Google Analytics

Sunday, April 18, 2010

EDITORIAL 19.04.10

Please contact the list owner of subscription and unsubscription at: 


media watch with peoples input                an organization of rastriya abhyudaya



month april 19, edition 000485, collected & managed by durgesh kumar mishra, published by – manish manjul


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















































  2. NO FLY






























The two-day Nuclear Security Summit held in Washington, DC, this past week more or less confirmed President Barack Obama's crowning as Jimmy Carter, the Second. Like his one-term predecessor from the 1970s, Mr Obama is increasingly beginning to resemble a lacklustre chief executive, completely at sea in the power districts of Washington, DC, and obsessed with woolly-headed but ultimately unachievable global goals. Mr Obama has been calling for nuclear disarmament. However, not only does he not have support within his own establishment, he is also somewhat disingenuous about the project. The target of his rhetoric is other countries, rarely the United States, which has more nuclear weapons than the rest of the world put together. Simultaneously, the US is preparing the ground for the revalidation of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. However, it is making no effort to make the NPT contemporaneous and to recognise genuine nuclear powers, like India, that are outside the NPT ambit simply because they have never signed it. These conflicting signals, combined with Mr Obama's trademark waffle, made the Washington Summit successful only in the eyes of the US President's camp followers. As such, Mr Obama has several sets of conflicting priorities before him — maintaining the US' nuclear-weapons primacy as well pushing his utopian ideas of nuclear disarmament; seeking to secure the world from nuclear terrorism and preventing Al Qaeda access to the Bomb, while also pretending he can talk a civilian nuclear deal with Pakistan. In short, he is trying to be too many things to too many people.

It boils down to priorities. As Prime Minister Manmohan Singh pointed out at the summit, nuclear terrorism is "a grave threat" and concern number one for the world community. There are several potential sources of nuclear terrorism. The US and Israel are worried about the Iranian nuclear programme and of material from it reaching groups such as Hamas and being used against Jewish and/or Western targets. Yet, the Iranian nuclear weapons programme — illicit as it is — exists in a context. It is a Shia response to the arming of Sunni powers, and to the perception that the Pakistani Bomb provides a nuclear umbrella to Saudi Arabia. The strongest argument, even deterrent, against Tehran's nuclear mission would be to place curbs on Islamabad's nuclear facilities, bring in AQ Khan for questioning before a credible international panel and search and completely destroy the so-called 'Nuclear Wal-Mart' he had assiduously built, supported by the Pakistani military brass, over a quarter century. Yet, this calls for tough decisions and playing hardball with Pakistan — not something Mr Obama is inclined to do in his current mood.

As a result, the US President is focussing his energies on other areas — from sanctions against Iran to renewing old arms-limitation treaties with Russia to selling dreams about total disarmament. India has no problems with disarmament. In fact, in 1988 Rajiv Gandhi suggested what remains the most credible plan for disarmament — and one every successive Government in New Delhi has backed — that called for simultaneous cuts by all nuclear-weapons countries with extra effort from those that had the biggest arsenals. If nuclear disarmament needs to be discussed, that 1988 plan should be the starting point. There is no point reinventing the wheel and pretending the world had not thought of these issues till the grand day in January 2009 when Mr Obama entered the Oval Office.







The latest summit of the BRIC group of countries in the Brazilian capital of Brasilia has been promising indeed. The leaders of the member nations — Brazil, Russia, India and China — held constructive talks on a variety of global issues, indicating that the group is slowing but surely making its presence felt in the international arena. Among the subjects that were discussed, UN reforms featured prominently. The group believes that a restructuring of the international organisation is in order to reflect the current geopolitical scenario. In this regard, the leaders at the summit supported the expansion of the UN Security Council and backed the contention that India and Brazil should get permanent seats in the same to make the body more inclusive. The other issue that was given a considerable amount of time during the talks was the global economic recovery. The BRIC leaders made it clear that though economies around the world were slowly turning the tide, there was still a lot to be done in order to ensure that a certain level of consistency is achieved. In this respect, they called for greater macro-economic cooperation between the countries to strengthen the global economic foundation. But the issue on which the four countries seemed to have maximum momentum is climate change. The four leaders reaffirmed the principles of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change as well as those of the Kyoto Protocol and the Bali climate summit. They also called upon the developed nations led by the US to facilitate greater diffusion of green technology to the developing nations without further delay. It will be recalled that India and China had worked closely to broker a non-binding agreement at the last climate talks in Copenhagen which has been endorsed by 112 countries. The BRIC countries' posturing on the issue is a clear indication of their clout in this regard.

Although it is fairly early in the day, it is quite apparent that the BRIC group is quietly carving a niche for itself in a world that has essentially been under the hegemony of the US and its allies for the last two-and-a-half decades. Depending on the amount of political capital it is able to generate at international fora in the years ahead, it is not impossible that the BRIC format comes to be emulated by other countries as well. If that indeed becomes a reality, we could well be looking at a multi-polar world with several non-regional groupings making their voices heard. This could provide the international community with alternative avenues and wean it away from US-centric globalisation; an interesting proposition indeed.








In one of the worst Maoist attacks, 76 security personnel — 74 belonging to the CRPF and two to the Chhattisgarh Police — were killed in the thick forests of the Dantewada district on April 6. Not only were the security men butchered by the Left-wing extremists but the latter also took away their arms and ammunition.

This is neither the first nor the last bloodbath that we are going to see in the war against Maoists who are determined to usurp the authority of the state. Indeed, the guerrillas top the list of attacks on our security forces. The following are some major instances of Maoist attacks:

April 4, 2010: Maoists trigger a landmine bombing, killing 11 security personnel of the elite anti-Maoist Special Operations Group in Koraput district of Odisha.

February 15, 2010: 24 personnel of the Eastern Frontier Rifles are killed as Maoists attack their camp in Sildah in West Midnapore district of West Bengal.

October 8, 2009: 17 policemen are killed when Maoists ambush them at Laheri police station in Gadchiroli district of Maharashtra.

September 26, 2008: Maoists kill BJP MP from Balaghat Baliram Kashyap's sons at Pairaguda village in Jagdalpur, Chhattisgarh.

September 4, 2008: Maoists kill four villagers in a forest in Aaded village in Chhattisgarh's Bijapur district.

July 27, 2008: Six people are killed when Maoists trigger a landmine bombing in Dantewada district, Chhattisgarh.

June 29, 2008: Maoists attack a boat carrying four anti-Maoist police officials and 60 Greyhound commandos on the Balimela reservoir in Odisha, killing 38 security personnel in all.

June 23, 2008: A group of motorcycle-borne Maoists open fire in Lakhisarai district court premises in Bihar and free four of their comrades, including the self-styled zonal commander of Ranchi.

June 16, 2008: Maoists kill 11 police officers in a landmine attack followed by armed assault. In a separate attack, four policemen are killed and two others seriously injured when Maoists ambush them at Beherakhand in Palamau district, Jharkhand.

June 13, 2008: Maoists launch two landmine and bomb attacks in a small town close to Bokaro, killing 10 policemen and injuring several others.

May 22, 2008: Maoists kill 16 policemen in the jungles of Gadchiroli district, Maharashtra.

April 13, 2008: 10 paramilitary troops are killed in eastern Odisha when Maoists attack a bauxite mine in Koraput district.

The biggest problem in dealing with Maoist violence has been that strategies, lack of intelligence and perceptions vary from State to State and from occasion to occasion. The authorities are simply not decisive enough. The causes of Maoism, estimated to be a Rs 1,500-crore empire, are variously described as a law and order problem or a movement deriving its strength from the lack of development and employment opportunities in the affected areas. Perhaps, it is a combination of all such factors.

The Central forces are trying to help the States regain control of the so-called 'occupied' or 'free zones' that Maoists have created. It is for the States to ensure that development follows the forces. The most important development work that needs to be undertaken in the Maoist-affected areas without delay is the building of good roads so that poor villagers and tribals can have access to the facilities that are available to the rest of the country.

Nonetheless, the vicious cycle of fear and killings is something that is always going to come in the way of the those wanting to undertake development projects or improve the existing infrastructure in the Maoist-dominated areas. People would rather be safe than stick their necks in a fight between the insurgents and the Government. No investor is going to invest in any area plagued with violence and unabated killings.

The world has known only two ways of resolving any dispute, that is, first, by using force and, second, through negotiations. Unfortunately, no party that is winning a war wants to come to the negotiating table. As long as the Maoists know that they are winning they will not hold dialogue with the Government. They have had undisputed run of the areas under their control due to the indifference of the civil administration.

About 5,000 security personnel have been killed since Maoists unleashed war on the Indian state. For Maoists — or Naxalites or whatever we may choose to call them — this is a no-holds-barred war. But on the part of the Government, there is quibbling over whether the state should use the Army and the Air Force against the insurgents. A specious argument doing the rounds is that a country's military should not be used against its own people. On the other hand, Maoists don't give a hoot about killing fellow Indians which, by the same logic, are their own people.

When the very existence of the country is at stake, following the policy of 'willing-to-strike-but-afraid-to-wound' is not only futile but also counter-productive. Nobody worships the setting sun. Here, unfortunately, the setting sun is the Government which, for one reason or another, has not been able to establish its authority. It has no law to specifically deal with such cases and crimes.

An important factor which needs to be borne in mind is that without the involvement of well-trained, well-equipped and motivated State police forces there is no way that the problem of Maoism can be tackled effectively just by using Central forces who are neither familiar with the local terrain nor aware of the local culture or languages in the Maoist-affected areas. At present, State police forces are ill-equipped, ill-trained and ill-prepared for tackling the Maoist menace. The Centre should handsomely fund and train them since after all Maoism is a national problem.

Unless a strong message goes out to all disruptive forces, including Maoists, our security forces will continue to be nothing more than cannon fodder. Any more killings of security personnel engaged in the battle against Maoists will not only demoralise them, but also send a wrong message to the people living in Maoist-dominated areas that the Government and its security forces are weak. The Left-wing extremists have already warned the authorities of more lethal attacks in future. The Government must steel its resolve to win this decisive war, and both the Centre and the States should prepare for the long haul ahead.






This refers to the report, "Tharoorgate stalls Parliament"(April 17). It is beyond comprehension how an international diplomat with many years of service in the UN, who even contested the UN Secretary-General's post and last year became a junior Minister in the Government in his favourite area of foreign affairs, has managed to turn the tables on himself. It shows sheer stupidity, immaturity and insensitivity.

Thanks to his own imprudence and indiscretion, Minister of State for External Affairs Shashi Tharoor has been guilty of several faux pas in the recent past — his remarks on 'cattle class', his disagreement with his own Government's visa policies and his comment about Saudi Arabia being an 'interlocutor' between India and Pakistan have truly embarrassed the ruling coalition. Despite widespread criticism of his irresponsible utterances as a member of the Union Council of Ministers, he, hitherto, has been spared the rod, possibly due to his closeness to the Prime Minister and the Congress president.

But his latest foray into the Kochi IPL consortium franchise, supposedly as a mentor to 'benefit' his home State of Kerala, appears to be the last straw that broke the camel's back. The disclosures about the nature of the shareholding of the consortium and the allotment of 'sweat equity' in 'undilutable perpetuity' to a female friend of Mr Tharoor, amounting close to Rs 75 crore without investing a rupee, take one's breath away. Yet Mr Tharoor continues to plead his innocence. His plea is that his only interest was to bring IPL to Kerala. But the phony nature of his claim becomes obvious if one closely looks at the composition of the ownership of the Kochi franchise — there is only one Keralite with one per cent stake, the rest 99 per cent equity is held by non-Keralites. If Mr Tharoor was truly sincere in his concern for Kerala's share in the cricket pie, he could have mobilised Malayali entrepreneurs. He could have even opened up a world-class cricket academy in Kerala with his MP funds.


Instead, he has dragged himself into yet another needless controversy with no regard for the Government he represents. It is time he is given the boot.








Terror, in the current sense of the term, has been lying in hibernation in Kerala from early-1990s but authorities failed to identify it. They are paying the price now. The first sign of God's Own Country's plunge into terror culture was seen when Islamist leader Abdul Nasser Madani's Islamic Sewak Sangh aroused curiosity and awe with strange-liveried "volunteers" guarding programme venues with a command force's alertness and pride. Even then the bosses of the so-called secular parties tended to underestimate the obvious, saying that nobody could shatter God's Own Country's communal harmony and love for peace. After almost two decades, they are now beginning to understand —though without much conviction — that had been wrong. As some kind of Kerala links are seen with several national and international jihadi terror plot in the recent times, the police and political leaders are forced to admit that Kerala, after all, need not be the secular paradise of peace they once thought it was.

Terror of another kind has been there in Kerala since the end-1960s and this was directly related to the Spring Thunder in the distant hills of Naxalbari in West Bengal when hardliner communists believed that China's chairman Mao Tse Tung was 'our chairman'. It was the time when Kerala Naxalites were in the fast embrace of the theory of annihilation of class enemies and the result was bone-freezing terror as they decapitated "feudalists" when in fact there was nobody in the State to fit the definition of the term. The annihilation theory stayed on with them till 1980 when the last Naxalite-sponsored murder took place in Kenichira in the hilly Wayanad region. By then the Naxalites had begun to split into groups with serious ideological differences and the outcome is that some of the fiercest campaigners of annihilation are now famous apostles of parliamentary democracy. The tragedy is that these men and women do not have a justification to offer to the descendants of Narayanan Nair of Kongad in Palakkad and Mathai in Kenichira who were killed for the sake of the chimerical revolution. With that history smeared in blood in the background, Kerala is now becoming a host of Maoists from the Red corridor who look for rest, rejuvenation and resource mobilisation.


This background of Communist terror is behind the tendency of the remnants of the 'Naxalite saga' to help their ideological brethren from Andhra Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Dakshina Kannada (erstwhile South Canara) and elsewhere. Intelligence agencies reported in the beginning of March that Maoists from the Red corridor had been collecting arms, ammunitions and explosives from Kerala using their local contacts, who obviously were the old-time worshippers of Naxalite guru Charu Mazumdar. It was found that the Red terrorists had collected country-made guns from Thrissur and Palakkad districts, known once for the proliferation of Naxalites, and explosives from central Kerala where Maoist guerrillas were known to be on under-cover operation in the guise of migrant workers in granite quarries and brick manufacturing units. Mallaraja Reddy, a dreaded Maoist from Andhra Pradesh was arrested from Angamaly in central Kerala in December, 2007 when he was on a 'mission' in the State. It was then proved that his local aides were some Naxalites who had turned rights activists.

But more shocking was the revelation by two Maoists caught by the Gujarat Police. According to them, some guerrilla combat gurus from the New People's Army of the Communist Party of Philippines had imparted month-long weapons training to Maoists from several parts of India in some Kerala jungle. The recruits, numbering over 25, included the two under custody and Adivasi and Dalit activists. The strange thing is that the Kerala Police, ruled by Home Minister Kodiyeri Balakrishnan, a member of the CPI(M) Polit Bureau, is yet to wake up to the seriousness of reported incursion by foreign guerrillas into the State for subversive activities. Shocks do not end there. Last week, the Central Intelligence Bureau found that about a dozen hardcore Maoists from the Dakshina Kannada region entered into Kerala territory through the northern jungle borders on a 'mission' which was yet to be identified. The group, including some six women extremists, had escaped to Kerala after an encounter with the Karnataka Police near Udupi. As usual, there was no confirmation or denial from the Kerala Police but they have at least started efforts to step up reconnaissance along the borders.

The other side of terror — jihad —is far more serious and extensive in God's Own Country and bosses of the so-called secular parties are partly to blame for its growth. That the Congress-led UDF and CPI(M)-led LDF had unanimously passed a resolution in the State Assembly demanding release of Madani in 2006 from the Coimbatore prison where he was lodged in the Coimbatore blasts case was a typical example of this. The more interesting aspect of Islamist terror in Kerala is that it has connections with several former Naxalites who are now in the business of rights protection and promotion, Dalit outfits who crave for just social recognition and a good life — but through the wrong paths — and several other groupings. Though jihadi terror has been reality in God's Own Country since the start of the 1990s, the first major act was seen on September 9, 2005 when a group headed by LeT's south India commander Thadiyantavide Nazeer, accused in several terror cases including the Bangalore blasts of 2008, set a Tamil Nadu bus on fire to expedite the release of Madani. Madani's wife Sufiya, who had enjoyed opportunities of meeting almost all top leaders, including even the country's then Home Minister Shivraj Patil, is 10th accused in this case.

That was just the start. On March 3, 2006, Nazeer and his men carried out two simultaneous blasts in Kozhikode city, which, according to sleuths, were part of a "dry run" for the Bangalore blasts. On August 15, 2006, a group of SIMI activists held a secret meeting at Panayikkulam near Kochi, which is now seen as the launch-pad of the Indian Mujahideen-sponsored terror strikes in the country. In December, 2007, SIMI held a full-fledged training camp among the temperate hills of Vagamon in Idukki district and this was the practical springboard of several LeT terror acts that shocked the nation. All this while, religious classes and Twareeqat camps were going on with the main mission being recruitment of young men into LeT. In October 2008, four jihadis from Kerala were killed by security forces in Kupwara sector, Kashmir when they were trying to cross over to Pakistan for advanced terror training. The biggest of the shocks with regard to jihadi operation in Kerala was the revelation that Tahawwur Hussain Rana had held an extensive tour of Kochi prior to 26/11 and that he had got local help for this. All these events gave Kerala a prominent — if not the central — spot on the jihadi terror map of India. More than 75 per cent of all the terror-accused and suspects in the country are from Kerala. That much for the myth of God's Own Country's enduring religious harmony and sociology of peace.






The US Congress is back as a factor in US foreign policy. Partly because the Obama Administration has pushed it too far to do unpopular things; partly because members are no longer in awe of the President's alleged invincibility and much-declined popularity. Many Democratic members see their whole careers flashing before their eyes. And, of course, there's the Administration's decision to pick a quarrel with Israel.

For the first time since Mr Barack Obama took power, we're seeing a bit of a congressional revolt even from his own side of the aisle. The two issues are Israel and Iran.

On Israel, 76 senators — including 38 of 59 Democrats — signed a flattering but critical letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton urging reconciliation with Israel. Another 333 House members signed up, including leading Democrats. The letters blamed the Palestinian leadership — and rightly so — for the lack of serious negotiations.

They noted that "it is the very strength of our relationship (with Israel) that has made Arab-Israeli peace agreements possible, both because it convinced those who desired Israel's destruction to abandon any such hope and because it gave successive Israeli Governments the confidence to take calculated risks for peace.

On Iran, a whopping 363 members of the House of Representatives urged Mr Obama to put "crippling" sanctions on Iran, taking "tough and decisive measures," and urging him to make sure Tehran doesn't get nuclear weapons.

Thus, Congress is challenging Mr Obama's policy on four levels:

1. It's not tough enough

2. The proposed sanctions are too toothless (and on this one, see below)

3. Sanctions have taken too long.

4. Instead of waiting for the UN, the US Government should show leadership and act on its own along with willing allies.

Moreover, even while the House passed a sanctions measure by a huge majority in December and a similar Bill went through the Senate in January, to my knowledge the Administration has never taken any position on the proposal.

And now things are about to get worse.


Secretary of Defence Robert Gates admitted that the US Government is ready to water down the sanctions even further in order to get a UN Security Council resolution supporting additional action against Iran. The rationale for this is to say that this consensus can then be used as a basis for additional sanctions by countries acting on their own, what Mr Gates called, "a new legal platform." He explained, "What is important about the UN resolution is less the specific content of the resolution than the isolation of Iran by the rest of the world."
The Los Angeles Times thought this, at least partly an excuse for failure to be able to get more:

"Gates' comments were the clearest sign yet that the Administration, facing continuing resistance from other countries to the harshest of the proposed measures, is lowering its sights. US and allied officials have given up on prospects for a ban on petroleum shipments to or from Iran, and some allies have questioned other potential measures."

It could be pointed out that the second Bush Administration also settled for lightweight UN resolutions, but it was far more determined to follow up with a tough strategy. Equally, Russia and China can be wreckers in violating stronger sanctions, but they are not so likely to respect weaker ones either. The bottom line is that not only can Iran get off easily but the signal conveyed undermines the hopes for future containment possibilities.

Moreover, I think this situation largely reveals a fundamental flaw in the Obama worldview: What should be important is a tough and effective strategy based on strong US leadership which is going to intimidate Iran at least to some extent. Instead, we get the priority on consensus, to avoid any sign of the dreaded 'unilateralism' or masterful American leadership which horrifies Mr Obama regarding past US policy. This approach is likely to continue after a UN resolution. Far from unleashing an aggressive US strategy against Iran, the follow-up is more likely to be an anti-climax.

Consequently, Mr Obama may succeed in passing muster as legalistic while being hailed by the poodle brigade in the media. But it will fail at the ostensible goal of the entire exercise: Stopping Iran now or making Tehran act more cautiously in future.

A parallel situation is now going on regarding Syria's providing of advanced Scuds to Lebanon. The US State Department reaction was a joke: We are going to study this! Compare that to the French response. We must update our thinking. For years we spoke of the timid and unreliable Europeans. Now, in many respects, France (along with Germany and the UK) is bolder and braver than Obama's American policy.


Mincing no words, the French Foreign Ministry called the Scud transfer "alarming" and pointed out that such activity was in violation of UN Security Council Resolution 1701 which "imposes an embargo on the export of arms to Lebanon, except those authorised by the Government of Lebanon or the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon."

And this is the key! What good is it to get a new UN Security Council resolution if the US Government won't even enforce the previous ones!

The writer is director of the GLORIA Centre, Tel Aviv, and editor of the MERIA Journal.








On April 8, Presidents Barack Obama and Dmitry Medvedev signed the treaty between the United States and the Russian Federation on Measures for the Further Reduction and Limitation of Strategic Offensive Arms.

The new document replaces the 1991 Soviet-US START-I agreement, which expired on December 5, 2009, 15 years after its entry into force, and the May 2002 Russian-US Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty.

The media has already reported that the treaty stipulates 1,550 warheads on deployed intercontinental ballistic missiles, on deployed submarine-launched ballistic missiles, and nuclear warheads counted for deployed heavy bombers.

Under the treaty, "each party shall reduce and limit its ICBMs and ICBM launchers, SLBMs and SLBM launchers, heavy bombers so that the aggregate numbers do not exceed 700, for deployed ICBMs, deployed SLBMs, and deployed heavy bombers; 800, for deployed and non-deployed ICBM launchers, deployed and non-deployed SLBM launchers, and deployed and non-deployed heavy bombers."

A study of the treaty's text makes it possible to single out the following aspects determining the new configuration of the strategic nuclear balance:

1. Unlike the START-I agreement, the new document stipulates no restrictions on the area and number of basing areas of land-mobile ICBM systems of the RT-2PM Topol (SS-25 Sickle), RT-2UTTKh Topol-M (SS-27 Sickle B) and RS-24 Yars (SS-X-29) class.

2. The treaty sets tough limits on non-deployed launchers of ICBMs, non-deployed ICBMs and non-deployed SLBMs, and seriously reduces overall delivery vehicle ceilings. This largely evens out the difference between US and Russian capabilities for maintaining their respective nuclear potentials.

Under a special statement signed together with the treaty, Russia reserves the right to exit from the treaty in case it feels threatened by the development of US missile defence systems. The parties have also agreed that existing missile defence systems do not undermine the effectiveness of strategic offensive arms.

It should also be noted that the lack of restrictions on basing areas of land-mobile ICBM systems virtually rules out the creation of an effective missile defense system capable of intercepting such ICBMs in the foreseeable future.

4. The parties are free to determine the structure of their respective nuclear triads comprising aerial, naval and ground-based delivery vehicles. In this situation, Russia is free to resume construction of ICBM trains.

5. The treaty sets no limits on the deployment of ground-based ICBMs with multiple independently targetable re-entry vehicles. Consequently, Russia will be able to retain its ICBMs of the RS-20 Voyevoda (SS-18 Satan) and RS-18 (SS-19 Stiletto) type and to develop new types of MIRVed ICBMs.

6. Under the document, strategic offensive arms subject to this treaty shall not be based outside the national territory of each party. This caveat rules out any incidents similar to the 1962 Cuban missile crisis and considerably simplifies mutual verification of strategic offensive arms.

7. The 1,550 warhead ceiling does not mean that each party will have the same number of nuclear warheads. Under the treaty, one nuclear warhead will be counted for each deployed heavy bomber which can carry 12-24 missiles or bombs, depending on its type. Consequently, Russia will retain 2,100 warheads and the US, which has more heavy bombers, will have about 2,400. This gap will be reduced as the US decommissions B-1B bombers serving with its strategic nuclear forces and converts them into conventional bombers, which are unable to launch nuclear warheads unless subjected to lengthy refitting.

The new START Treaty is organised in three tiers of increasing level of detail. The first tier is the treaty text itself. The second tier consists of a protocol to the treaty, which contains additional rights and obligations associated with the treaty's provisions. The basic rights and obligations are contained in these two documents. The third tier consists of technical annexes to the protocol.

These documents define the treaty's terms and stipulate new verification procedures for monitoring compliance with the treaty. Although the voluminous protocol has to be studied in great detail, the first impression is that Russian and US negotiators have done a good job and have specified mutual positions to the greatest possible extent in order to avoid any uncertainty.

In conclusion, one can agree that both the US and Russia have benefited from signing the treaty, which can serve as an example for other nuclear powers now expected to join Russian-US agreements.

 The writer is a military affairs columnist based in Moscow.







Sometime back, on television tiger bone whiskey was being touted for sale in China! Earlier the same day Satyendra Tiwari, a wildlife guide had posted a blog on a tiger having killed a girl from a village bordering the Bandhavgarh National Park in Madhya Pradesh. Both these episodes bring into focus, in a stark way, disturbing questions which we need to ask ourselves.

Are we in India really contemplating issues of protection of our wildlife in general and the large carnivores in particular with any degree of seriousness? It is a sad reality that today the Indian tiger, the Asiatic lion and for that matter other larger mammals like gaur, rhinoceros and elephant are not secure.

Beyond the rhetoric of saving the big cats, we have failed to see the value of a living tiger to the communities around our national parks. And how communities can be co-opted and oriented towards protecting this wildlife heritage. In Gujarat, there has been a ray of hope. Lions in Brihad (Greater) Gir are gradually spreading out well beyond the Gir Wildlife Sanctuary and being accepted so far with a measure of proprietary pride by the people. This kind of human-wildlife interface needs to be defined, expanded and established to provide the existing population of wild carnivores with absolute security.

However, tigers have vanished from Siraska Tiger Reserve in Rajasthan. The figures from the Ranthambhore also do not seem to augur well. What really happens on the ground? Much of it remains shrouded in mystery but we can take a calculated guess.

Assuming that an area is well-managed, the wildlife population will continue to grow until such time it reaches an optimum. The animals would typically begin to spread out well beyond the protected area as happened in Brihad Gir and sure to come into conflict situations with human beings. Moreover, it is this unmonitored area that becomes the nascent poaching zone.

It would be worthwhile to track the diminishing numbers and overlay it with the available land reserved for them. Ranthambore, one of the first nine reserves at the launch of Project Tiger, has 13 adult male and three male sub-adult tigers while female adults are 17 and female sub-adults three. Of this total of 36, one male and three female have been sent to Sariska and two females have died. This leaves only 31 tigers at Ranthambore. The adjacent Sawai Mansingh Wildlife Sanctuary is known to have five tigers with two more in outside protected areas. The total of 38 tigers may be a conservative estimate, subject to correction but there is an implicit message there. Five hundred square miles would seem to be adequate for 12 adult males. It would be natural for the stronger and more dominant males to hold the largest, prime territories while the younger males and the displaced older ones would spill over to peripheries outside the reserve. These males would then come into conflict with human habitation. It is precisely at these intersections that the greatest danger to these big cats lies. It is here that the temptation and the opportunity to kill tigers for economic considerations fructifies.

Do our authorities have any advance planning for such outward movement resulting from success of their protective measures within the reserve? This would need a creative and sage thinking process to keep the twin objectives in focus, protection of the wildlife and human habitation.









FLYERS who were the first ones to be stuck at Delhi's airport after flights were cancelled over the weekend because of the closure of European airspace might not be the first ones to leave the Capital.

As the airline industry is still unsure when operations to European countries will resume in the wake of the volcanic eruption in Iceland, they have started strategising to manage the backlog of passengers.

The Indian carriers have decided to follow international guidelines according to which the passengers who have booked their flight on the given day will be given priority.

" Suppose the operation starts from Wednesday, those who have booked Wednesday's flight will be given priority. We won't accommodate passengers already stranded for say four days, at the cost of these people," said an official of an Indian carrier.

With flights being cancelled for four consecutive days till Sunday, as many as 4,000 passengers are likely to be stranded in Delhi.

" International airlines operating from Delhi carry 200 passengers on each aircraft. Air India and British Airways operate two flights daily from Delhi to the affected countries while Kingfisher and Jet Airways operate one flight each. Considering a minimum of 200 passengers per flight, at least 4,000 passengers are now in Delhi. There are also a few international carriers whose passengers are stuck in transit in Delhi. If we count these people as well, the number of stranded passengers could easily touch 10,000," an aviation expert said.

There are many Indians stuck in Europe.

Kapil Kaul, an aviation expert, has been stuck in the Netherlands for the past four days. " I am trying to book train tickets to Rome and exploring other options," Kaul said over phone.

A group of 77 people who were supposed to travel with Swissair are lodged in The Park, New Delhi. The Zurich- bound passengers are worried about their schedule. " Some passengers have urgent work and have requested the airline to adjust them on some other flight. Most of them aren't travelling to the affected countries, but as the airline operates to these sectors and cancelled the flight, they have been affected," a hotel official said.

The stranded travellers may have provided boosted revenue for the hospitality lot. The industry is apprehensive that if the situation remains the same over a few days, they may run out of rooms.

" We haven't reached the stage when we'll be short of rooms, but a lot of customers are extending their bookings. At the same time, some are cancelling bookings because they are stuck in the affected countries," said Akhil

Mathur, marketing director of Le Meridien, where some stranded travellers have put up. Some passengers have also been accommodated at The Lalit.

The ministry of external affairs has decided to extend the visas of stranded foreigners. Indian visa rules state travellers have to leave the country 24 hours before their visa expires.

Through Sunday, there was a clampdown on flights across much of Europe, posing a growing problem for thousands of travellers stranded worldwide.

The European aviation agency Eurocontrol said only 4,000 flights were expected in the European airspace on Sunday, compared with 24,000 normally.

It said 63,000 flights had been cancelled in the European airspace since Thursday.

With agency inputs



HERE'S some good news for travellers stranded in India.


Air India has decided to resume its non- stop flights on the Mumbai- New York- Mumbai and Delhi- New York- Delhi sectors from Monday.


They will operate on alternative routes.


" As there is a backlog of passengers, they are advised to contact Air India before proceeding to the airport," a spokesperson said.


The departure and arrival timings of the flights are: AI 141/ 140 ( Mumbai- New York- Mumbai) departing at 12.45 am and AI 101/ 102 ( Delhi- New York- Delhi) departing at 12.25 am.


Jet Airways has resumed its Delhi- Toronto and Mumbai- New York flights with a stopover in Athens.


Mail Today / New Delhi and PTI



THE AIR travel disruption because of the ash cloud cover could have far- reaching consequences, based entirely on how long it lasts, something even experts say they cannot predict.

There are three main scenarios for how events could pan out.



If the cloud remains over Europe for a sustained period of time, perhaps weeks or longer, western military resupply flights to Afghanistan would be heavily affected. Western European troop contributors would become entirely dependent on the US for supplies and medical evacuation flights.


US forces would also be heavily affected if they could no longer use their logistics and medical centre in Ramstein, Germany.


Major international meetings may have to be cancelled, rescheduled or simply go ahead without European policymakers. The travel sector will also be severely hit.

But some people stand to benefit from this scenario — teleconference, shipping, rail and road transport operators. So would airports just outside the cloud, suddenly in great demand from airlines and shipping firms as new hubs. That could benefit countries along the edge of the cloud including Ukraine, Turkey, as well as Portugal, Italy, Greece and Spain.



Experts warn that as long as the eruption continues, the risk remains that a renewed outflow of ash or certain wind patterns could produce the same effect again in the coming months.

This time, airlines would be less taken aback but there would still be little they could do to prepare.


The threat of a renewed shutdown might deter both business and leisure travellers from booking flights, holidays and hotels, hitting the industry even if the cloud itself never returned.


Again, rail, road, sea cargo and teleconference firms could see an increase in demand.



The best case scenario — the volcano could cease erupting, stop emitting ash, winds could shift away from Europe or the gas cloud could be dispersed unexpectedly quickly — although so far none of these shows any signs of happening.


Airlines and air freight companies would immediately scramble to make up for lost time, repatriate and relocate passengers, aircraft and cargo.


Even if the cloud clears, some travel will still be cancelled in the coming days. Firms have asked employees to put off all non- essential travel in the next 7- 10 days.



NETHERLANDS and a few other countries have started test flights to see if jets could safely fly, either below or over the ash clouds.


Dutch airline KLM and German airline Lufthansa carried out test flights in their countries' airspace to see if it is safe for planes to fly.


KLM said its aircraft had been able to fly its normal operating altitude of 13 km over Dutch skies and no problems had been reported.


German carrier Lufthansa said it flew 10 planes from Frankfurt to Munich at lower altitudes.


" We have found nothing unusual, neither during the flight, nor during the first inspection on the ground," KLM chief executive Peter Hartman said.




TEMPERATURES in Europe could rise as a result of planes being grounded across the continent, according to research.


A study conducted after commercial flights were grounded for three days following the 9/ 11 terror attacks found the average daily temperature range in the US rose markedly — exceeding the three- day period before and after by 1.8 degree Celsius.


Scientists claimed this showed that clouds formed by the water vapour in the exhaust from jet planes have a small but significant effect on daily temperatures.




POWERFUL tremors from the Icelandic volcano rocked the countryside on Sunday as eruptions hurled a steady stream of ash into the sky.


Ash from the volcano drifted southeast towards Europe, sparing capital Reykjavik and other more populated centres but forcing farmers and their livestock indoors as a blanket of ash fell on the surrounding areas. Iceland's Met office said tremors from the volcano had grown more intense and had increased from a day ago, but the column of steam and ash rising from the volcano had eased back to four to five km from as high as 11 km when it started erupting.








CONGRESS general secretary Rahul Gandhi flagged off 10 ' Chetna Rath Yatras' on Ambedkar Jayanti on April 14 to make people aware of the ' misrule of the Mayawati government. Ironically, students of two schools in Uttar Pradesh were made to attend a public meeting in the scorching April heat and participate in one such rally.


On Friday, Union minister for minority affairs Salman Khurshid and filmstar- turned- Firozabad MP Raj Babbar were supposed to address a rally in the Naraura area of Bulandshahr.


To make their rally impressive, two local Congress leaders wanted the presence of school students at the venue. The two — R. P. Sharma and Umesh Singh — are managers of J. P. Memorial School and Blooming Bud School respectively.


They disbanded classes of the Class I to VII students and had them taken to the venue. The children, aged five to 12, were made to wait at Narwar Ghat, where the party had organised a ' Ganga Puja'. The students were made to stand in the heat for three hours before the organisers realised their mistake.


The guardian of one student of JP Memorial School came to know about the incident and registered his disapproval with the principal.


He said Sharma and Singh had been asked by Congress MLA Pradeep Mathur to shut down the school for the day and send the students and teachers to welcome Khurshid and Babbar.


" I reached the river bank along with a handful of guardians as soon as I came to know about it.


We warned the teachers accompanying the children that we would register a case against them. We also called up Singh and asked him who would be held accountable if the students fell ill because of the heat. He realised his mistake and asked the teachers to take the students back," the parent said.


Singh passed off the incident as a routine outing for the students.


" We had taken them for an outing. I did not know they went to the place from where the yatra was supposed to start.


I reached a few minutes before the leaders arrived and asked the teachers to take the children back," he said.


Mathur feigned ignorance. " I don't support the use to children in a public meeting. I will inquire about it and ensure it is not repeated," he said.





CORRUPTION in disaster- stricken areas is almost a given. The latest to prove this are the tornado- hit zones of West Bengal.


Five days have passed since a devastating tornado flattened 50,000 houses and killed 43 people in six blocks of the state's North Dinajpur district.


Ministers and district officials have been making their presence felt on television channels talking about their tireless efforts to cope with the disaster.


However, right under their noses, relief materials are being siphoned off.


Two sacks of puffed rice, six sacks of rice and half a tin of jaggery are allotted to be sent on rickshaws to the affected villages. In reality, only one sack of puffed rice and two sacks of rice are loaded onto each rickshaw.


" Half a tin is supposed to contain 8 kg of jaggery. At least one kg is missing from every tin. Some people are minting money by siphoning off the food," said Kush Burman, a panchayat worker.


" The panchayat chief never lets us attend meetings called by the block development officer. We are never shown the actual list of relief materials sanctioned either," Burman said.


When asked why she did not give field workers a copy of the list of relief materials, Kamalabari gram panchayat chief Susmita De said, " That is not necessary. I just inform them over phone when the relief materials are being sent." Civil defence minister Srikumar Mukherjee said nearly 60,000 tarpaulin sheets had already been distributed among the affected.


However, at Bazargaon, a large number of people set up road blocks claiming they had been sleeping under the open sky for the last three days.





AICC general secretary Digvijay Singh's move to take on Union home minister P. Chidambaram has not come as a surprise to many in the Congress.


Singh had been upset with Chidambaram over his failure to order a probe into the September 2009 Batla House ' encounter'. He had also suggested that all matters related to terrorism should be handled by the National Investigation Agency instead of the state police. Both proposals were reportedly vetoed by Chidambaram.


However, some in Congress circles believe that Singh's remarks on Maoists are a " command performance" aimed at placating civil society, which was agitated by the Union home minister's hawkish approach.



AWAY from home, minister of state for external affairs Shashi Tharoor is getting support from his country cousins. In Washington, members of the Federation of Kerala Associations in North America met Prime Minister Manmohan Singh when he was in the US. The charter of demands made to Singh did not have a ' save Tharoor' phrase, but in private conversations, the matter was reportedly raised.



THE APPOINTMENT of new army chief General Vijay Kumar Singh sees the departure of a senior Major- General from the position of a crucial public interface.

Though this officer had completed more than three years in his current posting and was in any case due for rotation, his departure is being viewed as connected to the retirement of General Deepak Kapoor.


People in the know of things say the position that the Major- General was " adorning" is actually a discretionary post held by officers proximate to each serving army chief.


So with General Singh at the helm now, he would like a man of his own liking for the post.



RARELY does a chief secretary, who heads the bureaucracy of his or her parent state, seek central deputation. But things are a little different in Kerala. The current LDF government has already seen seven chief secretaries seeking central deputation, though it still has a year to go, thanks to several babus successfully seeking transfers to Delhi.


It is certain that Kerala chief secretary Neela Gangadharan, a 1975 batch IAS officer, will join the justice department at the Centre as secretary. Gangadharan is said to have had differences with the state government.


The incumbent, Bhupinder Prasad, an IAS officer of 1976 batch, is tipped to take over as chairperson of the Inland Waterways Authority. While Prasad's exit from justice department has been mysterious, there is speculation in some quarters that LDF government's term will come to an end with its eighth chief secretary.







Congress core group made it clear that he could no longer be a minister.


Sources said that the decision to ask Tharoor to resign was unanimous in the core group. No one batted for him. Singh was reportedly informed that intelligence agencies had found evidence of impropriety against the minister. The spokesman for the Prime Minister's Office (PMO) said that the Tharoor's resignation letter had been sent to the President with a recommendation that it be accepted.


That the minister should be asked to go had the sanction of the Congress brass – the Prime Minister, Congress president Sonia Gandhi, finance minister Pranab Mukherjee, home minister P. Chidambaram, defence minister A.K. Antony and Ahmed Patel, political secretary to Gandhi. Sources said that the Prime Minister was earlier a "bit lenient" on Tharoor whom he considered a competent minister and a cut above the regular Congress politician. But, he accepted the majority view on the issue.


The party leadership told Singh it would be difficult to weather the storm in Parliament were Tharoor to continue.The sources said Mukherjee made a "presentation" to the Prime Minister based on the investigation by the income-tax authorities and intelligence agencies. He reportedly said there was enough evidence against the minister for his involvement in the IPL Kochi deal. Singh was also briefed separately by the Intelligence Bureau on the Tharoor case.


Mukherjee is also learnt to have impressed upon the Prime Minister that the government should not let the Opposition parties corner him at a time when the government had a bunch of serious legislative business such as passing the budget, tabling the nuclear liability Bill and tackling issues like price rise.


The finance minister made a strong case against Tharoor's continuance as minister, saying it was not an issue on which the party or the government should stand up in defence. Antony also backed this position, reportedly saying, "All of us already advised him to step down, but he insisted that he is innocent. If he is innocent, he should step down and prove his innocence."


The Congress core group meeting was held against the backdrop of a shrill Opposition seeking Tharoor's dismissal over his involvement in the controversial purchase of the IPL Kochi franchise and sweat equity worth Rs 75 crore of his friend Sunanda Pushkar. The high command was unhappy that Tharoor had not kept the party in the loop on his IPL deal.


The controversy had been on the boil for a week – since April 11 – when Indian Premier League commissioner Lalit Modi gave out details of the Kochi franchise owners on Twitter. As a result, Pushkar's name and Tharoor's involvement in the issue came into the public domain. On a day of fast paced developments, Tharoor first met Singh on Sunday noon for about 45 minutes during which is he is understood to have explained his position in the wake of allegations that he helped Pushkar to acquire a sweat GOING HAMMER & TONGS The IPL scandals have shown how politicians and businessmen are manipulating the bids on the teams — Murli Manohar Joshi, BJP leader ' equity in the Kochi IPL franchise. Even as he called on the Prime Minister, Pushkar surrendered her equity in the Kochi franchise and quit Rendezvous Sports World, part owners of the franchise. It was clearly a last ditch bid to save Tharoor's job.


It did not. In fact, the BJP and the Left parties promptly rejected the gesture saying that Pushkar's belated action did not absolve Tharoor of the charge of misuse of office. They said that by giving up her free equity, she had admitted her and Tharoor's complicity in the matter.


At 6.35 pm on Sunday, Sonia Gandhi drove to PM's 7, Race Course Road official residence for a one-to-one meeting. Half an hour later, the core group met and discussed the entire gamut of the IPL controversy, and its political fallout on the remaining part of budget session of Parliament. After the meeting, the Prime Minister directed Tharoor to step down and subsequently, at about 9.20 pm, the minister drove to Race Course road in his personal car jettisoning the ministry's beacon car. He was closeted with Singh for about an hour and when he emerged he did not confirm whether he had resigned.


Sources said the PM and Gandhi are keen to accommodate him in some other capacity when the dust settles down.



THE Shashi Tharoor resignation drama bears an uncanny similarity with the sacking of former external affairs minister Natwar Singh nearly five years ago. Both handled the ministry of external affairs (MEA), which does not involve major financial transactions unlike many other ministries, yet both were charged with financial impropriety. Another similarity was their proximity to 10 Janpath and the Gandhi family.


Just like the row that embroiled Singh, which surfaced within one and a half years of UPA-I being in the saddle, the Tharoor controversy has erupted as the UPA-II is about to complete a year in office. The two also spoke in their defence in public on the same news channel. Over the past week, Tharoor faced what sections in the Congress referred to as the "Natwar Singh-Volcker report test". Singh's closeness to the Gandhi family is not a secret. It was the same family which encouraged Tharoor to contest the Lok Sabha elections from Thiruvananthapuram.


Both Tharoor and Singh had initially rejected the demands for their resignation. Their assertions of defence were also along the same lines. The two leaders said a Congress minister cannot resign if the BJP so wishes. To a pointed query on whether he ever purchased oil from former Iraq President Saddam Hus-sein, Singh had said "never". Tharoor, too, said he had never indulged in any corruption. Tharoor, as a former UN official, will need no introduction to the Volcker report. The Volcker Committee — set up by the UN to inquire into the oil-for-food programme — named Singh, his son Jagat and some other Indian companies as beneficiaries of the scam.


