a 23-year-old South African beauty queen. Tharoor can now deny till he goes red in the face the insinuation from the other end that he allegedly advised them that the only way he could help block the visa was if someone filed a police complaint against her. But if he, instead, sent Modi a curt note as a minister as "propah" as his accent should have done, saying that such requests are not entertained by the minister's office and can you please go to hell, it has not been shared with us.
This column is not the place to describe, dissect or assess the various IPL shenanigans now surfacing. For that, keep track of the front page of this newspaper where the finest team of investigative reporters in India has been breaking one startling story after another every morning. And will continue to do so. It is also too early to say who is innocent and who is guilty or, rather, whose air of injured innocence is less fake than the other's. But one thing you know for sure. That until last Sunday, Lalit Modi and Shashi Tharoor were the best of friends talking business, even if each claims that his interest was entirely pro-bono, and they were talking models and their visas. One week is a very long time in not just politics but also in the business of cricket. We have to be grateful to these two truly brilliant, successful but hubrisdriven individuals that they turned on each other, from being hand in glove. This has given India a fine opportunity to clean up the conflicts of interest in cricket. And, if Sonia Gandhi and the prime minister so wish, a little bit of conflict of interest in our politics as well. If it finally happens, we will have to be grateful to Lalit Modi and Shashi Tharoor who use a similar idiom in the conduct of their respective businesses, even if they speak with vastly different accents.
THE INDIAN EXPRESS
TELL US SOMETHING NEW
The UN commission's much awaited report on ascertaining the "circumstances" which led to the assassination of Benazir Bhutto on December 27, 2007, has little earthshaking to reveal to a generally sceptical Pakistani public. However, it reveals that the suicide bomber who blew himself up near Bhutto's vehicle was a 15-year-old boy, but that her death was likely caused by hitting the sunroof hatch which is what General Musharraf had said. But the report mentions that no autopsy was conducted to ascertain the cause of death.
It confirms many widely held informed views on the killing: that given the serious threat to Bhutto's life from various quarters, the security provided to her was utterly inadequate. It lays the blame squarely on the Musharraf regime (for a security lapse), and nothing beyond that. Among the people the report explicitly absolves of involvement in the murder plot are spouse Asif Ali Zardari, a number of political wheeler-dealers that Bhutto herself had suspected of planning to kill her, and the civil-military establishment.
However, it also accuses Musharraf's government of undue haste the scene of the crime was hosed minutes after the assassination, wiping out valuable evidence and of jumping to the conclusion that the terrorist Baitullah Mehsud was behind the murder, without carrying out any credible investigation. The report calls such hasty declarations attempts to forestall an effective police probe. The police, it notes, were scared of proceeding with their probe because of interference from intelligence agencies.
The report blames equally the security cover provided to Bhutto by her own party. It says the bullet-proof Mercedes, designated as the standby vehicle, was found missing from the scene when she could have been transported in it to the hospital after the blast. The vehicle was manned by the now sitting interior minister, Rehman Malik, a former Federal Investigation Agency sleuth. The minister in his interview with the UN commission denied that he was in the car, but the commission notes that its investigation reveals otherwise.
The PPP-led government was quick to express its satisfaction over the report, without commenting on the key recommendation that it was now up to the government to pursue criminal investigations. The UN was not mandated to assign criminal responsibility, nor summon anyone to testify before it, as that would have involved those within the powerful, Pakistani (civil-military) establishment. The public view here is that it may still be beyond the government to institute a duly empowered, independent criminal inquiry into the death, and that like the murders of another former prime minister, Liaquat Ali Khan, and General Zia-ul-Haq, the truth may never see the light of day.
As analysts sit down to dissect the 54-page report many questions are likely to be raised. These include questioning the very purpose of commissioning the report, which cost the taxpayers more than $4 million. It will also be asked by angry party workers and those in the opposition as to why the PPP government had to be told by the UN to institute a proper criminal inquiry and why it hadn't done that already. The UN commission was constituted only in July 2009 more than a year after the PPP-led government came to power and 11 months after the ouster of Musharraf from presidency and was given six months in which to submit its findings.
Then, when the UN was ready with the report last March, Zardari requested it to further delay it by another two weeks to include testimonies of Saudi, UAE, American and Afghan officials who had warned Bhutto of the plot to kill her. The UN's response to the request was privately conveyed to Islamabad that it did not plan to accede to the request and would release its concluded findings. Even on Thursday evening in New York where the UN officials finally made the report public, Islamabad tried to thwart the move by insisting that only the government of Pakistan should do so. This too was declined and the report was presented before the media, with the Pakistan ambassador to the UN staying away from the press conference.
The only logical reason for delays was that the government wanted the Pakistani "establishment" on board before it shared the contents of the report with the public at large. This will not likely go down too well with the people.
The writer is an editor with 'Dawn', Karachi
THE INDIAN EXPRESS
THERE HAS BEEN A GRAVE TRAGEDY AND I DID NOT LOSE MY NERVE... I DO NOT FEAR THE NAXALITES'
Union Home Minister P. Chidambaram made a statement in the Lok Sabha on April 15, and replied to the debate on the recent killing of 74 CRPF personnel in Chhattisgarh. Excerpts from the proceedings:
This incident was a great tragedy. My first instinctive reaction was that something horribly went wrong. Preliminary inquiries tend to confirm that first impression... We have instituted a full-fledged inquiry by a very senior retired IPS officer with a distinguished record... I am confident that the report will come to us by the 24th or 25th of this month and I promise to come back to this House and share the conclusions.
I have prepared a statement which I read in the other House; I would not read the whole statement here, but I think, it is worthwhile to share some details. In accordance with our policy which I will elaborate in a moment, at the request of the government of Chattisgarh, 141 companies of Central Paramilitary Forces have been deployed in that state for anti-Naxal operations over a period of time. The 62nd battalion was deployed in March this year, to replace the 55th battalion. Earlier, the 62nd battalion had been deployed in Bihar, and had gained experience in anti-Naxal operations.
The decision to undertake what is called an "area-domination exercise" was taken jointly by the IG of Chattisgarh, Mr Longkumar, the DIG of that area, Mr S.R.P. Kalluri, and the DIG of the CRPF, Mr Nalin Parbath. It was a joint decision. The actual deployment was left to the SP of the district, Mr Amresh Mishra and the commandant of the 62nd battalion.
According to the plan, they were to undertake this exercise over a period of three days, including two night halts, between April 4th and April 6th. It is reported that they undertook the exercise... Sir, it appears that they came under fire at 0550 hours on the morning of the 6th. It is sad that some media said that they were sleeping; they were not sleeping. It was unfortunately a place where they did not have the advantage of either height or cover. Most of them died as a result of the bullet injuries. Some died because of crude bombs and grenades. The initial reports that appeared in the media are not entirely accurate. There were no landmines; there were no pressure bombs. Yet, many of them fought bravely and on the admission of the Naxals they put out a statement eight of the Naxal cadres were also killed... So it is not correct to say that these men did not fight back.
...There has been a grave tragedy and I did not lose my nerve, I did not lose my will. I have no fear. I do not fear the Naxalites. But if a horrible tragedy took place, I think, it is the moral responsibility of the minister to tender his resignation. And therefore, I tendered my resignation. ...The prime minister and the UPA Chairperson have rejected my resignation...
Let us have no illusion about what they want. Their goal is the seizure of political power. Their method is army liberation struggle. Their instrument is People's Liberation Guerrilla Army, which, they say in this document, will soon be converted into a People's Liberation Army. They call this "war". They call us "enemies". They call this hallowed hall a "pigsty". Do we still have any illusions about the kind of adversary that we are facing?
...We are not unmindful of the socio-economic causes. We have heard people say that there is no water; there is no development; there are no schools; there are no jobs; there is no employment. I do not disagree. But who can be blamed except ourselves? Can anyone in this House point a finger to anyone else and say: "You are responsible for this area not being developed over the last 30 years?" If there has been no development in Lalgarh I am not entering into a debate but I am only reporting what people told me in Lalgarh over the last 30 years, can anyone blame the Central government for that? If there has been no development in Chhattisgarh, can anyone blame us? Chhattisgarh was formed in the year 2000. There was a government in Madhya Pradesh for several years before that. There has been a government in Chhattisgarh since. If there has been no development in Jharkhand, can anyone blame us? Jharkhand was part of Bihar for many years. There had been successive governments. There has been a government in Jharkhand.
There has been a series of chief ministers in Jharkhand. The Central government has a responsibility but the state governments have equal, if not greater, responsibility on development. Likewise, on controlling Naxalism, the Central government has a responsibility but the state governments have equal, if not greater, responsibility to control the menace of Naxalism...
'You don't have the party or govt's support... you can lose even before the battle has begun'
Excerpts from the speech by Arun Jaitley, the Leader of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha:
We, in this House, are all one with the government in condemning this brutal attack on our security forces in which 75 of our security personnel have died and a large part of our weaponry has been seized by them. ...Regrettably, sir, the first five years of the UPA government, in the avatar of UPA-I, were, in fact, wasted, while not realising as to what the
seriousness and the enormity of this problem was...
What had happened in the last few days is disgusting. Look at the conduct of the entire Opposition on this entire issue. We could have all got up and said, "We want the home minister of this country to resign." The entire Opposition of this country, even one man, is not willing to speak in that language for the reason that we don't want a reason for the Maoists to smile and for the Maoists to rejoice the victory. Therefore, even though there was a monumental lapse on the part of a section of the security forces and I quite concede that battles like this will be won many a time and lost many a time, but these are battles which are to go on the curse of Maoism has to be eradicated and this is a battle that this country can't afford to lose. The home minister in fact, became a victim of his own idiom. He had used a particular phrase against the CM of West Bengal. When I read the response of the CM of West Bengal after this incident, I saw that from BJP to the CPM, everybody was speaking the same language on the Maoists issue. We didn't want to respond by snide remarks against the government or the home minister.
...But what we don't need is a government which tries to pull down its own home minister; what we don't need is a divided government; what we don't need is half the Maoists in the treasury benches who try and pull down the government by saying that the fight against Maoism must be diluted and that is what seems to be going on in the last few days.
Sir, compare the statement which my party spokesman and my colleague in the Rajya Sabha, Mr Rudy, made, with the response that the CM of West Bengal made. After being at the receiving end of a snide remark, he showed statesmanship. The BJP showed the statesmanship when the country was under the attack of Maoists. What is the ruling party and the home minister's own party doing? You have a senior leader of the party writing a signed article...
If a satyagraha before the Maoists could resolve this issue, we will all join this great author and office-bearer of the Congress party. If development activity was possible when 75 policemen were being slaughtered when they entered that area; if it is possible to enter that area and start building roads, start setting up industries, start building hospitals and nothing will happen to them, if somebody was to narrate such a fairy tale to us, it may sound very impressive, but then that someone is not living in the real world.
...I consciously used the words that there are Maoists who indulge in violence and there are those who do not indulge in violence but these are half Maoists when they speak this language. You don't see a single Maoist in Lalgarh, you don't see a single Maoist elsewhere and you say that the joint operation, which the government of India and the states have launched I hereby defy the collective responsibility principle should be called off! I think such a minister should be called to the Bar of this House and asked to explain the statement which defies all federal principles...
Is this the manner in which this menace of Maoism is going to be fought? You certainly need a strong head and a strong heart, but you also need a strong government, you also need a strong party and what is fatal to this operation is the fact that you don't have the support of that party or that government in carrying on this operation and if you are isolated in this, which the effort seems to be, then certainly you can lose this battle even before the battle has actually begun.
It appears that the home minister, in his approach, is under gherao from his own party, under gherao from his own colleagues in the government. At some stage, while he decides the future course of action, he will have to choose whether his commitment to the cause of eradicating Maoist violence in this country, his loyalty to the country, will prevail or his discipline towards his party, where he succumbs to the pressure and says, let a crippled battle against the Maoists go on...
...Your party colleagues, Mr Home Minister, are seriously mistaken. Maoism is not a poverty eradication scheme. It is a democracy elimination scheme. And, those misconceived advisers who tell you to stop halfway and give up this battle and turn to a situation where you only keep trying and failing and not being able to achieve the required figures of development, then, probably, you will never be able to do so.
THE INDIAN EXPRESS
A TALE OF TWO VOLCANOES
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 INDIAN EXPRESS
The much-delayed UN report of Benazir Bhutto's assassination was finally made public on April 15. The findings blamed the then regime as responsible for the tragedy, as reported by the Pakistani papers.
Dawn reported on April 16: "A three-member UN commission investigating the events and circumstances surrounding Benazir Bhutto's assassination has blamed the government of former president Pervez Musharraf for the murder, saying it failed to provide adequate security cover to the former PM. Although no functionary of the former government has been accused of complicity in the murder... It said the present government was free to carry out further investigations and bring those responsible for the crime as well as negligence to justice..." The newsreport also stated: "the probe was 'hampered' by Pakistani intelligence; police failure to probe the assassination was 'deliberate' ; there's a need for criminal investigation to look into the role of al Qaeda, Taliban, and what is known in Pakistan as the 'establishment'." The News had reported on April 15: "Punjab police had already told the UN Commission that the murderers had been traced, arrested and are being tried... According to CID, four of the 12 militants tasked to kill Benazir belonged to Madrassa Haqqania near Peshawar..."
What's in a name?
The controversy over the renaming of NWFP as Khyber-Pukhtoonkhwa spilled over to the streets of the Hazara valley in the province. The News reported on April 13: "Seven people were killed and over 100 sustained injuries when police used force to break up a protest against the renaming... The peaceful headquarters of Hazara division turned into a battlefield when the police used batons and fired teargas shells to disperse protesters who fought back with sticks and stones in the streets." Daily Times added: "Hundreds of people chanted slogans against the government, demanding a separate province... A state of emergency was declared in all hospitals in Abbottabad... Following the clashes and subsequent deaths, the protests spread to Mansehra, Haripur and Havelian."
An editorial in Daily Times gave a different reason for the uproar: "The Hazara protests... are part of a wider pattern of growing public impatience on sundry other issues, load-shedding being the foremost. What could be discussed amiably has been allowed to spiral out of control, with the residents of Hazara going so far as to demand a separate province. They fear their identity being subsumed into the Pakhtun identity..."
The Hazara Valley being PMLN's pocket-borough, party chief Nawaz Sharif echoed the demands of the protestors, as reported in Daily Times on April 15: "No one can alter the opinion of the masses. If the people of Hazara are in favour of a separate province, we have no objection to it."
At the Nuclear Security Summit in Washington DC, Pakistan reiterated its longstanding demand for a civil nuclear deal with the US. Dawn quoted from PM Yousaf Raza Gilani's statement on April 13: "We urge all relevant forums to give Pakistan access to nuclear technology for peaceful uses, in a non-discriminatory manner, to meet its growing demand for energy." Employing caution, he stressed: "there are 'elements within the country', who could use the power crisis for undermining the current political system."
Dawn also reported on April 14: "Two brief encounters and apparently warm handshakes between the Indian and Pakistani PMs seemed to have had a greater impact on the media than the talks between 47 world leaders... The first gesture came on Monday at President Obama's dinner when PM Gilani strode up to Dr Singh and the two greeted each other warmly."
In their 481st year, Baisakhi celebrations in Gurdwara Panja Saheb are in full swing. Daily Times reported on April 14: "Around 7,000 Sikh yatrees from across the world gathered at Gurdwara Panja Sahib in Hassan Abdal to celebrate Baisakhi... Strict security arrangements have been made by the government to prevent any untoward incident from happening during the festival."
Jaswant and Jinnah
Launching his book Jinnah: India-Partition-Independence in Karachi, Jaswant Singh fired a salvo at the US. Dawn reported on April 14: "He said he had 'a serious problem' with the 'Af-Pak' neologism. 'Who came up with it?' he asked... Addressing the US, he said 'you live 8,500 km away. We live eight-and-a-half minutes away from each other. Afghanistan, Pakistan and India need to solve their own problems." In Islamabad, he suggested pulling down the "Berlin Wall which had been in place on the Pakistan-India border since the 1965 war," as reported by Daily Times on April 15.
Ask the Poles. They know.
The cloud surrounding the Kochi IPL team has thickened with the revelation that the 25% sweat equity held by Sunanda Pushkara close friend of the minister of state for external affairs Shashi Tharoorand a select group of other individuals is indilutable in perpetuity. This has been substantiated by the joint venture agreement between the shareholders, a copy of which is in the possession of The Indian Express. Effectively, this means that Sunanda Pushkar's Rs 70 crore stake will multiply over time without her having to invest even a single rupee in the venture. The deal seems unprecedented in the history of corporate India where one minority section of shareholders first receives free equity, which will then multiply in value on the back of the investments made by, and risks undertaken by, those who hold the remaining 75% paid equity in the franchise. While there may be nothing illegal in such a deal, it does raise an obvious question on exactly what services Sunanda Pushkar and the other sweat equity holders have rendered, or will render, in the development of the Kochi franchisee. So far, the reasons given for this unprecedented sweetheart deal are unconvincing.
Of course, what makes the matter of even greater public interest than it might have been otherwise is the involvement of minister of state for external affairs Shashi Tharoor. Having involved himself in helping put together this group of investors to bid for the Kochi franchiseesomething the minister sees as completely reasonable as he is also an MP from Kerala who must act in the interests of his stateit seems entirely improper for his close friend to have been handed out a non-dilutable Rs 70 crore financial stake. This dents the minister's argument that his involvement was only that of a distant facilitator and well-wisher. And remember, Shashi Tharoor isn't simply an MP from Kerala but also a Union minister. He cannot, much as he may try, detach his extra curricular activities from his occupation of a ministerial office. There is clearly enough evidence of impropriety for the Congress party to take action against the errant minister. But for reasons best known to the Congress party, no action has been taken so far. The Prime Minister, known to be a man of impeccable integrity, must take a serious view of this matter once he returns from Brazil. The UPA government should not tolerate a taint.
DRIVING THE POINT HOME
This week, Union home minister P Chidambaram made a strong case for abiding by his strong policy to counter the Maoist threat facing India. "Let us have no illusions about what they want. It is seizure of political power.... They call us enemies. They call this hallowed hall a pigsty," he told Parliament. He emphasised that the state has a legitimate right to deploy its security forces to resist and neutralise groups that have steadily been creating a de facto state role for themselves, not to mention menacing actual state agents with growing impunity. The Dantewada massacre of CRPF personnel was just the latest in many Maoist attacks on lawful personnel and infrastructure. What lent poignancy to Chidambaram's defence was the very fact that had occasioned it. An important functionary of his party had challenged the rigour of Chidambaram's thinking, and thereby the prowess of his policymaking. The home minister's detractors defend such a public display of differences of opinion within the Congress as hallmarks of party democracy. In an abstract sense, this may be correct. But in this specific instance, when we analyse the arguments proffered by Digvijay Singh and those that have echoed him, what's equally clear is that their attitude bodes ill for the coherent policy project that is needed to rein in India's Maoists.
In the same breath in which he accuses Chidambaram of intellectual arrogance, Digvijay Singh says the Maoist problem can't be solved by ignoring the hopes and aspirations of the people living in the affected areas. Using such specious logic, he suggests that Chidambaram has no interest in whether or not the concerned people are getting the benefits of the public distribution system, MNREGA, NRHM and other pro-poor policies. But there is no empirical evidence to suggest that Chidambaram is ignoring the socio-economic dimension. Yes, the home minister has used tougher rhetoric than India is used to. But isn't this why he was switched from the finance ministry after the Mumbai attacks? He was given the job of delivering strong medicine, however bitter. He continues to express openness to talks with the Maoists, while remaining rightly sceptical of the reliability of Maoist pledges. When Indian forces look like they are overwhelming the Maoists, then we could ask Chidambaram to be generous with amnesties and such like. Until that happens, what's the hope that any government programme can properly be delivered to Maoist-ruled areas? Everyone who truly looks forward to such a day must support Chidambaram's tough talking and walking the talk.
LET COURTS SORT OUT SEBI IRDA DISPUTE
JAYANTH R VARMA
When I wrote a month ago "At a crunch, I do not see anything wrong in a dispute between two regulators... being resolved in the courts," ('Fill the gaps with apex regulator', FE, March 19); I did not imagine that my wish would be fulfilled so soon. The dispute between Sebi and Irda regarding Ulips seems to be headed to the courts for resolution. There is nothing unseemly or unfortunate about this development. On the contrary, I believe that this is the best possible outcome.
An independent regulator should be willing and able to carry out the mission laid down in its statute, without worrying about whether its actions would offend another regulator. Its primary loyalty should be to its regulatory mandate and not to any supposed comity of regulators. Equally, if a regulator intrudes on the mandate of another, the other regulator or its regulatees should have no compunctions in challenging it in a court of law.
In any case, the idea that regulators share cordial relationships with each other is a myth. Turf wars are the rule and not the exception. In the UK, for example, after Northern Rock, the Bank of England and the FSA began to talk to each other only through the press, it was obvious to all that the relationship was extremely bitter. In the US, during the crisis, severe strains were evident between the Fed and the FDIC. The relationship between the SEC and the CFTC has, of course, been strained for decades.
In the financial sector in particular, we want strong-willed regulators to act on the courage of their conviction. Since many of their regulatees probably have outsized egos, perhaps it does not hurt to have a regulator with an exaggerated sense of self-importance. We do not want regulators who are too nice to their regulatees. It follows then that we cannot wish that regulators be too nice to each other either.
What we need instead is a mechanism to deal with the problem of regulatory overreachdemocracies thrive on checks and balances. Regulatory overreach is a problem, even when it does not involve another regulator at all. Instead of hoping that regulators will always exercise self-restraint, we need a process to deal with the consequences of regulators overstepping the line.
The best mechanism is a robust appellate processappellate tribunals and beyond them, the regular judiciary. Regulators, too, must be accountable to the rule of law and an appellate process is the only way to ensure this. The judicial process is as capable of resolving disputes between two regulators as it is of resolving disputes between the regulator and its regulatees.
In the context of the dispute between Sebi and Irda, many people have argued that a bureaucratic process of resolving disputes is preferable to a judicial process. There is, however, little evidence for such a view from around the world. Bureaucratic processes are less likely to provide a lasting solution and more likely to produce unseemly compromises that paper over the problem.
The two-decade-long dispute in the US between the SEC and CFTC about equity futures provides an interesting case study to demonstrate this. In the early 1980s, the SEC and the CFTC came to an agreement (the Shad Johnson accord) dividing up the regulatory jurisdiction of stock index futures and index options, but they were unable to agree on the regulation of single stock futures. Futures on narrow indices were left somewhere in the middle, with the CFTC having regulatory jurisdiction but the SEC having a veto power on the introduction of the contract itself.
In the late 1990s, when the SEC barred the Chicago Board of Trade (CBOT) from trading futures on the Dow Jones Utilities and Transportation indices, CBOT took the SEC to court and won. The court sternly declared that, "SEC is not entitled to adopt a 'my way or the highway' view by using its approval poweras a lever." With the Shad Johnson accord in tatters, the two regulators were finally forced to sort out the regulation of single stock futuresa matter that they had not been able to settle by bureaucratic processes for two decades.
It is evident that the resolution of the single stock futures dispute would not have happened without judicial intervention. For two decades, inter-regulatory coordination mechanisms in the US, like the President's Working Group on Financial Markets were not able to resolve the matterit was too convenient for both regulators to agree to disagree.
An important advantage of judicial resolution is that regulatory conflicts that have the most serious impact on the markets are more likely to be litigated than those that are less damaging. It is, therefore, more likely that the final outcome would be socially and economically efficient. There are no such incentives to guide a bureaucratic solution towards the social optimum.
The author is a professor of finance at IIM Ahmedabad
SHOULD ASIA BEGIN TO LOOK WITHIN?
The aftermath of the financial crisis has opened a new can of worms for Asia. The region has to decide its degree of dependence on the non-Asian world. The decision is anything but easy.
Just about a decade ago, the Asian financial crisis had hit the region. The crisis saw the region responding in a collective manner. The collective behaviour led to figuring out Asian solutions to Asian problems. Circumstantial imperatives led to a revival of Asian regionalism. A key driver of such regionalism was the disappointment of the region with the quality of response from the West. While Western governments had stepped in with considerable vigour during other similar crises in the past, particularly in Latin America, the Asian catastrophe saw much less of such response. Asia was largely left to manage its affairs on its own. The region had little option other than devising collective responses. This was reflected in a flurry of intra-regional trade agreements. They were also reflected in the currency swap arrangements, the Chiang Mai Initiative and the tentative move towards an Asian bond market.
An important aspect of the Asian recovery after the crisis was the dual emphasis on intra-regional and extra-regional linkages. While formalisation of economic and trade agreements within the region increased, there was simultaneous emphasis on deepening links in non-regional markets. Western markets remained major sources of inspiration for Asian economies. Indeed, the onset of the robust economic cycle that the world witnessed from the early years of this decade was sustained by steady feeding of Asian exports to North American and European markets.
The situation, this time around, is different. The latest crisis was not a regional crisis like in 1997. It was a trans-Atlantic setback that matured into a contagion and affected Asia. The region is fighting a crisis that is not of its own making. As a result, it realises that the response also needs to be different. Unlike the last time, when Asia followed an 'open' regionalism model by reaching out to non-regional markets as well, should it do the same this time also?
The question will agitate policymakers from the region for a long time to come. Open regionalism might appear much less attractive now compared to the past. Far-reaching changes have taken place in Asia's economic equation with the West. In 1998, western markets were buoyant. Asian exports could rely on them for regional recovery. This time it is not so. The region cannot expect Western markets to handhold its turnaround. Depressed conditions in North American and European markets have forced the region to think whether export orientation will deliver benefits any longer.
Fundamental changes have also occurred in the balance of economic power within the region. In 1998, Japan was the largest economy in the region. It accounted for 14.5% of the world GDP. China was the second largest with 3.3% of world GDP. The Asean-5 (Indonesia, Thailand, Singapore, Malaysia and the Philippines), India and Korea followed with 1.7%, 1.5% and 1.3% of world GDP, respectively. A decade later, the balance has changed considerably. Japan is still the largest regional economy. But now it contributes only 8.8% of world GDP. China has inched closer to Japan by contributing 8.3% of world GDP. The Asean-5 and India now contribute 2.2% each to world GDP, while Korea contributes 1.4%.
The greater China-centric character of the region will play a critical role in determining whether Asia continues to follow open regionalism. China may not decide to be as open to extra-regional actors as Japan has been. China's economic links with other major economic entities in the region have deepened considerably over the last decade. It may decide to deepen these links further, given the subdued conditions in western markets. China has also decided to consciously energise domestic consumption and demand as major engines of growth. It is likely to import much more than it did in the past. These imports will largely come from its neighbouring Asian countries producing cheap commodities. The latter will also supply considerable raw material and intermediates, as China pursues large-scale infrastructure development. China's heavy import of iron-ore from India is a case in point.
Asia may, therefore, see a much different regional response to the post-crisis scenario as opposed to what it witnessed a decade ago. A relatively inward-looking regional approach is likely to appeal to all other major economies in the region, such as the Asean-5, India and Korea. They all stand to benefit from synergies created by a quick turnaround of economic activity in the region.
The author is visiting research fellow at the Institute of South Asian Studies at the National University of Singapore. These are his personal views
UP TURNS REFORMIST
In the last two months, the UP government has taken a couple of reformist policy decisions in agriculture. First, UP has put up for sale 11 running mills of the Uttar Pradesh State Sugar Corporation Ltd (UPSSCL). The Mayawati government has been trying to offload the big sugar mills of UPSSCL ever since she assumed office in May 2007.
However, the process got entangled in legal disputes. In totality, the state had plans to disinvest its share in 61 sugar mills run by the UPSSCL and UP State Cooperative Federation. The bone of contention has been land use as most of these mills are sitting on huge land banks. The Allahabad High Court has ordered that land use norms for the mills listed for sale in the first phase can't be changed. While there is no problem with the 11 mills put on the block, private parties want a change in land use normswhich the high court order has denied themfor 22 mills that are either sick or have been closed for some years.
The UP government plans to challenge the high court order in the Supreme Court to clear the hurdles facing privatisation of all the 33 sugar mills of UPSSCL. Response from private parties has also been encouraging. Big companies like Triveni Engineering, Indian Potash, Patel Engineering, Dwarikesh Sugar, Wave Industries, Lakshmipathy Balaji Sugar and Distilleries, DCM Shriram, PBS Food, Ticola Sugars and SBEC Bio Energy have shown interest in purchasing the mills.
Second, the state has also announced a new wheat procurement policy, paving the way for big flour millers and companies like ITC to purchase grain directly from growers. UP had barred private purchasers from buying wheat from the state in 2007, but is now inviting them. Allowing private millers to buy wheat directly from farmers would ensure that farmers get a better price for their produce. To ensure that there is no problem in payments, the state cabinet has directed that all payments made by private millers to farmers should be made through account payee cheques. Private traders have been purchasing sizable quantities of foodgrains from UP over the last few years due to its benign tax structure. The new incentive would give a further fillip to such buys. These two steps will surely go a long way in sending a positive signal to prospective investors.
LEARNING FROM FAILURE
It is almost a rite of passage that an Indian launch vehicle runs into trouble in its first flight. The country's very first attempt to launch a satellite failed in August 1979 when the SLV-3 rocket went out of control and ended up in the Bay of Bengal. A year later, those problems were sorted out and the rocket put a 35-kg Rohini satellite into orbit. The Indian Space Research Organisation had to cope with two successive failures with the Augmented Satellite Launch Vehicle (ASLV) before its third flight in 1992 went smoothly. In 1993, a series of technical shortcomings coalesced and the first flight of the Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) ended in failure. Those issues were swiftly resolved and the PSLV has become known for its ability to carry out a wide range of missions with rugged reliability. The first launch of the Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle (GSLV) nine years ago, using a Russian-made cryogenic upper stage, was, to some extent, the exception. Although the GSAT-1 satellite was put into orbit, a small under-performance of the cryogenic stage meant that it was not the planned orbit. Attempts to move the satellite using its own thrusters were not successful and the satellite was ultimately abandoned.
Despite such a history, the failure of Thursday's GSLV launch with the country's first indigenous cryogenic engine and stage came as a bolt from the blue. The engine and later the full stage have gone through extensive testing on the ground in the course of their development. Moreover, the actual engine that flew on the GSLV was test-fired on the ground for 200 seconds. Exhaustive reviews by experts of the cryogenic stage and the rocket were completed before the GSLV was cleared for launch. After the unsuccessful flight, the ISRO chairman, K. Radhakrishnan, initially suggested that two small cryogenic steering engines, which swivel to maintain the rocket's orientation, might have malfunctioned. Later, however, he indicated that the main cryogenic engine itself might not have ignited. In such a complex system as the cryogenic stage, even a small defect that escapes attention is sufficient to doom the flight. But the space agency would be unwise to confine its analysis to problems encountered with the indigenous cryogenic stage. This is an opportunity for a thorough examination of the entire GSLV rocket and its past five flights. There have, for instance, been problems with the Vikas liquid-propellant engine in previous flights. The procedures for the manufacture, assembly, and pre-flight testing of all liquid propellant engines and stages need particular attention. A comprehensive review would best ensure the future reliability of the GSLV.
DOING SCIENCE IN A NEW WAY
The recent successful mapping of the Mycobacterium tuberculosis (TB) genome by the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) Team India Consortium with Global Partnership has shown a novel way to do science in the Internet era. The mammoth project of global significance tapped the latent talent and potential of nearly 400 students spread across India and made the result available in an internationally accepted format. Although the TB genome was sequenced in 1998, complete mapping was not possible as only about 60 per cent of the genome was annotated. A sequenced genome is like a book containing a string of million alphabets that makes no sense; mapping arranges these alphabets into words, sentences, and chapters. The CSIR's Connect 2 Decode (C2D) project was to map the complete TB genome by extracting information on individual genes contained in hundreds of published papers and using computational extrapolation for the missing ones. The C2D project, involving students undergraduates to start with enlisted on a voluntary basis, was completed in just four months. Doing it the traditional way would have taken years. The message is: there is abundant young talent in India and much of it goes waste for want of opportunities and due to systemic inadequacy.
Here India can learn from China. The BGI, which used to be known as the Beijing Genomics Institute before it moved its headquarters to Shenzhen in 2007, offers a possible answer to the question of harnessing the large talent pool that may otherwise go waste. A recent editorial and a news feature in Nature looked at the possibility of China becoming the world leader in genome sequencing, thanks to the BGI model. In fact, the BGI, which depends primarily on graduates, has contributed a lot to the sequencing of many genomes, the human genome included. Tuberculosis, which mainly afflicts the poor in developing countries, is a neglected disease. Drug companies have no incentive to invest in relevant research; Rifampicin, the latest TB medicine, was discovered in the 1960s. This neglect sits ill with the fact that 1.7 million people die from TB globally every year (there are two deaths every three minutes in India alone), and the number of people with multidrug-resistant TB is increasing. It is to provide a fillip to research and drug development that the TB gene map is made freely available online under the Open Source Drug Discovery initiative of the CSIR. Anyone, including drug companies, could use the data and add to or modify them; it works on the same principle as Wikipedia.
LEADER PAGE ARTICLES
HOW TO FEED YOUR BILLIONAIRES
FREEBIES FOR THE IPL AT A TIME OF SAVAGE FOOD SUBSIDY CUTS FOR THE POOR BENEFIT FOUR MEN WHO MAKE THE FORBES BILLIONAIRE LIST OF 2010 AND A FEW OTHER, MERE MULTI-MILLIONAIRES.
And so the IPL fracas is now heading for its own Champions League. Union Cabinet Ministers, Union Ministers of State, Chief Ministers (and who knows a Governor or two might pop up yet) are being named as people trying to influence the bidding process. Both houses of Parliament are in uproar. The taxmen have launched a "survey." Many in the media and politics are happy to reduce it all to issues of propriety or personality. For, the BCCI-IPL is one platform where the Congress and the BJP cohabit, normally with ease. Big money is, after all, a secular, bi-partisan space. (Or tri-partisan: let's not deny the central contribution of the NCP to this phenomenon.) It's also interesting that the media, though now compelled to give the IPL's underbelly some coverage, are still reluctant to ask larger, harder questions. To go beyond their Modi-Tharoor feeding frenzy. And to avoid induced amnesia.
It was just 10 years ago that cricket was rocked by the game's biggest-ever match-fixing scandal. That too had its centre of gravity in Indian cities, and involved Indian bookies and Indian businessmen. But along comes a new hyper-commercialised version of the game. It has scandal-waiting-to-happen written all over it and the media say "wow! This looks great," promptly going into the "willing suspension of disbelief" mode. This venture had the right names, high glamour and, above all, big advertising and corporate power. There were obvious conflicts of interest (apart from what it did to cricket, the game) from day one. Here was Big Business in open embrace with its political patrons. There were also those who did not give the public office they held a fraction of the time or importance they gave to the BCCI-IPL. But few serious questions came up in the media.
Now there's a forced discussion of opaque dealings, bribes, and "we-know-how-to-deal-with-you" threats. Of shady investors, murky dealings and, possibly, large-scale tax evasion. Of franchisees alleging they were offered a $50 million bribe to exit. Or claiming that a Union Minister warned them to withdraw from the rodeo with grave threats. It all leads to things much bigger than Modi versus Tharoor or issues of "impropriety" (a nice, genteel word). Leave aside the narrow money details or the fact that some franchisees are thought to be losing tens of crores each year. Skip the fact that despite those losses, newer franchisees between them put up over Rs.3,000 crore for two teams that don't exist. Only a tiny band of journalists have at all shown the scepticism demanded of their profession. These few have stuck at it gamely only to find themselves isolated, mocked as party-poopers and the recipients of threats and abusive mail.
How about questions on public subsidies going to some of the richest people in the world? The BCCI-IPL cost the public crores of rupees each year in several ways. The waiving of entertainment tax worth Rs 10 crore -12 crore for the IPL in Maharashtra alone was discussed in the State's Assembly. It was little reported and less discussed in the media. Maharashtra has extended other support to the IPL, which is yet to be quantified. This, despite being a State whose debt will cross Rs. 200,000 crore in the coming year. And there are similar subsidies and write-offs extended to the BCCI-IPL in other States, other venues.
A whole raft of concealed freebies from public resources to the BCCI-IPL is also not discussed. We have no picture of their full scope. No questions either on why a public sector company should be billing itself as the "sponsor" of a team owned by the fourth richest man in the planet. No questions asked about issues ranging from super-cheap land leases and stadia rentals and low-cost stadia security. We don't even know what the total bill to the public is: just that it is probably in tens of crores. We do know that these supports to the IPL from public money come at a time when subsidies to the poor are being savaged. But we don't want to go down that road. An inquiry into the IPL must cover the BCCI as well and must record all the open and hidden write-offs and subsidies that both get.
Who stand to gain from the public wet-nursing of the IPL? Among others, four gentlemen who make the Forbes Billionaires List of 2010. Three of them are team owners and one is a title sponsor. All dollar billionaires and long-time residents on the Forbes List. Then there are the mere millionaires in the shape of Bollywood stars. For all these and other worthy people, governments bend over backwards to make concessions. Even as they slash food subsidies in a period of rising hunger. Big time partying is an integral part of the IPL show. Only look who is paying for that. Street argot has already begun to brand the IPL as Indian Paisa League or, more directly, India Paisa Loot.
But the BCCI and the IPL preside over huge sums in advertising. So even when the IPL angers the media by pushing them around on coverage restrictions, the media cave in. The larger silence continues. The strongest criticism of what has been going on (till the Kochi chaos) has come from Sports Minister M.S. Gill, an old-fashioned cricket lover actually worried about the game. Not from the media that cover the IPL. He has criticised the tax concessions and security subsidies that have hurt public security in the cities concerned while the IPL is on. It's also worth pointing out that Mr. Gill is the one Minister (of the four Ministers on your TV screens in the present drama) actually connected with sports in a legitimate way and not tainted by scandal. But maybe that's natural: the IPL has little to do with sports.
The Sports Minister pointed out a long time ago that there were dangerous conflicts of interests at the top levels of the BCCI-IPL. He also told Karan Thapar on television that he found the idea of "letting off tax" (waivers for IPL) quite unacceptable. "This is a poor country. I never forget that. There is a huge deficit in the budget even this year ..." And went on to say that: "when business is earning it in the shape of these teams and whatever the structure, I think the legitimate tax should be taken and should be used for the country maybe even for sports, other sports." Far from that happening, we are taking it from the public and handing it out to the billionaires.
Fire brigades in the cities have been muted or overruled in their objections to the IPL's 'hospitality boxes' (where seats can cost you Rs. 40,000) as fire hazards. But some of these tickets also get you to a late night party with IPL stars and other dubious benefits. Some have raised the question of what this does to the players' performance the next day. But the party goes on. Nothing could be further removed from the lives of the 'cricket crazy public' whose supposed interests are invoked for every new spin to the game. IPL does not come cheap.Mumbai's elite recently preened themselves on Earth Hour where the city saved some power by switching off lights for 60 minutes. Great savings could be made if all IPL games were played in daylight. There is something ugly about that much electricity consumed by a private profit entity (guzzling public money) in a season when Marathwada and Vidarbha suffer 12-15 hour power cuts. Something that always devastates the performance of their poorer children in the examinations. They could end up having (on paper at least) a Right to Education, but none to electricity.With the IPL comes the convergence of the most important media trends: the ABC of Media Advertising, Bollywood and Corporate Power. Corporate barons and Bollywood stars own cricket teams. One IPL team is owned by a newspaper. Other dailies have become 'media partners' of IPL teams. Some Bollywood stars have 'promotional agreements' for their films with TV channels who disguise their paid-for gushing over those films as "news." Once national heroes, cricket's top icons are now 'capital assets' of the franchise owners. Once proud of their disavowal of tobacco and liquor advertising, the icons now plug for the latter in surrogate form. And are linked to the former in other ways. And a once great game moves from heartfelt public ownership to a pocket-driven private one; from a national passion to a hyper-commercial nightmare.
