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Friday, April 23, 2010

EDITORIAL 21.04.10

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media watch with peoples input                an organization of rastriya abhyudaya



month april 21, edition 000487, collected & managed by durgesh kumar mishra, published by – manish manjul


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



































  4. TRUE LEGEND  - SIR ALEC BEDSER (1918-2010)












































  1. ACT NOW







While not altogether unknown, the recent revelations about the alleged rot and the near-complete lack of corporate governance in the management of the Indian Premier League cannot but take away from the credibility of India's richest sports event. The role of the IPL commissioner, Mr Lalit K Modi, in allegedly providing informal 'guidance' to bidders of franchises, the transparency or otherwise of the franchise tender process, the reported cosy deal-making in terms of choosing IPL partner brands and companies, the renegotiation of and suspicions of kickbacks following blockbuster television deals, the recruitment of IPL executives from within a circle of insiders — rather than by inviting professionals to compete for vacancies — have left India's T20 league resembling not the world's biggest cricket phenomenon, which it claims to be, but an opaque enterprise. The degree of proxy ownership — of team franchises, of companies associated with the marketing and Internet rights of the IPL and so on — cannot just be explained away, far less denied. Mr Shashi Tharoor may have been guilty of misusing his public position to get a sweetheart deal for a female associate while 'mentoring' the Kochi franchise. Yet, his guilt and removal from the Union Council of Ministers doesn't take away from the perception of wrongdoing being laid at Mr Modi's door. Rather, it only heightens the obligation of the IPL — and of its parent body, the Board of Control for Cricket in India — to clean up its side of the mess. It is all very well to argue that modern sport is big business; that is not under discussion or debate here. Yet, there is a difference between ethical conduct of business and plain and simple cronyism. What has been happening at the IPL — with jobs and contracts being distributed among a small club of politicians, businessmen and certain individuals with a dubious reputation — is not just an insult to cricket but also to the whole notion of honest business, accountable to the wider community of stakeholders.

There are attempts being made by Mr Modi's camp — especially his friends in the IPL network, spread across key franchises, business corporations and individuals he has benefited, and his political mentors — to downplay the IPL commissioner's acts of omission and commission. There is no doubt Mr Modi is a man of tremendous energy and drive and has contributed the most to making the IPL what it has become. Yet, that does not condone the entirety of his record. To take an example, as IPL commissioner he has been restrictive in providing access and accreditation to cricket-specific Websites. As IPL marketing chief — a role that is distinct from that of IPL commissioner — he has spoken of the IPL controlling the Internet rights of the tournament. As a private individual, he is professionally and personally related to businessmen who have been given monopoly rights on the IPL's Internet presence. As such, when Mr Modi was banning cricket-specific Websites from the IPL media room, was he using his regulatory powers to kill competition for the IPL's ancillary business interests — a conflict of interest as even that would have been — or was he removing obstacles in the path of a commercial venture promoted by family associates? These are tough questions. Mr Modi cannot — and, indeed, for the sake of transparency, must not — sidestep them.







Pakistan's duplicity in tackling the Taliban and its ilk is no secret. But as far as double crossing is concerned, the latest reports emerging from North Waziristan really take the cake. An unknown militant group called Asian Tigers has released a video of two top former ISI officers and a British journalist of Pakistani origin, all of whom have been purportedly 'kidnapped' by the jihadis. And in exchange for their release, the militants want three Taliban commanders, including Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, the second-in-command of the Afghan Taliban, freed from custody. It is easy to see through the plot here. It is quite apparent that this is nothing but a poorly disguised ruse by the ISI to secure the release of some of its key assets. It will be recalled that Mullah Baradar was arrested during a joint raid by American and Pakistani intelligence officials last February. Given the important role that Baradar is believed to have played within the Taliban leadership, it is quite possible that his arrest has been taxing for the jihadis and their ISI mentors, and that they are desperate to have him back. Thus the fake kidnapping of two former ISI officials and a journalist — the latter conveniently happens to be a British citizen to add extra zing to the plot — so that Islamabad can plead with Washington for the release of the Taliban commanders.

What makes this all the more ridiculous is the fact that the two former ISI men supposedly 'kidnapped' are widely believed to have helped train the Taliban. One of them, Col Amir Sultan Tarar, is an expert in guerrilla warfare tactics and is believed to have been personally involved in training the Taliban in the 1980s. In fact, after the defeat of the Soviet Union in Afghanistan, Col Tarar was invited to the White House by former US President George H Bush and commended for his efforts in the field. But today, Western intelligence agencies believe that Col Tarar is among those former Pakistani intelligence officers who continue to help the Taliban. In other words, Col Tarar represents the umbilical chord between the Pakistani establishment and the jihadis. He and his ilk help Islamist terrorists by providing them with training and material and strategic support. They are the shadowy operatives who lead two lives — respectable figures of the Pakistani Army by day and jihadi sympathisers by night. Time and again, through interrogation of various known terrorists and suspects, their names have come to light. Yet it is difficult to pin them down because to the Pakistani establishment they are the real heroes who do the dirty work that no one else will. Hence, the 'kidnapping' of Col Tarar and company by jihadis seeking the release of Taliban commanders should be taken with a pinch of salt. Nonetheless, it will be interesting to track Islamabad's response.








Nobody who is caught with his hand in the till ever admits to his guilt till proven guilty in a court of law; all sense of decency and honour, dignity and respect, evaporates and yields space to belligerence followed by maudlin sentiments of hurt innocence. So also with the disgraced former Minister of State for External Affairs who once famously tweeted to me that he was proud to be associated with the Congress because of its "tolerance" and "liberal values".

That was in response to my tweet pointing out his irreverent comments about Mrs Indira Gandhi and the Congress's first family ("Had Indira's Parsi husband been a Toddywalla rather than so conveniently a Gandhi, I sometimes wonder, might India's political history have been different?") in his book India: From Midnight to the Millennium and Beyond. This was soon after Mr Jaswant Singh's unceremonious exit from the BJP following the publication of his book Jinnah — India, Partition, Independence and Mr Tharoor was all over Twitter, patronisingly gloating over a veteran politician's fall from grace in his party.

For all its 'tolerance' and 'liberal values', the Congress has not been particularly tolerant about Mr Tharoor's extra-ministerial activities or liberal towards his cavalier attitude. When push came to shove, the Congress disowned him and distanced itself from his interest in promoting T20 cricket in Kochi. It would be in bad form and poor taste to gloat over Mr Tharoor's current plight, but it would be perfectly in order to point out that arrivistes in politics should resist the temptation of excessive preening.

It is not the least surprising that Mr Tharoor, whose Dubai-based fiancée was a beneficiary by way of free 'sweat' equity worth Rs 70 crore from IPL's Kochi franchise deal, should have pretended outrage, flown into a temper with journalists, belligerently asserted that under no circumstances would he resign from office, only to be told to put in his papers last Sunday evening. He has now predictably resorted to mawkish claims of victimhood.

Reading out a statement in the Lok Sabha on Tuesday, Mr Tharoor declared, though not for the first time, "My conscience is clear and I know that I have done nothing improper or unethical, let alone illegal… I am deeply wounded by the fanciful and malicious charges that have been made against me." We have heard similar remonstrations of innocence before by those accused of compromising their integrity.

He could have, however, spared us the claim that he resigned from the Union Council of Ministers to uphold the "highest moral traditions of our democratic system" and to "avoid embarrassment to the Government". He did not resign voluntarily when unsavoury details (including those of his role which went well beyond that of a neutral 'mentor') of the IPL's Kochi franchise scandal surfaced in media, which would have been the honourable thing to do; he was told to go by his party bosses. Had he resigned immediately, or at least offered to resign, rather than arrogantly cavil at the suggestion that he should do so to uphold the "highest moral traditions of our democratic system" he now cites, his reputation might have been tarred but it would not have been lying in tatters today.

Nor is any purpose served by his informing the Lok Sabha that he has "requested the Prime Minister to have these charges (against him) thoroughly investigated". Whatever else may be the Prime Minister's shortcomings, and he has many, he is not known to be a man who acts in haste. Neither is Mr Pranab Mukherjee known for arriving at a decision without carefully scrutinising and considering all available facts. A formal inquiry should be conducted into l'affaire Shashi Tharoor, but irrespective of its findings, which cannot possibly controvert the facts of the case, the smooth-talking former Minister would do well to bear in mind that in politics perception matters more than reality and the past is often, if not always, swamped by the present. Politics is a harsh world far removed from the rarefied confines of the UN headquarters in New York.

It would, however, be churlish to deny Mr Tharoor the right to defend himself and clear his name; others with a far lower integrity quotient have been given that opportunity. After all, as he has eloquently pointed out in his statement in the Lok Sabha, he has "a long record of public service unblemished by the slightest tint of financial irregularity". That he served the UN under Mr Kofi Annan, who will be remembered as a Secretary-General who fetched immense disrepute to the organisation and whose son was found to have benefited from UN contracts, is inconsequential. Although it could be asked as to whether his conscience troubled him every time media reported about Mr Annan's, or his son Kojo's, dubious deeds. Of course, the perks of office can have a numbing effect on the conscience of the most honest person, as can the loaves and fishes of office.

What is reprehensible is Mr Tharoor's attempt — there's nothing covert or sly about it — to provoke provincial resentment against his sacking from the Government. No doubt he has been elected to the Lok Sabha from Thiruvananthapuram, but he was a Minister in the Government of India, not the Government of Kerala. As an MP, he is tangentially responsible for minding the interests of his constituency as his primary job is to participate in parliamentary debates on national affairs and help frame laws on national issues. As a member of the Union Council of Ministers, his remit was to mind India's foreign affairs.

By repeatedly referring to Thiruvananthapuram and Kerala, the "ethos of Kerala", the people of Kerala (with whom he had no association at all during his growing up years in Kolkata and Delhi and the many decades he spent at the UN) he has tried to link high issues of ministerial probity with low politics of provincial identity. The unstated though clear message he has sought to send out is that an elected representative of Kerala is being unjustly penalised. That's balderdash and Mr Tharoor, more than anybody else, knows it.

It's strange that a suave, accomplished person with an impressive track record of serving an international organisation with distinction, and whose last tweet sent out at 11.16 pm on April 16 reads, "U folks are the new India. We will 'be the change' we wish to see in our country," should fall back on the discredited 'old' politics of provincial pride and prejudice in his time of trouble. That's as distressing as his fiancée benefiting from a cricket franchise deal that he 'mentored'.






With apologies to mathematical propriety a la Mani Shankar Aiyar, I agree 'one lakh per cent' with Union Sports Minister MS Gill when he says that IPL is not really sports but a business venture. The Minister took a jibe at the marquee cricketing event while speaking to a private news channel on a day when Parliament debated the Maoist massacre in Dantewada. But the media mood was clearly flavoured by the Lalit Modi-Shashi Tharoor drama on which the curtains have now fallen after the exit of the Minister of State for External Affairs from the Council of Ministers. A vast majority of the people would rather like a 'sweat-less equity' in sports, savouring the thrill on armchairs without having to perspire on the field in the summer heat.

The whopping $ 710 million or Rs 3,235 crore bid for the new Pune and Kochi teams proves that IPL has become an industry in itself. Even the holding value of European football clubs like Chelsea and Manchester United pales in comparison. Did not IPL commissioner Lalit Modi say that the premier sporting event was facing recession?

The Modi-Tharoor controversy has been great fodder for the media which gives the nikah of a moderately successful tennis player more attention than all the Grand Slams put together. But the cracks in the mirror are reflective of a deeper malice affecting not only the IPL but also India's economy.

A country that is in the grip of 18 per cent food inflation, severe infrastructure crisis, and Maoist mayhem seeking to overthrow the Indian state, still sees news being dominated by IPL. Do the millions still matter against the billionaires? With disparity of income between the rich and the poor exceeding a million times, are we still amazed as to why Maoism and not Gandhian philosophy is proliferating at a fast pace? These are the words of eminent Gandhian Ramjee Singh.

Maoism has no programme for poverty alleviation but enough rage against a corrupt neo-capitalist economy. Are we psychologically prepared to meet the scourge? The engagement would not be as short as a T20 match. For, this particular ball game is quite different.







THE TWIN ideas of probity and accountability are so absent in Indian politics — and the running of sporting bodies in the country — that when dismissed minister of state for external affairs Shashi Tharoor mentioned both words in his defence in Parliament, there were more than just a few chuckles around.

It is not without reason, therefore, that when Lalit Modi, Tharoor's bête noire in the Indian Premier League's version of washing your dirty linen in public battle, made a similar statement, the public reaction was not too different.

The IPL has been run like a personal fiefdom for the last three years by Mr Modi, a special appointee of the Board of Control for Cricket in India ( BCCI) to run the multi- billion dollar cricket franchise league. But that is not something that the viewing public grudges. After all, several successful companies the world over are run by mercurial, ambitious and hyperactive bosses.

The real issues, to wit, are of transparency in the IPL and the fact that while Mr Modi publicly pointed out irregularities in the Kochi IPL franchise, he himself, as it turns out, is reportedly not quite above board. Information, perhaps leaked out by the Income- Tax Department and the Enforcement Directorate, indicates that the IPL could well be the dirtiest sporting league in the world.

Slush money from tax havens, foreign ownership without government clearance, benami assets and stakes, illegal betting, bribery in awarding TV rights and sundry other accusations have made Mr Modi's position as the sole public representative of the IPL untenable.

The only thing that has not been discussed so far is match- fixing which cricket fans hope shall never be the case.

With all that is happening in Delhi and Mumbai, the government seems to have made more of a political rather than a financial case against Mr Modi, a known supporter of the former chief minister of Rajasthan, BJP's Vasundhara Raje Scindia. The government also wants NCP leader and agriculture minister Sharad Pawar to back off from supporting Mr Modi.

In view of all this, there is urgent need for the Union government to seek a clean- up of the IPL and insist that the BCCI create a system which is transparent and free from taint or doubt. The IPL must confine itself to its original mandate— provide the public an entertaining cricket spectacle.





THE accident on the Savitri flyover in the Capital in the early hours of Tuesday reminds us once again of the great dangers that lurk on our roads, particularly at night, and the failure of the authorities to do anything

about them. Two African students riding a car got pierced by iron roads jutting out of the rear of a truck ahead of them, leaving one of the men critically injured. It needn't be pointed out here that the rear of the truck had no taillight or indicator that could forewarn motorists of the hazard.

While there is no word as yet on whether the students were driving under the influence of liquor — let's admit it, in a lot of accidents at that hour the victims themselves have a role to play — this cannot in any sense take away from the fact that the trucker was blatantly flouting rules. Trucks and other heavy vehicles are involved in a good proportion of the road accidents that take place in this country and out of that number many can be attributed to overloading.

Experts say out of the around 15,000 commercial vehicles that pass through Delhi every day, 70- 80 per cent are overloaded, with many of them overloaded by as much as 200 per cent. Our policemen run a lucrative business out of allowing such vehicles, usually poorly maintained, to ply on roads — few of us could have missed the sight of cops stopping trucks at night, if only for a brief while in which money changes hands and the vehicle is allowed to pass.