His defence, like Tharoor's, failed to convince the party's top brass. When Natwar was finally sacked by the Prime Minister, none of his friends in the party stood up for him. Tharoor also didn't get much support. It is another matter that he was always seen as an outsider. In Natwar's case, Sonia Gandhi had publicly criticised him and said in an interview that he had misused the name of the party and that she felt extremely betrayed. Natwar had said allegations in the Volcker report were an attempt to malign one of the most well known, oldest and secular parties in the world. IPL chief Lalit Modi ignited the Tharoor controversy a week ago when he revealed the ownership pattern of the Kochi IPL team.









The entry of the income tax department into the IPL spat was unavoidable. Available evidence certainly suggests that all's not well with the premier league's financial dealings. The matters that need to be probed are no longer limited to the last round of team auctions and the ownership of the Kochi franchisee. The whole league is now under a cloud of suspicion. Questions have been raised about ownership details of other IPL franchisees and previous auction processes. The IPL, and itsmother body, the BCCI, have been blamed for lacking in transparency and having too many things to hide. A clean-up of the cricket establishment has become necessary.

The conduct of the two men in the spotlight, Shashi Tharoor and Lalit Modi, certainly calls for explanation. The relinquishing of a Rs 70 crore stake in the Kochi IPL team by Sunanda Pushkar, Tharoor's close friend, does nothing to dispel suspicion that Tharoor unduly influenced the deal between her and Rendezvous World, and may in fact deepen them spelling out trouble for Tharoor. Modi, who's taken the credit for making IPL a success story, needs to explain his multiple roles in the cricket establishment. There are other players in the shadows who too need to come clear on their roles in running the game. Conflict of interest is not a cricketing term. But too much of it appears to be around in cricket these days.

Cricket is a business enterprise in India and its patrons can't any more justify their involvement in the management of the sport as 'purely for the love of the game'. The kind of love they are showering on the game could kill it. It's better that these patrons declare their business interests transparently. IPL has so far been a remarkable story. The format mixing sport and entertainment has caught the imagination of players, fans and big business. It has provided a platform for numerous youngsters to showcase their talent and rub shoulders with international players.

Unless nurtured carefully, IPL stands to lose the gains it has made in the last three years. The fear that sleaze money and betting rackets may capture the league is real. Cricket has been a victim of betting syndicates and match-fixing in the past. Some of it originated in India and it took a while for players and fans to recover from its impact. A transparent system of fund-raising and decision-making must be put in place to ensure that the game is protected from carpetbaggers and dirty money.







Technology is a dream about control, but sometimes nothing can be done to forestall chaos if nature asserts itself. Huge plumes of ash clouds spewed by an Icelandic volcano beneath a glacier that began erupting on Wednesday last have forced most European airports to shut down. The billowing smoke, ash and dust have thrown a veil over the sky, severely hampering visibility, sending local flights as well as international flights routed through Europe into a tailspin. That a natural phenomenon could throw life into such disarray in an instant, without prior notice particularly when the world is so proud of its sophisticated technological achievements that have created the intricate itineraries of globalisation we have become used to only shows that no matter what we do, control still eludes us.

Technology is no different from magic, according to the visionary science fiction writer Arthur C Clarke. One might also add that magic is all but useless in the face of what myths describe as "the fury of nature". That airlines are making huge losses, that tulips awaiting shipment out of Europe are wilting in airports and that passengers are stranded midway, their carefully worked out itineraries turned topsy-turvy, make no difference to nature. The disruptions caused by the volcanic eruption in Europe and across the world are said to be larger than 9/11's aftermath, even if political repercussions are hardly likely to be of the same scale or duration as 9/11. If the upheavals and trauma the world experienced post-9/11 were man-made and avoidable, the only way to deal with natural disasters of this magnitude is to wait them out. Even in modern life, we need to accommodate uncertainty.

























SYDNEY: The Australian government's recent moves to address upfront the causes that led to a spate of attacks on Indian students over the past one year, taken after an exchange of a number of high-level visits, will go some way to repair the damage they caused to relations between the two countries. However, much work remains to be done on both sides to clear misperceptions, do away with sterile posturing and identify areas where the two can work together for their mutual benefit.

New Delhi remains wary of Prime Minister Kevin Rudd's much vaunted admiration for China and all things Chinese. His first visit abroad after taking over office was to Beijing. Since then, many of his foreign policy pronouncements have echoed those of China. His views on developments in South Asia would bear this out. Rudd believes, for example, that the solution to the Afghan crisis lies in the stabilisation of the entire region. And the way to stabilise it is to make Kashmir an independent state. Once the Kashmir dispute is settled along these lines, Australia would support India's bid for a permanent seat in the UN Security Council and agree to sell uranium to India. All this, experts here argue, is music not only to Chinese ears but to Pakistani ones as well. Indeed, over the past three years, Australia-Pakistan relations have been on the upswing. Australia has emerged as the most important training ground for the Pakistani army.

Needless to say, the views attributed to Rudd to 'stabilise' South Asia have been met with a derisive sneer in New Delhi. This is as it should be. That, however, is no reason for India not to engage Australia in a sustained dialogue on a host of commercial and strategic matters of mutual interest and concern. There are compelling reasons to do so.

One relates to a growing wave of anti-China sentiments in the country. Influential sections of the media were outraged when a Chinese court awarded a stiff jail sentence to Stern Hu, a well-known Chinese-Australian businessman. They denounced the lack of transparency in the Chinese judicial system and generally railed against China's scant respect for the rule of law as the term is understood in democratic countries.

There have also been a series of articles in leading newspapers on China's aggressive pursuit of its economic interests. In The Australian (April 5, 2010), David Burchell likened China to European monarchies of the 18th century. "Albeit fortified by the weasel of words of a half-remembered Marxist-Leninist gospel", he wrote, "the Chinese government views international trade as a kind of military campaign, at the conclusion of which there will be victors and vanquished, and in the course of which hapless civilians may regretfully suffer." He went on to add that Beijing has mollycoddled dictators like Zimbabwe's Robert Mugabe and secured that country's natural resources at rock-bottom prices. This, he wrote, was a "strange new species of colonialism, devoid of the specious moralising of the old colonialism, but even more efficient in its methods".

What galls the experts is that the Australian authorities are clueless about how to respond to the "cycle of aggression and anxiety, bravado and injured pride that dominates China's conception of its world role". Turn by turn, as Burchell wrote, "they appear to be churlish or obsequious or unconvincing in their protestations". The experts believe that the economies of China and Australia are far too enmeshed for their relationship to strain to breaking point. They are quick to add, however, that Rudd, who faces an election later this year, cannot afford to dismiss the growing criticism of China out of hand.

It is in this context that influential voices here have begun to call for closer ties between India and Australia. In an article published in The Sydney Morning Herald (April 2-4, 2010), Richard Woolcott, a former secretary of the department of foreign affairs and trade, urged the two countries to "move well beyond the three Cs: curry, cricket and the Commonwealth". After lauding India's growth rate and its vibrant democracy, he emphasised the complementary character of the economies of India and Australia on several issues: in resources, agriculture, services and renewable and clean energy technology.

Closer cooperation has become all the more urgent in view of a new development that is certain to boost Australia's economic performance over the next few decades: the discovery of three huge oil and gas fields off the coasts of south Australia, western Australia and Queensland. To sustain a rapidly expanding economy, Australia will need to significantly enlarge its skilled manpower pool, attract investments in a number of areas and, in turn, engage in developmental activities abroad.

Here lies India's opportunity. Australia can go a long way to meet its energy security needs. Indian managerial and technological talent will also be in great demand. This in turn will increase the clout of the Indian diaspora here. And on the strategic front, no two countries are better placed to make common cause to combat terrorism and piracy on the high seas. It is vital for New Delhi and Canberra not to lose a moment to place their relations on the fast track.






Since making his acting debut two decades ago, Tamil superstar Vikram has done more path-breaking work than any of his colleagues. After doing blockbusters including Sethu, Dhill, Gemini and Dhool and winning a national award for the role in Pithamagan, Vikram is all set to make his Hindi film debut with Mani Ratnam's Raavan. He spoke to Subhash K Jha:

Are you looking forward to your entry into Hindi cinema?

The work in Mumbai is so exciting. When i saw Rang De Basanti, Lagaan, 3 Idiots and My Name Is Khan, i wanted to be part of them. I wish we could make films like that in Tamil. Most Tamil films are rustic, rural, rugged and violent. Many of them are set in Madurai, which is known to be an aggressive city.

How does it feel to be at the top in Tamil cinema for so long?

I always behave as though every film of mine is the first. And i try doing something different each time. It's like chess for me. I've done very few films. By the time i release one film, my contemporaries complete and release four films. In the year that i had Aparachit, Vijay had six films and Ajith had four.


Tell us about your family life?

My wife Shailaja is a teacher in psychology. She's recently started teaching in a very well known school in Chennai. I discuss my career with her, bounce off ideas. I've also become half a psychologist. My daughter is 12 and my son is eight. My son is totally hooked to cinema. He wants to be an actor. But i'd rather he concentrated on his studies. I'm sure he'll do great in movies some day. I'm also moving towards direction with every movie. It's subliminal. But i am learning on the sets all the time.

Many of your Tamil films have been remade into Hindi, for example Sethu which was Tere Naam in Hindi?
Salman Khan is a good friend and he did a good job. It was based on the Tamil director Bala's own experiences. So i guess the creator's influence was stronger in Tamil. I lost about 16 kg for my character in the second-half when he goes into the mental asylum. I had one chapatti, one egg white and a glass of beetroot juice as my meal for the day every day. I used to walk to the location, which was 16 km away.

Which version of Raavan will you and your family watch first?

That's a domestic dispute right now. Tamil or Hindi is a toss-up. I'm not leaving Tamil cinema for Hindi. I've four films to shoot in Tamil. I've already started my next Tamil film, a psycho-thriller directed by Selvaraghavan where i've three roles. I've a film about a stage actor from the 1930s. I can't do routine films. The acting bug bit me when i was in class 3. My audience has been growing since then. When we were shooting in Orchha no one recognised me and then suddenly my driver asked me if i was the actor from Aparachit. It gives me a kick to be recognised.

How's your Hindi?

Not too good. My co-star Abhishek Bachchan has been helping me with my Hindi lines in Raavan. Abhishek is one of my best friends. I am known to be the prankster. But with Abhishek around i had to withdraw from the brat race.







'Who will be the faultless nuptial partner to a lady tennis champ? A tennis pro? Or a cricketer?' was the topic for the friendly debate of our Sundowner Club. Badri, the kick-ass grass-court aficionado was to lock horns with Atma, a Mongoose bat fireworks fan, with none officiating as chair, line, straight, leg or third umpire.

Nursing his margarita, Badri served a sizzling ace. ''A tennis beauty performing solo at the centre court under the intense gaze of several spectators should have more guts in her persona than in her well-strung racket. With not a nano moment to relax, she should be as agile as a fighting cheetah. Imagine linking her lot with a laid-back test cricketer who may move in spasmodic jerks like a container truck in peak-hour traffic. It will be worse than harnessing a thoroughbred, lively, two-year-old filly to a lumbering tonga. No way. A tennis lass should marry only a tennis lad who will undoubtedly be open-hearted, exposed to French, US, Australian and any other Open. So, it is advantage to Mr Tennis.''

Atma closed his eye shutters to marshal his thoughts. He took a moody sip of his brandy and soda and bowled a tantalising googly. ''You're all wrong. Badri old chap, don't you know, 'like poles repel and unlike poles attract'? Agreed, a supple, sun-tanned, long-legged tennis beauty will be frenetic. She has to be. But if her marriage were to click, her mate has to be a perfect foil. No one is better suited for such a role than a cricketer. An all-rounder who bats, bowls or serves drinks, hands over towels and gently massages where and when necessary would be an ideal companion. A 50-50 or a 20-20 day-night player, he will be a virtual Ardhanareeswara, granting his mate matching status, without calling himself the malik. And so, Badri, the cricketer-suitor wins the toss.''

Munching a parabolic potato chip Badri picked up the thread. ''This one sure tastes bland like your argument. Should take both with a pinch of salt. Atma, you're a married man. Don't you know what a wife resents is being shouted at by her husband at the top of his voice? D'you think a macho cricketer hubby will not howl, angrily, "howzaat!!'' frequently to intimidate, browbeat and unsettle her? Besides, a cricketer worth his bat or ball has to spit like a spray gun at the grounds be it Kotla or Lord's. Disgusting. And deplorable. These habits might eventually surface at home. But tennis is a class apart. Le magnifique. Atma, modern cricket is no longer a gentleman's game. Look at the batsman, armoured like King Arthur out to fight the Saxon invaders. Pity there are more bouncers inside a cricket stadium than a seafront strip joint. But tennis is not a menace. Dennis is. We may have an occasional McEnroe picking up a row. Or a statuesque Serena grand-slamming a diminutive line umpire. But those intemperate outbursts are rare double faults. Tennis is top drawer. And so it should be a straight set for a tennis hubby.''


Atma didn't seem to be stumped by the tie-breaker. He took time like a batsman openly adjusting his strategic guards prior to his blitzkrieg. ''Don't you know a tennis player is a lone ranger at the court with no support? Not so in cricket. The whole team will be on its toes, out to give a groundswell of support to the player when he bowls. Such a cricketer will be like a scion of a populous joint family, with solid advice always handy. Badri, lemme tell you, he will be a big hit in tackling matrimony. I bet if the guy breathing cricket marries the lass giving tennis its deuce, his devi's cup will overflow with unbounded joy. Over.''








Historian Ramachandra Guha once raised a very important question: historians dig up archival letters to know about a person and his relationship with others. A Jawaharlal Nehru biography, for instance, cannot do without a careful study of the letters he wrote. But what happens to future biographers in a world where everyone writes emails and hardly letters? Well, catching emails of greats in the future may still be a daunting task but the American federal government announced last week that the Library of Congress will keep an archive of every public tweet made on Twitter.


The move makes total sense, considering the fact that unlike private letters, tweets, by definition, are for public consumption. On last count, some 55 million tweets are sent to Twitter every day. That number is going to rise. Keeping public and historical utility in mind, Twitter, the company, has allowed access to the entire archive of public tweets (some, for strange reasons, are 'privacy protected') to the Library of Congress. We guess it's up to the Library of Congress archivists to decide how to catalogue the whole cosmos of tweets. But with no one getting to know how a young tweeter may turn out to be one day, it's probably best to archive all the tweets posted ever.


One query: does a tweet from, say, a celebrity that says nothing apart from, "Hd an awsm tme @ Lalit Modi's aftr match party!" make it to the hallowed pages of history for a future research? Or will the tweechivists only take note of Shashi Tharoor posting, "U folks are the new India. We will 'be the change' we wish to see in our country. But not w'out pain!" We prefer the former. But hey, we're not the Library of Congress.






Charges of fraud against Wall Street's most powerful investment bank Goldman Sachs for designing a derivative based on sub-prime mortgages in 2007 that was deliberately meant to lose value because of short selling have caused ripples in international capital markets. The Sensex was caught in the tailspin, snapping out of a nine-week winning streak. With memories of Lehman Brothers' collapse fresh in the minds of investors the world over, there is reason to be alarmed over new evidence of excesses committed by Wall Street bankers that led to the biggest crash since the Great Depression. The Goldman scrip plunged 13 per cent on Friday and shares of the other leading underwriters of collateralised debt obligations — Deutsche Bank, Morgan Stanley, Bank of America, which owns Merrill Lynch, and Citigroup — declined by between 9 and 5 per cent, although most of their deals included actual mortgage-backed securities and not synthetic derivatives of the Goldman variety.

The unusually strong indictment of Goldman Sachs by an embattled Securities and Exchange Commission feeds into the political mood in Washington to bring derivatives into the regulatory ambit. Draft legislation, supported by President Barack Obama, intends to slap new restrictions on major banks, curtailing their opportunities for profit and revenue growth. The timing of the SEC lawsuit could help drum up support on Capitol Hill for the Democrat Bill, but White House may be able to tone it down to fit with other proposals that form Congress' efforts to reform the financial regulatory system. Either way, the $450 trillion over-the-counter swaps market in the US will face greater oversight.

Increased public scrutiny of investment banks with big infusion of taxpayer money in the aftermath of the sub-prime crisis should be able to contain the fallout of more such instances of creative deal-making coming to light. International financial markets are still fragile and the nascent recovery could be easily upended. Yet the world is better placed today to deal with a crisis than two years ago. For one, the regulators are extra cautious as new rules are being written to avoid a recurrence of the American flu. Financial institutions are also better capitalised now to be able to withstand any falling dominos. And governments across the globe are primed to push money into the system to avoid a financial meltdown. There may be legitimate fears of a double-dip global recession, but the Goldman Sachs episode is far from being a trigger.






Government doctors are severely restricted in seeing patients outside their places of work.


Even so, the quest for extra money sometimes gets the better of them. This has led to 'private practice' becoming a charming euphemism for anybody exploiting his regular responsibilities for a fast buck.


At the root of the Indian Premier League (IPL) mess are three individuals, two with a high profile and the third unknown till recently. Even so, common to them is the perception of 'private practice'. Whatever their bravado before carefully-selected television cameras, both Shashi Tharoor and Lalit Modi have a lot of explaining to do. On his part, Shailendra Gaikwad, the sacked CEO of the Rendezvous consortium that won the IPL's Kochi franchise, has to dispel the notion that the corporate structure he put together was not institutionalised embezzlement.


Begin with Tharoor. Through the many controversies, usually trivial, he has been involved in since he became a minister, Tharoor's defence has been that India and the Indian media have misunderstood him, his sensibility and his vocabulary. Others have pointed out there is a disconnect between a man who has lived abroad for 35 years and the country he has come back to.


None of this is relevant to the IPL debate. A minister goes around introducing a lady to social friends and political colleagues as his future wife. Then, he 'mentors' a collective of business interests and urges it to bid (and win) a prized sports franchise. The lady, with a professional reputation that can only politely be described as hitherto under-reported, ends up with 5 per cent equity free of cost.


Such an episode would have been considered a conflict of interest anywhere. In the United States and Britain as well, it would have led to a media storm. Consider an analogy. Tony Blair, as prime minister, makes a public statement saying he supports and 'mentors' a British consortium's bid to win the right to build a new European Union office complex in Brussels. After it wins, the company gives away 5 per cent of its equity free to Cherie Blair and claims this is advance payment for legal services the lady will render. Would even Tharoor have found it believable?


For the most part, the composition of the Kochi consortium is above board. There is the family behind Anchor Electricals, whose products are in about every home in middle India; there is a diamond magnate with facilities stretching from Mumbai to Antwerp. These people put in the money for the $333.33 million IPL bid. Yet at some point Shailendra Gaikwad, the promoter/'CEO' of Rendezvous Sports World, the entity at the core of the consortium, hijacked the enterprise.


Consider what Gaikwad did that was just not on. He unilaterally appointed his cousin, Satyajit Gaikwad, as Kochi franchise 'spokesperson'. In a clumsy attempt to protect Tharoor, Satyajit accused Narendra Modi and Vasundhara Raje of conspiring against Kochi. Satyajit is a former Congress MP; he was removed as All India Congress Committee secretary after a financial scandal in Andhra Pradesh. In seeking to convert the Tharoor squabble into a Congress-BJP battle, he was not acting on party orders. He was only covering up for cousins and cronies. It was pure, undiluted private practice.


The Gaikwads insisted no favours had been done to Tharoor's 'girlfriend' (to borrow an expression Satyajit used on television). She was given sweat equity in anticipation of services over the coming years. However, she was not an employee of the company — as sweat equity recipients legally should be — but an external consultant. Interestingly, among those given 'free' or 'sweat' equity in exactly the same fashion are Pushpa and Kisan Gaikwad, Shailendra's parents. Kisan is a retired irrigation official and Pushpa a home-maker. What services will they be rendering to the Kochi IPL team and for how long?


Finally, there's Lalit Modi, the commissioner of the IPL who can be matched in self-promotion only by Tharoor. It is now fairly obvious that Modi was handing out 'informal guidance' to potential bidders. Was he talking up the market, incorrect as even that would have been, or was he creating conditions for specific bids to be successful? In this context, Tharoor's terming of Modi as someone who presented himself as a "trusted friend" and "guided us through the process" is telling.


Was similar 'guidance' offered to bidders when the eight original franchises were sold in 2008? Is Kochi the only franchise with multiple proxy ownership suspicions — another person is supposed to be standing in for a Mumbai-based former cricketer — or does this cosy matrix extend to other teams? In handing out jobs and contracts at the IPL, did Modi invite tenders, issue job ads or did he just do as he pleased? In 'guiding' bidders and, initially, attempting to fix parameters so that only two bids were valid for — coincidentally — two franchises, was he acting on behalf of two powerful ministers who were themselves 'mentoring' teams? Is corporate governance alien to the IPL?


Like Tharoor and the Gaikwads, Modi can't pretend the questions aren't genuine. Maybe the IPL would be better off without them. Right now it resembles a gravy train.


Ashok Malik is a political commentator


The views expressed by the author are personal






The signed article by senior Congress leader and former Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Digvijay Singh in a national daily attacking Home Minister P. Chidambaram is another indication of a fierce power struggle within the party. Singh was not alone in criticising the home minister — his party colleague Mani Shankar Aiyar also agreed with him "one lakh per cent". Singh claimed that he has been a victim of Chidambaram's "intellectual arrogance".

Former Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Ajit Jogi also seemingly does not agree with the home minister's approach in tackling the Maoists. For the three of them and with many others in the Congress, the Naxal problem is not merely a law-and-order issue but also has socio-economic and political dimensions to it.

Chidambaram, however, remains focused to take on the Maoists head on. He told the Lok Sabha that the murder of 76 Central Reserve Police Force personnel in the jungles of Dantewada in Chhattisgarh recently should be treated as a wake-up call. He added that the tragedy must lead to greater resolve, determination and fearlessness in dealing with Naxalism as a law-and-order problem.

Within the Congress, many agree with Singh. But the question that arises is that why someone as senior and politically astute as the former MP chief minister should take a public position against his party colleague? Many find it hard to believe that he acted on his own and feel that he must have been prompted by someone to air his views.

His views on the government's Naxal policy came shortly after the Cabinet Secretary, K.M. Chandrashekhar — who was acting at the instance of the prime minister — circulated a note among all UPA ministers which said that Chidambaram alone was authorised to speak on the Maoist problem. Singh in his article wrote that the home minister should not have taken a sectarian view on the issue. Instead, Chidambaram should have put up the issue before the Cabinet for formulating a holistic approach to deal with the problem, Singh added. After all, it is the collective responsibility of the Cabinet to deal with such situations.

Though Congress General Secretary Janardhan Dwivedi tried to play down the controversy by declaring that the senior leaders should discuss their views on sensitive matters within the party forum and not go public, Singh's attack on the home minister was supported by some Congressmen. Some also saw the criticism as an attempt by the senior leader to convey to the high command that Chidambaram's approach on issues lack political depth and the party might have to bear grave political consequences in the future.

While Chidambaram has got huge endorsement from the Opposition parties including the BJP in the fight against Naxalism, there are sections within the Congress who feel that he needs to be more approachable, flexible and understanding on many issues instead of being "rigid and arrogant", as suggested by Singh. This section also feels that a home minister should always be a man with political insight and experience.

It was not without any reason that most home ministers who served under Indira Gandhi were always former chief ministers. The tradition of appointing former CMs as home minister had its own political logic but the trend was broken by Rajiv Gandhi when he appointed Buta Singh as the home minister. Narasimha Rao reverted to the Indira Gandhi-style and appointed S.B. Chavan as his home minister. But the UPA's two home ministers since it came to power in 2004 — Shivraj Patil and Chidambaram — have never been chief ministers.

The times are changing and it requires new solutions. There have to be strong reasons for the prime minister and the Congress president to opt for Patil and Chidambaram for this sensitive ministry. If other Congress leaders have reservations about the policies and approach of the home ministry, they should, as Dwivedi suggested, raise it first at the party level.

Whatever be the compulsions, Congress leaders must desist from criticising their colleagues in public. People are watching and the party will feel the heat when the appropriate time comes. Between us.








Out of the many lessons to be taken away from Shashi Tharoor's spectacular self-destructiveness, the saddest would be that lateral entry into politics is not all it's cracked up to be. Those who came into government after proving their professional mettle elsewhere, it was expected, were going to be a rejuvenating force. They would amp up the government's metabolism, supply new and interesting ideas, and provide a bracing counter to those who had got too cynical about politics.


Tharoor won Thiruvanathapuram with a dramatic mandate, but how has he repaid that trust? After he was made a junior minister for external affairs, his cockiness resurfaced. He talked of changing the system — but after he got inside the political tent, he figured it was bad only for those outside, and proceeded to embrace the worst of Delhi's political culture. Instead of trying to dismantle the IPL oligarchy, he jumped right in, cutting deals and favour-mongering. Meanwhile, he continued with the too-cool-for-school moves — forced out of his fancy hotel, he mouthed Congress pieties on austerity, but playfully undercut them on Twitter. He was obliged to toe his ministry's line on visas or his party's beliefs about its own leaders, but his convictions were larger. He was in Indian politics, but not of it. He has made his party look like a fusty encumbrance, while he had a direct line to the 'new India.' New India deserves better.


Why is Tharoor's infraction so unforgivable? Because he stands for those who explicitly promised otherwise. This episode has not only depleted his own credibility, but also undermined the idea of the accomplished outsider who can tilt the political field. It has undermined a case for professional expertise in government, in part for the guarantee of personal probity. Certainly, those who parachute into politics could be just as likely to play the insider's game, once they are inside. But government and politics in India are particularly closed to giving leadership roles to those without long apprenticeships. Tharoor, as Pied Piper, has now put the system on guard. Fortunately there are redeeming examples like Nandan Nilekani, pouring his experience and intellect into the UID project with quiet efficiency. It would be a terrible pity if the Tharoor example was snatched up those who wanted to keep politics and governance a closed ladder. But it should certainly dent the empty, untested, unqualified enthusiasm about PLU politicians.







Committees regularly submit a revised estimate of the number of people below the poverty line, with perhaps a slightly different set of measurements, and then various ideological positions are loudly reiterated — the number's too low, it's too high, it's the consequence of callous neoliberalism, it's the product of the ever-expanding demands of the poverty ayatollahs. Unsurprisingly, therefore, the decision by a panel from the Planning Commission to go with one particular estimate for the Food Security Act — based on a formula devised by a committee led by former economic advisor Suresh Tendulkar — traverses the path of least political resistance, rather than one born of some internal logic, economic or humane.


On the one hand, there was the obvious desire of many in government to limit the state's responsibility, and therefore its expenses and the strain on its budget deficit. They'd prefer an earlier Plan panel estimate — around 27.5 per cent. That became politically difficult when it was denounced as effectively hollowing out the idea of food security, already chosen by the Congress as its big plank for the UPA's second go at government. From the other direction, pressure began to mount on the food security bill's drafters from some outside government to forget the whole question of who would qualify, and make the right to state-supplied food a universal entitlement — surely a right should be accessible to everyone?


Into this squabble the Plan panel has dropped its ungainly compromise. For other government schemes, the old number's true; but for food security, the Tendulkar commission's formula is. That will raise the number of those eligible for free food significantly — but nobody's sure how much. One widely-quoted number is to close to 10 crore families; some states put it over 11; the Planning commission deputy chairman, doggedly optimistic, puts it somewhere between 7.5 and 8 crore. The worry is that this demonstrates, again, a dangerously half-hearted commitment to food security: dangerous because it will neither be abandoned nor effectively implemented, and we could wind up with a system that feeds too few but costs too much.








In December 2009, the Gujarat assembly passed a legislation making voting compulsory in local self governance bodies, and empowering the legislature to pass rules to penalise non-voters. Now comes news that the Gujarat governor has returned the bill, on the ground that its provisions violate the Constitution.


The idea of compulsory voting has been studied extensively as part of efforts to make elections reflect literally the will of the majority. But these proposals have always come up against a most basic question: how democratic is compulsory voting? The simplest argument in favour of compulsory voting is that it causes little inconvenience. Besides, compulsory voting may be viewed, not as a burden, but as an entitlement. Bosses, for instance, would have to give employees time off to exercise their franchise. Making voting mandatory would also remove any structural impediments that may dissuade certain sections from exercising their franchise. But it is the third argument that is the most compelling: at a time of low voter turnouts and disenchantment with the electoral process, the law will bolster legitimacy in our frail democracy.


Yet, coercion and democracy cannot go hand in hand. The right to dissent by not voting is in itself democratic. Forcing people to turn out to vote are rituals more common to authoritarian states; they go against the grain of our well entrenched electoral mores. And on question of legitimacy, turnouts in Indian elections today are not low, by global standards. In fact in recent elections they have been rising. However, the bottomline is this — it is the job of candidates and political parties to campaign amongst the electorate to plead their agenda and even to convince voters to turn out in their support. If a voter chooses not to show up on election day, that is her right.









The most curious aspect of the unseemly public spat between the stock market regulator, SEBI, and insurance regulator, IRDA, was its timing. Tens of millions of small investors have been sold what is called a unit linked insurance policy (ULIP), which is essentially a mutual fund investment with an insurance component added to it. SEBI regulates the mutual fund industry and IRDA the insurance sector. A dispute arose as to who would regulate a hybrid product like ULIP, which has both a mutual fund and an insurance scheme embedded in it. Mind you, this dispute has been festering for some years now. SEBI has been concerned that insurance agents are selling what is really a mutual fund with a massive upfront commission of up to 30 per cent, the burden of which falls on the hapless investor. SEBI, on its part, strictly regulates the commission charged by mutual fund sellers so that the small investor gets the maximum benefit.


In a way, SEBI was totally justified in issuing a diktat that all investment products sold by insurance agents needed to be approved by it. The insurance regulator made matters worse by issuing an order that insurance companies could continue selling ULIPs as they did earlier. The market has been totally confused as to which regulator's orders to follow. The finance minister has now said the matter is best resolved by a court of law.


The whole episode has indeed caused a significant setback to the smooth development of regulatory institutions in the financial services sector. The timing of the unseemly episode suggests a section of the finance ministry may have even wanted this old dispute to come to a boil so as to project the importance of the Financial Stability Development Council (FSDC), which was announced in the Union budget. Indeed, the FSDC's minimalist mandate is to act purely as a body which will resolve jurisdictional disputes among financial regulators.


However, since the FSDC will be run by bureaucrats in North Block, you can expect it to act like an ever expanding biological organism which will try to develop a maximalist mandate in quick time. Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee is acutely aware of this tendency, and will therefore tread with caution on this one. For starters, he had discouraged the initial idea that the FSDC must have a statutory status derived from an act of Parliament. That would have created an ongoing conflict between the FSDC and other financial regulatory bodies like the RBI, SEBI, IRDA and so on. In fact, the finance minister made it a point to reassure the RBI board last fortnight that the FSDC will only have a sort of advisory role, and that it will not in anyway impinge on the autonomy of existing regulators.


Indeed, the ongoing dispute between SEBI and IRDA masks a bigger intellectual debate over the nature of financial sector reforms and regulation India needs over the next few decades to support its rapid rise as a global economic power. This debate must be conducted in an open and transparent manner, involving all the regulators. This will help strengthen the overall integrity of regulatory institutions in the financial services sector. It will also help in avoiding the spectacle of regulators slugging it out in public, and the finance ministry watching from the sidelines. This debate must also define the mandate of the FSDC in clear terms, without any scope for confusion.


A senior bureaucrat from North Block recently made a presentation on FSDC's potential role in a closed door seminar. At the outset, he indicated it will not be a super regulator. So far so good. However, he listed four broad categories of activity that the newly formed body could do which he claimed were "currently not being done". Financial stability and financial market development were listed as two areas not being addressed.


As for financial stability, India's record in maintaining financial stability in the wake of the global financial crises has come in for praise from all quarters, domestic and foreign. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh explicitly praised the efforts of the RBI in Mumbai last week in maintaining financial stability in the wake of the global crises. He not only praised the present governor, D. Subbarao, but also described the central bank as having been prescient in acting against a potential property bubble in India. So it may have been somewhat presumptuous of the North Block mandarin to claim that FSDC is the body which could better address the issue of financial stability.


To be fair, there is ample scope to further develop the financial markets in which a lot of inter-regulatory coordination is required. The prime minister too was emphatic that India needs to develop further a sophisticated financial services market to serve the growing needs of the domestic economy. All regulators must be brought on the same page to make this happen.


However, it must also be recognised that the intellectual thought process which resulted in the decision to create FSDC began some time early 2007, at the peak of the global economic boom. Indeed, there was a growing consensus then that India must move towards much greater convertibility on the capital account, probably at a faster pace. The prime minister himself had initiated the debate on the subject. The further reform and regulation of the financial markets was discussed against this specific backdrop during the boom period.


The global financial crisis, as we all know, has somewhat changed the terms of debate. Even the ayatollahs of capital convertibility at the International Monetary Fund are reinterpreting their cast-in-stone wisdom, advocating caution on capital account reform for emerging economies. Speaking at the 75th anniversary of the RBI, Dr Singh also suggested caution on reform of the capital account.


This appears to be the larger intellectual backdrop against which India's financial regulatory regime will be

developed and altered. The minor and major issues of coordination between existing financial services regulators are indeed important. However, what is most critical is whether the finance ministry and the RBI are on the same page in regard to the pace of reform on the capital account. This subsumes everything else.


The writer is Managing Editor, 'The Financial Express'








The Congress rath yatras flagged off by Rahul Gandhi on April 14 to mark its 125th anniversary in Uttar Pradesh are part of the ongoing attempt to revive the party in the state. While this endeavour began in the mid-2000s and more seriously in 2007 after the BSP captured power, it assumed greater steam after the Congress (in deep decline), obtained 21 seats in the 2009 national elections. This win accorded it, for the first time since the 1980s, greater centrality in UP politics and, following the decline of the BJP and the poor performance of the SP, brought it into direct confrontation with the BSP. Uttar Pradesh being a politically important state, this exercise has significant implications for national politics.


Rahul Gandhi's efforts point to a meticulously planned, three-pronged agenda based upon the "politics of youth, employment and development". First, bringing in fresh blood, a younger generation of workers, cadres and leaders who would help reconstruct the party organisation in a state once famous for its "machine"-like structure extending from the village to the state capital. This has been attempted through youth camps and recruitment drives in colleges/universities in a number of cities aimed at attracting the younger generation. Equally important are the attempts to hold organisational elections to revamp the party structure at all levels and introduce fresh leadership.


Second, Gandhi has adopted an agenda for rapid economic development of UP, based on the premise that the identity politics that engulfed the state for two decades has lost ground, and political parties need to cater to the strong expectations of the electorate, of development. The Mayawati-led BSP government, on assuming power in 2007 also redefined its priorities as development of all social segments and backward regions. Accordingly, Gandhi in his campaigns has sought to highlight the BSP government's neglect of the backwardness of regions such as Bundelkhand. The region with 21 assembly and four Lok Sabha seats is a stronghold of the BSP, where the Congress hopes to gain a foothold using the politics of development. This explains the start of Gandhi's campaign against the BSP from this region; the appointment of former Jhansi MLA Pradeep Jain as the minister of state for rural development at the Centre; and demands for the establishment of a Bundelkhand Autonomous Authority, a financial package for large-scale irrigation in the region, trifurcation of the state, and finally the establishment of a separate state of Bundelkhand to upstage this demand by the BSP. Strongly criticising these demands as Central interference, Mayawati has in response announced a number of welfare programmes for the region including revival of the defunct Bundelkhand Vikas Nigam.


Third, Gandhi hopes to rebuild the Congress party's traditional support base among the Dalits. He has attempted to woo them by visiting Dalit homes across UP and stressing on their problems of livelihood and dignity. The party also hopes its revival will help regain upper caste support. These efforts have created direct confrontation with the BSP which, since the late 1980s, has replaced the Congress as the party of the Dalits and more recently obtained the support of the upper castes to capture power. Mayawati, despite the majority she enjoys, has had to retreat from her new sarvajan to her traditional Dalit-bahujan constituency, which is feeling marginalised. This is evident from the politics of symbolism like "currency garland" rallies, building of memorials and renewed calls for a Dalit PM. Massive rallies by both the Congress and the BSP on April 14 turned Ambedkar's birth anniversary into a trial of strength between both parties.


Will the massive mobilisation by the Congress party under Gandhi make his "Mission 2012" of capturing power in the next state assembly election successful? While it is early days yet, the Congress faces a Herculean task with enormous challenges from within and outside. UP is a big state and obtaining a majority requires performing well beyond family strongholds. Organisational hurdles such as building strong local leadership and machinery across the state, internal elections, removing factionalism, finding winnable candidates with clean records, have yet to be resolved. Despite the discourse on development, Dalit/OBC issues retain importance and the BSP's success in the by-elections last year indicate that Mayawati's grip over her Dalit-Bahujan constituency remains strong, while the SP remains a contender with its vote-percentage remaining intact in 2007. What is clear is the emergence of a highly competitive, no-holds-barred political rivalry in the run-up to the next election, between the Congress attempting to regain lost ground as a broad-based party and the BSP attempting to consolidate its position as a party of disadvantaged sections with a Dalit core.


The writer is professor, Centre for Political Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University








Having written last fortnight about the U-2 episode of 1960 that almost literally exploded into the faces of both the United States and Pakistan, it seems only fair to record that just over two years later, this awe-inspiring aircraft came within our ken, too. It flew from the military airport of Jhabua to keep tabs on China. These operations that went on for quite a while were top secret, of course, so few heard of them until many years later. But even if the U-2 missions had become public immediately, no one would have minded. For, the U-2 was welcomed in India soon after the trauma of the 1962 war with China. National anger against it was intense.


The Russians surely knew what was going on, but they didn't mind and so kept quiet. After all, for the U-2s taking off from Jhabua, the target were the Chinese, not them. By then the Sino-Soviet split was also out in the open. The Americans were on cloud nine. A country that had shunned them for so long was at last collaborating with them and offering them facilities they needed badly. Their hunger for spying on China was insatiable. Therefore around the same time they, in partnership with their Pakistani allies, were clandestinely fixing under the wings of PIA aircraft flying to China, equipment to measure radioactivity along the route. When the Chinese eventually got wind of this "perfidious" activity, the chairman of Pakistan's Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) was made the scapegoat.


It is perhaps needless to add that the presence of U-2s at Jhabua, and a lot more, were part of the ongoing negotiations for military-to-military cooperation between this country and the US under which New Delhi had great expectations of American air support. Orissa's maverick politician and several times chief minister, Biju Patnaik, had been co-opted into Jawaharlal Nehru's inner circle entrusted with defence planning and delicate negotiations with the Americans. As an adventurous pilot, he considered himself an authority on air power. In Ambassador's Journal John Kenneth Galbraith gives a delightful account of the first time Patnaik came calling on him: "The first thing he asked was whether the embassy was bugged. When I assured him it wasn't, he relaxed and raised matters so secret that we did not even discuss them". Anyhow, as reported on this page earlier (IE, January 8), high hopes about American military aid came to naught.


Cooperative relations between our Intelligence Bureau (IB) and the CIA had begun well before the Nehru government had felt the pressing need for American military aid, especially in the arena of air warfare, and these persisted even after the 1965 US embargo on military aid to both India and Pakistan. The IB was then a monolith comprehensively controlling all branches of intelligence; the legendary B. N. Mullik was the intelligence czar. From British days, the IB had inherited the philosophy, reinforced by the Cold War that Communism, too, was monolithic and therefore all Communist countries were equally dangerous. It is remarkable therefore that in his three-volume My Years With Nehru Mullik has recorded that Nehru told him not to worry about the Soviet Union, but to concentrate on China. Incidentally, the prime minister gave this directive, disguised as advice, during the notorious Hindi-Chini Bhai-Bhai era.


Interaction between the IB and the CIA started gathering momentum after the Dalai Lama's flight from Lhasa and escalated as tensions with China mounted. After the brief but brutal border war no holds were barred. In any case, the IB had neither the resources, nor the technology nor the expertise that the CIA could muster in a jiffy. To work jointly with it, in relation to China, was therefore in the best interest of the Indian intelligence establishment.


It was against this backdrop that the CIA came up with the brilliant idea of placing a super-sophisticated electronic listening machine on an Indian mountain peak to record what the Chinese authorities, especially military and atomic, were saying to one another. The only way to power this wonder device was to have a nuclear isotope that would generate electricity forever. Only the CIA would monitor the intelligence gathered but would share it with the IB.  Mullik couldn't have agreed to this plan without a nod from Nehru in the last year of whose life the nuclear pack was installed at Nanda Devi. Some dubbed it "an eye on the top of the world". The cover for the operation was simple. An Indo-US mountaineering team was going on a routine expedition. Even so, the porters that carried the unusual cargo must have felt the heat that the nuclear isotope inevitably generates. Yet not a word about this extraordinary intelligence feat leaked out for 13 years.


And then the storm burst late in 1977 when the Janata government, headed by Morarji Desai, was in power. The sensational leak took place in the US presumably because in the meantime, signals had stopped reaching the CIA monitors. All concerned assumed that avalanches and snowdrifts had perhaps swept the machine away from its original site. Intensive searches failed to locate it, and this gave birth to the theory that the Chinese might have removed it!


The moment the story broke in America, all hell broke loose in this country. Desai's own statement in Parliament was critical of the Nehru government. Atma Ram, then chairman of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research and a confidant of Desai, inveighed against fellow scientists for having agreed to such a dangerous venture. Paradoxically, while the entrenched anti-American sentiment erupted with full force, votaries of closer friendship with the US heaped praises on it for its help against the Chinese. However, the loudest protests came from the worshippers of the Ganga who screamed that the holiest of the holy rivers had been made radioactive. They calmed down only after meticulous tests from Gangotri to the ocean proved that no such thing had happened.


Can the lost nuclear pack still cause a catastrophe? Eminent nuclear scientists, including a highly respected former chairman of the AEC, assure me that at this distance of time there is no such danger.

The writer is a Delhi-based commentator            








Analysis of the Maoist attack on the CRPF team at Dantewada on April 6, 2010 has brought forth certain facts: there was poor intelligence, there was no co-ordination between the state police and the CRPF force which undertook the operation and there was no quick response after the attack had taken place.


Taking the first question of intelligence, the CRPF has been encouraged to have their own intelligence units to collect local intelligence instead of depending entirely on inputs from state police or Central agencies like the Intelligence Bureau, or IB. There was a report that the IB had communicated information about the movement of certain Maoist elements in the Dantewada area and about the presence of two senior Maoist leaders, two days earlier. Whether there was such an input and if so, what action was taken, is now a matter for enquiry by the Ram Mohan team appointed by the home ministry.


As for co-ordination between the state forces and the CRPF, only a head constable of the local police was, reportedly, part of the CRPF force which was attacked; apparently a DIG said that he was not aware of an operation in that area. If so, there was something seriously wrong. The CRPF was not supposed to undertake an expedition of this nature without collaboration and coordination with the state police.


After the attack, there appears to have been a deplorable lack of follow-up. After the CRPF force was trapped and butchered by the Maoists, they collected weapons and in some instances watches and personal belongings. This must have taken some time. Thereafter, the Maoists reportedly split into two groups, with the major group trekking towards Malkanjigiri in Orissa which lies across a rivulet east of the attack site. A minor team reportedly went westwards towards Maharashtra or Andhra Pradesh. The attack reportedly started a little before six am and lasted some time. Did senior officers in the state think of alerting their counterparts in neighbouring states? If prompt alerts had been sent, particularly to Orissa, the major group which entered Malkanjigiri could have been intercepted. Strangely, there were no reports of any of the attackers of Dantewada having been intercepted or encountered in any retaliatory operations. Apparently barring seven or eight Maoists reportedly killed during the attack, most of the remainder got away, with no hot pursuit.


The Maoists have declared certain areas dominated by them "liberated zones". The Dantewada area is one; there are others in Bastar and the area extending south-westwards towards Mahadeopur on the Godavari, bordering Karimnagar district in Andhra Pradesh. In these zones, the Maoists could be tackled only after proper recce-ing, collecting adequate intelligence, enlisting cooperation of the local villagers and mounting surprise attacks. That was done in some states with remarkable success, such as in Andhra Pradesh.