TRIBUTE TO A TRUE AMBASSADOR
VASANT VASUDEV PARANJAPE HAD A GENUINE VISION OF BETTER RELATIONS BETWEEN INDIA AND CHINA AND WORKED IN HIS OWN WAY TO PROMOTE FRIENDSHIP AND UNDERSTANDING.
Vasant Vasudev Paranjape, the former Ambassador, passed away in Pune on April 8, 2010, ending a chapter in contemporary India-China history. His grasp of the Chinese language was legendary, as was his role as interpreter during the talks between Jawaharlal Nehru and Zhou Enlai.
Though he was a generation senior, I had the privilege of knowing him. We had all heard of Bai Chunhui, as he was known by his Chinese name. Chinese officials often referred to him during my stint in Beijing in the mid-1980s, and he had an aura like none other. Even then, references to him were from a bygone era that marked the founding of the People's Republic of China and the halcyon days of "Hindi-Chini Bhai Bhai" in the 1950s. He had been part of all the hopes and expectations of that era, of the meetings between Nehru and Zhou Enlai, including the marathon official-level talks of 1960 in Yangon, New Delhi and Beijing on the boundary question.
When I returned to the Ministry of External Affairs as Under Secretary (China) in 1987, I got to know him in flesh and blood for the first time. He would stroll into my room now and then, looking for some Chinese-language material to borrow. He was dressed simply, in a khadi bush-shirt, sporting sandals. He would often sidle up to the book-shelf in the corner, where Chinese-language books and sundry material often lay in an intimidating pile. He would then dust off the covers of a few, and pore over the contents for hours on end, occasionally punctuating his musings with animated readings of words and expressions that had caught his fancy. Sometimes, he would borrow a few magazines, slipping them into a simple sling-bag slung over his shoulder. He would devour pedagogic Communist Party journals like Hong Qi (Red Flag), and its successor Qiu Shi (Seeking Truth), with extraordinary ease and relish. Such was his voracious appetite for anything written in Chinese. It took a while for him to accept any of the youngsters because his own Chinese was so good. But once one passed muster, he was most friendly and genuinely opened up. Our interesting banter continued through the next four years that I spent in the East Asia Division.
He was a good raconteur, and had a treasure trove of stories to share. He did not spare anyone; in fact, he could be quite trenchant in his remarks. But he was not malicious at heart. Puckish he was, though, with a sense of humour. He had strong likes and dislikes, and I guess he invited his share of reciprocal feelings from others.
When I returned to New Delhi in 1996 as Director (China), he was most gracious. He was the first to invite me home for a meal, along with my predecessor Ashok Kantha. Once again, our interaction continued over the next four years. He was very excited when Ambassador T.N. Kaul, whose own association with China went back to the 1940s, invited him to accompany him on a nostalgic trip to China. Ambassador Paranjape even interpreted for him during meetings with old friends and associates in Beijing, as he had done earlier for Nehru, and subsequently during External Affairs Minister A.B. Vajpayee's visit to China in 1979.
"To everything there is a season," as the line from Ecclesiastes goes. Bai Chunhui was aging, even mellowing, when I left for Shanghai as Consul-General of India in 2000. During my years in Shanghai, he had remained in touch initially, asking me to purchase for him some classical Chinese texts.
The 50th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between India and China had been marked with fanfare that year, with Chinese Ambassador Zhou Gang hosting a well-attended reception at the Chinese Embassy in Chanakyapuri. Ambassador Paranjape, recovering from a recent ailment, was mingling with guests in his inimitable style, now aided by a walking stick.
Just days before his demise, even as he lay in a hospital bed, his youthful visage was part of a photo exhibition on India-China relations over the decades, displayed on the occasion of the 60th anniversary celebrations in New Delhi on April 1.
As Alexander Pope wrote:
A little learning is a dang'rous thing;
Drink deep, or taste not the Pierian spring:
There shallow draughts intoxicate the brain,
And drinking largely sobers us again.
Throughout his life, Bai Chunhui took deep draughts of Chinese language and culture, in fact of the very soul of China. He had a genuine vision of better relations between India and China and worked in his own way to promote friendship and understanding. Mind you, he was also capable of equally deep quaffs of mao tai, the fiery Chinese decoction so vital to any successful banquet in China.
Farewell Bai Chunhui, and "Gan Bei" (Bottoms Up)!
ICELAND'S RAGE AT BANKERS IS YET TO ERUPT
THOSE CONDEMNED BY THE 'BLACK REPORT' ON THE FINANCIAL MELTDOWN WILL HAVE ONLY BRIEF RESPITE FROM ICELANDERS' VOLCANIC ANGER.
The news that an eruption had started in Eyjafjallajokull glacier, south Iceland, and that it was 10 to 30 times bigger than the eruption that started in a similar location three weeks ago ... well, it took a moment to sink in. In Reykjavik, Iceland, we were in the midst of the fallout from a fact-finding report into the bank collapse that had been published two days earlier widely dubbed the "black report," on account of its staggering revelations of corruption and incompetence in the lead-up to the economic meltdown. The media were ploughing through the 2,000-plus page report to offer up choice morsels for the public, which was already feeling completely overwhelmed by its revelations.
When the media started reporting the news, the Icelandic blogosphere was already abuzz with indignation over an article that had appeared in one of the papers that morning. It had been sent in by Thor Bjorgolfsson, former mogul and owner of Landsbanki purveyor of the ill-fated Icesave banking accounts and it was titled "I apologise". In the article, Bjorgolfsson issued about five maudlin "apologies," while at the same time explaining why he was really not to blame and dropping choice phrases like: "Every Icelander is responsible for their finances and the decisions they took. I am no exception." This from an individual who, it is revealed in the report, looked on Landsbanki as a "smorgasbord" and, among other things, vacuumed hundreds of billions of Icelandic kronur out of it for his own purposes a mere month before the collapse. So it is easy to believe that folks like Bjorgolfsson breathed a sigh of relief at the news that Eyjafjallajokull glacier had blown up just in time to stop the lynching in the blogosphere and elsewhere.
There is, come to think of it, a sort of poetic allegory inherent in this new eruption. One could even view it as the symbolic rage of the collective Icelandic nation bursting forth rage that has been seething beneath the surface of this apparently placid society ever since the so-called Kitchenware Revolution ended last year. Indeed, Icelandic riot police were standing by in case of civil unrest following the publication of the black report. Protests had even started on Monday outside the parliament buildings, but those, too, have apparently been diverted by news of the eruption.
And now, with flights grounded in the U.K. and northern Europe due to volcanic ash, it was predictable that the phrase "Iceland's revenge" would fly suggesting that this was Iceland's payback to the U.K. for using anti-terrorist legislation to seize Icelandic assets after the bank collapse, and for playing serious hardball in the Icesave dispute. However, all such remarks that I have heard have come not from Icelanders but from foreigners. Indeed, I believe the diplomatic dispute with the U.K. and the Netherlands over the Icesave affair is such a sensitive issue for Icelanders that most would not even consider joking about it in such a flippant manner.
Besides, we have other things to worry about. One bridge has already been washed out, the ring road that connects west and east Iceland on the south coast is severely damaged, farms are at risk, and Katla a nasty volcano that could make this present eruption look like a walk in the park could be awakened. And as if that wasn't enough, we now face the wrath of irate tourists who can't get to their holiday destinations.
But it's an ill wind bearing volcanic ash that blows nobody any good: no doubt, the oligarchs and others implicated in the fact-finding report are enjoying this brief respite from the wrath that will rain down upon them in due course. © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2010
( Alda Sigmundsdottir is a writer/translator based in Reykjavik and runs the cult blogsite Iceland weather report.)
INTERNET: SIGNS OF AGREEMENT BETWEEN U.S. & RUSSIA
- Last year just one American computer security specialist attended the conference; this year more than a dozen Americans attended
- The tenor of the meeting was markedly different from that of earlier meetings dominated by the Russians
For the 140 computer network specialists, law enforcement agents and diplomats from eight countries who met at Garmisch-Partenkirchen, a German ski resort this week for a Russian-sponsored conference on Internet security, the biggest challenge was finding a common ground to discuss their differences.The barrier was not the variety of native languages but deep differences in how governments view cyberspace, according to many of the specialists there.
That challenge was underscored by a sharp rift between the United States and Russia. Americans speak about computer security and cyberwarfare; the Russians have a different emphasis, describing cyberspace in a broader framework they refer to as information security.
"The Russians have a dramatically different definition of information security than we do; it's a broader notion, and they really mean state security," said George Sadowsky, a U.S. representative to the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, or Icann, the closest thing to a governing body for the global network.
What has changed, however, is the Obama administration's decision this year to begin actively discussing these differences with the Russians. While last year only a single American academic computer security specialist attended the conference, this year more than a dozen Americans attended, including Christopher Painter, the second-ranking White House official on cybersecurity, and Judith Strotz, the director of the State Department's Office of Cyber Affairs.
The two nations, according to Russian officials, have agreed to renew bilateral discussions that began in November in Washington. "An international dialogue on cybergovernance, crime and security is really long overdue,'' said Charles L. Barry, a research fellow at the National Defense University.
"There's really only one network out there. We're all on it, and we need to make it safe."
Painter, speaking on Tuesday, said there had been significant improvement in international law enforcement cooperation in recent years. To respond to challenges in cyberspace, he said, strong laws, trained crime investigators and efficient international cooperation are needed. The United States has succeeded in creating a global 24-hour, seven-day network of law enforcement agencies in 50 nations, which have agreed to collect and share data in response to computer attacks and intrusions. While officials from both nations said that law enforcement cooperation had improved, the Russians have refused to sign the European cybercrime treaty, which the United States strongly backs.
At the same time, for the past 13 years, the Russians have been trying to interest the United States in a treaty in which nations would agree not to develop offensive cyberweapons or to conduct attacks on computer networks. The United States has repeatedly declined to enter into negotiations, arguing instead that improved law enforcement cooperation among countries is all that is necessary to combat cybercrime and cyberterrorism. On Monday, Gen. Vladislav P. Sherstyuk, undersecretary of the Russian Security Council, criticised the treaty, saying that a provision effectively violated Russia's sovereignty by permitting foreign law enforcement direct access to the Russian Internet.
The general also restated Russian concerns about the absence of an international treaty limiting military uses of the Internet. "Cyber attacks are left out of international military law,'' he said. "Information technology can be used as a tool to undermine national peace and security."
The Americans have accused the Russians of turning a blind eye to cybercriminals who have operated with relative impunity from Russia. In turn, the Russians have criticised what they see as American "hegemony" over the Internet and privately express concerns that the United States has retained a "red button" the power to shut off the Internet for specific countries. Yet despite these differences, in Garmisch this year there were also signs of agreement between Russians and Americans.
According to one Russian business executive who has attended all four Garmisch events, the tenor of this meeting was markedly different from that of earlier meetings dominated by the Russians. "In the past, the largest group was from the FSB,'' he said, referring to the Russian intelligence agency, "who were here for an annual vacation." ©2010 New York Times News Service
MORE OF THE SAME
UNBUNDLING IS JUST PAPER WORK
By bifurcating the Punjab State Electricity Board the Punjab government may have met the minimum conditions of the Electricity Act of 2003, but it has not followed the power reform agenda in the right spirit. Predictably, the two state-owned companies will face the same problems which had dogged the board. Essentially, nothing has changed. The basic purpose of the power reforms should have been to remove malaises which had afflicted the state electricity boards countrywide. Political interference was on top of these. Since the two companies will virtually function like any other government department, political interference will continue. Operation autonomy will be a casualty. People handpicked by the government for the top posts will not be able to resist unjust demands ruling politicians are known to make.
The companies will not start on a clean slate as was expected. They will carry the outstanding losses and loans of the board. Though the revaluation of the assets may help them raise more loans to strengthen infrastructure and buy power to meet the peak season demand, the companies' revenue must rise accordingly to help them service the debt. If the board could not force the state government to make timely payments for the free power given to farmers and poorer sections of society, how could the two companies succeed? Since the employees remain the same, work culture too will remain unchanged. Will they now suddenly undergo a change of mindset and start doing their work honestly? Will power theft with official connivance stop?
A basic purpose of the power reforms is to ensure competition. Competition from private companies can force government firms to perform or perish. Besides, consumers have to be given a choice. If they do not like the supply or tariff of a particular operator, they should have the freedom to switch over to a better service provider. Government companies will be as helpless as the board in recovering dues from well-connected consumers who steal power or refuse to pay electricity bills in time. Power reforms have not worked in some states since implementation has been half-hearted. Punjab may soon join them.
AGENDA FOR CHIDAMBARAM
HIT NAXALS HARD BUT GIVE SUCCOUR TO TRIBALS
The criticism of Home Minister P. Chidambaram's handling of the Naxalite situation in the country by senior Congress leader Digvijay Singh, chiding him for treating it as a mere law and order problem and taking a dig at him for"intellectual arrogance" shows that the Congress is not free of the malaise of washing dirty linen in public. Digvijay Singh has been perceived to be so close to party supremo Sonia Gandhi that it was not unnatural for the media to speculate that Chidambaram may have fallen from favour with her. But the Home Minister has been quick to counter Digvijay by calling on her, and announcing in Parliament that he has the backing of both the Prime Minister and the Congress president who have turned down his offer of resignation. By his prompt action, Chidambaram has indeed stolen a march over Digvijay and has virtually put a stop to what could have snowballed into a major issue of contention within the party. Already, the party's former stormy petrel, Mani Shankar Aiyar, had come out endorsing Digivjay and with Chidambaram's aloofness a matter of considerable adverse comment, more statements may have followed but for the Home Minister's pro-active approach.
Even Digvijay did not fail to give Chidambaram credit for being "extremely intelligent, articulate, committed and a sincere politician" but the Home Minister will be judged by posterity for his actions and not by his rhetoric. The Naxalite problem has assumed gigantic proportions in recent years and it is vital that instead of dithering, the Centre and the states evolve a way to tackle the issue headlong. Considering the help that Naxalites or Maoists have been getting from across the borders in Myanmar, Nepal and Bangladesh, the issue cannot but be treated as a law and order one. But there is also merit in what Digvijay said, that the problems of the tribals who are falling easy prey (to vested interests) need to be addressed simultaneously.
A unified approach is what is called for. While there must be no compromise in dealing with the Naxals with tough measures, economic measures to wean the tribals away from the path of violence are certainly called for. Neither should be to the exclusion of the other.
FAILURE OF GSLV
NO NEED FOR DESPAIR, SETBACKS HAPPEN
While the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) must be deeply disappointed at the failure of its mission on Thursday, when it tried to launch a Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle (GSLV) with an indigenously developed cryogenic engine for the first time, the failure needs to be placed in perspective. India has attempted six GSLV launches so far, five of them with Russian engines, but only two of them were successful. Also, cryogenic engines involve complex science and it took ISRO 18 years and Rs 335 crore to develop the indigenous, restrictive and of course expensive technology. It is important to note that only five countries currently have the technology and none of them is ready to part with it. It was, in fact, Russia's refusal to transfer the technology, allegedly following US pressure, that first prompted India to embark on its quest for developing its own cryogenic engine. While, therefore, the failure of the mission is undoubtedly a setback, such failures have been a part of the development in all the five countries, namely the US, Russia, China, France and Japan, which have perfected the technology so far. Trial and error is part of high-end research and the failure certainly does not call for despair.
There is no alternative but to carry forward the programme and ISRO needs to be commended for taking the failure in its stride and announcing that scientists hope to make another attempt within the next one year. It is of course too early to determine why the vehicle failed to ignite and tumbled into the sea. As ISRO Chairman K Radhakrishnan explained, all the data need to be analysed first before concluding whether the indigenous engine failed the vehicle or there were other reasons for the vehicle to tumble into the sea.
The mission would have allowed India to tap the lucrative communication satellite launch market. India must move with determination and redoubled vigour to overcome the pitfalls and achieve its goals.
LAWMAKERS BEYOND LAW
NEED TO PROMOTE CONSTITUTIONAL LITERACY
BY JAGDEEP S. CHHOKAR
The period of nine days from March 18 to 27, 2010 will remain etched in the memory of observers of the functioning of legislatures in the states, particularly in Punjab. The importance of the period is that it shows a rare moment of candor on the part of legislators, an attempted legislative overreach, and that it contains lessons for all the legislatures in the country.
First a gist of the reports in The Tribune. The matter came to public notice first on March 17 when the Speaker, on enquiry from an MLA during the zero hour, read out a letter that the Deputy Speaker had written to him on March 11. Complimenting the Speaker on his magnanimity in pardoning Leader of the Opposition on the charge of hurting the image of the position of the Speaker, the Deputy Speaker expected the atmosphere in the House will become cordial in future.
Wanting "to go a step further", he wrote that "the House must pass a resolution for withdrawal of court cases associated with important people (political leaders)." Not wanting to be accused of being vague and general, the Deputy Speaker clarified, "In particular I am referring to cases against Chief Minister Prakash Singh Badal, Minister Ajit Singh Kochar, Captain Amarinder Singh, Rajinder Kaur Bhattal and others."
He was confident that this will improve the political atmosphere of the state and prove to be very beneficial to the development of the state. He concluded by saying, "If this happens, Punjab could get on the road to progress and emerge as the number one state."
The proposal seemed to have been widely supported with calls to end political vendetta. Several worthies expressed a desire to go even further than the Deputy Speaker and include all "political workers" in this attempt to improve the political atmosphere and put the state on a firm path to development.
There was also the expected bickering with members of every political party attributing motives to the others. The excitement finally abated with the sobering opinion of the Punjab Advocate General that the House had "no powers to interfere in the matter."
What does this episode tell us and what can we learn from it? For a constitutional functionary to propose passing of patently unconstitutional resolution by the legislative assembly should alert us to the acute need for much greater constitutional literacy.
The legislators seemed to be unaware of the principal of separation of powers between the legislature, the executive, and the judiciary, one of the basic features of the Constitution. This is the essence of "education for citizenship" that is sorely lacking in the country, which can create awareness, active and responsible citizens and mitigate the apathy that is often mentioned to be the cause of most of our social ills.
The ancient Greek philosopher, Aristotle, is reported to have described a citizen as "one who knows how to be ruled and also how to rule." The mistaken notion that once elected, the elected representatives can do whatever they like afflicts not only the elected representatives but also a vast majority of electors.
Aristotelian citizens would realise that what the legislature can and should do and what they cannot and should not do, is not determined by resolutions passed in the House but by the Constitution of the country, which also determines what kind of resolutions can be or cannot be passed.
The episode also gives an inside look at the state of the "rule of law" in the country. We must remember that law and order is a state subject. An almost unconditional admission that cases have indeed been instituted on the basis of what is called "political vendetta", and an implicit acknowledgement of having used (or misused) the law and order machinery for partisan purposes, is unlikely to create a cordial and congenial atmosphere in the state as far as the common populace of the state is concerned. It proves the painful fact that not only is the law and order machinery being misused for partisan political purposes, it is also being prevented from doing its legitimate duties that it owes to the common folk.
With the admission establishing that there are indeed cases which have been instituted because of political vendetta and therefore which may not have a basis in fact, also raises the issue of the loss or wastage of public resources on these seemingly frivolous cases at the behest of the state. It is anyone's guess what will be the quantum of money if all types of resources such as time, effort, etc. could be quantified in terms of money but it is likely to be substantial.
This episode also highlights the prevailing confusion about the role of legislators and legislatures. All the legislatures, in states as well as Parliament, spend hardly any real, clock time on their main function, legislating, and end up spending most of their time, and even the effort, on executive activities or blocking actions of one or the other agencies. Notwithstanding the pretensions of the District Collectors being the appropriate authority for sanctioning and getting the projects done, the MPLADS and MLALADS schemes are a blatant example of legislators usurping executive authority by the back door.
The confusion about the role of legislators also exists in the mind of the citizens who tend to "approach" the legislatures with requests to get all kinds of executive work done. The legislators are, of course, always happy to oblige in a mutually reinforcing manner.
What can be done to first reduce and then eliminate this malaise? A possible answer lies in education that of the legislators and of the citizens. Legislators will, of course, consider it presumptuous for any one to suggest that they need to be educated or trained but there seems to be dire need for our legislators to understand the intent and the philosophy of our Constitution and also its working.
There seem to be some attempts at training of newly elected legislators, including members of Parliament, but they seem to be limited to procedural matters. The citizens, on the other hand, need to learn not only their right but also their responsibilities and duties, and how to fulfil them.
The most important lesson for citizens is, to put it in the words of former US Supreme Court judge Felix Frankfurter, "no office in the land is more important than that of being a citizen."
The writer is a former Dean and Director-in-charge, IIM, Ahmedabad
MAN AND THE MACHINES
BY RANA NAYAR
I had always wondered why in India we don't use science to empower the weak and the oppressed. My curiosity touched a new high after I saw a carpenter in England hack away a piece of seasoned wood, single-handed; doing practically everything from sawing to slicing it off, even shaping it into objects of common use.
An ordinary worker in the West has access to all kinds of small handy machine tools that make life hassle-free for him, whereas, an average Indian workman continues to struggle with his ill-equipped "toolkit".
So when a couple of years ago, the Chandigarh Administration decided to convert local dhobi ghats into state-of-the-art washing marts, I had stood by and applauded: "How people-friendly the Chandigarh Administration is, and what a great effort, softening the grinding routine of dhobis!"
Like others, who engage in manual labour, our dhobis, too, work under the most gruelling conditions! It was heartening to see "science" finally knock at their door, offering to revolutionise their lives, only if they would let it.
During this period, I visited dhobi ghat on several occasions. Every time, I saw the place humming with activity; dhobis, young and old, running around cheerily, loading dirty piles into the machines, re-setting programmes, and waiting for the washing cycles to run through. Seeing their faces glow with pride, and their bodies move in stately rhythm, I had felt elated. It was as if they were born to handle these very "machines".
After a year or more, it was, indeed, shocking to see the place look completely deserted, almost grumpy. In the sultry afternoon, I could barely spot a solitary young dhobi, going about his work, desultorily. He was busy drying up a pile of clothes he had manually washed.
Surprised, when I asked him the reason, he informed how the washing mart had closed down, and how things were now pretty much back to square one. On probing further, he revealed that dhobis had run into trouble with the "authorities".
Apart from charging them hefty rent, the "authorities" insisted that they pay the exorbitant electricity bills of the Administrationowned machines, too. Stung by the blatant injustice of it all, I had expected him to offload a flurry of complaints. On the contrary, he simply shrugged his shoulders, saying, "We are negotiating with the Administration. I'm sure, something positive would come off it." The young dhobi's composure and nonchalance had left me quite dazed.
Puzzling over his response, as I walked back home, it was as if someone whispered into my ears, "To heck with machines. Science or no science we, the poor, have our pride and dignity, too, and know how to preserve our "positive outlook".
INVESTING IN PEOPLE
KNOWLEDGE CAN BE PUNJAB'S FUTURE GROWTH ENGINE
BY B.S. GHUMAN
In the 11th Plan the Central Government has accorded high priority to education. The Prime Minister has termed the Plan as the Education Plan. The growing significance of education has also been acknowledged in Punjab in the recent budget. The allocation to education has been enhanced specifically by 25 per cent in the case of school education. Education as a new source of growth can deliver handsome results if its quantitative expansion is accompanied by quantifiable improvements in its quality.
The economies having good quality human resources are thriving across the globe. Punjab has all the potential to grow on the basis of knowledge. The need is to steer the state in a proper direction. The economy of Punjab having witnessed the rate of growth of around 5 percent for around 30 years has slowed down in the recent past.
For restoring the earlier growth trajectory, the economy can no longer rely on traditional sources of growth like agriculture and industry. The agriculture sector has already reached the saturation level. The industrial sector's growth also has limited potential due to the proximity to a hostile international border; the state's remoteness from mineral resources, ports and major markets and tax holidays to the hill states. In this backdrop, investment in the social sector, particularly education, can help the economy to achieve 5 percent or higher growth rate.
Punjab has witnessed a phenomenal growth in the field of education. The state has nine universities, three deemed universities, the Indian Institute of Science Education and Research, the National Institute of Pharmaceutical Education and Research, the National Institute of Public Health, 355 graduation colleges, 75 postgraduation colleges, 121 management colleges, 46 MCA colleges, 212 colleges of education, 13 medical colleges, 87 engineering colleges, seven institutes of architecture, 70 polytechnics, 172 ITIs and art-craft institutes, 78 nursing colleges, 33 colleges of pharmacy and 38 law colleges. The state also has 18,446 government schools and 1,251 private-aided schools.
Though Punjab has witnessed a phenomenal growth and diversification of educational institutions, the state of affairs within the institutions is very deplorable. The educational institutions in the state can broadly be grouped into two categories, namely, publicly funded and aided institutions and self-funded institutions.
The publicly funded and aided educational institutions are largely old and offer education in traditional areas. Most of these have good infrastructure and qualified staff. The work culture in these institutions is at variance with quality education. Job security and lack of accountability have negatively impacted on the outcome of educational institutions. The curricula have not been updated regularly in tune with changing societal needs. Cases of absenteeism, low pass percentage and a high dropout rate are considerable. With a few exceptions in institutions of higher learning, research is mainly repetitive and lacks applied and policy orientation. Barring a few islands of excellence, mediocrity is the general rule in educational institutions.
In the case of self-financing institutions, the situation is more alarming. The cases of over-charging, less qualified faculty, lower salaries, mainly contractual appointments are galore. In private professional institutions, premium on management quota seats is a normal practice. Except in a few private institutions, quality is no consideration in the delivery of services. On the whole, commercialisation of education has adversely affected the quality of education. Social equity is another casualty of commercialisation of education.
The existing trend will not help the state become a knowledge-based economy. The proliferation of education institutions is a necessary condition for a knowledge-based economy. The sufficient condition for leading an economy in the field of knowledge requires a sustained quality movement across educational institutions based preferably on the philosophy of Total Quality Management (TQM) a new paradigm aiming to make an organisation work in the most effective manner and deliver the best quality goods/services.
An effective policy intervention is also required to revitalise the traditional educational institutions by investing liberal funds. In case of the self-financing institutions along with a rigorous derive for quality improvement, ensuring social equity by offering free-ships to the lower strata of society is equally important.
At this juncture, the education system also needs a regulatory regime independent of government control. For this purpose an Independent Regulatory Commission in the field of education needs to be set up. The major objective of the commission should be to provide effective regulatory framework aiming to ensure access of quality education to all the strata of society by regulating areas such as (i) admissions (ii) fee structure, including free-ships for socially and economically backward students, and (iii) quality of education. In the case of violation of the norms, the commission may be authorised to take disciplinary action, including derecognition.
For reaping the benefits of educational institutions further, the state should also set up a Knowledge Commission on the pattern of the National Commission of Knowledge. The commission may be assigned the tasks of suggesting strategies for the promotion of excellence among educational institutions; production and dissemination of knowledge, specially applied knowledge; promotion of entrepreneurial culture etc.
It is expected that the combined impact of the two policy interventions, namely, setting up of a Regulatory Commission and a Knowledge Commission coupled with a quality drive based on the tenets of TQM within educational institutions will help the state become a knowledge economy moving rapidly towards higher growth.
The writer is a former Dean, Faculty of Arts, Panjab University, Chandigarh
J&K: STRIKE OFF, PROBLEMS REMAIN
BY EHSAN FAZILI
On the assurance of the Chief Minister, over 4.50 lakh employees have called off their strike demanding the payment of arrears and other benefits, bringing relief to the state government. Mr Omar Abdullah, however, has raised more questions than he has answered while trying to convince the agitating employees to resume duties in public interest.
The basic handicap with the government is that its coffers are empty to meet the demands of the employees and it looks towards the central government for a financial bailout.
This is not for the first time that the state government has been faced with such a precarious situation. It has faced similar crises earlier also, the last one being on the implementation of the Sixth Pay Commission recommendations last year.
Prior to this in 2002, the employees had gone on a 42-day-long strike in support of their demand for the implementation of the Fifth Pay Commission recommendations then. Not only the higher pay scales, other issues have also caught various governments on the wrong foot in this trouble-torn state over the years. In the absence of an elected government, the employees stayed away from their duties for 73 days in 1990 a year after the eruption of armed militancy in the state.
The coalition government led by Omar Abdullah had earlier wriggled out of the crisis posed by the employees' strike due to the death of two women in Shopian in May last year. Many questions were raised over human rights violations at the hands of security forces with the death of the two women, allegedly raped and murdered by men in uniform and the death of three teenaged boys during public demonstrations against human rights violations in Srinagar early this year.
With the implementation of the Sixth Pay Commission recommendations, as agreed to by the coalition government in July last year, a huge amount of Rs 4,200 crore as arrears is yet to be paid to the employees. They were agitating also to demand a hike in the retirement age from 58 to 60 years and regularisation of contractual employees.
The issue that was taken up at an all-party meeting called by Mr Omar Abdullah in Jammu on March 31 decided to send a delegation to the central government to secure resources for the payment of the arrears of Rs 4,200 crore. The government plans to consult the representatives of the agitating employees in this regard as well. The opposition PDP and the Panthers Party, however, did not attend the meeting in protest.
The Chief Minister is of the view that despite resource constraints, most of the demands have already been acceded to, which include the release of pay scales to the state government and PSU employees in the light of the Sixth Pay Commission recommendations. This has entailed an additional annual expenditure of Rs.1,800 crore.
He claims that despite the limitation of resources, J&K was one of the few states having implemented the recommendations of the Sixth Pay Commission. However, no consensus was reached upon on the hike in the retirement age, with the government arguing that this could not be done in view of the increasing unemployment among educated youth.
In response to the employees' demand for the payment of the arrears, the government stated through its advertisements that the state's total income was only Rs 3,600 crore, while a huge amount was paid as the salaries. "The salary figures are concocted and different from the figures presented in the budget", says Farooq Ahmad Trali, a senior leader of the Employees Joint Action Committee.
On the contrary, huge salaries were paid to the IAS and KAS officers, who have "benefited the most" and not the agitating non-gazetted employees, he opined. Unemployment, being a global problem, could not be solved by sticking to the present retirement age of 58 years, the employees argued.
The recent benefits given to the IAS, IPS officers and the ministers and legislators should also be seen in the light of financial constraints of the state. While the employees feel hard-pressed due to the price hike, the government has acted in haste in conceding the employees' demands without looking at its financial constraints.
COST OF LIVING QUITE HIGH IN LUDHIANA
BY HARPREET KAUR BAINS
There are certain factors which contribute more to price rise in Ludhiana. Being an industrial town, Ludhiana attracts a large number of skilled and unskilled workers from other states. Besides, this city is generally considered to be a safe place so far as the law and order situation is concerned. During the days of militancy a large number of people from Amritsar and other border districts migrated to this town for personal safety. In the wake of the 1984 riots, many Punjabis, when forced to return to their native state, preferred to settle here.
This has led to an alarming increase in its population, which in turn has caused an acute shortage of accommodation. Accommodation, even when available, is beyond the means of the common man. In the posh localities like Sarabha Nagar, Udham Singh Nagar, Bhai Randhir Singh Nagar, Aggar Nagar etc., the situation is even worse. All efforts aimed at providing more living space to the people have been nullified by the ever-increasing population. The land prices have shot up fast. A man of moderate means cannot afford a plot of reasonable size, much less constructed accommodation.
Due to the constant growth in population, supply is not able to keep pace with demand and there is a chronic shortage of commodities and a steady increase in prices. It has become difficult to buy even the bare necessities of life as far as the middle and lower income groups are concerned. Kerosene is usually in short supply and there are long queues before ration depots.
A study conducted recently in Ludhiana has shown that in many middle class families, most men hand over only a limited fixed sum to their women and expect them to manage the household expenses for the full month without asking for anything more. Under the circumstances, balancing the family budget, weekly or monthly, becomes a wild goose chase for the homemakers and it turns out to be an uphill task for them to make both ends meet.
It is said that black money runs a parallel economy in India but its best example can be seen in Ludhiana where huge amounts of money change hands everyday.
The government will have to adopt bold policies and take drastic measures to break the vicious circle prevailing in this city. An ambitious programme of building up more residential colonies with a view to providing living accommodation at reasonable prices to the residents of this town will have to be taken in hand without further delay.
In this regard, a news item published in The Tribune recently offers some hope. The Ludhiana Improvement Trust is reported to have woken up from a long slumber and is said to have drawn up plans to acquire land in and around Ludhiana for building up residential colonies.
Besides, the distribution system must be streamlined by setting up more fair price shops and by strengthening the existing ones. The experiment of "apni mandies" has been a good success in some localities of Ludhiana; it should be extended to other parts of the town to contain the prices of fruits, vegetables, etc.
Industry is almost negligible in many districts of Punjab; a number of industrial units will have to be set up in these neglected areas in order to divert the inflow of labourers to this district from other states. There is certainly a necessity of this long-term corrective measure for the development of backward regions of the state relieving thus pressure on this central city. Ludhiana needs special attention from the state government. Only a timely and well-conceived policy on the part of the administration can relieve the residents of this town of their hardships, both social and economic.
The writer is a teacher in the Deptt of Journalism, PAU, Ludhiana.
NAVI MUMBAI AND JHARKHAND
FOR THE SAME NUMBER OF SEATS A DRASTIC DIFFERENCE IN POLITICAL JOSTLING
Navi Mumbai's municipal corporation (NMMC) was born on January 1, 1992, almost 20 years after the birth of Navi Mumbai city. The city is one of the world's largest planned cities, and was built by CIDCO in the early 1970s. Today it is home to about 30 lakh people, half of whom happily migrated from mother Mumbai.
The daughter city is growing rapidly and will soon be half the size of our megapolis. Since it was built from scratch, it has better roads, water supply and housing. It has no octroi. It has no slums (well, almost). It boasts of near 100 per cent literacy. It has an IPL stadium. It buzzes with cultural life. It is located halfway between Mumbai and Pune, and close to the new proposed international airport.
Wouldn't you like to be mayor of this important city? Given its strategic importance, there should be great interest in the city's elections. The corporation is a big prize, and our competitive politics should be seeing a scramble to win that prize. But Navi Mumbai boasts of a contrarian trend. Instead of anti-incumbency, we see tremendous pro-incumbency, with a city government coming back for the third consecutive time.
The city elected 89 new corporators last week, of which the winning party got 55 seats. Only 470 candidates contested, which means about five per ward. In fact one of the wards had no elections, and that candidate won unopposed! (Shades of Sherlock Holmes' dog who did not bark!)
By compari s o n , M u m - bai's 227 wards attracted more than 3,000 candidates, with an average of more than 10 candidates per ward. Does Navi Mumbai's higher literacy explain the sedateness of its electoral aspirants? Or is the corporation delivering such great governance and outcomes, that voters don't want any change? Isn't a vibrant democracy a sort of continuous churn, throwing out incumbents periodically, to prevent complacency and cozy cronyism?
Well, maybe not.
The scramble for seats can get ugly, and not just in a BEST bus. Look at Jharkhand. Like Navi Mumbai it is also a newly-created entity. It was born ten 10 ago, as a state carved out of Bihar. But unlike Navi Mumbai, political life is anything but serene and predictable. In its short life as a state, anti-incumbency and instability has been the rule.
This is not a healthy democratic churn, but an instability that leads to corruption and a development limbo. The state has low literacy, low human development index and also has to deal with Naxal violence. A former chief minister caught in a mining scandal is in the dock on charges of accepting bribes and income tax evasion. This same former CM had the unique distinction of becoming the only CM who was an independent.
He stood successfully unaffiliated, while opposing parties jostled for power.
The present chief minister too is also involved in a double murder case, the verdict of which is expected soon. Ealrier, he surrendered to the police as an arrest warrant was pending against him. To top it all, he is not yet elected as member of the Vidhan Sabha, an election which he will have to win within six months of taking oath.
The new Vidhan Sabha was elected in December, and had a fractured verdict. Unlike Navi Mumbai, in Jharkhand for 81 seats there were 1,491 candidates! The scramble for seats was obviously much more intense, but outcome was much less stable. Oh by the way, there have been no panchayat or municipal elections in Jharkhand since 1978.
The comparison of electoral outcomes of 89 wards of Navi Mumbai with 81 MLA seats of Jharkhand, makes you wonder whether democracy needs more or less competitive politics. You, the vigilant voter, decide!
MY WIFE'S A REAL 'LOO-NATIC'
Most wives greet their husbands, back after a long day at work, with a peck on the cheek, which is why friends, colleagues or strangers who've sometimes accompanied me home are a little surprised to find me knocking on the bathroom door to say, "Honey, I'm here." "Is she all right?" some have asked, perhaps concerned that my wife might be in ill health. "No, no," I hasten to assure them, "She just prefers being in there," leading them, no doubt, to conclude at the peculiarity of our married life.
Long years ago, I could never understand why my brother liked to have his tea in the bathroom it was only later I discovered it was to keep his cigarette company as he went about his constitutional business so, when after our marriage I saw my wife disappear into the loo with her cup of tea, I thought she too was a closet smoker. But my wife's steamy secret was something else: she liked washing clothes. Despite help hired for the purpose and an industrial load washing machine, not only would she do the laundry, she'd do it over again when stressed, upset or in need of comfort. I like a cup of coffee, or a drink, at hand when I'm reading, so why shouldn't my wife have her tea beside her when she was relaxing over the next batch of washing though it did seem a little bit odd when the mandatory cup was replaced by a full pot on a tray, complete with a tea-cosy. From there, it was only a matter of time before the cookie jar found place on the medicine shelf. I'd return home to find evidence of a half-eaten sandwich, or a plate of pakoras, or a slice of chocolate cake, lying next to the sink, or in the shower cubicle. The bathroom rather than the living room soon became the centre of the house. Books piled up on one side, magazines on another. There was a platform that was house to such wayward objects as egg-beaters and ketchup bottles, wrapping paper, visiting cards and cocktail shakers. Couldn't find the needle and thread? "Look in the bathroom," said the servant. Had anyone seen the blender? "In the bathroom, dad, you should know by now," sighed my daughter. "My laptop?" I'd enquire, to be told, "Mom's using it to check her emails" in the bathroom, of course! It was the black hole where everything disappeared clothes, shoes, car keys, family pictures, pens, income-tax files, bills, forks, spoons, battery chargers.
When she got her mobile phone, I lost the battle of ever hoping to socialise with my wife. She'd disappear into the bathroom with a platter of snacks and her phone, and all one could hear inside was an occasional murmur and giggles. Unable to get through, I'd attempt to call her on her cell phone, only to hear her splashing clothes, or biting into cucumber sticks, or pulling the flush none of them conducive to the conduct of a romantic conversation. If I'd ask her to share a drink with me in the evening, it was only a matter of time before she'd disappear into the loo with her glass of wine in hand.
She'd read in the toilet (while the clothes were soaking, she said), put falls on her saris (ditto), do her nails (while sorting out a batch for starching) and, wouldn't you know it, end up having her friends drop in for cake and coffee in you guessed it the bathroom. Last evening, I did what was inevitable: I joined my wife in the bathroom for a drink. It'll take some time getting used to this, but in time we may even come to host our first bathroom party. Get ready, folks!
CREATING THE NEW 'LOCAL'
Definitely local cuisine," we decided on our first day in Port Blair, when we were asked what sort of food we'd like to eat. The concierge of our hotel looked a little puzzled as he asked, "What about Bengali food?" We stuck to our desire for local delicacies. "Tamil?" the man cajoled. "No, no!" we persisted, "Only local food for us." He slumped, defeated. "But Bengali and Tamil are local only ." We stuck to our guns, thinking maybe he was just not a very good concierge.
We then asked the cabbie where to try local cuisine. "Seafood?" he asked hopefully. We agreed with alacrity, thinking that crab, lobster and prawns must be the staple of these lucky islanders. "We can cook seafood of your choice in authentic Bengali or Mangalorian style," the waiter informed us. "How do locals eat it?" we asked. He also looked stumped: "The locals also eat it like this ."