How bad must be the scenario in the rest of the country can be gauged from the fact that in the national capital we have traffic cops and transport department officials — who say they face a severe shortage of personnel — sparring in the aftermath of the accident over whose duty it is to check the menace.

Shouldn't such basic questions have been answered a long time ago?







ON MONDAY last week, the Information Technology Secretary to the government of Tamil Nadu and also the Adjudicating Officer of Judicature at Chennai gave a landmark judgment on a complaint filed by a customer of a reputed bank in India and directed the bank to pay him a compensation of Rs 12.85 lakh.


The NRI customer used to receive regular statements from a dedicated customer care e- mail address of the bank and he received a message from that address in September 2007 asking him to update his personal information, which he did. Three days after that he received a call from the bank asking him if he had transferred money to a current account of a certain company in Mumbai over the previous two days debiting Rs 6.46 lakh from his savings account.


That account was already in overdraft for three months and was registered in the name of a company that did not exist at the address in Mumbai that was provided to the bank when the account was opened. After the transfer, an amount of Rs 4.60 lakhs was withdrawn through a single cheque from one of the branches in Mumbai. The CCTV footage of the branch on that date and time had not been stored.




This case is significant as it is the first case related to ' phishing' that has come for adjudication after the IT secretaries of all states were notified as the Adjudicating Officers under the Information Technology Act 2000 as per the rules enforced since 2003. The judgment also shows very clearly that while online banking may be facilitated by technology, the basic banking safety practices listed in the Know Your Customer provisions and the Reserve Bank of India Master Circulars needed to be followed assiduously.


While the bank can still appeal the decision, it is imperative for citizens to be careful while venturing out into online banking.


The email that the customer received in the above case asking for details is one of the common forms of fraud happening on the internet and is commonly referred to as phishing. The modus operandi for the criminals is very simple— they send out such emails looking almost similar to the mails that the reputed bank would send and nowadays are also able to show that the email address is genuine. Many people simply click and proceed and suffer the consequences. However alertness, technology and proper customer orientation can make a difference.


Consider a situation where a cyber crime syndicate plans to target 20 lakh customers of a particular bank with such a deceptive email. Assuming that the security systems and the anti- spamming measures allow only 5 per cent of those to get through, we still have 100,000 users who receive the mail. If only 5 per cent of these click, then 5,000 customers link into the phishing site and even if a fraction of these provide the sensitive details we could have as many as 100 compromised customers. And so if an average of Rs 50000 is stolen from each such account, the loss is a whopping Rs 50 lakh. This is not something which is improbable today— there are many criminal groups targeting customers who have to be careful.


Phishing techniques today are directed not only at banks— they are being expanded across a host of customer services and so alertness on part of the customer is crucial. A major scam has emails inviting Hotmail account users to get the next level of Windows upgrades and many people have fallen prey to this. The thumb rule is not to click on any such requests and simply forward those emails to the customer care desk or even to the response authority like CERT India so that they can investigate and get to their source.




While customers need to be constantly reminded and oriented towards some basic online habits, there is also a need for the institutions which are offering online services to employ the best of technology solutions and also have regular monitoring of their website infrastructure and content. Specialised companies exist today which provide managed security services and they are constantly monitoring the internet for online frauds and malware and also share their knowledge across security communities and peer groups. But not all such attempts can provide a foolproof system as many institutions shy away from reporting abuses, unsuccessful attempts and successful attacks. Many banks still try to keep cyber crime incidents under wraps fearing negative publicity and silently compensate the victim if they fail to blame the customer for negligence. The situation has to change and the RBI has to make provisions for mandatory reporting of all instances of cyber crime to the law enforcement agencies and also to a common repository under it. The proposed financial CERT should be created as soon as possible and should be the body which gets the first report of such incidents.




But such steps will not work if the legal provisions, the law enforcement authorities and the judiciary are not in tandem with the growing demand for online commerce.


The revised provisions of the amended IT Act have come into force since October last year and they have covered most of the cyber crimes in greater detail. Since the Act has covered all communicating devices, internet commerce and banking via mobile phones would also be thus covered. Phishing would be covered under the hacking provisions of Section 66A, 66C and 66D of the Act. In most cases the punishment is imprisonment for a maximum period of three years and fine up to Rs 1 lakh.


Provisions of the Indian Penal Code of 1860, the Copyrights Act 1857 and Trademarks Act 1989 also cover cyber frauds.


However law enforcement authorities require a great deal of training and orientation to detect and investigate such crimes. Cyber crime cells have been set up in many states but they are yet to function satisfactorily. In most cases a few individual officers are identified for tackling cyber crimes but their routine duties and the unsupportive attitude of the higher ups ensure that investigating them is not a priority for them.


There needs to be a clear understanding that cyber crime is very different from normal policing. Dedicated departments and individuals are needed for supporting the police, rather than assuming that each policeman can become a cyber specialist.Cyber forensics needs to be one of the priority areas for the police modernisation drives of the government.

The Chennai judgment should be a wake up call for the banking community to focus sharply on the issue of security of online banking. This also points to the need to understand that all major e- governance programmes, including the Unique Identity card programme which will bring many more citizens online, will have to have a security and best practices regime to ensure that users don't click away their information to cyber criminals. This will be a test to see how digital India performs and matures.


The writer works for a multinational company and writes on cybersecurity issues









A YOUNG man promoting eco- friendly means of transportation– Rupinder Singh – has carried out an extensive study in Chandigarh which shows that the city planners have virtually no concern for cyclists and pedestrians.


In over five months, Rupinder, who manages an NGO – Safe Roads for Us – walked and cycled across the city. He discovered that Chandigarh - the most modern example of urban planning in India - has failed to give equitable space to pedestrians and people using nonmotorised means of transport.


Le Corbusier – the French architect who designed the city over five decades ago – had conceived of cycle tracks and walkways along major roads. But, Rupinder found that today's urban planners have failed Corbusier's legacy.


The city has witnessed a pleasant change as some youngsters have taken to cycling to their schools and colleges. Some students of the Government College of Art actually feel proud to ride a cycle even to the marketplace.


But the trend has failed to catch up because the city roads are not safe for them and cycle tracks and walkways are almost non- existent or illplanned.


Chandigarh boasts of better traffic law enforcement than other cities, an alert media and an active civil society. But the fatalities on the roads have been increasing every year. Last year, half the people dying on the roads were either cyclists or pedestrians.


Rupinder and other people who favour eco- friendly transportation believe that statistics represent only reported cases and do not reflect the real danger that is lurking on the roads.


Miraculous escapes and near misses also go unaccounted.


Many more people would have shifted to the use of non- polluting vehicles, if only the roads were safer for them.


These tracks do not exist where people use rickshaws and cycles the most. And where the tracks do exist, the access and exit are blocked. One such track has become a parking lot as an up- market school has opened its gate on it. The school is patronised by the officials. Thus the right to the path for pedestrians and cyclists is a distant reality. In other places, garbage is dumped on the track. They cannot be used at night since there are various traps which could prove fatal. At several places on these tracks, the commuters are greeted by poles, elevated manholes and other hindrances . Certain zebra crossings in Chandigarh eventually lead or rather mislead pedestrians to the middle of the road or a crowded roundabout. There are others which never reach the other side of the road. Pedestrians would literally have to jump over the railing to reach the other end of the road after walking over the zebra crossing.


All over the world motorists are discouraged to drive fast outside educational institutions and hospitals. But in Chandigarh, there is no bar on driving at 65 km/ h outside the Post Graduate Institute of Medical Education and Research. The other side of the road is the main gate of Panjab University.


Statistics from a research suggest that speed contributes to at least 30 per cent of the road accidents and related deaths.


For every one km/ h increase in speed there is a three per cent increase in the chance of an accident and a five per cent increase in the risk of a fatality.


Pedestrians are eight times more likely to be killed by cars travelling at 50km/ h than 30km/ h.


Rupinder believes that the concerns of the minority which uses alternate modes of transport take a back seat as the state is not held responsible for poor planning and ignoring the interests of these people. He believes that cars and bicycles can co- exist, albeit on different tracks, if only the Chandigarh administration wakes up to the concerns of this minority.



HARYANA'S Khaps – which have been protesting judicial and police intervention in their parallel system of justice – have now turned to politicians for support. A meeting of 31 Khap Panchayats at Danoda village in Jind district on Sunday resolved that they would petition MPs from Haryana to push a resolution in the Lok Sabha for amending the Hindu Marriage Act. The Khaps believe that marriages within the same gotra ( clan) are against social norms and must be banned. They are also demanding a ban on marriages within the same village. In the meeting presided over by Nafe Singh, President of Binain Khap, it was decided that a Maha Panchayat will be organised at Pai village in Kaithal district on 2nd May to decide on the future course of action if MPs did not support them. They also declared that a Sarv Jatiya Suraksha Manch will be formed to ensure that marriages within the same gotra do not take place.



LEGAL practitioners from 25 leading Indian law firms visited the USA under the aegis of the Society of Indian Law Firms ( SILF). The SILF delegation was led by its President Lalit Bhasin and a Chandigarh lawyer, Guneet Chaudhary was one of the representatives.


Such a visit – the first of its kind – was arranged by the American Bar Association.


Earlier, the representatives of the American Bar Association had visited India. These initiatives are to better understand business laws in the two countries. This should be seen in the light of US Treasury Secretary, Timothy Geithner's India visit which focussed on boosting bilateral economic ties. Mr.Guneet Chaudhary reveals that the delegation met the former US Defence Secretary William Sebastian Cohen in Washington where they also visited the George Washington University of Law.Quaint twist to RTI queryLegal eagles get a feel of Uncle Sam's ways


CHANDIGARH based activist Dr Rajinder K Singla has been seeking an answer to if the appellate authorities appointed under the RTI Act are there actually to block the flow of information to the public. Singla had sought information from the Education Department as to if the DAV college was permitted to use its premises for conducting weddings. The premises were used for the wedding of a Managing Committee office bearer's son.

When Singla did not get any reply, he filed the first appeal hoping that the authority would provide the information and uphold the spirit of the act. Since Singla could not appear for the hearing, Ajoy Sharma, the Director Higher Education disposed of the matter ruling that the appellant did not want to pursue the matter anymore. Now, when Singla moved the Central Information Commission against the disposal of the case, Sharma shot off another letter to him to appear for a re- hearing. This time Singla was asked to " argue in support of the appeal." " This is surprising. RTI Act is clear that public has the Right to Information. The officer wants me to argue ' in support' for the information which is my right," says Singla. He will now appeal to the CIC against Sharma's decision.








It's an election everyone predicts will be unpredictable. As Britons get ready to vote for their next government in two weeks' time, the game has got that much more exciting and complex. Till recently, the contest was pretty much a Labour versus Tory fight with neither expected to get a clear mandate. But following last week's televised debate between prime ministerial hopefuls David Cameron, Gordon Brown and Nick Clegg, the race is anyone's to call.

Buoyed by what has been widely hailed as a terrific turn at the telly debate by Clegg, Liberal Democrats, the eternal bridesmaids of British politics, are leading the opinion polls, a historic first. Thirteen years ago, New Labour strode to power by combining its core ideology of welfare and community with some of Margaret Thatcher's open economic policies. Times then were also more fortuitous than now and Labour presided over a decade of growing British prosperity. But now that the boom has gone bust, and Britain has fared worse than most developed countries in the current economic crisis, the party is over.

Meanwhile, in an effort to dislodge Labour the Tories, under Cameron, embraced conservatism-lite - making a pitch for the centre on issues such as climate change and the role of society. Thatcher famously said there is no society; Cameron says there is such a thing as society but it is not the same as the state. He is pitching the Tory party as the advocate of 'big society'. Labour, meanwhile, has toughened its stance on immigration and security - once a pet issue of the Tories. It's fair to say that the historically sharp ideological divide between the Conservative Party and Labour in Britain is not so deep anymore, bringing American-style television debates to the forefront in helping voters decide.

The Lib Dems are riding on a ticket for change and some are even comparing Clegg's spectacular rise to that of Barack Obama's. That might be a stretch. But there's no denying the buzz the Lib Dems are creating. The party espouses a liberal politics; among other things, it has a moderate stance on immigration, proposes cutting taxes bottom up, and greater devolution of power to local governments. The polls are still too close to call. But even if their current popularity does not take them to office, Lib Dems may soon have a greater say in how Britain runs its affairs.







The moral police are out in force. While there are serious issues with relation to the IPL that need to be probed, such as the possible manipulation of franchise bids and other financial misdemeanours, the atmosphere is getting steadily clouded by innuendo and hysteria, whose outcome is the demand from a section of the political class that the IPL itself be banned. Such speculative innuendo is amplified by screaming media headlines and copy that revels in personal attacks. The intent of such commentary isn't to suggest systemic reform of the structures governing cricket in India in order to bring more transparency to the game, but rather to convert the IPL saga into a morality play.

So, for instance, there is salacious speculation about whether Lalit Modi's "head [is] on chopping block now", or analysis of the "Sunanda factor behind Tharoor's downfall". The "chopping block" story continues as a "special report" on how the "move to end Modi innings gathers pace"; and sure enough, the accompanying photograph is one of Modi holding a bat. Another newspaper carries, in the same vein, an interpretation of how "Tharoor unleashes attractive weapon", namely Sunanda Pushkar. Surely such copy is meant to titillate, rather than inform or educate. Commentary that's about offering up scapegoats or kicking people when they're down isn't just in bad taste, it detracts from the main issue: finding the source of the problem and fixing it. It isn't surprising that many people, when exposed to such breathless commentary, are beginning to see the IPL itself as a fount of evil and miss the genuine breakthrough in sporting entertainment that it constitutes.


























In many ways, the government has embarked on a path-breaking route, in terms of both domestic and foreign policy. For instance, sometime ago, the issue of fertiliser subsidies came up. In one fell swoop, the government changed the game by targeting subsidies on the basis of nutrients. Thanks to the policy change, farmers will look to nutrients other than urea. This will increase yields dramatically. Urea-based fertilisers were once good and government policies championed their use. Over the years, it became clear that they had passed the point of diminishing returns. Everywhere in the world, governments have promoted suplhur-based and other nutrients in the mix to increase yields and protect the soil.

With all the noise about food inflation, the government has pointed to the exploitative role of middlemen in the journey farm products make from the fields to the market. In recent times, the finance minister has made several references to the need for organised retail in the grocery business, most recently at the CII national meeting in Delhi.

Coming to taxes, the finance minister cut individual taxes while increasing some indirect levies. The idea is sterling: put more money in the hands of middle-class families and let them decide what they can or cannot afford. If i am considering buying a car and it costs a few thousand rupees more, it is my call. By putting economic decisions in the citizens' hands, the government has been making a major paradigm shift.

The emphasis on infrastructure is also welcome. Roads, ports, airports and railroads are being built. The trouble is that modern infrastructure is at the disposal of government agencies and citizens with zero ethics or civic consciousness. Thus, it gets caught up in bottlenecks caused by lackadaisical enforcement and citizens who habitually violate the law.

For instance, many cities now have modern airports. They are like white elephants because, the minute you step outside, there is total chaos. It's the same thing for highways. We recently travelled to Chandigarh from Delhi. The road is work-in-progress and there are significant flyovers and wide pavements. But there is total traffic chaos.