The main problem is enlisting cooperation from locals. It was reported that after the Dantewada attack, people fled neighbouring villages fearing reprisals from the police. This speaks eloquently of the total lack of understanding between the two. What would help is a fortified police post near a village or a group of villages, so that the villagers feel safe; each inter-connected with the others, and with the central unit or the nearest police circle or taluk and district HQ, from where help could be rushed when needed. In the computer age, such interconnectivity has been brought about in most states.


In the mid-'40s, fighting Communist guerrillas in Malaya, the British developed successful jungle-fighting techniques. The central theme was organising massive resettlements, of nearly 500,000 jungle-dwellers, to new regions, creating clusters of villages, thereby denying supplies and contacts to the terrorists. Once civilians were safely removed, the insurgents were clear targets. All the same, the counter-insurgency lasted 12 years, the only war the West won against Communism, unlike the failures in Korea and Vietnam. In the fight against the Mizo insurgency, the army and the police were permitted to try this; a large number of villagers were rounded up and resettled so that the Mizo rebels were isolated, fought and eliminated eventually.


Times have changed and what was possible then cannot be tried out now. In any case, the affected area is too large. Hence winning over locals, assuring them of protection and giving them all facilities available under various government schemes, while establishing fortified check posts, is the only possible way out.


The CRPF and other paramilitary forces which may be inducted in these operations have to be adequately trained. This hardly needs stressing. The men have to be adequately clothed, equipped and looked after. Complaints, such as from the two camps recently attacked, that basic amenities were not available, should become unpleasant memories.


And finally, all concerned should keep the media at a safe distance. The habit of giving out news on operations or whatever else, the moment a video-toting media man appears, should be stopped. There need not be frequent press interviews on how to strengthen firepower like adding UAVs, helicopters, and so on.


In his reply to the debate on the Dantewada attack in the Lok Sabha on April 15, Home Minister P. Chidambaram gave a detailed account of the various steps taken to counter the Maoist insurgency, and his discussions with the CMs and senior officers of each of the states concerned. The accusation that the threat was underestimated during UPA-I is unfortunately true to some extent; it fell to Chidambaram to deal with the problem in all its dimensions. Not all CMs have been fully cooperative, and some of them are too sensitive to anything sounding like criticism from the Centre. Yet, as the minister pointed out, if the Dantewada massacre was not a wake-up call, nothing would wake up this country and itsParliament. Hopefully, the states concerned will rise to the occasion and deal with the situation in close collaboration with the Centre.


The writer retired as Director, Intelligence Bureau. He has served as governor in Sikkim, West Bengal and UP








Mahatma Gandhi once declared that India lives in its villages. Wandering away from India's metropolitan cities, including its Fifth Metro, can provide a fresh new perspective on vast swathes of this country. Navigating through the byzantine canals in the backwaters of Kerala's Kollam district last week was a revelation. The boatman steered the canoe through some of the narrowest, unexplored inland waterways. Lining the canals were small homes with goats tethered to the coconut fronds in front. Women wearing the typical Kerala mundu went about the day's washing in the canals. Bare-bodied toddlers and school going children scurried around many of the homes. People stopped short to stare.


In one such small canal, a bunch of children ran through the trees, keeping pace with our canoe, shouting, "America? India?" At another place, children shrieked, "India! India!" Obviously, the Indian tourist had arrived at the remotest of these backwaters, it was no longer only the Americans and the Europeans renting houseboats and traversing these tiny channels. The small homes intermittently gave way to large, slushy paddy fields covered with gauzy blue nets. They are newly converted shrimp farms. Where the fields were not covered with nets, the farmer, his wife and sometimes even their children stood watch on the sides of the fields, sporadically shouting, "Whoa, whoa" to scare away the egrets preying on the baby shrimps.


Further along, in a clearing amongst the fields, a group of young boys played that game with a bat, ball and stumps. The batsman hit it hard; there were shouts of "four, four" and one player raced amongst the coconut trees to retrieve the ball. As we cruised past, our boatman Thilakan declared, "IPL". The game is no longer cricket. It has been consumed and replaced by a bigger, glitzier brand name. IPL has become to cricket what Cadbury became to chocolate and Xerox to photocopying.


Our boatman spoke only a smattering of English, and conversation involved extra effort on both sides. Some things have not changed, not even in very literate Kerala. Thilakan's daughter was 20, soon to graduate with a BSc degree from a college in a nearby town. Next stop? In Kollam, for a female graduate, only marriage.


We drifted along ever-picturesque canals during the course of the day, jackfruit trees and lotus ponds lining the sides. At one spot, the sound of carpentry rent the air. Two men were busy inside a large, half-built boat, hammering away small coils of coconut fibre into the recesses in the wood. A small, newly-made canoe floated in the nearby water. One of the boat makers looked up to proudly say, "Nano boat".


Two days later in the bustling and prosperous plantation town of Kollam, formerly Quilon, rows of mega-sized hoardings displaying the latest in gold fashions. The hoardings were sometimes interrupted by signs displaying, "Welcome to Kollam, cashew capital of the world" or "Welcome to cashew country". Commodities broker S.D. Menon says that India's consumers have recently upturned the cashew trade.


Gone are the days when roasted, salted cashew was a cocktail snack offered to customers only in the biggest bars and lounges in India's metros. These days, says Menon, small packets of roasted nuts — granted, not the most superior grade — are available to customers in the smallest of drinking holes in India's small towns at Rs 40 a piece. Packets of the best grade cashew sit next to imported pistachio on supermarket shelves.


All this has had an impact on the cashew business, says Menon. Cashew traders who were steadfastly loyal to foreign buyers, are now sniffing at them. Local markets are paying good prices. "The whole attitude of the cashew trader has changed, and why not? India now consumes more cashew domestically than it exports," he says. So India and Indians are a reckoning force whether for Japanese cars, adventure holidays, foreign banks or Indian cashew.







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 Middle East holds pride of place when it comes to morbid retrospection. Before moving from Europe to the United States, I spent several years in places obsessed by the past — the Balkans and Berlin. During the Yugoslav wars, lives and landscape were devastated by the abuse of memory. A past of perceived persecution and loss was the weapon of choice for nationalist leaders bent on stirring violence. It proved potent — to the tune of more than 100,000 dead.


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 relevant 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." Not history but the future: Germany, when I lived there in the late 1990s, was shifting its gaze after decades of wresting the truth from half-truths. The capital returned to Berlin — full circle and near closure. I went to all the Nazi camps. Often I encountered Israeli kids on school trips wrapped in national flags. They were learning what "Never Again" means, anchoring identity.


The lessons of history are important. One, surely, is the nightmare of war. Israelis and Palestinians have proved incapable of moving beyond it. The number of Palestinian refugees in 1948 is disputed, but one U.N. report in 1950 estimated 711,000. The U.N. now has 4.7 million registered Palestinian refugees. If there is a more depressing statistic on this planet, I don't know it.


In Algeria, Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Iraq, where more than 485,000 Jews lived before 1948, fewer than 2,000 remain. The Arab Jew has perished, but is not a refugee. He has no "right of return." Germans have no right of return to Silesia; nor Turks to Greece.


I have no argument with the "right of return" as a Palestinian bargaining chip. As an objective, I have every objection. It locks Palestinians in an illusory past.


So I am immensely impressed by Prime Minister Salam Fayyad's state-building efforts in the West Bank, an eloquent way of saying today's children matter more than olive groves three generations distant.

It demands an Israeli response worthy of it. The rest of the world is moving on.








The general consensus among analysts of the Indian economy is that RBI will raise key policy rates in its annual credit policy on April 20. Inflation, as measured by the WPI, is close to 10%, well above RBI's level of comfort. And the central bank has given sufficient indication that it believes inflation is no longer restricted to just food. While it is perfectly reasonable for RBI to be concerned about inflation, it is our considered view that it is still too early to begin a serious tightening of monetary policy. For one, inflation as measured by WPI will abate in a couple of months from now once the high base effect takes root. Second, food inflation, too, has shown some signs of moderation and, if the monsoon begins well, the rate of food inflation will slow down. Third, there still isn't the smoking gun sort of evidence of inflation having spilled over to commodities beyond food and fuel. The chief economic advisor hasn't got tired of making this point repeatedly in the last few weeks. On the other hand, there are plenty of reasons to believe that while growth has recovered, it is nowhere near as robust as it was in the pre-crisis period. And as our columnist today points out, India's big boom between 2003 and 2007 came on the back of low real interest rates. A boom isn't likely to return in a tight monetary policy scenario.


RBI could face an additional headache if it decides to hike interest rates immediately. Since the US Fed seems intent on continuing with a low interest rate regime for now, there will be plenty of cheap dollars that will be looking to flood the Indian markets when interest rates are hiked here. This will put additional upward pressure on the rupee, something RBI has tended to frown upon in recent years. The central bank will likely intervene in the foreign exchange markets and that will lead to a different set of unnecessary complications. There is no doubt that RBI is in a difficult spot and some of it is the government's fault. Runaway food inflation might have been contained if the government had acted swiftly, especially on imports. But the government has shown little inclination to carry out the kind of structural reforms that are necessary to rein in supply-side inflation. So, RBI is left to clean up the mess with the rather blunt instrument of monetary policy. At the very least, RBI should ensure that monetary tightening proceeds very gradually, so that the real economy doesn't get choked like it did in the summer of 2008.







The back-to-back meetings of the IBSA (India, Brazil, South Africa) and BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India, China) countries in Brazil last week, attended by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, may be celebrated by some as the 21st-century avatar of South-South cooperation. But it's more complicated than that. For one, South-South cooperation 1970s and 1980s style doesn't exist any more. The set of countries which were present in Brazil have clearly broken away from that old forum of South-South cooperation, the G-77. In fact, all the IBSA and BRIC countries are part of the G-20 which is, in the post-financial crisis world, the premier body for international coordination, at least on economic matters. Interestingly, the BRICs were clumped together by a Wall Street analyst based on their economic potential—Russia though has fallen somewhat off the radar in the period since then.


Still, it isn't easy even for India, Brazil, South Africa and China to find common ground largely because whichever way you look at it, China is racing ahead of the others. Its economic and political clout is far more than the other three countries. In fact, on all major issues, particularly the economy, there seems to be a move towards a G-2 of the US and China as is borne out by the running battle of US deficits and the undervalued yuan. The challenge for India, Brazil and South Africa, and this is why IBSA may be useful, is to find a voice and clout that can match China's. It is, of course, in each country's individual interest to engage with China, rather than confront it—there is much to gain from closer trade with China, for example. At another level, it makes eminent sense for India, Brazil and South Africa to stay out of the US-China dispute on the yuan, even though a US victory on this matter will help exports of all the IBSA countries—the fallout of a trade war on the other hand will be harsh. But it isn't all about China vs the rest. There are areas in which India, Brazil, South Africa and China can find common ground—climate change could be one sphere, trade negotiations could be another, as could be the restructuring of the IMF and World Bank to give greater representation to these emerging economies. Interestingly though IBSA excludes China and BRIC excludes South Africa, and the excluded parties want to be very much a part of both the clubs. It isn't every time that the two groupings will meet back to back.







At one level, the precise number doesn't matter, unless it crosses into double digits. Almost all discussion on inflation is centred on WPI, point-to-point WPI at that. Whether WPI-based inflation was a shade lower than 10% in March and whether it will be a shade more than 10% a few months down the line, is not really the point. Actually, because it is point-to-point, it is by no means obvious that such inflation will be more than 10%. In aggregate all-commodity terms, when did the base increase significantly last year? From around July. Consequently, it is possible for WPI-based point-to-point inflation to cross 10% between April and June and then decline. However, RBI had hoped for 8.5% by the end of March and double digit is double digit. More importantly, this inflation is no longer food price inflation alone. Food price inflation has been ascribed to assorted red herrings, including mismanagement and drought. However, medium-term reasons behind food price inflation (increased demand, stagnant supply) aren't going to go away. And spliced to that, manufacturing, fuel and power inflation has also increased.


Notwithstanding the Opposition's attack in Parliament on the price rise, no one has yet taken to the streets and there are no immediate elections. But that doesn't mean the government can afford to twiddle its thumbs. The Budget for 2010-11 expects real growth of 8.5% and inflation of 4%. The latter is inflation as per the GDP deflator and is annualised. The GDP deflator has moved in line with WPI, but there is a big difference between point-to-point and annualised WPI. Annualised WPI, or the GDP deflator, will probably be closer to 6%, which means the government will have under-estimated inflation (though higher inflation is good for deficit numbers). However, how are we going to get that growth of 8.5%? Industrial growth and export numbers look more respectable than they actually are. They are being compared to a low base of 2008-09 and a comparison with 2007-08 shows that growth isn't that robust or broad-based yet. Public expenditure has been constrained in this year's Budget. We don't have growth impulses like farmers' debt relief and 6th Pay Commission unlike last year.


Is there enough steam in private consumption or private investment expenditure? The high growth from 2003 to 2007 was due to a decline in real interest rates and also an increase in public and private sector savings. Will these recover? As a government, there are thus question marks on both growth and inflation.


On both, there are reform measures that are as long as one's arm and on both, the government has faltered. Consequently, we are left with the knee-jerk reaction of monetary policy, even if monetary policy is not the answer. If there is one thing that is certain about April 20, it is that rates will be hiked. The uncertainty is about what will be hiked and by how much. While inflation is not about food prices alone, food prices still remain the core concern and are partly contingent on the monsoon, on which there is uncertainty and no information. Despite expenditure being contained in the Budget and the government's borrowing programme in 2010-11 being lower than expected, there is uncertainty about supplementary demands for grants and public expenditure commitments because of the right to education and right to food acts, even social security for the unorganised sector.


To return to April 20, a hike in CRR seems certain, perhaps by 0.5%. There is enough liquidity in the system; the problems lie elsewhere. Therefore, a CRR hike is less damaging than a hike in policy rates. But can RBI stay away from hiking policy rates entirely?


Almost certainly not. If policy rates are hiked by 0.25%, the government will show a greater tolerance for inflation and a greater concern for growth, though this doesn't mean policy rates won't be increased further down the line. If policy rates are hiked by 0.5%, the hardening of monetary policy will occur sooner. However, further down the year, we are talking about hardening of interest rates (irrespective of how they are measured) by at least 1%. Several government spokespersons have talked about the resumption of growth at 9%, acceleration to 10% and overtaking the Chinese rate of growth within a few years. At a generic level, growth can be driven by private consumption, private investment, public consumption or exports. Not only is the global recovery somewhat uncertain, it is clouded by protectionist elements. Consequently, recovery of growth to 9%-plus levels will have to primarily depend on endogenous sources. With the inevitable hike in real interest rates, it is a moot point whether savings (private corporate and public) and investments will increase to warrant growth at double-digit levels. Similar questions can be raised about private (with a deliberate switch from urban to rural India) and public consumption demand. But these aren't questions RBI is expected to provide answers to.


The author is a noted economist








The Budget 2010-11 recognised the importance of financial stability in light of the fact that the "financial crisis of 2008-09 has fundamentally changed the structure of banking and financial markets the world over." The finance minister, in his Budget speech, announced the setting up of an apex-level Financial Stability and Development Council (FSDC) to strengthen and institutionalise the mechanism for maintaining financial stability. The council will, without prejudice to the autonomy of regulators, monitor macro-prudential supervision of the economy, including the functioning of large financial conglomerates and address inter-regulatory coordination issues. It will also focus on financial literacy and financial inclusion.


Why this emphasis on financial stability? Why now and not earlier? These are some questions that come to mind following this Budget announcement. Given the indubitable importance of maintaining stability in the financial system, what are the arguments for the intervention of public authorities in restoring or promoting financial stability?


The crisis that engulfed the world financial order in 2008 can, in retrospect, be said to have been caused by the contagion effect of one institution's failure spreading to the others, as a result of a general breakdown of the trust of investors in the ability of financial institutions to meet their liabilities, which is the cornerstone of a 'stable' financial system. Further, it is quite obvious that these institutions responsible for the contagion effect were institutions of systemic importance to the financial system as a whole. Like any other major reform measure in the financial markets, the FSDC, too, is in response to a crisis situation that served as a trigger for this announcement. Though India's financial systems escaped the effects of the global financial crisis, the movement towards the FSDC is a step in the right direction, aiming to ensure that the mishappenings in western countries do not happen here.


The foremost task of the FSDC would be to objectively define 'financial stability' in the Indian context, as there is no internationally accepted definition. One definition is that a 'financially stable' system can be said to be one that is robust to macroeconomic disturbances and thus able to withstand unforeseen shocks, relying on its stable 'key institutions', so that there is a high degree of confidence that they would continue to meet their contractual obligations on their own. Financial stability means not only an absence of actual crisis, but also the ability of the system to limit and manage imbalances before they assume a magnitude that threatens itself or the economic processes.


However, this definition is incomplete, as it does not define the 'key institutions or SIFIs', which are fundamental for the maintenance of financial stability of the system. There is a huge debate on which institutions, in a financial system, are most important for ensuring stability and the criteria of choosing one over the other. When the US government went all out to bail out AIG but not Lehman Brothers, many questions on this line were asked. What kind of financial institutions are 'too big to fail' or are SIFIs for the financial system? Most importantly, to what extent and in what manner should public authorities intervene to maintain stability of the system and how to deal with moral hazard issues arising out of this intervention?


The next assignment of the FSDC would perhaps be to identify SIFIs in the Indian economy. Issues that would need to be debated are: should banks be treated as being in the same league as non-banks. in the context of financial stability and possible bailouts; is failure of a big bank the same as that of a small bank; and should the central bank be concerned about volatility in asset prices that may lead to instability among financial institutions? Then it would be essential to draw out a supervision framework for SIFIs, recognising that they ought to be such as to remove the advantages derived from becoming systemically important and to create time-consistent incentives for them. Also, there may be certain financial markets of more importance than others in ensuring stability of the system as a whole. Which are these and how to differently regulate them?


It would also be important to assess the ways in which financial instability interacts with the real economy to either amplify or moderate the effects of initial shocks. Thus, it is important that regulators responsible for oversight of different financial institutions interact and cooperate closely among themselves and with those responsible for stability of prices and the real economy. The FSDC could be the forum for such interactions.


The author is a civil servant. Views are personal








The government's proposed move to allow foreign private equity firms to invest in single-brand retail firms would be a boon for foreign retailers as they would be able to dilute stakes in the retail business in favour of foreign funds. Apart from easing the investment burden for the foreign retailers, the move is also likely to bolster investment in the sector.


Current rules allow 51% FDI in single-brand retail. While there are no further sub-clauses, in recent years, FIPB has been insisting that only brand owners can invest in such ventures. This has precluded the role of other investors, including private equity players who are often interested in investing in the take-off stages of retail ventures. This practice has not been received well by the industry, as the government seems to be blocking funding options for foreign retailers, apart from keeping the FDI cap in single brand retail at 51%. The need of the hour is to allow 100% FDI in single-brand retail. There is hardly any country that has capped FDI in retail of single brands. This rule has even forced the world's biggest furniture retailer Ikea to walk out of India.


Whether foreign private equity funds can invest in retail companies, franchisee-led or foreign- owned, has been a grey area for long. The matter came to light when a prominent franchisee filed an application before the FIPB seeking permission for fund infusion from a foreign private equity firm. The board rejected the proposal as the Indian company was the franchisee of a global brand targeted at children. The company was asked to alter the proposal. But it seems the government has changed its mind about allowing foreign PE firms to invest in single-brand retail, as it thinks it would lead to more investment in the sector. At a stage when we were hoping that the government would further liberalise the foreign investment policy by raising the FDI cap in certain sectors, if the government does not clear air over such petty issues, it will definitely send out wrong signals to investors.








The much-awaited United Nations report on Benazir Bhutto's assassination has no answer to the question that has bothered Pakistan and the world since that wretched December day in 2007: who killed her? This was expected. The terms of reference of the three-man commission, appointed by the U.N. at the request of the Pakistan government, were to establish the "fact and circumstances" of Benazir's assassination. It was understood that the commission, headed by Heraldo Munoz, the Permanent Representative of Chile to the U.N., would not carry out a criminal investigation to ascertain the mastermind behind the gun-and-suicide attack that killed Benazir as she left an election campaign rally at Rawalpindi's Liaquat Bagh. But within the limited scope of its mandate, the commission has produced a valuable document. Its report is the first comprehensive, independent reconstruction of events before the assassination and after. It contains several new facts and insights about the fatally inadequate security provided to a former Prime Minister by the Musharraf regime, and the criminally shoddy investigation into her killing. The commission's conclusion, that the Musharraf regime was deliberate and discriminatory in not responding to Benazir's security requirements, and that the investigation into her killing was blocked at every stage, is a damning indictment of the government of the day.


This is the first time an official, public international document has raised questions about the invasive role of Pakistan's military and intelligence agencies in running the country, its links with the Taliban and the jihadist groups fighting India, and the adverse consequences all this has had for Pakistan. Daringly, the report calls for an investigation into the role of the dreaded "establishment… the de facto power structure that has at its core the military and intelligence agencies" in the assassination. For the Pakistan Peoples Party, which has built itself as the main opponent of the establishment as well as its victim since the times of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, the report is a vindication. It is also a part explanation of why the PPP, despite taking office within four months of Benazir's killing, launched a proper investigation only in October 2009, after being goaded by the commission. It remains to be seen if this investigation can proceed along the lines urged by the commission in its report. But this seems doubtful, if the government's mysterious end-March request to the commission to delay the report by two weeks and, then, its attempts last week to withhold the document from public release are any indication. Given the nature of the Pakistani state, it is more likely that the truth behind Benazir's killing will never be known.







Even after the government persuaded last week the Securities Exchange Board of India and the Insurance Regulatory and Development Authority (IRDA) to seek a legal mandate from a court on the issue of regulatory oversight of the unit-linked insurance plans (ULIPs), the tussle between the two regulators continues. So does the uncertainty over the ULIP schemes that are by far the most popular of the products offered by the life insurance companies. The capital market regulator, in a new circular, has asked all the new ULIP schemes to be registered with it, while allowing schemes in existence before April 9 to continue. It may be some time before the courts decide on issues such as this. Besides, legal rulings, dependent as they are on scarce precedents, are not the best way to demarcate regulatory authority in the financial sector. One reason for the confusion is the wide disparity in the age of different regulators. The RBI, now in its 75th year, has been the country's principal financial regulator taking on a wide range of functions including those which, in other countries, are in the domain of specialised agencies. Of course, the RBI too has been ceding territory, for instance, to NABARD, the apex development institution for agriculture set up in 1981.


The reason why the differences between SEBI and the IRDA have escalated may have to do with the fact that both are relatively new institutions carving out regulatory space in areas that were hitherto minimally regulated. The SEBI Act was passed in 1992 while the IRDA came into being in 1999. It will take a while for precedents to be set in the regulation of products and services that were previously offered by government-owned monopolies which, it was mistakenly believed, needed no independent regulation. Until competition came through economic liberalisation, the LIC had a monopoly over life insurance and the Unit Trust of India over mutual funds. The ongoing fracas shows how difficult it is to demarcate regulation in the case of hybrid products belonging to two or more financial domains, in this case insurance and capital markets. As financial disintermediation gathers pace, many more complex products, drawing on capital markets, insurance, and banking will be offered. The SEBI-IRDA tussle might be the most visible manifestation of inter-regulatory differences but there are others where coordinated regulation would have helped. A case in point is the debt market where both the RBI and SEBI claim jurisdiction.










Asian giants with a mountain of mistrust between them: that has been the view of India and China for decades. Yet, as Prime Minister Manmohan Singh travelled West last week — amid a focus on the drift in India-United States ties, and a freeze on Indo-Pakistani ties — his most productive meetings may well have been with our eastern neighbour, engaging President Hu Jintao on the sidelines of the summits in Washington and Brasilia.


The meetings were their first since the surprising show of unity India and China put up at the climate change conference in Copenhagen in December 2009 — which many are crediting with also changing the climate of ties between New Delhi and Beijing. According to Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh, who has made five trips to China in the past six months, "Just as we mark BC as the beginning of the new age, so too in India-China ties, there is a BC — Before Copenhagen, and after." Before Copenhagen, was of course, annus horribilis — filled with heated exchanges over incursions, stapled visas, and China's ire over Indian official visits to Tawang.


The new spirit, one that we saw glimpses of during the Rio and Kyoto environmental conferences, comes this time amid a flurry of engagements between New Delhi and Beijing, which mark 60 years of diplomatic ties. In both China and many parts of India, the 60th year is considered auspicious (in Tamil Nadu a man who turns 60 celebrates shashtyabthapoorthy and remarries his wife to renew vows). For a host of reasons, India and China will also find there's no time like the present to make a new start in their ties. The immediate dividend from Copenhagen was seen when External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna visited Beijing this month and announced the setting up of a hotline between Mr. Wen and Dr. Singh. At a reception hosted by the Indian embassy, Chinese special envoy Dai Bingguo dropped in unannounced and stayed for an unprecedented two hours. He then met with his counterpart Shiv Shankar Menon in Brasilia, agreeing to restart the border talks that have been stalled since last August, along with Prime Minister Singh and Premier Hu Jintao.


Even the official language seems to denote a shift — last week, the state-owned China Daily ran an editorial that advocated closer Sino-Indian ties, on the lines of the "all-weather friendship" China has with Pakistan. Certainly, a turnaround. "An Asian century will remain a dream," it said, "unless India and China resolve their differences."


At the same time, the Indian Defence Ministry annual report for 2009-10, released last month, makes no mention of any border tensions during the year, noting that the armed forces of the two countries have, instead, made considerable progress in ties. "A regular mechanism for exchanges in the military sphere has been established through the ongoing confidence building measure," it concludes, while noting China's major military modernisation drive.


Beyond military matters, the two sides may also be able to build confidence, even a compact on terror — China is increasingly worried about the possibility of jihadi terror in the western province of Xinjiang. In the past, it caused a strain in Sino-Pakistani ties only when Chinese nationals were kidnapped or attacked in Pakistan. But now, evidence of groups like the Lashkar-e-Taiba and the Hizb-ul Mujahideen training and supporting the separatist Uighur movement poses a threat in China too. According to one official, Chinese security chiefs were particularly upset after having been handed transcripts of conversations the 26/11 terrorists had with their Lashkar handlers, who gave the orders to execute a Singaporean national they mistook for a Chinese. As India lobbies the world for action against the Mumbai attack planners, China-watchers say it may have Beijing's ear, as China is more willing to listen and worried than ever before.


The largest worry for China, however, remains the threat of an economic collapse — which some economists are already predicting. In an article, China's Red Flags, journalist Edward Chancellor warns that China's status as the world's largest exporter also makes it extremely vulnerable to any slowdown in demand, given that the exports consist largely of semi-processed goods from the Far-East finished in China. In December 2009, China posted a 2.8 per cent decline in exports and a whopping 21 per cent decline in imports. Despite its massive $39-billion trade surplus, Mr. Chancellor likens the economy to the bomb-laden bus in the Hollywood thriller Speed that will explode if it goes below 50 miles an hour — "Were China's economy to slow below Beijing's 8 per cent growth target, bad things are liable to happen," he concludes, adding all the new infrastructure and excess capacity would be rendered worthless. Of course, doomsayers were wrong earlier but with money supply rising at a dangerous 26 per cent annual rate, the inflation and real estate boom combination does worry Chinese leaders as the recent National People's Congress proceedings reveal.


As a result, India looks a more attractive market for sales and investment for China — deals for infrastructure in particular, like the $1.5-billion bid the Chinese State grid corp. has just won from Vedanta Resources in Orissa. In return, it is India's expertise in Information Technology that China is recognising more and more and, for the first time, state contracts in IT have considered Indian companies. On a recent visit to Beijing, this writer heard the phrase: "Chinese hardware in exchange for Indian software" more than once from officials.


The other genuine concern expressed was over the impact of China's strict "one-child" policy on the future. Demographic projections show that the Chinese working population ratio (the 18-60 age group as a ratio of the whole) will begin to decline from 2015. China will grow old before it becomes rich, goes a saying there. This may open up the possibility of China issuing H1-B-type of visas to Indian skilled professionals soon.


Finally, it is the strategic mindset that needs to be upgraded: fears of Chinese 'encirclement' must not cause unreasonable alarm and Indian under-confidence, as they did last year. 2010 is not 1962 — in terms of both comparative Chinese capability and Indian incapacity. China seems to want to clear the air on border issues including Arunachal Pradesh now, even as India remains true to its word on the recognition of TAR (Tibetan Autonomous Region) and Taiwan as part of the PRC. Interestingly, Union Home Minister P. Chidambaram's visit to Tawang earlier this month was accompanied by none of the angry voices from Beijing that the President and Prime Minister's visits last year attracted.


While that may not in itself be a significant shift in position, it may be yet another indicator of China's desire to engage with India that is causing many in the West to sit up and take notice. In his just published work, Shifting Superpowers: the emerging relationships between U.S., China and India, Martin Sieff surmises: "The strategic environment in the early 21st century is nearly the exact opposite of what it was at the time of the India-China war of 1962. Then Mao was able to turn his back on Taiwan and attack India — today China has been working hard to resolve its remaining border disputes with India in order to free up its forces to concentrate on Taiwan."


There is no denying the massive mistrust the two countries have for each other, mired in the 1962 war, built over the years of China's relations with Pakistan and India's relations with the Dalai Lama, and heightened in more recent years by the fear of a cyber war. It is one of the reasons why all India-China conferences prefer to begin with long descriptions of their historical ties, rather than contemporary history — speaking of 2,000 years of a civilisation friendship rather than the last few decades of diplomatic ties.


But as a young Chinese journalist pointed out at a recent media conference in Beijing: "Enough of the old ties — it's now time for young China to engage young India and the other way round." And, to perhaps allow the newly uncorked 'spirit of Copenhagen' to flow into other aspects of their relationship too.








Less than an hour before police surrounded the Indian Mujahideen bomb-factory hidden away on the fringes of the Bhadra forests in Chikmagalur, Mohammad Zarar Siddi Bawa had slipped away on a bus bound for Mangalore — the first step in a journey that would take him to the safety of a Lashkar-e-Taiba safehouse in Karachi.


Inside the house, officers involved in the October, 2008, raid found evidence of Bawa's work: laboratory equipment used to test and prepare chemicals, precision tools, and five complete improvised explosive devices. Even as investigators across India set about filing paperwork declaring Bawa a fugitive, few believed they would ever be able to lay eyes on him again.


But in February, a closed-circuit television camera placed over the cashier's counter at the Germany Bakery in Pune recorded evidence that Bawa had returned to India — just minutes before an improvised explosive device ripped through the popular restaurant killing seventeen people, and injuring at least sixty.


Dressed in a loose-fitting blue shirt, a rucksack slung over his back, the fair, slight young man with a wispy beard has been identified by police sources in Gujarat, Maharashtra and Karnataka as "Yasin Bhatkal" — the man who made the bombs which ripped apart ten Indian towns and cities between 2005 and 2008. Witnesses at the restaurant also identified Bawa from photographs, noting that he was wearing trousers rolled up above his ankles — a style favoured by some neo-fundamentalists.


Bawa is emerging as the key suspect in Saturday's bombings outside the M. Chinnaswamy Stadium in Bangalore — a grim reminder that the jihadist offensive that began after the 2002 communal violence in India is very far from spent.



Little is known about just what led Bawa to join the jihadist movement. Educated at Bhatkal's well-respected Anjuman Hami-e-Muslimeen school, 32-year-old Bawa left for Pune as a teenager. He was later introduced to other members of the Indian Mujahideen as an engineer, but police in Pune have found no documentation suggesting he ever studied in the city.


Instead, Bawa spent much of his time with a childhood friend living in Pune, Unani medicine practitioner-turned-Islamist proselytiser Iqbal Ismail Shahbandri. Like his brother Riyaz Ismail Shahbandri — now the Indian Mujahideen's top military commander — Ismail Shahbandri had become an ideological mentor to many young Islamists in Pune and Mumbai, many of them highly-educated professionals.


The Shahbandari brothers' parents, like many members of the Bhatkal elite, had relocated to Mumbai in search of new economic opportunities. Ismail Shahbandri, their father, set up leather-tanning factory in Mumbai's Kurla area in the mid-1970s. Riyaz Shahbandri went on to obtain a civil engineering degree from Mumbai's Saboo Siddiqui Engineering College and, in 2002, was married to Nasuha Ismail, the daughter of an electronics store owner in Bhatkal's Dubai Market.


Shafiq Ahmad, Nasuha's brother, had drawn Riyaz Shahbandri into the Students Islamic Movement of India. He first met his Indian Mujahideen co-founders Abdul Subhan Qureshi and Sadiq Israr Sheikh, in the months before his marriage. Later, Riyaz Shahbandri made contact with ganglord-turned-jihadist Amir Raza Khan. In the wake of the communal violence that ripped Gujarat apart in 2002, the men set about funnelling recruits to Lashkar camps in Pakistan.


Early in the summer of 2004, investigators say, the core members of the network that was later to call itself the Indian Mujahideen met at Bhatkal's beachfront to discuss their plans. Iqbal Shahbandri and Bhatkal-based cleric Shabbir Gangoli are alleged to have held ideological classes; the group also took time out to practice shooting with airguns. Bawa had overall charge of arrangements — a task that illustrated his status as the Bhatkal brothers' most trusted lieutenant.


Bhatkal, police investigators say, became the centre of the Indian Mujahideen's operations. From their safehouses in Vitthalamakki and Hakkalamane, bombs were despatched to operational cells dispersed across the country, feeding the most sustained jihadist offensive India has ever seen.



Like so many of his peers in the Indian Mujahideen, Bawa emerged from a fraught communal landscape. Bhatkal's Nawayath Muslims, made prosperous by hundreds of years of trade across the Indian Ocean, emerged as the region's dominant land-owning community. Early in the twentieth century, inspired by call of Aligarh reformer Syed Ahmed Khan, Bhatkal notables led a campaign to bring modern education for the community. The Anjuman Hami-e-Muslimeen school where Bawa studied was one product of their efforts, which eventually spawned highly-regarded institutions that now cater to over several thousand students.


Organisations like the Anjuman helped the Navayath Muslims capitalise on the new opportunities for work and business with opened up in the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia during the 1970s. But this wealth, in turn, engendered resentments which laid the ground for an communal conflict. In the years after the Emergency, the Jana Sangh and its affiliates began to capitalise on resentments Bhatkal's Hindus felt about the prosperity and political power of the Navayaths. The campaign paid off in 1983, when the Hindu right-wing succeeded in dethroning legislator S.M. Yahya, who had served as a state minister between 1972 and 1982.


Both communities entered into a competitive communal confrontation, which involved the ostentatious display of piety and power. The Tablighi Jamaat, a neo-fundamentalist organisation which calls on followers to live life in a style claimed to be modelled on that of the Prophet Mohammad, drew a growing mass of followers. Hindutva groups like the Karavalli Hindu Samiti, too, staged ever-larger religious displays to demonstrate their clout.


Early in 1993, Bhatkal was hit by communal riots which claimed seventeen lives and left dozens injured. The violence, which began after Hindutva groups claimed stones had been thrown at a Ram Navami procession, and lasted nine months. Later, in April 1996, two Muslims were murdered in retaliation for the assassination of Bharatiya Janata Party legislator U. Chittaranjan — a crime that investigators now say may have been linked to the Bhatkal brothers. More violence broke out in 2004, after the assassination of BJP leader Thimmappa Naik.


Iqbal Shahbandri and his recruits were, in key senses, rebels against a traditional political order that appeared to have failed to defend Muslim rights and interests. Inside the Indian Mujahideen safehouses raided in October, 2008, police found no evidence that traditional theological literature or the writings of the Tablighi Jamaat had influenced the group. Instead, they found pro-Taliban videos and speeches by Zakir Naik — a popular but controversial Mumbai-based televangelist who has, among other things, defends Al-Qaeda chief Osama bin-Laden.


"If he is fighting the enemies of Islam", Naik said in one speech, "I am for him. If he is terrorising America the terrorist—the biggest terrorist — I am with him." "Every Muslim" Naik concluded, "should be a terrorist. The thing is, if he is terrorising a terrorist, he is following Islam". Naik has never been found to be involved in violence, but his words have fired the imagination of a diverse jihadists — among them, Glasgow suicide-bomber Kafeel Ahmed, 2006 Mumbai train-bombing accused Feroze Deshmukh, and New York taxi driver Najibullah Zazi, who faces trial for planning to attack the city's Grand Central Railway Station.


Language like this spoke to concerns of the young people who were drawn to separate jihadist cells that began to spring up across India after the 2002 violence, mirroring the growth of the Indian Mujahideen. SIMI leader Safdar Nagori set up a group that included the Bangalore information-technology professionals Peedical Abdul Shibli and Yahya Kamakutty; in Kerala Tadiyantavide Nasir, Abdul Sattar, and Abdul Jabbar set up a separate organisation that is alleged to have bombed Bangalore in 2008



Well-entrenched in the political system, Bhatkal's Muslim leadership has been hostile to radical Islamism. Efforts by Islamist political groups to establish a presence there have, for the most part, been unsuccessful. But authorities acknowledge Bhatkal, like much of the Dakshina Kannada region, remains communally fraught. Small-scale confrontations are routine. Earlier this month, the Karavalli Hindu Samiti even staged demonstrations in support of the Sanatana Sanstha, the Hindutva group police in Goa say was responsible for terrorist bombings carried out last year.


Pakistan's intelligence services and transnational jihadist groups like the Lashkar nurtured and fed India's jihadist movement — but its birth was the outcome of an ugly communal contestation that remains unresolved. Even as India's police and intelligence services work to dismantle the jihadist project, politicians need to find means to still the storms of hate which sustain it.










One Laptop Per Child is a nonprofit group that thinks big. Since 2007, it has sold inexpensive but rugged laptop computers to the governments of less-developed countries. The goal is to equip each of the 2 billion children in the developing world with his or her own computer.


It's been slow going. About 1.6 million of the group's laptops have been distributed to date, said Matt Keller, vice-president for global advocacy at the OLPC Foundation, based in Cambridge, Mass. Today, the largest concentrations are in Uruguay, at around 400,000, and Peru, at 280,000, followed by Rwanda (110,000) and Haiti and Mongolia (15,000 each).


In 2006, the OLPC Web site pitched its laptop as a technology that "could revolutionise how we educate the world's children.'' Today, the "R" word is gone. Now the site speaks in more muted language of "developing an essential resource — educated, empowered children."


"The biggest obstacle to our spreading the dream is cost," Keller said.


Ninety per cent of the machines have been paid for by the recipient countries' governments, whose resources are extremely limited. I asked Keller if project leaders had reconsidered the "per child" part of the programme. "One Laptop Per Classroom" certainly doesn't have the same ring, to be sure, but it would better diffuse the benefits in the short term, helping a greater share of those almost 2 billion children who have not been reached.


He said that such a change was out of the question.


"One-on-one, child-to-laptop — the interactive nature of that experience is the heart of what we do," he said.


When a child owns a laptop, he added, the school day is effectively extended from a few hours to 12 to 14 hours — however long the child is awake, and wherever he or she happens to be.


Some Microsoft researchers in India have investigated how to give those same children better use of PCs that are already in place, even though one machine is shared by many. In one project, Microsoft's programmers developed software that added multiple cursors on the screen, each controlled by a separate mouse. Software written for the paradigm allows students to compete or collaborate on multiple-choice questions. It was well received in schools, and Microsoft turned it into a free product called MultiPoint.


"We jokingly call it 'One Mouse Per Child,'" said Kentaro Toyama, who led the project while he spent five years in the Technology for Emerging Markets group at Microsoft Research India.


Toyama, who received a computer-science doctorate at Yale, left Microsoft last December and is now a research fellow at the School of Information at the University of California, Berkeley. He has been giving talks at American universities about the "technological utopianism" that he sees in initiatives like One Laptop Per Child, Intel's Classmate PC, and even MultiPoint. He says such initiatives rest upon a myth that "technology is the bottleneck in developing countries."


Lots of other things are bottlenecks, too, he says — including institutional limitations, economics, the basic service infrastructure and politics. Nor is technology synonymous with education.

"Initially, we had the idea that PCs could make up for teacher absenteeism or poor training," he said. "But studies of PCs in schools are mixed, at best. Most show that a good school with good teachers can do positive things with PCs, but that PCs don't fix bad schools."


Describing technological utopianism, he said, "What it comes down to is this: Everybody is looking for a shortcut."


Keller said of Toyama's remarks: "There is no silver bullet, he's right." But Keller argued that literacy skills and access to information were prerequisites for economic and political growth and that "technology can help foster these things."


Among the infrastructure problems that the Microsoft research team saw in rural India was unreliable electrical power. It spurred another Microsoft research project that provided farmers in one district with cell phones that supplied the same information via text messaging that the farmers had obtained from PC centres.


Many OLPC laptops are equipped with solar panels that can recharge the machine in three hours, providing four to six hours of use. Keller said a new model would be introduced early next year that would demand much less power. The new machines will have cranks and charge quickly: A minute of cranking will yield 10 minutes of use.


Keller has some moving stories to tell about his visits to villages that have received laptops _ and about the natural facility with computers of children everywhere.


"I've been in Rwanda where the laptop was introduced into an environment where previously there had been no electronic devices," he said, "and within three to four days you have 10-year-old girls and 8-year-old boys who are using the laptop as efficiently and effectively and creatively as I can.''


He is now lobbying to secure funding from the U.S. government to provide an Internet-connected laptop for every child in Afghanistan. At a cost of $250 a laptop, the project would cost about $750 million.


In Kabul, Keller said, Afghanistan's education minister told him that the project "would allow girls to study and connect within the safety of their own homes." It's an almost irresistible vision. But a sceptic would point to the lessons of history and say that technology never works in isolation.


( Randall Stross is an author based in Silicon Valley and a professor of business at San Jose State University.)






P. Sainath has raised some pertinent questions in his analytical and incisive write-up "How to feed your billionaires" (April 17) on the freebies being handed over to the corporate sector and other influential people on a platter at the cost of the aam aadmi and the average cricket fan. He has also, rightfully, questioned the credentials of the major section of the media for its reluctance to ask "larger, harder questions" on the murky state of affairs in the IPL and the BCCI. In view of the sordid drama unfolding in full public glare, it is imperative that the IPL-BCCI affairs are looked into with a magnifying glass and the findings brought out in the public domain.

M.K. Bajaj,


* * *</CENTER< p>


The article was timely. Blending cricket with corporate and celebrity culture, the IPL has emerged as the most colourful sport India has ever seen. Doled out with some masala like cheerleaders, the gala event has been received with unprecedented fanfare and it pours in copious revenue. While the corporate media need something colourful to fill their columns and airtime, politicians want issues such as insurgency, price rise, and poverty brushed under the carpet. In other words, India is trying to project an image that is not true. The IPL is an important element of this deception.

K.K. Abdul Raoof,


* * *</CENTER< p>


What began as a new form of Twenty-20 cricket has now grown into a commercial monster with billionaires and politicians controlling it. It has started eating into the public exchequer by extracting huge tax concessions, the services of security personnel and electricity at the cost of children's education. The IPL has become a platform for the vulgar display of wealth when half our nation worries about its next meal.

Shaila S. Shenoy,


* * *</CENTER< p>


While finding fault with the IPL's excessive commercialism, the article raises some fundamental questions. Nothing mirrors the widening gap between the rich and the poor in our society more starkly than the IPL T20 tournament. While millions are struggling hard to eke out a meagre existence, the sharks in business and politics are busy capitalising on people's love of cricket to make millions. The stark contrast should stir the nation's conscience. The increasing popularity of the game in its 20-20 format is no justification for the accumulation of wealth in its name.

G. David Milton,


* * *</CENTER< p>


First, the article appeared to be an attack on the billionaires listed on the Forbes list. But a closer look revealed the anguish of the writer over the link between politicians and industry and the comfortable cohabitation of political parties on the BCCI-IPL platform. With so much of money involved, one wonders what we have to brace ourselves for in future. After reading the article, I am sure, many like me will stop showing interest in the IPL matches.