Replete but slightly bemused after a Bengali meal, we began to wonder why nobody could tell us anything about "local" cuisine and culture. "Port Blair is largely a town of settlers," said Raju, a cabbie/guide who we met later. "Before independence, it was largely a penal settlement, with prisoners of the British and Japanese living here. Post-Independence, the government offered the land here at throwaway prices to encourage people from the mainland to settle here." Further, the original inhabitants of these jewel-like islands were tribes like the Jarawa, Onge and Sentinelese, all throwbacks to the Stone Age. "Some of them didn't even know fire existed until recently!" said Raju. We slowly began to comprehend why our questions about local cuisine had been met with utter incomprehension.
"Even the so-called 'Bengali' or 'Tamil' culture you'll see here isn't authentic," Raju went on. "There's been so much intermingling that we often forget who we really are!" His own family is a case in point: he is a Buddhist from Burma married to a practising Muslim. "Add to this the fact that my mother was Hindu and my two school-going children love Holi and Diwali, and you get an interesting mishmash of cultures," said he. And his family was not unique, for the migrant community in Port Blair was way too small to afford the luxury of marrying only within one's own culture or community.
Their staple cuisine, said Raju, was very different from the "authentic" Bengali and Tamil food one found in restaurants. "You may find lobster and jumbo prawns on restaurant menus, but if you go to a simple man's home in the Andamans, you'll get shrimp or local fish with rice, regardless of whether the person is Burmese or Indian, Bengali or Tamil," said he. The taste buds of the migrants have, in fact, adapted to local produce quite well. "What we eat today has more to do with what's cheap and fresh in the market, rather than what our community traditionally eats," said Raju. So while his grandfather used to reminisce about a diet of dried fish, vegetables and rice in Burma, the third generation in Port Blair is now happy to eat fresh fish and prawns cooked with tomatoes and onions. "We hardly eat any vegetables, as they are very expensive here," said he, "But we do make liberal use of locally grown spices like black pepper."
Anyway, after this conversation, we knew better than to ask for "local" food again. So, we ate everything from fish grilled in banana leaf to crab cooked in spicy tomato gravy, without really bothering to find out where it was really from . At the end of the day, in the age of the new "local", such things really didn't seem to matter.
AN ENCORE FROM DR MANMOHAN SINGH
As a country, we have now understood the model of business very well indeed, with all its variations and nuances entrepreneurial business, corporate business, mixed but mutually dependant ecosystems, mega-scale, small-scale and micro-scale businesses, and so on. It has taken almost two decades to get us to the position where, most of us would agree, we have an excellent and richly diverse portfolio of business models. Despite the present spat between two important financial regulators, we have modern regulatory frameworks in place and a system of institutional checks and balances this is very different from the old license raj days of interventionist checks and permissions.
If that was Act-I, now it's time for Act-II, i.e. to do the same in the sphere of education and develop a vibrant education ecosystem in India. As in the case of business, this has to evolve organically and democratically, and cannot be something the government dictates or even lays down the paradigms for. It will, no doubt, take another 20 years of tapasya of a whole lot of people, in quite the same manner that it took for the model for business to evolve; but in the end, it will be well worth it, and it will be sustainable.
There are no short cuts to this and we have to spend time discussing the problem, rather than jumping to implement quick-fix solutions. The most important thing, however, is to recognise that the genesis of our new and modern business ecosystem was liberalisation. Liberalisation actually meant two things allowing the best businesses of the world to easily enter the country and also liberating many of the local businesses so that they could unleash their own energy and do their own thing. It also meant the slowing down, from a flood to a trickle, of directives from the government on all things, big and small how to price, what your brand name should be, how much your capacity should expand and so on.
The government today continues to do a variation of the license raj behaviour with the IITs and the IIMs, and is losing out on a big opportunity to take them to the next level. People often ask why anybody should really care about what happens to the IIMs and the IITs aren't they a blip in the vast ocean of education? Yes, they are pretty insignificant in terms of size, but not in terms of what they symbolise they remind us that in higher education in India we did build institutions that never compromised on meritocracy and intellectual integrity; institutions that achieved world recognition and respect through the students they educated, who became faculty and directors in other educational institutions; that contributed to issues on the national agenda through the participation of their faculty on PSU boards or government expert committees. The IITs and the IIMs are the Infosys and Wipros of the education world. They send out an aspirational message of "yes we can" to several other institutions and are very visible role models. If we want the newer IITs and IIMs to flourish, we must let the older ones flourish and evolve, maybe morph, into institutions different from what they have been all these years. This will inspire the new institutions more than any handholding and mentoring can do.
The objective that the government should be working towards is: How to enable the development of a vibrant and modern knowledge-creation and dissemination ecosystem, that is driven by people within it, and that creates its own models and builds itself better and better. Instead, the government seems to be working towards the objective of building a more command-and-control, standardised, Ikea-style model. Moreover, the IIMs and the IITs are important because they represent a model of education entrepreneurship. Education entrepreneurs are not the new-age business entrepreneurs who believe that educational institutions are money spinners that should be run along the same lines as business. Educational entrepreneurs are professors with a passion for what they do and an understanding of peer-based governance processes ,and they know how to build institutions and strategise institutions. All is not well with these institutions today. But the way the government can help get them fixed and evolved to the next level is not by saying, "nothing else changes but let's talk about how you can modernise your pedagogy and curriculum and let's clear your business plans and strategy." The government can help them by giving up "management supervision", removing operational controls, letting salaries and evaluation be internally-determined, and thus enabling these institutions to hire a critical mass of young professors who will create a passion-driven revolution from within. Liberate them and give them wise and mature boards, and discuss performance contracts what is the ultimate value we want you to deliver, and how do we plan to judge it. Standardisation is not the way to go.
My friends in the corporate world say that if one wants something badly enough, one must not be open in the criticism of the government. But if we are the democracy that we are so proud of, what's wrong with public debate? The solution is to do with education what we did with business. Dr Manmohan Singh, we need your wisdom and sagacity and courage for our (and your) Act-II.
The author is an independent market strategy consultant
A SESHAN: COPING WITH THE WHEAT CRISIS
THE PRICE OF BELOW-COST SALES OF FCI WHEAT STOCK HAS TO BE JUXTAPOSED WITH THE RELIEF IN INFLATION
On the eve of the marketing season (April-June) in 2007, 2008 and 2009, I wrote about the crisis facing the government in production, procurement and price of wheat. The current year is a continuation of the last year's trend of surplus that carries its own problems. There has been no let-up in the price increases of wheat and rice, the two most important cereals of the country. Their prices were higher by 11.2 per cent and 10.7 per cent, respectively, over a year, going by the index number of wholesale prices (March 20), which is the official barometer for measuring inflation and policy making. The more reliable consumer price indices of various types have shown much higher rates of inflation existing side by side with the burgeoning buffer stocks of the Food Corporation of India (FCI).
Production, procurement and storage
The official projections for this year's wheat crop production and procurement are 80 million tonnes (mt) and 26 mt, respectively. As on September 1, 2009, FCI had a covered storage capacity of 25 mt. Cover and Plinth (CAP) storage amounted to 2.73 mt. Besides, there are warehouses in areas where some state governments undertake procurement. As on March 1, the buffer stocks amounted to 18 mt of wheat and 26.95 mt of rice against the norm of 11.9 mt and 16.2 mt, respectively. In addition, a strategic reserve of 3 mt is also available. The offtake of wheat and rice from the public distribution system in March would have provided only a marginal relief to the storage problem by April 1.
According to the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), although global wheat output is likely to decline sharply this year because of lower acreage, the supply is expected to be stable with strong stockpiles.
Data relate to end-October position. Only important commodities are listed.
The global wheat stocks are projected to soar by 28 per cent to around 183.5 million metric tonnes by June 2010 as against last two years' stock levels. According to the International Grain Council, export price of Hard Red Winter Wheat of the US was $197 per tonne (free on board) on April 2, against $254 a year ago, a decline of 22 per cent. It would be uneconomical to export wheat, and the foreign buyer may drive a hard bargain since the 1-2 year-old-stocks of wheat could be used only as feed grain for cattle.
Government efforts in open-market sales in the last few months have not helped in disgorging the stocks due to the above-market prices quoted. There should be a cost-benefit calculus of the expenditure incurred by the government in maintaining the excessive stocks (including the spoilage of grain) and the additional deficit it has to incur if the commodities are sold below the market price, on the one hand, and the relief on the inflation front, on the other. Today, the fiscal deficit is so huge that an additional amount is going to be marginal. Even if the suggestion is implemented in relation to only rice, it will make a huge difference to the storage problem. The buffer stock norms for rice are 11.8 mt, 12.2 mt, 9.8 mt and 5.2 mt, on January 1, April 1, July 1 and October 1, respectively. The current level of stocks of rice is such that the government can take the risk of unloading a large quantity on the market without worrying about the possibility of a fall in rice output in kharif due to inadequate rains and inability to procure. The price to be fixed and the stocks to be released should be such that they make a substantial difference to the situation.
The reasons for the high level of prices of rice and wheat despite favourable production trends in the last two years can be surmised. One reason could be that due to the massive procurement operations of last year the floating stocks in the market have been reduced. Against this, one has to reckon with the shifting of the demand curve, thanks to the massive additional purchasing power released under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS). There is also the ever-suspected speculative hoarding of foodgrains by traders and processors. State governments have passed orders on the maximum stocks permissible for these categories. Big farmers could also hoard their stocks in anticipation of better price realisation after the marketing season is over and the lean season starts. Nearly half a century ago, noted rural expert Daniel Thorner undertook a tour of the coastal districts of Andhra constituting the rice bowl of the state and wrote an article entitled "Coastal Andhra towards an affluent state" in the then Economic Weekly. He found heavy stocking of rice by farmers. In one instance, his respondent told him that he had 10,000 bags of paddy/rice and they were equivalent to a year's family consumption! In fact, the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) introduced selective credit control (SCC) after a survey in west Godavari district revealed heavy financing of rice millers at a time of price rise. In any case, SCC, which is dead for all practical purposes, has a limited effectiveness as it only ensures that bank credit is not used for the speculative hoarding of commodities in short supply. The speculators have their own and other sources of funds for their businesses.
The good news is that data obtained from RBI on the advances against the pledge or hypothecation of selected sensitive commodities do not reveal any large involvement of banks that should disturb the authorities now. At the end of October 2009, the total of all advances against sensitive commodities amounted to about Rs 33,000 crore constituting only 1 per cent of total non-food credit (excluding credit to the Food Corporation of India). Paddy, sugar and cotton are the three important commodities accounting for nearly three-fourths of the total of all commodity advances. Advances against rice have gone up substantially over the last few years but the amount is not significant in relation to the value of production. The advances have their own seasonal features depending on their production cycle. But an analysis of the data for different months generally supports the above conclusion.
The author is an economic consultant
THE COST OF DEVELOPMENT IN BIHAR
THE UPPER CASTES ARE UNHAPPY AND CAN SPOIL NITISH'S PLANS FOR ASSEMBLY POLLS
Is Bihar Chief Minister and Janata Dal United (JD-U) leader Nitish Kumar likely to return as chief minister of Bihar after the Assembly elections in October-November this year? Or, is Bihar going to see a great Lalu Prasad revival? Or, is it heading for another prolonged spell of President's Rule as no grouping will be able to form a government, because of a badly hung Assembly? All that this column would like to offer are hypotheses.
Kumar came to power by forging a social coalition of extremes. The Bhumihars supported him along with the most backward castes (MBCs), many effectively the Dalits of the Dalits.
There is weakening of support from both groups.
The Nitish Kumar government's biggest achievement was controlling crime. Obviously, the evidence is anecdotal but the Dalits have always been the victims of crime and the upper castes have used kidnapping and extortion to get on in life. As the conviction rate has been going up in Bihar, the feeling that Kumar is victimising the upper castes alone has intensified. Earlier, an MLA could telephone the police station and have an FIR registration stopped. That is no longer possible. The upper castes, Bhumihars with their "senas" (militias), are now the most deprived lot, relatively speaking, as the state asserts its authority.
Simultaneously, it is a fact that the balance of social advantage is in favour of the lower castes, whether it is through panchayats or the Assembly. Therefore, the empowerment-disempowerment matrix is changing. This makes the upper castes feel vulnerable. If the bataidari (land to the tiller) programme is finally implemented, this will once again shake up the upper castes, specifically the Bhumihars.
This dynamic was very much in evidence when Munger MP Rajiv Ranjan (Lallan) Singh, a prominent Bhumihar leader and president of the JD-U unit in Bihar, quit the party in February. Quite apart from everything else, Singh was a close personal supporter of Nitish Kumar, from the days when they were both in the Opposition. Then it was Singh who used to provide the car and driver that Kumar would use when he was in Patna. Singh's role in keeping Kumar's accounts in politics is also well known.
So, when Singh quit the JD-U protesting Kumar's "autocratic ways", it wasn't just he who was leaving, rather it was a swathe of Bihari Bhumihars who deserted the coalition.
They are not un-influential men. The infrastructure revolution that is sweeping Bihar the road and bridge building project of the Nitish kumar-led government is helping the marginalised sections, but it is also the upper caste people who are getting the contracts and funds. Construction-centric growth should be secular in theory, but it does favour those who have capital. So, if castes are getting economically powerful but politically disempowered, they will seek other avenues to show their newly acquired clout.
In short, the Bhumihar drift could deal a body blow to Nitish Kumar's plans for returning to power. The other crucial element is the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) Kumar's ally in power with 38 seats in the Assembly. The JD-U and the BJP have had all the usual spats who will get what portfolio, etc but the BJP has had to watch helplessly as Kumar determinedly went about carrying out his own agenda. He has provided state funding for fencing off kabristans (burial grounds) that used to be a source of a huge land-encroachment racket and the origin of all communal riots in Bihar. All Muslim boys who pass the matriculation exam in the first division will get Rs 10,000 from the state. Similar incentives have been provided for the education of Muslim girls. All this is irritating the BJP which is harping time and again on minority appeasement by a government of which it is an ally. Recently, a demonstration by the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP), the student wing of the BJP, against the state government's allocation of land in Kishanganj for a university on the model of Aligarh Muslim University, was lathicharged by the police. Sushil Modi, deputy chief minister and former ABVP activist, faced resistance and criticism when he went to see the injured students in hospital. The Muslims in Bihar will not vote for the National Democratic Alliance (NDA). But they might vote for Kumar. The BJP is uncomfortable with this fact.
So, if the JD-U cannot form the government in Bihar on its own; and if the BJP's strength in the Bihar Assembly falls, what is Kumar going to do? Will he jump ship, shaking the BJP off? Or, will he and the BJP offer to sit in the Opposition, challenging the other parties to form a government if they can?
It all depends on the number of seats each party gets. The government formation process in Bihar in October-November will be even more interesting than the election that precedes it.
ZADIE SMITH'S PASSAGE
Every little trifle, for some reason, does seem incalculably important today, and when you say of a thing that "nothing hangs on it", it sounds like blasphemy. There's never any knowing how am I to put it? Which of our actions, which of our idlenesses won't have things hanging on it for ever
E M Forster, Where Angels
Fear to Tread
This epigraph adorns Zadie Smith's first novel White Teeth, and her third On Beauty opens with a turn of phrase borrowed from Howard's End. On the acknowledgements page of that book, she writes of her "love of E M Forster, to whom all my fiction is indebted, one way or the other". But the connection of one writer to another isn't just an abstraction; it is fleshed out, not in terms of language or plot, but in terms of ideas which she spells out in Changing My Mind: Occasional Essays (Hamish Hamilton/Penguin, special Indian price Rs 550) that could be summed up by the epigraph to this book taken from that old classic, The Philadelphia Story (1940): "The time to make up your mind about people is never." Hence the title of this collection, because, as she says in her introduction, "ideological inconsistency is, for me, practically an article of faith".
Forster was one of the great novelists of misunderstanding and this forms the basis of Zadie Smith's essays (as they have been with her novels). Split into five sections Reading, Being, Seeing, Feeling and Remembering it finds Zadie Smith casting her eye over material, both personal and cultural, equally at home in the world of great classics and bad cinema, great novelists and essayists with a style that is as sympathetic as it is insightful.
What's striking about the essays, no matter how large the subject, is that their distinguishing marks are intimacy and informality, "a loose sally of the mind" as if she were talking on paper close to the weave and texture of her own experience. But much more than that, she keeps Forster's injunction in Howard's End always in mind: "Only connect Only connect the prose and the passion, and both will be exalted and become love seen at its highest." As Smith elaborates, "Connections was Forster's great theme: between people, nations, heart and head, labour and art." It is these connections that brings these essays alive and relevant to our times.
Given the range of the essays, where does one start? Obviously with E M Forster and her essay Forster: Middle Manager that has been specially written for this anthology. Forster was "a tricky bugger", she says, a proposition that indicates a friendly interest in the man and the writer though it doesn't seem in tune with Forster's reticence or middling style. Forster had laid out his casual aesthetics casually: "All I write is, to me, sentimental. A book that doesn't leave people either happier or better than it found them, which doesn't add some permanent treasure to the world, isn't worth doing This is 'my theory' and I maintain it's sentimental ."
To his detractors, the small, mild oeuvre wasn't enough ("Forster never went any further than warming the teapot," said one of his critics); what was required was the zeal of the fanatic. But it is precisely Forster's stealthy, dissident kindness, the refusal to give up hope for the next time, that has made him one of the most widely read modern novelists of our times.
Some of Zadie Smith's "connections" appear, prima facie, to be a strange mix where fancy literary theory is juxtaposed with old-fashioned plot. There are two options for a writer, she says, as with Roland Barthes and Nabokov. Barthes' view of writing liberates the writer; that is, you write to release the tensions within you; Nabokov's view of reading celebrates the writer. So, she says, "Maybe every author needs to keep faith with Nabokov, and every reader with Barthes."
Using Louis Begley's The Tremendous World I have Inside my Head: Franz Kafka: A Biographical Essay, this is how Smith describes F Kafka: "It is as if he had spent his entire life wondering what he looked like, without ever discovering there are such things as mirrors. A naked man among a multitude who are dressed. A mind living in sin with the soul of Abraham. Franz was a saint." Kafka, Smith says, was more than a man of mystery "he's metaphysical". Which is the reason why Kafka has been the subject of so many biographical essays much more than his novels each trying to fathom the man who saw the future, shackled and bound, that didn't work.
Many of these essays have been written by a person who also writes novels and the novelist's imagination creeps in even when she is writing film reviews or comments on some of the leading film stars of our times. Katherine Hepburn (Roman Holiday, 1950) is her favourite "possibly because she got to me so young, her effect is out of proportion with what any movie star should mean to anyone, but I am grateful for it". On Anna Magnani, the Italian actress: "We see her anger, panic and desperation her face stays where it is make-up free, wrinkled, bagged under the eyes, shadowed round the mouth a different kind of challenge to the male gaze."
The pleasure of these essays (there's a great deal more) on literature and film is that it is like a free-flowing conversation without academic clutter that makes a subject either boring or incomprehensible, or both.
GDP NO INDEX OF CONTENTEDNESS
BEFORE MAKING LIFE LUXURIOUS FOR THE VERY FEW, THOSE IN AUTHORITY MUST MAKE LIFE BEARABLE FOR THE MANY
K NATWAR SINGH
I never criticise the prime minister when he is abroad. Certain proprieties must be observed.
The Nuclear Security Summit was held in Washington DC earlier this week, under the chairmanship of US President Barack Obama. This summit met after Barack Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev had signed a significant agreement to reduce their nuclear stockpiles. They did not altogether do away with them. Enough of these nuclear warheads remain in the hands of these two countries, enough to destroy the world several times over.
Hence, all the sanctimonious rhetoric at the Washington summit sounds hollow. Genuine nuclear disarmament is a mystic chimera. The P5 have the cake and will, as always, eat it too. The summit came up with no serious solution to check nuclear terrorism. A few hours cannot ensure foolproof nuclear security. Where is enforcement mechanism?
Forty seven countries participated. Their leaders mechanically read out their speeches for the benefit of the people back home. Mr Obama had "one to one" meetings with each leader. China and Russia received special treatment. Manmohan Singh too had his "one to one". This was followed by Mr Obama's "one to one" with trusted ally Pakistan's Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani. George W Bush had de-hyphenated India and Pakistan. Mr Obama has openly resorted to hyphenation. After all, being a strategic partner is one thing, but being a reliable ally is quite another.
I read history (Hons, don't forget) at St Stephen's College. I did rather well, obtained a first division. I was too young and immature to then question my teachers about the connection between history and progress.
Now I know better. The fact is that progress is not inherent in history. Progress is not a law of nature (I am excluding scientific progress).
The 19th century was passionately devoted to the gospel of progress. The 20th century mocked the 19th century. Two world wars, the invention and use of nuclear weapons are not signs of progress. The 20th century began on a high note growth in human consciousness and the scientific revolution lit the horizon. But, "Darkness at Noon" soon put an end to that hope. The 21st century has so far had a very bumpy ride. 9/11 is now a melancholy part of the English language. Next, George W. Bush, whom the "people of India deeply loved", invaded and destroyed Iraq.
What is the agenda of the early decades of the 21st century? Terrorism, drug trafficking, brutal Islamic fundamentalism, dealing with the deadly Osama bin Laden. And do not leave out the "good Taliban", who blew up the 1,500-year-old giant Buddhas in Bamiyan. Some progress!!
In 1975 was published Voices for Life: Reflections on the Human Condition. It was edited by the late Dom Moraes. The list of contributors was formidable. Toynbee, Jiddu Krishnamurti, Indira Gandhi, Heinrich Boll, Gunter Grass (both Nobel laureates of later decades), Jonas Salk, Yehudi Menuhin, etc. The essay that made a deep and lasting impression on me was by the black writer Frank Hercules.
He wrote: "The record of the human species up to this time suggests a grave deficiency in social intelligence The problem is, therefore, primarily genetic and only secondarily institutional."
One more quote from Mr Hercules. This should interest our economic pundits.
"On the economic plane, traditional confusion between the standard of living and the quality of life needs to be dispelled. People are not necessarily happier because their per capita income is higher. The gross national product is not an index of gross national contentedness."
I have quoted Frank Hercules because his writing has not dated. Since he wrote, both positive and negative changes are in evidence. Nevertheless, those in authority would do well to remember that before they make life luxurious for the very few, it is their obligation to make life bearable for the many.
What am I driving at? Something fundamental.
I am not being judgmental, nor claiming any personal superiority. Neither am I competent to provide instantaneous illumination for curing the ills and ghastly inequities of mankind. I just want to emphasise that the world sorely needs a moral upheaval.
Tailpiece: During World War II, Marshal Tito sent his trusted comrade Milovan Djilas (1911-1995) to Moscow to meet Supreme Soviet boss Joseph Stalin. Djilas, finding Stalin in one of his relaxed moods, narrated an anecdote: A Turk and a Montenegrin were talking. The Turk wished to know why the Montenegrins were constantly at war. "For plunder, we are poor and need some booty," the Montenegrin replied and asked the Turk what he was fighting for. "For honour and glory," said the Turk. The Montenegrin rejoined, "Everyone fights for what he does not have." Stalin laughed, saying: "By God, that is deep."
PEOPLE IN THE IPL'S GLASS HOUSES
At a superficial level, the Lalit Modi-Shashi Tharoor bang-up is a good illustration of the saying, "People in glass houses shouldn't throw stones". More substantially, it's a moral epic about new India's Age of Greed. Everything about the slanging match reeks of big bucks. From the total worth of IPL, "the world's fastest-growing sports league", valued at $4.1 billion to the swank and swagger of its chairman Lalit Modi, and allegations of fixed and freeloading franchisees, mega-bribes and mafia threats, the story adds up to the idea of how power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.
And enmeshed in it, a youthfully sexy minister, who has gone from being the Congress party's prize trophy in Kerala to an embarrassment in the premier league. On the face of it, what could Lalit Modi and Shashi Tharoor possibly have in common except Twitter traumas? One is the scion of an old industrial family who has established, by hook and by crook, a hugely wealthy empire made up of condensed cricket, movie star glamour and big-ticket investment; and the other a smooth-talking former UN diplomat with literary ambitions who lobs jokes more fitting in the pages of St Stephen's undergrad magazine Kooler Talk than in the strait-laced precincts of the ruling party and South Block.
It could be argued that what the two men share is vaunting ambition but there is something else: their arrogance that they can get away with it, given the power they wield. Conflicting interests and the stench of funny money infect the whole business. If Tharoor's close companion Sunanda Pushkar was an investor in Kochi IPL, surely it was his business and hers to let it be known that they were good chums. And for her to now argue, once the lid is blown off, that her Rs 70 crore shareholding in the consortium wasn't a freebie but sweat equity, doesn't wash. Surely, the minister, experienced in navigating the intrigue-ridden corridors of international diplomacy, should know the difference between "mentoring" and offering "expert advice" to a business enterprise, and tacitly promoting a partner in a consortium who may or may not be his fiancee but is widely perceived as his arm candy.
By hurling the first stone, Lalit Modi has opened up the ownership structure of Kochi IPL to further investigation and public scrutiny. But what about the other nine franchises? And he sits in a glass house, too. Tharoor and Kochi IPL franchisees have hit back with stinging accusations bribes, mafia threats and Modi's investor relatives. A pretty South African model's stay in India features too. This is all of a piece with Indian cricket's murky past, covered in match-fixing scandals and reports of IPL's top sports stars, some of whom are said to charge appearance fees at parties after matches. The daily skulduggery and dirt-digging of the current scandal could have a positive fallout if the occupants of the biggest glass house of Indian cricket, the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI), came clean.Too much about the functioning of the councils that run Indian cricket the BCCI and the IPL is secretive and unexplained. The control of a game that is both national entertainment and a phenomenal money-spinner is vice-like. Instead of an ostrich-like behaviour and dilatory tactics, Shashak Manohar, head of the BCCI, should take the lead and order an inquiry into the ownership and financial antecedents of not just the Kochi IPL but all franchises. Why can't the BCCI commission an independent auditor to make its own accounts public? Why should it not explain what the bidding process for IPL franchises is, who the bidders are and why, as in the case of Kochi IPL, were there delays that led to the Modi-Tharoor face-off and the squalid revelations?If people in glass houses throw stones then they will soon be covered in shattered glass themselves.
DEEPAK LAL: WHITHER OBAMA'S AMERICA?
THE PRESIDENT SEEMS TO HAVE BLINKED SO OFTEN IN A YEAR IN OFFICE THAT IT HAS BEGUN TO WORRY FRIENDS AND BOLSTER THE RIVALS OF THE US
Barack Obama remains an enigma, both in his domestic and foreign policies. Having fought a brilliant campaign by occupying the centre and attracting many independents to his banner, he then handed over the design of his flagship health care reform to the Democrats' left wing. The predictable effect, in a country which remains by and large moderately conservative, was to frighten off the independents who had secured his election victory. They joined the "tea party" and other Republicans in the stunning defeat of the Democrats in Teddy Kennedy's Senate seat. Through various forms of arm twisting and numerous compromises and legislative sleights of hand, the massive health care Bill was passed with Obama's direct intervention, thereby saving what was beginning to appear as a doomed presidency.
But the final Bill did not tackle the two major policy-induced distortions in the working of the American private health insurance market. The first goes back to the wage and price controls introduced by Franklin Roosevelt in the Second World War. Employers tried to get around the wage freeze by offering health benefits to employees and the Internal Security Service allowed them a tax deduction, while excluding the fringe benefits from employees' income. This has led to the most serious deficiency in the US health care where employees are terrified of losing their jobs, because their health insurance is tied to it. Moreover, with the third party status of the insurers, employees have no incentive to monitor their health expenses. The simplest way to deal with this distortion, which would also have allowed many of the uninsured to obtain health insurance, is to transfer the employer tax subsidy to individual Medical Savings Accounts (see Goodman and Musgrave: Patient Power, Cato Institute, 1992).
The second distortion is due to the malpractice insurance doctors have to carry to avoid punitive damages inflicted by the dysfunctional US legal system. This leads to doctors recommending numerous unnecessary tests, with a consequent rise in health costs. Tort reform to remove this distortion is resisted by the lawyers who form a core Democrat constituency.
Instead, there has been a vast addition to the already burgeoning unfunded health entitlements under Medicare and Medicaid. As noted in my column, Fin crisis IV Geo-political consequences (February 24, 2009, Business Standard), this was already putting the US on an unsustainable fiscal path. The addition of at least another $1 trillion to the US fiscal deficit will make this position much worse, without in effect curing the known defects of the US health system.
The response, as US Comptroller General David Walker predicted in 2007, is to rein back the sinews of US defence which have provided the global order so essential for peace and prosperity. But much worse, instead of being "smart" as in "smart power", Obama seems to have blinked so often in a year in office that it has begun to worry friends and bolster the rivals of the US. The first such "blink" was unilaterally withdrawing the missile shield aimed at Iran under Russian pressure without getting anything in return, and in the process letting down the East European countries which were to host the relevant bases. The hope that this "resetting" of the button would lead to Russian pressure on the Iranians on the nuclear standoff has been belied most recently as Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, instead of supporting sanctions, told Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on her Moscow visit that Russia would assist Iran in fuelling the Russian-built Bushehr nuclear reactor, which Clinton gamely accepted as being within Iran's "rights".
Nor is the much-hyped recent START-II agreement worth much. President Bush, under the 2002 Moscow treaty, had already cut the number of US warheads to just over 2,000. This is not much changed by the new treaty. But, Russia has maintained its right to withdraw from the agreement if the US pursued its missile defence programme affecting perceived strategic stability. This is, of course, what Gorbachev sought in Regan's abortive attempt to eliminate nuclear weapons. Combined with Obama's promise in his Nuclear Posture Review strategy not to modernise the US nuclear arsenal, the deterrent power of US nuclear arms which has been the best non-proliferation weapon, as many countries with the ability to develop nuclear weapons have relied on the American nuclear umbrella, will be diminished. Taken together, these two prongs of Obama's nuclear strategy have made an already dangerous world even more dangerous as more states are likely to develop and rely on their own nuclear weapons.
The most heinous mistake, however, has been Obama's dithering about the Afghan war, and his West Point speech in December authorising a troop surge. But, stating that thereafter all US troops would be out by 2011. This, as Hamid Gul, the former notorious head of Pakistan's ISI, said in a recent Al Jazeera interview, "makes clear that the Taliban are Afghanistan's future, and the Americans are its past" (special dispatch 2895, April 7, www.memri.org). It is this perception which has given heart to the Pakistan army in its AfPak strategy against India.
Do these various seeming blunders suggest that Obama is a wide-eyed idealist and a "socialist"? I think not. Though he has clearly made some dubious judgment calls most likely due to his inexperience rather than ideology, he is responding in his domestic policies to the perceived defects of the US health system and the continuing desire of the "baby boomers" not to face up to costs of the entitlement society they have created. In foreign policy, he is responding to the growing feeling in the US to bring "our boys home", and to use its resources for domestic spending.
However, the impending US failure in Afghanistan is reminiscent of the Vietnam war. The latest sign is the attempt to undermine Karzai, echoing the end of Ngo Dinh Diem. Both reflect the failure of Americans to understand other cultures and their desire to impose their own "habits of the heart" on their imperium (see my In Praise of Empires). Whether the impending retreat from Afghanistan, the seemingly unavoidable deployment of an Iranian nuclear bomb, and the diminished economic reputation of the US after the Great Recession mark the end of the US imperium, and the likely lineaments of the emerging world order, will be the subject of my next few columns.
A MAHARAJAH'S PLIGHT
EVEN WITH THE BEST INTENTIONS OF THE PEOPLE NOW IN CHARGE, DOES AIR INDIA HAVE ANY HOPE OF TURNING THE CORNER?
T N NINAN
Air India has a new chief operating officer (COO) at a fancy salary; it has a new board of directors, with some business stars agreeing to join; it has leased out some of its surplus aircraft; and it has reduced its losses, which the civil aviation minister says have come down from Rs 400 crore per month to Rs 300 crore. But since revenues are only about Rs 1,300 crore per month, it still looks as though the airline is deep under water. The uncomfortable question must be asked of what used to be an iconic brand: even with the best intentions of the people now in charge, does the airline have any hope of turning the corner?
For an answer, take a look at the competition and the realities of the aviation market. Both Jet and Kingfisher are now significantly bigger in the domestic market, accounting between them for 49 per cent of traffic, while Air India is a poor third at 18 per cent. Two low-cost airlines, Indigo and SpiceJet, whose combined fleet is much smaller than Air India's domestic fleet, have 27 per cent of the market. These low-cost carriers also happen to be profitable, and both now plan international operations from next year including forays into the Gulf route that used to be Air India's milch cow.
Indigo is able to fill 74 per cent of the seats on its flights, compared to Air India's 64 per cent; on top of that, it does more flights per aircraft/day because its business model (single aircraft type, no-frills ops) allows faster turnaround at airports. If each Indigo plane can carry 25 per cent more passengers than Air India, and if Air India also has heavy overheads because of legacy factors, can the airline ever hope to make money in the domestic market? Indeed, Indigo plans to take its fleet from 25 to 34 planes in the course of the year, so don't be surprised if by this time next year this four-year-old airline is bigger than the domestic Air India. SpiceJet could overtake it not long afterwards, leaving the once monopoly airline as the smallest of the significant players in the market, but with higher costs than all the others.
While Indigo and SpiceJet win out in the low-cost segment, Jet and Kingfisher have walked away with the cream of the business class market. These airlines are losing money too, but not on the scale of Air India. They also have better market shares and a superior reputation for service. In other words, their situation is not hopeless, whereas Air India's appears to be just that.
Air India's spokespersons will come up with a number of reasons for this state of affairs: the difficulties of operating as a public sector airline, the social costs that it is asked to bear that its private sector competitors don't, the heavy burden of accumulated debt, the constant government interference and a meddling minister. All of that may be true, but they are facts of life which the airline cannot get away from. If the new directors and the new COO can rewrite the rules, the airline might have a ghost of a chance, but it must seem like a long shot when unionised employees are not likely to cooperate with the management on many issues.
The new reality is presented in an outdoor advertisement now visible in Delhi; to illustrate the message of changing times, it shows the Air India maharajah but with the familiar moustachioed visage replaced by Kingfisher owner Vijay Mallya's bearded grin! On present reckoning, the dethroned maharajah threatens to become a bottomless pit for taxpayer money
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
The income-tax department has done well by asking the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) to disclose information on the ownership of Indian Premier League (IPL) teams and the tournament's revenue streams. The IPL's success showcases the arrival of cricket as a big entertainment business, driven by the nation's passion for the sport. New franchisees are eyeing a share of this huge money-spinning venture. The stakes are high, so the teams' ownership and revenue streams should be transparent. The confluence of big money and popular sport has led to unsavoury incidents in other parts of the globe. There even have been allegations, for example with football clubs in the UK, that big investments in sport are money laundering operations. There is a pressing need for probity and transparency, not least given the public trust a sport entails.
The tax department should, therefore, lift the corporate veil to probe the ownership and stakeholder details in each of the teams. Sure, private companies that own IPL teams are not obliged to make such disclosures. But as IPL teams are public bodies, this warrants more disclosures than required under law. The BCCI should come clean and reveal the ownership of all IPL teams. More so, as some companies that own IPL teams are registered in offshore tax havens. BCCI should reveal the beneficial ownership in these companies, which often have complex structures. A failure to do so could trigger cross-border tax disputes.
These companies should adopt good corporate governance practices and make their operations transparent. So should the BCCI, which is a commercial entity and also an institution of interest to the public. The IPL is an arm of the BCCI. The rewards from the IPL are high for all stakeholders : BCCI, cricketers, franchisees and sports federations . Today, the revenue generated from IPL is shared between the BCCI and its franchisees. The latter pay tax on their income. And so do cricketers as franchisees deduct tax at source on payments made to them. But the BCCI does not pay tax. This is unacceptable. The cricket body should also be taxed on its income.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
MAKING UP ACRONYMS?
The back-to-back summits of the India-Brazil-South Africa (Ibsa) forum and the Brazil, Russia, India, China (Bric) group have been surrounded with much talk of enabling multipolarity and being a catalyst for a reshaped global architecture. All that is still far from being a reality. There is, surely, a case that these emerging economies are steadily, if slowly, tilting the economic balance of power in the world, with predictions that Bric, for example, would be among the world's largest and dominant economies by 2050. Yet, in terms of exclusion from global economy's decision-making bodies and of still-maturing institutional capability, some countries could still be called third world.
The key question is whether the reform these nations seek in global economy and geopolitics will solely be about having a greater say for themselves or also for the wider developing world, including smaller economies. There is, thus, a wide gap between envisaging these groups as a 'moral force in an unsettled world', as PM Manmohan Singh did, or as new players on the global 'great game' seeking a bigger share of the pie from among the G-20 economies, a sort of power play within the status quo. It is, therefore, all the more imperative that the stated objective of seeking a new inclusive paradigm of growth and development remains at the core of even immediate aims like having a greater say in global financial institutions like the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund.
Weaknesses within the existing world systems were made manifest in recent times, say, by the Bush-era US riding roughshod over global institutions in its pursuit of war or by the global financial crisis. There is, certainly, now an aura of moving away from unilateralism. But it still remains an order dominated by a few, like the G-7 nations . To actually be the catalyst for a new world order, to further inclusive growth and poverty reduction, Ibsa and Bric should not be envisaged as pressure groups only seeking a better partnership with the current powers (or even as their potential substitutes). Rather, it should be as groups representing, and enabling, developing and transition country involvement in global affairs.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
WHITE HEAT: ERUPTIONS FROM ICELAND
For a country that languishes for much of the year in the midst of a frozen North Atlantic, Iceland is quite the hotspot. The problem is that too close an association with the land volcanos and glaciers, Leif the Lucky and Bjork, does not always prove to be beneficial these days. An uneasy Europe got wind of the impending financial winter when Iceland's major banks imploded in 2008 leading to currency devaluation, a 90% drop in the market capitalisation of the Iceland stock exchange, and finally the downfall of the government last year.
Now, Europe is paralysed by Iceland again, as a dormant volcano has erupted there, causing a dangerous silicate ash cloud to drift for thousands of miles over the ocean, grounding or diverting international flights. The nuisance value of this latest Icelandic chaos has been incalculable and widespread. Not only has it affected the 70th birthday bash of Queen Margrethe of Denmark (ironically, the country that once ruled Iceland) and the scheduled funeral of Polish president Lech Kaczynski by curtailing the travel plans of VIP guests, it has also stranded hundreds of workers on North Sea oil rigs as well as their replacements on shore, not to mention business travellers.
Even India has reason to look askance at Iceland, as it has brought the issue of suddenly-erupting dormant volcanoes to the fore. Not only have reports surfaced that the embattled IPL commissioner Lalit Modi's bid to become Iceland's honorary consul in India was turned down, now it is known that thanks to the deadly Icelandic cloud blanketing Europe, the nation has to wait a while longer for Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to return and reveal the fate of the beleaguered minister Shashi Tharoor. The prime minister's flight home has been safely diverted via South Africa, but further eruptions from the now-smouldering political volcano in India are imminent. Iceland has a lot to answer for!
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
REGULATING UNLISTED COMPANIES
K G SARAF
Joint stock companies' operations are administered by two central ministries. Insofar as capital market regulations are concerned, they are administered by the ministry of finance through the stock exchanges. The regulatory and nodal body to frame laws, rules of stock exchange governance is Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI). Securities and Contract Regulations Act (SCRA), Disclosure and Investor Protection (DIP) Guidelines, 2000, SEBI rules and regulations, listing agreements and so on provide support to a smooth administration and governance of the capital markets. The other prime governance body is the ministry of corporate affairs (MCA). The MCA is responsible for enact and administering the Companies Act and updating it regularly to keep pace with the changing time and business environment.
Public limited companies that raise capital for their projects from the public through initial public offers or qualified institutional placement or through rights issues are required to follow the regulations enshrined in the listing guidelines and SEBI rules as well as the Companies Act whether they pertain to pre-issue or post-issue, while companies that are not listed and whose shares are not quoted on the stock exchange (SE) are not required to follow any rules and regulations of SEBI. They are, therefore, totally detached from the capital markets. Though they are public limited companies (not being private companies), they are not public limited companies in the true sense. It is a category specified in the Companies Act that does not connote that they are necessarily required to raise capital from public through the SEs. They may raise capital through private placements of equity through their business contacts or they may be the companies that exist purely out of their status by the virtue of erstwhile section 43A of the Companies Act with capital or turnover thresholds limits.