Even as you rev to the top speed of 90 km per hour, you find yourself having to deal with vehicles going the wrong way, underpowered trucks, three-wheeled vehicles, bullock carts, cycle rickshaws, handcarts, herds of cows and sheep and, scariest of all, daredevil pedestrians trying to cross the highway. They make the journey a nightmare. There is simply no policing, no signage or other facilities that go with modern highways. It's almost as though modern amenities are made available to citizens with a pre-modern mindset by officials with no clue about modernity.

The tragedy is that the police have no authority to enforce the law. Even worse, they don't even know the law. Just recently, i stopped a police car on the spanking new expressway that connects Delhi and Gurgaon to airports. I told the police officer that the unchecked use of the expressway by two- and three-wheeled vehicles was a major traffic violation and that there were signs that these vehicles were not allowed. He told me to mind my own business. The government needs to show its hard-headedness in such matters as much as it is doing with the Maoists in central India.

Talking of internal security, the government has made major moves. It has taken on the Maoist movement with force. True, there are complaints of security forces riding roughshod over the ultras. But then, the Maoists are not known for grace and diplomacy either. A tough approach will not only contain the insurgents but also send a clear message that this is a hard government that will not stomach violent agitations.

On national security, the government has embarked on a new course. Even while initiating talks with Pakistan, it authorised a major air force exercise sometime ago in the Rajasthan desert to demonstrate its fighting capabilities. It was a brilliant move to invite most defence attaches of diplomatic missions, leaving out the representatives of China and Pakistan. The idea was to exhibit hard power.

To reinforce the government's hard line, the prime minister went to Saudi Arabia and urged its authorities to weigh in with Pakistan to control terrorist groups operating from there. It is clear Pakistan's government has neither the wherewithal nor the will to rein in various terrorist groups with a free run within the country's borders. A Saudi nudge could go a long way to boost the crippled civilian government against rogue elements within the army and intelligence agency.

In the end, however, you have in India an enlightened government beset by a crude political class, a malignant bureaucracy and a pre-modern citizenry. Also, the ship of state seems unable to deal with casteism, communalism and corruption. Bureaucrats blame crass politicians and the ignorant citizenry. Politicians castigate the bureaucracy. Citizens berate politicians and bureaucrats. It's a sort of beggar-thy-neighbour view enabling the entire system to elude responsibility. If everyone's to blame, nobody is accountable. What's clear is that citizens have to take on responsibility; blaming the government and politicians is not enough.

The writer is a public affairs commentator.






To 'recycle, reuse and reduce' (quantities consumed) the three Rs of the post-Copenhagen, eco-friendly world Shamlu Dudeja has added another: Revive. A full 25 years ago this victorious cancer survivor had started reviving the endangered tradition of kantha. Today, she's reaping the rewards. Recently when Assocham and Indian Merchants Chamber honoured 10 women for preserving and promoting India's textile heritage, Shamlu was the lone non-weaver among paithani, Naga and south silk weavers. She spoke to Ratnottama Sengupta:

The original three-layered kantha exemplified 'recycle and reuse'. How does the decorative, single-layered stitch on garments worn by the rich, or international dignitaries, empower rural women?

If you feel the kantha on your cheek, you'll feel the positive vibes of these women. The single-layered stitches have widened its scope by taking it to younger and urban women. Kantha originally was only a quilt. Now i've spread it worldwide, as scarf, long-skirt, jacket, shirt and handbag, besides tablecloth, cushion-cover, coaster, wall hanging, lampshade... There's more work for the women who feel independent even if they earn a few hundred. And there's a sense of pride and self-respect when they hear dignitaries like Richard Celeste and Jacqueline, Hillary Clinton and Nancy Powell, Kenneth Brill and Susan Boggs are using their creations.

How did your journey in kantha begin?

Twenty-five years ago, while recovering from my second surgery, i met some women i knew as a child selling kanthas. I asked them to make a sari. They refused because they worked only on three layers! I convinced them to do it, and then got them to do salwar-kameez. That took kantha to the younger generation. Without that i couldn't have taken it to the third stage - international. It helped that geometric designs were a part of kantha tradition. By then i'd founded the NGO, SHE.


What was your experience at the International Quilting Week held in Yokohama?

Women came from all over Australia, Europe, America, Korea... It emerged that we in India are the only ones doing handmade kantha all the others are quilting with machine! More important, ours is the only one empowering women in the backyard of our cities. Elsewhere, it's a preoccupation of the rich.


Why has quilting got associated with 'green fashion'?

Europeans and Americans are manufacturing in cotton and getting it embroidered by us obviously in cotton because it's eco-friendly. Kantha traditionally used recycled cloth, giving it longer life. Europe is also waking up to the fact that layering preserves warmth by trapping air.

Kantha may be "flippant" compared to (preservation of) water and electricity but to me it's an important tool in green movement. It's beautiful, it's empowering women, and it's anti-consumerist. It's time for the world flooded by the mantra of "throw" to wake up to the need to preserve natural resources.

Why must we preserve our textile heritage?

I define 'culture' as the way our ancestors lived. Kantha, whose roots lie in the tailorbird stitching two leaves together, has been the practice of this land for centuries. In Bengal, where girls are worshipped as 'Maa' or Devi, they grow up with singing, dancing and alpana, which then get transformed into kantha. It was from here that the Portuguese took kantha to Lisbon four centuries ago. They preserve it in their museums. We preserve it in practice, by passing it on from generation to generation.








He may have been Mr 10 per cent earlier, but now he is Mr 100 per cent. Yes, we are referring not to Pakistan president Asif Ali Zardari's skimming propensities but his support of democracy. Not one to do things in small percentages, he has signed away his sweeping powers in a bid to bolster democracy. Let's hope the Pakistanis are not found wanting in gratitude for this gesture, but then again kvetchers and grumblers may find a thing or two awry in his grand plan.


Some Cassandra may find it a bit odd that Asif was champing at the bit to lead the country no sooner was his wife cold in her grave. That he did not exactly wait around for the people's verdict before he leapt into the hot seat. But, then we, the less skeptical, are sure that he had the best interests of democracy at heart. Which probably explains why despite somewhat curtailed executive powers, he can remain leader of the Pakistan People's Party (PPP) for life. And don't think we don't appreciate the democratic manner in which he pushed his son into the chairmanship of the PPP despite the fact that the lad is still studying at Oxford. Does Bilawal know about the workings of the party or indeed life in Pakistan? No, but that did not stop Asif from turning out to be such a splendid leader, did it? Yes, he may have put in a few more shekels than strictly legit in the offshore account, but what the heck, one never knows when a rainy day may come upon one.


Now that these onerous presidential responsibilities like the power to sack the prime minister and so on are off his Savile Rowed shoulders, Asif can focus on pressing issues, or perhaps issues on which the Yanks are putting the squeeze on him. And now that his finger is off the nuclear button, he doesn't have to worry about being buttonholed about bombs in the basement. What next? Asif as Haroun al-Rashid?






The choices facing the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) on monetary tightening are two. One, keep raising interest rates gradually keeping in mind the risks to a recovery posed by a sluggish world economy, rising commodity prices if demand picks up globally, an uncertain monsoon, and a rising dollar tide to resurgent emerging economies. Two, frontload interest rate hikes to avoid painful raises later. In the event, the central bank has chosen the first option by raising short-term policy rates and cash reserves of banks by a quarter of a percentage point. Weighing in for this was also the need to keep interest rates low till the bulk of the government's gigantic borrowing programme is behind it. The gradualism, of course, risks elongating the policy transmission lag. The Rs 12,500 crore the central bank plans to suck out of the financial system by raising the cash reserve ratio is not likely to exert undue pressure on liquidity when banks are parking, on average, Rs 78,600 crore every day with the RBI. And with the system awash in money, banks are willing to absorb the hikes in policy rates as well.

This scenario plays out well if, as seems to be the case, inflation has peaked. The 9.9 per cent wholesale inflation in March was slightly less than market expectations ahead of a non-adverse base effect setting in from April. Yet the March number is significantly higher than the central bank's baseline projection of 8.5 per cent. Food price inflation is still uncomfortably high but is showing signs of slowing. Another worry is that core inflation — minus volatile food and energy prices — has climbed to 4.7 per cent in March from 4.2 per cent in February, suggesting underlying pressures. The central bank, while aiming for a March 2011 inflation rate of 5.5 per cent, sees significant upside risks in food prices staying firm because of structural shortages, rising global commodity prices, mounting demand pressures at home and household inflationary expectations remaining heightened.

The RBI's focus is now singularly on managing inflation. India's economic recovery, in its view, is consolidating and the growth projection for 2010-11 is 8 per cent with an upward bias. Apart from inflation, the other issue confronting the RBI has more to do with its role as the government's debt manager than as the architect of monetary policy. Although lower than last year, government borrowing in 2010-11 will require a third more of new gilts to be issued. This runs contrary to the central bank's policy stance of draining excess liquidity.






Confronted time and again with the vicissitudes of democracy that threaten middle class prosperity, the standard response has been to fall back on the armed might of the State, let loose first of all on a dissenting intelligentsia and then on the general population. Vir Sanghvi's piece,We have reached a turning point (Counterpoint, April 11), is an example of this.

It is common belief that those who call themselves Naxalites are inhuman, in spite of their professed politics of speaking for the rural poor. All groups, which subject people to their murderous notions of what is 'correct' with a sense of finality and arbitrariness need to be seen as inhuman. But if this category includes the usual suspects, space must also be kept for those who destroy the world for a telos which is theirs alone. This includes the 9 per cent-obsessed economists, land 'developers' and mining mafias who have no regard for those they displace. For if the Naxalites are predators, so are the Lafarges and the Reddy Brothers and the Vedantas and the Tiscos who only serve their own interests.

The irony lies in the fact that while the poor who protest their displacement are either killed or imprisoned, those who exploit rural resources enjoy full State support. Lest anyone thinks the State doesn't support illegal actions, one needs only to draw attention to two recent cases where illegal plunder took place. The BJP government in Karnataka was fully aware of the mining excesses of the Reddy brothers. So was the Congress government in Andhra Pradesh.

If these powerful people couldn't stand up to the mining mafia (or chose to look away) how could anyone expect a poor tribal who was being handed a few thousand rupees to fight the might of the mine lords? In Meghalaya, Lafarge did not dispute the illegality of its actions. The Centre's and Lafarge's initial plea was that the court's stay on illegal mining would upset India's relations with Bangladesh or that Lafarge would compensate.

The State has consistently expedited development only where there was profit to be made. Improvement of living conditions of the rural poor has never been on its agenda. Acts like the Recognition of Forest Rights Act which took decades to be passed are still not sincerely implemented. This does not imply that all tribal's must, therefore, become Naxals but that those who were collateral by default are now being made collateral by choice.

Pankaj Butalia is a Delhi-based film-maker

The views expressed by the author are personal






Escaping a well-laid and well-executed ambush is difficult for troops in any combat situation irrespective of their level of training. All tactical commanders, therefore, take the usual precautions that are provided in any standard training manual to avoid getting into an ambush and these are known to the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) and other paramilitary personnel and combat troops at all levels of the command structure. However, if for some reason precautions are not taken, breaking out is difficult, if not impossible. One has to be simply lucky to survive the attack. The view that the CRPF soldiers were killed because of deficiencies in training is, therefore, simplistic.

The Indian Peace-Keeping Force went to the jungles of Jaffna, Sri Lanka, with some of our best- trained troops. What they had to depend on was not the usual counter-ambush drill taught during training, but heavy weapons like the 84 mm Carl Gustav rocket launcher. Unfortunately, the troops in Chintalbeada in Chhattisgarh were not carrying any such powerful area weapons, in the absence of which training would be hardly of any use. Small teams of commandos can afford not to carry heavy weapons. But if commandos or medium teams of other combat troops enter into an ambush during an intelligence-led operation or a routine area patrolling, the fire power required to give the troops a fighting chance needs to be very high. Firing from small arms like AK-47s and Insas rifles at an invisible enemy will only mean losing ammunition, contributing to more panic and finally getting completely overwhelmed.

Increasing fire power alone, however, is not a fool-proof arrangement when the enemy is well-entrenched, is more in number and has a better control of the ground, and reinforcements are an impossibility. The US Marines or the British Royal Marines, consisting some of the best-trained and best-equipped combat troops in the world, depend on air support to break out of ambushes and attacks. There is no alternative to quick air-support. It is perfectly within the scope of the existing Indian laws for the police officers on the ground to request support from the air force when they are overwhelmed by armed enemies. This is not an issue of law, but of executive policy. Any collateral damage will be minimal and should be acceptable. Once a decision is made, the necessary standard operative procedures (SOPs) will have to be prepared to expedite processing the request for aid.

The Indian Air Force has the capability to support ground troops and to neutralise armed enemies. Necessary resources, logistics and SOPs have to be put in place so that the air force can engage the enemy within 15 minutes of commencement of fire. Our ground troops should carry better weapons and satellite phones and global positioning systems to request air support. This is, of course, not to say that troops should not take the usual precautions not to walk into an ambush.In April 2009, the Maoists attacked a Central Industrial Security Force (CISF) post on Damanjodi Hill in Koraput district, Orissa. The brave soldiers fought for eight hours without support and did not allow the post to be overrun. Thirty minutes after the firing started, I led a team of commandos to try and reach the post that was 21 kilometres away to support the jawans. The cross-country climb took six hours. By the time support reached nine lives had been lost. Can India dreaming of becoming a world power in the 21st century not have found the resources to provide air support, at least with some light and sound to confuse the enemy? I can never forget the sense of helplessness, agony and frustration that I felt that night while leading the men on the battleground. And still, at least one news portal blamed us, alleging that "the local police had allowed the men to die".

Sudhanshu Sarangi was the head of counter-insurgency operations and intelligence in Orissa till June 2009

The views expressed by the author are personal






Man proposes; nature disposes. We are seldom more vulnerable than when we feel insulated. The miracle of modern flight protected us from gravity, atmosphere, culture, geography. It made everywhere feel local, interchangeable. Nature interjects, and we encounter -- tragically for many -- the reality of thousands of miles of sepa- ration. We discover that we have not escaped from the phys- ical world after all.


Complex, connected societies are more resilient than sim- ple ones -- up to a point. During the east African droughts of the early 1990s, I saw at first hand what anthropologists and economists have long predicted: those people who had the fewest trading partners were hit hardest. Connectivity provided people with insurance: the wider the geographical area they could draw food from, the less they were hurt by a regional famine.


But beyond a certain level, connectivity becomes a hazard.

The longer and more complex the lines of communication and the more dependent we become on production and business elsewhere, the greater the potential for disruption. This is one of the lessons of the banking crisis. Impoverished mortgage defaulters in the United States -- the butterfly's wing over the Atlantic -- almost broke the glob- al economy. If the Eyjafjallajökull volcano -- by no means a mon- ster -- keeps retching, it could, in these fragile times, produce the same effect.


We have several such vulner- abilities. The most catastrophic would be an unexpected solar storm -- which causes a surge of direct current down our elec- tricity grids, taking out the trans- formers. It could happen in sec- onds; the damage and collapse would take years to reverse, if we ever recovered.