S. Suryanarayanan,


* * *</CENTER< p>

The article has exposed the role of the politico-corporate nexus in siphoning off the resources necessary for improving the lot of the impoverished millions. It is shocking to note that major sections of the media have worked up the IPL frenzy, contributing to the numbing of people's senses to the effects of insensitive acts such as holding night matches when the country is reeling under power cuts. When such blatant misuse of scant national resources takes place with the government's support, how can we blame the impoverished sections if they turn extremists?

Kasim Sait,


* * *</CENTER< p>


While crores of ordinary people in our villages and towns are deprived of access even to drinking water, let alone food and shelter, the governments' offer of huge tax concessions, security and infrastructural facilities to the IPL, mainly to benefit the rich, is not only amoral but also shameful. This highlights the heartlessness and hypocrisy of the capitalist system operating in a liberal democracy.

G.N. Rao,


* * *</CENTER< p>


That a country plagued by communal violence, caste-based violence, terrorism, naxalism, population explosion, poverty, and corruption is capable of managing a mega cricket event like the IPL with a view to benefiting multi-millionaires and billionaires is indeed ironical. Ought we not to be ashamed?

R. Sridhar,


* * *</CENTER< p>


Just before the French Revolution, Queen Marie Antoinette is supposed to have said: "If people have no bread, let them eat cake." It appears that our ruling classes — from the government, the media, Bollywood to the corporate sector — are saying, "what if people have no food, water, healthcare or schools, let them watch cricket." Sooner or later, the reality will bite and, then, heaven help us all!

Cynthia Stephen,


* * *</CENTER< p>


Murky dealings, tax evasion and concealed freebies have drained our pockets and patience. In a poor country like ours, the buying and selling of sportsmen is nothing short of unabashed display of corporate greed. When the glamorous IPL literally bathes in the limelight, the common man gropes in the dark due to power cuts in scorching summers. As avid cricket lovers, we are deeply pained that a great game has become a commercial nightmare.

Francis Kuriakose &

Deepa Kylasam Iyer,


* * *</CENTER< p>


Mr. Sainath is right in saying we are feeding our billionaires. We should be proud of the fact that four of our countrymen are part of the Forbes Billionaires List and contribute what we can to help them maintain their rankings. Because the list attracts the media more than anything else. Daridranarayans, who go to bed hungry every night, are omnipotent. When people see them all around them, what is the need for the media to report about them?

As for the waiver of entertainment tax, IPL cricket is the only sport in our country which brings many an activity to a standstill. If not such a mob-frenzy game, which other activity is eligible for a tax waiver? One wonders whether hockey, the national game, is watched even by its sponsors.

M.S.R.A. Srihari,


Murky IPL


The editorial "Murky IPL games" (April 16) has rightly emphasised that the IPL draws heavily on public resources and the public has every right to know the details of funding and shareholding from the consortiums. People cannot be fooled in the name of spectacular entertainment. That the IPL organisers shifted the venue of the tournament outside the country last year because the government expressed its inability to provide security in view of the general election bears testimony to their sense of commitment.

P.R. Thiruvengadam,


* * *</CENTER< p>


Besides cheerleader culture, the IPL burlesque has been munificent in providing much more to the cricket crazy people of India. This time, it has made us witness an all-out war between the corporate sector and politics — corporates who count their profits and politicians who have no regard for their actual responsibilities. A lot is happening in the name of IPL. Both Lalit Modi and Shashi Tharoor should step down.

Dipin Damodaran,

New Delhi

College for NRIs


The Karnataka government wants to invest Rs. 500 crores for a state-of-the-art medical college targeting NRIs. When did the people elect a government so they can provide state-of-the-art facility for foreign nationals or residents with no apparent benefits to the population that elected it? The result is inflation and cannibalisation of faculty from other medical schools. What a disgrace! They are equating medical education to firms that export IT services. The Karnataka government should focus on improving facilities that benefit the local population.


Austin, Texas




It is noteworthy that health care-related subjects have been capturing media attention and holding it on for three months now. It started in February 2010 with the proposal for a short-term medical course to expedite the process of expanding the number of doctors serving in rural India. There has also been some focus on the inadequacy of funds to implement health care schemes and the need for increased spending on them. And then came the report that the Union Cabinet has given approval to a bill that would regulate private hospitals andpave the way for guaranteeing "the right to emergency care" for accident victims and the like.


As a prelude to ensuring 'the right to emergency care,' the Union Cabinet recently approved the Clinical Establishments (Registration and Regulation) Bill, 2010; the hope is it will be placed before Parliament soon. The Bill makes it mandatory for all clinical establishments in the country to provide treatment to any person in an emergency condition. When the Bill becomes law, it will be the first piece of legislation to make it obligatory for the clinical establishments to provide emergency treatment to the needy.



The Bill does not prescribe imprisonment for non-compliance, but it gives powers to the registering authority to impose a hefty fine (up to a maximum of Rs. 5 lakh). If not paid, the fine amount will be recovered under the Revenue Recovery Act. Clinical establishments are generally reluctant to treat accident victims, fearing legal problems, and so refer them to government-run hospitals. Several private hospitals and nursing homes refuse admission to women if they are not prepared to pay the treatment charges in advance.


The new enactment followed a Supreme Court direction, as far back as 1989, that emergency care should not be denied to anyone for any reason. In Parmanand Katara vs Union of India, the court accepted an application by an advocate. Referring to a news item titled "Law helps the injured to die" in the Hindustan Times, the lawyer brought to the court's notice the difficulties those injured in accidents faced in accessing to life-saving medical treatment. Many doctors and hospitals refused to treat them unless certain formalities were completed in these medico-legal cases. The Supreme Court directed the medical establishments to provide instant medical assistance to the affected people, notwithstanding the formalities to be followed under procedural criminal law. It has taken 21 years for the executive to come up with draft legislation on the subject.


The rigorous pursuit of neo-liberal reforms and the consequent withdrawal of the state from many areas in the social sector stood in the way of regulating private sector service-providers in respect of medical care. However, persistent efforts by social workers, political activists, and women's organisations have put some constructive pressure on governments at the Centre and in the States to think of some pro-poor healthcare reforms.


Welcoming an editorial titled 'Empowering patients' in The Hindu (April 12, 2010) on the subject, a reader, S.V. Venugopalan of Chennai, stresses a patient's right to be kept informed of the nature of his or her ailment and the risks involved in the treatment. "Universal health care and an inclusive health agenda put in place by the Central Government alone will make hospitalisation an encouraging experience rather than a nightmare," he writes. Well said.


Another aspect of health care that has been highlighted by Union Minister of Health Ghulam Nabi Azad is the poor status of public health and inadequate funding of medical care in rural India more than six decades after Independence. Mr. Azad's admission came as his Ministry was celebrating across the country the fifth anniversary of the National Rural Health Mission (NRHM). The Mission has achieved several targets but its major objective of putting a reliable rural health system in place needs a lot more attention, according to a study.

On the positive side, both maternal and infant mortality rates have come down to some extent — the former from 304 to 254 for 1,00,000 live births and the latter from 66 to 53 for every 1,000 live births. There is visible growth in the field of institutional delivery, which means more women go to hospital for childbirth under competent guidance. However, neo-natal deaths present a huge challenge in States like Uttar Pradesh and Bihar and chronic malnutrition and under-nourishment continue to take an appalling toll.


One of the major challenges in rural healthcare, according to Mr. Azad, is the inadequacy of funds for schemes in villages. "Rural health," he points out, "needs a lot more attention and the government spending of just one per cent of the GDP on health is too low. We need to increase public spending."


Shortage of qualified doctors

The third and other intractable problem is the well-known shortage of qualified doctors willing to serve in rural areas. The situation in 150,000 'Primary Health Centres' (PHC) in rural India is appalling. Since these PHCs have no doctors, many poor people have started going to the nearest town for treatment. Mr. Azad has highlighted the fact that 80 per cent of India's medical human resource is serving just 20 per cent of its people, most of whom are living in cities and towns.


The decades-old shortage of doctors has assumed emergency proportions in rural India, which accounts for a population of 740 million people. In the primary and community health centres, not more than 25,000 doctors are working, with a doctor-population ratio for the rural areas being 1:30,000 against the all India ratio of 1:1,722, which by itself is far too low.


This is in spite of the fact that every year, thousands of medical graduates are coming out of medical colleges, including many private colleges. A sizeable number of these doctors take up jobs in western countries. In the 1970s and 1980s, when there was an exodus of doctors, engineers, and technologists from India, there was some attempt to woo them back, on the moral ground that they had to return to Indian society some of the benefits they had received, for example through the state subsidising their education. Relatively few responded. Now, thanks to the withdrawal of the state from funding professional education, it is not realistic to expect the young men and women who study in private colleges spending several lakhs of rupees to be swayed by such arguments. It is also not surprising that the government's appeal to medical students and young doctors to serve in rural areas has met with no worthwhile response.


Course in rural medicine

Under the circumstances, the central government has turned to desperate alternatives, such as the proposal to start a three-and-a-half-year Bachelor of Rural Medicine and Surgery (BRMS) course for doctors to serve in rural areas. The proposal has apparently won the government's support, though it has attracted a lot of flak from the medical community and the media.


There are also moves to woo medical students with incentives. Mr. Azad has announced that new medical colleges would be opened across the county and the number of seats would be increased in the existing colleges. Interestingly, when this newspaper published an editorial, which highlighted the need to attract medical graduates in a big way to serve in rural areas but argued against the short cut of introducing a diluted medical course for rural India, as many as 40 readers responded with their comments and prescriptions. The newspaper also published some lively articles on the subject, one of which was by former Union Minister of Health and Family Welfare, Dr Anbumani Ramadoss, who expressed himself against the short-term course on the grounds that it was "discriminating" in nature and was "against the spirit of the Constitution and human rights."

Mohammed Zainulabddin, writing from Gulbarga, expressed the view that rural folk would consider the proposed short-term course as discrimination and a violation of basic human rights. He suggested that pharmacy graduates, who have gone through a four-year course, be trained for the purpose. Their subjects of study are almost the same as those of medical students, with the notable exception of Clinical Practice. An additional one-and-a-half year course for pharmacy graduates on Clinical Practice would make them better qualified than perhaps a BRMS, the reader felt.


Professionally and intellectually as well as socially, there is no justification for making the kind of rigid distinction between urban and rural India that the proposed short cut implies. According to the World Health Report 2009, the world's population is shifting towards urban areas, with an estimated 49 per cent living in urban areas in 2007. Today's village is not what we knew 30 years ago. What justification can there be for segregating doctors, stipulating that this category with this diluted qualification can work only here and not there?








Just when airlines worldwide were beginning to recover from their worst-ever financial crisis, disaster struck once again — in the form of the volcanic eruption on the Eyjafjallajokull glacier in Iceland. This forced the cancellation of thousands of flights, in Europe and elsewhere, and left lakhs of passengers stranded at airports everywhere. Northern Europe, expectedly, bore the brunt of the impact, with thousands forced to switch to road, rail and sea ferries to reach their destinations. Some left in the lurch at airports hired taxis, and trains and inter-city buses in Britain and Europe were solidly booked. But in our globalised world, people in far continents could not be left unaffected. North America was badly hit as 300 of 600 trans-Atlantic services were cancelled. In India, too, West-bound travellers suffered long waits at airports, with no certainty if they could fly at all or not. Many heading for European destinations aborted their travel plans altogether. Others going to North America were stuck too, with some good news finally coming on Sunday: that Air India planned to resume certain nonstop services to the United States with some re-routing. Jet Airways too planned to fly to the US by re-routing via Athens. Things look more uncertain for those booked on British Airways or other European carriers.

The bottomline was that passengers found themselves helpless, but for once, despite the massive dislocations, there was remarkably little evidence of protests or outrage. Perhaps there was realisation that there was little that the airlines could do — they really could have no Plan B for this situation. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, heading back from the IBSA-BRIC summits in Brasilia, was also affected — the planned stopover in Frankfurt had to be cancelled, and his special Air India aircraft instead flew over Africa, making a halt in Johannesburg, on the way home. Other world leaders caught overseas — particularly European ones — were much worse off. In some cases all that they could do was to fly to the nearest airport still functioning, and traverse the rest of the journey by train or limousine.

The volcanic disaster is a reminder that despite the many technological marvels of the past century and more, Mother Nature still reigns supreme over our planet. As Ralph Waldo Emerson had said: "Everything in nature contains all the power of nature." Or as Buckminister Fuller reminded us: "One outstandingly important fact regarding Spaceship Earth is ... that no instruction book came with it." Highly-advanced jet aircraft are no match for plumes or ash from the volcano which are believed to contain minute particles of silicate that disable their powerful jet engines. There was a really scary incident 28 years ago when all four engines of a jumbo jet became disabled during an earlier volcanic eruption in the Pacific region, and a tragedy only averted due to the presence of mind of the pilot who put his huge aircraft into a steep dive to escape from the ash. It is ironical that unlike the jets, older propeller-driven aircraft would have had no problems with volcanic ash — as these do not suck in air like jet engines. Nature can thus get the better of the most advanced technological marvel. The jet engine, given its size and weight, has phenomenal thrust, but its Achilles heel is that it needs clear air to provide this thrust.

The airlines are still trying to calculate their losses — current and potential, particularly if there is no quick end to the problem. IATA made a rough guesstimate at $200 million; others have put the figure at roughly $16 million a day. The insurance companies too are keeping their collective fingers crossed.







The recently proposed food security bill can become another landmark scheme of United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government, comparable to the NREGA (National Rural Employment Guarantee Act). It is under Mrs Sonia Gandhi's personal initiative that the UPA adopted NREGA earlier and again has pressure to implement the scheme initiated in the Congress election manifesto will initiate the scheme this year. It is the most effective anti-poverty measure to be adopted by any government anywhere in the world.

Before the scheme is actually adopted it is necessary to openly debate its provisions. The proposed National Food Security Act is a first step towards ensuring food security to all citizens in the country. It focuses primarily on below poverty line (BPL) families with a minimum quantity of foodgrains per month. The current Antyodaya Anna Yojana (AAY) scheme under the public distribution system (PDS) provides for 35 kg per BPL family per month with Rs 3 per kg for rice and Rs 2 per kg for wheat. The eligible people for AAY are the poorest of the poor who do not have even two square meals a day and in May 2005, the number of beneficiaries came to 2.5 crore households which is 38 per cent of the total BPL households. The idea is to extend this programme to all the BPL households in the country, with an almost revolutionary impact on our food security system.

I would want everyone to discuss an alternative: instead of extending this programme to all the BPL families we should extend the coverage universally, i.e. whole population of the country. This would not only simplify the scheme but it will also practically eliminate the scope of leakage currently severely affecting our PDS. That would of course bring a substantial increase in the subsidies, if the non-BPL families fully avail of these facilities. But there is every reason to expect they will not because most of the non-BPL families are expected to go for higher quality of food with much lower transaction costs for securing them from the market. A 35 kg per family of foodgrains is much lower than the international standards of 60 kg per family. The richer sections would try to acquire that from the markets rather than through PDS. That has been the experience of some of the southern states that have adopted universal coverage. So a provision made in the Budget for universal coverage of the programme for India may not be actually utilised. If, however, the claim on the budgetary resources becomes too high for the government to afford, I would suggest the quantity of food be reduced from 35 to 25 kg instead of limiting it mainly to BPL families. Indeed in actual practice, the amount of foodgrains used has been less than 20-21 kg per family mostly because of huge transaction costs and leakages in the system. If everybody is entitled to 25 kg per family and the requirements above that can always be procured from the local market, incentives for diversions would almost disappear.

My main problem for using the BPL criteria for PDS is that it is virtually impossible to arrive at a consensus about that number however much Planning Commission may provide their estimates. The number of people below a calculated poverty line is a statistical concept, which would be very difficult to apply to the concrete situations on the ground. The criteria for poverty vary from state to state almost entirely determined by political pressures of groups and subgroups. Currently the number of BPL families based on 93-94 poverty estimates of the Planning Commission and March 2000 population estimates is only 6.52 crores. If this is revised by the latest poverty estimates of 2004-2005 and population of 2009 it would be reduced to 5.91 crores. But different states have used different criteria of poverty estimates and issued BPL ration cards according to their estimates, amounting to 10.68 crores today with many states demanding for raising the numbers further. An attempt to limit these to a statistical average will be almost impossible. While the Planning Commission estimate is about 27.7 per cent of people below the poverty line based on calorie content of minimal food baskets, the Tendulkar Committee estimate is about 37 per cent and the Supreme Court appointed expert N.C. Saxena's estimate is above 50 per cent.

On the other hand, the current system of identifying BPL families or AAY families is full of loopholes with scope for discretionary identification by officials susceptible to bribes and other kinds of pressures. The matter gets even more complicated when attempts are made to provide additional 10 kg to above poverty line families. A Planning Commission 2005 report hold that 58 per cent of the subsidised foodgrains issued from the Central government do not reach the BPL families because of identification errors and non transparent practices in the implementation of the schemes. Thirty-six per cent of the budgetary subsidies are siphoned off, and only about 42 per cent reaches the targeted BPL group.

Every attempt should now be made to simplify the scheme that can be effectively done if we make the system universal and not depending upon the identification and estimation of the BPL families.

This of course would not make the system perfect and it is important that the government concentrates on improving the governance of universal PDS rather than wasting time on identifying the poor. The first requirement would be to improve the working of the Food Corporation of India, which is supposed to procure food from the surplus states directly from the producers and transport them to the deficit states. The problem is much more serious at the level of the states. Many of them are unable to lift the allocated foodgrains because of shortage of resources. The Centre has to play a major role in helping the states, if necessary with substantial loans so that foodgrains are available at the fair price shops when a consumer demands it. The fair price shops themselves have to be supported with incentives and if necessary with transport and storage facilities.
A universal PDS for the provision of subsidised foodgrains to all consumers would not obviate the need for reforming the delivery system through PDS. The new food security act must provide for methods of improving the delivery and monitoring their effectiveness.

By Arjun SenguptaDr Arjun Sengupta is a Member of Parliament and former Economic Adviser to Prime Minister Indira Gandhi







We are living in a world obsessed with speed. Everyone wants to do things fast, go fast — for what? Just because we have developed fast cars, fast computers, fast machines, do we have to move faster? Sometimes speed is just for the heck of it. Now no one can deny that speed is heady, it gives excitement and thrill but it has also caused a lot of stress in life.

Speed and efficiency have created more worry, more anxiety than relaxation and comfort. Granted that technology saves time, but people don't know what to do with the saved time. What's the best use of this time? Even if time is saved, you will worry and become anxious and ask for some entertainment in that time. Somehow you want to kill that time. The problem of the contemporary people is they are uncomfortable if they have nothing to do. They don't know the joys of being unoccupied, the luxury of it.
The modern man needs to learn to be unoccupied for some time in 24 hours. Too much occupation with outside has disconnected him with himself. This is the reason why people are so stressed these days. They have to understand that time is their friend, not a foe.

What people need is to remember themselves, to connect with themselves. After all, the hustle and bustle of life is for our own well-being, happiness and peace.

Make a small change in your daily routine: slow down. Just by slowing down ordinary activities, you will see how peaceful you become. You don't have to go to a sacred place and spend time in meditation. Your daily chores will have a flavour of meditation.Osho suggests some simple exercises :

l Eat slowly — take your time. If you eat in 10 minutes, take 20 minutes. Enjoy the food. Chew it more; it will be digested better. Your body will feel more at ease and at home. And when the body is at home, the mind too feels at home.

l Sometimes when you don't have anything to do, just sit silently doing nothing. There is no need to read the newspaper or to watch the TV. Don't be in such a mad rush to occupy yourself. That is a way of escaping from yourself. So sometimes when you have nothing to do, feel happy that you can indulge in the luxury of doing nothing. Just sit silently, look at the stars or at the trees, listen to the birds or just close your eyes and look inward. Silence gives rest to the brain cells, it rejuvenates them. Your whole body will feel as if it is freshly showered.

l Slow down your speed in everything you do: walk slowly, talk slowly, breathe slowly, and by and by your energy stuck in the head will come to the heart and your tightly wound nerves will start relaxing. You will come to know the beauty of inactivity, the beauty of passivity. These serene moments replenish the drained energy. As a result it will increase your capacity to work.

By Amrit Sadhana

 Amrit Sadhana is in the management team of Osho International Meditation Resort, Pune. She facilitates meditation workshops around the country and abroad.








An interesting element of the BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India, China) summit communique at Brasilia on Thursday was the suggestion that the group should have a greater say, including higher voting rights, in two of the most influential economic bodies, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank (WB).


Reform of the "Bretton Woods twins" should be on the agenda of the G-20 summit coming up in Seoul this November.


There seems to be a desire on the part of BRIC to assert itself. This could be a deceptive signal. Despite some murmurs, the big emerging economies do not seem to be ready to take the lead in world economic affairs.


What they seem to want is due recognition from the dominant western countries of their new strength by way of according them ceremonial deference in the existing order.


There has been talk of altering the global financial architecture so that the new economic realities are reflected in the structure of the IMF and the World Bank, which were created at the end of the Second World War against memories of the Great Depression of the 1930s.


The system, despite distortions caused by the excessive power wielded by the United States, functioned well enough for most of the 20th century.


The World Bank played a good part in lending to the poorest of the poor, and the IMF threw them lifelines and dollops of advice when they got their macroeconomics wrong.


But in today's world, many of the systemic issues are not concentrated in the Third World. The latest meltdown began in the heart of capitalism — the US — and the IMF was fairly clueless on it. Money for the poor is also coming from sources other than the World Bank and the IDA, its soft-lending arm.


Against this backdrop, it is worth questioning the relevance of unreformed institutions like the IMF and the World Bank. While the big donors — the US and Europe — are unlikely to give up their leverage with these institutions, perhaps it is time to apply some pressure for change.


The ideal way to do this is by creating alternative institutions. It should be possible for India, China, Russia and Brazil to fashion institutions which will reflect the new power structure — though India's unresolved political problems with China may queer the pitch.


Till that happens, the BRIC group will remain hobbled by its own internal contradictions.







Lok Sabha speaker Meira Kumar is reportedly mulling over the idea of shifting question hour from its present opening slot in the morning to some other time of day.


Her reason: question hour involves one of the most crucial transactions of the house, where members seek information from the government, grill ministers and uphold the principle that the Union cabinet is accountable to the house.


Unfortunately, for many years now, the house has often been disrupted in the mornings because opposition parties choose to stall proceedings for some reason or the other. Result: question-hour goes out of the window.


Kumar's concern is partly justified, though some may say that instead of shifting question hour she should ensure that parties and members give up the unseemly practice of shouting slogans, walking into the well of the house and leaving the speaker with no option but to adjourn it.


Ideally, the problem should be tackled at source, by getting party leaders to ensure that members do not disrupt the business of the house no matter what the immediate provocation.


But this is not something that should be the sole responsibility of the speaker.


The treasury as well as opposition benches have an equal, and perhaps greater, responsibility in ensuring the smooth functioning of the house.


The idea of shifting question hour, though, is not a bad idea in itself.


It need not be seen as just a way of avoiding the morning troubles that have become so much part of the routine in the house nowadays.


Moving it to an afternoon or evening slot will ensure that members as well as cabinet ministers are present in the house in the latter part of the day.


Currently, when there are no noisy protests, most members leave the house early. And it has to be mentioned that even the press gallery empties out.


Much of the discussion on important legislation is usually carried out in a near-empty house. If legislation is discussed in the morning, this might ensure that more members will be present.


And this could help in highlighting the legislative business of the house, which is indeed its core function.


To be sure, our legislators may well decide to create a ruckus whenever they choose to do so, but a change in question-hour timing is worth a try. There's nothing to lose anyway even if doesn't work.







The Right to Education Act, like any other law, has some inherent limitations imposed by the thought behind it.


Its benefits are further limited by the ability of the state or the citizen to enforce it.For one, the constitutional amendment to make free and compulsory education a fundamental right does not go beyond the age of 14 (eight years of education). This is the first limitation of the law.


The upper limit of 14 years was probably appropriate in 1950 but not now. Similarly, the lawmakers did not include pre-school or early childhood education in the right. As a result the current act will ignore these age groups unless individual states want to make separate laws extending the limits.


In Maharashtra, where all girls and several social groups are assured free education up to Std XII, why should the state government not extend the age limit?


States such as Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Himachal, Nagaland, and Karnataka have, by and large, saturated the supply of schools and teachers although there is a district to district, city to city unevenness and some last mile issues that will have to be corrected.


Most states, thanks to work done over the last five years, have opened schools within one km of almost 98% of rural habitations and teacher recruitments are one.


So, setting a goal to extend the right to education up to at least 16 years of age by 2015 is possible in large parts of India.


Simultaneously, recognising the critical importance of early childhood education to the development of a child's faculties, the government will do well to extend the lower limit of the law at least to age three.


There are two factors that are helpful in this. First, under orders from the Supreme Court, the government is obliged to universalise the Integrated Child Development Scheme (ICDS) — the anganwadi network — to each habitation.


This has largely happened, although not satisfactorily on the quality and efficiency parameters, in most parts of India. ICDS is expected to deliver education along with other services but this aspect was never stressed.


So, a structure exists, which can be leveraged. Secondly, it is observed that half of the five-year-olds in the country are already enrolled in Std I although the new act only talks about ages six and higher.


So, getting the other 50% of five-year-olds to attend a pre-school in the school premises is just a short hop.


Another limitation in the law is continuation of the traditional stress on inputs without adequate attention to outcomes.


If a child goes to school for three, five, or eight years, what should his/her learning achievement be? If some basic minimum learning is not achieved, should it not be considered a violation of the child's right to education?


In my opinion, it is not only possible but also necessary to conduct standardised tests after classes 2, 5, and 8.


These can be text-book independent, stress-free, on-demand examinations conducted by independent agencies. Unless such independent assessment is conducted, the quality of learning in government schools will decline.


It is because of the poor quality of learning in government schools that parents with even limited means choose to put their children in low-cost private schools, which may not be all that good either.


The new law is designed to make these low-capital, low-cost schools impossible to survive because for them to be recognised they will need to have a good building and a playground, while also paying prescribed salaries to trained teachers.


In a city such as Hyderabad, close to 4,000 such schools will face closure.


The numbers are likely to be almost as high in every big city of Uttar Pradesh and some other states.


Will the government find the space and funds to replace these schools?How will the population react to these closures given their perception of government schools? Will the government actually have the moral, political, and financial strength to close them down in three years?


The much discussed 25% reservation in unaided schools will have interesting consequences, assuming that such reservation is implemented systematically and properly.


On the one hand low-cost schools become non-viable, and the cost of private schooling will skyrocket as salary and capital investment needs shoot up.


On the other hand, if the government schools fail to deliver the quality that can meet the aspirations of the growing middle income population, the law will not be enough.


A social conviction that children of the rich and the poor should study together will be needed if the law has to be effective. There is no leadership today that can actually provide this conviction.


In conclusion, the government will have to take drastic and urgent steps to ensure improved quality of education in government schools that focus on measurable outcomes. A beginning has been made, buta long and difficult road lies ahead for the Indian child.







Whatever the reason, some Tweeters are now having to face the real world and in this real world both Shashi Tharoor and Lalit Modi will either lose their jobs or have their wings clipped considerably.


A lot of questions are begging to be asked. Like who are Gaikwads and do engineering skills equip you to run a sporting franchise?


Sunanda Pushkar modestly says that, "people cannot accept that an attractive woman can also be a business woman." As it happens, most people can accept that an attractive woman can be a businesswoman. In fact, most people will welcome attractive women being businesswomen.


The point Sunanda Pushkar misses — quite possibly deliberately — is that it's not her face that people are bothered about, it is what's behind that face.


When she talks about 'extensive international business experience' is it as extensive and so unusual that it merits Rs69 crore sweat equity?


And that, too, given as a percentage fixed in perpetuity and guaranteed against dilution? How many IIM graduates with international experience of a few years are given a deal like that? So if people call this a sweetheart deal with a snigger, do you blame them?


Apart from the Kochi franchise's less than credible foundation, the income-tax and enforcement department's investigations will finally give us some clarity on the ownership of other franchises.


Here we have to ask the central question: Why were the IPL franchises covered by "a code of confidentiality" (in the words of the BCCI secretary)? Any company formed in this country is subject to a host of regulations, including full disclosure of shareholding. Why should IPL be different?


Some might argue that owning a franchise is a kind of private investment such as buying real estate or art which does not have to be publicly disclosed.


But that argument cannot hold when you consider how very public the IPL is. In fact, its success depends on the very fact that people across the country take a huge interest in IPL.


That does not include just the cricket itself but also the finances of the team, the cost of each player and who owns what. In such a situation, it's wrong to ask for confidentiality.


This cloak of secrecy has already fuelled ugly rumours about slush funds, black money and even underworld money coming into the IPL. Is that good for the tournament or good for cricket?


Lalit Modi's own conduct has been arrogant in the extreme as if the success of IPL somehow puts him above good business practices and even above the law.


What is immeasurably worse is that seemingly intelligent people are saying IPL matches are fixed and they are saying it with absolute certainty.


A moment's thought will tell you it is impossible to fix cricket matches.


How do you fix a game where 22 people are playing? Do you 'fix' all of them? And do you 'fix' all 22 in the next match? Are all cricketers such good actors that they can put on such a show of celebration when they get a wicket?


Some say you need to bribe only a couple of players to fix a match. How absurd is that? We have seen again and again that even when two key batsmen fail, there are others who play a winning innings.


What about dropped catches? "That's fixed!" the conspiracy theorists say. In that case the ball must be bribed to find the fielder who has been fixed so he can drop the catch! How do you bribe a ball? With promise of extra spittle?


Absurd though this kind of talk is, it shows that once a game gets murky, it begins to lose all credibility. That's why it's important to get to the bottom of IPL finances.


It's not just Tharoor, Modi and the others who are on trial. It's the game of cricket itself.










Indian Premier League commissioner Lalit Modi would have never imagined that the IPL would turn into such a mega money-making machine in so short a time. Nor would he have imagined that his giving out details of Rendezvous Sports consortium, the franchisees of the Kochi team, on Twitter would start a fire which would engulf him too. His spat with Minister of State for External Affairs Shashi Tharoor has turned so ugly that Modi is as much in trouble as the minister. In a way, it is good that the controversy has turned the spotlight on the functioning and funding of the IPL and all the 10 teams – eight existing ones and the two news ones, Kochi and Pune, for whom auctions were held on March 21 this year.


It appears that there are skeletons galore in the cupboards. The Enforcement Directorate suspects large-scale money laundering in purchase of some of the franchises. Some of the franchisees are corporate entities and it would not be difficult to trace their funding. The real messy area is where the teams have been bought by multiple owners. The authorities will have to look carefully whether some of the well-known people who picked up these teams were only a front for the real investors.


It is really amazing that the Kochi and Pune teams went for a staggering Rs 3,200 crore. Was someone trying to park unaccounted money? Some stakeholders are alleged to have routed their money through tax-haven countries. Just as the role of Mr Shashi Tharoor and his friend Sunanda Pushkar calls for scrutiny, it is necessary to go with a fine toothcomb over the dealings of Mr Lalit Modi. There are allegations that his kin hold big stakes in Rajasthan Royals and Kings XI Punjab. The affairs of a high-value venture like the IPL, which is expected to generate an income of around $1.6 billion over five or 10 years, must be absolutely transparent. 








The UN Commission of Enquiry that probed the assassination of former Pakistan Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto has held responsible for her killing not only the then Musharraf regime but also the provincial government of Punjab and the Rawalpindi police. There is little new in this. That their role was questionable is a well-known fact. The charismatic woman leader died in a suicide bomb attack along with many others after she had addressed a massive rally in Rawalpindi on December 27, 2007. That she could have been saved had the government provided her adequate security, as the report highlights, is what her party, the PPP, has been saying ever since her killing. She was not given the level of security as was her due as a former Prime Minister. Why?


Benazir, who had been living in self-imposed exile for many years, was allowed to come back to Pakistan to contest the February 18, 2008, elections after a deal with the Musharraf regime. The ruling General was initially reluctant to enter into any kind of deal with her, but ultimately agreed to under US pressure. He suspected her, but could do little as Uncle Sam had his own scheme of things for Pakistan, the so-called key ally of the US in the war on terror. Since she had been expressing strong views against terrorists, the US wanted her to be allowed to share power with General Musharraf, who had by then fallen from grace with Washington DC. She, too, had indicated that anything could happen to her. She was assassinated by men of Baitullah Mehsud, the late chief of the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan, as the official claim goes, but there is strong suspicion of the ISI's role in her killing.


It is not without reason that the UN probe team faced non-cooperation at various levels from government functionaries despite Benazir's widower, Mr Asif Zardari, being President. The UN commission has expressed the belief that "the failure of the police to investigate effectively Ms Bhutto's assassination was deliberate". The police could not play its role properly owing to pressure from various quarters, including the Pakistan Army-controlled ISI. The PPP government says it is satisfied with the UN probe report, but the whole truth is still not known. And there is little chance of the whole truth coming out as it will be embarrassing for the all-powerful Pakistan Army. 









It would have been comic but for the implications. The strange case of first imposing a blanket ban on mobile Short Messaging Services ( SMS) used by post-paid subscribers in Jammu & Kashmir, and withdrawing it within three hours of notification on Friday last week, shows the Central authorities in poor light. It is inconceivable that a decision of such importance, involving a sensitive state like Jammu & Kashmir, could have been taken in isolation by the Department of Telecommunication. Consultations should have taken place at the highest levels, the pros and the cons discussed and the stakeholders taken into confidence before the notification was finally issued, making the ban effective from midnight. That is the way the government and the bureaucracy normally function. But the sequence of events leads one to the conclusion that rules of executive business were not duly followed in this case.


Even a plain reading of the notification, issued ostensibly in 'national interest' and due to 'security considerations', makes it look absurd. Had the ban been imposed on pre-paid subscribers, it would still have made some sense because of the ease with which people secure pre-paid SIM cards by furnishing incomplete or incorrect addresses and other details. But post-paid subscribers, who do not just receive bills at homes and offices but also make payments through banks, have presumably better credentials and can be tracked more easily and faster. And yet the notification allowed the SMS service to be used by the pre-paid subscribers, although restricted to 10 messages per day, while denying the facility entirely to the post-paid subscribers. It certainly defied logic.


Carelessness in the bureaucracy is common enough. But in this case a misunderstanding has been suggested as a plausible explanation for the embarrassing faux pas. It seems a ban had been sought on bulk text messaging services in the state so as to restrain agencies from sending out information of dubious quality to thousands of recipients. The bureaucrats in the DoT apparently failed to differentiate between SMS and 'bulk' SMS. But even if such charitable explanation is accepted at face value, it would still indicate a dangerous degree of indifference, incompetence or lack of communication skills among the babus. It remains to be seen if some accountability is fixed and the sequence explained to Parliament, which is in session.
















The best-known victim of terrorism in Pakistan was former Prime Minister and PPP leader Benazir Bhutto. The elected Pakistan Government approached the United Nations to appoint an enquiry panel to go into the circumstances of her assassination. The UN appointed a panel with Ambassador Haraldo Munoz of Chile as chairman, and former Attorney-General of Indonesia Marzuki Darusman and Irish police officer Peter Fitzgerald as members.


While President Zardari and General Musharraf, among others, appeared before the panel and made their depositions, it has been refused access to Army officers and those belonging to the ISI. In spite of this, the UN panel has concluded its task and delivered the report. It is a devastating indictment of the Musharraf administration and the intelligence services. The panel had a very limited reference to investigate the circumstances of the assassination and not to fix responsibility.


The panel has concluded: Ms Bhutto faced threats from a number of sources. These included Al-Qaeda, the Taliban, local jihadi groups and potentially from elements in the Pakistani establishment. But the Pakistani investigation after the assassination focused on pursuing "lower-level operatives," not those further up the hierarchy.


Pakistan's powerful ISI conducted parallel investigations, gathering evidence which was only selectively shared with the police. The failure of the police to investigate effectively Ms Bhutto's assassination was deliberate. "These officials, in part fearing intelligence agencies' involvement, were unsure of how vigorously they ought to pursue actions, which they knew, as professionals, they should have taken."


The commission urges the Pakistani authorities to carry out a "serious, credible" criminal investigation that "determines who conceived, ordered and executed this heinous crime of historic proportions, and bring those responsible to justice."


"Doing so would constitute a major step toward ending impunity for political crimes in this country," the report said. To address the broader issue of impunity for political crimes, the commission called for Pakistan to consider establishing a "fully independent Truth and Reconciliation Commission to investigate political killings, disappearances and terrorism in recent years" and provide victims with "material and moral reparations… the autonomy, pervasive reach and clandestine role of intelligence agencies in Pakistani life underlie many of the problems, omissions and commissions set out in this report."


The commission urged the government to conduct a thorough review of intelligence agencies "based on international best practices" and reform the police to ensure "democratic policing" and protection of individual human rights.


There can be no greater exposure of the Pakistan Government's hypocrisy in fighting terrorism and the total helplessness of the civilian government before the Army and its intelligence services. The UN commission itself, though set up at the plea of the present government run by the party which Benazir headed at the time of her assassination and whose widower heads it now, was powerless to order the Army and the intelligence sevices to give evidence before the panel. When civilian politicians and civil society of Pakistan are that spineless it is unrealistic to expect them to have the guts to prosecute Hafiz Saeed and Ilyas Kashmiri, the protéges of the Army and the ISI. The Pakistan Army and the ISI did not hesitate to assert their authority over the civilian government in spite of the provisions of the Kerry-Lugar legislation which require the US Secretary of State to certify to the Congress civilian control over the Army.


There are reports that in pursuance of the recommendation of the UN commission the Pakistani Government will appoint another investigative body to probe the case. At this stage, with the Pakistani Army fighting the Pakistani Taliban, it may be easier to put the blame on Baitullah Mehsud, then leader of the Pakistani Taliban, killed in a US drone strike, while whitewashing that at the time of the assassination the Pakistani Taliban was a protégé of the ISI.


The Pakistan Army permitting the government to set up a "Truth and Reconciliation and Commission", as recommended by the UN panel, does not seem to be possible! The UN report could not have come at a more inappropriate time for Pakistan. On April 28-29 the SAARC summit is to be held in Thimphu and the question will arise whether a meeting on the sidelines of the summit between Dr Manmohan Singh and Pakistan Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani will be purposeful. This UN panel report makes it clear that the Pakistani civilian government cowers before the Army when the ISI covers up the assassination of its own tallest leader.


The UN report hints that the motivation for Benazir's assassination could be her expressed desire to settle the Kashmir dispute and pursue better relations with India. It is also to be taken note of that as General Musharraf made some progress on the Kashmir issue through the back channel talks, he lost the support of his corps commanders and was forced out of office. General Kayani in his February media briefing has cited Kashmir and water (which very much involves Kashmir) issues as justification for India-centric force concentration on 
their eastern borders.


The General appears to be under the impression that the US, determined to exit from Afghanistan in 2011, has to depend on him and, therefore, they have to give in to him on his mollycoddling the terror outfits. This is a different situation from the one that existed during the Bush administration. Prime Minister Gilani and Foreign Minister Qureshi have disowned the Musharraf era understandings so far reached during the back-channel dialogue. The persistence of the present Army-subordinated civilian government on the resumption of the composite dialogue may well be to denounce the Musharraf regime's back-channel understanding on the Kashmir issue.


Till now the assassination of Benazir Bhutto and the investigation into it were domestic matters for Pakistan. Since a UN panel has submitted its report, it is no longer a domestic issue. The Rafiq Harriri assassination in Beirut was not treated as a domestic issue after it had been investigated by a UN panel. It is reported that President Karzai of Afghanisyan visited Benazir personally and warned her of the impending plot to assassinate her and offered the services of his intelligence service to protect her. She is reported to have declined the offer.


The US administration was keen on the return of Benazir to mainstream politics of Pakistan. Its plans for her were totally wrecked by the assassination. Therefore, this needs to be taken by Delhi as a regional one with the US and Afghanistan. The behaviour pattern of Pakistani intelligence under the patronage of the Army in this case, where the US planned a major regime change in Pakistan and was successfully foiled by the ISI, is surely a road-marker for what the Pakistani Army can do to the US scheme of things for the AfPak region in the days to come.







Poetry, protest and hosiery do make for an uncanny threesome. But then opposites have a magnetic way of reaching out to one another. So it is with India's own Manchester. Yes, the reference here is to apna Ludhiana which as an industrial city is known for its bicycles, motor cycles and more. This city has surprisingly nurtured a large number of poets.


Many would know of Urdu poet Sahir Ludhianvi, who brought a lot of glory to his city whose name he carried with him as he rose to great fame writing lyrics for Bollywood films.


But Sahir was not the lone poet of Ludhiana which is at times also referred in slang as Lousiana. Recently, the town was once again the focus of the literati with the coveted Birla Foundation Saraswati Award, with a generous combination of Lakshmi too, going to the contemporary bard of Punjab: Surjit Patar of course. Patar is indeed the homegrown poet laureate whose talent blossomed in the hosiery city. Once again Ludhiana has been done proud and one is musing about the versifiers of this city.


Interestingly, the poets here have shown their merit in Urdu, Hindi and Punjabi. Before the Land of Five Rivers was split into two rivers and a half each: Urdu was the literary language and among the contemporaries of Sahir was another celebrated poet called Ibn-e-Insha, who went to same Government College as Sahir. Insha later migrated to Pakistan but was implicated by the martial law regime in the Rawalpindi Conspiracy Case with senior poet Faiz Ahmed Faiz.


Insha then chose self-exile in England and continued with his poetry and his protest for a just and social order. Sahir's poetry was also one of protest and although he was expelled from the college during British rule but the college chose to honour him at its Golden Jubilee function in 1970.


Another contemporary of Sahir and perhaps some years older to him was a people's poet called Painter Bawri. A signboard painter by profession he filled the city with banners mourning Sahir when the latter passed away in October,1980.


Two other friends of Sahir who wrote and lived poetry in this town were Krishan Adeeb, writing in Urdu, and Ajaib Chitrakar in Punjabi. Trade union leader Madan Lal Didi who wrote revolutionary songs in Urdu was yet another Ludhianvi as was professor Satyapal Anand, who wrote in Urdu and English.


Well, the Ludiana roll of poetic honours would not be quite complete without the mention of famous Punjabi poet Mohan Singh who spent the last years of his life there as Professor Emeritus in Punjab Agricultural University and, of course, Kumar Vikal, the well-loved Hindi poet who grew up in Ludhiana but moved to Chandigarh later.


So one salutes the poetry and protest within of this hosiery town and hopes that this tradition always remains. A happy note as one ends is that women too are now joining the ranks among poets of the Ludhianvi breed.








Since the massacre of 76 CRPF personnel by the Maoists at Dantewada, on April 6, 2010 heated debates have been taking place in the media about how to tackle the menace. In these debates spokespersons of major political parties, retired military and police officers always end up holding the commanders of the para-military forces and the Central and state governments responsible for the strategic loopholes in the planning, training and equipment of these forces for such disasters.


They also put the responsibility of these killings squarely on the Naxalites/Maoists, sometimes touching upon the lack of development in the tribal areas also as being responsible. These speakers are also vocal in denouncing killings by Maoists and almost always shun discussing incidents of killing, rape, torture and burning the houses of tribals by the para-military forces.


This turns the whole discussion one sided, as a result of which the only solution which appears in sight to end the menace seems better equipment and facilities to the personnel and a greater political will on the part of the government to decimate the Maoists through brutal armed force.


Members of the civil society who get loud applause from informed gatherings in various hall meetings end up making fools of themselves before the studio audience even when they are invited to these discussions. In fact, they are called there to be befooled by proving their arguments lame in comparison with those clamouring for a more powerful offensive against the Maoists by the security forces.


But the question is who is to blame for this? How do these intellectuals and academics fail to seem convincing? Or, are all of them supporters of the Maoists as is alleged on the floor of the studio? Yes, if the impression gathered at these studio discussions is any yardstick. And they themselves are to blame for this situation because they do not denounce Maoist violence in unequivocal terms, however brutal it might be, while criticising violence perpetrated by the para-military forces.