Today, these provisions are totally extinct. It is, therefore, imperative for all these so-called public companies to adhere to stand-alone provisions of the Companies Act. The regulatory governance code does not apply to these companies at all. The governance code relates to disclosure norms and compliance such as legal formalities.
If one examines the corporate scenario, there are over seven lakh companies registered under the Companies Act, 1956, while only 1% or 7,000 companies' shares are listed on the SEs. This means that stringent rules and regulations regarding share market operation apply to an insignificant portion of public. One should ponder over the myth behind this distinction 'listed and unlisted'".
The unlisted companies that are primarily large size manufacturing companies, mega trading companies and small and medium size enterprises (SMEs) invariably require huge capital base. They assimilate the capital through promoter funding, its shareholders or through raising loans for the working capital from banks and financial institutions. Though they are classified as closely held, they are as good as widely held.
Shareholder democracy in its true sense can be attained only by making many more people participate in the equity market. This would certainly result in fair price of equity and ensure that the speculative behaviour gives way to competitive environment. The direction from the government, also incorporated in the Companies (Amendment) Bill, that shareholders would have a say on the managerial remuneration augurs well for shareholder democracy.
It should, therefore, be the endeavour of the government to initiate, rationalise and encourage these unlisted companies to go public. Unlisted companies, particularly small and medium-size enterprises, should be encouraged to enter the capital market instead of only resorting to bank loans. The basic prescription to achieve this objective is to remove the obstacles placed by central ministries.
The ministries of finance and corporate affairs are currently at loggerheads, although growth of the capital market is their common long-term objective. There are a host of inconsistencies in the matter of administrative behaviour of the ministries. It would, therefore, make sense if the MCA is also the department that regulates stock exchange operations. That way law put in place by the corporate affairs ministry will not clash with the thinking of the SEBI and stock exchanges.
There should only be a single authority that enacts laws that pave the way for the growth of Indian shareholder. That would make the ministry of corporate affairs accountable to ensure shareholder democracy and address investor grievances. As enunciated by the corporate affairs minister Salman Khurshid recently, it is essential to bring both listed and unlisted entities on par in terms of regulatory framework to encourage more companies to venture into the capital market.
(The author is a practising company secretary)
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
UNITED STATES SIDELINES INDIA
C P BHAMBHRI
The Manmohan Singh government had been extremely euphoric about its special strategic relationship with the United States especially after the signing of an exceptional bilateral nuclear deal for peaceful energy purposes. The government of India had come to believe that President Barack Obama would continue the special treatment which India had received from George Bush II. But the bubble burst and Indian foreign policymakers received a great shock when President Obama drastically shifted his South Asian strategic concerns by focusing attention on the positive role of Pakistan in the war against the Taliban in Afghanistan.
President Obama has revived the history of the last 60 years and re-established special relationship with Pakistan, a country which always stood for the US during the Cold War period and is now fighting as a military ally against the Taliban. Obama has recognised the significance of Pakistan as a dependable military ally. Also, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton articulated a policy shift towards Pakistan in her high-profile meeting with Pakistan foreign minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi on March 25 and 26 at the US-Pakistan Strategic Dialogue meet held in Washington. She observed: "Pakistan is close to my heart, Pakistan's struggles are my struggles and I am committed to the success of this dialogue."
Ms Clinton opened the US coffers and military arsenal to prompt Pakistan to aid the US' war in Afghanistan. The US has clearly stated that "we have a war and we need them (Pakistan)". It has been decided that the US will supply arms to Pakistan. The US arming of Pakistan has always been of great concern to India because in the inimitable description of the late V K Krishna Menon "there is no gun or a tank which can fire only on one side" as decided by the donor of military aid.
The strategic importance of Pakistan in the war in Afghanistan has been publicly recognised by the US by inviting the man in uniform, General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, as an important member of the delegation led by the Pakistan foreign minister for the strategic dialogue. General Kayani's presence in the US along with the Pakistani delegation gives a clear signal to South Asian governments that Pakistan is a military ally of the US and it is the army which matters in Pakistan.
President Obama by publicly aligning with the Pakistan army is clearly following a tradition of his predecessors who had patronised army dictators like Ayub Khan, Yahya Khan, Zia-ul-Haq and Pervez Musharraf. Also, the Americans know that in a farcical democracy comprising Asif Ali Zardari of PPP and Nawaz Sharif of PML-N, General Kayani is the real centre of power. If the US needs Pakistan's assistance in the war against Taliban, the Pakistanis are also keen to extract their pound of flesh from the US.
There has to be a quid pro quo between the US and Pakistan if the Americans expect Pakistan to act as their proxy in war. It should be noted that Taliban or Al-Queda in Afghanistan are not the enemies of Pakistan. Pakistan has its own strategic agenda and in the pursuit of its own national interests in Afghanistan, Pakistan cannot accept the presence of Indians on Afghan soil. Has the US assured Pakistan that it would restrain India from its active engagement in Afghanistan?
Afghanistan is crucial for America and while the Pakistan delegation went to Washington on March 25, President Obama secretly travelled to Afghanistan on March 29 to see for himself the ground reality of the war. America has to give many concessions in return for Pakistan's support to Americans in Afghanistan and Pakistan has conveyed it clearly to the US that India should be pressured to negotiate on J&K because the Pakistani army cannot be involved on two fronts i.e., on Kashmir against India and in the war against the Taliban . Further, Pakistan has asked the US to negotiate a nuclear deal for peaceful energy purposes on the pattern of the deal with India as Pakistan also has its energy requirements.
Pakistan has also conveyed unambiguously to the US to restrain India from providing military training to the armed forces of Afghanistan. Can it be surmised that America's extremely close strategic partnership with Pakistan will become just a normal affair after war in Afghanistan? The answer to this question is a big no. Pakistan has always strengthened itself militarily, especially against India, with the full and active support of the Americans. The military build-up of Pakistan with American support has always posed a direct challenge to the security and national integrity of India and such a situation has always led to an arm race between India and Pakistan. Obama's policies are directly contributing to the arms race between India and Pakistan and the Indian foreign policymakers are at their wits' end because the euphoria of a special friendship with America has not only been short lived but it was also based on an unrealistic understanding of the real goals of the sole military superpower of the world. The Americans have shown Indians their real status: that they are expendable if the real global super power so decides.
The history of Pakistan provides impeccable evidence that the Pakistan army, the real centre of power in that country, has followed a policy of confrontation against India. The ministry of defence in its Annual Report of 2009-10 has clearly identified the continuing threat from Pakistan, especially in the form of export of anti-India terrorism from its own soil. This is the reason that in spite of a persistent demand from Kashmiri leaders, the Indian army and defence minister A K Antony have refused to withdraw or reduce the presence of armed forces in Kashmir. Pakistan is also very close to China and the Pakistani prime minister during his recent visit to Beijing announced that "Pakistan gives a blank cheque to China to mediate on its behalf on Kashmir with India."
The MoD annual report has also mentioned that India has an uneasy relationship with China. Pakistan, as a friend of both China and the US, has strengthened its armed might to confront India on its terms. General Kayani also clearly told NATO commanders that "Pakistan wants a central role in resolving the Afghan war and also in mediations with the Taliban." It is clear from the above that US-supported Pakistan has a clear picture of its crucial role in Afghanistan and Indians have been left high and dry by the Americans in this game.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
FROM HERE TO ETERNITY
VITHAL C NADKARNI
The egg symbolises new life in every world culture. Christians adopted it to mark the resurrection of Christ. Hindus believed the universe came from the cosmic egg or Brahmanda. Zoroastrians used eggs to celebrate their spring equinox festival of Navroz and boiled eggs dipped in salt water denoted festive sacrifice during Jewish Passover Seder.
Easter eggs are dyed blood red among Orthodox Christians to represent the blood shed by the Messiah on the Cross. The hard eggshell supposedly stands for Tomb of Christ in limestone rock, the cracking of which depicts his resurrection from the dead.
Eastern Christian myths link Easter eggs with Mary Magdalene, who is said to have brought cooked eggs to share with other mourning women at the tomb of Jesus. And the eggs in basket are supposed to have turned brilliant red when she saw the risen Christ three days after His Crucifixion.
According to another story, Mary went to the Roman emperor after ascension of Jesus and greeted him with the phrase, 'Christ has risen'. The emperor supposedly responded by pointing to an egg on his table and said, "The Christ has no more risen than that egg is red" only to see a change of colour.
According to the Gospels, too, the risen Lord "ate barbecued fish (Luke) and walked through the doors (John)" despite being brought down dead from the Cross. Such stories which negate death "strain the credulity of even the most devoted believer, writes Lisa Miller in her new book, Heaven: Our Enduring Fascination with the Afterlife; "for they are truly unbelievable."
Resurrection created credibility problems right from the outset, Miller, who covers religion for Newsweek, argues. "Who, the Sadducees taunted Jesus, does the man who married seven wives in succession reside with in heaven? The subtext of their teasing is obvious: if the resurrection is true, as Jesus promised, then in heaven you must have your wife, and all the things that go along with wives: sex, arguments, dinner. Jesus responds testily in Mathew's Gospel: "You just don't get it," he says, "because you know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God."
If you deny God, as Philip Pullman does, you may end up with his radical retelling of the rising: The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ. The good man dies and his twin stages the comeback, only to spread the dead man's cult around the world.
FLEXING MUSCLE IN PARLIAMENT
The days leading up to the reconvening of Parliament's Budget Session after the customary three-week break on Thursday saw considerable preparatory activity by most non-Congress parties with a view to embarrassing the UPA-2 government by attempting to defeat the Finance Bill, whose passage gives effect to the Union Budget. Convention dictates that in the event (unlikely as it sounds) a Finance Bill is defeated on the floor of the Lok Sabha, the government will fall. This very fear might deter many parties from voting in favour of the cut motions that may be introduced by BJP or Left MPs. Non-Congress MPs in the Lok Sabha, including Independents, number more than 260. The 22 BSP MPs did not join the 13 non-UPA-non-NDA parties (totalling nearly 90 MPs) recently to decide in favour of supporting cut motions even if these are moved by the BJP. But this can easily change, just as the group of 13 can experience erosion from its ranks. Thus, while the lineup of parties likely to support cut motions cannot be ascertained in advance, a large percentage of the House might be expected to vote against the government on the Finance Bill. It is widely thought that the BJP and the Left would be wary of fresh elections so soon after last May's Lok Sabha polls as these parties faced crushing blows and need more time to recoup politically and organisationally. This proposition is yet to be tested. All the same, the question of the relentless rise in prices of essential commodities for the past year does unite parties in the House that are ranged against the government, whether or not they really have their heart in the enterprise of defeating the government on a money bill, thus forcing the formation of a new government. Even those who are not fundamentally against the government are exercised over rising prices as this hits their constituents hard. The government itself is deeply embarrassed and nervous about the price situation, and knows well it can do little in the short term to deal with the mess. The poorer sections too can't be given redress. The public distribution system is in a shambles at the all-India level. A Planning Commission report estimates that 65 per cent of PDS benefits have been cornered by non-needy persons, and the poorest 20 per cent have not even been identified, leave alone having ration cards. The government's best hope, therefore, is a good crop. Given this, the mobilisation of a broad spectrum of parties on a cut motion over prices might prove to be a political act whose impact would serve as an object lesson for the future. It would indicate to supporters and opponents of the government UPA-2's core strength in the Lok Sabha. Strategies for the future, including by disgruntled elements in UPA-2, can be founded on this. For now, the government might have the comfort of possessing the needed numbers in the House, but even so there can be no margins for error in floor management. Since the government will be focused mainly on getting the Finance Bill safely out of the way, it is unlikely to take up any deeply contentious matter such as the Women's Reservation Bill in the current session.
BY FARRUKH DHONDY
"Would Garuda mistake a scarecrowFor a sentinel human being?"From Savaal-e-Bachchoo, Javaab-e-Pattha
My friend Roddy Matthews, the Indian historian, occasionally brings to my notice tracts by Indian history writers which contend, for instance, that the Vatican is actually an ancient Sanskrit sanctuary of the old and lost world-dominating Hindu empire, and the proof of this magnificent contention is that "Vatika" can in Sanskrit mean a holy grove. This genre of history helps to while away some afternoon hours at The Fox and Firkin in Lewisham (house motto: "For fox sake, buy me a firkin pint!") though it doesn't in any significant way advance one's understanding of Indo-European history. Worth a laugh.
And now, on a reading tour of Italy, I chance my arm and offer my readers some tentative comparisons and deductions. Italians eat pasta and pizza and in these days of internationalised cuisine, everything else. Varieties of pasta, it is agreed, have their origin in Marco Polo's visit to China and his return to Italy with the noodle recipe which turned into spaghetti, macaroni, tagliatelli, burlesqueoni and the rest. What is not as widely, historically acknowledged is that Marco took a turn through India on his way back and there picked up the notion that wheat flour could be mixed with water, kneaded into a dough and flattened, and with a bit of ghee perhaps, gridled into a chappati. He brought the precious knowledge back to Italy and the pale imitation of this staple bread, impregnated with olive oil instead of pure ghee is now the Italian ciabatta! Get it? Chappati: ciabatta???
And pizzas are nothing but glorified naan. So Marco must have passed through Samarkhand and Bokhara too? Which makes one wonder what the Italians ate before Marco got back and wrote his recipe book.
So did Marco bring noodles from China to India? In other words is "seviaan" originally a Chinese dish or a Chinese derivation?
The Gujarati and Parsi sweet versions of vermicelli are not known in Italy or in China and can be claimed as authentic pre-Marcopolic confections.
The history gets muddled. We know that Walter Raleigh brought tobacco, syphilis and potatoes to Europe from the newly-discovered America. Then all three come to India via Vasco and other degenerates. The big question then is, if potatoes only came to India in the 17th century, what then was the previous filling of masala dosa? I think we should be told.
My most significant visit is to Pompeii, the city destroyed by the volcanic eruption of Vesuvius in 79AD. The historical and tourist literature designates it a "city".
In official English parlance, a city is an urban settlement with a cathedral so Salisbury is a city, but Brixton is not. Walking through the ruins, one notes that there are villas and forums, temples, theatres, grand houses with columns holding up the ceilings of reception rooms, baths, mosaic floors, paintings on the walls and in streets large stones placed as breakers in the centre of the cobbled streets to deter chariots from exceeding the speed limit.
Pompeii has all the appurtenances of a real city with streets and shops, villas, a forum, temples, gardens, a theatre, a whorehouse, the reserved and luxurious quarters of the imperial cittara player, triumphal arches, public baths, restaurants or what used to be public eating houses and magnificent fortifications.
Walking around it for three hours a proper circuit would take days I begin to compare the ruined or abandoned "city" to which tourists to northern India are inevitably directed: Fatehpur Sikri. It comes to mind because it is said that it was abandoned when the river that supplied it with water changed its course. Pompeii was destroyed by the first eruption of Vesuvius, the regional volcano which stands on the edge of what is now Napoli and as it was being restored and rebuilt, was subject to a second eruption which destroyed it completely.
The citizens of the time got the message and it was left as a ruin, buried by mud and time till it was dug up in the 18th century and has been slowly restored as a ruin. It is a compelling relic which Fatehpur Sikri is not.
Why we persist in calling this collection of open pavilions a "city" has always been puzzling. One always associates cities with a population and with the normal human activities of life and production. Fatehpur Sikri from the literature authoritatively issued by the Archaeological Survey of India and from the nonsense one hears from the on-the-spot "guides" seems to have had neither.
The other feature of Fatehpur and other Mughal buildings that has puzzled me since I was first dragged around them by my parents, is that the pavilions which are labelled "palaces" seem to have only one wall and are open to the wind and weather on three sides. It gets very hot on the Indo-Gangetic plain in summer and quite cold in winter.
How did anyone live or do anything else in these "palaces"? I have always fancied that they must have been heavily carpeted and there must have been heavy drapes acting as the second, third and fourth walls of these pavilions, but that's a conjecture which has never been confirmed, even by archaeologically and historically well-read friends. When, next to these pavilions one comes across what one is told were the "quarters" of a queen or princess, it's always some dark and tiny windowless dungeon with stone floors and an overbearing though tiny dome of a ceiling. How did they fit a bed in there? And don't princesses need wardrobes and dressing tables?
The logical plan of Pompeii's villas is instantly comprehensible: the courtyards, the columns, the pools, the chambers each with its purpose and access to temperature control between windows at various heights and fireplaces, the baths, the kitchens, the storerooms, the stables and the adornment of the walls with murals.
I offer this comparative disloyalty as a series of questions rather than an attempt, as the street-talk of Mumbai has it, at "dissing India".
I expect the usual abusive emails from my fellow Indian patriots for praising an Italian ruin and running down Indian ones.
And then I think there may be one or two people in Delhi who may secretly, very secretly, agree with me.
Though the GHMC is not known to be very enthusiastic about improving the city environs, its tree cutting squads are really fired with enthusiasm. Once they get orders, the squads vigorously attack the trees on the wayside and cut them down with clinical precision. The other day, at one go, more than two score fully grown and shade-giving trees near the Secretariat were cut down to enable the construction of a helipad for the Chief Minister, Mr K. Rosaiah. The CM's aides felt it would be better for him to heli-hop from the Secretariat instead of zipping through nasty city roads.
JUST A MINIKUTAMI FOR NAIDU NOW
When the Telugu Desam informed the media that the party chief, Mr N Chandrababu Naidu, would hold talks with leaders of five parties on price rise, there was speculation that the mahakutami that he cobbled up before the polls was being revived. Mr Naidu's mahakutami comprised the CPI, the CPI(M), the TRS and the MBT. After the poll debacle, the alliance came apart. Recently, the CPI and the CPI(M) rejoined Mr Naidu as allies. But the TRS and the MBT stayed away. However, when the mediapersons went to cover the talks, they were amused at finding the Forward Bloc leader, Mr Muralidhar Deshpande, and the Revolutionary Socialist Party (RSP) leader, Janaki Ramulu, attending the talks along with the CPI (M) state secretary, Mr B.V. Raghavulu, and the CPI's Mr Narayana. Sources said Mr Naidu was forced to rope in the two little known parties in AP since leaders of two main parties represented a particular community and this was sending wrong signals.
IS IT JUST A PASSION TO SERVE FOR BUREAUCRATS AT TRIBAL BOARD?
Wags are wondering why the IAS official, Ms K. Nirmala, desperately sought the post of the project director of Integrated Tribal Development Authority in the hills of Paderu in Visakhapatnam district. Was she motivated by a passion to serve the poor tribals or was there something else behind the move? Sources say that she narrowly missed becoming joint collector in Karimnagar district in the recent shuffle of IAS officers as the government made her deputy secretary in the industries department. And any bureaucrat will tell you that it is no fun serving at junior levels in the Secretariat since such officials never get good quarters, aides and cars.
ROSAIAH'S RESHUFFLE CARROT
The Chief Minister, Mr K. Rosaiah, is using the proposed Cabinet reshuffle to good effect. By keeping the possibility alive through hints every other day, he ensures good behaviour from both his ministers (who don't want to lose their jobs) and ministerial aspirants (who want these jobs). When he started off as Chief Minister, the ministers tended to take Mr Roasiah lightly and even used to criticise him openly. But ever since he started dangling the reshuffle carrot before them, the ministers have rallied behind him. Some of them even lash out at the Opposition whenever they criticise the Chief Minister. Surely, he must be smiling at their newfound loyalty. So the Chief Minister must be inwardly happy that the Congress high command has postponed the reshuffle since it means he can keep his colleagues in line for a few more months.
THE LIVING AND THE DEAD
BY ROGER COHEN
In his novel, A Single Man, Christopher Isherwood writes of "that marvellous minority, The Living". Yes, memento mori, we are a minority.
Isherwood continues: "They don't know their luck, these people on the sidewalk, but George knows his for a little while at least because he is freshly returned from the icy presence of The Majority, which Doris is about to join".
Doris lies dying in a hospital bed. On leaving her, Isherwood's protagonist is seized with euphoria. "I am alive, he says to himself, I am alive! And life-energy surges hotly through him, and delight, and appetite".
It comes down to this in the end the minority of the living, a mere 6.7 billion people on a fragile planet, and the majority of the dead, numberless and stretching back over an expanse vaster than the iciest steppe. Do you choose the minority or the majority? For whose account do you labour?
Those may seem strange questions. But a clear demarcation line separates regions able to look forward, even over history's wounds, and those unable to escape the clutches of the dead. Yehuda Amichai, the fine Israeli poet, once observed of Jerusalem that it is "the only city in the world where the right to vote is granted even to the dead." The West Asia holds pride of place when it comes to morbid retrospection.
I learned a few things over the corpses and plum brandy. The first was how blinding victimhood can be: the historical victim Serb in this case cannot see when he becomes the chief perpetrator of violence.
The second was that nothing forges national identity Bosnian Muslim in this case faster than persecution.
The third was that arguments about who came first to the land or the "reality" of national identity can never be settled: they are the stuff of myth. The only issue is whether or not to set the arguments aside in the interests of a better future.
As Tzipi Livni, the former Israeli foreign minister, once told me: "We cannot solve who was right or wrong on 1948 or decide who is more just. The Palestinians can feel justice is on their side, and I can feel it is on my side. What we have to decide is not about history but the future".
WHO'LL BE UK'S PM?
BY KISHWAR DESAI
It was meant to be bigger than Britain's Got Talent, Strictly Come Dancing and the X Factor all rolled into one. Only it should have been called Who Wants To Be The Prime Minister?
This was the great leadership debate held this week, vigorously hyped up by newspapers and television channels, which hoped that more than 20 million viewers would tune in. Because we live in a world of instant decisions, we were told that in the short course of 90 minutes, we could decide on the next Prime Minister of the country. All we had to do was remain on our sofas and stare carefully at the TV screen on which the meticulously choreographed event was being presented. There was no need to think too deeply about policies or manifestos if we liked the bloke on the screen, he could be crowned Prime Minister. As simple as that.
Each leader got a chance to make an opening statement, in front of a pre-selected live audience, after which questions were placed before them and none of them got more than a few minutes to present an answer. The debate turned out to be a real game changer. The leader who had been lagging behind in the polls till yesterday has now suddenly raced ahead. Much to our surprise, the first debate seems to have been won by a dark horse whose dreams for the keys to No. 10 no longer seem to be a joke. There are still two more debates left to go through but now the situation has become more volatile.
Therefore, the event has become historic already especially since it was the first time that such a debate, on live television, was being held, American style. The three leaders: Gordon Brown for Labour, David Cameron for the Conservatives, and Nick Clegg for the Liberal Democrats had been preparing for the big moment for a long time.
Though it may be a frivolous way to push the argument, the prevailing wisdom is that it is these leadership debates which will ultimately help voters to make up their minds. So over the past few weeks, we had been fed information about what the leaders were expected to say on air and what their body language and their gestures would mean; we had also been told to look out for their weak links. The outgoing Prime Minister Mr Brown had been told to keep a leash on his temper, while Mr Cameron had been told to communicate gravitas. However, Mr Clegg, the leader of the Labour Democrats from whom no one expected anything, had no such restrictions placed upon him. And this turned out to work to his advantage. It was the first time that the leader of the Liberal Democrats had been given such a terrific platform on par with the Conservatives and the Labour Party. And Mr Clegg, the unknown entity, used it to his advantage. He was able to trash the older parties and lay all the problems the country is facing at their doorstep. Quite correctly he was able to point out that he, and not the Conservatives, was offering the real change because the Lib Dems so far have never held power at the Centre.
It was an infallible argument and Mr Clegg (about whom till now the only interesting thing we had learnt was that he had slept with more than 30 women) is now leading the pack. And this is where we have to respect the wonderful bookies of the United Kingdom. Even before the debate began they had indicated that Mr Clegg would win it, and they were right. So now suddenly all bets are off again and the election will now definitely go down to the wire. But is this game-show format, with instant polls proclaiming a winner at the end of the debate, the best way to choose a Prime Minister? I don't think anyone wants to answer that question right now.
MEANWHILE, ANOTHER surprise this week was Gurinder Chaddha's latest film, It's a Wonderful Afterlife which had a red carpet premiere at London's Leicester Square. A little wilder than her earlier films and definitely meant for those with a strong stomach, it is, as someone said rather kindly, "a bit of mindless fun". Looking back at the extraordinary simplicity and effectiveness of Bend it Like Beckham, one is perplexed with the needlessly chaotic plot of It's A Wonderful Afterlife. It is as though she took a bit from Monsoon Wedding, a bit from Shaun of the Dead, some bits from Carrie, shook them all up, shoved in a Gurudwara, Bollywood bhangra, some murders, a few ghosts and then sat back hoping for the best. It is meant be a comedy but there are very few moments that one can actually laugh. In fact, the so-called "funny" portions in the film are actually completely gross.
- The writer can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org 
THE RETURN OF RETRO IN POLITICS
BY ANTARA DEV SEN
Retro is in. Not just in clothes and cars and music, old styles are back in fashion in politics and governance as well. Even silly, savage styles that had been discarded generations ago only to make a reappearance like wooden clogs that you love to flaunt but can't walk in.
So we can ignore slick new theories of dissent and democratic freedoms, forget about the increasing demands for an open society in a liberalised and globalised world and fall back on the grand old method of dealing with problems: shooting the messenger. The nation is reeling under both external and internal threats of terror and there is no time to lose. We must quickly shoot all messengers that bring us bad news and bury our head deep in the sand.
Take the case of Kirity Roy, a social activist from suburban Kolkata, who was arrested last week for organising a People's Tribunal on Torture in 2008. With 1,231 victims appearing before the tribunal to press for justice, of whom 82 had filed affidavits detailing the misery and injustice they had faced, this was a significant step to raise awareness and counter atrocities by the police and security forces. It was part of the string of public hearings held in several states organised by the National Programme on Prevention of Torture. Victims told their stories of torture by the police and the Border Security Force (BSF) to human rights activists, lawyers, judges, bureaucrats, police officers, medical personnel and interested members of civil society. As anyone following civil rights activities knows, people's tribunals are organised to highlight issues of social concern and raise public awareness on individual cases of injustice. They do not claim to be courts of justice.
For his efforts, Kirity Roy, secretary of Banglar Manabadhikar Suraksha Mancha (MASUM) a non-governmental human rights organisation based in Howrah, West Bengal and his colleagues were slapped with several criminal charges, including those of impersonating a public officer, impersonating a juror and criminal conspiracy. Mr Roy and his colleagues challenged the validity of the police complaint. And the day before the case was to be heard in court, Mr Roy was arrested from his home and denied access to his lawyer. Though he was released on bail later, by then the charges against him had multiplied. "They added forgery and cheating, for example", says Mr Roy. "Their focus had changed from trying to show that the tribunal was illegal which they could not to proving that I and other activists involved were criminals".
In a recent article for The Little Magazine's "Impunity" issue, Mr Roy had shown how the police and the BSF on the Indo-Bangladesh border commit horrendous offences and get away with it. The BSF's extra-judicial killings are legion in the area, and they routinely go unpunished. MASUM's records show how at the Indo-Bangladesh border, civil liberties are consistently trampled upon, truth takes a backseat and the will of the BSF reigns supreme. Atrocities by the police are also well documented by MASUM, and backed by hard evidence. These and other cases were discussed at the People's Tribunal where relevant police and security officials were invited to participate, in the interest of fairness. But the authorities didn't like the rules of this game. They play by their own rules. Why go for fairness when you have the state machinery on your side?
Incidentally, Mr Roy was arrested on April 7, just two days before the Independent People's Tribunal on Land Acquisition, Resource Grab and Operation Green Hunt in Delhi (April 9-11, 2010). In which a people's jury comprising distinguished judges, academics, writers and civil society activists heard testimonies from victims, social activists and experts from Andhra Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Orissa and West Bengal. They came up with high-profile recommendations on the state's tackling of the Maoist problem. There was, of course, no question of charging these dignitaries and celebrities with criminal conspiracy or impersonating public officials.
Oh, and if the state is so keen on preventing people from impersonating jurors and other public officials, how come they never say a word against the khap panchayats that hold kangaroo courts and sentence young lovers to death by lynching? Or against panchayats that declare vulnerable women to be witches and sentence them to the most horrible death? Why aren't the ringleaders of these village and clan courts ever accused under these curious, hidden laws that are pulled out only against civil rights activists?
Harassing those who highlight human rights violations is not new. Nor is using the state machinery to break the will and the backs of activists. Especially of the committed lot who keep a low profile. Victims and civil society protesters seeking justice routinely face severe challenges, including police intimidation, corrupt investigators, harassment of witnesses, endless trials, biased prosecutors and an indifferent judiciary. Even in a liberal democracy like ours, civil rights activists are often killed by the state and their deaths or disappearances left shrouded in mystery. Shooting the messenger is easier than addressing the problem.
So exposing the truth can be a big health hazard. And not just for human rights activists. The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) has recently declared that anyone trying to expose corruption through a sting operation is punishable under the Prevention of Corruption Act. "Law enforcement is exclusively a function of the government machinery", said the CBI smugly. Allowing private citizens to expose corruption through stings would lead to "anarchy" and "insurmountable ramifications". So anyone participating in a sting operation for the sake of entrapping a corrupt official would be swiftly prosecuted for corruption. It is the same story shoot the messenger.
A healthy democracy is built on informed choice. Stifling the truth, blocking information and intimidating those who seek redressal work against democracy. Exposing the truth about our state officials is essential for accountability in public life. Whether it's about ministers being manipulated by bribes or about atrocities of the police and security officials. Whether through sting operations or through people's tribunals. These are interventions that attempt to keep our democratic freedoms alive. Persecuting and trying to silence those who try to expose unpalatable truths stinks of a dangerously closed society that is at odds with our image as the world's most impressive democracy. It's too decrepit even to be retro chic.
- Antara Dev Sen is editor of The Little Magazine.
She can be contacted at: email@example.com 
DOES THE CWG DESERVE THEM?
THAT the Organising Committee for the Commonwealth Games would turn to the defence services to mount a rescue mission was virtually inevitable. Given the fact that the event has become an issue of national prestige the MoD as well as the Service Headquarters will not back off, and with their customary efficiency and discipline the faujis will manfully fill the several breaches in the administrative apparatus. Yet while the involvement of the forces in the conduct of the opening and closing ceremonies and other protocols is legitimate, questions must be asked about tasking the officers and men with coordinating security, hospitality, spectator-flow, accreditation and other logistic chores. The OC has had adequate time and money to put its own systems in place: these were among the issues of concern that the Commonwealth Games Federation had pointed out ~ amid rising tensions at that ~ several months ago. But since there was so much focus on delays in construction few beyond the OC heeded the alarm bells. What really disturb are suspicions that the OC has deliberately and cynically cashed in on the "prestige" factor, aware that as the deadline approached all agencies of the government would be put on the job. What prevented it from filling the 600 vacancies (its own figure) well in advance? Surely not financial constraints?
From the very outset it was clear that the OC was politically top-heavy, and that its boss would be relying on his political clout to see him through. That the minister for sports is essentially a non-entity ~ he does little more than issue half-baked statements ~ and the Prime Minister tends to remain 'indifferent' to ground situations, has facilitated the OC doing just what it wants, which was often what was unnecessary, frivolous, for "show only". Why wasn't the Army actively associated with the Games all these months? That might have averted some of the potholes it is now being asked to fill. Will the OC pay for the military's assistance, or will once again the soldier's services be taken for granted? Even before the Starter has called "on your marks" the Indian people have been taken for a ride.
LEFT IN THE LURCH
REVIVING THE THIRD FRONT BOGEY
TWO months after the Union finance minister announced a hike in petroleum and fertiliser prices, the Left parties have called a countrywide strike on 27 April and neither Prakash Karat nor AB Bardhan are in a position to guarantee it would be effective outside West Bengal, Kerala and Tripura. Nevertheless, they need to pursue the ritual that could at best become a campaign issue in the municipal elections in West Bengal next month. Prices peaked several months ago when the Left had made ambivalent noises to guard against embarrassing questions on its own non-performance on the price front. Now the Left has found what it considers the right time to corner the UPA on fuel and fertiliser prices. The demand for a rollback has never been taken seriously and does nothing more than confirm the Left's waning relevance, reduced further after it withdrew support to the first UPA government. The Left must explain why its conscience wasn't stirred when prices had risen to their highest levels in the country, including the states where it rules.
More puzzling is the attempt to revive the Third Front by moving a cut-motion in Parliament on the fuel and fertiliser price hike. The parliamentary election placed a non-Congress, non-BJP arrangement out of reach. But there are times when parties across the board have to clutch at straws. That could explain Karat's "success'' in getting Lalu Prasad and Mulayam Singh Yadav ~ both UPA allies ~ to join hands for yet another gamble that could amount to tokenism without Mayawati and, more so, without the numbers. Lalu and Mulayam represent marginalised outfits that have nothing to lose from joining forces with a party that Karat has confessed is "besieged and beleaguered''. If they cherish any hopes of scraping up the numbers to worry the UPA, they would have to pretend that the BJP is not a fellow-traveller, just a sympathetic outsider. Even that may not save the day for the Left. Truly, it appears to have lost all sense of direction and seems capable only of the sort of disruption we will see in three states on the 27th.
ONE WAY TO FILL TEACHERS' VACANCIES
THE West Bengal School Service Commission's decision to reduce the qualifying marks merely to fill vacancies can turn out to be damagingly disingenuous in terms of teaching standards. It is one thing to fill thousands of vacant teaching slots; quite another to lower the cut-off mark to the level of flunking. An aggregate of 40 per cent is usually the qualifying mark for most examinations. This has been brought down to 30 per cent for general candidates and to a still more shocking 20 per cent for those applicants in the reserved category. And the latter can be quite as large as the "general" given the quota regime and the decision to further woo certain class groups. Over the past 25 years, there has been an experiment too many in the sphere of education; but never has the state resorted to such calculated dilution of entry-level standards for school teachers. In effect, the commission has reconciled itself to sub-standard levels of capability. The SSC test will hardly be an evaluation of merit for the general and still more acutely for the reserved vacancies.
What must occasion greater concern is that teaching standards are set to be denuded in such important disciplines as Mathematics and Biological Science, indeed two subjects at the high school level that can determine one's proclivity for pure science or engineering or medicine. If the estimated 2,500 vacancies are filled with hopelessly under-qualified teachers with scores in the flunked bracket, it is shocking to contemplate the quality of instruction. The irony could not have been more bitter; the SSC has announced its resolve less than a fortnight after universal education was made compulsory. West Bengal is one among several states that has cited a resource crunch to defer the implementation of the RTE Act. If it can't afford more students, it will induct teachers with scant regard for standards. The SSC chairman's plea that a lower qualifying mark won't affect teaching is a laboured explanation that will not wash. The singular compulsion is to keep the teachers' constituency happy ahead of the Assembly elections. It is of lesser moment if the instruction imparted is sub-literate. West Bengal has ensured that the quality of learning, compulsory or optional, is strained.
INDUSTRY IN THE HILLS
TAX EXEMPTION IS AN ILLUSORY INCENTIVE
BY BHARAT JHUNJHUNWALA
THE exemption from the payment of excise duty provided by the Centre to new industries established in the hill states lapsed on 31 March. Jammu & Kashmir, Himachal, Uttarakhand and Sikkim are demanding that the exemption be extended by at least another three years. Indeed, a large number of industries have been established in these states in the recent past. But the objective of taking the industries to the hills, it appears, has not been attained.
The problems of transport and geographical terrain make the cost of production higher in the hills. This increased cost is sought to be compensated by a reduction in taxes. The problem is that the cost of production in the hills is higher perpetually, while the tax exemptions are granted only for a few years. Industrialization of the hills, therefore, will actually be attained only if the exemptions are also granted in perpetuity. Providing the exemption for a limited time will lead to the establishment of industries for an equally limited span. Once the exemption runs its course, there will be a flight of capital and industries to the plains.
Closure of factories
More than 120 pharmaceutical units were established at Baddi in Himachal Pradesh by 2006 to avail of the tax exemption. Then the rate of excise duty payable by the units in the plains was reduced. Immediately, a large number of factories closed shop in Baddi and went back to their home base. PA Francis writes in the website, pharmabiz.com: "After the reduction of excise duty to 8 per cent for the pharmaceutical sector in 2008, a large number of units started returning to the states from where they had migrated. Many more are set to return to Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh. Businesses in the hill states are thus down by 50 per cent since last year."
It could be argued that hill regions stand to benefit even if the industries are established in the plain areas of hills states. The revenues collected by the state government from these industries can be used to provide amenities like electricity and roads in the hill areas. This argument may seem cogent on the face of it. But the fact of the matter is that the amenities are almost entirely being provided to the plain areas. For example, the supply of electricity to the hill areas of Uttarakhand is declining. According to the figures provided by Uttarakhand Power Corporation, 259 million units of electricity were provided to the electricity distribution divisions of Srinagar and Ranikhet in 2003. These two divisions cater to the hill areas of the state. The electricity supplied to these divisions had declined to 247 million units in 2007. Possibly the supply to the hill areas was cut to provide the power to the industries in the plains.
In the process, the hill areas are harmed on three counts. One, the people have to migrate to the plains where industries are established. Two, electricity, roads and other facilities are cut in the hill areas in order to provide the same in the plains. Three, huge social costs are imposed upon the people in the hills in the generation of hydropower for these same industries. Their houses develop cracks because of the blasting that has to be carried out to construct tunnels. The sources of water dry up as the hills get destabilized. They are deprived of sand and fishing as the rivers go dry. Malaria spreads because the slow-moving water in hydropower reservoirs provide the ideal breeding ground for mosquitoes.
Therefore, the tax exemption that is granted for the welfare of the hills is having a deleterious effect. How can the economic development of the hills be ensured? The solution is to treat the difficult geographical terrain of the hills as an asset rather than a liability. Switzerland is a pathfinder in harnessing the beauty of the hills for economic growth. Tourism, herbal gardens, software parks, call centres, universities and hospitals can be established in the hills. The engineers will create better software and patients will be cured sooner in the pristine natural surroundings of the hills.
It is unfortunate that the chief ministers of the hill states take virtually no interest in the development of the services sector. They are focused instead on the development of industries in the plain areas. Instead of seeking the crutches of tax exemption, they should encash the natural beauty of the hills.
The writer is former Professor of Economics, Indian Institute of Management, Bangalore.
NEW DIMENSIONS OF NARCO-CRIME
An IPS officer of the 1975 batch, O P S Malik shot into fame when he successfully managed a peaceful and incident-free Maha Kumbh in 2001 that was attended by over 100 million people. Subsequently, he was sent on deputation to the BSF just before "Operaton Parakram" began on the Indo-Pak border after the attack on Parliament on 13 December 2001. During "Operation Parakram", the largest military exercise by an Asian country, he was chairman of lead intelligence agencies consisting of all intelligence agencies of states and the Centre, including Military Intelligence.
Mr Malik has received several police and gallantry medals including the Police Medal for Gallantry in 1991, the President's Police Medal for distinguished services in 1994, and a medal for his work during Operation Parakram. He took over as Director-General of the Narcotics Control Bureau in December 2008 and since then has earned a name for his innovative drives to curb narco-crime. He spoke to VIJAY THAKUR on the new dimensions of narco-crime and the emerging challenges of narco-terrorism.
How serious is the drug trafficking menace in India?
First we have to understand the overall situation of drug abuse in the country. According to a survey carried out by the ministry of social justice, around 0.7 per cent of the people interviewed were taking opium, three per cent had cannabis, and another 3.6 per cent were taking other drugs and psychotropic substances. The survey observed that in urban areas people prefer synthetic drugs, while in rural areas they go for cannabis and opium. Fortunately, there are few takers for cocaine-based drugs. Statewise, we see people take cannabis-based drugs in Bihar, Jharkhand and Orissa and opium-based drugs in north-east region, Chandigarh, Punjab, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh and Rajasthan. We need to fight against drug abuse and trafficking accordingly.