As New Scientist points out, an event like this would knacker most of the systems which keep us alive. It would take out water treatment plants and pumping stations. It would paralyse oil pumping and delivery, which would quickly bring down food supplies. It would clobber hospitals, financial systems and just about every kind of business -- even the manufacturers of can- dles and paraffin lamps. Emergency generators would function only until the oil ran out. Burnt-out transformers cannot be repaired; they must be replaced. Over the past year I've sent freedom of information (FoI) requests to electricity transmit- ters and distributors, asking them what contingency plans they have made, and whether they have stockpiled transformers to replace any destroyed by a solar storm. I haven't got to the end of it yet, but the early results suggest that they haven't.


There's a similar lack of planning for the possibility that global supplies of oil might soon peak, then go into decline.

My FoI requests to the British government reveal that it has made no contingency plans. The issue remains the preserve of beardy lentil-eaters such as, er, the US joint forces com- mand. Its latest report on possible future conflicts maintains that "a severe energy crunch is inevitable without a massive expansion of production and refining capacity".


It suggests that "by 2012, surplus oil production capacity could entirely disappear, and as early as 2015, the shortfall in output could reach nearly 10m barrels per day". A global oil shortage would soon expose the weaknesses of our complex economic systems. As the cultural anthropologist Joseph Tainter has shown, their dependence on high energy use is one of the factors that makes complex societies vulnerable to collapse.


His work has helped to overturn the old assumption that social complexity is a response to surplus energy. Instead, he proposes, complexity drives higher energy production. While complexity solves many problems -- such as reliance on an exclusively local and therefore vulnerable food supply -- it's subject to diminishing returns. In extreme cases, the cost of maintaining such systems causes them to collapse.


Tainter gives the example of the western Roman empire.In the 3rd and 4th centuries AD, the emperors Diocletian and Constantine sought to rebuild their diminished territories: "The strategy of the later Roman empire was to respond to a near-fatal challenge in the third century by increasing the size, complexity, power, and costliness of... the government and its army. ... The benefit/cost ratio of imperial government declined.
In the end the western Roman empire could no longer afford the problem of its own existence." The empire was ruined by the taxes and levies on manpower Diocletian and Constantine imposed to sustain their massive system. Tainter contrasts this with the strategies of the Byzantine empire from the 7th century onwards. Weakened by plague and re-invasion, the government responded with a programme of systematic sim- plification. Instead of maintaining and paying its army, it grant- ed soldiers land in return for hereditary military service: from then on they had to carry their own costs. It reduced the size and complexity of the administration and left people to fend for themselves. The empire survived and expanded.


A similar process is taking place in Britain today: a simplifi- cation of government in response to crisis. But while the pub- lic sector is being pared down, both government and private enterprise seek to increase the size and complexity of the rest of the economy. If the financial crisis were the only constraint we faced, this might be a sensible strategy. But the energy costs, environmental impacts and vulnerability to disruption of our super-specialised society have surely already reached the point at which they outweigh the benefits of increasing complexity.


For the third time in two years we've discovered that fly- ing is one of the weakest links in our overstretched system.

In 2008, the rising cost of fuel drove several airlines out of business. The recession compounded the damage; the volcano might ruin several more. Energy-hungry, weather-dependent, easily disrupted, a large aviation industry is one of the hard- est sectors for any society to sustain, especially one beginning to encounter a series of crises. The greater our dependence on flying, the more vulnerable we are likely to become.


The state of global oil supplies, the industry's social and environmental costs and its extreme vulnerability mean that current levels of flying -- let alone the growth the government anticipates -- cannot be maintained indefinitely. We have a choice. We can start decommissioning this industry while there is time and find ways of living happily with less of it. Or we can sit and wait for physical reality to simplify the system by more brutal means.

The Guardian


Man proposes; nature disposes. We are seldom more vulnerable than when we feel insulated. The miracle of modern flight protected us from gravity, atmosphere, culture, geography. It made everywhere feel local, interchangeable. Nature interjects, and we encounter -- tragically for many -- the reality of thousands of miles of sepa- ration. We discover that we have not escaped from the phys- ical world after all.

Complex, connected societies are more resilient than sim- ple ones -- up to a point. During the east African droughts of the early 1990s, I saw at first hand what anthropologists and economists have long predicted: those people who had the fewest trading partners were hit hardest. Connectivity provided people with insurance: the wider the geographical area they could draw food from, the less they were hurt by a regional famine.

But beyond a certain level, connectivity becomes a hazard.
The longer and more complex the lines of communication and the more dependent we become on production and business elsewhere, the greater the potential for disruption. This is one of the lessons of the banking crisis. Impoverished mortgage defaulters in the United States -- the butterfly's wing over the Atlantic -- almost broke the glob- al economy. If the Eyjafjallajökull volcano -- by no means a mon- ster -- keeps retching, it could, in these fragile times, produce the same effect.

We have several such vulner- abilities. The most catastrophic would be an unexpected solar storm -- which causes a surge of direct current down our elec- tricity grids, taking out the trans- formers. It could happen in sec- onds; the damage and collapse would take years to reverse, if we ever recovered.

As New Scientist points out, an event like this would knacker most of the systems which keep us alive. It would take out water treatment plants and pumping stations. It would paralyse oil pumping and delivery, which would quickly bring down food supplies. It would clobber hospitals, financial systems and just about every kind of business -- even the manufacturers of can- dles and paraffin lamps. Emergency generators would function only until the oil ran out. Burnt-out transformers cannot be repaired; they must be replaced. Over the past year I've sent freedom of information (FoI) requests to electricity transmit- ters and distributors, asking them what contingency plans they have made, and whether they have stockpiled transformers to replace any destroyed by a solar storm. I haven't got to the end of it yet, but the early results suggest that they haven't.

There's a similar lack of planning for the possibility that global supplies of oil might soon peak, then go into decline.
My FoI requests to the British government reveal that it has made no contingency plans. The issue remains the preserve of beardy lentil-eaters such as, er, the US joint forces com- mand. Its latest report on possible future conflicts maintains that "a severe energy crunch is inevitable without a massive expansion of production and refining capacity".

It suggests that "by 2012, surplus oil production capacity could entirely disappear, and as early as 2015, the shortfall in output could reach nearly 10m barrels per day". A global oil shortage would soon expose the weaknesses of our complex economic systems. As the cultural anthropologist Joseph Tainter has shown, their dependence on high energy use is one of the factors that makes complex societies vulnerable to collapse.

His work has helped to overturn the old assumption that social complexity is a response to surplus energy. Instead, he proposes, complexity drives higher energy production. While complexity solves many problems -- such as reliance on an exclusively local and therefore vulnerable food supply -- it's subject to diminishing returns. In extreme cases, the cost of maintaining such systems causes them to collapse.

Tainter gives the example of the western Roman empire.
In the 3rd and 4th centuries AD, the emperors Diocletian and Constantine sought to rebuild their diminished territories: "The strategy of the later Roman empire was to respond to a near-fatal challenge in the third century by increasing the size, complexity, power, and costliness of... the government and its army. ... The benefit/cost ratio of imperial government declined.
In the end the western Roman empire could no longer afford the problem of its own existence." The empire was ruined by the taxes and levies on manpower Diocletian and Constantine imposed to sustain their massive system. Tainter contrasts this with the strategies of the Byzantine empire from the 7th century onwards. Weakened by plague and re-invasion, the government responded with a programme of systematic sim- plification. Instead of maintaining and paying its army, it grant- ed soldiers land in return for hereditary military service: from then on they had to carry their own costs. It reduced the size and complexity of the administration and left people to fend for themselves. The empire survived and expanded.

A similar process is taking place in Britain today: a simplifi- cation of government in response to crisis. But while the pub- lic sector is being pared down, both government and private enterprise seek to increase the size and complexity of the rest of the economy. If the financial crisis were the only constraint we faced, this might be a sensible strategy. But the energy costs, environmental impacts and vulnerability to disruption of our super-specialised society have surely already reached the point at which they outweigh the benefits of increasing complexity.

For the third time in two years we've discovered that fly- ing is one of the weakest links in our overstretched system.
In 2008, the rising cost of fuel drove several airlines out of business. The recession compounded the damage; the volcano might ruin several more. Energy-hungry, weather-dependent, easily disrupted, a large aviation industry is one of the hard- est sectors for any society to sustain, especially one beginning to encounter a series of crises. The greater our dependence on flying, the more vulnerable we are likely to become.

The state of global oil supplies, the industry's social and environmental costs and its extreme vulnerability mean that current levels of flying -- let alone the growth the government anticipates -- cannot be maintained indefinitely. We have a choice. We can start decommissioning this industry while there is time and find ways of living happily with less of it. Or we can sit and wait for physical reality to simplify the system by more brutal means.

The Guardian






The Reserve Bank of India tightened monetary policy another notch on Tuesday. This move was expected, given the high inflation numbers and pressure on the UPA government to appear to be doing something. The small hike suggests that the RBI is in a wait-and-watch mode and not ready to hike policy rates by large amounts that could hurt investment recovery.


Higher policy rates would impact inflation mainly by two channels, the bank lending channel and the exchange rate channel. The RBI and government now need to ensure that these channels work efficiently so as not to require the RBI to continue hiking rates further. On the lending side, though banks currently face relatively low demand for credit, as the economy picks up and this demand for credit rises, higher policy rates and a higher cash reserve ratio imply that bank credit should become more expensive and demand for credit should be contained. At present, banks do not appear to be raising lending rates. As a consequence, the RBI policy may not yet hurt the growth recovery.


The second channel through which higher interest rates restrain inflation is through the exchange rate channel. A hike in interest rates can pull in capital inflows as it increases interest differentials with the rest of the world. This can help the rupee to become stronger. A stronger rupee can reduce the price of tradables. These are primarily non-food items, or the core inflation that the RBI has been worried about. Though the effect has been offset to some extent by a rising rupee, WPI manufacturing has increased because of the increase in commodity prices globally. This can be contained by tightening monetary policy as it allows rupee appreciation and hence makes the rupee price of tradables lower. The most important element in this story is a stronger rupee. If, in a scenario of international price pressures, the rupee is kept weak, the WPI for tradables goes up. This will be reflected in higher WPI-manufacturing and put pressure on the RBI to hike rates further. In the present inflationary situation, it is unlikely that the RBI is expecting that food prices will be controlled by higher interest rates. This means the exchange rate channel can be very important. In addition, controlling liquidity will become difficult if the RBI has to purchase foreign exchange to prevent appreciation.







Those two impetuous outsiders, Shashi Tharoor and Lalit Modi, may have in the course of their dramatic falling-out created a brilliant opportunity. The country's attention has turned to the murkiness that surrounds the Indian Premier League, and, in the wake of Tharoor's inglorious exit, calls have come from his supporters and detractors alike to make it worthwhile by cleaning the entire smelly Augean Stables over which Lalit Modi has till now presided with his commissioner's gilded mop and broom. But, while any investigation will naturally start with Modi, his close associates, and the nature of their business interests in the league which he was supposed to supervise, it would be a betrayal of public hopes if it were to stop there.


Even a minute of watching the IPL reveals that it has refined cricket-capitalism into an art. No act remains unendorsed, nothing stays unsold, no event un-monetised, in a manner unmatched by any other sporting league anywhere else in the world. That, of course, is not illegal or even immoral. But it does mean that the IPL's vast audience is in no doubt that there are vast amounts of money involved. These columns have long warned of how the opaque nature of most transactions in Indian cricket, and how that lack of transparency automatically creates near-monopolies, nepotism and crony capitalism topped off with a hefty dollop of political involvement. It must be established who owns what teams. Because behind the fevered discussions of which stakeholder is fronting for whom lies the cold and unpleasant fact that such benami transactions can represent fraud and money laundering on a massive scale: the defrauding not just of the income tax department, but sometimes of minority stakeholders in completely unrelated corporations. So we are talking of a variety of serious offences.


Nor can it be anything less than comprehensive. After all, the IPL, the brash, label-obsessed teenager of Indian sport, is nevertheless very much the child of its parent, the Board of Control for Cricket in India, which is accountable for the way it runs the sport. Remember, the BCCI's secretary N. Srinivasan quite openly owns the Chennai IPL franchise. The connections between the BCCI, the state cricket associations that are subordinate to it, and politicians, including many major figures in the UPA, are well-known. This tangle of connections rules out disinterested administration as an option. The conflicts of interest, the overlapping and contrasting motivations that it engenders do cricket no service.









There is a quiet, but deep crisis brewing in the state. Consider this random selection of stories that were also happening as the IPL crisis was distracting us: radioactive scrap yards in the heart of Delhi, arsenic in water in Chattarpur, more than a hundred people dead in storms in Bihar and West Bengal, a public spat between two key financial regulators, Sebi and IRDA, near misses at IGI airport, the role of the Planning Commission in determining poverty lines, and of course the ongoing Naxal crisis. Each of these important stories is a product of a peculiar institutional history and governance deficit. But they all have one crucial thing in common. One core issue at the heart of each story is: does the state have the right kind of human resources to be able to deal with the risks and challenges it faces?


We are surrounded by chemical hazards and much worse, but the state does not have minimal capacity to track them systematically. The storm in Bihar and West Bengal should have been an occasion to test our disaster management agency. But it was present more by its absence. Does it have enough people that really understand complex supply chains? Part of the Sebi- IRDA spat is a tale of turf wars, regulatory capture and indecision. But how much serious technical depth do we have in the financial sector? Is the pool sufficiently large to cope with the risks this sector will pose, let alone the challenges that will be raised by the complicated task of global rebalancing? We may pat ourselves on the back for supposedly coming out of the financial crisis less affected. But luck had as much to do with this escape as financial clairvoyance. Air Traffic Control is perpetually short of the required number of people. And the Planning Commission, despite some able individuals and consultants, is not equipped in terms of human resources to do the one thing it is supposed to do: act as a power-house think tank. In fact, not only has its mandate become fuzzy, its entire staffing structure seems deeply misaligned with the skill set it requires. And the Naxal operations consistently expose the fragility of the state's human resource capabilities.


The list can go on. How are monopolies of power created within the state because only the Planning Commission claims to have the intellectual wherewithal for complex public-private partnership contracts? If the state allowed this capacity to be more widely distributed it would have a far more healthy internal discussion. How many top class international lawyers can the state mobilise to help it on key international disputes, from the Indus Waters Treaty to climate change? How can panchayats do complex forms of contracting without technical support?


The story of state failure is not simply one of human resources. It involves a lot of things from organisational culture, to political economy and political will. But recruiting patterns in the state are misaligned with its challenges and functions. Sometimes these misalignments are small and hilarious, but also consequential. The number of secretaries in the Government of India who complain that they cannot delegate the simple act of writing a proper letter, because there is no one on their staff who can write a letter they will not have to correct, is alarmingly high. This example is quotidian, and almost comical. But such quotidian trivia takes a toll on the state.