There should be no difficulty for the so-called Gandhians, and other votaries of democratic values, in criticising Maoist violence in clear terms because it cannot be denied that even amongst the Maoists there are sections, which are engaged in abductions, extortions and killing of those whom they perceive as police informers, and such people are also poor tribals. There is no denying the fact that many of them, or maybe most of them, have been pushed to the wall and forced into taking up arms against the state due to gross state negligence resulting in deprivation, hunger and starvation, police brutality and injustice, rape, burning of their houses for eviction of their land to be handed over to multinational corporations etc., (though there might as well be hard core Naxals fighting in favour of their political ideology).


Otherwise, the ranks of the Maoists would not have swelled menacingly only within the last few years since when government-sponsored land-grabbing exercise for the benefit of MNCs has started or intensified, not for the development of these tribals but for the profit of the MNCs. Otherwise what can explain the displacement of 3.5 lakh people from 700 villages of Dantewada district alone which have been burnt by the security forces and the volunteers of Salva Judum, a self-styled army of goondas against which even the Supreme Court has made critical remarks.


And, of course, the political bosses have a clear stake in all this as was exemplified by the discovery of more than Rs 4,000 crore of unaccounted for money discovered from Madhu Koda, the former Chief Minister of Jharkhand, which is known for its mineral wealth, and everybody standing in the way of its loot by these political bosses, whether tribal or Maoist, is their sworn enemy and their governments, though harping on the cord of development which has remained only on paper all these years, would use any amount of force to displace and decimate him/her branding him/her as anti-national and Maoist because just by hanging that tag around anybody's neck, like the albatross, the security forces assume the right to torture and kill innocent people with impunity. The arrest and incarceration of Binayak Sen for more than one year on purely concocted charges of being a Maoist sympathiser is a point in question.


Those intellectuals, if there are any, who harbour the imaginary notion that some day the Naxalites/Maoists will throw out the modern state with the force of arms and will establish a truly democratic state should understand that it is not possible to overthrow a state defended by a modern and well-equipped army. Secondly, and even more important, that the government established after such an overthrow is bound to be a dictatorial government led by a group of dictators, not a democratic state with equal rights to every person because no dictator can afford to give the right to dissent to any citizen. Even an imaginary situation like that can be detrimental to whatever democratic space exists today even in this sham democracy of ours.


A philosophical and social movement against the forces of exploitation can be launched for educating the masses about protecting their rights within the framework of our Constitution. Let us not underrate the understanding and power of these people to throw out governments by pressing just one fingertip, not at the trigger of the gun but at the electronic voting machine. So the intellectual class should have no hesitation in condemning violence, whether indulged into by the Naxalites/Maoists or by the state. And if the government is really serious about ending this menace, first it should announce on the floor of the Lok Sabha an end to the policy of forcible acquisition of land. Then it should undertake a comprehensive programme of implementing the provisions of Part IV of our Constitution entitled "Directive Principles" of the State Policy" in right earnest, particularly in these tribal areas so that these people can live an honourable life at the place which belongs to them.


The Maoists then will get no sympathisers. It is only after that that the government will be justified in launching an operation like Green Hunt if anybody lifts arms against the state. Till then the butchery indulged into by the state as well as the Maoists must stop because every bullet, whether fired by the security forces or the Maoists, brings down a poor man who could otherwise contribute to the development of the country with his hard work.


The writer is the National Secretary of the People's Union for Civil Liberties








One probable meaning of  "khap"  is "application of mind". It is often used popularly as a verb, as in "sir khapana",  to indicate a tiresome exercise of the mind. It might have been expected, therefore, that the   meeting of the  Khap "Mahapanchayat" in Kurukshetra on the Jallianwala Bagh Day would  have had a semblance of a cerebral outcome. In fact, the upshot has been disappointing  and suggests that the khap leaders have still not come to terms with the real issues involved.


That rural communities in and adjoining Haryana have been lagging behind modern India's  social jurisprudence is well known. The  demand at the Khap Mahapanchayat that the Hindu Marriage Act be amended to bar marriages within a gotra is noteworthy for a reason not  quite foreseen by the khap leaders.

A few spokesmen of the khap panchayats have sought to suggest that there is an evolution of opinion within the Haryana region which now needs to be taken into account by  amending the marriage laws so as to incorporate such opinion.  In fact, khap pretensions of one kind or another have been heard throughout the twentieth century and have been rejected by India's leading thinkers from Gandhi, through all committees established to reform Hindu law up to Ambedkar and HV Pataskar.


When in the 1920s, British state institutions were boycotted as part of the non-co-operation movement, attempts were made by some local people to confer civil and criminal powers upon village elders. The concept was scotched by none other than Mahatma Gandhi. This was even though he otherwise favoured  panchayats and  spoke of village republics. Some panchayats resorted to social ostracism of opponents as part of the non-co-operation movement. This led Gandhi to warn: "Ostracism of a violent character such as the denial of the use of public wells is a species of barbarism, which I hope will never be practised by anybody of men having the desire for national self-respect and national uplift" (Young India. December 8, 1920).


If any panchayats were formed in the course of the movement, what should be the sanction for the enforcement of any order passed by such a panchayat? To this question  Gandhi gave a creative and subtle answer.  He proceeded first to lay down  stringent guidelines for and  duties to be performed by panchayats and the answer to the powers and sanction of the panchayat emerged from these guidelines and duties themselves.


Gandhi specified the duties to be performed by such panchayats. These were : (a) The education of boys and girls in its village; (b) Its sanitation; (c) Its medical needs; (d) The upkeep and cleanliness of village wells or ponds; and (e) The uplift of and the daily wants of the so-called untouchables. A panchayat which fails without just cause to attend to these duties, may, according to Gandhi, " be disbanded and another elected in its place".


And the sanction behinds its orders and judgements? Gandhi now delivered the coup de grace: "Where a panchayat is really popular and increases its popularity by the constructive work of the kind suggested in clause 9, it will find its judgements and authority respected by reason of its moral prestige. And that surely is the greatest sanction any one can possess and of which one cannot be deprived". (Young India, May 28, 1931).


He was raising what political scientists would call the question of legitimacy. In other words, there is no power without responsibility and performance of duty. Where such duty is duly performed, the panchayat would require no other authority to enforce any  reasonable directions that it may give. 








Politics is often deep, dark and dirty. Cricket is also very often a cesspool. When the two meet, the result is naturally toxic. It is into this mess that Shashi Tharoor decided to step in. As a mentor to the Kochi team he may well claim that he was after all only acting in his role as a member of Parliament.


But in comes companion Sunanda, (from Kashmir to Dubai via Canada) along with OSD Jacob from Dubai. This gang from Dubai has made Tharoor the main talking point of Delhi as no other junior minister has been in the last several years. The talking on a rude first strike by Lalit Modi has now opened up a can of worms that Tharoor with his UN experience could simply not have been prepared for.


It didn't help matters that Sunanda's past too came under scrutiny. Sunanda was earlier seen in Delhi circles accompanying the Minister of State from gallery openings to smaller intimate gatherings.



The Prime Minister's long foreign trips often throw up local fracas. His no-comment approach often douses flames before they flare up. Digvijay's comments from America, while on a personal visit, about Chidambaram's anti-Maoist policy was one such.


It showed the Congress ranks in disarray even during Parliament's discussion on the Dantewada massacre. Because the two leaders are senior, Delhi's political pundits began to make multiple interpretations.


As if that is not enough, we also have a whole clutch of Union ministers who have run out their Rajya Sabha terms. Since all of them were also too nervous to attempt a Lok Sabha outing, they are now dependent on the Congress high command.


So "mantris" keep one hand on their "kursis" while signing files with the other. Some are even doing cross-country official trips to woo states which may have spare Rajya Sabha capacities but whose Chief Ministers are nervous about accommodating outsiders. All of this surely makes for a government that is nervous.



Amita Modi Singh's party last week had guests from all walks of life. It was a little late to celebrate her husband, Sanjay Singh's victory in Uttar Pradesh. Nevertheless, the party was full of people from different spheres — from Shiela Dikshit to Kapil Dev. One thing one gets to see in Delhi's political parties is that MPs, cutting across party lines, are there at their colleagues' functions. Sanjay Singh's youngest daughter, Akansha, played a gracious hostess with her mother.


Bollywood stars are often visible in Delhi's parties. Jackie Shroff was a little uncomfortable wearing a suit in this heat. Nafisa Ali, Sangeeta Bijlani, Rudy Pratap Singh and Raj Babbar all had a great time, being their boisterous selves.









It is one of the delicious ironies of Indian politics that the Congress, the 900-lb gorilla, got two of its catchy vote winning slogans thanks to the opposition. In the 70s, Indira Gandhi's Congress came up with the smash hit of 'Garibi hatao' in response to the opposition's single point agenda of 'Indira hatao'.

 History was repeated in 2004 when the NDA's refreshing campaign of 'India Shining' made the Congress rediscover its love for the aam aadmi and the fashionable politically correct slogan of 'inclusive growth'. As Victor Hugo pointed out perhaps inclusive growth is an idea whose time has come. Thanks to information technology and breakthroughs in telecommunication, the world has become a global village. Developed countries discovered that economic growth need not always create jobs. There could be jobless growth, growth without vision and even futureless growth threatening environment. In India it is the politicians who discovered the need for inclusive growth. If nothing else, the recurring problem of terrorist attacks has highlighted the fact that at least one religious group does not feel included in the mainstream. Similarly, the repeated violence of Maoists in tribal areas of the country are a reminder that a section of the tribals feel that they have not been included in the process of economic development of the country. It is really a serious matter that after six decades of independence, the benefits of economic development have not reached a significant percentage of the population.

E c o n o m i c growth is promoted if productive employment is provided. Jobs empower people by conferring purchasing power on them. Hence the vital need for economic growth along with creation of jobs. Politics and government are concerned with a quest for power. In a democracy capturing power is through the process of elections and hence the supreme importance of nurturing vote banks. Inclusive growth is one sure formula for winning the loyalty of vote banks. In recent times inclusive growth in Indian political dialogue has come to focus on the minorities, scheduled castes and scheduled tribes as well as other backward classes.
   Creating wealth and jobs is the function of business while profit making and protecting the interests of investors is the priority of the corporate sector. It is the pressure from the government that at last has made the Indian corporate sector look into the issue of inclusive growth. CII the premier body representing India Inc. has undertaken exercise in promoting inclusive growth. While it is easy to pay lip service to the concept of inclusive growth it is necessary to recognise the fundamental dilemmas in the political and business approaches towards achieving inclusive growth. Unless these are resolved inclusive growth will remain an elaborate exercise in hypocrisy.

In politics the basic dilemma is this. For the sake of nurturing vote banks political parties all the time emphasise separate identities like minorities, SC, ST or OBCs. If the focus is so much on identities how can an inclusive mindset be developed which would include the mainstream of the society? Psychological inclusion may be evaded even if economic inclusion takes place. No wonder we are noticing a gradual reduction in the overall sense of patriotism. How many of us feel that we are Indians first?

   The dilemma of business is totally different. The basic focus of business is on profit making and wealth creation. By definition many of the groups excluded so far from the mainstream lack the skills and mindset needed for business.

In this context the best approach for corporate India to adopt is to emulate what the Japanese industry did after the second WW II. After the defeat of Japan, the allied powers under General McArthur introduced in Japan the labour laws of the US. The Japanese industry had the vision to convert the conditions imposed by the new legal environment into an opportunity and came up with the concept of lifetime employment. In the next three or four decades the Japanese industry was able to beat other countries in the global competition by nurturing its labour force using this principle. The Indian industry will similarly have to not only meet the skill gap but also come up with innovative concepts so that inclusive growth does not lead to loss of produc-



******************************************************************************************BUSINESS STANDARD






The questions the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) of India has asked the communications ministry under A Raja really cut to the heart of the heart of the 2G licence scam in 2008, a scam estimated by many to have cost the government around $8-10 billion in terms of lost revenues. That year, instead of auctioning, the ministry decided to allocate licences to a handful of firms at exactly the same prices that were paid way back in 2001 when similar licences were last auctioned. Like most other observers at that time, CAG has asked the ministry for an explanation as to why, when it had announced that licence applications would be taken till October 1, 2007, it then decided to issue a press release on January 10, 2008, saying that only those applications that had been received till September 25, 2007 would be considered. This January 10 press release ensured that of the 575 applications the ministry got for licences/spectrum, only 232 were processed. After this, the CAG queries get a lot more specific and even tougher to dodge. CAG says while the decision to process applications received up to September 25 was taken in November 2007, it was made public only on January 10, 2008 — why the delay, CAG wants to know. On January 10, 2008, CAG has found, another press release was issued, asking companies to assemble in the ministry by 4.30 pm on that day. This release was not issued through the Press Information Bureau as normally happens but was put only on the ministry website. In other words, only a limited number of firms got to know this. This second press release, CAG says, was uploaded on the DoT site at 2.45 pm on January 10, 2008 but 78 applicants managed to submit their bank drafts by close of day — since such efficiency is not normal, it suggests a handful of firms had their drafts ready even before the press releases were issued.

The real issue, however, goes way beyond this. Let's assume CAG finds the ministry's replies unsatisfactory. What then? Can we expect the government to take some action? The answer seems unlikely if you look at the fate of various other CAG reports of importance. When CAG did an audit of the celebrated VDIS amnesty scheme of 1997, it drew attention to very serious flaws — accused persons in various scam,s such as the cobbler scam in Maharashtra or hawala transactions, were allowed to get amnesty though the law was clear they were debarred; since amnesty-seekers were allowed to declare their wealth in the form of silver and state when they had bought the silver (in some cases, the silver declared was claimed to have been bought way back in 1933), this effectively lowered the VDIS tax rate from 30 per cent to around 2 per cent; a similar fudge was noticed in the case of jewellery where people were allowed to say they had bought the jewellery in 1986 when rates were much lower. Yet, no action was taken. When the Delhi Vidyut Board (DVB) was privatised, CAG found there was a difference of over Rs 3,000 crore in the total receivables depicted in DVB's balance sheet and that worked out by the consultant — this allowed a lower valuation in the sale price. Once again, no action. Look at the Action Taken Notes for various CAG reports and there is a huge gap, sometimes as high as 50 per cent. In other words, an exceptionally high proportion of CAG reports don't result in the government taking credible action. So why bother?








The failure of the GSLV D3 launch and more specifically, the failure of the indigenous cryogenic engine is undoubtedly a major setback for the space programme. It must have been heart-breaking for the development team that slogged 17-odd years. But the crash has to be taken in its stride and written off to statistical probability. Just five nations have reliable cryogenic technology. All have research budgets that dwarf ISRO and all went through decades of tests and experimental failures. Cryogenic engines use super-cooled gases (usually liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen) as fuel. As the liquids mix and vapourise in the rocket chamber, they expand explosively, imparting thrust. In theory, it is the most efficient form of rocket propulsion. But while the principles derive from Newtonian mechanics, the technical challenges are staggering. Cooling gases to -190ºC and storing them as liquids until the optimum moment is difficult. Things can go wrong at many stages. ISRO will have to work out what exactly did go wrong. There can be no question about staying committed to the programme. Space capability depends on reliable cryogenic engines and India cannot piggyback indefinitely on Russian cryogenics. ISRO possesses only two Russian engines at this instant and there are no guarantees the Russians will sell any more. GSLV D3 with all payloads costs Rs 330 crore. The engine itself costs around Rs 180 crore. These are drops in the ocean of potential returns. India's entire space programme spends Rs 5,800 crore per annum, that is around 0.1 per cent of GDP.

 The return is already many multiples of expenditure. The potential returns could be much higher. Satellite capability has helped extend the TV-Telecom footprint to remote areas where satellite-based technology costs a fifth of the alternatives. Licensing fees and revenue shares from those services already pay for the entire space programme with plenty to spare. In addition, sat-technology has enabled mapping, remote-sensing and zoning services. Improved road planning, municipal tax collection, safe drinking water and irrigation programmes, as well as better weather and crop forecasting, can be attributed to satellite capability. The potential for use in anti-insurgency exercises also exists. Again, the returns exceed the expenditure by magnitudes. Indigenous cryogenic engines will make India a major player and a possible game-changer in the multi-billion-dollar commercial satellite market. According to estimates published in MIT's Technology Review, India may eventually be able to put payloads in orbit at costs of $67/kg. The Russians charge $3,500/kg for a commercial payload and NASA charges even more.

If those estimates are near-credible (they are endorsed by at least one NASA adviser and ISRO has some patents on the designs), an Indian presence would change the market dynamics. Hence, there are sound commercial reasons for the "haves" to be reluctant to share technology. Well-vented fears of potential dual-use in the missile programme may just be a convenient excuse. It is true, however, that cryogenic engines are critical to inter-continental ballistic missile (ICBM) design. From South Block's perspective, whether India develops ICBMs or not, possessing cryogenic capability could scarcely hurt.

Given the multitude of reasons to push on with the cryogenic engine development programme, the political establishment should back it to the hilt despite this setback. Give ISRO the time and resources to return to the drawing board and seek solutions.







The 11th Plan's mid-term appraisal of infrastructure brings good news on the macroeconomic front, but there are concerns

The daylong infrastructure conference in the Capital's Vigyan Bhawan on March 23, organised by the government, was a grand success by all counts. Several senior ministers spoke, key ministries presented their plans and the audience engaged in lively discussions in the conference that was inaugurated by the prime minister.

More importantly, the occasion saw the unveiling of the Planning Commission's mid-term appraisal of investment in infrastructure in the 11th Five Year Plan Period (2007-12).

 First the good news:

# The government has started using gross capital formation in infrastructure (GCFI) as per cent of GDP as a standard measure of performance evaluation, and is sharing it publicly. This has taken some doing — over five years of pressuring the government to do so. While the statistical superstructure to deliver this routinely (like any other macroeconomic data) is still shaky, the Planning Commission has made enormous effort to get GCFI mainstreamed. The effort is appreciated.

# GCFI has more than doubled from about 3.5 per cent in 2000-2001 to an expected 7.55 per cent by 2012. This is a major structural shift in the Indian economy, achieved within a decade. Argumentative democracies do work!

# The 11th Plan is projected to close at 7.55 per cent GCFI, a whistle away from the target of 7.6 per cent. This is commendable, considering that as a nation we are blase about meeting targets.

# We are going to meet the magical, and oft-touted number of $500 billion for the 11th Plan. There is an "apples and oranges" issue here that the composition of the $500 billion achieved is strictly not comparable to the planned components, but so what? Even at an overall level, if we hit the number, we should have reason to cheer.

# What's really interesting is that during the 10th Plan, about 25 per cent of the total investment in infrastructure came from the private sector. In the 11th Plan, it is expected to rise to about 36 per cent, even higher than the government's own expectation of 30 per cent. Thus, all this talk of public private partnership (PPP) and encouraging frameworks for private capital to flow in etcetera is not all hot air but is actually resulting in a quiet but tectonic shift in India's infrastructure landscape.

# The 11th Plan saw two years of a global economic meltdown, severe drought and a limited period of recessionary conditions in the domestic economy. In spite of these negative external conditions, we appear to be still meeting the overall numbers.

# The nation has the required confidence now for the prime minister to publicly say, "Preliminary exercises suggest that investment in infrastructure will have to expand to $1,000 billion in the 12th Plan period. I urge the finance ministry and the Planning Commission to draw up a plan of action for achieving this level of investment." And this is to be attempted with a private sector share of 50 per cent, and a GCFI of 9.95 per cent.

Let us now take a look at the achievements sectorally. The bad news starts flowing in on closer examination of the sectoral break-up.

# The entire transportation and logistics sector (one-third of the total infrastructure sector) — made up of roads and bridges, railways, ports and storage — is clearly a troubled area. There is already the acknowledgement that by the end of the Plan period, it would at best achieve 77 per cent of the target. Even with this revised target, 67 per cent is left to be achieved in the last three years of the Plan period. With all the known delays, it would not be too much of a shock on March 31, 2012 to see that the real achievement is only about 65 per cent. It is probably no surprise that Rakesh Mohan has been appointed to head a committee of national importance to look into this area.

# The electricity prognosis appears optimistic. The 11th Plan document projected capacity addition of 78,700 Mw with a capital outlay of Rs 6.67 lakh crore. Credible voices from within the government have clearly articulated that actual performance is likely to be at best 50,000 Mw. While it is understood that not all the outlay is for generation, a slippage of 37 per cent should broadly suggest a final investment of around Rs 4.2 lakh crore against the stated 99 per cent achievement figure of Rs 6.59 lakh crore.

# To address the "apples and oranges" issue as well as factor in some dollops of realism, the picture that emerges is somewhat less ebullient (see the bottom part of the table). If we were to remove Rs 4.3 lakh crore from the 11th Plan revised estimate, then the adjusted total would be Rs 16.24 lakh crore, giving a 79 per cent achievement. If we further remove the unexpected bonanza of another Rs 0.87 lakh crore on account of telecom, the achievement is further reduced to Rs 15.37 lakh crore or 74 per cent. Then it is not the 99 per cent achievement of the magical $500 billion number, but is closer to $370 billion.

Mid-term appraisal of 11th Plan (2007-2012) infrastructure investments


Rs lakh crore



11th Plan projection

11th Plan revised
 projections in March, 2010

expected (%)





Roads and Bridges
















Water Supply
and Sanitation
















Oil and Gas Pipelines








Reworking achievement

Reduction (Rs lakh crore)

Transportation and Logistics with 65% achievement instead of 77%


Electricity sector


Inclusion of data on investment in oil pipelines – not part of Projections




Kahlil Gibran said, "The significance of a man is not in what he attains, but rather what he longs to attain." In that spirit, if there are a few more items, like oil pipelines, that can be added to the list by March 31, 2012, who knows India may well and truly hit the $500 billion number... and march on to the $1,000 billion number for the 12th Plan!

The author is chairman of Feedback Ventures. He is also the chairman of the Confederation of Indian Industry's National Council on Infrastructure, Views expressed are personal








It is truly amazing that the views of IMF researchers on exchange rates have swung so much in a decade.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) is supposed to be the repository of economic wisdom and we in the developing world have, for long, been expected to listen to its sage advice. Recently, even G-20 has started to look to the IMF for, in effect, becoming a think tank for global policy issues. The question is whether such trust is well merited or IMF's views are more a reflection of an empirical, rather than a principles-based, analysis.

 On the subject of exchange rates, consider an article titled "Choosing an exchange rate regime" (Finance and Development, December 2009) by Atish Ghosh and Jonathan Ostry, which summarises the evolution of IMF's thinking on the subject over the last decade. It starts with the fact that "the 1990s… saw a spate of capital account crises in emerging market countries, with sharp reversals of capital inflows leading to collapsing currencies and underscoring the fragility of… fixed exchange rate regimes".

In a sweeping condemnation of fixed exchange rates, it glosses over some points:

# Fixed exchange rates had worked extremely well for 25 years.

# The system collapsed when capital flows started dominating the foreign exchange market.

# The basic cause underlying the 1990s crises was not fixed exchange rates per se, but pegging them at an unrealistic level, disregarding the effect on competitiveness of the domestic economy and its reflection in the current account balance.

As a result of the 1990s experience, the article argues that by 1999, "the received wisdom was that simple pegs were too prone to crisis and that countries should adopt either 'hard' pegs — such as monetary unions or currency boards — or, at the other end of the spectrum, free floats in which the market determines a currency's value without government intervention": the so-called "corner" solutions. However, the received wisdom of bipolar prescription had to be discarded in short order with the "collapse in 2002 of Argentina's hard peg". The 2003 review, therefore, "concluded that emerging market countries — and developing countries as they became more financially integrated — should adopt freely floating exchange rates". It also found that "emerging economies captured little inflation benefit from pegging".

The latest 2009 review "based on a data set of IMF member countries over the period 1980-2006 is the most comprehensive study of exchange rate regimes" and comes to yet another conclusion: "Growth performance is best under intermediate exchange rate regimes — those that maintain relatively rigid exchange rates but do not formally peg to a single anchor currency." It is truly amazing that IMF researchers and, following therefrom, policy advice have swung so much in a decade. Remember that IMF's original purpose was the administration of exchange rates; it should, therefore, have enough expertise on the subject; and the exchange rate is the single most important price for an economy in a globalised world. To add to the confusion, the article goes on to claim that "pegged exchange rate regimes are associated with better growth performance than floating regimes — but only if they are able to avoid real exchange rate overvaluation and loss of competitiveness".

One wonders whether the last point lets the cat out of the ideological bag: "Real exchange rate overvaluation and loss of competitiveness." By implication, the statement concedes that there is such a thing as a reasonable exchange rate which can be estimated with acceptable accuracy. But market fundamentalism denies this: the correct price is what a market determines it to be, and the real economy has to adjust to its violent and often illogical (on fundamentals) fluctuations. This has been the Chicago School theology for a long time and the IMF has been under its ideological sway for the last few decades.

Therefore, it talks of bipolar prescriptions; of intermediate regimes; of umpteen other concepts instead of stating the simple truth, which is, developing countries should choose an exchange rate regime which ensures that the tradables sector is reasonably competitive in the global economy. One measure of this is a properly constructed real effective exchange rate index. Another is a current account surplus or deficit not exceeding, say, 2 per cent of GDP — a larger deficit foregoes potential growth and employment, and may not be sustainable, and can lead to a crisis. On the other hand, a larger surplus reduces affordable consumption, when increasing consumption is the goal of economic policy, and can be inflationary.

In my view, for this purpose, the current account number should exclude remittances which, though classified as current receipts, are more in the nature of capital flows. The financeability of the deficit, through capital inflows or remittances, should not unduly influence the exchange rate policy. A corollary is that capital flows may need to be controlled in the interests of a reasonable exchange rate. On the last point, a recent IMF Staff Position Note, Capital Inflows: The Role of Controls, by Jonathan Ostry and others, grudgingly concedes that "controls that limit debt inflows (and debt flows recorded as financial FDI) might usefully supplement prudential regulations aimed at curtailing domestic credit booms and unhedged foreign-exchange-denominated lending". But more on this paper in a later article. 







Cosmetic changes like clipping Modi's wings are not the answer

Going by the income tax raids on the Indian Premier League (IPL) and the stories about how the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) plans to clip IPL Chairman Lalit Modi's wings, it's not too difficult to see how things will unfold in the Modi-Shashi Tharoor saga. Tharoor may get away with a light censure given that it's difficult to pin down how exactly his "mentoring" helped the Kochi franchisee. BCCI-IPL bigwigs have already said they'll declare the names of the owners of all franchises; they'll probably force Modi to agree to consult the IPL Governing Council on everything — certainly the IT investigations will act to curb his bravado. This, however, can only be the beginning of the clean-up process, not the end — and it's difficult to see how only Modi can be blamed for the rot in the BCCI-IPL stable.

 Let's take, first, the argument that since the Kochi franchises bid the highest sum ($333.33 million over 10 years) ever in IPL's history, Tharoor couldn't conceivably have helped them. By contrast, it is argued that a franchise — Rajasthan Royals —in which one of Modi's relatives has a large stake, was sold for the lowest price ($67 million in 2008) among all the IPL franchises. This is perhaps Tharoor's best defence. But probe it a bit and it may not amount to much. For one, the question that needs to be asked is whether the franchises have the financial muscle to pay the kind of money they've bid for — we don't know if it is true, but Modi says Tharoor called him up and asked him not to ask too many questions when he wanted to know who the real owners of the franchise were. Given all the fuss about Know Your Customer for banks and mobile phone firms, and about not allowing shady investments into the country, it is unacceptable that franchises be allowed if the source of their funds is not known — in fact, Modi has said that BCCI President Shashank Manohar also asked him to gloss over the ownership structure.

Readers would also do well to recall the struggling baseball club called the Texas Rangers that was bought by George W Bush in 1988. In 1990, when his father was US president (he was vice-president from 1981-89), Bush managed to convince the city of Arlington to largely fund a swanky stadium, and the profits from the increased ticket sales went almost entirely to the Rangers — the Rangers even got power to decide what land they wanted acquired and, needless to say, the value of Bush's investments rose many times over. Whether Tharoor is in a position to swing lucrative post-bid deals for any franchisee is not the issue, what's important is that various politicians are, and that's why it is so important to delink sports from politics.

And while there are the obvious questions that will hopefully get answered about whether Modi's associates/relatives got sweetheart deals from the IPL, there is little doubt the IPL is run in an opaque manner — BCCI-IPL derives its legitimacy from the fact that the government has anointed it as the custodian of cricket in the country, but its politician-administrators run it like a private firm. Long before the Tharoor fight came out in the open, Modi shocked everyone by jacking up the net worth criterion for the new bidders to $1 billion, effectively ensuring that just two firms bid for the two cities up for bid — this was reversed and the IPL Governing Council got more bids. But no one thought it problematic that Modi remained in charge even after something so blatant. And, as Shekhar Gupta has pointed out in The Indian Express, what does it say of the way the IPL is run that the owner of India Cements who is the secretary of the BCCI is also the owner of the Chennai Super Kings (CSK) franchise; that the brand ambassador of CSK was the head selector for the country's cricket team; that the BCCI has contracted Sunil Gavaskar and Ravi Shastri as commentators and anyone who wins the broadcast rights to the IPL series has to have BCCI-appointed commentators?

Since gate money is an important part of the revenue stream for any franchisee, it is curious that no one in the BCCI-IPL set-up asked how someone could be bidding for a Kochi franchise when the city has no stadium. Till a stadium comes up, the Kochi team will be allotted different stadiums across the country for different matches — but without knowing which these were and how big they were, how did a bid take place? Once again, evidence that the bid process wasn't as rigorous as you'd like it to be.

Or, take the agreement that the IPL had with Multi Screen Media (formerly Sony). Sony won the bid for 10-year coverage of matches for $1.02 billion in 2008. The IPL cancelled the contract the next year, citing grounds like poor quality broadcasting. Sony took the IPL to court; the IPL began discussions with other competitors and then renegotiated a new nine-year contract with Sony for $1.64 billion. This helped the IPL get more money, but no independent mechanism exists to ensure such renegotiations are fair.

It is expedient to blame all of this on Modi, but few others in the BCCI-IPL set-up have done anything about it — no one even protested when, for instance, the BCCI used its clout to ban players who joined Zee TV's Indian Cricket League (ICL) and even got PSUs to take action against cricketers who worked for them and joined the ICL (the Delhi High Court had to intervene). If this opportunity is used to clean up the cesspool called Indian cricket, we owe a debt to Mr Tharoor for unwittingly bringing it all out in the open. For starters, an independent audit into BCCI-IPL's functioning is called for.







The Kochi IPL controversy also draws attention to the clout of Gulf-based Keralites

It all began in Dubai. Shashi Tharoor's political career, his friendship with his political aide-cum-Man Friday Jacob Joseph, the dalliance with Sunanda Pushkar and the idea of a Kochi IPL cricket team. When Mr Tharoor left New York, after a 30-year career with the United Nations, he did not choose either Thiruvananthapuram or New Delhi as his home. It had to be Dubai — a natural nest for a globalised Keralite, like most of the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

For three decades now, the "Gulf" has become the bridge between home and opportunity for millions of Malayalees. It is not often recognised that the coconut, cashew and cardamom-growing economy of Kerala, with an educational system that supplied talent and a trade union system that suppressed it, would have sunk into the Arabian Sea if its people had not set sail for the Persian/Arab Gulf.

It was at the Centre for Development Studies, Thiruvananthapuram, that Raju Kurian, now an officer of the Reserve Bank of India, did the first important study, way back in 1977, on the impact of "Gulf migration" on Kerala's economy. In the intervening three decades, Kerala has been enriched by the now famous remittances of its Gulf workers. From being the non-English-speaking, mundu-clad working class, the Gulf migrant has become the globetrotting wealthy arriviste, investing in malls and hotels, in business and politics, with friends in high places in the Gulf and New Delhi!

Kerala's Gulf diaspora lacked only one thing. An icon, a globally recognisable face, a man for all seasons. That vacant slot was filled by an energetic diplomat whose global branding had been done by the Indian government's ill-advised decision to extend its support to him when he chose to field himself as a candidate for secretary-general of the United Nations.

When Prime Minister Manmohan Singh set up his Global Advisory Council, the Bengalis could boast of an Amartya Sen and the Gujaratis of Jagdish Bhagwati on the council. The Tamil diaspora contributed the mathematics Abel prize winner Srinivasa Varadhan and business czarina Indira Nooyi. The Malayalee diaspora was, however, represented by a real estate businessman, P N C Menon, who had made his millions in, where else, the Gulf and our own Mr Tharoor of Afras Ventures, Dubai!

For the people who can legitimately take pride in producing some of India's best brains, scientists and educationists, it must have been disconcerting that their best global icon was neither a Nobel nor an Abel prize winner, nor a global CEO. In the event, Mr Tharoor did well for himself and made his friends and admirers in Dubai proud. Not surprisingly, he chose a sport he and India loved. The heady cricket cocktail of money, glamour and political power, he may have thought, would take his political career to the next level.

Unlike investors in most other cricket teams, who hail mostly from the states that the teams are identified with, the Kochi IPL team has a large number of non-Malayalees, and the only Malayalees investing come from, where else, the Gulf! The Gulf connection has become vital for Kerala. Not surprisingly, the United Progressive Alliance government chose a Keralite for the job of Minister for Overseas Indian Affairs. The Ministry of External Affairs typically posts either a Muslim or a Malayalee to embassies in the Gulf.

It is a historic relationship that the Malabar coast has had with the Arab world. The only other Indians who can claim an equally ancient and intense relationship with the Arab world are the Gujaratis. It is not at all surprising that the Kochi vs Ahmedabad contest for the next IPL is intimately linked to the UAE links of so many from both states.

It is also interesting that some of the most financially successful Indians, ranging from M F Husain to Sania Mirza, so many from Bollywood and so many from India's Page Three crowd have a UAE or Qatar connection! Unconfirmed reports suggest that several Indian politicians, business persons and film and media personalities own fancy apartments in Dubai and have business interests there.

Apart from the fact that the 1.5 million Indians in the UAE, and the 3.5 million in the region as a whole, are an important source of foreign exchange remittances, contributing over US $50 billion every year, the UAE has emerged as India's major trading partner, competing with China and the European Union for the top slot.

Some part of this recorded trade is a reflection of the unrecorded trade between India and Pakistan, with Dubai being the "transit" port. When the India-Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) comprehensive economic cooperation agreement is done, the two economies will come even closer. Dubai free port has its attractions for India's upwardly mobile and globally integrated elite. For good reasons and dubious ones, the India-UAE connection has become a vital aspect of India's external economic links.

While this connection is important for the economies of several states, including Gujarat and Andhra Pradesh (especially Surat and Hyderabad), nowhere is this link more visible and vital than in Kerala. Mr Tharoor has, therefore, very cleverly stitched up a political support base for himself, spanning the Arabian Sea, linking the moneybags of the Gulf with the youth of Kerala.

Mr Tharoor's appeal to regional sentiment in Kerala is not surprising. Regional chauvinism is the first refuge of the globalised Indian seeking a political career. For all his hubris and bravado, his westernised accent and media-savvy persona, Mr Tharoor has climbed onto a familiar political platform that many upwardly mobile Keralites in Dubai may be happy to invest in.







Neither the burps of an unpronounceable volcano in Iceland nor the Kochi kerfuffle are to blame for the latest bug to hit world cricket, but the portent is equally calamitous. A bunch of nations with clearly no idea of or love for the game — the European Union — have decided to "outlaw before export" an insecticide called methyl bromide because of its potential to damage the ozone layer.


Not that the bat business has the volumes to significantly add to the climate change problem, but try telling that to squeamish Eurocrats. For no fault of their own, therefore, (like air passengers across Europe) 100,000 traditional willow clefts are grounded for the time being. They cannot leave England without a fumigation certificate nor land in India and Pakistan to be made into bats without being treated with methyl bromide.

Ironically, just as the IPL and other leagues expand the game and its enthusiasts, many English companies involved in the £10 million bat industry now face the prospect of being bowled out within the year. That's just not cricket.

Just like the unexpected debut of Kochi in major league cricket, the Kashmiri willow — long derided by the British as 'inferior' — could use this unexpected run-out of East Anglia to finally walk up to the crease in the Test and county leagues as a viable alternative. In cricket, the last men in can pull off the most astounding coups.

So, the Indian scientists' quiet ongoing project to develop and propagate straight-grained , blemish-free Silex alba coerulea trees in Kashmir — the only willow variety suitable for top-grade cricket bats — could finally pay off now. The English companies would then have reason to regret that their colonial forebears in India ever introduced the willow to Kashmir in 1927 as cheap wood for fuel and wicker work. For now India has a bat to beat them with.







India's internet service providers must stop the pretence that they actually offer unlimited download packages, and invest more in capacity to service a fast-expanding customer base and to vastly raise data transfer speeds.


For the capacity expansion part, they can get help from the government, particularly its virtually untapped Universal Service Obligation Fund, but to stop fooling the public on service packages, they must act on their own, without waiting for the regulator to step in. ISPs downgrade connection speeds of subscribers who download huge amounts of data, even if they are on unlimited usage plans.

The ISPs call this fair usage policy, but the practice is objectionable. True, there are no free lunches and unlimited data download packages are not intended to privilege a few users to hog bandwidth, reducing effective speeds for other subscribers. Every user of the internet should be assured of a minimum acceptable download speed.

So, there is a case for ISPs to penalise heavy users. The trouble is that not all service providers inform their subscribers, and particularly the older ones, upfront when such policies are implemented. The problem is not unique to India. Internet users across the world have been involved in bitter battles with service providers for interfering with their free access to internet, as in the case involving Comcast.

In this particular instance, Comcast is said to have degraded speed of connections that were used for bandwidth-hogging peer-to-peer applications such as Bit Torrent for downloading music and movie files. Service providers like Comcast are believed to not just reduce speeds, but also to carry out deep packet inspection, looking at what their subscribers' downloads contain, and to act on that information. This, too, is unfair practice. Indian regulation must proactively prevent such practice.

India needs vastly superior data transfer speeds. Instead of justifying misleading packages on the ground that only speeds are limited, but not data volumes, ISPs should work on making 4 mbps the hygiene dataspeed. Copper in the last mile can be replaced with optical fibre and radio waves to enable faster and uninterrupted connectivity.







Some banks are, indeed, too big to fail, under the current regulatory regime. But they are not above the law, not even the biggest of them. This is the principle that has been brought into play by the US Securities and Exchange Commission's prosecution of Goldman Sachs for securities fraud.

Now, the specifics of the charge that has been brought against the bank are such that Goldman, bristling with indignation at the accusation and resolve to fight it out in the courts, may well be found not guilty. But the prosecution is bound to have two salutary effects, apart from reinforcing the principle that no one is above the law. One effect would be to lay bare the mechanics of the bubble that finally burst in 1998 and brought most of the world economy to its knees, for public education.

Such literacy is essential in a world where finance will and should continue to evolve. The other effect is to raise the pressure on legislators in the US to bring in laws that regulate big finance in a meaningful fashion.

The G20, in its Pittsburgh summit last November, had outlined an ambitious agenda to regulate finance on matters ranging from the quality of securitised assets and compensation of financiers to leverage and capitalisation, asset prices, standardisation and exchange-based trading of derivative products. The political will has been weak in the country at the heart of the financial crisis, the US, to move ahead with the agenda of regulatory reform.

Without US leadership, leave alone US participation, the needed coordinated changes in regulation of finance across the world just will not happen. The SEC-initiated prosecution of Goldman Sachs should give US legislators the political courage they need to bring about substantive regulatory reform. It is relevant to note that President Obama has now said that he would veto any bill that skirts serious reform of regulation. What yet remains to be questioned is the fluid mobility of the same set of individuals across the semi-permeable membrane between big finance and the government.

The immediate impact on Goldman and other bank share prices, and on the markets as a whole, might be negative in the very short term. This is not a major source of concern, except for those who make their living off temporary fluctuations of the markets.








Last year, around the same time, the Indian banking sector was still grappling with the adverse impact of global credit crisis. Non-performing loans were rising and banks were risk adverse, cutting back loan growth. After an unprecedented boom during the four years ending March 2008, bank credit growth had decelerated to a 12-year low of 9% yoy as of end-October 2009. However, after a period of slowdown and adjustment, banks are beginning to embark on a path to grow loans at a rate closer to the pre-crisis period of 27.8% yoy (average) during 2004-07.

Indeed, over the last few months, it has already bounced back to 16.7% yoy as of March 26, 2010 in line with our expectations. Incremental bank credit to GDP is rising too. After collapsing sharply to 4% of GDP in October 2009, incremental bank credit to GDP has risen to 7.4% as of the fortnight ended March 26, 2010.

Banks balance sheets have healed significantly. A quick revival in global risk appetite also meant that Indian corporate sector could access risk capital from international capital markets easily. This helped the corporate sector to repair their balance sheets faster, thus reducing the risk of vicious feedback of large non-performing loans in the banking system, increased risk aversion and slower growth.

We believe the underlying impaired loan ratio (reported non-performing loans plus restructured loan portfolio) has already peaked. This will help increase the confidence of the banking sector to accelerate loan growth. Revival in capital inflows, liquidity support measures from the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) has already resulted in sharp decline in lending rates, thus incentivising the borrowers.

The most important driver to this rise in loan growth will be the demand from the corporate sector. Industrial production (IP) has seen a V-shaped recovery over the last nine months. India is one of the very few countries in the Asia-Pacific region that did not see any major decline in its industrial production during the credit crisis period. Moreover, IP growth has accelerated to 15.1% yoy in February 2010 from the trough of -0 .2% yoy in December 2008, driven by a quick rise in capital inflows, expansionary fiscal policy and low interest rates. Indeed, seasonally adjusted IP increased 14% between February 2010 and May 2009 (in just nine months). We expect IP to remain strong in the coming months.

Whilst first six months of acceleration in industrial growth since trough in March 2009 was largely government spending and private consumption driven, over the next 12 months we believe that, as private consumption moderates, the rise in corporate capex and exports will ensure a strong growth trend. Typically, bank credit growth lags IP growth by 4-6 months.

Moreover, rising inflation will also be reflected in stronger nominal credit demand. WPI non-food inflation is rising quickly. Non-food WPI inflation has already moved up to 7.2% yoy as of February 2010 from -0 .4% in November 2009. Corporate pricing power is coming back against a backdrop of tighter capacity utilisation and rising global commodity prices.

With rising oil prices, the working capital demand of oil companies is also likely to pick up to the extent that the government refrains from increasing domestic fuel prices. Other global commodity prices have also moved up sharply. Commodity Research Bureau's global commodity index is up 30% compared to levels a year ago. The combined effect of the higher output and rising prices should push the corporate credit demand up sharply.

In addition, over the next six months we believe the investments will also pick up.

A sharp rise in output over the last nine months has begun to take capacity utilisation closer to full. Unlike in the previous cycle, when the recovery in growth gradually allowed adequate time for the private corporate sector to initiate capex plans, in the current cycle , the recovery in growth has been sharp and the business investment cycle was hit badly. The transition from low capacity to close-to-full capacity utilisation is occurring in a much shorter period. For instance, in the current cycle the seasonally-adjusted industrial production index has risen 15% cumulatively in 11 months from the trough whereas in the previous cycle , the seasonally-adjusted industrial production index took around 26 months to rise to close to 15% cumulatively from the trough.

Moreover, exports recovery will mean even faster improvement in capacity utilisation. We believe private corporate capex will accelerate over the next six months. Moreover, infrastructure spending will also further accelerate with renewed effort from the government towards that.

All the macro indicators are indicating that bank credit growth will spike up over the next 4-5 months. We believe that bank credit growth will accelerate to 24%-25 % yoy by August 2010 from the current 16.7% yoy as of the fortnight ended March 26, 2010. Indeed , we think that the RBI would need to quickly lift policy rates toward normalised levels to prevent overshoot of economic growth and a rise in credit demand above 30% yoy in the next few months. Over the next 12 months, the government's borrowing needs will also be high competing with the private sector's credit demand.

Any delay in rate hikes would also push aggregate demand higher than the domestic capacity creation pushing current account deficit to vulnerable levels. The four-quarter trailing current account deficit has already widened to 2.5% of GDP.