What do you think are the emerging challenges for curbing narcotics trade? And what are the problems we are facing in controlling drug abuse?
There are various challenges and we have to devise our strategies accordingly. We have prepared an action plan to stop trafficking of drugs. Actually, there are two aspects to the problem ~ demand for the contraband and its supply. The government has to work on both aspects. Unlike a simple economic principle, if there's more demand, people would find ways to smuggle, and if there is more supply more people would fall into its trap.
So we have to devise a two-pronged strategy. One, to reduce demand through awareness, de-addiction centres, counselling and rehabilitation, and employ the de-addicted people in some meaningful work to avoid relapse. And to cut supply, we have to stress enforcement, first at the production level and then to stop trafficking of these products. We are making concerted efforts with the state police, excise and customs departments, border guarding forces and DRIs to cut the illegal supply of these contraband drugs.
Narcotics are being smuggled into India and it has become a transit point for smuggling to Western countries. What is your assessment?
It is true that drugs are being smuggled into India from two sources. One from Afghanistan, called the golden crescent zone, which are being smuggled into India either through Indo-Pak border or through Nepal and the second consisting of opium-based drugs from Myanmar called drugs of South West Asian origin, smuggled into the north-eastern region. While drugs from Myanmar are domestically consumed in the north-east region only, India is a transit country for Afghanistan's opium-based narcotics. This trafficking has multi-dimensional consequences. We have to pay health, social and economic costs. This indeed is a very serious problem and we are trying to resolve it at our end through effective enforcement.
It is said that narco-terrorism is a new problem. Because of huge profits, terror operatives are entering into drug trafficking to fund terror activities. How far is it true?
It is very difficult to say that terror operatives are into drug trafficking to fund terrorism in the country. Having said that we can say that in some cases we have noticed a pattern where drug traffickers are smuggling FICN (fake Indian currency notes) and arms. And there is a visible link between some drug traffickers with arms and FICN smugglers.
One can make one's own assessment on the basis of these composite seizures ~ seizure of drugs with FICN or with arms and ammunition. And if we observe the pattern of these composite seizures, we can gauge the seriousness of drug-arms-FICN smugglers nexus.
In Punjab, from 2004-2009, we reported 14 cases of composite seizures. Similarly in Rajasthan, we recorded nine cases of composite seizure during the same period. These seizures do indicate a possibility of a nexus of drug criminals with arms and FICN criminals. People may call it narco-terrorism, but for us it is composite seizures and a nexus between drugs and arms smugglers.
Clandestine proliferation networks have flourished and led to insecurity for all. We must learn from past mistakes and institute effective measures to prevent their recurrence.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, while addressing the Nuclear Security Summit in Washington.
India could set a global model for a no-load fee model for the entire financial sector to ensure a fair deal to all market participants. I hope all financial sector regulators would work towards this.
Union Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee.
Many party leaders are asking me to rethink my decision on contesting. But I have made up my mind and that is final.
Mayor Bikash Ranjan Bhattacharya, declaring that he would not be a candidate in the Kolkata municipal election this year . We want Pranabda (state Congress president) to address the problem concerning Trinamul's insistence on nominating Congress deserters across Bengal. Alliance talks have hit a roadblock because of this.
Pradip Bhattacharya, state party working president.
Smitaji (estranged daughter-in-law of Shiv Sena chief Bal Thackeray) has said that she will meet me in the coming days. After we meet and she gives the letter, I will forward her request to the All India Congress Committee for its approval. Mumbai Congress president, Kripashankar Singh, on the prospect of Smita Thackeray joining the Congress.
This is a tragedy for us too. We feel your pain.
Vladimir Putin to Poland, after the death of the Polish President in an air crash.
I deny Mr Lalit Modi's allegation that I called him during his meeting with investors in the Kochi consortium in Bangalore in order to press him not to question the composition of the consortium.
Minister of State for external affairs Shashi Tharoor.
There is no question of a Whip in favour of the Women's Reservation Bill; we are public representatives and not bonded labourers.
BJP MP, Adityanath.
I had always been at the Bachchans' place even if I had a hotel room to myself. But not this time. I did call on them because it was Jayaji's birthday and she was unwell. I gave her birthday greetings and also asked about her well-being. But that's it.
Samajwadi Party leader Amar Singh.
It was a simple affair which lasted barely 10 minutes. About 100 people, including 40 from Shoaib's side, attended the marriage.
A relative of Sania Mirza, who attended the nikaah.
It has all the ingredients of a Robert Ludlum thriller suspense, sleaze and sex. Big money, bigger names. Two high-profile ministers of the UPA are part of the plot; one tried to bulldoze the Kochi franchisee while his senior attempted to bamboozle. Intrigue and financial manipulation abound. There is the ubiquitous foreign hand, perhaps foreign money too. Exotic locales figure Dubai and South Africa. Blackmails and threats abound; charges and counter charges fly.
This is the latest Shashi Tharoor saga involving the cricket mogul/carpetbagger, Lalit Modi. Skeletons keep tumbling out of the various cupboards, nay, out of TV sets.
The PM's visit to the USA, rising food prices, spiralling inflation, growing public debt all basic bread and butter issues have been relegated to the background.
The Kochi IPL scandal is hogging the headlines, monopolising air time and is the talk of the town. Maoists on one side and scamsters on the other. Mera Bharat Mahan.
Politics sometimes makes strange bedfellows. The Maoists have apparently made the irreconcilable somewhat compatible. First, Arun Jaitley asked the Union home minister to stick on and tackle the Maoist menace with redoubled vigour. He said his earlier comments were only meant to cock a snook at him! Secondly, Rajiv Pratap Rudy, the BJP spokesman, in a TV debate, while saying that the Maoists were not the sole champions of the poor, complimented the Congress spokesman, Manish Tiwari, for identifying himself with the aspirations of the have-nots in his constituency in Ludhiana. Unseen bonhomie. BJP sees Maoism as a greater danger than the Congress.
This is not the first time that these two parties have buried the hatchet when threatened by a third force. Some time ago, the two very tall leaders decided to shield their wards from internecine political squabbles when the BJP was in power. Well, they were placed tacitly beyond political innuendoes and mudslinging, which explains how the "foster" one has got away so far.
Soothsayers in demand
Astrologers have always been in great demand. In the best and worst of times. When ambitions soar and patience runs out, they are a refuge. But those who seek the soothsayers do not wear their faith in the stars on their sleeves. And they consult not one; for, there are many streams of this predictive science.
This one is not like many of his ilk. He has only a perfunctory interest. He doesn't organise "homams" or "havans''. His agenda is just one: "When will I be promoted as a cabinet minister?" He is in a hurry, for he is benchmarking himself against one who he served as an adviser decades ago.
He has humoured the crown prince adequately. He has also mastered the art of remaining in the news. But, alas, an octogenarian, who has many a score to settle with him and also like him claims access to 10 Janpath, is proving to be a spoilsport, and is working overtime to mar his chances. Unforeseen pitfalls!
A corporate which has the distinction of being responsible for the first sovereign default is embarking on a bond issue. But there is a catch - it has been assigned only a "B" credit rating "as the company is vulnerable to adverse business, financial and economic conditions". "The rating reflects the company's high leverage, largely due to debt funding of its expansion projects, and the cyclical and volatile nature of the steel industry that can dramatically change producers' margins quickly." The corporate's total secured and unsecured debt is Rs 7,312 crores. But in such risks, it is always: heads-I-win, tails-you lose.
Too many cooks
From a food-secure nation to a dependent one in just about one inning and a bit of the UPA takes a lot of doing. For example, the government allowed export of sugar of 48 lakh tonnes at a price of Rs 12.50 a kg and then with justifiable reason imported the same commodity from Brazil at double the export price. And then with meticulous planning, wheat was allowed to rot when the aam aadmi needed it most and then the decayed wheat found its way to distilleries to be put to good use. This is judicious use of available resources.
With prices skyrocketing, the commodity exchanges which have become dens of speculation and manipulation, have been allowed to flourish to bolster the economy..
And yet we have the resident intellectual in Yojana Bhawan swearing by the "kisan" and the rural poor. He sincerely wants to make the BPL schemes effective, but they end up being defective since there is no consensus on the numbers among different government arms.
At last count, the Tendulkar Committee, the Saxena Committee, the Arjun Sengupta Committee and the Planning Commission have each come up with widely different estimates of the number of BPL families in the country.
This reminds one of Charles de Gaulle's famous remark about France: "How can you be expected to govern a country that has 246 kinds of cheese ?" Likewise, how can you ameliorate the condition of the poor when their exact numbers are not known? Valid point.
Ailing India Inc.
This should serve as a final wake up call for all our investigative agencies. A recent survey by a reputed consultancy firm has brought to light that there has been a perceptible rise in fraudulent activities in corporate India. Fudging financial statements are also seen as a major issue and cooking up the books has become widely prevalent. The survey revealed that the current control system was ineffective. "Ineffective whistle-blowing systems, inadequate oversight of management activities by the audit committees and weak regulatory oversight mechanisms are the reasons for the sharp increase in the number of frauds in the industry today".
No great discovery. The ailments and its symptoms are well known. Only surgery can cure, but the "surgeons" are unwilling to perform. Because the "surgeons" and the barons have fused into one organism that revolves almost entirely around maximising profit.
The media exercised its discretion to rightfully ignore a PMO statement stating that the PM had come to know of a press report about an export transaction of a relation of his being looked into by the Directorate of Revenue Intelligence. "Neither the Prime Minister not his office was aware of this matter till their attention was drawn to the report". It went on to add that the probe into the transaction would "proceed in accordance with the law and the laid down procedures without let or hindrance".
Who would ever think of the righteous PM ever winking at the wrongdoing of a relative? His integrity and honesty have become legendary. But glossing over the malfeasance of his ministerial colleagues is quite a different matter. And the million dollar question would be: where would he start from? That's is if he wanted to.
Heard on the street
The buck now stops with Chidambaram but the bullet stops with the jawans.
Following Goldfinger but slightly altering his famous pronouncement it could be said that the first embarrassment is happenstance, the second coincidence and the third calls for resignation. Shashi Tharoor, the minister of state for external affairs, would do himself a service if he followed the above dictum. His comments regarding cattle class during the austerity drive of the government and on Saudi Arabia while on an official trip with the prime minister were the first two embarrassments. His alleged involvement in the Indian Premier League Kochi cricket team and the public outcry it has created have not particularly helped the United Progressive Alliance government. There are no grounds for disbelieving the statement made by Mr Tharoor in the Lok Sabha clarifying his position. Mr Tharoor has been, for the better part of his career, an international public servant, and so it is difficult to believe that he would run the risk of misinforming the Lok Sabha by being economical with the truth. In spite of this self-signed clean chit, the point remains that Mr Tharoor has not maintained the highest standards of propriety that are expected from a man of his standing and training.
These standards are summed up in the old saying that even Caesar's wife should be above suspicion. This means that no person or persons who are close to Mr Tharoor, as a relative, friend or associate, should have been part of the project to which he acted as mentor and guide. He should have ensured this when he agreed to help the consortium that won the bid for the Kochi team. Mr Tharoor failed to do this and hence the shadow of impropriety on his career as a minister. Any impropriety on the part of a minister is an embarrassment to the concerned government and it behoves Mr Tharoor to free the government of this discomfiture. Such an act would not be an admission of guilt. On the contrary, it would be an act imbued with a high sense of honour.
The same set of standards applies to Lalit Modi, the chairman and commissioner of the IPL. By virtue of the post he holds and the huge popularity of the IPL, Mr Modi has become a public figure and, therefore, publicly accountable for his decisions. It has now come to light that persons related to Mr Modi are part owners of two IPL teams. These persons may be wealthy in their own right and so capable of making bids in auctions but those auctions were presided over by Mr Modi. Even assuming that the auctions were perfectly above board, the question of impropriety looms large over the entire process.
Mr Tharoor and his current bête noire, Mr Modi, have both failed the same standards. The pity is that both of them should have known better. Given their background, both of them should be exemplars in India's public life. Alas, both are being gobbled up by the quicksands of India's declining standards.
A DIFFERENT VISION
ALTHOUGH FRIENDLY TOWARDS INDIA, OBAMA'S PRIORITIES LIE ELSEWHERE
SUNANDA K. DATTA-RAY
It makes me cringe to see televised images of American presidents patronizingly patting visiting dignitaries double their age on the upper arm or back after shaking hands. It's just as nauseating when Indian officials boast breathlessly that the prime minister was granted a longer audience, with a few extra minutes' bonus thrown in, and a warmer handshake (also a more resounding pat?) than any other leader in the whole wide world.
There was plenty of occasion for cringing and nausea all through a week that suggested that India might have to reconsider Afghanistan's relevance to its security and choose the most fruitful theatre of partnership with the United States of America. That was the particular message for us from the biggest diplomatic gathering since the San Francisco conference that gave birth to the United Nations. Barack Obama's triumph was a foregone conclusion because no president or prime minister could stand up and say he or she opposed stopping terrorists from getting hold of nuclear material for a dirty bomb.
But the razzle-dazzle of invitation-only summitry was necessary for Obama's real purpose. He sought to isolate Iran and North Korea, deny them a voice and mobilize global support to force them to give up perceived nuclear ambitions. The backing of the three nuclear weapons countries that refuse to join the nuclear non-proliferation treaty India, Pakistan and Israel (though Benjamin Netanyahu sulked off-stage) mattered in this context. The conference jubilantly pre-empted next month's NPT meeting under UN auspices where Iran is bound to explode verbal bombs. It also gave Obama an asset that will stand him and his party in good stead in the November congressional elections and in his re-election campaign for 2012.
Obama's Afghan policy concerns India more. The media gloated, presumably on the basis of confidential briefings, that he "scolded" Yousaf Raza Gilani after listening to Manmohan Singh. But a lingering doubt remains that whether to attain his objectives he did not lead India up the garden path in respect of its expectations of an active civilian role in Afghanistan. That country may already have been franchised to a Pakistan that Hamid Karzai, with a weather-eye always open for how the wind blows, now calls his "conjoined twin".
If Iran was America's unwritten priority item on the agenda, Pakistan was India's. By that token, India must have been Pakistan's. To that extent the conference was a replay of all those Baghdad Pact and Southeast Asia Treaty Organization meetings where Asian members swore fervent loyalty not because they had the slightest intention of tilting at international communism but because they wanted American arms to further their own regional ambitions. International terrorism has replaced international communism as the unifying bogey.
Echoes of even more dusty history rumbled along the sidelines as India and Pakistan, squabbling claimants to the mantle of the winning side in the Great Game, continued to enact that drama all over again. But the moves this time round were under the watchful eye of the lone superpower whose own interest in Afghanistan will largely determine the interaction between the two subcontinental neighbours. American and Pakistani stakes in Afghanistan are easily explicable; but it is for India to decide whether that distant landlocked country is so crucial to the national interest as to make itself hostage to US-Pakistani diplomacy for it.
It has become a mantra for benign American officials to insist that US subcontinental policy is no longer hyphenated. It may not be in Washington's thinking but it is never anything else in the minds of those at the receiving end. Continued F-16 sales to Pakistan, the billions of dollars allocated to secure nuclear arms and materials, and the presence of Hillary Clinton, Robert Gates (defence secretary) and the national security adviser, General James Jones (Shiv Shankar Menon's strategic dialogue partner) at the dinner Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of joint chiefs of staff, hosted for Pakistan's army chief, General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, are resented here. Obama's announcement to West Point cadets that the US would start to evacuate Afghanistan in July 2011 was also seen as a betrayal of the assurance earlier that day that India's concerns would be borne in mind. There is nothing, but nothing, that the US can do in, with or for Pakistan that will not be judged in terms of the impact on India and faulted. Pakistan is no better but has less cause for complaint.
This is more than the "petty obsession" that vitiates media coverage to which K.P. Nayar drew attention in these columns on Wednesday. Obsession it certainly is and can descend to pettiness such as grumbling about the compliments lavished on Kayani or Obama telling Gilani that he was "very fond of Pakistan, having visited the country during college". The underlying truth is we have always known that despite public outbursts of anti-Americanism, militaristic Pakistan makes itself useful to the US in ways that pluralistic democratic India can never bring itself to do.
A State department memorandum acknowledged in the Forties that "from the military point of view, the countries of South Asia excepting Pakistan have, under present and prospective conditions, little value" to the US. While India was of "negligible positive strategic importance", Pakistan occupied "one of the most strategic areas in the world" for securing West Asia's oil and allowing "ideological and intelligence penetration" of, as well as air operations against, the Soviet Union. Olaf Caroe also stressed these advantages to justify the Baghdad Pact; US diplomats reiterated them at another conference in 1951. The target has changed, not the concept or method.
Meanwhile, Rising India has other claims to attention which the US has acknowledged handsomely. George W. Bush admitted with a pragmatic candour that old-fashioned South Block mandarins apparently find embarrassing that India's expanding market for every import from pizzas to nuclear reactors is an irresistible attraction. So is India's strategic potential in the Indian and Pacific oceans where Americans remain wary of China's ambitions. The India-US reprocessing arrangement, albeit belated, confirms that Obama has not abandoned his predecessor's friendliness even if his immediate priorities are elsewhere and he has a different vision of the partnership with India.
If official Indian claims are to be believed, the US has so far condoned (or even welcomed) India's civilian presence, fortified by a $1.3 billion budget, in Afghanistan. Obama probably believes he can persuade Pakistan to share the franchise and cooperate with India. That is where American optimism falls short of Asian reality. When it comes to the crunch, the president will have no option but to back Pakistan and its perhaps by then reconstructed Taliban allies. An India that does not agree to resume the dialogue with Pakistan can have no role in that reconstituted Afghanistan.
The general belief here that Afghanistan enables Pakistan to send jihadis into Jammu and Kashmir and otherwise harass India recalls a conversation with Lee Kuan Yew when he vigorously denied China's responsibility for hostile Pakistani actions. Pakistanis didn't need China for that, he argued. Enmity was "inherent in their Muslim fundamentalism"; it was "something visceral in them". Similarly, Pakistan's conduct in Jammu and Kashmir was much the same even before US policy allowed it to become entrenched in Afghanistan.
At a recent meeting in London's Chatham House, a senior British diplomatist wondered why India needed 26 his figure consulates in Afghanistan. It was not for me to suggest that whatever the number, their raison d'être probably lies at least partly in the successor State's historic memory of a time when India controlled the Durand Line and seated and unseated Afghan amirs.The time may have come to forget the past and take a hard look at contemporary geopolitical reality. India might conclude then that it stands to gain more by cutting its losses in Afghanistan and consolidating the economic and strategic relationship with the US.
''THE DISPUTE SHOULD HAVE BEEN SETTLED THROUGH TALKS.''
The turf war between the stock market regulator, SEBI, and the insurance regulator, IRDA, over unit-linked insurance plans (ULIPs) that has come out into the open was entirely avoidable. The sudden ban imposed by SEBI last week over the sale of ULIPs created uncertainty and inconvenience for many policy-holders and investors. The IRDA issued a counter-order that led to a face-off between the two regulators.
Differences of opinion and perceptions are common among financial bodies and regulators. The issue of jurisdiction over ULIPs has been contentious for some time but it is strange that two responsible bodies entered into a public spat. SEBI is more to blame because it fired the first shot in public.
SEBI perhaps has a better claim to jurisdiction over ULIPs, which are more investment-driven than insurance-oriented. Only a small part of the subscription paid by the investor for ULIPs goes for insurance. The rest is invested in stocks and securities. The investor's aim is also not insurance but financial returns and insurance has been introduced into the product to make it more attractive. But the issue should have been settled between the regulators through discussions. The SEBI action was also unfair because it was only directed at some private insurance companies while the public sector companies were allowed to market the same kind of products freely. This invited charges of discrimination and arbitrariness. However, the merits of the contending claims are to be decided by the courts now, as both the regulators have been advised by the finance ministry to seek a judicial settlement of the dispute. There is a high level co-ordination committee whose task it is to settle disputes between regulators but this was not approached by SEBI and IRDA in this case.
It is doubtful if the temporary peace brokered by the finance ministry is holding because SEBI has since ordered that all new ULIP schemes should be registered with it. Insurance companies are now caught between the two bodies. Investors will have to wait for a long time for a court decision on the issue and the uncertainty is likely to continue till then. The culture of investments in mutual funds, shares, securities and insurance products has not grown to its full potential in India. The fights and squabbles between regulators and the uncertainties created by them will only discourage people from making such investments.
The months-old political crisis in Thailand is fast moving to a denouement with the street protests against Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva showing no signs of slowing down and the military establishment calling for early elections to end the deadlock.
Much of the country, including Bangkok, is under a state of emergency, as the government has found it difficult to carry on with its normal functions after supporters of ousted Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra came out on the streets demanding early elections. Thaksin was ousted in military coup in 2006 and is living in exile but he continues to enjoy widespread support. The government which replaced him with the support of the military is considered to be pro-urban and pro-middle class. It also has the support of the monarchy which has an important role in Thailand's politics.
Thaksin was convicted for corruption after his ouster from office but this has not dented his popularity with the rural masses. His government had introduced a number of welfare schemes for the rural masses, which earned him loyal supporters. The Red Shirts, as his supporters are called, have been holding demonstrations in Bangkok for months and recently they have turned violent also. A number of people were killed last week in clashes between them and the security forces. The Abhisit Vejjajjiva government has been weakened by the mass protests and by a recent revelations that his party had received illegal donations.
Vejjajiva had promised that elections would be held in December this year, but with the military calling for dissolution of parliament and immediate elections, he will find it difficult to continue in power for long. The monarchy had supported Vejjajiva but the much-respected King Bhumibol Atulyatej is ailing and the crown prince is considered to be a supporter of Shinawatra. The prime minister does not have many options left now. Early elections, if they are held, will most probably lead to the return of pro-Thaksin forces to power. Even the military may not like it, though it has called for early elections. The developments are likely to put pressure on Thailand's democracy. The country was under military rule for much of the last century and democracy, whenever it was restored, was unable to sustain itself. The prospects of a stable democratic outcome is grim even now.
THE CHOSEN FEW
BY SUDHANSHU RANJAN
The term 'social service' has been construed liberally and some politicians have made their way to the Upper House.
There has always been a debate on the need to have a second chamber of parliament. It was said in France long back, "If the second chamber disagrees with the first chamber, it is mischievous, and if it concurs, it is redundant." However, the Senate, ie, the second chamber, plays a crucial role in the contemporary French constitutional system.
The Indian Constituent Assembly also debated the issue at length whether there should be Rajya Sabha or not, but ultimately decided in favour of bicameralism. However, barely two years after it came into existence, three constitutional amendment bills were sought to be introduced in Lok Sabha for the abolition of Rajya Sabha.
The invention of the doctrine of 'basic structure' by the supreme court in Kesavananda Bharati's case in 1973 permanently dispelled any doubts about its relevance as bicameralism was declared part of the basic structure. Subsequently, the committee on private members' bills and resolutions in Lok Sabha ruled that it cannot be abolished as it is a basic feature of the Constitution.
So, what is the role of Rajya Sabha? It was lucidly defined by its first Chairman S Radhakrishnan in its first sitting on May 13, 1952: "There is a general impression that this House cannot make or unmake governments and, therefore, it is a superfluous body. But, there are functions, which a revising chamber can fulfil fruitfully.
Parliament is not only a legislative but also a deliberative body... we are for the first time starting under the parliamentary system, with a second chamber at the Centre, and we should try to do everything in our power to justify to the public that a second chamber is essential to prevent hasty legislation."
Thus, apart from preventing hasty legislation, this House is meant to cogitate on serious issues. It was never meant to be a chamber for rehabilitating political leaders who lose in direct elections. According to Article 80 of the Constitution, the Council of States is to consist of 12 members to be nominated by the President and not more than 238 representatives of the states.
It is clarified that the members to be nominated shall consist of persons having special knowledge or practical experience in the fields of literature, science, art and social service. The fact that presidential nominees figure first in the composition of Rajya Sabha is a clear pointer to the fact they are expected to be persons of eminence in their respective fields who would raise the level of debate by their thoughtful comments and intervention.
Social service abused
However, in due course the term 'social service' has been construed liberally to include political service and some politicians have made their way to the Upper House through this route. The recent nominations of Mani Shankar Aiyar and Ram Dayal Munda have drawn fire from political observers and the opposition, particularly the BJP, which has referred to the speech of Jawaharlal Nehru and the debate of the Constituent Assembly, that bringing active politicians through this channel is an abuse of the constitutional provision.
The choice of Aiyar and that of Munda cannot be faulted on the ground of calibre as both are men of letters but they are active members of the Congress party who unsuccessfully contested the last Lok Sabha poll on the party symbol. The first list of MPs nominated by the president on April 3, 1952, included such eminent personalities like educationist Zakir Hussain, danseuse Rukmini Devi Arundale, jurist Alladi Krishnaswami Ayyar, Gandhian social worker Kaka Saheb Kalelkar, theatre artist Prithvi Raj Kapoor, scientist Satyendra Nath Bose, etc.
Later, several leaders with different political affiliations were nominated. The NDA government also nominated Dara Singh and Hema Malini who belonged to the BJP. This process reached its nadir when the Narasimha Rao government nominated a moneybag like Mahendra Prasad who did not meet any of the qualifications.
However, the Union government has so far observed the decorum of not inducting any nominated member into the council of ministers. In 1971, when Indira Gandhi wanted to draft Nurul Hasan, then a nominated MP, as a minister, P N Haksar dissuaded her from doing this. He convinced her that it would set a bad precedent and the history would condemn her. Hasan was asked to resign and was brought back as an elected member and then inducted into the cabinet.
In states, mostly it is politicians who are being accommodated in the legislative council as government nominees. Earlier, in Bihar, then Governor M A S Ayyangar returned the recommendation of Chief Minister K B Sahay to nominate Mathura Prasad Singh, a Congress leader, to the council. But then Sahay issued a notification to this effect on his own, and Singh became a nominated MLC.
There is a strong need to build up a consensus that truly deserving people are nominated to the Upper House, who add refulgence to the debate by their expertise and skills. It must be ensured that it is not a House of rehabilitation. Further, it is not sufficient to be eminent in one's own field. They also must take keen interest in parliamentary proceedings. Lata Mangeshkar is a great artiste but she hardly attended the House or spoke during her tenure as a nominated MP.
THIS ABOVE ALL... SQUANDERMANIA
''There is no law against erecting status of oneself,'' says Mayawati, chief minister of Uttar Pradesh. She is right: there is no law forbidding misuse of public money to indulge in self glorification. Several chief ministers do so by advertising themselves as pioneers of progress their states with their own photographs as illustrations.
But you, behen Mayawatiji have outdone all of them on the Silver Jubilee of the Bahujan Samaj Party. You asked your public relations department to take out full page advertisement in all newspapers of India, with half pages devoted to your own picture and the other half for vastly exaggerated claims to development under your benign rule.
And you had yourself garlanded with high denomination currency notes worth crores of rupees. You have had dozens of marble statues of yourself put up in Lucknow and other cities. Has the money collected during the Silver Jubilee been deposited in banks in the name of BSP or is it is in your personal account?
Your past does not inspire confidence. As soon as you became chief minister, you began acquiring large tracts of real estates in different cities, including Delhi. None of it was registered in the name of your party but in your own name or that of your relations. You also bought expensive jewellery to adorn yourself and explained it as gifts given to you by admirers.
As for your admirers, the less said about them the better. They are a time-serving bunch of sycophants who will bootlick anyone in power.
Just think what you could have done with all the money you collected. Instead of marble status, if you had opened a chain of Mayawati primary and secondary schools, Mayawati free clinics for the stick, Mayawati night shelters for the homeless, etc, your name would have gone down in history as the greatest Dalit leader of India. All you need to do is instead of lending an ear to 'khushamdi tattoos' (flattering ponies), listen to the likes of me and the 'avvaam' (common people), who honestly wish to see you fulfil the dream of Baba Saheb Ambedkar and Kanshi Ram. Don't let us down.
Maharaja Dalip singh
Dalip singh, youngest son of Maharaja Ranjit singh, is not on my list of heroes of Sikh history. His mother, Rani Jindan, was the daughter of the royal kennel keeper. I have nothing against her. She was said to have been a great beauty. As a child he was exposed to violence and cold blooded murders of relations and courtiers. That left deep scars on his psyche and warped him for life.
When the Sikh kingdom was annexed by the British in 1849, he was taken hostage and made to hand over the Kohinoor diamond and was put under the guardianship of an English cleric. He converted to christianity, cut off his long hair but kept his beard so that with a turban he could still pass of as a Sikh.
He and his mother were taken to England. He was given a large estate and a handsome pension. He became a great favourite of Queen Victoria and wore her miniature picture in a diamond necklace.
When his mother died, he was allowed to bring her ashes back to India to immerse in the holy Ganga. But, he was not permitted to visit Punjab.
On his way back to England he was shown a bevy of nubile girls in an orphanage in Egypt. He picked Bamba Muller, the illegitimate daughter of a German through an Egyptian woman. She bore him many children.
He lived an extravagant life of self-indulgence. He became a heavy drinker and a glutton, he put on weight, became paunchy and lost whatever good looks he had as a youngman. He ran into heavy debts and began to dream of the unaccountable wealth he was entitled to as Maharaja of Punjab.
He rebelled against Queen Victoria and tried to get the Tsar of Russia to help to regain his crown. Nothing came of it.
When Bamba died, he took another wife, and moved to Paris. Ultimately he begged Queen Victoria's pardon. She absolved him of treason, paid off his debts and allowed him to return to the state. He died a miserable death in Paris.
His progeny continued to suffer from delusions of grandeur. Once I wrote to his daughter Bamba Southerland, asking for an interview and inviting her to tea at the Ritz Hotel in London. She regarded all Sikhs as her subjects and turned down my invitation. Her letterhead from a cottage in Buckinghamshire where she lived on a pension read 'H R H Princess Bamba Southerland of Punjab, Kashmir and Beyond".
Dalip Singh's life is well recorded in 'The Exile' by Navtej Sarna, India's Ambassador in Israel. No matter what the true facts of his life, many Sikhs have nostalgic memories of the rulers of the Sikh Kingdom. The latest example is the publication of 'Sovereign, Squire, Rebel Maharajah Dalip Singh' by Peter Bance. Peter's real name is Bhupinder Singh Bains. Based in London, he specialises in Sikhs diaspora. His earlier book 'The Sikhs in Britain' was well-received. His book on Dalip Singh is about the most lavish I have seen. It will be a valuable asset in any library on Sikh history as a collector's item.
WHY MORE AND MORE WOMEN ARE BALDLY REVEALING THEIR SCALPS?
BY KAMALA BALACHANDRAN
Thirty three per cent shall be for the women; one has been hearing this line a lot these days. Even so, I didn't expect to see it in place in unlikely areas too. I was sitting in one of the back rows of the hall. The music concert was engrossing but as it happens, my attention wavered after a while and the mind slipped to observing the others in the audience. As I scanned the rows of heads sticking up the front seats, I was shocked to observe that a third of the balding heads sported hairpins/hair bands/flowers!
It was intriguing. How and when did women butt their heads and break so successfully into this traditional male bastion? Surprisingly, whoever I spoke to not only admitted to noticing this, they also had the answer to why it was happening. "It is the hair dye", said one emphatically, "so full of inorganic chemicals. I am surprised that after years of regular use, we have any hair at all on our heads."
"It is the stress that is at the root of the problem," diagnosed another, "with women taking as much work stress as the men, the hair follicle too are taking the same route." "It is the treated water". "It is the shampoo". "It is the helmet". "The climate change is the cause!" I had more answers than I had bargained for. But I rejected all of these explanations as superficial. For I have read enough mystery books in my life to know that the obvious suspect is never, ever, the real culprit.
The best selling book Freakonomics has also strengthened this belief and driven me to look for the real cause underneath the deceptively apparent pile of reasons.
Impressed by the authors' style of analysis that turns conventional wisdom on its head, I resolved to exercise my brains and come up with the right answer to this modern day riddle. I persisted with the question of why more and more women were baldly revealing their scalps, and the answer sought me out.
I was dragged in to be the referee in a domestic quarrel. The wife's contention was that the husband was unreasonable in expecting her to make the complicated festival dishes like his mother used to. "He plays one role while I multi-task", the exasperated woman argued, "Some days my head is so full of things to do that I fear it would burst like a balloon." Like a balloon! That was the cue! I immediately recalled the middle school lesson on the expanding universe.
The universe is constantly expanding. Astronomers know it is so because they see that the various galaxies are continually moving away from each other. This concept is typically explained in the books with a balloon. As we blow in air and the balloon gets bigger, the patterns on it move apart, like the galaxies, creating more empty spaces between them.
Eureka! It sure was elementary!
******************************************************************************************THE NEW YORK TIMES
WATCH THIS CASE
Months ago, Gretchen Morgenson and Louise Story of The Times exposed Goldman Sachs's practice of creating and selling mortgage-backed investments and then placing financial bets that those investments would fail. While appalling, it wasn't clear whether the practice was also fraud. The Securities and Exchange Commission has now decided that it was, charging Goldman on Friday.
We urge everyone to keep a close eye on this case. If it is handled correctly, it should finally answer the question of whether malfeasance and not merely unbridled greed, incompetence and weak regulation was also responsible for the financial meltdown.
Goldman insists that what it was doing was prudent risk management. In a letter published in its annual report, it argued that "although Goldman Sachs held various positions in residential mortgage-related products in 2007, our short positions were not a 'bet against our clients.' " The bank also insists that the investors who bought the structured vehicles were sophisticated professionals who knew what they were doing.
The S.E.C. is now charging just the opposite.
It accuses Goldman of intentionally designing a financial product that would have a high chance of falling in value, at the request of a client, and lying about it to the customers who bought it. It says that Goldman allowed that client John Paulson, a hedge fund manager to pick bonds he wanted to bet against, and then packaged those bonds into a new investment.
Goldman then sold this investment to its clients, telling them the bonds were chosen by an independent manager, and omitted that Mr. Paulson was on the other side of the trade, shorting it, in the industry vernacular.
Five months after Goldman sold the investments, 83 percent of the bonds contained in the packaged securities were downgraded by rating agencies.
Goldman vigorously denies any wrongdoing, calling the S.E.C.'s charges "completely unfounded in law and fact." It will undoubtedly assemble a daunting legal team and mount a vigorous defense. But if the S.E.C. makes its case, it will be a watershed moment, changing the dominant narrative of the financial crisis.
Up to now, the bankers have argued that the financial crisis was like what insurers call an "act of God," an unforeseeable cataclysm over which they had no control. This has allowed them to shrug off responsibility, even as taxpayers bailed them out. It has allowed them to sleep soundly after collecting their huge bonuses. Goldman is not the only bank to have sold mortgage-backed securities and then bet against them. We suspect that after Friday, others on Wall Street may have a harder time sleeping.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
WHAT HAITI NEEDS RIGHT NOW
Haiti has an ocean's worth of problems, but money shouldn't be one of them. The world's response to the Jan. 12 earthquake was swift, with more than 150 countries and organizations promising to send hundreds of millions of dollars for emergency relief and billions more for long-term rebuilding.
Three months after the country and its government were all but crushed, nearly $800 million for relief projects has been committed. That is generous but still only slightly more than half of the $1.5 billion that the United Nations believes Haiti needs just to get through the next year to build housing, provide public health services, security and meet other basic needs.
The Haitian government also needs an estimated $350 million in cash simply to function over the coming fiscal year for ministry payrolls, policing and schools. So far, it has received pledges for about $200 million.
The managing director of the International Monetary Fund, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, told last month's international donors' conference that unless the government got direct budget support it would be impossible to expect bigger rebuilding plans to succeed.
Donors have had good reasons to resist, knowing that corruption and waste have long swallowed far too much of the aid sent to Haiti. They usually send goods or work only through nongovernmental organizations. But there is no chance of building even a minimally effective Haitian government without some direct cash.
The I.M.F. has lent its vote of confidence and committed to helping create new mechanisms for accountable government spending. The fund had begun that effort even before the quake, working with Haiti and donors to peg direct aid to benchmarks of performance and transparency, and sending experts there to train officials in the basics of managing cash and accounts.
France and Spain have since significantly increased direct budget aid; we hope that Congress can eventually overcome its reluctance, too.
The relief effort has made progress, although not nearly enough. Of the more than a million people displaced by the quake and living in fragile encampments, only a few thousand have been moved from the most flood-prone areas to new, sturdier shelter. This stems less from a lack of money or materials than the vastness of the disaster and the Haitian government's continued failure to move swiftly and decisively to identify and claim land for resettlement.The United Nations and nongovernmental organizations are pressing ahead. Engineers have tagged thousands of surviving homes as safe, ready for use when the rains get worse. Relief workers are on pace to meet their goal of distributing plastic tarps and other makeshift shelter materials to every displaced family by the first of May, when the rainy season peaks. So far, there has been no major outbreak of disease or starvation.
The government of President René Préval and Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive has a long way to go to prove its competence and reliability. But the Haitian people should not have to suffer for their government's failings any more than they already have. For these relief efforts to continue and improve Haiti needs more emergency aid and the Haitian government needs more direct budgetary support. And as the I.M.F.'s Mr. Strauss-Kahn put it so aptly, "There will be no medium term," for Haiti, " if we are unable to manage the short term."
THE NEW YORK TIMES
THE WHOLE RAVITCH RESCUE
New York State's lawmakers remain deeply divided over how to balance a $135 billion budget with a $9.2 billion hole in it before the state runs out of cash in June.
They need to come up with a sound plan soon. But their responsibility doesn't end there.
The Senate, the Assembly and the governor should also adopt Lt. Gov. Richard Ravitch's carefully balanced plan to bring discipline to the budget process and minimize the chances of budget disasters even worse than this one.
Adopting just part of the plan won't work. We suspect the Albany crowd will find it easy to endorse his recommendation that the state be allowed to borrow $6 billion over three years for operating expenses. That would be politically easier than cutting costs or raising taxes. And Albany likes easy answers. Under normal circumstances, borrowing to cover operating costs is not sound policy. But the Ravitch plan would allow it only if the Legislature also agrees to the tough constraints and reforms in the rest of the package.
The plan would force the state to budget in accordance with generally accepted accounting principles, abandoning the tricks used over the years, like shifting next year's revenue to pay this year's bills. It also calls for establishing an independent financial review board to determine whether the budget is, in fact, balanced; if the board decides otherwise, the governor would have added authority to cut spending.
At the same time, Mr. Ravitch's plan calls for stripping the governor of some of his current authority to add language to the budget that, in effect, makes new law. (That's fine as long as the Legislature doesn't go too far and undercut the governor's important power to veto budget items added by the Legislature.)
Finally, he proposes moving the start of the fiscal year from April 1 to July 1. The earlier date makes it impossible to determine tax revenues that arrive after April 15.
When he announced his proposals in March, Mr. Ravitch said they "must be treated as a package an integrated whole, not a list of options." We couldn't agree more. As state lawmakers try to balance this year's budget, the Ravitch plan the whole Ravitch plan should be its foundation.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
JUSTICE AND COMFORT
The cause of equal rights for gays and lesbians, which is advancing in hard-won increments, moved forward on two important fronts this week.
It was promoted smartly by President Obama's order that all hospitals receiving federal funds from programs like Medicare or Medicaid must give full visiting rights to patients' same-sex partners. Too many hospitals currently require ties by blood or marriage, thereby keeping partners from the bedside of ailing patients.
We were also encouraged by word from the House Democratic leadership that it intends to move forward on long-awaited legislation banning employment discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. And this time the measure has been broadened to include transgender people.
The improved measure offered by Representative Barney Frank, a Massachusetts Democrat, already has 199 co-sponsors, including six Republicans. Seventeen more votes are needed, and we hope that other lawmakers will sign on; the bill's growing support is already further evidence that bias against gays and lesbians is easing in the public eye and political arena.