In short, the state lacks a well thought through human resources strategy. This strategy will require the state getting clarity over what its functions are. What are the risks and vulnerabilities it needs to guard us against? Second, it will require some serious projections of human resource needs. There is simply no such analytical assessment within government. The ministry of personnel, itself an example of role misalignment, cannot even give you a proper mapping of what government has, let alone what it might need. Third, it will require a whole new set of recruitment strategies. The biggest failure of government is that it thinks there is a profession called "public service" as opposed to a whole series of specialised competencies. There are some such specialised services, but by and large, recruitment has no bearing on technical competencies that will be required. Fourth, it will of course require a massive change in organisational culture of all kinds: from dismantling existing hierarchies to new forms of delegation.


Governments often have this illusion that employees are infinitely plastic and if need be, can be retrained. You need to get the structure of recruitment right. But it is underestimating three forces. First, the pace of technological change is extraordinary, and unless the state has the resources to internalise this change it will remain far behind. And frankly, with technology you need a bunch of young eager beavers, not staid civil servants. The Indian state is going to be making huge investments in new technologies. It is not clear that there is going to be a corresponding human resources strategy to make technology effective. The capacity of government staff to use technology for enhanced efficiency, let alone mobilising complex forms of knowledge, is seriously in doubt. Second, we are living in a time where the character of risks is deeply complex. Most of those are hidden from us, even when we are suffering from them, because the state cannot even identify them. Third, the state must understand that quality matters, and it must find ways to capture them.


Not all of the state's human resource needs necessarily require state recruitment; it requires the ability to mobilise. Some solutions are easy. There is absolutely no doubt that the chemical risks we face are now extraordinary. If the state cannot map them, it should not be too difficult to get thousands of engineering and science graduates to spend a few days a year with each pantheist just mapping their environment and assessing risks. It might improve their education as well. Others will require more systemic change. There are some extraordinary people within government. Organisations are path dependent. If government does not use this moment of expansion for getting its recruitment right, we will be stuck with the consequences. One of the central functions of the state is to protect citizens against risk and vulnerability of all kinds. But it needs to make sure that its own lack of human resources is not a source of risk. No wonder we are glued to IPL. Otherwise everything reminds us of the fact that "there but for the grace of God go we".


The writer is president, Centre for Policy Research, Delhi









A volcano with an unpronounceable name may not make you think of Iceland every time you see ash. But named after a geomorphologic phenomenon, Iceland, unsurprisingly, decided that instead of paying the $5 million-plus it owes the UK and the Netherlands, it would rather export another geomorphologic variant and say, "Kiss my ash." Not just scatter the ashes of its economy over Europe; even as a wobbly EU economy cries in despair, "We said, 'Send cash, not ash!'"


The two quotes are a couple of popular exercises of Twitter wit at the queues, cancellations and apocalyptic sense of havoc the ash has inflicted on Europe. But it's filmmaker, writer, New York Times "Opinionator" Errol Morris (The Fog of War, Standard Operating Procedure, Gates of Heaven, etc) who, tweeting on Sunday, perhaps put Eyjafjallajökull in essential and epic perspective: "The volcano is the volcano's punishment for a lack of volcano worship. (I feel less threatened because I've been praying to the volcano.)"


No, they hadn't been praying to the volcano. Not those suffering its judgment. And after such ash, what forgiveness?


There's a sense of apocalypse on the ground, where the stranded millions await deliverance; they cannot see the plume and ash high up competing for airspace. (Despite some take-offs in northern Europe on Tuesday, a fresh ash cloud still jeopardises British airspace.) It is in unforeseen but temporarily intractable situations such as this that wisdom dawns on the post-industrial, uber-technological soul: that nature is not one of the arbiters of where we lastingly live, work and procreate; it is the sole arbiter.


If this isn't the apocalypse yet, it's possibly a mere regress in EU economic recovery. If it is, we're best advised to use up the days left on the significances of ash (and fog and mist), sacred and profane. For the symbolic import of ash simultaneously straddles the holiness of sacrificial ascent through cleansing and the busting of all dreams. Under the ash cloud, some may morbidly feel it marks Europe's ultimate failure to recast and remake itself — despite its best efforts as a continent of nanny states or as the superego over the world's id. There is a "valley of ashes" where all Gatsbian dreams die, but it's not necessarily the ash heap of civilisation.


Volcanic ash, in particular, is known to aggravate asthma and lung disorders. Although some of the ash from Iceland has hit the ground in Scotland, there isn't a high possibility of health hazards, given the relatively small eruption. The haplessness of millions is the result of Eyjafjallajökull affecting an extremely busy airspace and the danger of clogging and damaging jet engines that experts believe it poses (Something the loss-making airlines claim EU governments are exaggerating.). The fine ash is reaching the heights and high winds of big aircraft because of the size and strength of the gigantic steam plumes rising from the glacial ice that's melting on contact with the molten rock and magma.


However, volcanic ash has changed history. For Iceland itself, its worst natural disaster was the Laki eruption of June 1783 that killed a fifth of its then population of 50,000 and thousands in Europe, including 20,000 in the British Isles. Icelanders, for whom geology today is compulsory study in school itself, died of starvation as the livestock and crops died from the environmental damage caused by the "apocalyptic fog" that travelled to cover north Europe. After Laki, they supposedly stopped dancing — an explanation given for the sudden loss of Iceland's traditional dances.


The one eruption in the last millennium to beat Laki was Tambora in 1815 — the biggest in recorded history — when the volcanic ash killed about 10,000 people as it spread out on the ground, although Krakatoa (1883) has captured the popular imagination because it was the first major one in the age of modern communications. Together, Tambora and Mount Pinatubo (1991) twice helped push back global warming by the chill produced from their ash clouds. And, it is said that without Tambora's volcanic cloud, Mary Shelley wouldn't have written Frankenstein, since the unnatural chill had confined the Shelleys indoors, at Byron's Vila Diodati on Lake Geneva.


A white plume, geologists say, doesn't contain ash. A coloured — brown or grey — one does. The volcanic deity usually displays a cruel hand but a soft heart, with its severest punishment meted out in the immediate aftermath of the eruption. If airports are fully operational by Thursday, the stranded, no longer irreverent, would glimpse their first instalments of deliverance through the yellow fog of their dawn and dusk. After the ash, there's always forgiveness.








The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) has made money more expensive and is also trying to drain some of it out of the system. As part of its monetary policy measures, the central bank has upped the key policy rates — the repo and reverse repo rates — by 25 basis points each to 5.25 per cent and 3.75 per cent respectively. At the same time, it is also flushing out Rs 12,500 crore out of the system, through a 25 basis point increase in the Cash Reserve Ratio, or CRR, to six per cent. The RBI's reasons are clear: it needs to tame the rise in prices which is becoming "worrisome", with wholesale inflation nudging 10 per cent in March against the RBI's baseline projection of 8.5 per cent. Inflationary pressures, the RBI says, have increased since January and have become more "generalised", What's important is that wholesale inflation is no longer driven by supply side factors alone; in other words it's not just a shortage of goods that's responsible for prices moving up sharply, but also increasing demand on the part of consumers.


The RBI can afford to make money costlier right now because the economy is growing at a fairly fast clip. While factory output for February may have come in a tad lower, at 15.1 per cent year-on-year compared with a more robust 16.7 per cent in January, it's nonetheless good growth. Governor Duvvuri Subba Rao says the recovery is consolidating and is confident that the economy will grow at eight per cent this year with an upside bias. So, it's obviously confident there is no immediate danger of growth being stymied by money becoming dearer.


To be sure, there is enough money with banks today because neither individuals nor companies are really rushing to take loans; while companies have been able to access the equity markets and are also seeing improved cash flows, small borrowers have been hurt by the high inflation, including high food inflation.That's why banks are unlikely to increase interest rates on loans immediately, whether for big or small borrowers. Indeed the competition for some products such as home loans is so fierce that even big players are afraid of being priced out of the market. Although their cost of funds will go up, partly because of the higher CRR, partly because of the new method of calculating the interest rate on savings accounts and partly because they're beginning to pay customers more for term deposits, banks are unlikely to pass on this cost to customers immediately and may instead opt to take a small hit on their margins.


However, this situation may last, at best, for another three to four months, till the available money in the system starts getting used up. Some of the money will be mopped up by the government, whose borrowings this year are about 36 per cent more than they were last year. Also, the demand for credit from companies will pick up as they become more confident about expanding their businesses and add to their capacities. In the meanwhile, it is possible that interest rates will move up further, since inflation is unlikely to come down in a hurry — though it could peak by around June. (That's if the monsoon turns out to be normal and we have a good harvest; otherwise food inflation may remain high.) In any case, it's widely expected that the RBI will increase policy rates by at least another 75 basis points between now and March 2011 as it tries to rein in inflation.


The yield on the ten-year bond, which is the benchmark for interest rates in the system, is already at eight per cent and is expected to move up to 8.5 per cent by the end of the year mainly because the large quantum of government borrowings is expected to leave less money for companies in the private sector. In fact, Governor Subba Rao himself says that the crowding out of the private sector could exert pressure on interest rates. If that happens then banks will slowly start increasing rates for customers, because they will also be borrowing at higher costs, and cannot afford to hurt their margins beyond a point. So consumers will end up paying more for car loans and home loans while companies will have to fork out more for both working capital and term loans. The days of cheap money are soon going to end.


The writer is Mumbai Resident Editor of 'The Financial Express'








The presumed Sino-Indian solidarity at the BRIC summit last week in Brasilia will give place to more traditional mutual suspicion next week at the annual gathering of South Asia's leaders in Thimphu, Bhutan.


It has never been difficult for China and India to invent common rhetoric on global issues of the kind that were in play in Brasilia. But when the focus shifts to their shared periphery in Asia, it has never been easy for them to cooperate. The Sino-Indian regional tension is the sharpest when it comes to the subcontinent.


In Thimphu, the Indian media attention will be focused almost entirely on Indo-Pak relations and whether Prime Minister Manmohan Singh "shakes hands with/runs into/talks to" the Pakistani premier Yousaf Raza Gilani. India's long-term challenge at SAARC — the South Asian Association of Regional Cooperation — however, is about the impact of a rising China on the geopolitics of the subcontinent. All across Asia, the rapid growth of the Chinese economy is spilling over its borders into the adjacent regions. Amidst the deepening integration between China and its Asian neighbours, Beijing's political influence has become irresistible.


The story is no different in South Asia, where China has become the single most important external power for the region. Whether it is the exploding volumes of trade, its investments in strategic infrastructure overland as well as at sea, or its expanding military ties, China looms large over the subcontinent.


India's neighbours actively supported China's entry into SAARC as an observer at the 2005 summit in Dhaka. There has been no clear definition, however, of the role observers might acquire in the SAARC process. Not surprisingly Beijing wants a more purposeful presence at the SAARC summits, and Delhi is yet to make up its mind.


Delhi's options


Beyond the formalism of the SAARC sessions, India has three options in dealing with China's rising profile in the subcontinent.


The first is to persist with the old proposition that South Asia is India's exclusive sphere of influence and build a great wall against China's further penetration into the subcontinent. There is no hope at all that such a policy might succeed, as China becomes the largest trading partner of all the South Asian countries, including India. Meanwhile given India's problems with all its neighbours, every one of them has learnt the art of playing the "China card" against Delhi.


The second is to restructure India's neighbourhood policy. The assumption here would be that the problem has less to do with China and is all about India's inability to deepen economic cooperation with the neighbours and resolve outstanding political problems with them.


This in fact has been India's stated policy since the late 1990s. After Inder Kumar Gujral proposed a more generous policy to India's neighbours, both Atal Behari Vajpayee and Manmohan Singh have expanded on it. But Delhi has a long way to go in converting its good intentions into concrete results and engineering a structural change in its relations with its smaller neighbours.


A third option is to develop a strategy of working with China to transform the subcontinent. From a practical perspective, it is reasonable to ask: if China can't be kept out, why not try and define the terms of its engagement?


Delhi will indeed find this a bitter pill to swallow. Delhi's comfort level with Beijing may have to rise a lot more before the idea of India-China cooperation in South Asia can take off. One way of getting there, however slowly, is for Delhi and Beijing to start talking about the subject at the official level.


Bhutan in balance


The inherited legacy of mutual distrust between Delhi and Beijing finds expression in the very venue of the 16th SAARC Summit. Bhutan is the only South Asian nation that does not have diplomatic relations with China.


Bhutan's very special relationship with India, based on a bilateral treaty, adds to the complexity of India-China relations. Some in Beijing think it is Delhi's opposition that prevents Thimphu from having comprehensive ties with China. India says it is entirely up to Bhutan.


The lack of diplomatic ties, however, has not prevented contact between the two. The annual consultations on their disputed boundary, which runs a little less than 500 km, have become a vehicle for sustained bilateral engagement. Given Bhutan's geographic location, the nature of its boundary settlement with China is expected to have considerable effect on the management of the Sino-Indian border.






While the Securities and Exchange Commission's allegations that Goldman Sachs defrauded clients is certainly big news, the case also raises a far broader issue that goes to the heart of how Wall Street has strayed from its intended mission.


Wall Street's purpose, you will recall, is to raise money for industry: to finance steel mills and technology companies and, yes, even mortgages. But the collateralised debt obligations involved in the Goldman trades, like billions of dollars of similar trades sponsored by most every Wall Street firm, raised nothing for nobody. In essence, they were simply a side bet — like those in a casino — that allowed speculators to increase society's mortgage wager without financing a single house.


The mortgage investment that is the focus of the SEC's civil lawsuit against Goldman, Abacus 2007-AC1, didn't contain any actual mortgage bonds. Rather, it was made up of credit default swaps that "referenced" such bonds. Thus the investors weren't truly "investing" — they were gambling on the success or failure of the bonds that actually did own mortgages. Some parties bet that the mortgage bonds would pay off; others (notably the hedge fund manager John Paulson) bet that they would fail. But no actual bonds — and no actual mortgages — were created or owned by the parties involved.


The SEC suit charges that the bonds referenced in Goldman's Abacus deal were hand-picked (by Paulson) to fail. Goldman says that Abacus merely allowed Paulson to bet one way and investors to bet the other. But either way, is this the proper function of Wall Street? Is this the sort of activity we want within regulated (and implicitly Federal Reserve-protected) banks like Goldman?


While such investments added nothing of value to the mortgage industry, they weren't harmless. They were one reason the housing bust turned out to be more destructive than anyone predicted. Initially, remember, the Federal Reserve chairman, Ben Bernanke, and others insisted that the damage would be confined largely to subprime loans, which made up only a small part of the mortgage market. But credit default swaps greatly multiplied the subprime bet. In some cases, a single mortgage bond was referenced in dozens of synthetic securities. The net effect: investments like Abacus raised society's risk for no productive gain.


In a free-market economy, we want people making considered calculations of risk. But buyers and sellers of credit default swaps often have no stake in the underlying instrument. Such swaps function like an insurance policy. One party collects a fee for promising to, in effect, insure a bond; the other party makes the premium payments, and gets a big payoff if the bond goes bad.


Banks that have lent money to questionable borrowers use swaps as a hedge — if their loans go bad, the bank makes up for the loss by collecting on the swap. The problem is that swaps are open to anyone — even parties with nothing to insure. Allowing speculators to bet on entities in which they have no stake is similar to letting your neighbor take out an insurance policy on your life.