What can go wrong with our optimistic outlook for loan growth? We believe the key risks to our optimistic credit growth outlook are a potential double dip in developed-world growth and risk aversion in global financial markets.






Professor CK Prahalad will be remembered among the greatest thought-leaders of the 21st century. His path-breaking work on strategy undoubtedly represents one of the defining points in the evolution of management theory. He broke from the mould of purely analytical and mechanistic ways. Instead, he advocated the need to lift our sights from merely incremental change to revolutionary change. Truly, he lifted management thought to new levels of excitement and activism.

He was an alchemist. He worked with missionary zeal to get Indian businesses to uncover the immense possibilities at the bottom of the pyramid. This not only because of the latent business opportunities, but because of his conviction — that's how the poor could be uplifted. And that's how businesses could win the legitimacy and trust that they deserved. His contention, that business interests and the interests of society could be intertwined, has been a powerful message. Doing business and doing good did not have to be two distinct initiatives.

His cutting-edge ideas and wisdom have a timeless relevance. In early December last year, we had Prof Prahalad talk to our senior management team, during the course of which I spent considerable time with him. In one of our conversations, he said, if you want to be focused on the next practice, you have to worry about weak signals. You must look at the periphery. You must see what the outliers are doing, connect the dots and see a new pattern.

Think about creating the future for yourself as running a 400-metre marathon at a time. This calls for urgency, speed and stamina — all at one go. And these, he said, are the watchwords for management.

He also pointed out how the basic drivers of structural change are going to be connectivity, inclusive growth, sustainability and global markets. And therefore, there is emerging a new logic for global management. He called it "20 hubs and no spokes". I remember him saying — if you do not start with a legacy mindset, you can innovate like crazy. Do not worry about the learning curve, worry about the forgetting curve. Forgetting may be more difficult than learning.

Today, if one were to carve out the equivalent of a Mount Rushmore for management thinkers, I am sure, Prof Prahalad would have to belong there. He will always remain on top of the pyramid. We are deeply saddened by his sudden demise.








Besides resentment, represented by the letter 'r' in the word 'failure' , six more 'failure' traits, as respectively denoted by the other six letters of this word, are listed by Dr Maxwell Maltz in his book, Psychocybernetics — frustration , aggressiveness (misdirected ), insecurity, loneliness, uncertainty and emptiness.


Release from resentment is directly linked to one's delighting (muditha) in the virtuous manifestations all over. Therefore ,freedom from this pernicious affliction would naturally also help the aspirant to obtaining, step by step, release from other six 'failure traits' too. Nevertheless, towards obtaining tangible paradigm shift, a deeper comprehension of Dr Maltz's analysis of these six traits would also be pertinent.

Concerning 'frustration', Dr Maxwell Maltz sums up, "Chronic frustration means that the goal we have set for ourselves or the image we have of ourselves is inadequate or both" . The key lies, therefore, in reworking on one's goals and priorities and, thus, altering one's own self image in the required manner.
'Aggressiveness', by itself could be positive and becomes a 'failure trait' only when it is misdirected. Dr Maltz rightly observes, "The best channel for all aggression is to use it up as it was intended to be used — in working toward some goal".

On 'insecurity', Dr Maltz observes how we often compare our actual abilities to an imagined perfect ideal. He also notes that man is only a "goal-seeking mechanism" , not arriving ever at any absolute quality or destination.
'Loneliness' also is best countered by getting accepted through social contacts and contribution , without fear of ridicule or humiliation, while 'uncertainty' , which too stems from this, is rooted in sheer inaction for fear of possible failure or rejections.

In a similar manner, the feeling of 'emptiness' is often generated by trying for 'success' to please others, inconsistent with one's own true inner needs. Naturally so, even after obtaining the desired objective, one feels unfulfilled and empty, as if he had got something which he had not deserved.

Analysing and thus understanding various issues linked to the 'failure mechanism' within, would, thus, help unravel the bottlenecks to progress . This process also is the first and major step in resolving these for commencing one's quest for the 'success mechanism'!








It is almost a given that the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) will tighten monetary policy tomorrow when the governor presents the bank's annual monetary policy statement for the current fiscal. The only question is whether he will opt for a slam dunk — raise the cash reserve ratio (CRR) or the quantum of their deposits that banks must compulsorily keep with the RBI as well as the repo and reverse repo rates, the rates at which the bank provides and absorbs funds to/from banks. Or settle for a more middle-of-the-path response. May be a hike in the CRR alone, eschewing for now the temptation to tweak the repo and reverse repo rates in a scenario where, quite frankly, both are largely irrelevant.

Either way, he will need to send a stronger signal than earlier. With the wholesale price index in double digits and food inflation (again at the wholesale level) hovering close to 20%, the RBI is dangerously behind the curve. We now have the dubious distinction of the highest rate of inflation, year-on-year , among emerging markets, barring Russia, Pakistan, Venezuela and Egypt, according to the table of Economic and Financial Indicators in the latest Economist magazine .

Worse, we are one of the few countries where the magazine forecasts inflation trending up, rather than down. In a country where the numbers below the poverty line range from anywhere between 300 million to 700 million (!) depending on what yardstick you take, that is unconscionably high.

Even granting the RBI, unlike many inflation-targeting central banks, has to juggle multiple objectives — growth, price stability , financial stability, managing the government borrowing, etc, — it would be hard not to conclude that on the inflation front it is guilty of sleeping on the watch.

Regardless of whether its soft touch was because of political compulsions or not, the end result is the same: higher-than-warranted inflation because of its tardiness in reacting to sure fire indications of demand pressure. After all it knows, better than most, that monetary policy is a notoriously imprecise tool. Moreover, it acts with a long time lag, especially in the Indian scenario where financial markets are fragmented; we still have administered interest rates in some sectors and interest rates on government debt, that sets the floor for all other borrowing, is not exactly freely-determined by market forces.

What all this means is that the RBI, in common with central banks elsewhere, has to be proactive rather than reactive. But more importantly, it has to go that extra length compared to central banks elsewhere because it needs to factor in the additional drag on account of the ground realities of the Indian situation. It needs to 'see' a little further ahead.

True, divya dhristi (divine vision) of the kind given to Sanjaya in the Mahabharata is not given to central bankers, but unlike ordinary mortals who have to wait for the official release of data on inflation, industrial production, asset prices and so on, the RBI is expected to have an informed view, ahead of the market.

In which case, it is abundantly clear it had called wrong in the past. No central bank that presides over an average WPI of over 8% and a CPI of well over 13% can disown responsibility on that score.

The question is should it make 'amends' for not acting in the past by over-reacting now? Or should do what it is best at and take a calibrated approach, since whatever it does today will have an impact only about 12-18 months down the line? This is where central banking differs from rocket science.

Consider. On the external sector there is not much the RBI can do. Capital flows are notoriously fickle. And in a scenario where for a variety of reasons we cannot leave the exchange rate entirely to market forces, any intervention to influence the exchange rate will impact monetary policy.

On the internal front, it is on a better wicket, but only slightly so. Given the dominance of fiscal policy over monetary policy, whether it will be able to impress upon the government that spending like there is no tomorrow can lead to but one result: 'no tomorrow' ! At least not one that any of us would want to wish for!

So it boils down that the only aspect of its policy formulation over which there is some certainty is essentially only one: the state of the economy. Here the signals are fairly clear. With industry showing strong growth for the third month in a row — February numbers were over 15% — manufacturing up 16% and capital good 44%, there can be no case for holding back.

But given the much greater uncertainty on other fronts, it is better to proceed cautiously. Tighten a little, and then, if necessary , tighten some more depending on how the situation unfolds (without getting doctrinaire about acting only on policy dates). It could do no better than follow Oliver Cromwell's advice to his men: 'trust in God and keep your powder dry'. Hopefully with a happier outcome!








All eyes are now on S S N Moorthy. A quintessential tax sleuth, he is following the money trail in the Indian Premier League to establish the identity of franchisee owners. Moorthy stepped in to steer the Central Board of Direct Taxes (CBDT) in January last year, when the country was battling the worst-ever economic crisis after the global meltdown. The task of tax collection was daunting. With the economy showing distinct signs of recovery, the top tax administrator is confident of collecting every penny due from taxpayers this fiscal year.

"We will pursue tax reforms. Our priority is to ensure better compliance and taxpayer services," says Moorthy. He is on the job. Last month, the CBDT took a crucial decision to deduct a 20% tax at source from those who fail to furnish their permanent account number (PAN). The move has far reaching implications. Even a farmer, who does not pay tax on his farm income, has to obtain a PAN if his interest income is over Rs 10,000 a year. The low profile CBDT boss says the new TDS rule will apply to all.

"Ideally, all citizens should have a PAN. This will help the tax department track the audit trail of each and every financial transaction. The tax administration is making it easy for people to get a PAN, besides ensuring timely refunds."

Should not tax authorities go after the big fish, who evade taxes rather than squeeze incremental amounts from those whose incomes already leave audit trails? Moorthy says the tax administration is equipped to nab all tax evaders, with the tax information network that gathers information on large financial transactions. Glitches, if any, will be ironed out once the tax administration is fully modernised. Eventually, all taxpayers will file their returns electronically and this will significantly reduce the interface between taxpayers and tax administrators.

He admits income-tax returns can be made more saral (easy) if tax laws are simple This will happen once the direct taxes code (DTC) comes into force. "The objective is to have simple and transparent tax laws, moderate tax rates and a quick dispute redressal mechanism."

So will the revised DTC end tax-exemptions? For instance, will savings instruments such as the public provident fund (PPF) be taxed at the time of maturity? This was the original proposal. The CBDT chief does not want to be drawn into any controversy and only says the code is being reworked. But he defends the existing regime on tax treatment of savings instruments — PPF is not taxed at any stage — saying such incentives are needed in a country that does not have proper social security system.

Moorthy chaired an internal panel to rewrite the tax code in his earlier stint as director general (investigation), Mumbai. This group pitched for strengthening enforcement to plug tax evasion. He does not deny that the problem of tax avoidance and evasion is growing, with companies structuring their deals in tax havens. He is clear that India should get its share of tax dues in cross border deals if the income is generated here.

Should we not have more aggressive approach to check tax evasion using tax havens? Particularly considering that India has not made any headway in negotiating its tax treaty with Mauritius, though there are concerns about round-tripping of investments. Efforts are on to renegotiate the treaty, states the CBDT chief.

When will India conclude reworking its tax pact with Switzerland to secure information on Indians, who have stashed away money in numbered accounts? "We have started our negotiations with Switzerland to make changes in the provisions relating to exchange of information. But it is difficult to put a time-frame on when these negotiations will end."

At least nine tax havens are in talks with India to enter into an exchange of information agreement, after the G-20 threatened to clamp down on non-compliant jurisdictions. The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) is driving this initiative. All these efforts will check tax evasion and avoidance through cross-border deals, says Moorthy.

Will India become an OECD member? "We have some reservations with the OECD model. We want to maintain our neutrality and are not in a hurry to take up OECD membership." Moorthy's main mission now is to ensure that his team collects Rs 4,30,000 crore from taxpayers this fiscal year.









Set up as an apex development bank to facilitate rural credit flow, regulate regional rural banks and cooperative banks, and to assist the RBI in rural credit operations, the National Bank for Agriculture & Rural Development (Nabard) has been crying out loud for a role makeover in the new market environment. Managing director KG Karmakar talks to Prabha Jagannathan about his plans that include bringing farm loan interest rate down to only 4%. Excerpts:

The 11th Plan envisages exponential growth in the non-farm sector...

We see three interdependent sectors of rural growth as equally important: on farm, non-farm and off-farm. The big question is how to reduce the risk factor for the farmer. We need a farming system attuned to the needs of small and marginal farmers. Non-farm activities have also begun to claim an increasing amount of our total investment credit. About 65% of our Rs 12,000-crore investment credit went to rural housing and other sectors.

Innovative insurance measures have failed to take off?

The NAIS (National agricultural insurance scheme) is flawed. Farmers in parts of Jalgaon district (Maharashtra) had in fact taken the Agricultural Insurance Company of India Ltd to court against it. The NAIS has the taluka as the basic unit whereas it should have the village, or even each farmland. If there is drought in one part of the taluka, at present, it is construed that the entire taluka was drought-struck or vice versa. Despite this, the Subhash Chandra report has been gathering dust with the Planning Commission. Innovative products such as weather-based insurance have also not done well.

Credit access to small farmers and labourers remains poor...

Small and medium farmers comprise about 85% of the total. Nabard is planning to organise joint liability groups for landless farmers and sharecroppers countrywide to improve their virtually nil credit access and increase their bargaining power. We also need to strengthen the tech input for small farmers to improve their productivity and earnings. It is possible to promote accessible technology to them through micro farming. The market is viable, if not highly profitable one. Problem is, hardly anybody is willing to tap into it. We also need a fairly good seed distribution system to increase productivity. The ideal germination rate is 85%.

The claims are 95% germination rate. In reality, however, the germination rate is only 55% since, despite certified and quality seeds, the intermediary intervention still remains high, injecting spurious seeds into the system. That impacts both production and productivity. However, of late, the NREGA has changed the rural landscape to a good extent and in states such as Punjab, even small farmers have invested in harvesters because farm labour from Bihar, UP, prefer a good earning at home rather than migrate to Punjab.

You had assigned a study on "coping mechanism" farmers?

There is good scope for work on micro-pension and micro-insurance. Very poor people need the former but no one is working on that. Those with assets will go in for the second but the link is only through SHGs. Companies such as LIC which have, in conjunction with local NGOs, sold micro insurance products that provide social security to underprivileged people such as Jeevan Madhur are not pushing it enough.

Doesn't Nabard need re-positioning to make it more business-like?

We wanted to play a prominent role in all of the Centre's rural development programmes but that hasn't happened. Take horticulture, though. We're not even there. Our consultancy unit did assessment reports in various sectors. We prepared a long term plan on cold storage and rural godowns, which has been accepted. We didn't take any money from the government. Restructuring plans now could mean a hiving off separate unit. We cannot make maximum profits like the private sector because of our objectives of covering the risks of the vulnerable sections.

In the changed market environment, what is Nabard's revised goal?

Our aim is to bring down farm loans to 4% as suggested by the national commission of farmers. This budget increased interest subvention on short term farm loans by 2%, bringing the effective interest rate on farm loans to 5%. Some state governments have already started the subvention. I think banks would look forward to such initiatives which would also temper their risk aversion.







RS Reddy has been a banker for almost four decades, starting in Bank of India, where he rose to the post of general manager. He was posted to Union Bank of India as executive director and then deputed to Andhra Bank in 2008 as its chairman and managing director. He speaks to Sangita Mehta about challenges and his plans for the bank.

The Reserve Bank of India's annual policy statement is only a day away, what are your expectations?

With inflation numbers the way they are, I expect a rate hike of 25 basis points in repo and reverse repo. The quantum of increase will be based on RBI's balancing act between inflation and growth. Another change could be the tweaking of provisions on standard assets to act as a buffer for any likely slippage of restructured accounts. Second, risk weights on unrated accounts reverting back to 150% from the present 100% for the purpose of CRAR (capital to risk-weighted assets ratio).

How has the year been for Andhra Bank and what are the plans for this financial year?

The year gone by has been path breaking for us. Deposits grew by 30%, CASA by 22%, advances by 27%. All sectors contributed in the growth, MSME grew by 55%, retail banking by 45%, agriculture by 30%, corporate by 18%. The prospects for the coming year are also exciting. We completed our zonal managers' conference for setting targets, on April 5, 2010, itself. We are targeting 25% growth on deposits and 27% on advances. By September 2010, we hope to cross Rs 1.50 lakh crore, making us a large-sized bank. The graduation from small to mid and large will be in just 18 months.

Andhra Bank is generally seen as a regional bank with 75% of the branches in Andhra Pradesh. What steps have you taken to change this image and project the bank as a national bank?

This is absolutely a wrong perception. Sixty-six per cent of our branches are in Andhra Pradesh and approximately 50% of our business comes from branches outside the state. The loan book of Andhra Pradesh has large exposures of companies incorporated in the state with projects outside Andhra Pradesh further diversifying our business. Last year, 116 out of 121 branches were opened in states other than Andhra Pradesh. Most of these were opened in the North, West and East zones. This trend is likely to continue. While expansion of our pan-India network is the best way of increasing visibility and an all India image, today, Andhra Bank is perceived as a pan-India bank outside Andhra Pradesh since we have taken large exposures in big corporates having national presence.

Now that Andhra Bank has achieved 100% core banking solution (CBS) what are the new kind of services you would be offering to customers?

It has been a little over a year since 100% CBS was rolled out. Customer service has undergone a paradigm change, post CBS with any branch banking, SMS alerts, near-zero ATM complaints, centralised pension processing cell, tele banking, reminders for payment of instalments, etc. Further, measures on customer satisfaction are being rolled out shortly with SMS service to register complaints. We are leveraging technology to expand our clientele base and also bring back clients who left us some time back due to lack of cutting edge CBS technology then.

You are already a partner in the joint venture (JV) for insurance. Do you have any plans for other non-banking businesses?

This joint venture has done exceptionally well on its four odd months of existence this year. IndiaFirst collected a premium of approximately Rs 250 crore. The target for the year 2011 is Rs 750 crore. God willing, we will exceed that. Yes, we have plans for other joint ventures some are on the drawing board stage, some at the discussion stage. We will announce these, once something firms up.

Every bank is seeing a huge level of attrition among employees. What is your plan to tackle it and what is your HR policy?

At the middle and senior levels, there is absolutely no attrition. At the entry level and junior officers' levels there is some, which has very little impact. In the meantime, there are various initiatives to ensure a healthy HR policy namely, yearly promotions, performance-based incentives, training in premier institutions in India and abroad, etc. A 2020 club is in place comprising officers retiring after 2020. A fast-track career growth path is set out for them. On the HR front, there are no issues of concern. Our major thrust is to reskill existing staff to work in today's competitive environment.

Financial inclusion is gaining lot of prominence from RBI. What are your plans?

In line with RBI directives, we are covering all unbanked villages with a population of more than 2000 by the end of 2011. Our board's approval for going in for an end to end format, where a Section 25 company will be providing the complete solution for the above said villages. We are going to have features such as inbuilt overdraft facility and issue of Kisan credit cards to those who are not already covered. We have opened 7.74 lakh no-frills accounts so far, covering 2,174 villages enabling payment of wages under NREGS and Social security pensions. In fact, our bank already has large number of self-help groups (SHGs), around 2.35 lakh groups, where the bank has financed Rs 1,900 crore. Andhra Pradesh is ahead of other states in financial inclusions. We are co-ordinator for state level bankers' committee (SLBC) in Andhra Pradesh and also monitoring the financial inclusion plan of all banks in the state.




                                                                                                               DECCAN CHRONICAL




Just when airlines worldwide were beginning to recover from their worst-ever financial crisis, disaster struck once again — in the form of the volcanic eruption on the Eyjafjallajokull glacier in Iceland. This forced the cancellation of thousands of flights, in Europe and elsewhere, and left lakhs of passengers stranded at airports everywhere. Northern Europe, expectedly, bore the brunt of the impact, with thousands forced to switch to road, rail and sea ferries to reach their destinations. Some left in the lurch at airports hired taxis, and trains and inter-city buses in Britain and Europe were solidly booked. But in our globalised world, people in far continents could not be left unaffected. North America was badly hit as 300 of 600 trans-Atlantic services were cancelled.


In India, too, West-bound travellers suffered long waits at airports, with no certainty if they could fly at all or not. Many heading for European destinations aborted their travel plans altogether. Others going to North America were stuck too, with some good news finally coming on Sunday: that Air India planned to resume certain nonstop services to the United States with some re-routing. Jet Airways too planned to fly to the US by re-routing via Athens. Things look more uncertain for those booked on British Airways or other European carriers. The bottomline was that passengers found themselves helpless, but for once, despite the massive dislocations, there was remarkably little evidence of protests or outrage. Perhaps there was realisation that there was little that the airlines could do — they really could have no Plan B for this situation. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, heading back from the IBSA-BRIC summits in Brasilia, was also affected — the planned stopover in Frankfurt had to be cancelled, and his special Air India aircraft instead flew over Africa, making a halt in Johannesburg, on the way home. Other world leaders caught overseas — particularly European ones — were much worse off. In some cases all that they could do was to fly to the nearest airport still functioning, and traverse the rest of the journey by train or limousine. The volcanic disaster is a reminder that despite the many technological marvels of the past century and more, Mother Nature still reigns supreme over our planet. As Ralph Waldo Emerson had said: "Everything in nature contains all the power of nature." Or as Buckminister Fuller reminded us: "One outstandingly important fact regarding Spaceship Earth is ... that no instruction book came with it." Highly-advanced jet aircraft are no match for plumes or ash from the volcano which are believed to contain minute particles of silicate that disable their powerful jet engines. There was a really scary incident 28 years ago when all four engines of a jumbo jet became disabled during an earlier volcanic eruption in the Pacific region, and a tragedy only averted due to the presence of mind of the pilot who put his huge aircraft into a steep dive to escape from the ash. It is ironical that unlike the jets, older propeller-driven aircraft would have had no problems with volcanic ash — as these do not suck in air like jet engines. Nature can thus get the better of the most advanced technological marvel. The jet engine, given its size and weight, has phenomenal thrust, but its Achilles heel is that it needs clear air to provide this thrust.








The recently proposed food security bill can become another landmark scheme of United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government, comparable to the NREGA (National Rural Employment Guarantee Act). It is under Mrs Sonia Gandhi's personal initiative that the UPA adopted NREGA earlier and again has pressure to implement the scheme initiated in the Congress election manifesto will initiate the scheme this year. It is the most effective anti-poverty measure to be adopted by any government anywhere in the world.


Before the scheme is actually adopted it is necessary to openly debate its provisions. The proposed National Food Security Act is a first step towards ensuring food security to all citizens in the country. It focuses primarily on below poverty line (BPL) families with a minimum quantity of foodgrains per month. The current Antyodaya Anna Yojana (AAY) scheme under the public distribution system (PDS) provides for 35 kg per BPL family per month with Rs 3 per kg for rice and Rs 2 per kg for wheat. The eligible people for AAY are the poorest of the poor who do not have even two square meals a day and in May 2005, the number of beneficiaries came to 2.5 crore households which is 38 per cent of the total BPL households. The idea is to extend this programme to all the BPL households in the country, with an almost revolutionary impact on our food security system.


I would want everyone to discuss an alternative: instead of extending this programme to all the BPL families we should extend the coverage universally, i.e. whole population of the country. This would not only simplify the scheme but it will also practically eliminate the scope of leakage currently severely affecting our PDS. That would of course bring a substantial increase in the subsidies, if the non-BPL families fully avail of these facilities. But there is every reason to expect they will not because most of the non-BPL families are expected to go for higher quality of food with much lower transaction costs for securing them from the market. A 35 kg per family of foodgrains is much lower than the international standards of 60 kg per family. The richer sections would try to acquire that from the markets rather than through PDS. That has been the experience of some of the southern states that have adopted universal coverage. So a provision made in the Budget for universal coverage of the programme for India may not be actually utilised. If, however, the claim on the budgetary resources becomes too high for the government to afford, I would suggest the quantity of food be reduced from 35 to 25 kg instead of limiting it mainly to BPL families. Indeed in actual practice, the amount of foodgrains used has been less than 20-21 kg per family mostly because of huge transaction costs and leakages in the system. If everybody is entitled to 25 kg per family and the requirements above that can always be procured from the local market, incentives for diversions would almost disappear.


My main problem for using the BPL criteria for PDS is that it is virtually impossible to arrive at a consensus about that number however much Planning Commission may provide their estimates. The number of people below a calculated poverty line is a statistical concept, which would be very difficult to apply to the concrete situations on the ground. The criteria for poverty vary from state to state almost entirely determined by political pressures of groups and subgroups. Currently the number of BPL families based on 93-94 poverty estimates of the Planning Commission and March 2000 population estimates is only 6.52 crores. If this is revised by the latest poverty estimates of 2004-2005 and population of 2009 it would be reduced to 5.91 crores. But different states have used different criteria of poverty estimates and issued BPL ration cards according to their estimates, amounting to 10.68 crores today with many states demanding for raising the numbers further. An attempt to limit these to a statistical average will be almost impossible. While the Planning Commission estimate is about 27.7 per cent of people below the poverty line based on calorie content of minimal food baskets, the Tendulkar Committee estimate is about 37 per cent and the Supreme Court appointed expert N.C. Saxena's estimate is above 50 per cent.


On the other hand, the current system of identifying BPL families or AAY families is full of loopholes with scope for discretionary identification by officials susceptible to bribes and other kinds of pressures. The matter gets even more complicated when attempts are made to provide additional 10 kg to above poverty line families. A Planning Commission 2005 report hold that 58 per cent of the subsidised foodgrains issued from the Central government do not reach the BPL families because of identification errors and non transparent practices in the implementation of the schemes. Thirty-six per cent of the budgetary subsidies are siphoned off, and only about 42 per cent reaches the targeted BPL group.


Every attempt should now be made to simplify the scheme that can be effectively done if we make the system universal and not depending upon the identification and estimation of the BPL families.


This of course would not make the system perfect and it is important that the government concentrates on improving the governance of universal PDS rather than wasting time on identifying the poor. The first requirement would be to improve the working of the Food Corporation of India, which is supposed to procure food from the surplus states directly from the producers and transport them to the deficit states. The problem is much more serious at the level of the states. Many of them are unable to lift the allocated foodgrains because of shortage of resources. The Centre has to play a major role in helping the states, if necessary with substantial loans so that foodgrains are available at the fair price shops when a consumer demands it. The fair price shops themselves have to be supported with incentives and if necessary with transport and storage facilities.


A universal PDS for the provision of subsidised foodgrains to all consumers would not obviate the need for reforming the delivery system through PDS. The new food security act must provide for methods of improving the delivery and monitoring their effectiveness.


- Dr Arjun Sengupta is a Member of Parliament and former Economic Adviser to Prime Minister Indira Gandhi








You've heard that saying: As General Motors goes, so goes America. Thank goodness that is no longer true. I mean, I wish the new GM well, but our economic future is no longer tied to its fate. No, my new motto is: As EndoStim goes, so goes America.


EndoStim is a little start-up I was introduced to on a recent visit to St. Louis. The company is developing a proprietary implantable medical device to treat acid reflux. I have no idea if the product will succeed in the marketplace. It's still in testing. What really interests me about EndoStim is how the company was formed and is being run today. It is the epitome of the new kind of start-ups we need to propel our economy: a mix of new immigrants, using old money to innovate in a flat world.


Here's the short version: EndoStim was inspired by Cuban and Indian immigrants to America and funded by St. Louis venture capitalists. Its prototype is being manufactured in Uruguay, with the help of Israeli engineers and constant feedback from doctors in India and Chile. Oh, and the CEO is a South African, who was educated at the Sorbonne, but lives in Missouri and California, and his head office is basically a BlackBerry. While rescuing General Motors will save some old jobs, only by spawning thousands of EndoStims — thousands — will we generate the kind of good new jobs to keep raising our standard of living.


It all started by accident. Dr Raul Perez, an obstetrician and gynecologist, immigrated to America from Cuba in the 1960s and came to St. Louis, where he met Dan Burkhardt, a local investor. "Raul was unique among doctors", recalled Burkhardt. "He had a real nose for medical investing and what could be profitable in a clinical environment. So we started investing together". In 1997, they created a medical venture fund, Oakwood Medical Investors.


Perez had a problem with acid reflux and went for treatment to the Mayo Clinic in Arizona, where he was helped by an Indian-American doctor, V.K. Sharma. During his follow-ups, Dr Sharma mentioned those four words every venture capitalist loves to hear: "I have an idea" — use a pacemaker-like device to control the muscle that would choke off acid reflux.


Burkhardt, Perez and Sharma were joined by Bevil Hogg — a South African and one of the early founders of the Trek Bicycle Corporation — who became CEO. Together, they raised the initial funds to develop the technology. Two Israelis, Shai Pollicker, a medical engineer, and Dr Edy Soffer, a prominent gastroenterologist, joined a Seattle-based engineering team (led by an Australian) to help with the design. A company in Uruguay specialising in pacemakers is building the prototype.


This kind of very lean start-up, where the principals are rarely in the same office at the same time, and which takes advantage of all the tools of the flat world — teleconferencing, email, the Internet and faxes — to access the best expertise and low-cost, high-quality manufacturing anywhere, is the latest in venture investing. You've heard of cloud computing. I call this "cloud manufacturing".


"In the aftermath of the banking crisis, access to public markets is off-limits to start-ups," explained Hogg, so start-ups now have to be "much leaner, much more capital-efficient, much smarter in accessing worldwide talent and quicker to market in order to do more with less". He added, "$20 million is the new $100 million".


And technology is making this all possible. Chris Anderson of Wired magazine pointed this out in a smart essay in February's issue, entitled "Atoms Are the New Bits".


"'Three guys with laptops' used to describe a Web startup'", he wrote. "Now it describes a hardware company, too" thanks to "the availability of common platforms, easy-to-use tools, Web-based collaboration, and Internet distribution... Global supply chains have become scale-free, able to serve the small as well as the large, the garage inventor and Sony".


The clinical trials for EndoStim are being conducted in India and Chile. "What they have in common", said Hogg, "is superb surgeons with high levels of skill, enthusiasm for the project, an interest in research and reasonable costs". This is also part of the new model, said Hogg: Invented and financed in the West, further developed and tested in the East and rolled out in both markets.


What's in it for America? As long as the venture money, core innovation and the key management comes from here — a lot. If EndoStim works out, its tiny headquarters in St. Louis will grow much larger. St. Louis is where the best jobs — top management, marketing, design — and shareholders will be, said Hogg. Where innovation is sparked and capital is raised still matters.


You don't hear much about companies like this. America's national debate today is dominated by the ignorant ramblings of Sarah Palin, talk-show lunatics, tea parties and politics as sports — not ESPN but PSPN. Fortunately, though, we still have risk-takers who are not paying attention to any of this nonsense, who know what world they're living in — and are just doing it. Thank goodness!








If you want to persuade the Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister, Ms Mayawati, then you should meet her in Delhi. So the saying goes. According to insiders, Delhi does wonders for the Iron Lady's famous temper and whenever she is there, she becomes more patient and reasonable.


A senior Indian Administrative Service officer, Vijay Shankar Pandey, who was unceremoniously removed from the CM's Secretariat last month after the currency garland controversy, recently met Ms Mayawati at her Delhi residence. She not only gave him a patient hearing but also accepted his explanation.


Two days later Mr Pandey was reinstated in the corridors of power and is now posted in the Chief Minister's residence.


After this, officers, ministers and MLAs are making sure that they get to meet the Chief Minister in Delhi and not Lucknow. No wonder trains and flights to Delhi are packed with high-profile passengers.


Marxists thank Mamata


Last week, Kolkatans were forced to echo T.S. Eliot's famous line "April is the cruellest month" when the mercury touched 41°C in the city and climbed to 43°C in some districts.


The oppressive heat and humidity became even more unbearable because of the frequent load shedding.


Faced with a major power crisis, the administration asked the people not to use airconditioners between 6 pm and 10 pm. The state government explained that it had been forced to undertake load shedding as there was a shortfall of around 1,000 MW against a demand of nearly 6,000 MW.


But a Communist Party of India (Marxist) leader chose to look at the brighter side. Maharashtra, he said, was grappling with a demand of 16,000 MW.


"West Bengal should thank the Trinamul leader, Ms Mamata Banerjee, for bringing industrialisation to a halt, since otherwise, the demand for power would have gone up and so would the length of the power cuts", he quipped.


Naveen's libidinous colleagues


Nothing seems to be going right for the Orissa Chief Minister, Mr Naveen Patnaik. His party has been in news for all the wrong reasons. Firstly, a veteran party Lok Sabha member — who defeated a Congress stalwart in the last Lok Sabha polls — was reportedly caught red-handed from a luxury hotel in New Delhi while romancing with a call girl. Both were taken to the police station.


However, before the police registered a case against the first time MP, two top and influential Biju Janata Dal leaders — who are well known in the Delhi socialite circles — jumped into action and managed to release their colleague. In the second case, a servant working at a party MP's residence was arrested on the alleged rape charge. If sources are to be believed, the angry bachelor chief minister — apparently peeved over such developments — has asked the party leaders to follow the spiritual path to ward off such "unwarranted nuisances".


Loyal to his portfolio


When asked to comment on rumours that the Union minister of state for external affairs, Mr Shashi Tharoor, might marry a third time to his close friend, Dubai-based Sunanda, a senior BJP leader quipped, "It seems Mr Tharoor is taking his portfolio rather seriously. Three women from three different continents! And there are four continents still remaining".


Sibal a high-flier


The union human resource development (HRD) minister, Mr Kapil Sibal, may perhaps soon qualify as the Cabinet member who has travelled the most.


He is currently on a tour of Australia and New Zealand to discuss several issues, including problems being faced by Indian students in these countries.


Since the United Progressive Alliance government started its second tenure, the HRD minister has travelled to the United Kingdom, Switzerland, France, Malaysia and the United States.


The frequent trips by the Mr Sibal are also bringing cheer to the officials in his ministry. They use his absence for rejuvenation and relaxation.


They have all been feeling stressed out by the minister's overdrive in pushing through several legislations and his attempts to reform the education system.


A disaster movie


The commissioner of Lucknow, Mr Prashant Dwivedi, is not a regular movie buff but when he recently saw Well Done Abba that highlights corruption, he was so impressed that he decided to recommend the film to all his colleagues.
Recently, after a meeting of district magistrates, the commissioner asked them to stay back for the day in Lucknow and see Well Done Abba. He even arranged for the tickets and sent his subordinates packing to the multiplex.


Now we hear that his bosses are angry with the commissioner for his "audacity". Well Done Abba shows how funds for welfare schemes are being siphoned off by state officials and this is exactly what the Congress is accusing the Mayawati government of doing.


The big shots feel that the commissioner has actually ratified the Congress accusations. Now there is talk of Mr Dwivedi getting a transfer, when the poor man had actually expected a "well done" from his bosses.


Let's have honest corruption


Like most others, the people of Bharatpur also accept that corruption is a universal phenomenon. However, they do insist that the corrupt should be honest — that is, they should not take bribes and then cheat. A group of people in Bharatpur protested recently in front of the residence of an Indian Police Service officer, demanding that he return the money he took from them for closing some cases. "If you take money, you should keep your promise", said one protester. After the strange protest came to the attention of the police top bosses, they sent a team of cops to protect the officer. He slipped out of the city, unnoticed by the protesters.


A civil supplies department official faced the same situation in Baran district when he got transferred and ration dealers gheraoed him insisting that he return all the bribe money. "No one complaints when you take bribe and do the promised work", said a villager.








I heard a joke the other day about a pious soul who dies, goes to heaven, and gains an audience with the Virgin Mary. The visitor asks Mary why, for all her blessings, she always appears in paintings as a bit sad, a bit wistful: Is everything OK?

Mary reassures her visitor: "Oh, everything's great. No problems. It's just... it's just that we had always wanted a daughter".

That story comes to mind as the Vatican wrestles with the consequences of a patriarchal pre-modern mindset: scandal, cover-up and the clumsiest self-defence since Watergate. That's what happens with old boys' clubs.

It wasn't inevitable that the Catholic Church would grow so addicted to male domination, celibacy and rigid hierarchies. Jesus himself focused on the needy rather than dogma, and went out of his way to engage women and treat them with respect.

The first-century church was inclusive and democratic, even including a proto-feminist wing and texts. The Gospel of Philip, a Gnostic text from the third century, declares of Mary Magdalene: "She is the one the Saviour loved more than all the disciples". Likewise, the Gospel of Mary (from the early second century) suggests that Jesus entrusted Mary Magdalene to instruct the disciples on his religious teachings.

St. Paul refers in Romans 16 to a first-century woman named Junia as prominent among the early apostles, and to a woman named Phoebe who served as a deacon. The Apostle Junia became a Christian before St. Paul did (chauvinist translators have sometimes rendered her name masculine, with no scholarly basis).

Yet over the ensuing centuries, the church reverted to strong patriarchal attitudes, while also becoming increasingly uncomfortable with sexuality. The shift may have come with the move from house churches, where women were naturally accepted, to more public gatherings.

The upshot is that proto-feminist texts were not included when the Bible was compiled (and were mostly lost until modern times). Tertullian, an early Christian leader, denounced women as "the gateway to the devil", while a contemporary account reports that the great Origen of Alexandria took his piety a step further and castrated himself.

The Catholic Church still seems stuck today in that patriarchal rut. The same faith that was so pioneering that it had Junia as a female apostle way back in the first century can't even have a woman as the lowliest parish priest. Female deacons, permitted for centuries, are banned today.

That old boys' club in the Vatican became as self-absorbed as other old boys' clubs, like Lehman Brothers, with similar results. And that is the reason the Vatican is floundering today.

But there's more to the picture than that. In my travels around the world, I encounter two Catholic Churches. One is the rigid all-male Vatican hierarchy that seems out of touch when it bans condoms even among married couples where one partner is HIV-positive. To me at least, this church — obsessed with dogma and rules and distracted from social justice — is a modern echo of the Pharisees whom Jesus criticised.

Yet there's another Catholic Church as well, one I admire intensely. This is the grassroots Catholic Church that does far more good in the world than it ever gets credit for. This is the church that supports extraordinary aid organisations like Catholic Relief Services and Caritas, saving lives every day, and that operates superb schools that provide needy children an escalator out of poverty. This is the church of the nuns and priests in Congo, toiling in obscurity to feed and educate children. This is the church of the Brazilian priest fighting AIDS who told me that if he were pope, he would build a condom factory in the Vatican to save lives.

This is the church of the Maryknoll Sisters in Central America and the Cabrini Sisters in Africa. There's a stereotype of nuns as stodgy Victorian traditionalists. I learned otherwise while hanging on for my life in a passenger seat as an American nun with a lead foot drove her jeep over ruts and through a creek in Swaziland to visit AIDS orphans. After a number of encounters like that, I've come to believe that the very coolest people in the world today may be nuns.

So when you read about the scandals, remember that the Vatican is not the same as the Catholic Church. Ordinary lepers, prostitutes and slum dwellers may never see a cardinal, but they daily encounter a truly noble Catholic Church in the form of priests, nuns and lay workers toiling to make a difference.

It's high time for the Vatican to take inspiration from that sublime — even divine — side of the Catholic Church, from those church workers whose magnificence lies not in their vestments, but in their selflessness. They're enough to make the Virgin Mary smile.







We are living in a world obsessed with speed. Everyone wants to do things fast, go fast — for what? Just because we have developed fast cars, fast computers, fast machines, do we have to move faster? Sometimes speed is just for the heck of it. Now no one can deny that speed is heady, it gives excitement and thrill but it has also caused a lot of stress in life.

Speed and efficiency have created more worry, more anxiety than relaxation and comfort. Granted that technology saves time, but people don't know what to do with the saved time. What's the best use of this time? Even if time is saved, you will worry and become anxious and ask for some entertainment in that time. Somehow you want to kill that time. The problem of the contemporary people is they are uncomfortable if they have nothing to do. They don't know the joys of being unoccupied, the luxury of it.

The modern man needs to learn to be unoccupied for some time in 24 hours. Too much occupation with outside has disconnected him with himself. This is the reason why people are so stressed these days. They have to understand that time is their friend, not a foe.

What people need is to remember themselves, to connect with themselves. After all, the hustle and bustle of life is for our own well-being, happiness and peace.

Make a small change in your daily routine: slow down. Just by slowing down ordinary activities, you will see how peaceful you become. You don't have to go to a sacred place and spend time in meditation. Your daily chores will have a flavour of meditation.

Osho suggests some simple exercises :

* Eat slowly — take your time. If you eat in 10 minutes, take 20 minutes. Enjoy the food. Chew it more; it will be digested better. Your body will feel more at ease and at home. And when the body is at home, the mind too feels at home.

* Sometimes when you don't have anything to do, just sit silently doing nothing. There is no need to read the newspaper or to watch the TV. Don't be in such a mad rush to occupy yourself. That is a way of escaping from yourself. So sometimes when you have nothing to do, feel happy that you can indulge in the luxury of doing nothing. Just sit silently, look at the stars or at the trees, listen to the birds or just close your eyes and look inward. Silence gives rest to the brain cells, it rejuvenates them. Your whole body will feel as if it is freshly showered.

* Slow down your speed in everything you do: walk slowly, talk slowly, breathe slowly, and by and by your energy stuck in the head will come to the heart and your tightly wound nerves will start relaxing. You will come to know the beauty of inactivity, the beauty of passivity.

 These serene moments replenish the drained energy. As a result it will increase your capacity to work. — Amrit Sadhana is in the managementteam of Osho International Meditation Resort, Pune. She facilitates meditation workshops around the country and abroad.








Individual preferences, we would have thought, are of no consequence in the CPI-M ~ be it a full-time card-holder carrying out orders from Alimuddin Street or a lawyer like Bikash Ranjan Bhattacharyya who was immersed in his profession before he stepped into the shoes of the Kolkata mayor. The CPI-M was more confident during the municipal election in 2005 when Trinamul was linked to the NDA than it is now when successive elections have signalled a change in the public mood. To this must be added the performance of the Left-controlled municipal board which has left the Mayor looking for escape routes rather than claiming any success in vital areas like the supply of drinking water, waterlogging, garbage disposal or work culture. It is not surprising, therefore, that Mr Bhattacharya should cite personal reasons for not wanting to contest the election on 30 May. The point being debated is that the CPI-M can no longer claim that its soldiers are obliged to put the party above personal interests. This applies not only to the outgoing mayor but to others who have put in claims

or objections ~ unprecedented in a Stalinist outfit.

Marxist sympathisers would cite this as evidence of a healthy trend that accommodates dissenting voices although it marks a deviation from the accepted line of democratic centralism. Others would ascribe the democratisation at the grassroots to the growth of factionalism that Alimuddin Street hasn't been able to cope with. The move to project Mr Bhattacharyya again as the party's mayoral candidate was intended to emphasise that the CPI-M had no reservations about his or the municipal board's performance during its just concluded term. On the other hand, the outgoing Mayor may have his reasons for not wanting to run into an anti-incumbency wave and in fact compelling the party to respect a personal decision. If all this presents the ruling CPI-M with perhaps its worst dilemma during its long tenure, it is made worse by growing demands from its allies. Alimuddin Street is now seen to be compelled to make all the compromises it can to sustain the impression of both a united Left and its confidence in confronting a resurgent opposition. But the mayoral fiasco would confirm that it has very limited options.








OF far greater moment than the outcome of the elections in Sudan has been its conduct. The beleaguered African nation ~ one of the poorest in the world ~ has just gone through the first multi-party election in  its history and with the outcome a virtually settled fact. Fraudulence is a built-in facet of a system with the person being sought by the International Criminal Court for his atrocities in Darfur set to be elected unopposed. To that extent, Sudan can be said to have surpassed the spurious exercise in Afghanistan and Iran. The principal opposition parties have boycotted the election, citing extensive fraud. Virtually unopposed, the election is a walkover for President Omar al-Bashir. However dubious, he will secure the mandate that he craves merely to entrench himself further still. And as in Iran and Afghanistan, the USA, the UN and the EU have been helpless witnesses to the incredible extent of the fiddle. Having invested a fair amount, they are much too aware that a Head of State, indicted for war crimes, will be re-elected. The participation of the people must itself be open to question. The election has been held amidst the fighting in Darfur, thus excluding the thousands of unregistered people in the refugee camps. Neither the South nor the North were prepared for the process, which could well have been deferred. The government in Khartoum has had its way by repeatedly rejecting the calls for postponement. Bashir will be a victor without legitimacy. He direly needs this mandate to protect himself from the ICC. Small wonder there is speculation that the two parties, the southern-dominated SPLM and the NCP of the north have struck a deal. In return for his mandate, Bashir may agree to a referendum on the secession of the South next year. That referendum will almost certainly supercede the election, which will not be the gateway to democracy but to deeper chaos in a country that could be split across the middle in time.