A narrower measure omitting transgender people was approved three years ago in the House but died in the Senate. "Nobody that I know of lost any race because of it," Mr. Frank told the Capitol Hill newspaper Roll Call.
If, as expected, the new measure wins House approval, the Senate should proceed in the same spirit of respect for civil rights and pass a similar measure.
The fight for fair employment rights is already a generation old, pioneered in the House by two New York
Democrats Bella Abzug and Edward Koch. While a score of states have taken steps against bias suffered by gays and lesbians, a federal law is needed to fully guarantee workplace rights for millions of Americans. Congress must not duck this call to basic justice.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
LET'S JUST INDICT THE DEFICIT
BY GAIL COLLINS
I don't know how you're spending your spring, but here in New York we are all busy waiting for Andrew Cuomo.
Andrew! Soon he will come forward and agree to be nominated for governor. And then he will walk among us, and speak to us. And perhaps even tell us how he would balance the budget.
And New Yorkers will all live happily ever after.
Cuomo is currently the attorney general, and one of the very, very few politicians in our poor, benighted state who people say they really like. How could we not? His office spends its days suing fake breast cancer charities and companies who cheat members of the military.
So we are confident he will be a great governor. Because of the suing thing.
There is something about attorneys general that makes everybody want to nominate them for higher office, even though it almost always ends badly.
In New York, our past experience along this line runs from Aaron Burr to Eliot Spitzer. Wouldn't you think that would have taught us something?
We all remember Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley, Disastrous Senate Candidate. Coakley's
predecessor, Attorney General Thomas Reilly, ran for governor and lost the primary. His predecessor ran for
governor and lost the general election. The trail of Massachusetts attorneys general as terrible candidates seems to go back to the Pilgrims.
"I've seen one after another bite the dust," said Dwight Golann, a Suffolk University law professor who worked under two Massachusetts A.G.'s.
Wouldn't you think that when Coakley threw her hat into the ring, every Democrat in the state would have
looked at her and seen a great vortex of political catastrophe? But no. They talked about how she had sued that crooked mortgage company.
Right now in Connecticut, Attorney General Richard Blumenthal is a candidate for Senate. The Democrats there nearly fainted with joy when Blumenthal decided to run for Chris Dodd's seat. Blumenthal has been in the job for 20 years. Can you imagine how many awful people he's sued? And unlike virtually every other attorney general in the country, Blumenthal actually tries the cases in court.
However, it turns out that he has the spontaneity of a clock. As David Halbfinger reported in The Times this week, some Connecticut Democrats are starting to call him "Martha Coakley in pants." This is terrible on two counts since Connecticut Democrats ought to know that Coakley wore pants herself on many occasions while she was campaigning badly.
Blumenthal is still the favorite to win. Connecticut has elected attorneys general to the Senate before, like Joseph Lieberman. Which worked out so well for Joseph Lieberman.
Golann thinks attorneys general suffer from a kind of "complexity disease everything is complicated, and so are their comments." He calls it the "John Kerry problem," in honor of the senator and former Middlesex County attorney.
This would not be Cuomo's problem. In fact, his most famous comment ever that, after 9/11, Gov. George Pataki just stood behind Rudy Giuliani and "held the leader's coat" was so clear and simple that it offended half the state and wiped out every shred of hope Cuomo had of winning the gubernatorial nomination in 2002. If anything, Cuomo has suffered from the problem of being too clear, and that is why for the past year all of his comments about controversial state issues have involved explanations of why this is not a good time to talk about that.
While other states seem to look upon their great prosecutors as men and women of dignity and learning, in New York we just see them as tough guys who will identify our problems and somehow arrest them. This began, of course, with Rudy Giuliani, who worked out O.K. until he didn't.
The Rudy model only gets elected when things are in a state of total chaos. Which is why New Yorkers picked Attorney General Eliot Spitzer to save the state, creating an even bigger disaster that people are now hoping Attorney General Cuomo will take care of.
Meanwhile, in New Jersey, where finances are if possible even worse than in New York, there is Gov. Chris Christie, former U.S. attorney. He is currently declaring war on the teachers with a ferocity that would make you think they were in cahoots with the fake breast cancer charities and crooked mortgagers.
And in California, the state that is in the very worst shape of all, the Democrats seem to be prepared to nominate Attorney General Jerry Brown for governor. Brown has already been governor (for eight years), as well as secretary of the state, mayor of Oakland, failed presidential candidate and dater of Linda Ronstadt. I'm not sure we can apply him to any pattern.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
PUT VENDORS IN THEIR PLACE
ABY EDWARD C. WALLACE
JUST in time for summer, proposed Department of Parks and Recreation regulations would designate and limit where artists may sell their works in and around New York City's major parks. Art vendors would be able to set up shop, with table or easel, in city parks, but in certain heavily congested areas under the Parks Department's jurisdiction their numbers would be limited. No doubt some champions of individual expression will cry censorship. Indeed, the leader of the largest art vendor group is already preparing a legal attack on the new regulations.
Censorship? Not at all. The First Amendment requires a careful balance between the individual's right to free expression and the public's right to enjoy public space.
I learned this lesson the hard way. In 1982, when I represented Manhattan in the City Council, a lawyer at the New York Civil Liberties Union asked me to help out David Ferguson, who was repeatedly being arrested for peddling his poems on a Greenwich Village street corner without a general vendor's license.
An ardent advocate of free speech, but oblivious to the law of unintended consequences, I drafted a six-word amendment to the law requiring vendors to have a license: "except for vendors of written material." To my pleasant surprise, the circulation managers of the major daily newspapers testified in favor of the bill, which they realized would protect their own vendors. After due consideration, my amendment which grew to six pages of regulatory detail became law. Mr. Ferguson was free to peddle his poetry.
But so were vendors of all manner of "expressive materials," from silk-screened T-shirts to engraved grains of
rice. An army of book sellers set up tables along Fifth Avenue, blocking the sidewalks, collecting no sales tax and paying no property tax, and in some instances selling stolen goods. My concern for a poet's right to sell his poems by hand (the regulations wouldn't limit artists who roam with their works) was never meant to encompass commercial vendors appropriating the public right of way for private business use. The right of the people to assemble, pass unmolested and enjoy the view was never meant to be trumped by the right of commercial vendors even those selling books or art.
That is why the parks commissioner must step in and draw sensible boundaries between public enjoyment and private commerce on park land. The proposed regulations do just that. Under these rules, no license is required, but the number of vendor slots for example, along Central Park South and much of Fifth Avenue and Central Park West is limited and may be used on a first come, first served basis. At the same time, the new rules would preserve a clear sidewalk path and expressly prohibit vendors from blocking a park user from sitting on a bench, and from selling at zoos, skating rinks or pools. The regulations would also keep sidewalks leading to the grand plaza and steps of the Metropolitan Museum of Art free of commerce (except for one disabled veteran food vendor authorized by state law).
Once in a while, clogging the fields, sidewalks and roadways for political protests, marathons and concerts all of which require permits is reasonable. But the daily unregulated private commercial occupation of park land by vendors, even artists, is not reasonable and not required by the Constitution.
In 1992, almost 10 years after I left the city council, I went back to push for an amendment to my written-material exemption: people like Mr. Ferguson should be allowed to sell poetry, but sidewalks could not be taken over by commercial interests in the name of free expression. At the council hearings on the bill, it became clear that sidewalks clogged by table-based vendors not only impeded pedestrian flow but slowed firefighters and police officers in their work. That amendment passed; now it's time to solve the problem in and around our parks. The need for sensible time, place and manner limits is very clear.
When it comes to park land, the commissioner may not set limits based on artistic content. Certainly, banning all vendors would overly limit individual liberties. But allowing a vendor to monopolize a park bench or the museum steps violates both democratic principles and civil liberties. When the City Council adopted the exemptions for written material vendors in 1992, it recognized that park land needed very careful attention and specifically gave the authority to regulate vendors in our parks to the parks commissioner. Like the amended law, the proposed new regulations strike a similar balance for park land: vendors may sell art, and the public may enjoy the park.
In truth, the First Amendment protects the right of all the people to use our public spaces. The right to sit quietly on a bench is as fully protected as the right to declaim at a speaker's corner. Sometimes the government may appear to be the opponent of free assembly and free expression, but the new park regulations protect the rights of the majority of park users while standing up for the rights of the individual art vendor.
I wish I had understood all this when I proposed my six-word amendment to the general vendors law almost 30 years ago. Next Friday, the Parks Department will hear public comment on the proposed regulations. New Yorkers concerned about their constitutional right to sit on the museum steps or freely walk the park paths should express themselves forcefully at the hearings. That is the best way to support the First Amendment regarding commercial vending in our parks.
Edward C. Wallace, a councilman at large for Manhattan from 1981 to 1983, is a lawyer and member of the board of the Riverside Park Fund.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
A MIGHTY PALE TEA
BY CHARLES M. BLOW
GRAND PRAIRIE, Tex.
On Thursday, I came here outside Dallas for a Tea Party rally.
At first I thought, "Wow! This is much more diverse than the rallies I've seen on television."
Then I realized that I was looking at stadium workers. I should have figured as much when I approached the gate. The greeter had asked, "Are you working tonight?"
I sat in the front row. But when the emcee asked, "Do we have any infiltrators?" and I almost raised my hand, I realized that sitting there might not be such a good idea.
I had specifically come to this rally because it was supposed to be especially diverse. And, on the stage at least, it was. The speakers included a black doctor who bashed Democrats for crying racism, a Hispanic immigrant who said that she had never received a single government entitlement and a Vietnamese immigrant who said that the Tea Party leader was God. It felt like a bizarre spoof of a 1980s Benetton ad.
The juxtaposition was striking: an abundance of diversity on the stage and a dearth of it in the crowd, with the exception of a few minorities like the young black man who carried a sign that read "Quit calling me a racist."
They saved the best for last, however: Alfonzo "Zo" Rachel. According to his Web site, Zo, who is black and performs skits as "Zo-bama," allowed drugs to cost him "his graduation." Before ripping into the president for unconstitutional behavior, he cautioned, "I don't have the education that our president has, so if I misinterpret some things in the founding documents I kind of have an excuse." That was the understatement of the evening.
I found the imagery surreal and a bit sad: the minorities trying desperately to prove that they were "one of the good ones"; the organizers trying desperately to resolve any racial guilt among the crowd. The message was clear: How could we be intolerant if these multicolored faces feel the same way we do?
It was a farce. This Tea Party wanted to project a mainstream image of a group that is anything but. A New York Times/CBS News poll released on Wednesday found that only 1 percent of Tea Party supporters are black and only 1 percent are Hispanic. It's almost all white.
And even when compared to other whites, their views are extreme and marginal. For instance, white Tea Party supporters are twice as likely as white independents and eight times as likely as white Democrats to believe that Barack Obama was born in another country.
Furthermore, they were more than eight times as likely as white independents and six times as likely as white Democrats to think that the Obama administration favors blacks over whites.
Thursday night I saw a political minstrel show devised for the entertainment of those on the rim of obliviousness and for those engaged in the subterfuge of intolerance. I was not amused.
I. THE NEWS
MURDER BY NEGLECT
They did not pull the trigger or detonate the bomb that killed Benazir Bhutto, but between-the-lines reading of the UN report into her murder makes it clear that they may well have left the door ajar for those that did. She was killed on the watch of President Musharraf whose government did little to protect a woman it perceived as a threat to its power and primacy. It is a testament to its enduring power that the present government is no more eager to get to the bottom of who killed her than its predecessor, and for all the bombast and bluster President Zardari has never been about to put the murderers of Benazir Bhutto in the dock or authorise any investigation that might expose the deeper truths behind the killing. In paragraph after paragraph the report refers to the lack of cooperation that the investigative team experienced at the hands of establishment figures, men who worked for the security services and the various police forces that were questioned. Time after time their oral evidence conflicted with that of video footage or still camera images. The half-truths and untruths that they told exposed each other's duplicity and the report reads as a catalogue of the dishonesty and ineptitude of public officers at just about every level. There is an inescapable impression of purposeful and directed obstruction, which will raise questions in the minds of a suspicious and doubting public already inured to being lied to by successive governments. Of particular note is the failure of the then government to accord Benazir Bhutto, a former prime minister, the same security as was extended to two other former prime ministers on Oct 22, 2007, men who were Musharraf's political allies.
Also of note is the role of Saud Aziz, chief of police in Rawalpindi, whose decisions denied evidence to investigators. He it was who had the assassination site hosed down less than two hours after the attack, he it was who hosted long lunches for investigators the better to divert them from their duties and he it was who was the primary impediment to any autopsy being conducted. Post-assassination inquiries are exposed as worthless the much-mentioned Scotland Yard inquiry is spoken of in paragraph 195 as being 'abused' by officers of the Rawalpindi District Police, with 'abused' in this context meaning 'lied to'. Is this the incompetence that is a feature of our security apparatus or is there something more behind the actions that have led to a kind of paralysis in finding out more about the most significant political killing of our time? Television networks, including Geo, have produced some very revealing investigative programmes on the assassination and it is a pity more effort has not been made to explore the leads offered up by them.
We have learned little that we did not already know from the report of the UN commission on the murder of Benazir Bhutto and there appears to be nothing in it to warrant delaying its publication by a fortnight. And the tendency here will be to 'fill in the blanks'. The failure of the Musharraf government and now this government to properly investigate it does nothing to debunk the conspiracies, and the UN report may be the unwitting midwife to obfuscation rather than clarity. There are questions here not brought up by the UN a body known after all for its sometimes crippling diplomacy and bureaucracy. Why, we must ask, has an administration led by Benazir Bhutto's husband done so little to find out who killed his wife? An inquiry at home should have taken place alongside the UN inquiry. It is something of a mystery why this did not happen. There are quite evidently many angles to the assassination that have not been explored. The UN probe points, albeit subtly, to some of these. There is clearly a great deal still hidden from the public eye. Benazir's killing affected an entire nation and that nation deserves to know more about it.
I. THE NEWS
A NEW LOW
Terrorism knows no rules or boundaries, and a new low appears to have been reached with the detonation of a bomb inside the Emergency Department of the Quetta Civil Hospital. There have been bombs outside or close to hospitals in the past, but this is the first time that a bomb was detonated inside a hospital. At the time of writing there are reported to be 11 dead and 35 injured. The circumstances surrounding this atrocity are yet unclear, but it would appear to be linked to the death of a banker who had been shot and was taken by people to the hospital. A suicide bomber apparently got in as his body was being delivered to the hospital with the results we see. The latest reports say the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi has claimed responsibility.
There is no limit to the ingenuity or determination of those who wish to destroy their fellow men for whatever reason, and recent years have seen the development of fluid-mix bombs designed to explode on aircraft, explosives concealed in underwear and last September explosives hidden in a body cavity almost killed the head of Saudi Arabia's counterterrorism operations. Targeting a hospital by detonating a suicide device inside it takes terrorism in Pakistan into uncharted territory, and once done we may be sure it will be done again. The deliberate targeting of resources such as hospitals suggests that whatever boundaries and human decencies that may have still existed in the minds of those who direct such acts have now disappeared completely; and the out-patient department is now officially a part of the war zone.
I. THE NEWS
A RESPONSIBLE NUCLEAR STATE
The two-day Washington Nuclear Security Summit attended by Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani has enhanced Pakistan's credibility by removing doubts about its nuclear programme. In President Obama's own words, "I feel confident about Pakistan's security around its nuclear-weapons programme."
In his meeting with Mr Gilani on Sunday, the eve of the 47-nation summit, the US president assured the prime minister that Washington had no designs on Pakistan's nuclear programme. Islamabad's four-pillared assurances enunciated emphatically in a national statement at the summit, declaring that it has taken all necessary steps to protect its nuclear installations getting into the wrong hands and its command-and-control system is second to none was reassuring for the American hosts.
George W Bush's mantra of do more has been replaced with the refreshingly friendly tone of President Obama. This resonated in the press conference held by him after the successful conclusion of the summit. In response to hostile questioning about the possibility of Al Qaeda or the Taliban getting hold of Pakistan's nuclear weapons, the US president vociferously defended the safety of Islamabad's nuclear arsenal. He said that he trusts the country's capability to protect its nuclear assets getting into wrong hands.
This is a far cry from the days of President Musahrraf, when the neocons-driven US administration would be satisfied with nothing less than Dr Abdul Qadeer Khan's head. This unequivocal endorsement of Pakistan has not come about for free. The US, bogged down in Afghanistan and in a hurry to cut and run to meet President Obama's deadline to withdraw by July 2011, knows that Islamabad is pivotal to its game plan. As Prime Minister Gilani put it succulently while talking to me on the way back from the summit, "Pakistan is considered no longer the part of the problem but part of the solution for stability in the region."
Under the umbrella of a supportive civilian regime, the Pakistani army's push against the Taliban in Swat, Malakand and South Waziristan and its effective presence in North Waziristan are acknowledged and deeply appreciated by Washington. NATO forces are demoralised in Afghanistan, while the Karzai regime is stubbornly corrupt and its ill trained army is hopelessly incompetent in combat against the better-organised and locally supported Taliban. Pakistan is the only success story in the region.
Despite New Delhi's repeated denials, the US is playing a facilitator's role on a fast track to evolve a detente between India and Pakistan, which until now has been elusive. Obviously, Washington is keen that the Pakistani forces should expend all their energies on the western front without having to keep an eye on the country's eastern borders.
Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had already met President Obama on Sunday. Mr Singh urged the US president to impress upon Mr Gilani the need to nab the perpetrators of the Mumbai carnage. He claimed that this would make it easier for him to sell conciliation with Pakistan to the Indian public opinion. This message was promptly conveyed to Mr Gilani, who in turn assured the US president that the LeT is already being dealt with according to the law of the land.
Will such a vague assurance mollify the Indians will become apparent when the two leaders meet on the sidelines of the SAARC summit due later this month in Thimphu, the capital of Bhutan. The atmospherics between the Indian and Pakistani prime ministers were good, when thy exchanged pleasantries during the summit. However, knowing the Indian mindset, the proof of the pudding is in the eating.
Nonetheless, it is clear that New Delhi is loath to any mediation on the Kashmir issue, but it is under intense diplomatic pressure to reopen a meaningful dialogue with Pakistan. Judging by India's ever-increasing economic clout and its strategic importance for the US, it is however clear that Washington's clout to make New Delhi change its mind about Pakistan is relatively limited.
Despite Islamabad's coveted goal to seek access to civilian nuclear technology, there was little progress on the issue in the summit or on its sidelines. In his national statement the prime minister stressed that Pakistan was desperately deficit in its energy needs and, being a responsible nuclear state, had its systems well in place. This technology, including nuclear fuel, it is perfectly willing to share with other nations, he declared.
The prime minister went to the extent of warning President Obama that the issue of energy shortages was so explosive in Pakistan that it could be exploited by extremist elements to create unrest. He told his US hosts that Islamabad urgently needs help in the energy sector. It is clear that, despite these desperate appeals by Islamabad and the sweet-talking by President Obama, the US administration is still reluctant to provide nuclear technology to Pakistan, even under IAEA safeguards.
But this does not mean that Pakistan's plea for access to civilian nuclear technology has completely fallen on deaf ears. It is evident that Washington will extract its pound of flesh before relenting on the issue.
Although there was no mention of Iran in the communiqué of the Washington Nuclear Security Summit, curbing the nuclear ambitions of the Islamic Republic remains the cornerstone of the Obama administration. While meeting Chinese President Hu Jintao, President Obama extracted an assurance from him that, as a permanent member of the UN Security Council, China was willing to support sanctions against Iran.
However, there's many a slip 'twixt the cup and the lip on the tricky issue of sanctions. China depends heavily on Tehran for its energy needs and would be loath to go for the sanctions regime. While Pakistan has been keen to clinch the Iran Pakistan gas pipeline deal, Washington has conveyed to Islamabad in no uncertain terms that it is not an opportune time to enter into such an arrangement with Iran.
Even India clinched the civilian nuclear deal after it had backed out of the pipeline project. How far Pakistan can go to alienate its Islamic neighbour will depend on its state of desperation for nuclear energy. Prime Minister Gilani was unnecessarily vague and non-committal at the press conference on the conclusion of the visit about sanctions against Iran, saying that Islamabad will take a decision when the time comes.
He also urged the US to use its influence with the IMF to ease the conditionalities that Islamabad had already agreed to. President Obama was sympathetic enough to say that a balance should be struck between economic costs and social compulsions. Similarly, he was non-committal on market access for Pakistani textiles, obviously not wanting to alienate the strong and influential domestic cotton lobby in a congressional election year.
President Obama's dream is a nuclear-weapons-free world, of which the nuclear summit convened by him was the first part. The US and Russia possess the bulk of the world's nuclear arsenal. Judging by their strategic goals and the immense clout of their respective military-industrial complexes it will remain an elusive dream beyond Obama's terms as president, and probably during his lifetime.
Pakistan is yet to agree upon a treaty to halt further production of plutonium. Negotiations on this issue have come to naught till now because of Indian intransigence. As long as New Delhi is not willing to cuts on its nuclear programme, Islamabad cannot be expected to unilaterally change its stance on the issue.
Thanks to the passage of the 18th Amendment, Prime Minister Gilani won kudos from his hosts as heading an empowered parliamentary democracy. Even the Indian prime minister in his encounter with Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi mentioned the fact, albeit a bit patronisingly, that it was easier to talk peace with a truly democratic civilian regime. Prime Minister Gilani on the plane back to Islamabad looked increasingly confident and beaming with his newfound authority. Real or perceived, only time will tell!
The writer accompanied the prime minister to cover the nuclear summit.
The writer is a former newspaper editor. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
I. THE NEWS
PAKHTUNKHWA TO HAZARA
Most political forces, except for the ANP, had treated the renaming of North-West Frontier Province as a non-issue. But after the resolution of the provincial assembly in favour of the name "Pakhtunkhwa," the issue had gradually entered all sections of Pakhtun society, including writers, journalists and intellectuals.
For political point-scoring, the PPP's Najmuddin Khan, the JUI-F's Akram Khan Durrani, the Jamaat-e-Islami's Pir Muhammad Khan, as well as the ANP itself, had made concerted efforts to get the resolution through the provincial assembly in 1997. Even the PML-N had paved the way for the resolution's passage. Ironically, except for two Pakhtuns, the Saifullah brothers, no one from Hazara, Dera Ismail Khan or Chitral had raised objections. The unanimous support had given the resolution political, democratic and moral sanctity.
Pakhtuns and non-Pakhtuns in the province have been living peacefully. Besides the Pashto-speaking majority living in Battagram and Mansehra in Hazara, most of the tribes in Hazara, like Mashwani, Tahirkheli, Swati, Tareen and Jadoon, are originally Pakhtun. In a recent example of Pakhtuns supporting non-Pakhtun chief ministers for the provincial assembly, the ANP in 1991 and 1997 backed Pir Sabir Shah and Sardar Mehtab, who are from Hazara.
There are reasons behind Hazara's sense of deprivation and alienation. First of all, people from the region feel as much aliens in the provincial capital, Peshawar, as a person from southern Punjab feels in Lahore. The distance from Peshawar, and the main route to Hazara division passing through another province, is among the other disadvantages for people in Hazara. Meanwhile, because of greater proximity and easier access, the people of Hazara division have more interaction with Islamabad and Punjab. But Punjab considers them as residents of a Pakhtun province, even though in Peshawar they are not accepted as Pakhtuns.
After the Pakhtunkhwa resolution, the turf war within the PML-N had compelled Sardar Mehtab Ahmed Khan to adopt a tougher stance. Resultantly, the ANP quit the coalition government. This hardening of political stances on both sides made the issue a matter of life and death for the parties. Since 1997, the ANP made the issue the main point in its political agenda, and in Hazara, the PML-N attracted public support for opposing the proposed name.
During the deliberations of the Parliamentary Committee on Constitutional Reforms (PCCR), the ANP and the PML-N committed the blunder of bringing the debate into the media and public discussion. The debate aroused sentiments for and against the proposed name among Pakhtuns and people in Hazara. The leadership of the ANP and the PML-N linked the passage of the 18th Amendment with the renaming issue. However, the mounting pressure on the two parties compelled them to accommodate each other, persuading the ANP to back down from its previous position and accept a hyphenated name and the PML-N to agree to the very inclusion of "Pakhtunkhwa."
However, "Khyber" does not relate either to Hazara and the other non-Pakhtun regions of the province. Besides, it is also the name of an agency in FATA.
The mistakes of the ANP and the PML-N provided the PML-Q and other parties with an opportunity to avenge their political defeat in Hazara and settle scores with the two parties. The PML-Q aroused people's emotions against the new name, which resulted in looting and other forms of violence by those who wanted to vent their anger against the PML-N. The killings and injuries caused among protesters fuelled the anger and the PML-Q skilfully turned the mood against Pakhtuns. This raised ethnic tensions in the region and in the province.
Instead of trying to calm the situation, the ANP government behaved in a way that further inflamed emotions and created more opportunities for the PML-Q to play its dirty politics. After agreement on the new name, the ANP government should have sent a jirga of elders to Hazara division to cool down emotions there. Instead, it opted to celebrate the "victory" by illuminating buildings in major cities and towns in a province which daily suffers from more than 18 hours of loadshedding.
While the PPP, which is a coalition partner in the provincial government, has become a silent spectator, the JUI-F and other political parties played a negative role in the episode. Akram Khan Durrani, a right-hand man of Maulana Fazlur Rehman, was the mover of the Pakhtunkhwa resolution in the provincial assembly. In PCCR deliberations, the JUI-F did not oppose the name Pakhtunkhwa. But now Azam Swati, a close friend of Maulana Fazlur Rehman, is actively supporting the protests in Hazara.
Sirajul Haq of the Jamaat-e-Islami had proposed five names in the provincial assembly, including Pakhtunistan and Pakhtunkhwa, with none of the other three mentioning Hazara. Meanwhile, the Jamaat's central media coordinator, Sajjad Qamar, stated that his party was not against "Pakhtunkhwa." But the Jamaat-e-Islami's leadership in Hazara is taking an active part in the protests against the new name.
Those who propose "Pakhtunkhwa" being removed from the new name ignore the likelihood of the protests spreading to Pakhtun-dominated districts of the province.
Out of necessity, Hazara may be added to the new name. As far as the demands for the creation of Hazara and other provinces are concerned, that is not a bad proposal. But in this emotionally charged environment, demands for a new province should be postponed for the time being. As to the question of how to determine course and create political consensus for the redrawing of the existing provincial boundaries, this will be discussed in future columns.
The writer works for Geo TV. Email: email@example.com
I. THE NEWS
FIGHTING ONE'S OWN PEOPLE
For much of history, most of the world's peoples lived as subjects under despotic emperors, kings and princes. The monarch's will was all that mattered -- there was no rule of law. It's only in the last century that significant numbers of people became citizens with political rights.
Until the Modern Age, governments made no distinction between proper armed services and the police. Soldiers rounded up suspected criminals, who were tried by judges loyal to the monarch.
In India, the military-police distinction was clearly established during the colonial period. But even before it could get consolidated after Independence, new paramilitary entities emerged: the reconstituted Central Reserve Police Force and its state variants, the Border Security Force, Indo-Tibetan Border Police, Rapid Action Force, National Security Guards, etc. The paramilitary forces are the fastest-growing component of India's security/police personnel.
Nevertheless, there's a clear, healthy line of demarcation between the paramilitary forces and the armed services; the former report to the home ministry, the latter to the defence ministry. The paramilitaries are meant for internal security; the armed services for external threats.
The consensus has been that the paramilitary forces must be "non-military in culture, ethos and training". Unlike the defence services, they are not meant to inflict maximum damage on adversaries, only to contain them so they can be brought to justice.
Today, security hawks and self-styled insurgency specialists want to treat Naxalism or Maoism as an insurgency, like militarist separatism in Kashmir or the Northeast, and to fight it as a combat operation. This means militarising the paramilitary forces in the anti-Naxal Operation Green Hunt by raising the standard of training and permissible force levels.
This is one toxic effect of the Maoist killing of 76 CRPF personnel in Dantewada district of the state of Chhattisgarh.
The April 6 killing was luridly described by the media as "war", "massacre" and "butchery". TV anchors exhorted the public to "take sides" between the Indian state, democracy and the Tricolour, on the one hand, and the forces of subversion, lawlessness and violence, on the other. All distinctions between gun-wielding Maoists, sympathisers of justice for tribals, civil liberties activists, and even Gandhians, were erased.
If you are not with the Indian state, you are with the Maoists -- as their accomplices and collaborators. The hysterical message was: "Shoot first, think later".
Top government functionaries, from Home Minister P Chidambaram down to state directors-general of police, responded uniformly to this: Dantewada marks a historic watershed and an act of war by the extremists who want to destroy the state; the state must respond by stepping up the scope and level of force.
So, threatened Chidambaram, the state could consider using air power against the Maoists, for which there's no mandate so far. Talks with the Maoists are firmly ruled out, as that would "mock the supreme sacrifice made by 76 jawans".
Such intemperate responses, coupled with the quasi-self-incriminating admission that "something went drastically wrong" in the CRPF-state police "area domination" exercise, don't speak of maturity, sobriety or wisdom. Rather, they are reminiscent of President George W Bush's Global War on Terror as his knee-jerk response to 9/11 -- which has since led to tens of thousands of civilian deaths, chaos in Afghanistan, huge discontent in the Islamic world, widespread loss of the US' credibility, and a seven-fold rise in terrorist incidents globally.
Escalating Green Hunt will inflict enormous damage upon innocent civilians in the tribal belt, three lakhs of whom have been displaced by unremitting violence by the police and paramilitary forces and by the super-criminalised state-funded militia called Salwa Judum.
Three questions arise. Can the Maoists' Dantewada attack be justified? Is the state right to unleash 60,000-plus paramilitary troops on them, which will inevitably cause huge civilian casualties? Is there a sensible strategy to deal with the Maoists?
First, the CRPF men were combatants, and hence legitimate targets in a conflict situation. But the attack's scale is unjustifiable -- morally, politically or militarily. It wasn't a spontaneous defensive response to Green Hunt or to the horrendous state of iniquity in the tribal belt. Wanton, large-scale killing violates the principles of military necessity and proportionality (of retaliation), which are central to all conflicts.
The Maoists, who claim to defend the underprivileged and to stand for justice and equality, discredit themselves by such brutal acts, including the reported beheading of two CRPF men.
These will invite horrible retaliation against those very Adivasis they claim to defend. This is reportedly already happening through revenge killings by the CRPF in Mukram village. Nor will such attacks destabilise the state. They may at best demoralise the Green Hunt troops -- temporarily.
Let's put it bluntly. Given the paramilitary forces' poor general literacy, skills and basic proficiency -- maybe slightly better than the regular police -- they won't perform better in the short run. And there are so many joining the paramilitaries that their leadership have enough cannon fodder and needn't train them well.
For instance, the ambushed CRPF company ignored the Standard Operating Procedure of guarding their camp and returning to it by a route different from the way they left it.
That brings us to the civil war that the state has launched in the tribal belt to privatise its vast wealth in forests, minerals and land. Hundreds of memoranda of understanding have been signed with groups like Vedanta, Posco and Tatas for mining leases. A tonne of iron ore which sells for Rs4,000 yields a paltry royalty of Rs27. To implement the MoUs, the state has displaced lakhs of vulnerable people and destroyed rivers, mountains and forests.
Such implementation involves flagrant conflicts of interest. High state functionaries, including Chidambaram, have been directors of some of these companies or legally represented them. Supreme Court judges who own their shares have heard cases involving them.
Enforcing neoliberalism entails coercion of people who resist displacement and dispossession. This further consolidates the condition of social servitude and economic bondage prevalent in India, reflected in acute deprivation, malnourishment and hunger. Thus, war-like violence is built into the very logic of neoliberalism.
The greatest crime a democratic state can commit is to wage war against its own citizens. India is using the Maoist "threat" as a cover or excuse for Green Hunt -- actually a war to fulfil its larger neoliberal agenda.
Finally, the question of correctly dealing with the Maoists. They enjoy some popular credibility because the state preys upon the people. The state must be reformed through a human-centred development agenda. Entitlements must be created to food, safe drinking water, healthcare, education, and employment. The absence of this agenda for 60 years bred Naxalism. Trying to wipe out the Maoists before undertaking development is putting the cart before the horse.
This doesn't argue that the government should tolerate the Maoists' violent acts. It should treat them as crimes. It should prosecute the Naxalites, not accuse them of political-military offences like waging war.
This means revitalising the police and the justice delivery system, and establishing the rule of law by breaking the bureaucracy-contractor-forester-miner nexus, while opening a dialogue with Maoists for a ceasefire and more. That alone will restore the people's confidence in the state and give them a sense of belonging.
The writer, a former newspaper editor, is a researcher and peace and human-rights activist based in Delhi. Email: prafulbidwai1 @yahoo.co.in
I. THE NEWS
VIOLENCE IN OUR UNIVERSITIES
DR SOHAIL MAHMOOD
Pakistani universities are plagued with violence of a complex nature. It manifests itself in many forms and for a number of reasons. In some cases it is political while in others it is primarily ethnic. Whatever its nature, on-campus violence is one of the reasons why the overall academic performance is pathetic at our universities and other higher-education institutions.
Perhaps the worst example of this is Punjab University, where the Islami Jamiat-e-Talaba, the youth wing of the Jamaat-e-Islami, has been dominant since the 1980s. The recent beating up of Dr Iftikhar Hussain Baloch, chairman of the university's disciplinary committee, by Jamiat students has been widely condemned. The Pakistan Federation of University Academic Associations launched a protest movement against the incident.
In a similar incident in February registrar Ubaid Ranjha of the National University of Modern Languages (NUML), a retired brigadier, beat up faculty member Tahir Malik. The strong reaction around the country against the violence ultimately led to Mr Ranjha's dismissal.
Islamabad's Quaid-e-Azam University has seen ugly incidents of ethnic violence, in which lives were lost. Ethnic violence has also been witnessed at Karachi University, as well in other universities in Sindh, and in Balochistan and NWFP.
Pakistani universities do not have peace because they are wracked by politics.
The penetration of Punjab University by the Jamaat-e-Islami did not happen by chance. This entry of the Jamiat there was a part of the Jamaat's ideology which aims at creating a new Islamic state in Pakistan for the transformation of the country's society on the Jamaat's own model. Apart from its electoral politics, the Jamaat believes in capturing institutions from within through effective activism. There have been similar attempts by the Jamiat at Karachi University.
It is not only the Jamaat that is involved in student politics, however.
Zulfikar Ali Bhutto sought, and received, students' support for his Islamic socialism movement in the late 1960s. Later, the Left was pitched against the Right in Punjab University. This polarisation of student politics, faculty, and administration, and the resulting violence, was the dominant phenomenon of student politics during the 1970s.
After Mr Bhutto's execution in 1979, the military regime of Gen Zia-ul-Haq pandered to the Jamaat-e-Islami and sought its help in building a political force against the PPP. It is for this purpose alone that Gen Zia supported the Islami Jamiat-e-Talaba during the early years of his rule, and in turn received support from the Jamaat-e-Islami.
Later, the Jamaat turned against Gen Zia for various reasons. But by now the Jamiat-e-Talaba had became entrenched in Punjab University, receiving support not only from the student but also the faulty and administration.
It was primarily Gen Zia's politics of isolating the PPP by supporting the party's ideological rivals like the Jamaat that sowed the seeds of violence at the university. In November 2007, Tehrik-e-Insaaf leader Imran Khan was roughed up by Jamiat students during a visit to the Punjab University campus.
Universities and colleges have prospered in the developed countries because the institutions have taken effective measures to ensure peace and thereby make the environment conducive to learning and research.
The United States rose to become the pre-eminent power it is because of its emphasis on higher education. In other words, the strength of the United States is derived from its educational institutions. American universities, considered some of the best in the world, are islands of peace.
For the same reason, Japan is an excellent example of how a nation which had been backward not much before the advent of the 20th century became a global leader in higher education. Japan is the second-biggest economy in the world.
China is now focusing on building a world-class university system. Even India, which now boasts a number of world-class universities, has achieved excellence in important disciplines like engineering and technology.
Reforms are urgently needed for the improvement of standards in Pakistani educational institutions. But before Pakistan embarks on a meaningful process of educational reforms, it will have to rid its universities and colleges of violence. We really have little choice in the matter.
Let all political parties sign a new compact whereby they pledge to ensure that peace prevails on our campuses. Let this matter be debated by them openly and dispassionately. In fact, a new civil society movement will have to be launched for the attainment of the objective of violence-free educational institutions in Pakistan.
The writer is a professor at NUML. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
I. THE NEWS
ONE STEP AT A TIME
The writer is a lawyer based in Islamabad.
Restoring judges will not reduce the cost of roti or petrol, the real problems of the people of Pakistan -- many had quipped earlier last year. We are now being asked if fixing a deformed constitution turn electricity back on or miraculously address the problem of mal-governance. If Raja Pervaiz Ashraf cannot get his act together and confront the energy crisis that we face, should we allow all other structural and institutional issues to fester? If the ruling parties have no inclination or ability to select clean and competent folks to serve as part of the executive, should all other institutions pack up as well because their functions supposedly touch people less directly on an everyday basis?
Why is there a sense that there must only be one thing that the entire country and all its institutions and citizens should be focused on at any given time? A victory in the T20 World Cup doesn't reduce the price of sugar and yet we celebrate it for a day or two. Why should we belittle the need for or effort required to reform the fundamental law and our legislative framework just because the concept of rule of law is still in a state of infancy and a yawning gap exists between the theory and the practice of laws? The challenge of implementing the law faithfully is urgent and formidable no doubt. But it is one separate from the need for law-making on an ongoing basis.
The restoration of judges and the evolution of an independent judiciary was a miracle. Has it provided instant justice to all aggrieved parties across Pakistan? No. But are we better of today than we were before? Absolutely. Has the 18th Constitutional Amendment made our constitution perfect? No. Could more have been done? Absolutely. But does the fundamental law of Pakistan provide a better framework to organise our political, economic and social relations after this change. Yes, it does.
Most countries set a super-majority requirement to amend their constitutions, as does ours. The idea is to ensure that there is overwhelming support, if not unanimous approval, for a change that binds the country and its people. The consequence of this safety clause is that constitutional reform and its output is never ahead of the curve that defines evolving social consensus within a polity. Given that the constitution is an organic document that is supposed to reflect the evolving ethics and aspirations of a changing society, constitutional reform is a continuous process by definition.
What the 18th Amendment has done in large part is document the majoritarian consensus that already existed in Pakistan. It doesn't take away the need or desire for a 19th Amendment. And it is in this backdrop that its content should to be scrutinised. There are three kinds of criticisms attracted by the 18th Amendment: one, that while the country is going to the dogs, who cares about a constitution that gets thrown out by a khaki every few years anyways; two, that the content of the 18th Amendment is misconceived or even malfeasant and will leave the country worse of; and three, that the reform doesn't go far enough.
There is no cure for cynicism. And as elixir for those unable to take pleasure in small mercies or those convinced that one step at a time can never lead to bigger and better things has not yet been found, we will have to leave the first criticism aside for now. The third criticism is legitimate. More could be done. The indiscriminate immunity afforded to the president and governors under Article 248 and the divine authority to issue pardons under Article 45 need to be expunged from our constitution. We will also be as a nation excluding constitutional provisions that reek of obscurantism and religious intolerance. These are definitely battles worth fighting and we'll hopefully fight them another day.
With regard to the second set of criticisms, some objections to substantive provisions of the 18th Amendment are convincing. These include opposition to the removal of the constitutional requirement to hold party elections, denying parliamentarians the right to vote on constitutional amendments according to their wisdom and conscience, and strengthening the dictatorial powers of eternal party heads. These are all manifestations of the seemingly incurable autocratic mindset of our ruling elite.
It is the same mindset that led to the horrid 13th Amendment (which barred parliamentarians from voting on any kind of legislation against party wishes and was supported by all political parties) or excluded any mention of the dire need for reforms in political parties from the Charter of Democracy. This political mindset is also nurtured by the intolerance that pervades our society and allows no room for dissent. The introduction of effective democracy within political parties and tolerance within the society will happen incrementally, but only if we continue to demand it and struggle for it consciously.