And even when these instruments are used by banks to hedge against potential defaults, they raise a moral hazard. Banks are less likely to scrutinise mortgages and other loans they make if they know they can reduce risk using swaps. The very ease with which derivatives allow each party to "transfer" risk means that no one party worries as much about its own risk. But, irrespective of who is holding the hot potato when the music stops, the net result is a society with more risk overall.


As it considers its financial reform options, Congress's first priority should be to end the culture that "financialises" every economic outcome, that turns every mortgage or bond issue into a lottery — often with second- and third-order securities that amount to wagers on wagers of numbing complexity.


First, it should insist that all derivatives trade on exchanges and in standard contracts — not in customised, build-to-suit arrangements like the ones Goldman created. Wall Street might have legal grounds to fight this — after all, a derivative is a contract between private parties. But the financial bailout has demonstrated that big Wall Street banks fall firmly within Washington's regulatory authority, and regulation confers implicit bailout protection. Protected entities should not be using (potentially) public capital to run non-productive gambling tables.


Second, Congress should take up the question of whether parties with no stake in the underlying instrument should be allowed to buy or sell credit default swaps. If it doesn't ban the practice, it should at least mandate that regulators set stiff capital requirements on swaps for such parties so that they will not overleverage themselves again to society's detriment. Also, tax policy could be changed to skew heavily against swaps contracts that are held for short-term periods.


The government would not look fondly on Caesar's Palace if it opened a table for wagering on corporate failure. It should not give greater encouragement for Goldman Sachs to do so.







Reviewing Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's visit to the US, the Left has concluded that he has once again "surrendered" to Washington's dictates and has "almost dittoed" the lines drawn by the US administration. The lead editorial in CPI mouthpiece New Age says that though the Washington Nuclear Security Summit could not spell out the actions stipulated against Iran, Singh has agreed to push the US line in the two meetings of BISA and BRIC. Similarly, on Indo-Pak relations, despite the posturings of not meeting his Pakistani counterpart, he had two "chance" meetings with him and even agreed to have bilateral talks during the SAARC summit. "The prime minister was so much under the pressure of the US that on very crucial issues he could not even put forth the Indian position," it said, referring to the David Coleman-Headley issue. "We are not in a position to ask Americans the actual status of this double agent," it said. The editorial was also critical of Singh's assertion that New Delhi need not produce any additional evidence to Pakistan as US intelligence and American forces have pointed out the role of Lashkar-e-Toiba and their links to al-Qaeda. "It means India is totally accepting the US perception about terrorism and even about activities of various extremist and separatist groups in our sub-continent," it says.                                  


Nuclear diplomacy

The CPM, on the other hand, questioned the purpose of the Nuclear Security Summit. Although it appears that the Obama administration takes the nuclear disarmament agenda more seriously than the Bush regime, "keeping out Iran and North Korea from what is ostensibly a meet designed for protecting nuclear materials from non-state actors or terrorists, gives the game away," it feels.


"While talking about non-state actors, the US is really using the summit to lobby with the participating countries for enhanced sanctions on Iran," it says, noting that the Iran linkage becomes apparent from the two-fold goals of the summit — to protect the stockpile of existing fissile material and to check production of new fissile material. "For the latter, justification would be built up for imposing a much harsher sanctions regime on Iran for 'violating' its NPT obligations. What should concern India is that at the same time, international pressure would also be built on India and Pakistan to sign the Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty which has hitherto been opposed here," it says. The CPM also took digs at the media for working overtime to "portray" Obama's meeting with Prime Minister Singh as "more significant and substantive" than his meeting with the Pakistani prime minister. "What was clear to a dispassionate observer was that the American president was careful to deal evenly with both the Indian and the Pakistani prime ministers. Both were given a pat on the back for listening to and abiding by the advice given by the Big Brother," it said.


Tribal concern        

Besides the government, the CPM, it seems, is devising a strategy to reach out to the tribals in a big way. This at a time when Maoists claim they have gained the support of a large section of the tribal population. The CPM is organising a National Convention on Tribal Rights in June and party leaders are now touring Adivasi belts to study their living conditions. A report in People's Democracy quotes senior leader Brinda Karat as saying that the Centre should come out with a special package for tribals to cover issues of housing, compensation for loss of livelihood in collection of forest produce and fair wages for their labour. With civil rights groups claiming that displacement due to indiscriminate mining by corporate giants was one of the biggest reason for the alienation of tribals, the CPM has also started talking about the problem in the context of increasing Maoist activities in tribal heartlands.                                                  


Compiled by Manoj C.G.







Financial sector reform can help cushion the rate hikesIn the end, RBI did what everybody was expecting it would do—hike rates. By raising the CRR, repo rate and reverse repo rates by 25 basis points each, the central bank has laid bare its growing concern about inflation—the WPI is close to 10% while the CPI has been in double-digits for a long while. However, the relatively moderate hikes in each of the rates suggest that RBI also remains concerned about growth. The global economic environment still remains fragile with the continued probability of a sovereign debt crisis in Europe and a persistently slow recovery in the US. In India, however, growth seems relatively robust, which is probably why RBI thought it prudent to raise rates to signal its intention to anchor inflationary expectations. Will the hikes help contain inflation? To the extent that the inflation has spread beyond food to core commodities, it may help. Banks haven't raised lending rates immediately but when they do, demand will be squeezed. The other mechanism that may help contain inflation is the exchange rate. A hike in rates in India will attract foreign capital flows that will appreciate the exchange rate. That should reduce the price of tradables. Of course, this mechanism will work only if RBI allows it to. Evidence from the past, however, suggests that RBI will likely intervene to prevent serious appreciation, a process that could complicate liquidity management. Ideally, RBI should avoid exchange rate management.


In any case, this set of hikes is likely to be just the first in a series of hikes through this financial year. RBI expects growth for FY11 to be 8%. The pace of the exit from monetary stimulus may well determine what the growth will actually turn out to be. As we have argued before in these columns, it must be a very gradual process that doesn't choke the real economy at any stage. Even as RBI continues to plan its interest rate strategy for the year, it would also do well to focus on financial sector reform. Credit will, no doubt, get more expensive as interest rates rise, but more competition, and newer products may give some relief to borrowers. The annual credit policy review makes the right noises about new banking licences and other forward-looking reforms—we now need to see concrete implementation, not further discussions, on these fronts. The next boost to growth has to, after all, come from the engines of private consumption and private investment.







What started out as a fight over Twitter has snowballed into the biggest controversy surrounding Indian cricket in a long time. The scandal has already felled one high-profile politician—Shashi Tharoor has resigned as minister of state for external affairs. And now it seems that Lalit Modi may just lose the powers he enjoys as commissioner and chairman of the IPL, not to mention his powers as a member of the BCCI working committee and chairman of the tours and fixtures committee of BCCI. Each of them is still claiming complete innocence against the charges levelled by the other. But the mess in the IPL is about more than just two individuals and, therefore, needs extensive cleaning up that goes beyond two resignations. In saying this, we are not in any way supporting calls for a ban on IPL. We are also not enthused by archaic tut-tutting about T20 vs test cricket. The way in which the IPL enterprise has exploded speaks as much for Indians' desire for sports/entertainment as for the great business possibilities that this desire can support. Some politicians may badmouth such aspirations, but this moralising must not be confused with the need to bring IPL's business dealings (particularly sources of finance) out into the open.


Income tax sleuths are reportedly hard on the case. Last Wednesday, they collected documents and shareholder data on IPL franchises from the BCCI headquarters. Next, the tax probe was extended to the other cities involving the franchises. Irregularities in the bidding process for teams—as made notorious in the Tharoor-Sunanda nexus—may just be the tip of the iceberg. Money laundering may be involved. There are even allegations of betting. Then, the execution of everything from player auctions to media rights may be murky as well. Shenanigans appear to be incredibly far-reaching. Tax evasion, underworld connections, foreign exchange violations—different government agencies may be needed to carry out different inquiries. In the middle of this muddle, BCCI has applied for tax exemption as a charitable entity. This is despite the fact that it has hitherto resisted making public anything from tender documents for team auctions to the rights documents relating to the Internet and IPL parties. If we needed any reminder that it's not just IPL but also its mother body which has hitherto ruled by kingly fiat, here it is. Cricket desperately needs some real democracy.








RBI's FY11 Annual Policy Statement was nicely balanced, with three broad facets. The monetary policy stance demonstrated its conviction about the need to continue steadily with monetary policy tightening, while attempting to ensure, among other things, minimal disruptions in fund flows, both to the government's already stretched market borrowing programme and to private corporations. At the same time, the statement espouses measures designed to deepen financial markets, augmenting policy transmission channels in future. The third leg of the triad was the set of measures to diffuse the effects of growth to the financially excluded.


The monetary policy stance is realistic, more dovish than the aggressive front-loaded one that many commentators have (wrongly) espoused. A little less aggressive than market expectations, RBI hiked the key LAF repo and reverse repo rates by 25 basis points (bps) and the cash reserve ratio (CRR) by another 25 bps, effective from the fortnight of April 24. The reactions of the equities and bond markets are testimony to this balanced stance.


Our impression is that RBI's view of the global environment in which the policy will operate is somewhat bleak, with potentially adverse consequences for India whether recovery is slow or rapid. Slow and uneven economic recovery will impact India due to 'significant trade, financial and sentiment linkages'. If, on the other hand, global recovery does gain momentum, commodity and energy prices will harden further. Somewhat selfishly, I hope that global recovery does indeed continue to be weak, since the headaches of higher commodities prices will be significantly harder to manage than a relatively tepid export growth.


In the domestic arena, RBI's strategy is complicated by the dilemma of managing liquidity, using two instruments with conflicting objectives: restricting surplus liquidity for monetary policy (via CRR increases) and debt management for facilitating the government's borrowing programme. Though certainly a complex task, we think that RBI will be able to conduct this symphony through the judicious use of OMOs in buying bonds, calibrating the resulting liquidity infusions in a manner consistent with broad money (M3) targets.


As to these economic targets, RBI's projections of GDP growth and bank credit flows are congruent with street estimates, but those of others are not. The March 2011 WPI inflation (at 5.5%), for instance, is lower than the range of 6-8%, but this is in line with the sequence of RBI projections in the past, and, therefore, logically to be expected. In the game of anchoring inflationary expectations, credibly signalling the defence of a target lower than an outcome that can realistically be expected might increase the effectiveness of the policy actions. Probably as a consequence, in terms of the liquidity that might facilitate inflationary pressures, the M3 target (at 17%) also seems lower than might be reasonably expected, consistent with the stated 20% bank credit growth, a calculated 20% increase in banks' SLR purchases. Acknowledging the complexities of back-calculating, there seems to be an implicit assumption that foreign exchange assets are unlikely to increase significantly.


As the years go by, the more interesting parts of the policy document are increasingly the sections on Development and Regulatory Policies, focusing on market development. These have multiple implications. For one, they strengthen the transmission channels of policy actions, enabling a more fine-tuned and nuanced articulation of policy signals that can only result in better control of market segments through which the target intermediaries (banks and NBFCs) are likely to respond. From the perspective of intermediaries (the implementers of desired reactions of the policy signals), the entities themselves can better respond to market signals if they can manage many of the risks that are exogenous to the monetary policy. This entails the availability of instrumentalities to hedge these risks. One such important instrument is interest rate futures, a key instrument for hedging base interest rate risk, which has not yet taken off in India. The policy statement proposes an expansion of the underlying bonds to shorter tenures.


Financial stability has emerged as a key objective of monetary policy formulation, both for the financial sector's sustained growth, as well as containing volatility in policy direction. In line with the emerging global opinion, there is a concerted effort to move many off-market bilateral transactions onto exchanges, with requisite settlement and clearing systems. Short-term CPs and CDs, which have large issuances but are not traded, are natural candidates. The initial step is to record the transactions, through the development of reporting platforms, earlier started for corporate bonds and their repos. Together with IRFs of shorter maturity papers, traded CPs/CDs might also have the effect of deepening term money markets, which are a key component of policy transmission channels.


The author is vice-president, business & economic research, Axis Bank. Views are personal








The PM's express concern on energy and food security at the BRIC's meeting last week is appropriate, given our national interests and emerging global profile. I have always held that food ( and water and energy) will be our contributions to the high table. It's time, therefore, to focus on agriculture, both in domestic policy and international forums like WTO and G-8/G-20.


Manmohan Singh's government managed to reverse the decline in the agricultural growth rate that took place in the 1990s, but the current agricultural growth rate of a little over 3% is incapable of sustaining the economy's high level of growth. The spurt in food demand expected at India's income levels (now above $3,000 per capita in PPP terms), the limited success of its water management programmes, hostility by globally networked NGOs towards newer seeds and pesticides, and the shortage of land staring the country in its face, have all made the problem more urgent. The country now faces food inflation. India increasingly demands both grain and non-grain food and agriculture. Its agricultural demands are growing faster than any measured agricultural growth rate anywhere in the world over a period of time. Like China, India is at present a net importer of food and agricultural products.


For example, India's edible oil imports went up by 77.7% and pulses import by 34.6% in the 2009-10 period. It is not only importing food but also subsidising imports to protect food baskets of the vulnerable section of its population, in real terms.


While most countries are being mildly protectionist in the stimulus period to protect domestic jobs and output, India has slashed tariffs and subsidised agricultural imports. It is clearly in India's interest that the rich countries and others from whom we import do not follow distortionary policies. Economists interested in agriculture, like me, have argued for mild tariffs on agricultural imports to protect domestic agricultural incomes and to incentivise domestic production. But the government's concerns about food inflation, in the country's roaring economy, do not permit such nuanced policies. Having said this, since we are paying the price at home, we must take advantage of our stance in negotiations abroad.


At the G-8, India's security concerns in the subcontinent will be its main preoccupation and it will make every effort to consolidate its position, say, in Afghanistan, where it has substantially invested in development of physical and human capital . It will also carry forward the main thrust on developing its new stance on nuclear power and the more aggressive intellectual contribution it made at the Copenhagen summit. On agriculture, India must pitch for a reform of the global system. We now need to be shoulder to shoulder with the Brazilians.


Given the larger processes within which India's agricultural trade interest stands, it is important to recognise that permanent interests do not change radically. India will need to push the stand it has developed since Cancun and Doha. It should agree to place non-tariff interventions in the negotiation basket, like limits on the interventions of its large parastatals in domestic agricultural markets, something it was willing to do in the Special Committee on Agriculture even earlier. However, it should not give up its stance that public support to infrastructure development, including markets, communication and agro-processing investments and the development of agricultural technology not be counted as aggregate measure of support (under its agreement with the WTO). India must project that it is going through a renaissance in the organisation of agriculture, agro-processing and rural infrastructure through mechanisms like self-help groups, producer companies of farmers and cooperatives. Many develop strategic alliances with corporate and public agencies. The newer strategies, developed by its agricultural policymakers, are largely in the public-private partnership mould but these require handholding by the state. Global negotiations will have to support these important initiatives for widespread agricultural and rural development. India's stand on tariff negotiations and SPS is clear.