EDUCATIONAL aids have re-invented themselves over the years. Even the blackboard, for which no effective alternative has been found, is seldom made of board these days, perhaps not even coloured black. But one irritant has persisted, for users in India at least, the "dust" from the chalk with which the writing is done. Teachers, obviously, are the worst sufferers. Some get by with the odd sneeze and cough, for others the consequent respiratory condition could be more acute. That has long been accepted as an occupational hazard, hardly given a second thought. Now some relief could be in the offing. After seven years of toil, scientists at the Central Salt and Marine Chemicals Research Institute in Bhavnagar (Gujarat) are confident enough to cry "eureka". While traditional manufacturers, mainly in the small-scale sector, use gypsum as raw material, the dons at the CSMCRI have opted for a product based on calcium carbonate which will be superior in several respects. So far so good, but given the huge gap between "lab and land" it could be quite some time before the new chalk is commercially produced and widely marketed. Still, at least someone thought of the teachers' plight. Wonder if judicial directive, that too from a lower court, will suffice to deal with another time-tested difficulty ~ deciphering a doctor's handwriting (funny, their bills are clear enough). For long it was felt that only pharmacists could solve the puzzle, fill out a prescription correctly but recently another dimension of the hassle has come into focus. An Additional Sessions Judge in the Capital has issued directives to all hospitals and the local government to ensure that medico-legal reports are computer-typed, not handwritten. That would save the court's time in "detecting" what the report contained and hence better serve the interests of justice. While he did point to several other shortcomings in the reports, particularly autopsy reports, his stress on their being typed will be well taken. Yet who can forget the story of how a would-be wife-poisoner was nabbed by the cops as he waited for his prescription to be filled. The chemist explained his suspicions were aroused "cos the writing was too clear to be a doc's".








IF Palaniappan Chidambaram, Union home minister, was sincere about owning moral responsibility for the Dantewada massacre of 76 men of the Central Reserve Police Force by Maoists in Chhattisgarh on 6 April, he would have resigned instead of merely offering to resign, and the Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh, should have accepted. His continuance in the home ministry has become untenable because he could have a vested interest in clearing forest areas of their tribal habitations and handing over the lands to multinational mining companies, including the London-registered Vedanta Resources plc, promoted by Anil Agarwal of Sterlite fame, whose director Chidambaram had been till the time of taking over as finance minister in the first UPA government.

In the 2004 Annual Report of Vedanta Resources, its chairman, Brian Gilbertson, recorded: "On 22 May 2004, Mr P. Chidambaram resigned from the Board, following his appointment as Finance Minister in the new Indian Government. I would like to thank him for his contribution and I am sure he will play a pivotal role in the continuing development of India." There is direct, credible incriminating information about Chidambaram's intimate relationship with the Vedanta group which has the biggest stake in the acquisition of India's tribal territory. A lot of information is contained in Rohit Poddar's book titled Vedanta's Billion$, first published in California in 2006, but banned for distribution in India. If Chidambaram is not removed from the home ministry and a person without such conflict of interest appointed in his place, and if the government persists with Operation Green Hunt to turn the 'red corridor' into a 'corporate corridor,' there is every likelihood of the nation heading for civil war.

A product of Harvard Business School and a great admirer of former US President George Bush's "war on terror,' Chidambaram is keen to launch the full might of India's armed forces, the army, air force and the paramilitary to fulfill an agenda of 'securing territory' for mining multinationals. In pursuit of this agenda, paramilitary forces have been given the American-inspired 'area-domination' mandate to clear the tribal areas of insurgent groups, hold the territory to ensure that Maoists are unable to re-enter, and finally, prepare the ground for 'developmental' projects by corporate houses. The Maoists have not seized any territory. They have turned the natural habitat of the poor tribals, with their support, into their strongholds because the mainstream political parties, particularly the Congress and the BJP, have virtually abandoned them.

Had the CRPF's 62 Battalion observed the minimum precautions required in a counter-insurgency operation, the Dantewada massacre and annihilation of the entire Alpha Company of the Battalion would not have happened. No matter on which side of the fence one is, the Maoist massacre of jawans is indefensible and deserve to be condemned. The solution to the problem, however, does not lie in deploying the army and the air force, as Chidambaram's battery of media spin masters is braying. Fortunately for the nation, the Army Chief made it clear that "our polity is wise and astute enough not to deploy the army against Maoists who are not secessionists." Equally commendable is the view of the Air Force Chief who said: "Our training and weapons are meant for enemies across the border and to inflict maximum lethality on them. We cannot do this on our own people."

When Chidambaram visited Lalgarh in West Bengal on 2 April, called the Maoists "cowards hiding in jungles," said the buck stopped with Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee in clearing the area of rebels and vowed to rid the nation of "Maoist menace" by 2013, he  virtually signed the death warrant of the 76 ill-trained CRPF jawans who were already on their 'area domination' mission of Dantewada. The Maoists hit back with a vengeance in less than 48 hours. Somewhat rattled by the sudden turn of events, Chidambaram called the Maoists savages more dangerous than jihadists. The Maoists believe they are waging a just war to protect the tribals from being evicted from Dandakaranya and handing over the land to national, transnational and multinational mining corporations for which the government had signed a series of MOUs, including several secret ones.


Dandakaranya is a vast forest area spread over parts of Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Jharkand, Orissa, Bihar and West Bengal.

Tribals, numbering about 85 million in he country, had been living in this area for millenia. They are the poorest and the most neglected section of society. In fact, they are sitting on billions of rupees worth of minerals buried under their land. The vast majority of them are illiterate. The few schools the government had built in their respective states have been commandeered by the government to billet paramilitary forces engaged in Operation Green Hunt, which explains why the Maoists have been blowing up school buildings. The mid-day meal scheme has not reached tribal children.

The Right to Education Act or the Woman's Reservation Bill have no relevance to them. Unless they are allowed to live with dignity and respect and not cheated by denying them royalty, Maoists would continue to hold sway over them. The root of the problem is the displacement of tribals to cater to the greed of about 100 families who control more than 25 per cent of the country's wealth. Chidambaram is clearly on the side of these 100 families and not of the toiling masses. If only he had utilised his legal acumen and expertise in championing the cause of the tribals instead of their oppressors, he would be furthering the cause of the party that had given him power and pelf. Instead, he chose to be the legal adviser for the collapsed US energy corporation Enron when it tried to extend its criminal reach to India in the 1990s, and the environment pillaging and tribal tormenting Vedanta. Of India's total aluminium capacity of 1.3 million tonnes, Vedanta will account for 885,000 tonnes once its Jharsguda smelter in Orissa is commissioned in coming months.

In a move to make the best use of Orissa's bauxite and coal deposits, Vedanta is creating 1.6 million tonnes of smelting capacity at Jharsuguda to be backed by a five million tonne aluminia refinery at Lanjigarh and a power complex of 3,750 MW. If Vedanta has its way, then all its capacity will be on ground by 2013 coinciding with Chidambaram's targeted year for completing Operation Green Hunt.

To understand Chidambaram's agenda, one should have a close look at his lectures. In his Mahendra lecture delivered at Harvard Business School in Boston in 2006, he described the first three decades following India's independence, which covers the entire period of Nehru's premiership, as the "lost years during which the nation's economy was directed by the government and closed to the outside world with abysmal results."


Addressing a US business audience in 2007, Chidambaram said India was facing the challenge of "leveraging huge natural and human resources to ensure rapid economic growth. But attempts to make quick and efficient use of resources such as coal, iron ore, bauxite, titanium ore, dimonds, natural gas and petroleum are thwarted by the state governments and interest groups." Any wonder dyed-in-the-wool Congressmen like Digvijay Singh and Mani Shankar Aiyer find it difficult to go the whole hog with Chidambaram?

Sterlite, a Vedanta group company, was involved in evasion of huge amounts of Central excise and customs duty and after an inquiry was ordered to pay Rs 249.30 crore in 2003. The company filed a writ petition in the Bombay High Court with Chidambaram as counsel and obtained a stay of recovery proceedings. After becoming the finance minister in 2004, Chidambaram failed to initiate any significant move to recover the dues from Sterlite. According to the banned book of Poddar on Vedanta, Sterlite's share price shot up 1,000 per cent in 2003 when Chidambaram was on its board of directors.

The Pension Board of the Church of England had invested £3.8 million in Vedanta shares, believing it to be an ethically run company. On the recommendation of the Ethical Investment Advisory Group which found the tribal people in the mining area had not been treated properly by Vedanta and in the absence of a new approach from the company, the Board withdrew the church's investment last year. It speaks volumes for the company's corporate governance and social responsibilities. To facilitate Vedanta achieve its ambition of emerging as the world's largest metals trading company by 2013, must the nation sacrifice its poor jawans?
The writer, a veteran journalist, is Director,  Statesman Print Journalism School.








There are many wild theories going around about what really happened in the Kochi franchise of the IPL. All these theories could be hogwash. Political analysts may have missed the real story in the Shashi Tharoor episode. Contrary to the popular view, this entire episode may have had nothing to do with corruption or favouritism. It could be related to high politics. A reliable source with high contacts offered to this scribe an entirely different theory about what really lay behind recent events.

According to my source, Shashi Tharoor was not interested in helping anyone obtain the Kochi franchise. Nor did he have a personal pecuniary interest. He behaved the way he did because he is on the payroll of the BJP. My source pointed with an air of awe how Tharoor single-handedly demolished the credibility of the Congress. This was something that the entire Advani team had failed to accomplish. According to my source, RSS is elated with Tharoor's performance. If the BJP ever gets back to power, a senior cabinet post, if not the PM's post, is assured to him.

Nagpur was bowled over by Tharoor's masterful display. He destroyed two important foreign visits of the Prime Minister. When Dr Manmohan Singh visited Saudi Arabia, Tharoor with a few well-chosen words drew all attention away from what the PM obtained in the visit. Instead, the MEA had to work overtime denying that India had invited Saudi Arabia to be a mediator in the Kashmir dispute.

Similarly, after the recent Nuclear Security Summit, nobody is mentioning a word about what the PM accomplished in Washington or in Brazil. Instead, Tharoor has once again succeeded in drawing national attention to the IPL and Kochi. The poor PM is left languishing in the dark while Tharoor hogs all the limelight.

But what is the political impact of this drama?

My source said: "Strangely enough, what Tharoor has done is not all negative. It is true that he has destroyed the reputation of the UPA government and dwarfed all the achievements of the PM. But Tharoor's actions have also benefited the nation."

"In what way? I asked.

"Just think", my source said in a hushed voice. "If the Shashi Tharoor controversy had not erupted, all of us would still continue to be bombarded with the Sania Mirza-Shoaib Malik stories!"

The writer is a veteran journalist and cartoonist








First comes the sound of hand drums, followed by a voice that is steady and persistent. As Ngwe Toe leans back and angles his words towards the microphone, his lines are met by a chanting group which takes up his theme and sings back at him, as a call and response. "The religion in our country," sings Toe, as the group answers for him, "is Theravada Buddhism." The activist continues, "The colour saffron is growing everywhere."
The group responds, "The monks are very graceful, but now their power has been drained. They are hiding in the remote areas."

As the drums continue in a dreamy loop, Toe implores, "Tell me why." The chanters tell him, "The military devil is rising up."

This is a traditional Burmese protest song with a modern twist. For generations, the people marked their new year by performing Thangyat – songs and skits that gave voice to local grievances.

In 1988, the year in which the military authorities violently crushed a series of democracy demonstrations with the death of at least 3,000 people, the junta decided it had endured enough protest and banned the tradition, threatening jail for anyone who dared to disobey.

But the generals could not stop Thangyat, merely drove it overseas. Now, communities of exiled Burmese around the world put together their own collections of protest songs, which are sold on CDs and even broadcast so that residents listen secretly on their radios.

One of the most famous and popular groups, of which Ngwe Toe is a member, is based in the west of Delhi. Ahead of the traditional four-day new year celebrations, or water festival, the activists recorded and released a new collection of songs, music and poetry entitled Gaining Victory for Us and Defeat for Them.
"During the festival, it is a tradition that if there is something the people do not like, it will be criticised – be it politics, social affairs or food," said Zin Naing, who escaped to India after the 1988 uprising and who helped produce the recording.

There are an estimated 6,000 Burmese exiles in Delhi, most of them from Chin state, on India's north-eastern border. Many of them took part in the 1988 uprisings and came to India, which at the time was critical of the military authorities and welcomed the refugees. Most have never dared to even visit their home country since.
Ngwe Toe, the 40-year-old lead singer, fled when he was just 19, leaving behind all his relatives. His father died in 2003, but he dreams of returning to the country with his wife and young son, and of being able to show his child to his mother.

In the meantime, he takes some measure of comfort from imagining his family furtively listening to the songs of protest that he and his friends have recorded. "It's like a rap," he said. "I say the first line and then the others respond with the second. It's a call and response, and when I am singing, I am shouting these slogans with emotion. I am very focused on the song. I would be happy if my mother hears it, and would then be able to give the message that her son is involved in the politics."

The lyrics for the song performed by Ngwe Toe were written by a Buddhist monk, forced to escape to India after taking part in the so-called Saffron Revolution of September 2007, when tens of thousands of monks and citizens took to the streets of Rangoon and other major cities demanding democratic reforms.
The monk, U Dhamma, a smiling, round-faced 23-year-old, fled after he and several other monks from his monastery joined the demonstrations in the northern city of Mandalay. "I took part in the marches. I thought there would be a revolution. I believed in democratic rule," said the monk, who crossed into north-eastern India in January 2008 and now lives in the same dusty Delhi neighbourhood as many other exiles.

Those who wrote the collection of protest songs have had no shortage of material to inspire them over the past 12 months. Last year, the junta extended the house arrest of opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi for 18 months, after she was convicted of breaching the terms of her detention when an uninvited US tourist swam to her lakeside home.

Then, last month, the regime announced new rules governing the controversial election due to be held later this year. The rules effectively bar Ms Suu Kyi from standing and say that her party, the National League for Democracy, would have to oust her if it wished to field candidates. The NLD has announced it is boycotting the election.

It is not just the junta that comes in for criticism in the Thangyat. While the songs indeed condemn the regime's alleged nuclear ambitions, the election and the country's poverty, the NLD and even politicians in exile are also subjects of satire.

Such humour has long been a tradition of subtle dissent in Burma. One of the country's best-known comics, Zarganar, spent many years making barbed puns about the regime. Eventually, in 2008, the junta ran out of patience with him and seized on an interview he had given to the BBC criticising the authorities' response of the aftermath of Cyclone Nargis. He was jailed for 59 years, a sentence reduced to 35 on appeal.
Likewise, in Mandalay, members of a famous comic troupe known as the Moustache Brothers have been in and out of jail as a result of their performances making fun of the junta. The exiles, who put together the protest album, remain confident that change can come. The song performed by Ngwe Toe says the monks will lead the transformation.

The Independent







The Bandmann Opera Company is now in Hong Kong. Ever since the Company left Calcutta they have been playing to record houses. Two visits have been paid to Shanghai. The Company is due back in Calcutta in the middle of May. Mr Maurice Bandmann is now on his way to England to conclude arrangements for next season.







The Indian Premier League has pioneered a new game of cricket, but in another respect it is turning out to be traditionally Indian — it is picking up a quintessentially filmy flavour. No Indian film is complete without a hero and a villain. The IPL drama started with only one of the two, but it has found an excellent actor to play the other. In one respect it betters Bollywood. The latter's heroes and villains are cardboard characters; it is impossible to mistake one for the other. But between Lalit Modi and Shashi Tharoor, the choice is entirely open; at least for now, the honours are equally divided. At the outset, the third essential element, a ravishing beauty, was not quite there. It was artificially brought in by Juhi Chawla and Preity Zinta amongst the owners. But theirs were cameo appearances; when, rarely, the camera focused on them, they waved coyly, and went back to their role as boring owners. The drama their performances lacked was made up for by the entry from the western entrance of Sunanda Pushkar; there may be doubts about her wealth, but there can be none about her looks. She has hitherto kept out of the limelight. But that is only likely to enhance the mystery surrounding her.

With so much juicy action going on, Indians should be dancing with joy. But here comes our killjoy element; instead of enjoying their good fortune, most spectators — especially the grown-ups — are outraged. They find something unsavoury about the entire situation; the fact that they cannot agree on what it is makes things even worse. Is it the fact that Mr Modi has not been entirely neutral between teams — some would say not entirely above board? But irrespective of whom he likes and does not, the League continues. No one except a paranoid astrologer would think that Mr Modi can influence the outcome of the matches; at any rate, the performances match the normal uncertainties of cricket, and there has been no whiff of rigging till now. And given the lack of bonhomie between Mr Modi and Mr Tharoor, the looks of Ms Pushkar are unlikely to make any difference to the fortunes of the enterprise she partly and fictionally owns.


There are two plays being performed before India — the League, and the Twitter. If the two were to get mixed up, they might vitiate each other's outcome. For those whose faith in cricket as a gentlemen's game still survives, that would be a tragedy. But a tragedy for now does not look even possible, let alone likely. True, either play may have an end not entirely to one's liking. But that is inherent in games of chance; those who do not like uncertainty should keep as far away from cricket and real-life drama as they can. For the rest of us, it is a great show; long may it go on.








Cruelty can go to inconceivable lengths where a woman is concerned. Maheswari, a 26-year-old woman in Andhra Pradesh, was doused with kerosene and set alight allegedly by her husband and in-laws for being fat. She had been married for three years and had continued to put on weight. Instead of trying to find out whether she was suffering from ill-health, her husband forced her to an abortion in case she gave birth to an overweight baby, and refused to let her out of the house in daytime since he considered her obesity shameful. But that did not stop him from milking this shame for gifts from her father, including furniture, a motorbike and an air-conditioner. All Maheswari could do was accuse her husband, mother-in-law and sister-in-law of setting her on fire just before she died.


Reminiscent of Ayesha Siddiqui's statement that the cricketer, Shoaib Malik, had married and then left her because she was fat, Maheswari's murder shows that obesity has been added to the list of women's 'flaws'. And that they can be tortured and killed on that pretext. Obesity may have its roots in a medical condition, and should at least be looked into. But while India now worships an imposed ideal of slimness, it also nurtures the old callousness towards women's health. What is startling is the vicious cruelty that is unleashed by such a minor cause. Maheswari's murder exposes the crudeness that underlies the Indian attitude to women. A new bride is a source of wealth, squeezed out of her natal family by open or covert blackmail, and she is also at the mercy of her husband and in-laws, to live and die at their will. The laws against dowry torture and domestic violence become irrelevant against this implacability. Maheswari's story would seem incredible to an outsider. Why should the way out of a marriage with an undesired partner be a hideous murder? It is as if Indians have an insatiable craving to make vulnerable women suffer and die. Ultimately it is this inexplicable perversity that has to be addressed.










Government decisions were based on deep-rooted leftwing ideology, lack of foresight or practical experience, and self-enrichment. They have led to consequences that the nation has suffered for years. With difficulty it is trying to reverse some.


Jawaharlal Nehru's overwhelming dominance over Indian public opinion for most of his time in power muted any opposition to his policies. Policies might have been better with debate and dissent. Some of them were non-alignment in foreign policies; the desire to acquire Kashmir; taking the Kashmir issue with Pakistan to the United Nations; industrialization as the key to take India out of poverty; more emphasis on higher and professional education than on schooling; priority given to curative health over public health (safe drinking water, sanitation, and so on); dependence on an inherited administrative service for execution of all government policies; unlike with the defence forces, not insulating police functioning from political interference; making government-owned enterprises subservient to the civil services; not setting standards of accountability and penalties for non-performance on government functionaries and so on. In recent years, adverse consequences or present-day irrelevance of these policies have sapped the country's strength. Many are being questioned and reworked, though there is resistance.


I think that the seeds for large-scale corruption in the government were sown when Nehru did not insist on strict penalties for venal officials and politicians (unlike Singapore). The root of the problem of corruption was Gandhi asking the first Congress ministers to live simply and serve the people. Nehru in response got all ministers to "voluntarily" cut salaries. This sowed the seeds for many of them earning much more by illegal means ostensibly to feed visiting constituents, fight elections, contribute to the party, and also build post-retirement estates.


At Independence, the best organized among labour were the industrial unions, controlled by different political parties. Media and elected representatives of every political party gave trade union concerns an importance out of proportion to their share in the population or the economy. Agricultural policies were founded on the need to ensure that the urban industrial worker got foodgrains at low prices. The plight of farmers and landless labourers depending for incomes on agricultural produce was ignored. Distortions in agricultural policies today are the results. We pretend to support the farmer through minimum support prices that are the same as procurement prices; fertilizer subsidies that actually mostly benefit the fertilizer manufacturers; and declining public investments in real terms in building assets for agriculture. Distorted policies and inadequate investment have lowered agricultural productivity and impoverished the farmer. Farmers have reacted by substantially increasing production of horticulture, milk, and so on.


The Food Corporation of India is believed to be the most corrupt among public enterprises. Many dip into its revenues — politicians, FCI officers and other intermediaries. Some farmers pay bribes to procurement officers. Many FCI officers pay more for lower quality, showing it as higher quality. There is also much illegal income from contracts for transportation, handling, storage and so on of the procured grain. For years now, governments have ignored suggestions to change from physical procurement and delivery to, instead, the giving of cash or "stamps" to farmers (or poor households) who have to be supported. Alternatives have yet to be even tested.


In many cities, ration cards meant for the very poor to get grains at cheap prices are in excess of populations. Many deserving poor do not have cards. Bogus ration cards enable the transferring of substantial quantities of cheap foodgrain for sale in the open markets. Various intermediaries rip off public money during procurement, handling, transportation, storage, identification of the poor, and distribution of the cheap grains. Vested interests prevent changing a proven inefficient and corrupt system to the detriment of the poor and the farmer. No alternative is in place.


Kerosene is given to the poor at very cheap rates at government cost. Repeated studies show that at least 40 per cent of such kerosene is diverted into the market, and adulterated with diesel by truck operators who make extra profits. No alternative to physical delivery of ration kerosene has been permitted by politicians (many own carriers) and administrators. Similarly, lower priced fertilizers for farmers to improve their earnings mostly benefit the manufacturers. There is no sign of government finding alternatives. Misguided politicians thought they would get farmer votes by pricing urea especially low. While urea is used most, it has to be balanced, depending on the soil and the crop, with phosphatic and potassic fertilizers. These are expensive. Farmers overuse urea and damage land and crops. Now the government is trying to restore the price balance but may not undo the damage of years of fertilizer imbalances.


George Fernandes as industries minister in the Janata government reserved over 800 products for small-scale industry. He did not know that industry is a spectrum from tiny to the largest industries that exist to satisfy market demands. They succeed when they are efficient, produce high quality products, service customers to their satisfaction, and meet market needs. Reservations placed a heavy burden on Indian industry and exports because of higher costs and poorer quality. Studies showed that reservations benefited only the well-placed producers. The majority of small-scale producers did not get any advantage from reservation. In recent years, governments are gradually removing reservations. But India lost out in competitiveness.


Many labour-intensive industries like garments, leather, toys, were reserved for the small-scale industrial sector. India, with similar advantages to China in these industries, is a small exporter of these while China dominates world markets. Chinese factories employ thousands, while Indian factories are small in scale because of reservations. Gradual rolling back of this policy is inevitable to counter vested interests that include politicians.


Indian labour laws emphasize employment irrespective of the viability of the industry. So employment cannot be reduced if markets go against a product. Employers are unwilling to employ large numbers, fearing unaffordable wage bills when demand declines. A social security system should have been created to protect such displaced workers instead of making the employer bear a burden he cannot afford.


Every ministry has public enterprises under its control. Ministers and officials avail themselves of many perquisites from these and are the super-bosses of public enterprises, with major decisions requiring their approvals. Disinvestment and privatization have now begun, albeit slowly.


The Indian stock markets have witnessed major share price fluctuations. Foreign institutional investors sending funds from Mauritius are exempt from capital gains tax and send money in and out as they book profits. This results in large inflows and outflows of foreign exchange, making for fluctuations in the exchange value of the rupee. Mauritius is the largest foreign investor in India, said to be the repository for politicians and others sending funds by the havala route, laundered through the stock markets. No government has taken action.


For some, the motivation behind power is the wish to do well for the nation. For others it is to acquire wealth. There are too many ministries at the Centre and states. Subjects are broken into components to create more ministerial berths for politicians. There is little coordination and holistic decisionmaking. Interrelationships between components and subjects are neglected; for example, health (spread among the ministries of health and family welfare, chemicals and fertilizers and water), or energy, (spread among coal, oil and gas, power, renewable energy and atomic energy). The country has paid a high price in poor health status, deaths, fake drugs, and so on, and half the population is without safe and affordable energy in order to create jobs for politicians.


In India, politicians aided by the bureaucracy have held the country back by thoughtless decisions based on poor grassroots knowledge and poor implementation. In many sectors we need technocratic decisions to implement political objectives. What we have is politicized implementation of unclear political objectives.


The author is former director-general, National Council for Applied Economic Research








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


Then the Russian prime minister, Vladimir Putin, whose early career was spent in a tamer version of that same secret police, does something remarkable. He tells a Russian television channel to show Andrzej Wajda's 2007 film, Katyn, in prime time. It's more than an apology. It's a national act of penance.


Poland's historic tragedy is that it is located between Germany and Russia. Twice the country vanished entirely, partitioned between its more powerful neighbours — the enduring symbol of the second partition being the Katyn massacre. In 1939, when Hitler and Stalin invaded Poland, 22,000 Polish officers fell into the hands of the Soviet Union. Some were professional soldiers, but most were reserve officers, who comprised the country's intellectual elite. Stalin had them all murdered by a bullet in the back of the head.


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


Moscow insisted that it was the Germans who had massacred the officers. The American and British governments backed the Soviet story because Stalin was now their ally in the war against Hitler. Only after 1945 did they question it.


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


Fresh start

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


Putin showed up at Katyn again to meet him. When the news of Kaczynski's plane crash came in, he looked utterly stricken. Finally, the grim reality of the place and the occasion got through to him. Now, the apology was real and specific. Now, Wajda's harrowing film on Katyn, previously only seen on a specialty channel, got a prime-time broadcast. Now, the Russians finally got why the Poles don't trust them.


The Russian president, Dmitry Medvedev, has announced that he is going to Poland for Kaczynski's funeral. Before he goes, he should look at one photograph. It was taken in 1984 on the World War I battlefield of Verdun, where a quarter million French and German soldiers died in 1916. By 1984, France and Germany were in the European Union and Nato together, but they were still not really friends.


Then, President François Mitterrand of France and Chancellor Helmut Kohl of Germany commemorated the 70th anniversary of World War I. Looking out over the killing fields, they did the only thing they could. They held hands — and Franco-German relations changed for good. If Medvedev can find a way to do something as simple but powerful as that, he could start a new chapter in Russian-Polish history. The people are ready for that.




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





The failure of the launch of the Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle (GSLV)-D3 with India's first cryogenic engine has disappointed not only the scientists and engineers of the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) but also the entire nation. The failure was unexpected because the engine had been in development for years and had been tested to the best technological satisfaction. The cryo stage was required to work in space for only 720 seconds but it had been tested successfully on the ground for up to 1,000 seconds. It was not tested in weightless conditions but this would not have been possible, and was perhaps not needed. The failure was a setback but there is no need to lose heart. Only five other countries — the US, Russia, France, China and Japan — have mastered the cryogenic technology. They had failed many times before achieving success. ISRO had sought to develop the technology after Russia refused to transfer it to India on US pressure. The technology is very complex, and however successful it is in simulated conditions, there is a chance of error in actual flight. The first attempt often becomes an experiment and a trial.

There have been failures in the past in India's space efforts. The first attempt of an SLV rocket  in 1979 was not successful. There have been failures since then with ASLV and PSLV launches too. GSLV launches in the past have met with some kind of failure or the other. But the space programme has grown through these failures  and became sophisticated enough to send a probe to the moon. The PSLV has proved to be very dependable, and has performed well in the last 14 consecutive flights. There is no doubt that the cause of last week's failure will also be identified correctly and the glitches removed.

ISRO has said that a successful launch using a cryogenic engine might take about an year's time. The delay might affect the Chandrayan-2 mission which has been scheduled for 2013.  Satellite launches will become much cheaper with cryogenic technology and become commercially attractive too. About Rs 335 crore was spent on the GSLV-D3 launch. The advanced communication satellite GSAT-4 cost Rs 150 crore. It was also experimental. It is pointed out that ISRO should not have risked launching a costly and experimental satellite in a test flight, however certain it was of the success. The view is not entirely wrong.








While the nuclear summit in Washington last week expressed the will of the world to ensure the security of people and nations from threats posed by terrorists, the IBSA (India, Brazil, South Africa) and BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India and China) summits that followed in Brasilia were an affirmation of the role of rising powers in ensuring the world's financial and political security. The two groupings are different. IBSA has a political character as all three members are democracies. BRIC is more economic; it represents about one-fifth of the world's GDP and 40 per cent of its population. It has emerged as a strong group championing its own rights and those of other developing countries. The economic decline of the rich countries has given it greater clout.

This assertiveness was reflected in the deadline of a few months set by the BRIC meet to reform the IMF and the World Bank through voting power and quota rule changes, and to give greater legitimacy and representativeness to these institutions. The G-20 summit last year in the US had made promises in this regard but the easing of the world financial crisis has made the developed world go slow on them. The Brasilia meet also saw the group reaffirming its common positions on climate change, energy, trade, terrorism, agriculture and UN reforms. It was not that there were no  differences. These also came to the fore when Russia and China did not openly support the claims of India and Brazil for permanent seats in the UN Security Council, but only called for a greater role for them in the world body.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh made the BRIC position clear when he said that it wants "to play a role in shaping the pace and direction of global economic growth." This assertiveness has come from better realisation of power and a sense of common purpose. On political issues also both the forums have tried to co-ordinate their views. The BRIC joint statement was silent on the US demand for more sanctions against Iran, but the IBSA opposed them. The Chinese and Russian positions, opposing sanctions, are well-known, and it has done well to withstand US pressure to back its aggressive posture against Iran. With G-20 becoming a more representative and influential forum in place of G-7, BRIC and IBSA, whose members are key members of G-20, can play a crucial role is shaping its policies and decisions.







Harping on poor quality of schools for drop-outs, critics forget poverty and lack of basic services for the poor.



The state labour department is drawing up its third Action Plan on Child Labour in the space of nine years. The most the Plans seem to achieve is a shifting of the deadline to end child labour — this time to 2020. Simultaneously, the education department is busy drawing up rules to implement the Centre's momentous Right to Education Act which has come 60 years too late. Never mind — better late than never.
A dominant feature in all Action Plans on Child Labour has been the acceptance of child labourers as a fait accompli and thus the plan's focus on their rehabilitation involving stipends, bridge schools and measures to address their families' difficulties. But the fact is that more than 95 per cent children are enrolling in Class 1. Then, why is none questioning why the education department allows them to drop out, education having been declared a fundamental right by the supreme court decades ago?

Ostrich-like behavior

Strangely, the education department defines a drop-out as a child which has not attended school for 90 continuous days. Children are bound to become child labourers during this lengthy period of the education department's ostrich-like behaviour of closing its eyes to the phenomenon. Could not the same measures of addressing the child's and the family's vulnerability been undertaken at the very first signs of the child being absent, say for three days instead of 90 days? Why do none of the Action Plans on Child Labour or education Acts have a protocol for the education and other departments for this?
If the education department were to forestall dropping out by identifying and giving stipends to vulnerable children and getting other departments to address the constraints of the families, on condition that the child attends school, the problem of further drop-outs and rehabilitation of child labourers would not arise.

It seems that some CSOs too are happy to run rehabilitation schools for child labourers with grants from various sources and are loathe to work with schools on total retention of enrolled children, lest the stream of drop-outs for them to rehabilitate dries up, putting in peril the very raison d'etre of their existence.

None can deny that much needs to be done with regard to the poor quality of schools to retain children. But by always harping only on the poor quality of schools as the main cause of children dropping out, critics are ensuring that less attention is paid to the more often-quoted reasons of poverty and lack of basic services and amenities to the poor — such as day-long child care and piped water supply — preventing children from completing even eight years of schooling. The critics are, willfully or otherwise, being a party to the age-old but continued tradition of denying education to the poorer classes. This is also making school authorities content to merely look inward at the school and tinker with quality issues, while keeping their eyes and ears closed to the larger societal issues preventing children from attending schools.

However, though the labour department has set up a task-force involving several department heads to prepare the Action Plan, with convergence between various departments as its theme, this writer was witness to two highly-placed education department officials saying, "Convergence between departments will not happen in this lifetime, forget it," and "Child labour is the concern of the labour department, I don't want to waste my time discussing issues that are not my concern".

The distance between the two departments of education and labour was also foregrounded recently by the CM himself announcing  peremptorily that education will be made compulsory until Class X while the latest Action Plan on Child Labour is still talking of 14 years or completion of Class VIII as the age when a child may work.  Should there not be congruence between the age at which compulsory education ends and employment begins?

How many more statistics on the extent of out-of-school children and child labourers shall we keep reeling off decade after decade? How many more heart-rending stories of the violence meted out to child labourers shall we keep narrating? How many more action plans shall we draw up which remain only on paper?









As the incense smoke curled and danced, and prayers spiralled upwards, time stood still inside the Baba-jan Dargah. Opposite the dargah was another slice of heaven in the form of a charming old bookshop called Hathims.

Hathims is a second hand book shop filled with books that are salvaged from its sister concern Mustafa Scrap Shop. Mohammed, an effervescent 85-year-old, mans the bookshop.

Hanging out with its more admirable neighbours comprising cloth shops and jewellery stores Hathims is easily miss able except for one distinctive feature.  Its cobalt blue wooden shutters, which stands in stark contrast to the surrounding cityscape.

Located in one of the numerous back lanes that dot Pune, Hathims is frequented by office goers stopping by to pick up an old issue of 'Readers Digest' or 'Time' magazine, school children browsing through Tinkle comics or knots of college girls giggling over a sizzling Mills and Boons book.

Every conceivable inch of the shop (which includes the floors) is crammed with books. On long white wooden shelves, which hug the walls, are arranged the novels. The hardbacks find pride of place in a small glass topped counter. An ante room adjoining the main shop is filled with magazines.

A rusted rickety chair, that doubles up as a footstool helps one to browse through the upper shelves. Although requiring the balance of a tight rope walker, you often came across a gem as you dangerously swayed on the chair.

All the while, like an absent minded professor, Mohammed flits around his shop, stopping only to give the books a quick dusting. Bent with age he is always willing to dazzle you with his friendly gap toothed smile, which makes a trip to this humble bookshop all the more worthwhile.

Hathims is among the last few stalwarts of old Pune which soldier on, as the burgeoning city stamps out all things of its glorious past and reinvents itself as a glitzy new metropolis









The verbal terrorism and attacks on our legitimacy will fail just as every other tactic before it.

This year we celebrate 62 years since the reestablishment of the State of Israel and 150 years since the birth of the Zionist visionary Theodor (Binyamin Ze'ev) Herzl. We can look around our nation and take enormous pride in what we have achieved in the few decades since Jewish sovereignty returned to the land of our fathers.

Herzl famously wrote, "If you will it, it is no dream" more than 100 years ago, but unfortunately he died only a few years later. His dream, a Jewish state, would against all the odds be recreated in its ancient land, as he prophetically stated, less than five decades later.

Today, most of us have not known a time without the State of Israel. Few alive remember the battles, the struggles and sacrifices that the early Zionists and even early Israelis had to endure to ensure that Herzl's vision would not remain a dream. Too many take the presence of Israel for granted, and this has allowed us to become complacent about its role and its future. We must never forget that we are a reborn nation surrounded by many enemies intent on our destruction.

When David Ben-Gurion read the Declaration of Independence at the Tel Aviv Museum in 1948, the ink had barely dried before five Arab armies invaded our infant state to destroy us. For many decades afterward, Arab armies would attempt to destroy Israel on the conventional battlefield, but none were successful.

Today, we can claim with pride that we have the strongest military in the region and those hostile to us have learned they cannot defeat us this way.

Next, our enemies tried to defeat us economically. The Arab League initiated a boycott against our state when we were welcoming hundreds of thousands of our brothers and sisters from around the globe. They issued ultimatums to every company in the world, telling them that if they conducted business with the Jewish state, they would not be able to conduct business with any Arab state. Today we have one of the world's strongest economies and are about to join the OECD, the forum of the most powerful global economies.

After economic warfare also failed, our enemies began an unconventional and terrorist war against us. Israelis and Jews have been butchered in their thousands by extremists who chose their death over our life. Although no one can claim that the threat is 100 percent extinguished, we have managed to beat this scourge and today far fewer innocent people are being killed by terrorists, even though there are still daily attempts.

HAVING FAILED on so many occasions, our enemies have lately discovered a new way to attack us. This is through the current delegitimization campaign and so-called "lawfare" and may prove to be our toughest battle yet. Our enemies know they have distinct advantages that are difficult to contend with. They have an automatic majority in international institutions and have created an orchestrated system to tar the Jewish state as akin to the Nazis or the racist apartheid regime. They prevent us from speaking on campuses or having our voice heard in forums, and deny us freedom of speech because they know that if our voice is heard our enemies' flawed narrative will collapse.

Although few know it or report on it, the Organization of Islamic Conference clearly stated on a number of occasions that it initiated the Goldstone Commission. How many of those who scream about Israeli war crimes know they are the mouthpiece of autocratic regimes? How many of those who read about the attempted arrest of Israeli officials in Europe realize that these attempts are initiated, supported and funded by those in our region who will not allow a woman to vote and kill or oppress their own people?

However, the verbal terrorism and attacks on our legitimacy will fail just as every other tactic before it. Nevertheless, to win this battle we must reinforce education about our history and purpose. We need to further the understanding of our historical, religious, moral and legal rights. Too few of our people understand that our modern legal rights are not based on history, religion or the Holocaust, as important as each of these is, but because the international community came together in 1920 as rarely seen before and conferred national rights in Eretz Yisrael to the Jewish people.

LESS THAN a week after we celebrate Independence Day, we will commemorate 90 years since the San Remo Conference. Few nations can show such a determined and unified statement of intent for their national aspirations. When we add this to the corpus of international statements, resolutions and treaties, we will find that although we are perhaps the only member of the United Nations whose legitimacy is regularly questioned, few nations have such modern legal instruments as the Jewish state with which to cement our legitimacy. We need to learn these facts and teach them to others.


On this Independence Day, many see the glass half empty. We have so many challenges and obstacles to overcome. However, we should remember our achievements. Intellectual property will become the greatest resource of the 21st century, and Israel stands at the forefront of innovation and technology. Its inventions and technological knowledge are making the deserts bloom in Africa, saving millions of lives through medical innovation, creating alternative energies and securing the future of many people around the world.

We have continued Herzl's vision, even after our independence, and are dreaming of bigger and better things. This is why we have a bright future, and we can make it even brighter, not only for Israel, but for all the people who are inspired, assisted and supported by Israel.

The writer is deputy minister of foreign affairs.








The Israel Trail has become one of the movable places where differences are overcome and where people listen to each other.



Four days before Independence Day, a memorial ceremony took place at the Moshav of She'ar Yashuv in the North in memory of the soldiers who lost their lives in the 1997 helicopter disaster. But this is no normal memorial ceremony – it marks the end of a two-month trek along the Israel Trail, starting in Eilat and ending at the place of the disaster. The two-month hike, which has now become an annual event, was set up by the parents of one of the dead soldiers in his memory.

But this has become much more than simply a hike. It has become a meeting place for people and groups within this diverse society to meet, walk together, talk, discuss their different views and perspectives on the state of the nation.

Each day is accompanied by a workshop or a seminar, to which outside speakers are invited. The topics cover the whole range of social, political and cultural issues which face Israeli society. There is a core group of about 60, with others joining and leaving on a daily basis. At the height of the walk, during Passover, there were days on which participants numbered a few hundred.

This is not the only group. The Israel Trail has become a popular breakaway for many people who do not have the time, desire or resources to travel abroad and are seeking to do something different – they may choose to walk the entire trail, or just parts of it, all of which (except for some parts in the South) are relatively easily accessible. It is a way of breaking out of life's daily pressures and remembering just how diverse this country's landscape is, despite its extremely small size – from the aridity and deserts of the South to the mountains, water and greenery of the North.

It has also become a place for chance meetings – along the trail, at temporary camp sites and arranging rides to and from the starting points along the trail. People assist each other, offering food, hospitality and emergency medical care. There are Israel Trail "angels," people who live in communities along the trail and who offer hospitality and food to the hikers.


It has become one of the country's great spontaneous social experiments, proving that people can get along with each other if only they would live and let live, rather than attempt to impose their own lifestyles and beliefs on those who do not think or behave like them.

AS WE celebrate another year of independence, Israeli society has become increasingly diverse. From left to right, religious to secular, wealthy to poor, this has indeed become the "normal" society which David Ben-Gurion wished for, with all the expected goods and bads. Long gone are the days when there was a single national ethos of state building, characterized by a single and unquestioning form of patriotism, greater social and economic egalitarianism (if only because there was little wealth to go around) and a single hegemonic national ideology imposed upon the country by a small, but powerful, ruling elite of the Mapai leadership.

Today, politics and religion have become more diverse than in the first two decades of the country's existence. Mizrahi society has become empowered, the haredi world has grown beyond all expectations, while the influx of a million immigrants from the former Soviet Union has changed the social and cultural structure of large parts of society. While the younger generations have become completely disenchanted with the political institutions and their corruption, they have also become more socially aware and concerned about the ills of society.

The thousands of small nonprofit welfare and social organizations, grassroots organizations which have few resources other than their own willingness to act, operate throughout and across society, bringing people together and improving quality of life for tens of thousands.

But one thing remains unchanged. The Israel-Palestine conflict continues and, as we enter out 63rd year of independence, looks as far from being solved as at any point in the past 40 years.

Even this does not deter the hikers on the Israel Trail. It is quite common to come across secular, left-wing youth who shout the evils of occupation, dialoguing with right-wing settlers who are walking the trail to show their love for the Land of Israel. It is a sort of neutral space, not linked into the political hierarchies or ideological rigidity which is so characteristic of Israeli politics.

IT IS unfortunate that two large groups in society are not yet part of this great social experiment. Both the Arab and haredi populations, both of which experience the most rapid growth of all population groups, still find it hard to break out of their social and spatial exclusion – the Arabs because they find themselves unwelcomed by the Jewish majority, the haredim because they want to create their own voluntary ghettos which will not be infiltrated by outside influences. Occasionally, one may encounter members of these groups along the trail, but this remains the exception.


Dialogue, the ability to be different and respect the difference of the other, to live and let live – all these are characteristics which are sorely missing in large parts of contemporary Israeli society. The Israel Trail has become one of the movable places where difference is overcome and where people are able to listen and be listened to. If anything is worthy of the Israel Prize, this year or next, it is the organizers of the Israel Trail. But then again, it has come about because of so many people who have developed it from grass roots upward, that it would not be possible to award it to a single individual. At 62, the Israel Trail has become a symbol for the sort of society we should aspire to be – internally diverse but respectful of each other.

The writer is professor of political geography at Ben-Gurion University and editor of the International Journal of Geopolitics.







For years we spoke of the timid and unreliable Europeans. Now, in many respects, they are bolder and braver than the US.


The US Congress is back as a factor in US foreign policy. Partly because the Obama administration has pushed it too far to do unpopular things, partly because members are no longer in awe of the president's alleged invincibility and popularity. Many Democratic members see their whole careers flashing before their eyes. And, of course, there's the administration's decision to pick a fight with Israel.


For the first time since Barack Obama took office, we're seeing a bit of a congressional revolt even from his own side of the aisle. The two issues are Israel and Iran.

On Israel, 76 senators – including 38 of 59 Democrats – signed a flattering but critical letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton urging reconciliation with Israel. Another 333 House members signed up, including leading Democrats. The letters blamed the Palestinian leadership – and rightly so – for the lack of serious negotiations.

They noted that "it is the very strength of our relationship [with Israel] that has made Arab-Israeli peace agreements possible, both because it convinced those who desired Israel's destruction to abandon any such hope and because it gave successive Israeli governments the confidence to take calculated risks for peace."

On Iran, a whopping 363 members of the House of Representatives urged Obama to put "crippling" sanctions on Iran, taking "tough and decisive measures," and urging him to make sure Teheran doesn't get nuclear weapons.