The other criticism that the judicial appointment mechanism will weaken an independent judiciary is completely unworthy. Essentially four judges (three serving and one retired) will have the authority to select judges under the new arrangement. It is hard to fathom how judicial independence will be undermined merely because they will have to consult with the attorney general, the law minister and a bar council rep. The Supreme Court Bar Association has vowed to resist the new improved mechanism. This is unfortunate. It is time for lawyers to return to formal ways of disagreement and dissent and shun agitational politics that was required during the lawyers' movement but not anymore.
And finally, (and with due respect to Mr Asif Ezdi and his generally convincing opinion) the argument that abolition of the Concurrent List is ill-advised and will weaken the country is also misconceived. Running through the 47 subjects presently included in the Concurrent List, there isn't one (other than environment perhaps) that would preferably belong with the federal government. In any event, inter-provincial matters and coordination has been included into the federal legislative list that vests wide authority in parliament to legislate on issues and subjects requiring coordination between all provinces.
The opposition to decentralisation of power to provinces has its genesis in two trains of thought. The first is the alarmist view conceived within a 'security state' paradigm that giving up powers to federating units will reduce the ability of the center to control provinces and could allow foreign hands to ferment trouble in places like Balochistan for example. The second is the paternalistic view akin to the white man's burden that the center has to look out for provinces, as they can't independently know wherein their true good lies. Both are fundamentally anti-democratic.
As a matter of principle, decentralisation of power is welcome. Wider distribution of power while keeping in place sensibly sized administrative units is the most effective measure to prevent its abuse. As a matter of policy, devolving power and simultaneously building institutional capacities to effectively exercise it brings government closer to people and leads to citizen empowerment and more efficient and accountable service delivery. And as a matter of history, India had to be divided in 1947 because Muslims feared that their rights would not be protected in a united country wherein they form a permanent minority.
The Bengalis felt that West Pakistan was abusing their rights and resources and consequently Pakistan split-up in 1971. We are aware of currents of discontent presently running across smaller provinces. The desire to 'control' directly rather than delegate authority leads to rigidity and not necessarily strength. And that in turn weakens a federation comprising diverse communities rather than bind it together. What we need is more devolution and not less, together with a greater recognition of the independent cultural identity of minority communities such as Hazaras and Seraikis within our constitutional framework.
I. THE NEWS
WHO KILLED BB?
The UN report has woefully failed to answer 'Whodunit'. The 65-page narrative is a replay of events that we already know by heart. Ask an 11-year-old who is responsible for Benazir Bhutto's death and he'll say "Musharraf government." Elementary, my dear Watson, as the detective Sherlock Holmes would say to his assistant, when explaining deductions he had made.
But the UN is not a detective agency that hires sleuths to nail the killer/killers? The UN hires ambassadors in three-piece suits, dandy ties and designer shoes who would never deign to dirty their nails digging through piles and piles of soiled paper to reach the pit where truth hides. (One is told the Chilean ambassador leading the BB investigation is an archetypal diplomat narcissistically keen on photo-ops.)
And it was for this exact reason that our two ace Foreign Office men advised Zardari against rushing to the UN Security Council requesting help. The then foreign secretary and our permanent representative in the UN at New York didn't want the UN Security Council to constitute a commission bracketing Pakistan with countries like Rwanda, Lebanon and former Yugoslavia where the UN had set up commissions. "Nothing ever comes out, except being in the spotlight all the time", the two men had warned.
Their notes of dissension cost them their jobs. An angry Zardari lashed out during an interview with a private TV channel "Munir Akram [our UN man in New York] and all these people [our foreign secretary Riaz Mohammad Khan] are inflexible, lack thinking and if Pakistani bureaucracy and establishment had a vision, Pakistan would not be in the state as it is today."
While Zardari spared Pakistan's humiliation by not classifying us with the likes of Rwanda, Sudan and Afghanistan, he instead commissioned (at a hefty taxpayers' cost) the UN to investigate.
During my background interviews with knowledgeable sources here and in the US, I came away convinced that there exists a pool of people who if asked can provide tangible leads to the murder. "How do you expect foreigners to piece the puzzle just in a few months when they know nothing about our mysteries, intricacies and secrets that are arcane and esoteric?"
While unravelling the inscrutable script provided by intelligence agencies and the police of that time, we have a set of brains [if only someone would care to look] whose job and career have been to connect the dots and come to a conclusion. I mean our Foreign Office.
It mans 'desks' and 'divisions' devoted to different regions/countries of the world with a handle on a country's geography, history, politics, economy, international relations and current affairs. Why not brainstorm them? Listen, we have to move beyond Al Qaeda and Baitullah Mehsud [who by the way said he did not believe in killing women when Musharraf calmly passed the blame on him echoed by the then CIA head and President George W Bush within 24 hours of BB's assassination.]
How did the three men know?
"The first rule of thumb when investigating murder is: who stands to benefit most?" a source asked a panel. The question got many answers. Good. We should take all of them and rip them apart. Maybe we'll see the image of the murderer. At the risk of repeating myself, I wrote in this same space only two weeks ago about the editor of a Washington daily receiving a phone call three days before BB's arrival in Karachi not to accompany her as he would get killed. I also mentioned the book by our crime reporter Shakeel Anjum titled Who assassinated Benazir Bhutto. There were some other leads mentioning Condi Rice, Zalmay Khalilzad and the Saudi and UAE intelligence chiefs.
Well today's headline in Inner City Press says it all: 'Condi Rice and Saudi spy chief refused to talk with UN Bhutto panel. No Khalilzad Either.' The New York-based investigative reporter, Matthew Russell Lee, pounded Chile's UN ambassador with questions about the three crucial witnesses. In the end Munoz admitted he was denied interviews by all three. "The findings could [also] have implications for the Pakistan's military," adds Jonathan S Landay of McClatchy Newspapers.
Email: anjumniaz@rocketmail .com
BB'S MURDER: VAGUE UN REPORT
THOSE who had pinned hopes on the UN inquiry into the tragic assassination of former Prime Minister and PPP leader Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto must have received shock of their life. The much-publicized report, released by the three member panel of the UN Commission of Inquiry on Thursday, miserably failed to unmask those who committed the dastardly act and deprived people of Pakistan of a great visionary leader.
The 65-page report is a sort of joke as it deals with only generalities and produced nothing substantial to give any idea as to who and how and why she was eliminated. It only blames former Government and that too in respect of its failure to provide necessary security to the former Prime Minister. Again, instead of finding out the truth, the report only refers to a spate of rumours and conspiracy theories that exist about the circumstances surrounding her tragic killing. It merely reiterates what is already known to each and every citizen of this country hasty hosing of the area of the bomb blast, failure to conduct post-mortem, deficient PPP security plan on the day and an attempt to apportion blame on Baitullah Mehsud the very next day of the incident. One fails to understand that if this was to be the outcome then what was the need to spend huge sums and waste time and energy. Was it because of the nature of the terms of reference for the probe body or deliberate attempt on the part of some quarters to misdirect the investigations? Earlier too, upon insistence from different circles the then Government allowed Scotland Yard to carry out investigations but at that time too nothing could be unearthed by the professionals of the globally known investigating agency. The UN Commission was a high profile body and people were expecting that it would come out with facts in an unbiased and neutral manner but alas that proved to be a dream. Benazir Bhutto was a great and popular leader imbued with God-gifted qualities of leadership and her assassination was a huge loss to the country. But regrettably, her assassination would remain an enigma like those of Bahawalpur air crash, killing of first Prime Minister Liaquat Ali Khan and Ojhri blasts. When the UN shifts responsibility for criminal investigations on to the Pakistan Government, it necessarily means hands up. It is also regrettable that the report has complained of obstruction in the way of access to senior military and civil officials whereas members of the Commission were allowed to meet military and civilian leadership. The report has also once again confirmed that foreign or international investigation bodies are no better than our own police and agencies. We should, therefore, trust our professionals and institutions and give them free hand to probe such tragedies without fear, favour or pressure.
MOTHER NATURE APPEARS TO BE ANNOYED
THERE have been several natural calamities in different parts of the world in recent times. Apart from earthquakes that shook Pakistan, Turkey, Iran and Haiti and tsunami and floods that hit several countries clearly show that Mother Nature is annoyed with the man. The latest in the series is the violent volcanic eruption in the Iceland which spewed clouds of ash into the air for a second day on Thursday, blanketing large parts of the Nordic country with the potentially toxic dust and disrupting air traffic across northern Europe.
The eruption forced authorities to close down London's five major airports that handle over 1200 flights and one hundred and eighty thousand passengers a day. This coupled with problems like global warming, environmental degradation, pollution, excessive rains and flash floods and in some parts of the globe drought is a clear testimony that the man has made Mother Nature unhappy. No one can say with Surety why it is so but it is pertinent to note that the inhabitants of the planet Earth are interfering grossly with the natural system. Perhaps because of its inquisitive nature, the man is engaged in experiments that amount to crossing of limits. Cloning, intrusion into upper space and above all mad race for having weapons of mass destruction and imposition of wars on weaker nations also fall within this category. Similarly, there is more stress on materialism and people are forgetting spiritualism or what the Creator has ordained to them. This is time to ponder for scholars, intellectuals and researchers.
WHEN WILL WISDOM PREVAIL?
NEWS & VIEWS
During the last 63 years, relations between India and Pakistan have remained strained. Both countries have been diverting resources to military build up. Many rounds of talks were held after long hiatuses but to no avail due to India's intransigence. The composite dialogue, which was started in 2004, was stalled by India after 26/11Mumbai attacks. Otherwise also, there was no progress during the four years on the core issue of Kashmir, Siachin and Sir Creek. Since 26/11 Mumbai attacks, India has continued with the litany that masterminds of Mumbai attacks be brought to book, knowing full well that the accused are on trial in Rawalpindi court, and neither the government can take any action against any specific person unless there is incontrovertible evidence against him. Recently, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had gone to Washington to attend 47-nation summit for enhancing nukes security. Addressing a press conference there on Wednesday, he without taking names said that "people who were named as part of the conspirators in the Mumbai terror attack were still free in Pakistan and are roaming around freely."
He reiterated that "if Pakistan takes credible steps to bring the perpetrators of the horrible crime of 26/11 to book - and that's the minimum we expect - we would be very happy to begin talking once again about all our issues." Indian leadership has to understand that unless the Kashmir dispute is resolved, the people of Kashmir would continue their struggle. In the past, whenever the dialogue was about to reach its logical conclusion, India stage-managed an event and then through its propaganda blitz tried to prove Pakistan's involvement in it. In the past, India has always rejected any third-party mediation over Kashmir, yet it appeals to the US and the West to ask Pakistan to take action against terrorists. This is tantamount to inviting a third party to exert pressure on Pakistan. But India has to remember that 61 years ago the United Nations Security Council had passed resolutions giving the Kashmiris the right to join India or Pakistan through the plebiscite to be held under the aegis of the UN. The US, the western world and Muslim countries want India and Pakistan to resolve the Kashmir issue through dialogue because they believe that there is a dispute, otherwise what else has to be settled. Had they considered Kashmir a part of India, they would not have persuaded both the countries to resolve the issue.
India indeed takes full advantage of its size and plus one billion population/market, but these factors do not give India the right to reject UN Security Council resolutions. If big and strong countries are allowed to occupy smaller countries' lands and the UN fails to implement its own resolutions, it will meet the same fate that of the League of Nations. And perhaps a world war will be 'necessary' before international community survivors from nuclear war would sit across the table to create another organization on the ruins of the United Nations. In November 2009, Indian Home Minister P Chidambaram had warned Pakistan not to play with India by covertly sponsoring terrorists. Addressing a public meeting in Madurai he had said: "The Mumbai attacks of November 2008 should be Pakistan's last game. I have warned the country not to play with India." These comments from the Union Home Minister came just three days after Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had expressed his wish to maintain friendly relationship with Pakistan and wanted to start the dialogue without any precondition.
Timely and correct policy decisions by Pakistan have successfully countered India's threats and insidious plans to make Pakistan's security environment perilous in the wake of international situation that emerged after 9/11. Despite Pakistan's best efforts to create climate conducive to resolution of disputes with India, the latter neither budged an inch from its stated position on Kashmir, nor addressed Pakistan's reservations with regard to Baglihar and other dams. Pakistan had then taken the matter to the World Bank by invoking article IX of the 1960 Indus Basin Water Treaty, which bars India from the construction of dams on rivers Chenab, Jhelum and Indus, and interfering with the flow of water to Pakistan. India's stance was that the project was hydroelectric generation project, and the withheld water would be released to Pakistan after using it for power generation. One does not have to be an engineer to know that with the construction of the reservoir the flow of water will definitely be disturbed.
The then Foreign Minister Pranab Mukherjee had demanded of Pakistan "to dismantle the infrastructure of terrorism and return Indian fugitives hiding in the country. It should fulfill its commitments and must take action against terrorists operating from its soil". He also said that option of unilateral attack was open. There was also some loose talk of carpet bombing by the hawks. Perhaps Indian leadership was under the wrong impression that Pakistan would take it lying down. India should not forget that it is not a super power and not a partner in war on terror. Nor Pakistan is Iraq or Afghanistan that any country can do the carpet bombing as was demanded by some irresponsible elements in India. Later, Congress Chief Sonia Gandhi had said India was capable of giving a befitting reply to those using Pakistan and for abetting and perpetrating terrorism against it. After 26/11 terrorist attacks, there was talk of surgical strikes in Pakistan one in Azad Kashmir and the other one at Muridke, the headquarters of Jamat-ud-Dawa and once again vowed that the option for unilateral action is still open. There has been tremendous hype in Indian media, which displayed people's anger on Mumbai carnage.
In Pakistan, there have been hundreds of terrorists' attacks but Pakistani government and media never tried to create hype, frenzy or hatred against India. This means that people of Pakistan want peace and hope that better sense will prevail in India also. But had there been any surgical strike by India, the people of Pakistan would also have demanded retaliation. And there should be no confusion that Pakistan would have retaliated with full force. India should bear in mind that Pakistan is also a nuclear state, and war between two nuclear states is not the option. But it does not mean that India could continue showing utter disregard to the UN resolutions. Former president Pervez Musharraf had presented many out of box solutions to resolve the Kashmir dispute, and had expressed willingness to go beyond the stated position provided India reciprocated. But India wants to extend its hegemony over countries of South Asia and beyond, but in the presence of China, it is not possible for India to be even a regional super power. It should therefore reconcile with the neighbours and resolve all issues with them so that people of the region could live without trepidation and fear.
GOD-GAP IN STATE AFFAIRS
DR S M RAHMAN
My article "Is Secularism that Sacrosanct?" (In local newspaper) triggered quite an 'intellectual storm.' I am leaving aside the positive ones. The negative comments have centered mostly on the fallacious assumptions that most of my quotes were out of context; the value of religion is not denied, and that Quaid-e-Azam was very clear about secularism (according to 11th August speech). Why was Objective Resolution incorporated after the death of Quaid-e-Azam, etc. Moreover, the halva eating MMP leaders riding Pajeros are calling the shots, while the poor are dying. (Th Uthaal)
I owe no apology for the Mullahs, I do feel that they have not interpreted Islam in the right progressive spirit, but there are also Anglophiles who are greedy and rapacious equally to be blamed for devaluing our own values and accepting the West as the model to imitate. My quotations were very specific to the preposition that Christianity adopted "dualism", i.e., separation of Church from the State, and as it was a natural reaction against Church, which had propounded the divine right to rule as representing the will of God. I have not only included the historical antecedents but a very cogent argument by Allama Iqbal, as to why Islam discards "dualism". Secularism in the West, is only conceptual in nature but truly speaking (except for Communist states, religion does influence the conduct of the state. It was the religious obligation of George Bush to follow the evangelists - whose state policies were to support Israel, as a religious obligation, to facilitate Christ's second coming and launch a war on 'terror' against Muslim countries. Bush used the word 'crusade' and later claimed it to be slip of the tongue. According to Freud, there is nothing like slip of tongue, it is unconsciously motivated expression. Islam is the target of USA and its allies, after the fall of Communism. It was used to defeat former USSR and the same Taliban and radical Islamists were eulogized. President Reagan had invited some of the radicals in the White House and had said that "they were the moral equivalents of Jefferson ." Now the table has turned, these very radicals are to be eliminated as they are threat to the world, particularly USA . No Afghani or Iraqi nourishes any ambition to do harm to USA . I am simply stating that 'religion' is not a taboo in the affairs of state. Who committed the holocaust against the Jews in Germany ? Were they Muslims or the Christians? Why were Bosnian Muslims mercilessly butchered? and in Kosovo, all terrors were let loose, including rape of women, only because they were Muslims. Not one of them was a radical extremist. Europe could not reconcile to having a Muslim country in its midst. Why is Turkey being denied membership in EU? If it is not for religion, what else it is?
There is an article in the most prestigious US Journal, Foreign Affairs (Sep-Oct 2006), by Walter Russell Mead. An extract from the article God's Country? "Religion has always been a major force in US politics, policy, identity and culture. Religion shapes the nation's character, helps from American's ideas about the world and influence the ways Americans respond to events beyond borders. Religion explains both Americans' sense of themselves as chosen people and to their belief how they have a duty to spread their values throughout the world. (P-24)About the inclusion of Objective Resolution, it was included as a preamble to the Constitution a sort of Meta theoretical orientation. Every country has an ideological orientation. Even 'Secularism' is an ideology.
David Apter in his book 'Ideology and Discontent' very aptly says: "No part of human race has even been known to exist without a system of such convictions and it is clear that their absence would mean intellectual annihilation." Making it a substantive part was Gen Ziaul Haq's doing and making it the polemical.Now, the contention that Quaid-e-Azam was a "Secularist" is only true in the sense that the citizens will not be discriminated against an account of their religion. He was surely averse to a theocratic interpretation of Islam. In a broadcast speech to the people of United States of America in February 1948, he said: "I do not know what the ultimate shape of the Constitution is going to be but I am sure that it will be of democratic type embodying the basic principles of Islam. Today they are applicable in actual life as they were 1300 years ago. It has taught equality of man, justice and fairplay to everybody."One must never ignore what Quaid-e-Azam had very emphatically asserted: " Pakistan is the embodiment of the Muslim nation and so it must remain. That unity, we as true Muslims must jealously guard and preserve. If we begin to think ourselves as Bengalis, Punjabis first, and Muslims and Pakistanis only incidentally, then Pakistan is bound to disintegrate." How prophetic!!
Farakh Khan supports Ishtiaq Ahmad, Daily Times, March 9, 2010) and Amendment for a secular Constitution by Babar Ayaz (Daily Times Feb 2010, as very convincing pieces. In other words, Pakistani Constitution should be out rightly 'secular' in nature. It will amount to a great historical betrayal and Quaid-e-Azam's demand for Pakistan based on two-nation theory would become a flawed concept. If he were secular, he would not have accepted to be the President of Muslim League.The 1973 Constitution in its original form truly reflects the Muslim ethos to carve out a state where the minorities will have equal rights, opportunities and privileges. State however cannot enact a law which is unethical, immoral and contrary to the 'Deen' of Islam. For instance, waging war on Iraq based on a concocted lie that it possessed weapons of mass destruction and causing deaths of innocent citizens, men, women and children and unashamedly dismissing it as collateral damage, is not permissible in Islam. The neocons war for control of oil wealth of Muslim countries is cunningly concealed as 'War on Terror'. This is typical Machiavellian strategy.
Many historical examples can be cited of immorality on the part of the USA , which had waged wars just to change regimes, not acceptable to them. Chiles ' popularly elected leader was ousted through a coup, master minded by Henry Kissinger on 9/11 (year was 1973). He was also the author of National Security Memorandum (NSSM 2003) which"asserted Anglo-American cold war ownership of the planets strategic raw materials wealth and aggressive corollary doctrine of drastic population reduction through war, disease, famine all targeted at the Third World (Executive Intelligence Review Jan 13, 2006, Vol. 33, No. 2).
George Kennon, the Guru of all US strategists and the main proponent of the concept of Containment. His secret memo of Feb 1948 states: "We have about 50 per cent of the world's wealth, but only 6.3 per cent of its population In this situation, we cannot fail to be the object of envy and resentment. Our real task in the coming period is to devise a pattern of relationships which will permit us to maintain this position of disparity without positive detriment to our national security."
The so called Clash of Civilizations, a construct contrived by Bernard Lewis Zbigniew Brezezinski and Samuel Huntington, was typical of imperial drive to take control over Eurasian mainland's economy, sequel to the end of Cold War. It was based on the contention that a global imperial power would not be possible without controlling the in
OBAMA'S AMBITIOUS COMPROMISE
SYED MUHAMMAD ALI
They say that democracy is a compromise. But sometimes these compromises are unpopular and politically costly or both. That is why marketing these compromises to the polity is a cumbersome but necessary occupation for most democracies. Sometimes these compromises are made with the opposition, sometimes with other states and sometimes with both. The upcoming 'New START' and Nuclear Security Summit are two such compromises, which the US are making with both the Republicans and the Russians, while the world strategic community is holding its breath. Due to be held in the next few days in Washington DC, these two events, coupled with the Nuclear Posture Review, are expected to formalize and eventually launch President Obama's ambitious initiative of a 'Global Zero', leading to the anticipated reduction of nuclear weapons and their delivery systems.
The Republican senators are calling both these events, as two big compromises that US can do without and three powerful Congressmen, including former Presidential hopeful John McCain, are lobbying hard within top military ranks to put pressure on the White House to ensure, that in return for a substantial reduction in the Russian nuclear arsenal, Obama Administration must not sell its new symbol of sustained US commitment to Western European security, the ABM shield. Such symbols are useful bargaining chips in Brussels, particularly when most NATO member states, including right-leaning Nicholas Sarkozy led France, are wriggling out of their commitment to contribute to the Afghan troops surge. The Russians have been openly critical of the US Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) shield in Europe, not only because the shield could be effective against Non-Iranian Intermediate Range Ballistic Missiles (IRBMs) but also to weaken US standing within NATO, which is dragging its feet on Afghanistan to put pressure on Washington to revert back to NATO's original agenda of protecting Europe as its long-term core interest. But the toughest battleground for 'New START' is at home.
The Nuclear Zero is not a new or radical idea and three years ago, in January 2007, Reagan's secretary of state George Shultz; Nixon's and Ford's secretary of state, Henry Kissinger; Clinton's secretary of defense Bill Perry; and the former chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee Sam Nunn, jointly called for a nuclear-weapons-free world in an article published in The Wall Street Journal. This article created the window of opportunity for both democrat and Republican lawmakers to openly debate its pros and cons.
According to the latest World Nuclear Stockpile Report complied by the Federation of American Scientists, currently the world has 23,300 nuclear weapons of which 8,190 are maintained in an operational or ready-to-use status. On April 8, the US and Russian Presidents will sign a new arms-control treaty with Russia, called the 'New START', which will set new limits on US and Russian warheads and launch platforms, lowest ever agreed. But despite Democrat-led euphoric attempt to paint it as a landmark event, it is not certain that in a polarized Congress, it will gain the two-third majority, needed to ratify the treaty, particularly when the looming mid-term offers Republicans a golden opportunity to weaken Obama on the Capital Hill for his sobering Afghan policy and blame him for using Nuclear Zero only as a political diversion from serious domestic issues such as poor economy and dismal unemployment rates hovering around ten percent. Republican Senator from Arizona Jon Kyl, has already demanded to know whether the "New START" treaty represents "a new era in global arms control or unilateral disarmament by the US." It remains to be seen how long can moderate Congressman like Lugar blunt the pressure from hawkish Republicans who want to weaken Obama, by distancing themselves from bi-partisan efforts, which the Democrats could later use to salvage votes by sharing the blame on dicey issues.
Ironically, Obama's stiffest opposition is not from the Republicans but the very people who make and safeguard US nuclear weapons. Many US nuclear scientists believe that American nuclear systems are aging, raising questions about the reliability of bombs, planes, and missiles. The U.S. Senate did not ratify the 1996 Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT), and though the White House hopes for a 'favorable vote' on the CTBT during the current Obama term, the Republicans strongly believe that the United States needs to preserve the option of testing the reliability of old weapons or developing new ones. In January, the directors of America's three top nuclear laboratories told the US Congress that they couldn't be confident that stockpile stewardship would work indefinitely to guarantee America's arsenal. What it implies is that Nuclear weapon testing is still necessary. Wither CTBT!
Being the sole superpower puts peculiar limitations on disarmament ambitions of the US. Even if Obama wants, he can't cut America's arsenal as much as he might desire. A significant decline or depletion of US nuclear capability may accelerate the lobbies in nuclear threshold countries under the US nuclear umbrella like Japan to seriously consider developing its own nuclear deterrent. In view of growing regional tensions and provocation like the North Korean nuclear testing and rising China, how long can Tokyo resist the temptation of developing its 'sovereign deterrent', will seriously restrict the content of what might Washington want to offer Moscow in terms of 'substantial' nuclear disarmament. Obama administration's second front is Moscow.
The Russians conventional forces are a shadow of their Cold War era might and despite sustained effort to replenish its army, air force and navy, are increasingly dependent on nuclear weapons, both as an international and domestic status symbol and of course for their deterrent value. They are unlikely to agree to a major nuclear arsenal cut, without of course a major concession by the US, which irrespective of its content, could inevitably prove politically too costly for Obama administration, to retain democrat majority in the US Congress, beyond the mid-term elections.
Last spring, Obama declared in Prague that "in a strange turn of history, the threat of global war has gone down, but the risk of a nuclear attack has gone up." That could be true for Moscow and Washington, which according to the Federation of American Scientists and the Natural Resources Defense Council's latest estimates, jointly maintain 22,340 of the total 23,300 estimated nuclear warheads, held in both operational and dis-assembled forms. As per this assessment, only the US and Russian nuclear arsenals constitute almost 96 percent of the total nuclear weapons held by the whole world and all the other states' combined nuclear arsenals represent only 4 percent of the world's total nuclear weapons.
EDUCATION MATTER OF LIFE & DEATH OF NATIONS
ATIF NOOR KHAN
It is said that education makes people easy to lead, but difficult to drive; easy to govern, but impossible to enslave. Education is a companion which no misfortune can depress, no crime can destroy, no enemy can alienate, no despotism can enslave. It hastens vice, it guides virtue; it gives, at once, grace and government to genius. Without it, what is man? A splendid slave, a reasoning savage. An educated person understands the actual aim of life. Our own Prophet Hazrat Muhammad (SAW) told us that acquiring knowledge was a duty placed on each and every Muslim.
Hazrat Muhammad (SAW) said the example of guaidance and knowledge with which Allah has sent me is like abundant rain falling on the earth. Importance of education can be understood from an event, at the battle of Badar Muslims gained victory and seventy people pf the enemy rank were taken prisoner. These prisoners were literate people. The Prophet Hazrat Muhammad (SAW) declared that if one prisoner teaches ten Madinan children how to read and write, this will serve as his payment and he will be set free. This example shows education is to be received whatever the risk involved. Education and society provides a forum and it will raise the countryside issues and promote knowledge. Hazrat Ali (RA) said, live among people in a manner that when you die they weep over you while you are alive they crave for your company. Hazrat Ali (RA) knowledge enlivens the soul. To respect the learned is to respect God. Hazrat Ali (RA) said he who knows himself knows God. The strongest among you is he who subdues himself. Pakistan is an Islamic country and we are Muslims. We are all responsible that we tell moral values and right path to our youth. Now lets the talks of about the responsibilities of the scholars and teachers. The ink of the scholar is more sacred than the blood of the martyr. The scholars' role is very vital. The scholars have planted the seed of knowledge. The Holy Prophet (PBUH) said seek knowledge from even as far as China. Education is the first step towards the betterment of any society. The purpose of knowledge is to spread freedom and dignity, truth and justice. It's our duty builds youth along positive lines. Without the ethical and moral character building the task of building the character of folks who are astray. Knowledge is the key of our success. Education is the base of society. It is a gigantic and open field that is not limited. Its our duty tells the youth clear distinction between good and bad. Its need to utilize their capabilities and efforts accurately. So we need to work more to save our generation. Youth can change himself. To enable them to understand themselves. Because education makes us how to think in positive way and how to make decision with great courage. Our young generation need help to choose the right path for the future. Knowledge accordingly must be linked with values and goals. We should never lose hope and with the strong willpower, we can succeed. The function of our knowledge should be liberty, dignity, truth and honesty. Yawning integration in thought and feeling is required.
Today we need great personalities like, Quaid-e-Azam, Muhammad Bin Qasim and Tariq Bin Ziad. But with great sorrow our political leaders, feudal and bureaucrats sent their children to western countries for education and did not worry about the future of Pakistani youth. Our young generation is more energetic and knowledgeable. Our youngsters are full of talent and have the ability to take all kind of assignments. Improper guidance of youth is falling increasingly. Quaid-e-Azam said, Pakistan is proud of her youth, particularly the students, who are nation builders of tomorrow. They must fully equip themselves by discipline, education and training for the arduous task lying ahead of them. He said when you have got that light of knowledge by means of education and when you have made yourselves strong economically and industrially, and then you have got to prepared yourselves for your defense against external aggression and to maintain internal security.
Education should help us to break down our social and national barriers. At this time end depends on the self-interest leaders and representatives to make arrangements for their youth. Now the time has come that we get ride of those egotistic deceitful representatives. We frequently try hard to improve the quality of education. We ensure that our educational institutions and programmers achieve these goals, and put our student's education first. Knowledge gives us the power to govern ourselves. According to the vision of the father of the nation Pakistan was based on the concept of equal citizenship for all Pakistani. Irrespective of their color and creed and Pakistan had to facilitate by curbing corruption and partiality. Our youth are powerful so they apply themselves to work. We can help our youth in this work. It is necessary to guide youth in right direction. Through the education uplift their moral to enable them to revive the national character and to carry on the process of national strengthen. Keep in mind this if the youth lose their way or direction it would become very serious and perilous. Education is considered as the cheapest defence of a nation. But the down trodden condition of education in Pakistan bears an ample testimony of the fact that it is unable to defend its own sector. Though 62 years have been passed and 23 policies and action plans have been introduced yet the educational sector is waiting for an arrival of a saviour. The previous governments invested heavily in education sector and there is a visible positive educational change in Pakistani society.
The dubious educational system is among a number of problems that Individuals and groups face on daily basis. Despite huge educational expenditures and budgets allocated by the Governments, the double standards are still there. This has been one of the reasons that the true talent never gets an opportunity to prove them. While entering the practical life one of the most horrendous discrimination that is made in employment sectors, is that individuals with better command over English language are given priority on those who cannot speak this language in a fluent way. Some times this kind of altitude adopted by Organizations gives an impression that the required merit is not dependent on marks and distinctions but rather a command over this language.
One can not underestimate or denounced the importance of English language but it is absolutely discrimination, if your qualification is ignored and merely a speaking power is given more importance. The need of time is to bring education in its original form to masses. Burdening a students with so much books will not work as he will not understand what the world is going to do next moment. Education is the only cure of the destability in the state and can bring revolution through evolution, by eradicating the social evils.
TIME NOT ON MIDEAST'S SIDE
VIEWS FROM ABROAD
Traditionally, time has been an asset in the Middle East, where the region has lived under very different constraints from the Western world. But the world is changing rapidly and time may be running out unless Middle Eastern leaders come to grips with these changes. As vast deposits of oil and natural gas recently discovered in former Soviet Central Asian republics begins to impact the energy markets around the worldand if the Middle East remains in a perpetual state of crisisit is very likely that United States and other Western countries will gradually begin to rethink their foreign policies in the coming decade.
That change will likely be to the detriment of the Middle East as the US and other developed nations will begin to establish closer and tighter relations with the countries of Central Asia. Assuming the former communist countries manage to emulate other former Soviet satellite states, such as the Baltics, and adopt truly democratic systems of government they stand to overtake the countries of the Middle East. Meanwhile, a number of countries in the Middle East will continue to stagnate in a perpetual state of political limbo as yet others will remain in an eternal state of war. Western oil companies have already invested hundreds of millions of dollars in developing infrastructures of countries such as Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan since the break-up of the USSR in 1991. The initial decision these new independent republics with uncertain economies and authoritative regimes for the most part was a big gamble. But it paid off.
Dividends from oil sales helped propel the Central Asian republics forward, though many of them are still struggling with the concept of democratic forms of government as we in the West understand it. As President Nursultan Nasarbayev of Kazakhstan told this correspondent in an interview last week, 'We here in the East do not agree with the stance that the Western way of life and views should be the ultimate truth.' The president went on to say that this country was building democratic institutions in accordance with local realities and traditions. The truth of the matter is that dealing with less than democratic governments who sit on the vast amounts of oil reserves has never been a problem in the West and has never prevented the mega oil corporations from signing lucrative deals in the past. Lack of individual libertiesfrom freedom of religion to free speechdid not prevent the United States from supporting the ruling families of the oil-rich Gulf countries.
This desire to shift away from dependence on Middle East oil can be traced back to the 1973 Arab-Israeli war when the Arabs discovered that oil could be used as a powerful weapon after imposing an oil embargo. The West had little choice, if any, it needed oil to run its economies and there was hardly others sources that produced oil in such abundance as the Arab world. But if the Arabs learned a valuable lesson, so too, did the Western countries. Serious efforts began to find ways of consuming less oil. Automobile designers began building smaller and more fuel-efficient cars. Greater efforts went into better insolating homes and offices. And the quest began for alternative sources of fuel, sources that would not make the rest of the world so dependent upon Arab oil.
The rising price of oil justified the exploitation of new oil fields such as Norway's and Britain's North Sea offshore platforms. The new sources of oil helped alleviate the great demand for oil from the Middle East, but with ever-increasing needs the West was still largely dependent on Arab oil. But the breakup of the Soviet Union and the discovery of vast resources of oil and gas in the former Soviet Central Asian republics is opening up an entirely new source of oil. This will undoubtedly lead to new policies vis-à-vis the Middle East.
The strategic value of a Middle East without oil for the United States and its Western allies is unlikely to have the same importance that it does today. Unless the current leadership of the Arab world begins to mature politically in the next 10 years, the next decade could find much of the Arab world stranded in the dust of the rapidly developing Central Asian republics. The CG News
WIDENING TAX NET
In his third such pre-budget meeting held on Thursday, arranged for apprising the chairmen and members of different parliamentary standing committees of the revenue estimates for the next fiscal year, Finance Minister AMA Muhith put the projection of revenue earning at Taka 93,741 crore. This means that the revenue earning target is 18 per cent higher for the year 2010-11 than that of the current fiscal year (2009-10). The revenue projection for the current fiscal year was 14.5 per cent higher than the previous year's. It is yet not clear if the target for revenue earning for the current fiscal year is going to be achieved. This is important because this year's trend will have a bearing on the next year and the experience gained in achieving the target too will be of help.
The process of revenue collection matters most. Different governments in this country and elsewhere have approached this issue differently and tried to zero in on some time-tested method. So various experiments have been made to get the best results and do away with loopholes for tax evasion. Admittedly, tax evasion is not a problem in our country alone; it happens even in developed democracies. This time a broad consensus among financial experts has emerged regarding the widening of tax net. This is only logical that those who can pay taxes should do so in right earnest. It is widely believed that the number of tax-payers should be higher than what it is on the last count. The finance minister even made an appeal to his fellow countrymen to pay at least Taka 10 as tax. We hope his appeal will not fall on deaf ears.
At the same time, though, we like to draw the attention of the authorities that the revenue earned is well spent. If it is spent well, none but the people themselves will be the greatest beneficiaries. The hard truth is that the public often gets a raw deal from those who are in power. Mutual trust between the governed and those in governance should be the guiding principle. Only then will revenue collection become an easy and normal task.
Kite flying was one of the many different forms of entertainment of the Dhaka elite since the Mughal period and became a festive tradition during the period of Nayeb-e-Nazim Nawajesh Mohammad Khan in the 1740s. For as long as we can remember, kite flying from rooftops was both a sport and hobby in Dhaka city. Famous for their culture and heritage the traditional Nawab families of Dhaka became the patrons of the kite flying tradition that is still a very popular hobby during weekends and on holidays.
On the day before Chaitra Sankranti, the end of the Bangla year, enthusiasts flew colourful kites at the Dhaka University playground. The event organised by the Bangladesh Kite Federation's DU unit changed the skyline over the campus with the sparkle and splendor of colourful kites. Hundreds of kites of various colours, sizes and shapes could be seen flying in the sky. The kites were also given interesting names like Shakher Garu, Ramdhanu, Prajapati, Octopus, Mouchak and Mickey Mouse. The organisers surely deserve credit for keeping the practice alive.
In 2008 such a Kite Festival was organised on the Dhaka University playground by Dhakabasi, a socio-cultural organization, in observance of 400 years of Dhaka City. As kite flying is still a favourite pastime of the young and not so young, we need to continue to arrange this type of traditional event to keep this heritage alive and we can but hope traditional kite-flying festival will continue to grace the university campus for many years to come.
TWO TWITS AND THEIR TWEETS!
I do believe maturity comes with age or experience, whichever comes first; how else will you explain two absolutely immature twitters tweeting away to glory about each other, unmindful of the harm they are doing to billion dollar holdings they have helped create?
Two twits and their tweets!
Two twits: One a junior minister and the other the chairman of the biggest cricket circus that's ever hit town. And the addiction they both have is the tweeting they do with their thoughts.
Now let me tell you something, both you twits should have learned a long time ago, and that is, 'Silence is golden!'
Yes my two friends, silence is a lot better than tweeting away your thoughts to all and sundry, and if you want to tweet your thoughts out then travel in the Mumbai local!
"Mumbai local?" both the twits ask together, one as he pulls his arm away from his Dubai girlfriend and the other both his arms from the cheerleaders he's imported for the matches, "What do you mean tweeting your thoughts in a Mumbai local?"
"Have you ever traveled in a crowded Mumbai train?"
"Then you should do so once, and in the ladies compartment! Get in and you'll find strangers talking to each other!"
"About the most intimate problems and struggles they face at home and in their working places!"
"So what are you trying to say Bob?" ask the two twits.
"That instead of bitching or twitting your thoughts about each other, do so in some place like the Mumbai local where people don't know you and won't carry the news back to the people you are complaining about!"
"But we don't want to travel in a Mumbai local train, we've heard you can hardly breathe in one, and we may die of suffocation!"
"You're used to your Mercedes Benzes right?"
"Then use silence!"
"Yes, learn to shut your mouths! You've both got good things going for you: One a junior central minister and the other the head of the biggest money spinner of the decade!"
"But we don't know how to be silent!"
Like I said two twits who are tweeting their jobs away, and at this rate will soon be traveling the Mumbai local,
unemployed and jobless..!
EXPECTATIONS FROM THE JUDICIARY
In this article, I will dwell on a subject that is based on my meagre experience as a dispenser of justice as a magistrate and a supervisor of the functions of the police officers and the police stations. These responsibilities were to ensure that justice be done and done quickly, and the miscreants be brought to book for ensuring peace and tranquility in the society.
After joining the Civil Service of Pakistan in 1957, we had our one-year training at the Lahore Academy. Among many other issues of national importance like economic development, etc. we were taught various laws and practices by very expert insider teachers and legal experts brought from outside. Mr. Fayezuddin Ahmed, Deputy Director of the Academy who later became Establishment Secretary in Bangladesh, was one such insider teacher while Mr. Pyarilal was a part-time teacher from outside. I cannot recollect the names of other very competent teachers brought from outside.
The laws taught were Pakistan Penal Code (PPC) detailing with the various penal provisions for different offences and the Criminal Procedure Code (Cr.P.C.) elaborating the procedures of hearing cases including imposition of emergency prohibitory orders under Section 144 of the Cr. P.C. which is well-known to all. Then followed the Civil Procedure Code (CPC) which we, as Magistrates, did not have to exercise much, but became handy if and when we dealt with land dispute cases. Finally there was the Evidence Act which taught us to take down the relevant portions of the depositions of the two sides, sift them through to find the truth out of the mirage of depositions of a large number of people and apply our judgment to come to conclusions. Now that the Judiciary has been totally separated from the Magistracy in implementation of the long pending orders of the Supreme Court and finally effected by the Caretaker Government, I will not make any comment on this, least that amounts to contempt of the Court. I would take it that the separation has been done for the sake of delivering prompt and proper justice.