There may be some flexibility on the tariff component but the distance to be covered on these issues is large and at some stage the world will need political initiatives to cover the last mile. Our negotiators must push the idea that we hope that the G-8 will no longer postpone the Doha deadline as in the last few meetings 'for the next year'.


The author is a former Union minister








RBI's proposal in its annual monetary policy to introduce Interest Rate Futures (IRFs) on 5-year and 2-year notional coupon bearing securities and 91-day Treasury Bills will provide some momentum to and broaden the market for this derivative product which was reintroduced in September last year on the NSE.


IRFs were introduced to allow participants to buy protection against, and bet on, interest rate changes. It is an agreement to buy or sell an underlying debt security at a fixed price on a fixed day in the future. The prices of these derivatives reflect the increase or decrease in the yield of the underlying government bonds. IRF was first introduced in the country in 2003 but was disbanded as it failed to evoke much response as banks were not allowed to hedge interest rate risks. In the global market, IRFs account for 30% of the derivatives transactions.


But now seven months after the derivative product was reintroduced, it has not been able to take off because of the illiquid nature of the instruments. Currently, the underlying instrument for IRFs are two 10-year government bonds bearing a notional interest rate of 7%. This restricts the markets and it was a long pending demand of operators for more papers. The sizes of the contract have been fixed at Rs 2 lakh, with a maximum maturity period of 12 months.Bankers are going short on bond trades fearing interest rates will rise further and result in a gradual grind up in yields.


In fact, the Technical Advisory Committee on Money, Foreign Exchange and Government Securities of RBI in 2008 had suggested that IRF should serve both buyers and sellers and facilitates transactions at a minimal cost. Banks, insurance companies, primary dealers and provident funds, who between them carry about 90% of the interest rate risks, would now benefit from the central bank's proposed 5-year and 2-year notional coupon bearing securities. The group also suggested that to ensure symmetry between cash market in government securities and IRF and also giving more liquidity to IRF, the product should be exempted from the Securities Transaction Tax, which the government will have to look at.








The Reserve Bank of India has surprised the financial markets with a rather muted increase in the policy interest rates — the repo and the reverse repo — and the Cash Reserve Ratio. Each of these is to go up by an identical 0.25 percentage point. On the eve of the policy statement, there were expectations that the hikes would be of a higher magnitude. Indeed, the RBI's recent reports on the economy including its policy-eve macroeconomic assessment clearly focussed on inflation and price stability suggesting a strong, concerted action against inflation. However, the policy statement strikes a fine balance between the needs of economic growth and price stability, even while taking into account certain special factors such as the huge government borrowing programme on the anvil. Economic recovery is becoming more broad-based, thanks to a strong showing by the industrial and service sectors. There has been a sustained increase in bank credit and in the financial resources raised by the commercial sector from non-bank sources. The economy has been resilient in the face of deficient monsoons during the second half of last year. In the circumstances, the RBI's projected GDP growth rate of 8 per cent, with an upward bias, for 2010-11 appears cautious but is consistent with the central bank's conservatism.


The baseline projection for WPI inflation for March 2011 is 5.5 per cent. That will pose significant challenges to monetary policy. Having breached the RBI's revised target of 8.5 per cent for March 2010, WPI inflation is currently poised to enter double digits. While the hope is that inflation will moderate over the medium-term, there are significant risk factors affecting both inflation and growth. Chiefly, the rising petroleum and commodity prices as well as the uncertainty about the pace and shape of global recovery and about the performance of 2010 south-west monsoon are expected to weigh down economic growth. The strong rupee appreciation is threatening the just-recovering exports as well as those who compete with imports in the domestic market. Among the non-monetary announcements, great significance is attached to the impetus given to infrastructure companies. Financial sector architecture will be improved through a new reporting platform for commercial paper and certificates of deposit. Foreign banks that are eager to expand in India will have to wait a little longer for some important clarifications. The RBI is to prepare a discussion paper on the mode of their presence by September 2010. New bank licences will be awarded only after due deliberations on another discussion paper to be got ready by July.







The curtains have finally come down in the Jessica Lal murder case, with the Supreme Court confirming the award of life imprisonment to Manu Sharma. It was 11 years ago that the son of a former Union Minister pulled the trigger on Lal in front of many eyewitnesses. This was after she refused to serve him a drink at a fashionable Delhi watering hole where she worked as a celebrity barmaid. Justice in what seemed like an open and shut case came close to being derailed when a sessions court acquitted all nine accused. This was because a string of witnesses turned hostile and the murderer was aided by a shoddy investigation (for instance, the shocking failure to recover the gun used to shoot Jessica) and a prosecution case riddled with holes. The news media and public-spirited citizens played a key role in protesting against this gross miscarriage of justice, exposing the nature of the investigation and revealing other embarrassing details related to the case. This sustained campaign eventually led the Delhi High Court to take suo motu cognisance of the acquittal and reopen the case after the police filed an appeal against the session court's judgment.


In pronouncing Manu Sharma guilty, the Delhi High Court placed considerable weight on the testimonies of the bar-cum-restaurant owner Bina Ramani and her family, as well as some of her patrons, all of whom were present when the shooting took place. The Supreme Court has done likewise, determining that the entire chain of circumstances, including Manu Sharma's behaviour following the incident, led to only one inference — the guilt of the accused. The two-member Bench had some strong words for what it saw as a 'trial by media,' pointing out that unnecessary controversies were created by some reports that had "the effect of interfering with the administration of justice." There is certainly a worrying tendency in the media to indulge in sensationalism and fanciful speculation in high-profile criminal cases. The disgraceful way in which the media reported the Aarushi murder case is fresh in memory; in the same way, there can be no defence for exaggerated or false reports on the shooting of Jessica Lal. But it is also important to acknowledge that justice was rendered thanks to the intense, even aggressive, media scrutiny over a brutal killing that shocked the conscience of the nation. While the judiciary deserves to be praised for its capacity for self-correction, a section of the broadcast and print media deserves a pat on the back for fighting for justice in the Jessica Lal case and for helping prevent it from being thwarted by those who wield power and influence.










The pilot surveys for the next Census of BPL (below-poverty-line) households are due to begin. Discussions are now on to finalise the methodology for the survey, and as the BPL Census is a matter of the subsistence and survival of hundreds of millions of India's households, it is important that we draw lessons from the experience of past BPL Censuses.


Poverty alleviation programmes in India can be categorised into universal programmes (or programmes whose beneficiaries are self-selected), and targeted programmes (or programmes that are exclusively for predetermined target groups). An example of the former is the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme, for participation in which any "rural household whose adult members volunteer to do unskilled marginal work" qualifies. Most anti-poverty programmes, however, are targeted programmes. The Public Distribution System (PDS) for the provision of fair-priced food, and the Indira Awas Yojana (IAY), India's major rural housing scheme, are examples of targeted programmes.


The criterion for targeting is, most often, whether or not a household is below the poverty line. Identifying BPL households as on the ground is thus crucial to the implementation of targeted anti-poverty schemes. Indeed, the XI Plan Working Group on Poverty Elimination Programmes has written that the "best course in future would be to rely increasingly on the aggregation of BPL Survey data for the policy decisions at the state and central level and for monitoring the progress of poverty elimination."


Since 1992, the Ministry of Rural Development (MoRD) has conducted three BPL Censuses in rural areas.


The BPL Survey of 1992 used an income criterion to determine poverty, and the annual income cut-off was fixed at Rs. 11,000 per household. The BPL Census of 1997 was conducted in two stages. First, some families were excluded on the basis of certain criteria. In the second stage, each remaining household was interviewed to determine its total consumer expenditure, and was identified as a BPL household if its per capita consumer expenditure was below the poverty line set by the Planning Commission.


Unlike the previous BPL Censuses, the BPL Census 2002 used a "score-based ranking." Each household questionnaire had two parts. Section A recorded some introductory characteristics of households. These were the "non-scoring parameters," which did not figure in the final assessment of the household's poverty status. Section B, which recorded 13 "scoring parameters," was intended to evaluate the quality of life of the households. A score (0, 1, 2, 3 or 4) was assigned for each parameter. The aggregate score of the thirteen parameters for each household was calculated and the absolute and relative position of each household in a village in respect of its poverty status was set.


The BPL Census 2002 has been widely criticised by the rural poor and their organisations, and by scholars. Even the expert group set up by the MoRD to advise it on the methodology for the next BPL Census said that, although the number of parameters needed to measure poverty had gone up from one in the 1992 survey to thirteen in 2002, the errors of exclusion and inclusion remained above acceptable limits. Targeting errors involved exclusion errors, which exclude poor households from the category of the poor, and inclusion errors, which include non-poor households in the category of the poor.


We recently conducted a study of the reliability of the BPL Census of 2002, comparing household-level data from the MoRD website for four villages (one each in Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan and Andhra Pradesh) with village-level socio-economic data collected by the Foundation for Agrarian Studies in the same villages.


There were four types of causes for exclusion and inclusion errors in BPL household identification. First, there are errors involved in the survey, i.e., in the questionnaire and in the investigation process. The selection of indicators and the scoring scheme for each parameter have rightly been criticised for their inconsistency. There were two major types of problems with respect to the stipulation of scoring parameters. The first set of problems relates to specification. With regard to many variables there are problems of mis-specification, under-specification, or vagueness, allowing for no certainty in how a household is to be classified. The second set of problems relates to gradation. It is not always true that a higher score in the questionnaire represents lower poverty in practice. For instance, with respect to the indebtedness parameter. although a household that has a few paltry household assets and no debts could be one that is in fact too poor to be considered creditworthy by even an informal-sector lender, such a household receives a score of 4, which is higher than the score assigned to, say, a rich landlord who borrows only from commercial banks.


Secondly, there was data-cooking or manipulation after the survey. Even the expert group wrote that "in actual practice no detailed survey was done and survey sheets were filled up within the office itself."


Thirdly, one of the most serious flaws in the methodology of BPL household identification was in the aggregation of scores of 13 parameters to establish the absolute and relative position of each household with respect to poverty status in a village.


Lastly, another serious cause for exclusion errors is the way cut-off scores were set for each State, district and village. According to the MoRD guidelines, the State-level cut-off was set at the level of the official Planning Commission poverty line plus 10 per cent as an allowance for including the "transient poor" in the BPL category. The determination of the cut-off for administrative divisions within the State (district, block, and village, for example) was left to State governments. As a consequence, the aggregate cut-off score for the determination of BPL households could vary across those administrative entities. In our study, in one State the cut-off varied even from village to village in the same block.


Two main methods of conducting the fourth BPL Census are now under discussion. The first, suggested by the Expert Committee chaired by N. C. Saxena, proposes a method that will identify those who will automatically be excluded, "ensure that the poorest and most vulnerable sections are automatically included," and grade the rest to identify the poorest among them. The second proposes that identification be broadly on the basis of exclusion and inclusion.


Past experience teaches us important lessons. First, any system of score-based ranking to identify the rural poor is inevitably — in theory and practice — arbitrary, unfair, and inequitable. Secondly, poverty is multi-dimensional, that is, people can be poor with respect to some or all of a range of criteria — for instance, with respect to income, hunger, health, schooling and education, housing, access to the means of sanitary living, and so on. Why then should a single classification of poverty — whether based on criteria set by the MoRD or the Planning Commission or a combination of the two — be considered adequate to measure whether a person is income-poor, nutrition-poor, education-poor, housing-poor, and so on? The natural beneficiaries of a scheme that provides housing should be the population without adequate, safe and clean housing, just as the natural target group for a scheme to provide sanitary toilets is those who have no access to such facilities. Why should access to such schemes be determined by arbitrary reference to fictitious BPL categories? And why should State governments be forced to fit welfare policies to the Procrustean bed of the MoRD's current BPL measure?


In India today, BPL and APL (above poverty line) are not used merely as analytical categories, but as categories that determine inclusion in and — more important — exclusion from anti-poverty programmes. The basic welfare of households and their access to facilities that should be basic rights — food, education, health, and sanitation, for example — is made or broken by the system of BPL-APL segregation in our administrative system. To perpetuate a system that assigns a household to a single BPL/APL category in circumstances in which poverty is multi-dimensional is not only bad economics, but unconscionable as well.


( V. K. Ramachandran is a Professor at the Indian Statistical Institute, Yoshifumi Usami is a researcher at the University of Tokyo, and B. Sarkar is a Research Assistant at the Foundation for Agrarian Studies.)








  1. Educational diplomacy could become a reality if the relevant bill gains parliamentary approval
  2. India and Australia have decided to set up an education council on the bilateral front


Australia has the potential to become the first frontier which India may reach in its possible push for educational diplomacy. Such a prospect became evident during Human Resource Development Minister Kapil Sibal's visit to Australia at this time.


The apt phraseology of educational diplomacy, as different from the economic and political aspects of foreign policy, was not formally invoked during his latest tour of Australia and New Zealand last week. However, there was no mistaking his drive in that direction.


And, in the present tense of the grammar of international politics, a newly-possible Australian role in India's domestic education sector, even if only on paper as of now, will be significant. Such significance can be explained by the fact that any kind of Australian role in India's domestic education sector, still only a proposition, will imply a qualitatively new relationship between the two countries. Right now, they still need to overcome the residual trust-deficit in their ties over India's concerns regarding its students' safety in Australia.


Interestingly, the view under a totally future perspective is that Australia's education-providers can reach out to the Indian students in India itself — instead of or in addition to their going to an Australian city as at present. However, the notion of such a reverse flow was not the sole talking point during Mr. Sibal's latest visit to Australia.


Moreover, the nascent idea of New Delhi's educational diplomacy has a potentially global dimension, although Australia can be a key partner of India. The context, of course, is the current move in New Delhi for enacting a law to allow foreign players direct access to India's domestic educational scene. On balance, the outlook for New Delhi's educational diplomacy will be determined by the outcome of India's parliamentary process over the controversial foreign universities bill.


The relevance of Canberra to this future scenario is evidently heightened by the fact that India and Australia have now decided to set up an education council on the bilateral front. Being the first of its kind for New Delhi with any country, the "historic" India-Australia Education Council may come into being by September. On other tracks, New Delhi has also begun engaging the United States and a few other education-powerhouses so as to give them access to India. India's Human Resource Development Ministry is the prime mover as of now in this diplomatic exercise.


At the "forefront" of Mr. Sibal's latest Australian tour were other key issues, essentially the safety and welfare of the Indian students in that country and the quality of education they were now receiving there. On both these questions, he sought to "sensitise" his interlocutors, ranging from Australia's Deputy Prime Minister Julia Gillard and Foreign Minister Stephen Smith to the state-level Premiers in Victoria and New South Wales. Of particular focus in this sub-text were the urgency of solutions and the necessity of detecting the root causes of the problems at stake.


As if timed for Mr. Sibal's visit, the recommendations of a relevant panel, the Bruce Baird Committee set up at the Commonwealth or federal level in Australia, were now made public. A key recommendation is that the genesis of the problems confronting the Indian students in Australia should be traced and that research will be required for this purpose. Such a prescription by the panel is expected to address the unanswered questions about the frequency of attacks on Australia-based Indians.