Thus, Congress is challenging Obama's policy on four levels:

1. It's not tough enough.

2. The proposed sanctions are too toothless (and on this one, see below).

3. Sanctions have taken too long.

4. Instead of waiting for the UN, the US government should show leadership and act on its own along with willing allies.

Moreover, even while the House passed a sanctions measure by a huge majority in December and a similar bill went through the Senate in January, to my knowledge the administration has never taken any position on the proposal.

And now things are about to get worse.

SECRETARY OF Defense Robert Gates admitted that the US government is ready to water down the sanctions even further to get a UN Security Council resolution supporting additional action against Iran. The rationale for this is to say that this consensus can then be used as a basis for additional sanctions by countries acting on their own, what Gates called, "a new legal platform." He explained, "What is important about the UN resolution is less the specific content of the resolution than the isolation of Iran by the rest of the world."

The Los Angeles Times thought this was , at least partly, an excuse for the failure to get more: "Gates's comments were the clearest sign yet that the administration, facing continuing resistance from other countries to the harshest of the proposed measures, is lowering its sights. US and allied officials have given up on prospects for a ban on petroleum shipments to or from Iran, and some allies have questioned other potential measures."

It could be pointed out that the second Bush administration also settled for lightweight UN resolutions, but it was far more determined to follow up with a tough strategy. Equally, Russia and China can violate stronger sanctions, but they are not likely to respect weaker ones either. The bottom line is that not only can Iran get off easily, but the signal conveyed undermines the hopes for future containment possibilities.

Moreover, I think this situation largely reveals a fundamental flaw in the Obama worldview: What should be important is a tough and effective strategy based on strong US leadership which is going to intimidate Iran at least to some extent. Instead, we get the priority on consensus, to avoid any sign of the dreaded "unilateralism" or masterful American leadership which horrifies Obama regarding past US policy. This approach is likely to continue after a UN resolution. Far from unleashing an aggressive US strategy against Iran, the follow-up is more likely to be anticlimactic.

Consequently, Obama's policy may succeed in passing muster as legalistic while being hailed by the poodle brigade in the media. But it will fail at the ostensible goal of the entire exercise: stopping Iran now or making Teheran act more cautiously in future.

A PARALLEL situation is now going on regarding Syria's providing of advanced Scuds to Lebanon. The US State Department's reaction was a joke: We are going to study this! Compare that to the French response: We must update our thinking. For years we spoke of the timid and unreliable Europeans. Now, in many respects, France (along with Germany and the United Kingdom) is bolder and braver than Obama's policy.


Mincing no words, the French Foreign Ministry called the Scud transfer "alarming" and pointed out that such activity was in violation of UN Security Council Resolution 1701 which "imposes an embargo on the export of arms to Lebanon, except those authorized by the government of Lebanon or the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon."

And this is the key. What good is it to get a new UN Security Council resolution if the US government won't even enforce the previous ones?

The writer is director of the Global Research in International Affairs Center and editor of Middle East Review of International Affairs and Turkish Studies.


His personal blog can be read at







Although Palestinian and Israeli narratives are different, our vision for the future can be one.


It might be hard to believe that a Palestinian would wish an Israeli Jew a happy Independence Day, but I am only following in the footsteps of another Palestinian I know, Ibrahim from Hebron.

Three years ago, I was cohosting a bilingual (Arabic and Hebrew) radio show at Radio All for Peace in Jerusalem with my Israeli cohost, Sharon Misheiker. Our weekly show happened to air on Israeli Independence Day, and on that day we invited Ibrahim, a peace activist, to talk about the land that had been confiscated from him for the building of the separation barrier.

I remember that Ibrahim spoke with compelling passion and heartbreaking emotions about the loss of his farmland, which had been a main source of income. Before ending the conversation, we asked him how he felt about Independence Day, and we received a surprising answer.

With his characteristic candor, Ibrahim told us that he had already called his Israeli friends and wished them a happy Independence Day.

Sharon and I were shocked.

Ibrahim told us that he received the same response from all his Israeli friends: silence, shock and disbelief. They didn't know what to say. They were caught by surprise. They had never heard a Palestinian wishing them a happy Independence Day.

Some of his left-wing friends asked how he could do so, when the holiday was celebrating the same event that was causing much of his suffering. He could have used that chance to recount history according to the Palestinian narrative: He could have said something about the Deir Yasin massacre, or the hundreds of thousands of Palestinian refugees who were left homeless after 1948 war. But he didn't. Instead, Ibrahim simply said happy Independence Day, and in doing so took the first step toward building a different kind of relationship between Israelis and Palestinians.

WHY WAS this step important? Part of the Israeli narrative describes a long history of suffering which hit the highest point with the Holocaust and the fear that Arabs would drive the Jews into the sea.

For years, Israelis have heard that Palestinians would never accept Israel's existence and would always work to destroy it. Many Israelis don't believe that Palestinians accept the reality that we are stuck here together. They doubt that Palestinians also dream of a peaceful tomorrow, where freedom prevails and safety is realized. This narrative of pain and fear has captured the minds of Jews, even though Israel has developed one of the strongest militaries in the world.

When Ibrahim uttered the words "happy Independence Day," he challenged that narrative of fear and doubt, and assured his Israeli friends that he knows they are here to stay, and accepts that. He wanted to let them know that he is not waiting for a chance to strike back. In essence, Ibrahim was digging a grave for the narrative of fear and replacing it with a narrative of hope.

For all of us, the past is painful and our narratives are very real to us. For the Palestinians, our pain of the Nakba is still fresh. The lost olive groves, orange groves, vineyards and homes which are part of the Palestinian identity and heritage, the stories, poetry and songs of Palestinian life in what became Israel will always be there.


These are collective memories that will always be carved in the heart of every Palestinian. But memories, pain and longing do not have to lead to revenge and destruction: They can also be motivation for a new tomorrow.


When Ibrahim's friends asked him how they should respond to his wishes, Ibrahim had a simple answer. He asked them to wish .

Although Palestinian and Israeli narratives are different, our vision for the future can be one. We can all unite and work toward the overdue dream of a viable Palestinian state before it is too late. It is time for our people to not let the past rob us of our future, but rather let it motivate us toward actions of hope.

The writer is the director of Middle East projects at the Center for World Religions, Diplomacy and Conflict Resolution at George Mason University and a winner of the Eliav-Sartawi Award for Common Ground Journalism. His blog can be found at








The joy attendant on Israel's Independence Day traditionally focused on emphasizing the growing list of the young state's achievements and the sense that the country was progressing toward a better future - one of peace, enhanced physical and existential security, integration into the family of nations and the region, and a normalized existence. But the country's lifespan, which was considered a great virtue in and of itself during the first few decades, has become secondary to a far more important question: Within what dynamic is Israel operating? Is time on Israel's side? Is it setting goals for itself and working toward their realization? Has it blossomed into maturity? Are its citizens more secure and happier? Does it greet the future with hope?

Unfortunately, Israel's 62nd Independence Day finds it in a kind of diplomatic, security and moral limbo that is certainly no cause for celebration. It is isolated globally and embroiled in a conflict with the superpower whose friendship and support are vital to its very existence. It is devoid of any diplomatic plan aside from holding onto the territories and afraid of any movement. It wallows in a sense of existential threat that has only grown with time. It seizes on every instance of anti-Semitism, whether real or imagined, as a pretext for continued apathy and passivity. In many respects, it seems that Israel has lost the dynamism and hope of its early decades, and is once again mired in the ghetto mentality against which its founders rebelled.

Granted, Israel is not the sole custodian of its fate. Yet the shortcomings that have cast a pall over the country since its founding - the ethnocentrism, the dominance of the army and religious functionaries, the socioeconomic gaps, the subservience to the settlers, the mystical mode of thinking and the adherence to false beliefs - have, instead of disappearing over time, only gathered steam. The optimistic, pragmatic, peace-seeking spirit that once filled the Israeli people, in tune with the Zionist revolution, which sought to alter Jewish fate, has weakened. And it is not clear whether the current government is deepening the reactionary counterrevolution or merely giving it faithful expression.


On the eve of Independence Day last year, we wrote in this space: "Stagnation has taken the place of change. Not only does this government, which was formed not long ago, not bode well for hope and change. It champions a policy of regression in a number of areas: the diplomatic front; the Palestinian question; the state's attitude toward the settlers; issues of state and religion; its handling of Israeli Arabs; and its general behavior toward our Arab neighbors and the world. Whoever clings to the vision of 'managing the conflict' and despairs of reaching a solution to the conflict will find himself treading water. Instead of growing and reinventing ourselves, we will be the ones managed by crises."

It is saddening to discover that all these fears came true this year, to an even greater degree than we expected. When the prime minister's main message to the country is that we are once again on the verge of a holocaust, and his vision consists primarily of delving into the Bible, nurturing nationalist symbols and clinging to "national heritage sites," it seems that Hebrew independence has become a caricature of itself. One can only hope that forces within the nation will soon arise to reshape the state and the leadership in a way worthy of us all.







The first letter ever written to me was penned on the day Israel's independence was declared. But the letter was never sent. It was written by my father, Zvi Segal. I was a year and four months old at the time. My father stashed the letter away in a drawer of his desk. He never showed it to me. I discovered it after my mother, who survived my father, also died.

Since its discovery, I have read the letter every year on Independence Day. It appears here with minor deletions.

"...These words are being written on a great and glorious day, a historic day - the proclamation of our state, the State of Israel. May you understand the holiness of this day and may it be forever engraved on you, as it is engraved on us, forever and ever. I hope that your heart always beats for the sake of the homeland, and that you and your generation will be able to work and grow in our rebuilt homeland. And may you be a mensch. That's the most important thing."


My father was born in St. Petersburg, Russia in 1908. He grew up in Riga, Latvia and was a member of a Zionist student organization called the Hasmoneans of Riga, a Revisionist group that brought together many young Jews. Aharon Rabinovich - whose daughter Sarah was married to the late Haaretz military affairs commentator Ze'ev Schiff - was his close friend. The thread of Zionism always linked us together, even at times of disagreement.

My father completed his law degree in 1931 and made aliyah a few years later. In 1938, he returned to Latvia on a mission, the details of which he always refused to discuss. In Riga he tried, without success, to convince members of his family to make aliyah. That was the last time he saw them. His uncles and aunt were taken from the Riga ghetto with their families and shot to death in the Rumbuli forest outside Riga.

I came full circle almost 80 years later, at the law school where my father studied: Last summer, I went to Riga for the first time with members of my family, and with friends who also had roots in Riga. At my father's university, I met with experts in public law to discuss constitutional judicial review by the courts over legislative action. Judicial review is already accepted in Latvia, though it still engenders criticism by Israeli politicians.

At the end of the meeting, the dean of the law school gave me a book with details of the school's graduates. It included the names of Jews, many of whom perished in the Riga ghetto or were murdered in the Rumbuli forest. The book also contained details about my father, including his work over the years in welcoming immigrants from the Baltic republics.

From my father, I learned a love of Israel that is undiminished even if one does not think defense is a magic word that justifies every act. When I write about justice, equality and the rule of law, engraved in my memory is a conversation at my parents' house in the distant 1950s, when my father told my mother he was offered a post as a district court judge, but conditional on his leaving the Liberal Party to which he belonged and joining Mapai, the ruling party of that day. When I subsequently said in a civics class at the Ironi Aleph high school in Tel Aviv, where I studied, that political considerations influenced the appointment of judges, I was thrown out of class.

In advance of Independence Day, my parents and I used to reread the Declaration of Independence. My mother Leah - who was born into a Zionist family in Russia, and whose father was a Prisoner of Zion - found the ban on discrimination against women in the declaration and was inspired by it to volunteer at the legal advice bureau of the Women's International Zionist Organization.

My father and I found the declaration's emphasis on liberty, on which the High Court of Justice based itself when, in Justice Shimon Agranat's historic ruling in the "Kol Ha'am" case in the 1950s, it carved out freedom of expression and of the press. I heard about the ruling for the first time from my father when I was 13. My father viewed this freedom as essential to a liberal democratic society.

This year, as every year, I taught my university students about the Declaration of Independence and explained that it should be seen as a document of constitutional importance, whose application to real-life situations must be constantly reexamined. It is not hard to see that we are far from realizing the declaration's credo - with regard to equality for the Arab minority, which it promises, and with regard to religious freedom, including freedom from religion in the Jewish and democratic state.

In his letter to me, my father wrote about "the holiness of this day" on which the state was declared. I now think that at least he was spared the Holyland case, as well as other cases over the past 20 years that have cast a shadow over the integrity that was always his guiding principle. When I fight for the rule of law in government, I feel that I am fighting in his name, too.







Among the main reason for the decline of states, history has shown, is overweening self-confidence and arrogance. This was the conclusion reached by Thucydides in his account of the Peloponnesian Wars - considered the first political-military history ever written.

His central thesis, largely accepted by contemporary scholars of ancient history, is that by the 5th century B.C.E. Athens had become Greece's superpower. It practiced democracy (according to the lights of that period), and it enjoyed economic and cultural prosperity, with flourishing literary and art scenes.

But with its success Athens' appetite grew, accompanied by a gravely distorted interpretation of reality. It launched a series of imperialistic wars, including an invasion of Sicily, and ended up surrendering totally to Sparta and its allies, thus setting off political and military decline.


The main reason for this debacle was hubris - a grave sin in ancient Greece - that excessive arrogance that is born of success and that leads those afflicted with it into behaviors that lead them to a bad, bitter end.

The idea is expressed remarkably well by the Biblical phrase "And Jeshurun waxed fat, and kicked" (Deut. 32:15), interpreted as meaning that an excess of good things leads to evil.

An example from personal experience illustrates the phenomenon. In the years preceding the Six-Day War, I was involved in a number of initiatives aimed at improving the decision making process in the government. These included the establishment of the National Defense College; the training of professionals in policy and budgetary planning in the Finance Ministry's school; Levi Eshkol's initiative to set up an Israeli institute for policy studies, and the formulation of a doctrine for managing government ministries.

After the war, all of these activities were suspended. When I asked senior government figures for the reason, I received a simple, clear-cut response: "Look how successful we are, so stop nagging us about flaws in governmental thinking."

Then came the Yom Kippur War. After it, a number of improvements were gradually introduced, such as the establishment of the Planning Division of the Israel Defense Forces, and of a national security team in the Prime Minister's Office (which became the National Security Council), and the reopening of the National Defense College and more.

But the shock of the Yom Kippur War was not enough to remove the fat that was hardening the brain, in the form of illusions about Israel's power. This is because those illusions have profound roots in the heroic success of Zionism and the establishment of the State of Israel, which have almost no historical parallels.

The combination of the miracle of the founding of the state (against the backdrop of the Holocaust, no less), the "miracle" of the Six-Day War and the quasi-messianic meanings both of these events have among the religious and the secular populations is what is responsible for the creation of the illusion that we have developed about our strength.

The gravest results of this dangerous fallacy have been the absence of a worthy effort to exploit the victory in the 1967 war to advance peace; uncontrolled settlement in Judea and Samaria; and the most extreme of all the illusions: the concept of a "Greater Land of Israel."

On top of these illusions there is an seemingly contradictory factor - existential fear, springing from the Jewish people's past and from the confrontation with today's enemies, the Arab states. Paradoxically, this fear combines with the successes to increase the perceptual dizziness about everything having to do with Israel's potential ower and its limits, so that delusions of both grandeur and inferiority have evolved.

The practical and paralyzing expression of these two aspects is the hopeless adherence to the idea of the "Greater Land of Israel" among part of the population and support for excessive Israeli surrender of moral and security assets, without appropriate compensation, among another part.

This is the deep reason behind the foot-dragging by the government over peace negotiations, the confusion among the elites, the lack of any authentic spiritual or values-oriented leadership, and the hostility fraught with disaster between the various groups in the population.

This is why Israel cannot take advantage of its strengths in order to secure durable diplomatic-security achievements at the price of giving up on fantasies. Instead, it has placed itself on a slippery slope, at the end of which we will have to make concessions without getting anything in return. We need to sober ourselves up and begin behaving according to the idea that if Jeshurun lost some weight instead of waxing fat, he'd be a lot wiser and kick less.








If I am you and you are me, I am not me and you are not you"

 The Kotzker Rebbe.

This was one of our most independent years ever. Completely independently, we decided to welcome the vice president of the United States with an announcement of new construction in East Jerusalem; the deputy foreign minister independently humiliated the Turkish ambassador; the foreign minister independently boycotted the president of Brazil; the Knesset independently sabotaged relations with the European Union via legislation that would limit its donations to human rights groups; the government independently decided to bait the Muslim world by declaring holy sites in the occupied territories as "heritage sites."


The extremists who gathered on Massada also decided independently, some 2,000 years ago, to commit suicide. Since then, the term "independence" has acquired a meaning more complex than an act or decision by an individual or group that takes no account of others or of the environment. In modern Western society, independence is not considered the freedom to do whatever one wishes. Responsible governments, like adult people, must find the right balance between the particular and the global. The policies they shape reflect a compromise between the interests of their own community and the interests of the international and regional community.

Sixty-two years after Israel declared independence, its right-wing government is entitled to decide that the time has come to annex Ariel, Ma'aleh Adumim and the Jordan Valley - just as the Labor government did 43 years ago, when it decided to annex a sizable territory to Jerusalem. This year, too, Israeli citizens are entitled to celebrate Jerusalem Day in the only capital in the world that hosts not a single embassy. Benjamin Netanyahu can even propose that U.S. President Barack Obama append his list of questions to the Wye Agreement, the road map and the Annapolis Declaration. After all, Israel is an independent country.

The phrase "the 62nd year of Israel's independence" is undoubtedly the angry response Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon would make to reports that the Obama administration intends to present its own peace plan. The man who was Israel's ambassador to Washington said that by doing so, the U.S. would become a "party to the conflict." In other words, today, the U.S. is not a "party to the conflict." The implication is that in order to respect Israeli independence, the American administration is required to forever put up with the Israeli occupation and ignore the settlements. The U.S. is a "party to the conflict" only when Israel requires an airlift of arms, sanctions against Iran or a veto of unpleasant resolutions at the United Nations.

Shortly after the previous independence day, it seemed that Netanyahu had struck the right balance on how the conflict should be resolved between the particularist worldview he shares with most members of his government and the positions of the world's major powers. Moreover, it appeared that the support he expressed in his speech at Bar-Ilan University for a solution of two states for two peoples reflected recognition of the fact that Israel's independence will not be complete until the Palestinians receive their own independent state.

Instead, the Netanyahu government has implemented the views of the majority of independent Israel's Knesset, which supports the policy of settlements in the West Bank and deepening the Jewish hold on East Jerusalem. To fend off pressure from abroad, Netanyahu has once again transformed the Jewish Diaspora into a defensive army against the might of the nations of the world. The leader of "independent" Israel has transformed Jewish activists into "parties to the conflict" between his government and the American administration (we, of course, are allowed to meddle in American politics).

In its 62nd year of independence, as it has every year since March 2002, Israel is taking advantage of its independence to turn its back on the Arab Peace Initiative. This year, too, it is ignoring a plan that offers it normalization in return for a withdrawal from the occupied territories and a just and agreed resolution to the problem of the Palestinian refugees in accordance with UN General Assembly Resolution 194.

What would the fathers of Zionism have said had the Arabs (with the support of all Muslim countries) presented them with such a proposal 62 years ago? And what significance do the wonderful words of the Declaration of Independence have today: "We extend our hand to all neighboring states and their peoples in an offer of peace and good neighborliness, and appeal to them to establish bonds of cooperation and mutual help with the sovereign Jewish people settled in its own land. The State of Israel is prepared to do its share in a common effort for the advancement of the entire Middle East."

It is true that we are entitled to replace the hand extended in peace and neighborliness with a hand that digs the foundations for more outposts and more graves. After all, we are independent. Happy Holiday.









Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad recently announced that his government intends to declare an independent Palestinian state in the summer of 2011, even if no agreement is reached with Israel. This statement obviously generated unease in Israel, and not only among supporters of Benjamin Netanyahu's government - especially as it was accompanied by hints that European countries, and even the European Union itself, would recognize such a unilateral declaration of independence.

The unease and the concomitant apprehensions are understandable, but they may well be fundamentally misplaced. After all, anyone with eyes in his head, unless he is a prisoner of empty slogans or committed to political correctness, must admit that even if negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians resume, the prospects for an agreement are nil. And this is not due solely to the positions of the Netanyahu government: Its predecessor, led by Ehud Olmert and Tzipi Livni, negotiated with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas for two whole years and made him very generous offers, but still never managed to reach an agreement.

The reasons are clear: On the core issues - borders, Jerusalem, refugees - the gaps between even the most moderate positions on both sides are so wide that no rhetoric, and no assertive American involvement, is capable of bridging them. Anyone who thinks otherwise is indulging in pipe dreams.


Therefore, we should seriously consider what would happen if the Palestinians were indeed to declare a state and win relatively broad international recognition. First of all, it is clear that Israel would announce that this unilateral declaration nullifies all prior agreements between it and the Palestinians, from Oslo on; that it is released from all the obligations it has undertaken, including the economic ones; and that it will henceforth relate to the areas under Palestinian control as foreign territory. It is also clear that all Israeli obligations arising from its military control of the territories would be abrogated under both Israeli and international law. Not everyone would accept this argument, but it would not be possible to ignore it.

A unilateral Palestinian declaration would not change the situation on the ground. By itself, such a declaration could not bring about the evacuation of the settlements, regardless of whether the Palestinians say they accept the settlers as citizens of their state or continue to claim that the settlements are illegal. The same of course goes for East Jerusalem, which the Palestinians would presumably say they see as their capital.

What a unilateral declaration of independence would generate, however, is a fundamental change in the nature of the Israeli-Palestinian dispute. Instead of a dispute between Israeli occupiers and occupied Palestinians, it would become a dispute between two states. An independent Palestine would undoubtedly claim that Israel is occupying its territories, but so does Syria.

Moreover, if Palestine were independent, Israel would have no responsibility for the Gaza Strip, and the Israel-Gaza border would become an international border like that between Egypt and Gaza. Hence Israel would not be obligated, inter alia, to allow passage between its territory and Palestinian territory, just as there is no such passage between Israel and Syria.

Of course the matter is not that simple, but any measure that would make the Israeli-Palestinian dispute more "normal" - that is to say, a dispute between states - would also advance the prospect for negotiations: It would be far easier to conduct negotiations on borders, the future of the settlements, territorial exchanges, Jerusalem and other issues between states.

One must hope that this scenario does not deter members of the Palestinian leadership and make them change their minds. On the contrary, they should take their destiny into their own hands and stand up to Israel as a full-fledged state. In so doing, they would free both themselves and us of the occupation and do what they have not managed to do since 1948, and what we have not managed to do since 1967. This is the only way to realize the vision of two states for two peoples.





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





In "Treme," HBO's new series about New Orleans, a college professor played by John Goodman railed against the needless tragedy of Hurricane Katrina. The storm was a natural disaster, he says, but the flooding that followed was a man-made catastrophe, decades in the making. Many people knew about the threat, but no one did anything about it.


Mr. Goodman's blustery tirade about warnings not heeded channeled a national anger that extends well beyond Katrina. We are living in an age of Cassandra, in which experts and ordinary people are regularly grabbing the appropriate authorities by the lapels and warning them of impending disasters — almost invariably to no avail.


Harry Markopolos, a Boston financial analyst, has been out promoting his new book, "No One Would Listen." It is an account of the eight years he spent trying to persuade the Securities and Exchange Commission that Bernard Madoff was running a multibillion-dollar Ponzi scheme. Mr. Markopolos recounts his tireless efforts to wave red flags in front of government watchdogs. In the spring of 2000, Mr. Markopolos says he tried to explain to a senior S.E.C. official why Mr. Madoff's numbers did not add up, but "it very quickly became clear he didn't understand a single word I said after hello." In the end, perhaps $65 billion disappeared, much of it belonging to charities and retirees.


There have been decades of urgent reports about sexual abuse in the Catholic Church, including a 1963 letter that recently surfaced in which the head of a New Mexico Catholic order recommended to the pope that pedophile priests be removed. Cases of abuse in the United States have been drawing attention at least as far back as 1985, when a Louisiana priest admitted to abusing 37 children. A 1992 meeting of bishops in South Bend, Ind., admitted that some bishops had hidden abuse cases. Still, just last year, the Diocese of Memphis and the Dominicans agreed to pay $2 million to a man who reported being abused as a teenager in 2000.


There were plenty of warning before the financial crisis of 2008. In 2000, Edward Gramlich, a Federal Reserve governor, cautioned that new subprime lending practices were making risky mortgages available to people who could not afford them. He urged the Fed to send examiners to investigate, but as a Times headline later reported, the "Fed Shrugged as Subprime Crisis Spread."


Critical warnings about the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, were also ignored. Harry Samit, a Minnesota F.B.I. agent, warned in an August 2001 memo to higher-ups that Zacarias Moussaoui, the so-called 20th hijacker, was a terrorist intent on hijacking an airplane. Mr. Samit said that he sent 70 separate warnings.


The complaint by Mr. Goodman's character is based in fact. The Times-Picayune of New Orleans did a prescient series on the city's vulnerability to a major hurricane, and the dangers were known nationally. In 2002, an article that I wrote on this page warned that if a bad hurricane hit, New Orleans "could fill up like a cereal bowl" and might even disappear.


In Greek drama, Cassandra, daughter of King Priam of Troy, was given the gift of prophesy by Apollo, but when she spurned his advances, he ordained that her prophecies would not be believed. There is no such simple answer today for why so many warnings are ignored.


Incompetence often plays a role. So does ideology: one reason Mr. Gramlich, a Democratic nominee, was ignored was that his warnings clashed with the antiregulatory convictions of the Bush administration. In other cases, to borrow Al Gore's phrase, an "inconvenient truth" imposes burdens that people don't want or threatens powerful interests. And a key reason Louisiana and the nation did not rally to better protect New Orleans was simply inertia.


Predictions of disaster have always been ignored — that is why there is a Cassandra myth — but it is hard to think of a time when so many major warned-against calamities have occurred in such quick succession. The next time someone is inclined to hold hearings on a disaster, they should go beyond asking why particular warnings were ignored and ask why well-founded warnings are so often ignored.






Hastings College of the Law, part of the University of California, rightly prohibits student organizations from discriminating. A Christian group that bars non-Christian and gay students sued the school for denying it funding and access to its facilities. The Supreme Court hears arguments Monday in the case. It should rule in favor of Hastings.


To qualify for official recognition, and receive money from a publicly financed university, groups at Hastings are required to adhere to the school's nondiscrimination policy, which says that official student groups cannot refuse membership on the basis of race, religion, national origin, sexual orientation or other prohibited factors.


For years, the Christian Legal Society chapter at Hastings adhered to this policy. In 2004, it changed course and required members to sign a "statement of faith" that denied membership to students who did not share all of the society's religious beliefs, as well as gay students. Hastings told the society that it could not remain a recognized group and receive money from the school unless it stopped discriminating.


The society refused, and when the funding stopped, it sued, claiming that its First Amendment rights of free speech, free association and free exercise of religion were being denied.


Under California law, it is illegal for postsecondary educational institutions that receive state money to discriminate on the basis of religion or sexual orientation. The school correctly determined that the law requires it to ensure that its student organization program does not permit discrimination. The school also has the right to pursue its own educational policy of promoting diversity and opposing discrimination.


Students at Hastings who want to join together in more exclusive arrangements are free to do so. They can form unofficial student groups. But Hastings is right that groups that bear its imprimatur, use its name and logo, and receive public funds must not discriminate.


In 2006, the Federal District Court that heard the case ruled for Hastings, and a three-judge panel of the San Francisco-based United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit affirmed unanimously. The panel said that the school's rules were "viewpoint neutral," since they imposed a requirement of openness on all student groups, and were also "reasonable." It was right.


The Christian Legal Society is not being denied any First Amendment rights. It is being told that if it wants an official association with a public university and public money, it cannot deny gays, non-Christians or members of any other protected minority equal rights.






With the Internet fast becoming the most important communications channel, it is untenable for the United St

ates not to have a regulator to ensure nondiscriminatory access, guarantee interconnectivity among rival networks and protect consumers from potential abuse.


Yet that's exactly where the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit left us all when it said this month that the Federal Communications Commission didn't have the authority to regulate the Internet — and specifically, could not force the cable giant Comcast to stop blocking peer-to-peer sites.


The decision, in the words of the F.C.C.'s general counsel, Austin Schlick, undermines the agency's ability to serve as "the cop on the beat for 21st-century communications networks." It also puts at risk big chunks of the F.C.C.'s strategy for increasing the reach of broadband Internet to all corners of the country and fostering more competition among providers.


Chairman Julius Genachowski said the commission is not planning to appeal the decision, and is studying its options. The F.C.C. could try to forge ahead with its broadband plan despite the court's decision. Or Congress could give the F.C.C. specific authority to regulate broadband access.


But the court tightly circumscribed the F.C.C.'s actions. And with Republicans determined to oppose pretty much anything the administration wants, the odds of a rational debate on the issues are slim.


Fortunately, the commission has the tools to fix this problem. It can reverse the Bush administration's predictably antiregulatory decision to define broadband Internet access as an information service, like Google or Amazon, over which it has little regulatory power. Instead, it can define broadband as a communications service, like a phone company, over which the commission has indisputable authority.


The F.C.C. at the time argued that a light regulatory touch would foster alternative technologies and aggressive competition among providers. It assumed that the Internet of the future would be dominated by companies like AOL that bundle access with other services, justifying its conflation of access and information.


And it claimed that it could still regulate broadband access even if it was classified as a service. All it had to do was convince the courts that it was necessary to further other statutory goals, like promoting the roll-out of competitive Internet services. This legal argument did not hold up.


Any move now by the F.C.C to redefine broadband would surely unleash a torrent of lawsuits by broadband providers, but the commission has solid legal grounds to do that. To begin with, the three arguments advanced by the F.C.C. during the Bush years have proved wrong.


Rather than seeing an explosion of new competition, the broadband access business has consolidated to the point that many areas of the country have only one provider. Broadband Internet has unbundled into a business with many unrelated information service providers vying for space on the pipelines of a few providers.


And most persuasively: broadband access is probably the most important communication service of our time. One that needs a robust regulator.






When severe storms blow through, meteorologists can track their path and predict with considerable confidence when the disturbance will end. Volcanoes don't blow through. Even with all of the sophisticated monitoring technology and expertise, no one knows when the eruptions at Eyjafjallajokull — the Icelandic volcano now venting ash into the atmosphere — will subside.


That uncertainty only deepens the sense of helplessness across Europe, where much of the airspace has been closed since late last week, stranding millions of passengers across the globe. Even President Obama had to forgo his planned trip to Poland for Sunday's funeral of President Lech Kaczynski.


Like the ash cloud, the economic costs of this eruption are immense. The airlines, which estimate that they have lost about a billion dollars worldwide, are pressing officials to allow at least some flights to resume. For all that, the physical damage is minute, especially when compared with the recent earthquakes in Haiti, Chile and China. Luckily it has taken no lives.


What Eyjafjallajokull has done above all is force upon us a visceral awareness of our interconnected world — woven together by the crisscrossing of airline routes. For all of the talk of globalization, we see what a global construct our sense of normality really is.


With luck, the volcano will simmer down soon and the ash plume will disperse. Flights will resume, business will begin to make up its losses, and weary travelers will safely find their way home. It will be a long time before we forget the threat that lies smoldering under an Icelandic glacier. Or its lesson that even in the 21st centry, our lives are still at the sufferance of nature.







Ann Arbor, Mich.


I MOVED to Michigan eight months before Timothy McVeigh blew up the Murrah Federal Building. Although he wasn't a member of the Michigan Militia, he did attend one of their meetings and practiced building bombs at a farm 120 miles northeast of Ann Arbor. One of McVeigh's most fervent supporters, Mark Koernke, worked as a janitor at the University of Michigan, where I teach, and in his off hours hosted a vitriolic radio show on which he espoused the militia's most radical, violent views.


After the carnage in Oklahoma City and President Bill Clinton's exit from the White House, much of the militia activity in Michigan and elsewhere seemed to subside. Mr. Koernke was sent to prison for fleeing the scene of a robbery he didn't commit and resisting the efforts of the police to question him.


But I knew the extremists were still out there. One afternoon in 2003, I was reading about a particularly racist and anti-Semitic group called the Christian Identity movement when I received a call from Zingerman's Deli to come and finalize plans for my son's bar mitzvah. A block from the deli, I noticed several Christian Identity bumper stickers on the truck in front of me.


Then came the 2008 presidential campaign and the militias regained strength. Last month, nine members of the Hutaree, a band of self-styled Christian revolutionaries, were arrested in and around Ann Arbor for allegedly plotting to kill police officers and any non-members who happened upon their "reconnaissance operations" in the woods. A few days later, I came across a Webcast of the "The Intelligence Report," on which Mark Koernke, who had served his time, was treating his listeners to the ominous click of a bullet being loaded in a gun and the warning that anyone who breached his "perimeter" would be shot.


And today, thousands of militia members from around the country, many of them armed, plan to march in the capital and in Virginia to "celebrate" the 15th anniversary of the Oklahoma City bombing and "restore the Constitution."


The problem here in Michigan is knowing which militia members are dangerous and which aren't. Not long ago, I attended Tax Blast, an annual event put on by the Southeast Michigan Volunteer Militia. Families chowed down on pulled pork sandwiches; a tiny girl in pink clutched a stuffed dinosaur. The lid on one chafing dish read "Kosher Meals Available"; it stood empty until a man wearing a pistol and a black T-shirt reading "When I Snap You'll Be the First to Go" filled it with Hebrew National hot dogs.


True, the militia member at the registration table was selling copies of the I.R.S.'s Form 1040 to be used as targets for the shooting contest that afternoon. And army boots, fatigues and hip-holstered black pistols were the style of the day. But attendees seemed more interested in demonstrating that they were in no way affiliated with the Hutaree than in shooting up tax forms. The Southeastern Michigan Volunteer Militia spokesman even hinted to me that he and his guys had alerted the F.B.I. to the Hutaree's agenda, a suggestion later confirmed in news reports.


I don't usually feel threatened by the militias. Most members are just indulging their fantasies of being warriors without having to sign up for the Army. They want to be heroes and save their neighbors from disaster.


Many of the guys in the yuppie southeast Michigan branch of the militia consider themselves socially progressive libertarians and welcome anyone — Jews, blacks and Muslims included — who is willing to defend Michigan from invasion, whether by the federal government or foreign forces.


But when I read on the Hutaree's Web site that they were prepared to use violence "to defend all those who belong to Christ and save those who aren't," I wondered what they intended to "save" me and my Jewish and Muslim neighbors from.


And so, despite my desire to preserve my civil liberties, I can't help but be grateful that the federal government has the power to keep an eye on extremists of all kinds. I only hope it remains able to figure out which members of which militias are harmless, and which are serious about assassinating police officers or shooting people like me who might wander into the woods while they train for Armageddon.


Eileen Pollack, the director of the creative writing program at the University of Michigan, is the author of the forthcoming book "Breaking and Entering," a novel about the militia movement.








FIFTEEN years ago today, the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Building in Oklahoma City claimed the lives of 168 men, women and children. It was, until 9/11, the worst terrorist attack in United States history. But what emerged in its aftermath — the compassion, caring and love that countless Americans from all walks of life extended to the victims and their families — was a powerful testament to the best of America. And its lessons are as important now as they were then.


Most of the people killed that day were employees of the federal government. They were men and women who had devoted their careers to helping the elderly and disabled, supporting our veterans and enforcing our laws. They were good neighbors and good friends. One of them, a Secret Service agent named Al Whicher, a husband and father of three, had been on my presidential security detail. Nineteen children also lost their lives.


Those who survived endured terrible pain and loss. Thankfully, many of them took the advice of a woman who knew how they felt. A mother of three children whose husband had been killed on Pan Am Flight 103 in 1988 told them, "The loss you feel must not paralyze your own lives. Instead, you must try to pay tribute to your loved ones by continuing to do all the things they left undone, thus ensuring they did not die in vain."


We are all grateful that so many of the attack's survivors have done exactly that. We must also never forget the courageous and loving response of the people and leaders of Oklahoma City and the state of Oklahoma, as well as the firefighters and others who came from all across America to help them.


In the wake of the bombing, Oklahoma City prompted Congress to approve most of the proposals I submitted to develop a stronger and more systematic approach to defending our nation and its citizens against terrorism, an effort that continues today, as we saw with President Obama's impressive international summit meeting last week to secure all sources of nuclear material that can be made into bombs.


Finally, we should never forget what drove the bombers, and how they justified their actions to themselves. They took to the ultimate extreme an idea advocated in the months and years before the bombing by an increasingly vocal minority: the belief that the greatest threat to American freedom is our government, and that public servants do not protect our freedoms, but abuse them. On that April 19, the second anniversary of the assault of the Branch Davidian compound near Waco, deeply alienated and disconnected Americans decided murder was a blow for liberty.


Americans have more freedom and broader rights than citizens of almost any other nation in the world, including the capacity to criticize their government and their elected officials. But we do not have the right to resort to violence — or the threat of violence — when we don't get our way. Our founders constructed a system of government so that reason could prevail over fear. Oklahoma City proved once again that without the law there is no freedom.


Criticism is part of the lifeblood of democracy. No one is right all the time. But we should remember that there is a big difference between criticizing a policy or a politician and demonizing the government that guarantees our freedoms and the public servants who enforce our laws.


We are again dealing with difficulties in a contentious, partisan time. We are more connected than ever before, more able to spread our ideas and beliefs, our anger and fears. As we exercise the right to advocate our views, and as we animate our supporters, we must all assume responsibility for our words and actions before they enter a vast echo chamber and reach those both serious and delirious, connected and unhinged.


Civic virtue can include harsh criticism, protest, even civil disobedience. But not violence or its advocacy. That is the bright line that protects our freedom. It has held for a long time, since President George Washington called out 13,000 troops in response to the Whiskey Rebellion.


Fifteen years ago, the line was crossed in Oklahoma City. In the current climate, with so many threats against the president, members of Congress and other public servants, we owe it to the victims of Oklahoma City, and those who survived and responded so bravely, not to cross it again.


Bill Clinton, the founder of the William J. Clinton Foundation, was the 42nd president of the United States.







Oklahoma City


ON the calm and beautiful Wednesday morning of April 19, 1995, our plane took off at 9 a.m. from the Oklahoma City airport, bound for Dallas and a connection to Los Angeles. As we ascended, I looked out the window.


I will always remember what I saw.


A huge, swirling column of black smoke and debris rose into the cloudless sky. I turned to my husband and said, "Something dreadful has happened downtown."


The plane continued to climb, leaving Oklahoma City behind. No announcement was made. We landed in Dallas, deplaned and walked into the concourse. The ubiquitous television screens all held the same image: frantic, dazed, desperate people fleeing down a street.


It was not a foreign street. It was Broadway in Oklahoma City and they were running away from the crumbled ruin of a building downtown. The first report said the bomb brought down the federal courthouse. My husband, Phil, is a lawyer and we were frightened that many people we knew might have died. That report was in error. The cratered structure, with a day care center in its basement, was the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building.


My husband's firm is downtown. On an ordinary Wednesday, at about 9 o'clock, he would very likely have been passing the Murrah Building. That he was traveling with me was unusual, as he rarely accompanies me on my book-related events. But one of my novels was being filmed for a television movie and I had been invited to visit the set. I felt much too shy to go to Hollywood by myself. It took a great deal of pleading to persuade him to come along.


If he hadn't...


Ralph Thompson, a close friend and then a federal judge, had just arisen from his desk in the courthouse, which was right across the street from the Federal Building. Ralph walked to the doorway to his anteroom to speak to his secretary. Timothy McVeigh's truck exploded. A shard of glass speared Ralph's chair at the level of his throat.


If Ralph had been sitting there at work...


Ralph and his family were blessed. Phil and I were blessed. Everyone knows someone who has a story. There were countless lives spared by fortuity or by God.


But so many were not. I think of them whenever I drive by the memorial and see those chairs, forever empty.


Carolyn Hart is the author, most recently, of "Laughed 'Til He Died."







Tulsa, Okla.


IT was a moment, and a sensation, experienced simultaneously by hundreds of thousands of people — a jarring impact that shook foundations, rattled windowpanes and loosened dust from ceilings up to 55 miles away. We didn't know it right away, but at 9:02 that morning of April 19, 1995, life in Oklahoma City underwent a powerful change in a heartbeat.


Soon I was at the office of The Oklahoma Gazette, an alternative weekly, supervising our coverage of the bombing. I dispatched reporters to the scene, keeping in touch with each on the phone while monitoring developments on TV. My first trip to the blast area didn't come until that night, when I found myself on Interstate 235 east of downtown.


The highway provided a clear view to the west, and the scene was striking. Most of downtown was pitch-black, but several blocks on the north side were brilliantly lighted. I had the fleeting impression I was staring at a high school football stadium, a sight familiar to anyone who grows up on the Southern Plains. Then I realized that I was seeing emergency lights brought in to help rescue workers dig through the rubble in a futile search for survivors.


The air of gloom that developed in the aftermath was unrelenting. Businesses remained open, but crowds were lifeless. I noticed it most vividly during an overnight drive to Dallas a week later, when a companion and I both remarked on the palpable difference we felt by the time we were an hour south of the city. When we returned the next day, that crushing sense of despair was still there, saturating every aspect of life. It seemed like days, perhaps weeks, before I heard someone laugh in public again.


Eventually, the network TV cameras disappeared, and Oklahoma City returned to the anonymity it had long been accustomed to. Coming to terms with loss was not a swift or easy process. For years afterward, many of us feared the bombing would come to define the city.


But that has not happened — much of downtown has been rebuilt, and the city has emerged stronger and with a more positive identity. There is no victim mentality, just a sober and respectful consideration of the past.


Mike Easterling is a reporter at Urban Tulsa Weekly.







Last October, I saw a cartoon by Mike Peters in which a teacher asks a student to create a sentence that uses the verb "sacks," as in looting and pillaging. The student replies, "Goldman Sachs."


Sure enough, last week the Securities and Exchange Commission accused the Gucci-loafer guys at Goldman of engaging in what amounts to white-collar looting.


I'm using the term looting in the sense defined by the economists George Akerlof and Paul Romer in a 1993 paper titled "Looting: The Economic Underworld of Bankruptcy for Profit." That paper, written in the aftermath of the savings-and-loan crisis of the Reagan years, argued that many of the losses in that crisis were the result of deliberate fraud.


Was the same true of the current financial crisis?


Most discussion of the role of fraud in the crisis has focused on two forms of deception: predatory lending and misrepresentation of risks. Clearly, some borrowers were lured into taking out complex, expensive loans they didn't understand — a process facilitated by Bush-era federal regulators, who both failed to curb abusive lending and prevented states from taking action on their own. And for the most part, subprime lenders didn't hold on to the loans they made. Instead, they sold off the loans to investors, in some cases surely knowing that the potential for future losses was greater than the people buying those loans (or securities backed by the loans) realized.


What we're now seeing are accusations of a third form of fraud.


We've known for some time that Goldman Sachs and other firms marketed mortgage-backed securities even as they sought to make profits by betting that such securities would plunge in value. This practice, however, while arguably reprehensible, wasn't illegal. But now the S.E.C. is charging that Goldman created and marketed securities that were deliberately designed to fail, so that an important client could make money off that failure. That's what I would call looting.


And Goldman isn't the only financial firm accused of doing this. According to the Pulitzer-winning investigative journalism Web site ProPublica, several banks helped market designed-to-fail investments on behalf of the hedge fund Magnetar, which was betting on that failure.


So what role did fraud play in the financial crisis? Neither predatory lending nor the selling of mortgages on false pretenses caused the crisis. But they surely made it worse, both by helping to inflate the housing bubble and by creating a pool of assets guaranteed to turn into toxic waste once the bubble burst.


As for the alleged creation of investments designed to fail, these may have magnified losses at the banks that were on the losing side of these deals, deepening the banking crisis that turned the burst housing bubble into an economy-wide catastrophe.