The Britishers had left a large number of laws for maintaining peace and harmony in their colonies. Ours was one such colony. The laws I mentioned are all the brain children of the Government of the colonial times with subsequent amendments from time to time which were only tinkerings of some sort. The basic precepts continue to remain the same.
Now coming to the main issue, let us recall that we were told at our very early magisterial career that, 'Let ten offenders go scot-free, but let not one innocent person be punished'. This was meant to protect the innocent persons from the machinations of the litigant people who were too many in the sub-continent. But in the process, even the persons wronged against in many cases did not get justice. I do not mean to say that the saying above be revised. I would only emphasise that it be used in its proper perspective.
I would now analyse the issues involved on the basis of my own experience as a Magistrate. During our training period, we as probationers had to deal with a few cases as Magistrates having only third class powers to mete out very minimal punishments in the cases transferred to our files by the Sub-Divisional Officers in those days. During four months of my stay in Sylhet as a probationer after the Lahore Academy training, I had to deal with a few cases, the judgments of which were reviewed by the District Judge. I can boast of the fact that all my judgments were upheld by the District Judge. Passing through this first test of dispensation of justice was a part of our being a full-fledged member of the civil service.
From Sylhet I was deputed to Oxford for training on academic matters like pure economics, political science, local government, economic development and finally to have a look at the British administrative structure at the lowest level. The lowest level field officer in England called a County Clerk was equivalent to our Sub-Divisional Officer. We visited his administrative departments to have some knowledge about how administration was run there. The County Clerk perhaps did not have the judicial power.
On our return to Pakistan I was deputed to East Pakistan and the Services and General Administration (S&GA) Department of the Govt. of East Pakistan posted me as Asst. Magistrate and Collector in the district of Rajshahi where Mr. K.M. Shamsur Rahman (popularly known as Dr. Johnson) was the District Magistrate and Collector. I will not go into the miscellaneous administrative matters that I dealt with there, I will go into my stint only as a Magistrate.
As Assistant Magistrate we were vested with the powers of Magistrate second class. Magistrates with second class powers could sentence an offender to six months and impose fines. Later when I was posted as S.D.O., Thakurgaon in Dinajpur district I was vested with the powers of Magistrate first class. Magistrates with first class powers could award imprisonment up to two years as well as impose fines. If during trial it appeared to the Magistrates that the offender deserves more than two years imprisonment, then the case had to be committed to the Sessions Court, which meant the court of the District Judge.
As Assistant Magistrate, I had to deal with a good number of criminal cases which were subjected to scrutiny by the District Judge who could approve or quash the punishments given. Fortunately all the cases dealt with by me passed through the scrutiny. All the civil servants of the time will have similar stories to tell.
It is said that justice delayed is justice denied. It need not be true in all cases. Some cases may take very long periods, but justice has to be eventually meted out. In our country the following things, among others, take place that delay dispensation of justice:
a) Investigations take far too long. Let us recall cases of Ahsanullah Master of Tongi, Ramna Batamul blast, 21st August bomb blast killing many persons and presumably aiming at killing the then Opposition Leader, the killing of the Ex-Finance Minister Mr. S.A.M.S. Kibria, the missing often truck loads of arms and ammunitions from CUFL jetty and the latest Peelkhana carnage of the 25th & 26th February of 2009 soon after the present Government took office. It could be presumed that there had been political hands behind them. There could have foreign links, and finally the militants by whatever name they are called might have been involved. But whatever they might be, the Government must have the capability, the means and expertise in finding out the facts as they are and detect the immediate criminals and their masterminds. The big question arises, do the political authorities lack the means, desire or the courage to pursue the cases? The criminalogists will be much more competent to dilate on these issues. Proper investigation is the requirement of a case ab initio.
b) If the cases reach the Courts at all, there are innumerable hindrances on the way. Again the Britishers, in quest for proper justice, had given the crime-mongers more than one handle. If the trial court metes out punishments, the Appellate Courts are empowered to put stay orders and even the person or persons in prison can be let out on bail.
Finally, the Supreme Court can intervene in quest definitely of justice, and reverse the rulings of the High Courts. Eventually, there can be writs on all and sundry matters, habeas corpus, use of amicus curie and what not in our judicial proceedings.
c) In such a melee, it is being more and more difficult to see the trees from the woods, or chaffs from the rice. There are the Law Commission in the country, judicial precedents and verdicts given over long periods of time and a large number of highly competent legal experts in the country. Is there no scope to simplify the legal proceedings beginning from the stage of investigation to minimise the sufferings of the wronged people for the sake of sanity in the society? Let us not allow the society already sufficiently criminalised be brought down further to the precipice from where no escape seems possible at this point of time.
d) Interference by political authorities could not be ruled out. In Bangladesh, we witness cases not being investigated against incumbent leaders even if there are general perception of their possible involvement. Cases are only started by the following Goverment if they are formed by a different party and the persons proceeded against immediately call the cases politically motivated. If, before any case comes to a conclusive stage, there occurs a change in the Government through the political process, the leaf is altogether turned. Many cases get stayed almost at infinitum, some proceedings are even quashed. Under such circumstances, how can the police administration proceed with impartial investigations and the judiciary pursue the cases if they at all come to the Court?
e) Now with the separation of the Judiciary from the Magistracy, much better days are expected. But it is said that morning shows the day. No real improvement in the situation yet seems to be in the offing.
So, finally the innocent citizens would only hope and pray that the Judiciary rises above all pressures, intimidation and interference in performing their duties which would ensure doling out of real justice expeditiously and bring back sanity and a sense of good social behaviour in the society.
(The writer is a former Governor of Bangladesh Bank & Former Principal Finance Secretary)
ACHIEVING A US-CHINA STRATEGIC UNDERSTANDING
Relations between the United States and China have been at a low point in recent months. Tensions over US arms sales to Taiwan, President Barack Obama's meeting with the Dalai Lama, disputes over the value of China's currency, a supposed snub of Obama by Chinese leaders at December's Copenhagen climate summit, and the rupture between Google and China have all played a role.
But President Hu Jintao's visit to Washington for the nuclear security summit, which followed a phone conversation between him and Obama, has set the stage for a serious and calm exchange of views on a range of bilateral and international issues, including Iran's nuclear programme. This calming of the diplomatic atmosphere was helped considerably by US Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner delaying his report to Congress on whether or not China is a currency manipulator. Geithner even made a quick stop in Beijing on April 8 to meet Chinese Vice Premier Wang Qishan, prompting reports that China may let the renminbi float more flexibly.
Nevertheless, before anyone concludes that US-China ties are warming up, it is worth noting that the two countries have starkly different views on how to manage their relationship.
Take the recent Obama-Hu telephone conversation. Reports in the US following the hour-long exchange praised it as a turning point in bilateral relations, and headlines emphasized that Obama worked on Hu to achieve a common stand in sanctioning Iran over its pursuit of nuclear weapons.
Yet Chinese news releases gave no indication of such a breakthrough. Instead, they stressed Hu's demand that the US side properly handle the Taiwan and Tibet issues, which represent China's core interests. There was not even a mention that the two leaders discussed Iran, other than one line saying that they exchanged views on international issues of common concern.
Such discrepancies reflect a broader perception gap. On the American side, the emerging consensus is that the Obama administration began its term committed to working closely with China on a range of issues. It took extra steps in not being openly critical of China's currency policy, launched the high-profile US-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue, delayed a meeting with the Dalai Lama prior to Obama's China trip, and showed substantial patience with China's concerns at the Copenhagen conference.
But that conciliatory approach, which brought down on Obama domestic criticism, did not seem to be appreciated by the Chinese. Instead, China displayed sharp anger at the US arms sale to Taiwan, something that has been going on for decades, and to Obama's low-key meeting with the Dalai Lama. Many in the Obama administration now ask: what is the point of being nice when there are no obvious benefits?
On the Chinese side, the initial accommodating approach by Obama, although met with a level of caution and skepticism, was perceived as an inevitable reflection of China's rise and more equal status with the US. After all, many argue, China continues to buy US treasury bonds and now shoulders the largest amount of US debt, thus financing whatever the Americans are doing, from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to health-care reform at home.
China has played a vital role in getting the global economy onto a speedier path to recovery, thanks to its effective stimulus package. China is also expected to help resolve the nuclear standoffs with North Korea and Iran, two countries that are hostile to the US but less of a threat to China.
So China's leaders felt a sense of betrayal when Obama, shortly after his positive visit to Beijing, went ahead with the arms sales to Taiwan and the meeting with the Dalai Lama. Many mainstream, liberal-minded Chinese academics complain that there is no fresh US approach to China. Rather, these are old policies that do not accommodate China's new status or respond to Chinese kindness.
The problem is not a lack of communication channels. Both countries have interacted with each other for almost four decades. There are no language problems, few cultural barriers, and plenty of conferences and personal correspondence. We have seen elegant op-eds written on both sides, more or less articulating how one side is right and the other side wrong. The end result? They talk past each other rather than with each other.
The fundamental issue in today's US-China relations is the strategic visions that both governments are developing to cope with China's rise. Americans tend to think that what is good for America must be good for the world. But China and much of the world, for that matter, may not agree. Chinese leaders, for their part, tend to believe that nothing matters much if it is not good for China in the first place.
Both countries must acknowledge that they have their own domestic and foreign policy priorities. Some may be shared; some not. Others may conflict. To accommodate and bridge their different interests, the US and China need to engage in more than just frank discussions. Tangible strategic concessions from both sides must be made in order to promote cooperation and avoid confrontation.
(The writer is Chair of the China Institute at the University of Alberta and Senior Fellow of the Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada.)
Copyright: Project Syndicate, 2010.
MAY WE DECLARE 17 APRIL AS NATIONAL OATH DAY?
MASWOOD ALAM KHAN
Those of us who were young, those of us who had joined the forces of Liberation War and those of us who in spite of their wishes to join the war for freedom from bases across the border had but to stay back in the then East Pakistan back in 1971 can today visualise how daringly our heroes inspired us to march ahead to achieve our goal of independence.
One of such inspirational days was on 17 April 1971 at a liberated area, a mango grove at Baidyanathtala in Meherpur subdivision of Kushtia district, where the first cabinet of Bangladesh government consisting of elected parliament members of the 1970's free election held in the then Pakistan had taken the first oath to run the government of 75 million people of our motherland.
On this day at the historic oath taking ceremony of the first cabinet of the People's Republic of Bangladesh our great hero, our first Prime Minister, Tajuddin Ahmad delivered an epochal speech that enthralled all Bangladeshis of all ages and had drawn attention of the world communities. It was an address that stoked up a fire of zeal in freedom fighters, stirred up a big thrill in us to dream about a land of our own and stimulated our friendly countries to pour more of their aids and supports into our cause.
On behalf of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman Tajuddin declared: "Bangladesh is at war to secure the right of self-determination through a national liberation struggle against the colonial oppression of West Pakistan". Tajuddin in his momentous speech explained the background of how our non-cooperation movement had failed, how the then President General Yahia did frustrate our hope to lead Pakistan as Bangladeshis constituted the majority of people's representatives elected in December 1970 election, how Yahia conspired with Bhutto to foil our hope, how the brute General Tikka Khan perpetrated against us an unprecedented pogrom and finally how we had been compelled to take up the armed struggles to liberate ourselves from the shackles of Pakistani regime.
"Pakistan is now dead and buried under a mountain of corpses", Tajuddin declared saying West Pakistan's acts of racial hatred and sadism devoid of the least elements of humanity and murdering of hundreds and thousands of innocent people of Bangladesh by Pakistan army served as an impenetrable barrier between West Pakistan and Bangladesh with General Yahia digging the grave for Pakistan with his own hands. Tajuddin said that an independent Bangladesh sustained by the indestructible will and courage of 75 million people who were daily nurturing the roots of this new nation with their blood is a reality and "no power on earth can unmake this new nation".
We were lucky that we had a leader like Tajuddin Ahmad who could lead us in the absence of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. And, frankly speaking, I have doubt whether we could at all gain grounds in our liberation struggles had we not been blessed with the statesmanship of Tajuddin in those dark hours of struggles for our independence. Honouring and remembering heroes like Tajuddin must be our moral obligation.
In the vast fabric of our nation today, there are many people who are still unaware of the fact that our heroes and heroines had been encumbered with the formidable task of declaring our independence, taking oath to run our government and shedding bloods to maintain the spirit of an independent Bangladesh. Some were soldiers in the battlefield, some were in the civil administration, some were diplomats, some were writers and thinkers and some were well wishers at home and abroad when Bangladesh was in the making. Our heroes and heroines had to encounter numerous predicaments that occurred under multifarious circumstances; many of them had laid their lives in the line of their duties. Each and every single person who participated in nurturing Bangladesh in her embryonic stage must be honoured and remembered with respect.
May we declare 17 April as "National Oath Day"? Shouldn't we remember, renew and take fresh oaths in both our national and personal lives on a particular day to reinforce our commitments? Declaring 17 April as National Oath Day will not only inspire us to show our honour to the living and the departed souls of our heroes and heroines who formed the Mujibnagar Government and took the first oath on the 17th April, such a 'day of oath' will also motivate us to refresh our memories as to different promises and pledges we made in our personal life. The idea that 'taking an oath' is a sacred task and 'behaving according to an oath taken' is a moral obligation will be a lesson our children and the next generations will learn if we earmark 17 April as our "National Oath Day'.
HOW TO DECIDE WHO COMES
DETERMINING WHO IS MOST DESERVING IS THE REAL CHALLENGE
A WEEK after the Rudd government froze the processing of claims by Sri Lankan and Afghan asylum-seekers, it is clear a comprehensive review of refugee policy is long overdue. Australia was built on immigration and has traditionally been generous in welcoming refugees. With an estimated 16 million asylum-seekers worldwide, there is a compelling argument that we should increase our relatively generous intake. The difficulty, however, is deciding who deserves priority.
Since World War II, more than 700,000 humanitarian entrants have arrived in Australia -- those fleeing post-war Europe, escapees from the Indo-China wars and the most recent arrivals from Iraq, Afghanistan and Sri Lanka. But unlike the late 1940s, when refugees in displaced persons camps across Europe had virtually no chance of reaching Australian waters uninvited, today's conditions make orderly processing much harder. The current refugee intake of 13,750 people puts Australia among the top nations in the world for resettlements on a per capita basis. Internationally, the problem is vast. Clearly it is beyond the capacity of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees system, which is often not efficient in processing refugees within reasonable timeframes and is struggling to meet demands placed upon it. Solutions, including a more effective orderly process for processing and resettling refugees, must be found. The government has good reason to invest more time and resources working for more effective co-operation over the issue in international forums and with non-government groups with expertise.
The UNHCR will continue to be a major source of refugees entering Australia, but the unofficial queues of those wishing to enter Australia are a fact of life. These include those arriving by boat, who are often criticised for being self-selecting as they can afford to buy their passage. Far greater numbers arrive by air and overstay their visas, often remaining undetected. In deciding which applicants with a legitimate fear of being persecuted in their homelands are most worthy of refugee status, Australia needs a more rigorous system of triaging applicants. It might seem harsh to some, given the abundance of trauma and suffering experienced by many seeking shelter on our shores. But in truth, the humane response is to do everything possible to ensure that the most desperate of the desperate are given priority.
JUST HOLD THE IDEOLOGY
IN TROUBLED BRITAIN, POLITICS-LITE BEATS TRUE POLICY DEBATE
BRITISH voters face a Hobson's choice between hope and change or change and hope as politicians choose from the same bland menu. It's no accident that voters on May 6 may find it hard to separate Labour, Conservative and Liberal Democrat candidates. As our neighbouring Cut & Paste column shows, differentiation is difficult when the country is broke and political conviction could prove costly.
As Anatole Kaletsky wrote this week, Gordon Brown can scarcely offer the orthodox Labour solution of more government and more spending when his cupboard is bare; and David Cameron can't push the usual Tory buttons on free markets, given that it was Westminster wot saved the nation (sort of) during the global financial crisis. The Lib Dems' Nick Clegg, who may only have to stay upright to do well, has proven equally fond of the platitudes that pass for policy. This failure to offer solutions increases the gap between the lives of voters and the spin-driven world of the political class. Perhaps it doesn't matter: if there is a hung parliament, at least there won't be a huge ideological divide between MPs.
We are not in the habit of endorsing parties in overseas elections. If we were, we'd back the party missing from this poll - the one preaching true fiscal discipline rather than the false doctrine that serving up hope will fix the deficit.
TIME FOR CANBERRA TO GET SERIOUS ON MENTAL HEALTH
COMMUNITY DEMANDS FORCE THE ISSUE ON TO THE AGENDA
CLOSING mental institutions and bringing people back into the community was meant to fix mental illness. It didn't. More than two decades on, the nation battles with a health issue estimated to afflict as many as four million Australians in any one year. But one positive from the community approach to mental health is that it is now so public, its sufferers so visible, its impact on families and friends so intense that it cannot be ignored. No longer out of sight, mental health demands political attention, public resources, expert treatment and adequate research.
Two reports today show the urgent stresses on the system. In Queensland, a 27-year-old man suffering bipolar disorder and schizophrenia dies after unsuccessfully seeking admission to a mental health unit at a public hospital. He had been told there were no beds. In South Australia, psychiatric patients are held in hospital emergency units for days because of a lack of beds in secure psychiatric wards.
Yet policy on mental health looks like an afterthought in Kevin Rudd's health and hospitals reform package. With just two days till the showdown with the premiers at the Council of Australian Governments meeting on Monday, the federal government has not clearly outlined its plans in this area. Indeed it was only on Thursday night that Health Minister Nicola Roxon used an interview on ABC1's Lateline program to announce that, in fact, the government was seeking to include mental health in its proposed 100 per cent takeover of state-run community health. It was not so much policy on the run as policy forced from Canberra after weeks when mental health was sidelined by a government intent on selling its big-hit hospitals reforms. Even the 95-page final offer to the states released on Monday night offered little more than a few sentences on what Canberra had in mind.
For many working in the sector, Ms Roxon's commitment is a breakthrough - so long as the premiers sign up. But there are a host of questions pending about how much money is on offer and how Canberra intends to integrate community health with the acute care in hospitals and other services. To her credit, the Health Minister acknowledged the seriousness of the problem, the differing standards of care across the states and territories, and the need for Canberra to get its "house in order".
That's a big task, in part because of the very wide range of mental conditions, from those prompted by drug and alcohol abuse through to complex psychotic illnesses. Equally, there are competing demands from professionals, some arguing the 80 per cent reduction in acute psychiatric hospital beds in the past four decades must be arrested; others calling for the money to be put into early intervention to stop teenagers developing mental illness; and still others pleading the case for intermediate assistance - the "step-up" and "step-down" facilities needed to help stave off acute breakdowns and keep people out of hospital wards and ease their return to the community for treatment.
None of this is cheap, but the costs to the economy of untreated mental illness go well beyond the health budget. Mental illness has an impact on rates of criminal behaviour and incarceration as well as on unemployment and homelessness. For the government, which has pledged to halve the number of homeless people by 2020, money spent to treat mental illness surely would be money well spent, given the high correlation between the two conditions. Equally, the government must factor in the personal and financial costs suffered by families of the mentally ill, many of whom are forced to battle their way through bureaucracy and cope with a paucity of support services as they care for sufferers. More practical help is needed here, along with long-term research to develop better treatment.
Kevin Rudd's proposed reforms of the health system are modest in scope but they deserve support from the premiers. Yet the lack of attention to mental health highlights the plan's deficiencies. It is true the states have struggled for decades to cope with the transfer of mentally ill people from institutions to the community, but true national reform in this area will require rather more commitment than Canberra has offered so far.
THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD
THE LAW'S SENSITIVITY SHOULD BE THE SAME FOR ALL
THE chief justice of the NSW Supreme Court, James Spigelman, has raised an important issue in an address to the law faculty of the University of NSW: the extent to which Australia should extend its understanding of different cultures into the practice of law and criminal justice in particular. Justice Spigelman was referring to the law's treatment of violence against women, attitudes to which can differ between cultures.
Honour crimes - those which see violence perpetrated against mostly women as a result of imagined infringements of personal, family or tribal honour - can pose a dilemma in a legal system which looks both to notions of universal human rights, and to an ideal of multiculturalism. That violence is criminal is not in question; what Justice Spigelman believes needs discussion is the extent to which respect for the values and attitudes of minority cultures should influence sentencing for crimes that have been committed.
Multiculturalism has for the most part passed the tests to which it has been subjected. It is an important reason Australia has been able to accept hundreds of thousands of immigrants each year from countries of widely differing cultures and attitudes without dangerous levels of stress or conflict arising. Perhaps that is in part a question of resources - and luck: Australia is wealthy enough for differences of culture and attitudes not to become the fault lines in disputes over resources. Such disputes over, say, land or water or other resources have indeed happened elsewhere and have been hastened and sharpened by ethnic and cultural differences. As a result of its benign situation, Australia has seen little of the bitterness such disputes can bring.
One area, though, is an exception: white Australia's relations with indigenous Australia. There, the history of conflict and misunderstanding is long and the record largely dismal. High rates of indigenous incarceration for violent crime, among other offences, show that the ordinary criminal law works differently in this different culture - and less satisfactorily. Australia's states and territories already recognise to varying degrees the special situation of indigenous Australians. Aspects of indigenous customary law can be taken into account in sentencing indigenous offenders in ways which set them apart from offenders from other backgrounds. Is this a precedent for those from other cultures who fall foul of Australian law?
We believe not. The position of indigenous Australians is indeed a special case, and unique. White settlement for more than a century ignored completely indigenous Australia's traditions of law and custom and devastated indigenous society as a result. The disastrous consequences of that historical process for individual Australians of indigenous background has been a dark shadow on Australia's record.
The belated recognition of the value of that law and custom, resurrected in some form within the larger legal system and in various forms of indigenous self-management, is an attempt to shore up what remains of the cultural values which underpin indigenous society, and to repair the damage. It is still an experiment, and its outcome is still in doubt. The events leading to federal intervention in the Northern Territory are evidence that indigenous self-management in all its forms has a long way to go. The experience of the intervention itself is evidence that a return to older alternatives offers only modest improvements, and at considerable cost.
Whatever the successes and failures of indigenous policy, though, it offers no useful model for the treatment of minority ethnic groups who migrate to Australia, where a system of law and of cultural values underpinning the law are firmly in place and based on British and other traditions of still longer standing. Unlike indigenous Australians, those groups have - or had - a choice whether to engage with white Australian culture. Having made the choice, they must accept the consequences when it comes to questions of law.
The notion of honour as the basis of justice has deep roots in many cultures, including those of Europe. It persists today in some parts of the world from which recent Australian immigrants come - the Middle East, south Asia, some poorer parts of Europe and South America. But in other countries value systems based on honour have been replaced by law, and revenge by punishment. Australia is one such place. Multiculturalism can soften many aspects of the often difficult and bewildering experience of migration, but it cannot, nor should it, alter that.
THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD
WHO KNEW MPS ARE SUCH SCRIBBLERS
DON'T talk to us about MPs' spending on fridge magnets. The Herald's fridge magnets tend to be the free kind handed out by plumbers, so we have no idea what they cost - although we must have bought that one of Barbie in a disappointingly frumpy black-and-white striped undergarment, whose clothing and hairdos always roll off into the fluff under the drip tray. We have completely forgotten what she cost, though, so let's stick to pens, shall we? NSW MPs spent $18,332 on pens last financial year, the Auditor-General says. If they bought them cheaply in lots of 50, we calculate at current prices that is 183,320 pens for 135 MPs who sat for an average of 55 days that year. That means our elected representatives are chewing through almost 25 pens a day each parliamentary working day. Parliament can sit late, so let's say a working day is 14 hours long. That is nearly two pens an hour. Each. Frankly, in this paperless and computer-dependent age, we don't believe it. Something is up. Write to your MP, readers, demanding he or she give some pens back. With lids, please.
THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD
CAN OUR POLITICIANS BE BOUGHT? THEIR TIME CAN
BUYING and selling access to politicians is one of those entrenched practices that everyone condemns even while allowing it to happen: those who engage in it typically insist that the term doesn't actually describe what they are doing. As The Age reported yesterday, company executives attending the Business Observers Forum, an event connected with this weekend's Liberal State Council meeting, were required to pay ''registration fees'' of $4000 a head, in return for which they were entitled to, among other things, ''private briefings'' with federal and state shadow ministers of their choice. Among those offered were the federal and state opposition leaders, Tony Abbott and Ted Baillieu. Neither man was willing to speak about the arrangement, but Liberal state director Tony Nutt said the party conducts its fund-raising ''in an ethical manner'' and complies with electoral law.
The ethical question raised by the Liberals' fees-for-private-briefings is not quite the same as that associated with social events organised by Progressive Business, the Victorian ALP's fund-raising arm, which offer ''real interaction'' between guests and government ministers. Because Labor is in office, what is said during such ''interaction'' has the potential to affect government decisions, which by definition cannot happen in a meeting with an opposition frontbencher. But in an election year, of course, people paying fees for access would be aware that shadow ministers could be ministers soon. The ALP, obviously aware that Progressive Business has presented it with an image problem, cancelled this year's business forum and changed the format of the annual dinner. These decisions, however, are likely to have been taken with November's state election in mind, not because of any stirring of conscience.
What the practice of both major parties indicates is how thoroughly Australian political culture is imbued with the notion of paying for access, and thus for influence, too. This is not say that it has public approval. The response of the wider community, however, is usually weary cynicism, not outraged demands for the practice to cease. Capping private contributions to political parties would provide a disincentive, but bipartisan agreement on a cap is not easily reached. Both parties enjoy the status quo too much.
Source: The Age
THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD
LIFT THE VEIL ON SCHOOL BUILDING
IT IS hardly surprising that the federal government's $16 billion school building program has been exposed for irregularities - to describe the best-case scenario for the moment. After all, a project touted ''the biggest school modernisation program our country has seen'', which currently entails 2000 projects in 9500 schools across the country, would not, in ordinary circumstances, be rolled out with an emphasis on haste. But as a centrepiece of the Rudd government's economic stimulus package, conceived as an emergency response to the global financial crisis, the program hinges on speed. The risks inherent in this enterprise appear to have materialised, with clumsy, one-size-fits-all outcomes in some schools and allegations of rorting in some states.
But despite mounting concerns about the operation of the scheme in Victoria, the state's taxpayers are yet to see a report card as governments opt for a ''need to know'' approach at the expense of timely transparency. In short, state Education Minister Bronwyn Pike is resisting calls from principals and parts of the construction industry to release financial and other information on the scheme's progress, but says the federal government knows all the facts. The federal government isn't opening the books either, although this week it announced a taskforce would investigate the program. By contrast, New South Wales has had the benefit of enlightenment and the results have led to allegations of massive overcharging by contractors - which may explain some of the reluctance here.
The Age has reported several instances of principals being dissatisfied with aspects of building at their schools. Warrnambool East Primary principal Adrian Calderwood says the Education Department blocked his attempt to negotiate directly with the builder on modifying the template for a ''multi-purpose facility'' to include a theatre stage. One can imagine his heartbreak at the lost opportunity to improve his school. He claims the department responded with the astonishingly insensitive line: ''You don't have any say in it.'' And the school council president of Woorinen and District Primary says the facility resembles Guantanamo Bay with two fenced-off transportable classrooms and a stalled building plan. A departmental spokeswoman explained the delays on the need for a subsequent tender because the initial one ''did not represent value for money''.
Whether taxpayers are getting value for money through the scheme generally remains an open question. A contractor who delivered projects at 12 Melbourne primary schools under the federal program this week said builders were able to charge substantially inflated prices because projects were rushed through. He claimed builders were making 10 per cent net profit when the normal margins for tendered work were about 3 per cent. Ms Pike has defended her decision not to release costings relating to the building projects, claiming this information was commercial-in-confidence. She said that Victoria, unlike other states, had tendered out each project and that tender process was continuing . Releasing financial information now would disadvantage the state, she said.
But surely taxpayers have a right to know the nuts-and-bolts of such a large project. The case for transparency, in this instance, outweighs the case for discretion. And as The Age has also recently reported, even the drip feed of publicly available information can be inaccurate, with many wrong details posted on the state government's ''Working Victoria'' website. Ms Pike also said Victoria was reporting regularly to the Commonwealth and ''completely accountable'' to it. Federal Education Minister Julia Gillard has said the Commonwealth is ''closely monitoring'' Victoria's progress and expenditure. Everyone, it seems, is closely monitoring everything.
The public, meanwhile, may finally get some answers when the Commonwealth Auditor-General's report on the scheme is tabled next month. The decision to establish a taskforce whose head will be able to assess whether taxpayers are receiving value for money and recommend when the Rudd government should cancel funds or terminate agreements is a positive development. But as Ms Gillard has made clear, the taskforce won't deal with the question of what facilities are best for a school. Principals at the very least deserve to know how much they're getting and for what. Decency demands they also have some say in the construction itself, given the long-term impact on their school communities.
And the public deserves to know precisely how its money is being spent.
Source: The Age
GOLDMAN SACHS: AT WAR WITH WASHINGTON
THE US GOVERNMENT'S COURT BATTLE WITH GOLDMAN SACHS IS AN ESSENTIAL FIRST STEP ON THE ROAD TO BANKING REFORM
One tweet yesterday said it all: "How can the [US] government sue Goldman Sachs? I thought Goldman Sachs ran the government." That charge is just a tad harder to make today, now that the biggest investment bank on Wall Street is fighting a civil suit for fraud filed by a government watchdog. For anyone who wants a reckoning for the economy-devastating episode that is the banking crisis, this bears the promising indications of war between Wall Street and Washington.
Even more satisfying, this case goes straight to the heart of the financial crisis: it is about the dodgy sub-prime mortgage vehicles that drove all the market madness. According to the Securities and Exchange Commission, Goldman Sachs created a package of dodgy home loans and flogged it to investors without disclosing that one of its hedge-fund clients had picked the loans that went into the package, and had bet that the investments would fall in value. What this amounts to is an allegation that Goldman knocked up a stinky investment that it knew would tank and scammed investors into buying it. Goldman Sachs made money, the hedge-fund billionaire John Paulson made money and the suckers lost more than £650m. If any British taxpayer wants to know who these suckers were, look in a mirror: our own RBS was the ultimate insurer for the deal and had to pick up the tab.
Goldman calls the allegations "unfounded in law and fact". But without wishing to get into what is set to be a big, bloody battle, it is possible to make three observations. First, Goldman Sachs is going to have a hard time warding off the damage to its reputation done by this case. For a taster, look at page 7 of yesterday's SEC filing, which quotes an email from Fabrice Tourre, the executive who helped make and sell this investment: "The whole building is about to collapse anytime now Only potential survivor, the fabulous Fab[rice Tourre] standing in the middle of all these exotic trades he created without necessarily understanding all of the implications of those monstruosities!!! [sic]" Coming from a bank that bangs on about its good name and fair dealing, this stinks.
Second, this case marks a distinct turn in Washington's approach to Wall Street and about time too. With the healthcare battle settled, Barack Obama is again talking about reforming the banks. Let us hope that his bark is accompanied by a decent bite. Finally, months before any regulatory action, this story was reported in detail by the New York Times. Whatever happens in the case, its very existence is testimony to the role that good journalism can play in uncovering difficult and complex stories that affect us all.
CRACKS IN THE OLD MOULD
NICK CLEGG'S PERFORMANCE IN THE LEADERS' DEBATE MAY SIGNAL A LONG-OVERDUE MOVE AWAY FROM TWO-PARTY POLITICS
Mould-breaking. Transformative. Game-changer. Such words have enjoyed heavy usage in the 36 hours since Thursday's televised party leaders' election debate. In some accounts, Nick Clegg's strong performance against David Cameron and Gordon Brown has merely shifted the terms of the election campaign at the margins. To read others, it has changed the face of British politics overnight. It is important to beware both extremes. The Sun's effortful denial yesterday that anything had interfered with David Cameron's serene, Murdoch-endorsed progress to No 10 was deeply unconvincing. But so was some of the heady talk, based on some misunderstood reporting of an ITV/ComRes opinion poll, that the election was suddenly a two-horse race between the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats.
The truth about the first debate's impact lies in between. Nevertheless, it is as dangerous to minimise what happened in the first leaders' debate as it is to exaggerate it. The polling evidence shows that Mr Clegg's performance has had dramatic consequences. Our ICM survey yesterday found 51% (including a plurality of Labour and Conservative voters) thought the Lib Dem leader was the winner. A quarter of those surveyed said the debate made them change their minds about whom to vote for, with the Lib Dems the overwhelming beneficiaries of the new volatility. On the question of which of the contenders would make the best prime minister, all three are now clustered together, only four points apart, with Mr Clegg the first choice, by a whisker, of women voters. Other post-debate polling, including the ITV/ComRes finding that 35% of those who watched the debate now intend to vote Lib Dem, compared with 21% beforehand, paints a similar picture.
The truer scale of Mr Clegg's achievement will become clearer over the coming days. The next phase of opinion polls will obviously be crucial, helping to establish whether, and if so by how much, the terms of the contest have altered. It is already clear, however, that the Liberal Democrats are getting a poll bounce from Thursday's debate. Even a three- or four-point boost in the coming days would put the cat among the party pigeons. Anything bigger would be seriously threatening and set both Tory and Labour alarms ringing loudly.
If nothing else, all of this is an immense vindication of the decisions both to hold the debates and to conduct them on fair terms between the three parties. It is very striking that as soon as Mr Clegg and his party have had an equal chance, their ratings have risen. The same thing happened after this month's much less widely viewed chancellors' debate. Something of the sort has also taken place in other recent general election campaigns. It all adds up to an indictment of both the electoral and the parliamentary system. It is indefensible that the third party, already supported by one in four UK voters last time, is discriminated against so much of the rest of the time.The campaign consequences of Mr Clegg's strong performance are absolutely clear, too. The other parties' guns will be trained on him from now on. The Tories will get tougher as they battle for mainly southern marginals that are vital to both parties. Labour, currently keen to see the Lib Dems undermining Mr Cameron, may soon turn nastier too. Scare stories and negative campaigning will abound on all sides. Next week's second debate will surely now be less civil than this week's first. Lib Dem policies will be increasingly held up to the light. Their candidates will face tougher inquisition by the media. All this is to the good. It is right that increased success should be met with increased scrutiny. But don't mistake the wider lesson. England may really have three-party politics now, four in Scotland and Wales. The old two-party mould is not entirely broken yet. But it is coming under more pressure than it has experienced for a generation.
UNTHINKABLE? A FLIGHT-FREE DAY
MIGHT BRITAIN BE A BETTER PLACE IF WE CLEARED THE SKIES ONCE A WEEK?
England was afforded a rare opportunity yesterday to enjoy clear blue skies that shone unmarred by wispy vapour trails. The heavens were restored to a heavenly condition for less time in Scotland, with some flights starting up again last night, after the brief respite afforded by all that Icelandic volcanic ash. The disruption affected Vince Cable's election campaigning and many a family's well-deserved holiday. For all the damage done to our climate, there is no chance at all of mankind submitting to becoming a flightless animal once more. But how about for one day a week? It seems less far-fetched when you consider that, within the last decade, the religious sensibilities of the Wee Frees of Lewis resulted in flight-free Sundays there. When British Airways forced its way on to Stornoway's runway during that previously perfectly peaceful portion of the Hebridean week, the devout had to be prised away from the tarmac. Their motivation may have been one of faith, but in a relentlessly 24/7 world there is also a sound secular basis for wanting to shape the passing of the days in a way that provides for quiet. The Ten Commandments decree that people should rest themselves, their animals and even their slaves on the Sabbath, and common decency as much as theology surely requires that the ears of those who live below flight paths deserve the same respite. As the signs say at Liverpool John Lennon airport, "Above us only sky." Even if it were for only one day a week, just imagine.
THE JAPAN TIMES
BOOST FOR NONPROLIFERATION
At the just-concluded summit on nuclear security, representatives from 47 nations 38 of them heads of state joined with host U.S. President Barack Obama to rally support for the goal of securing all vulnerable nuclear materials within four years. Coming on the heels of publication of the U.S. Nuclear Posture Review and the signing of a bilateral strategic arms reduction treaty between the United States and Russia, the summit was a unique opportunity to build international consensus on one of the most dangerous and misunderstood security threats. It also keeps the pressure on leaders to ensure that the Nuclear Nonproliferation Review Conference, to be hosted by the United Nations in May, will also be a success.
It is tempting to think that the threat posed by nuclear weapons and materials has diminished since the end of the Cold War. While the prospect of a superpower confrontation that ends in planetary destruction has receded, ironically, the end of that standoff in many ways increased the chances that nuclear weapons might be used in other circumstances.
The end of the bipolar world order loosened the grip the two superpowers had over client states, raised doubts about the value of those ties and emboldened some governments to develop their own nuclear arsenals, either for security or status. Nuclear facilities and specialists in the former Soviet Union have lost their former high status. Their knowhow and the materials and technologies they once safeguarded are now available on the open market.
With terror groups like al-Qaida pledging to acquire or develop nuclear capabilities, there should be no mistaking the gravity of the threat posed by unsecured nuclear materials. Unfortunately, this is not the case.
Many, if not most, nations refuse to believe that they are threatened by nuclear terrorism. It is seen as either the stuff of Hollywood blockbusters or a danger that is focused squarely on the U.S. Widely ignored is the grim fact that as American targets have become tougher, terrorists have had no compunction about attacking more vulnerable civilian sites ask residents of Jakarta, London, Madrid, Mumbai, Nairobi or Dar es Salaam. Moreover, the terrorists' twisted logic if it can be called that allows them to justify any attack. All it takes is a perceived grievance.
The nuclear security summit that Mr. Obama hosted on April 12 and 13 was intended to build that missing consensus. It worked. After two days of intense discussions, the leaders agreed on a 12-point communique that reaffirms their commitment to strengthen nuclear security and reduce the threat of nuclear terrorism, and pledged to secure all vulnerable nuclear material within four years by way of a 50-point work plan. The plan relies on existing frameworks proof that the tools to fight nuclear proliferation are in hand: It is just the will that is lacking.
In addition to pledges to honor previously made commitments, several states announced concrete steps at the meeting itself. Ukraine promised to dispose of all of its 90 kg of highly enriched uranium (HEU) by 2012; Chile agreed to give up its HEU too. Meanwhile, the U.S. and Canada will help Mexico convert a research reactor so that it uses less-enriched fuel.
Russia and the U.S. built on the cooperation embodied in their recent strategic arms reduction treaty. Russia announced that it will shut down its last plutonium production reactor, while both Washington and Moscow will each dispose of 34 metric tons of weapons-grade plutonium enough to build 17,000 nuclear weapons and seek to get rid of additional material.
The representatives also agreed to meet again in Seoul in 2012 to assess their progress.
The summit clearly signals newfound international determination to clamp down on proliferation. That should be worrisome to nations like North Korea and Iran that appear bent on acquiring their own nuclear capabilities; Pyongyang has shown little inclination to share its skills or knowledge. (North Korea was not invited to the summit.) It is especially heartening that even China is reportedly now more inclined to work with the U.S. and other nations at the United Nations to take a tougher line against Iran.
The tide appears to be turning. Mr. Obama's determination to work toward a world free of nuclear weapons has reinvigorated global efforts to reach that goal. Success will require efforts from all states, but, finally, it looks like optimism may be order. The indifference that once characterized much of the international community when it came to fighting the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction appears to be ending. Credit real leadership from the two states with the most nuclear weapons, the United States and Russia, which have recognized that they must lead by example. Their readiness to make significant cuts to their strategic arsenals should motivate other nations to take action as well whether by cutting their arsenals or getting serious about nonproliferation. It is about time.
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