Beyond these topical questions lies the desire in New Delhi's Establishment to make India "the hub of knowledge in the world". In a conversation with this correspondent in Singapore, Mr. Sibal outlined the calculus of India's educational diplomacy, which could become a reality if the relevant bill were to gain parliamentary approval. He did not, of course, use the relatively-new term of educational diplomacy to refer to the vision which he spelt out as follows:


"[Under] the bill, which is not yet in the public domain, the foreign education-providers will not be allowed to repatriate any profits. ... This will ensure that only those [foreign] players who are interested in education and are serious about it will actually invest [in India]. ... About 15 per cent of the profits [of a foreign player] can go to the corpus of the institution [set up by him in India]. We can [then] ensure that even with greater profits that are made they are ploughed back into the institution [for its academic work] — not put into the corpus. These are two key provisions.


"The foreign players will be given [the same] national treatment [as will be applicable to the home-grown education-providers in India] — neither discrimination nor any favouritism. The foreign players [under this bill] are entitled to what they wish: they have complete freedom as far as syllabus is concerned. [Of course,] each of them has to go through the accreditation process. Nobody is exempted from that. We cannot have fly-by-night operators.


"The big advantage [for the foreign players] is in the human resource that is available in India. [Now,] the Fortune 500 companies are coming to India — not to give any benefit to India. There is that high-quality human resource [in India] they get benefit from. That is exactly what these [foreign educational] institutions are going to do [in India under this bill]. Some of them will be at the research-end. ... You get the same human resource [in India] at much less cost than [say] in Australia. And, [a foreign educational player] can use the human resource [in India] in global enterprises."


In Mr. Sibal's view, the foreign educational players might look for a qualitatively-new branding in India. Providing for some kind of a two-way street, the bill is also "no impediment to free tie-ups" between India's own branded institutions of management and technology, on one side, and the relevant foreign entities, on the other.


While Australia and New Zealand were the focal points of Mr. Sibal's latest effort at educational diplomacy, Singapore was no less on his radar at this time. And, the U.S. has already figured in New Delhi's copy-book. In Singapore, his public presentation on India's new thinking in the higher education sector came in for appreciation from Senior Minister of State for Trade & Industry and Education S. Iswaran and chairman of Singapore Indian Chamber of Commerce and Industry Vijay Iyengar. Unsurprisingly, Mr. Sibal observed that Singapore could perhaps partner India in one of its projects of innovation universities.









One of the most famous things written about any financial institution is the line of the American writer Matt Taibbi about Goldman Sachs: "A great vampire squid wrapped around the face of humanity, relentlessly jamming its blood funnel into anything that smells like money." It seems that the Securities and Exchange Commission, the body that polices the United States' financial industry, agrees. Friday's news that the SEC has launched a civil action against Goldman Sachs was astonishing to the world of money, not so much because the underlying events were astonishing, but because of the SEC's manifest determination to come after the world's richest and most powerful investment bank.


The sort of activity Goldman is alleged to have committed has already been the subject of a roasting for the bank's boss, Lloyd Blankfein, at the U.S. Congress hearings on the credit crunch. The nub of the charge was that Goldman was helping some clients to make huge bets against the very same mortgage-backed assets that it was energetically selling to other clients. As the inquiry chairman put it, the bank was "selling a used car with faulty brakes and then buying an insurance policy on those cars".


Mr. Blankfein did not even pretend to hide his irritation, and replied: "That's what a market is." The buyers knew what they were doing, and the sellers were free to take a different view. Is it really a market, though, if one side knows what is happening and the other doesn't? That is the argument on which the case will turn. Goldman's line of defence is already clear from its PR material. The first three sentences of its press release twice mention the fact that the fraud case concerns a transaction between "two professional institutional investors". In other words, Goldman is planning the 10CC defence: "big boys don't cry".


The very best book about this whole affair is Michael Lewis's new book The Big Short. Mr. Lewis worked at Salomon Brothers in the early 80s and wrote a brilliant book about it, Liar's Poker. Mr. Lewis now admits that he thought he was writing a furious anti-money diatribe, but his book was instead treated as a manual about how to get ahead in the amoral financial world of the 80s and after. Now he has gone back to Wall Street to write a kind of follow-up, about how the excesses he had described went unchecked for more than two decades, and ended in disaster. The heroes of the story are the people who diagnosed the credit bubble early, and bet hugely against it. The Big Short is, among other things, a blistering, detailed indictment of the way Wall Street does business, and its particular villains are the investment banks. One thing that emerges clearly is how much the banks love opaque new financial products. Collateralised debt obligations of the type involved in the Goldman case were fancy new inventions with no clear rules, no free market, and no transparency — all features that were, from the banks' point of view, great news. They could make them any way they wanted, sell them any way they wanted, price them any way they wanted. It was beautiful. It is impossible to read Mr. Lewis's book without concluding that, in the course of the CDO fiesta, lines between right and wrong were repeatedly crossed. The SEC lawsuit will turn on the much narrower issue of whether lines between legal and illegal were also crossed. My hunch would be that Goldman is much less worried about this specific case than about what else the investigators might find, once they get into the bank's affairs and start sniffing around. As Mr. Lewis puts it: "Goldman Sachs is, to put it mildly, unhelpful when asked to explain exactly what it did, and this lack of transparency extends to its shareholders." A big bank can usually ignore its shareholders, but the authorities are unlikely to just ask nicely and then leave it at that. In the U.S. it is a crime to lie to a federal agent, and it is often this that sends people to jail over financial matters. No bank wants the Feds sniffing around, asking its employees awkward questions — and although this case is for the moment only a civil suit, that could change pretty fast.


So the question is: will the Feds find anything? I am not going to hold my breath. One of Mr. Lewis's subjects notices that when his trader at Goldman has anything awkward to say, she says it over her cellphone, because landline calls from the bank are taped. "If a team of forensic accountants went over Goldman's books," one insider observes, "they'd be shocked at just how good Goldman is at hiding things." If there were to be any evidence of illegal activity at Goldman, it would be buried very, very deep. In The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, a notice ordering the demolition of someone's house is found "on display" in a lightless, stairless cellar, in the bottom of a locked filing cabinet, in a disused lavatory, with a sign on the door saying "Beware of the leopard". The SEC will be lucky if it is as obvious as that. — © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2010


(John Lanchester is the author of Whoops! Why Everyone Owes Everyone and No One Can Pay )







Wealthy families in Britain are a third less likely to have a disabled child, a statistic that reveals an alarming social gradient because poorer families unlucky enough to have such children are pushed further into poverty by the pressures of caring for them, according to research.

Despite 15 years of legislation attempting to ease the burden on affected families, the highest prevalence of childhood disability is found in poorest families, academics at Warwick University found.


Extra costs

In the paper, published in the journal BMC Pediatrics, researchers found that households with a disabled child were £50-a-week worse off than those without. This is despite the fact that the extra costs of bringing up a disabled child means families need an extra 18 per cent in income. Nationally, this amounts to a heavy burden on the 950,000 families identified in the paper as having disabled children.


"We think the official [figures] underestimates the actual numbers by 250,000 ... and the huge inequalities that the paper clearly shows that is of some concern," said Clare Blackburn of Warwick University's school of health and social studies. Disability appears to be not simply an accident of birth, she said, but a confluence of "intergenerational poverty" and modern medical progress.


Ms Blackburn said the exact extent to which "factors such as low income precede or follow disability is difficult to tell, but what we know is that poor diet and stressful living conditions do increase the chances of premature birth and low birth weight, which are indicators of future disability. Thanks to science, these babies live longer and medicine now keeps alive disabled children who may have died 10, 20 years ago."


The Warwick researchers point out that debt was more common in those families with disabled children: the parents were unable to keep up with any local property taxes, water and telephone bills, and were not likely to be able to afford basic items such as a family holiday once a year, a bicycle, or even two pairs of shoes. "It is a serious social gradient disabled families face," said Ms Blackburn. "A disabled baby needs more nappies. Families' ability to work grows difficult, and finding childcare is a real burden. Households with disabled children will depend more on social security benefits and are faced with the additional financial costs associated with caring for a disabled child."


Struggling to survive

Doctors said that Andrew Lomax's seven-year-old daughter Emily would not make it "out of hospital" aged two weeks. Born healthy, she stopped breathing as a tiny baby and those 20 minutes without oxygen left her with a severe form of cerebral palsy. She was registered blind, unable to swallow, walk and breathe without an aspirator, so her two parents gave up their jobs to look after her and their two other children.


"Our income is £15,000 a year — about a third of what it was before," said Andrew. "It's all [social] benefits, and I am a proud man who does not like to say it but family holidays come from the kindness of charities." Andrew says that he cannot afford to buy his elder son the Nintendo he craves. He is left scouring local papers for presents. His income is eaten up by fuel and petrol bills. "We have to keep the house very warm for Emily, who is susceptible to pneumonia and the cost of running the specially designed car is prohibitive. It only does six kilometres per litre. Most months we are hit by bank charges and missed payments. I try to juggle, but it is robbing Peter to pay Paul." — © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2010








We are seldom more vulnerable than when we feel insulated. The miracle of modern flight protected us from gravity, atmosphere, culture, geography. It made everywhere feel local, interchangeable. Nature interjects, and we encounter — tragically for many — the reality of thousands of miles of separation. We discover that we have not escaped from the physical world after all.


Complex, connected societies are more resilient than simple ones — up to a point. During the east African droughts of the early 1990s, I saw at first hand what anthropologists and economists have long predicted: those people who had the fewest trading partners were hit hardest. Connectivity provided people with insurance: the wider the geographical area they could draw food from, the less they were hurt by a regional famine.


But beyond a certain level, connectivity becomes a hazard. The longer and more complex the lines of communication and the more dependent we become on production and business elsewhere, the greater the potential for disruption. This is one of the lessons of the banking crisis. A few thousand impoverished mortgage defaulters in the United States — the butterfly's wing over the Atlantic — almost broke the global economy. If the Eyjafjallajokull volcano — by no means a monster — keeps retching it could, in these fragile times, produce the same effect.


Several vulnerabilities

We have several such vulnerabilities. The most catastrophic would be an unexpected coronal mass ejection — a solar storm — which causes a surge of direct current down our electricity grids, taking out the transformers. It could happen in seconds; the damage and collapse would take years to reverse, if we ever recovered. We would soon become aware of our dependence on electricity: an asset which, like oxygen, we notice only when it fails.


As New Scientist magazine points out, an event like this would knacker most of the systems which keep us alive. It would take out water treatment plants and pumping stations. It would paralyse oil pumping and delivery, which would quickly bring down food supplies. It would clobber hospitals, financial systems and just about every kind of business — even the manufacturers of candles and paraffin lamps. Emergency generators would function only until the oil ran out. There is a similar lack of planning for the possibility that global supplies of oil might soon peak then go into decline. A global oil shortage would soon expose the weaknesses of our complex economic systems. As cultural anthropologist Joseph Tainter has shown, their dependence on high energy use is one of the factors that makes complex societies vulnerable to collapse.


Energy dependence

His work has helped to overturn the old assumption that social complexity is a response to surplus energy. Instead, he proposes, complexity drives higher energy production. While complexity solves many problems — such as reliance on an exclusively local and therefore vulnerable food supply — it is subject to diminishing returns. In extreme cases the cost of maintaining such systems causes them to collapse.


Lessons from the empire


Mr. Tainter gives the example of the western Roman empire. In the third and fourth centuries AD, the emperors Diocletian and Constantine sought to rebuild their diminished territories: "The strategy of the later Roman empire was to respond to a near-fatal challenge in the third century by increasing the size, complexity, power, and costliness of ... the government and its army. ... The benefit/cost ratio of imperial government declined. In the end the western Roman empire could no longer afford the problem of its own existence." The empire was ruined by the taxes and levies on manpower Diocletian and Constantine imposed to sustain their massive system. Invasion and collapse were the inevitable result.


He contrasts this with the strategies of the Byzantine empire from the seventh century onwards. Weakened by plague and re-invasion, the government responded with a programme of systematic simplification. Instead of maintaining and paying its army, it granted soldiers land in return for hereditary military service: from then on they had to carry their own costs. It reduced the size and complexity of the administration and left people to fend for themselves. The empire survived and expanded.


A similar process is taking place in the U.K. today: a simplification of government in response to crisis. But while the public sector is being pared down, both government and private enterprise seek to increase the size and complexity of the rest of the economy. If the financial crisis were the only constraint faced, this might be a sensible strategy. But the energy costs, environmental impacts and vulnerability to disruption of a super-specialised society have surely already reached the point at which they outweigh the benefits of increasing complexity.


Weakest link

For the third time in two years we have discovered that flying is one of the weakest links in our overstretched system. In 2008 the rising cost of fuel drove several airlines out of business. The recession compounded the damage; the volcano might ruin several more. Energy-hungry, weather-dependent, easily disrupted, a large aviation industry is one of the hardest sectors for any society to sustain, especially one beginning to encounter a series of crises. The greater our dependence on flying, the more vulnerable we are likely to become.


Over the past few days people living under the flight paths have seen the future, and they like it. The state of global oil supplies, the industry's social and environmental costs and its extreme vulnerability mean that current levels of flying — let alone the growth the U.K. government anticipates — cannot be maintained indefinitely.


We have a choice. We can start decommissioning this industry while there is time and find ways of living happily with less of it. Or we can sit and wait for physical reality to simplify the system by more brutal means. — © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2010 i









The Reserve Bank of India's monetary policy statement for 2010-11 has come as a relief to borrowers and corporate bodies alike. At least for the moment. Though the RBI has increased the repo rate (which banks pay to borrow money from the RBI) and reverse repo rate (which banks are paid to park their money with the RBI) and increased the cash reserve ratio (money that is impounded by the RBI) — all by just 0.25 per cent — it has said if the situation demands it will make further changes mid-way as it did at the end of March, five weeks before the scheduled credit policy announcement. The RBI has said its soft policy rate (what it calls the velvet policy) will continue, as it sees inflation moderating to 5.5 per cent by March 2011 and GDP growth for 2010 at eight per cent. So home, personal, consumer and other loan rates are expected to remain untouched for the moment as banks see no need to hike them right now. There is still enough liquidity in the system — an estimated Rs 32,000 crores after the last CRR hike in January — to meet both industry and government demands. That the banks are comfortable was evident when HDFC last week announced its teaser rate of 8.5 per cent for home loans.

However, the government's borrowing, particularly for unproductive non-Plan expenditure, could prove to be a spoiler. RBI governor D. Subbarao has given the government a word of caution about its borrowings, and the need for qualitative fiscal consolidation. Government borrowings are still very high, and if this continues it might lessen funds available to the private sector, possibly triggering higher interest rates. In his policy statement, the RBI chief clearly told the government that it needs to shift from one-off gains such as farm loan waivers and the Sixth Pay Commission award, and move towards structural improvements on both the tax and expenditure sides while moving on to the path of fiscal consolidation.

On controlling inflation, the RBI's optimism rests largely on the expectation of a good monsoon, and of industry and business doing well. The industrial production index has been showing robust growth, but the resurgence is not across the board. One hopes the RBI will also factor in the not-so-robust growth in the non-consumer durables and basic goods sector. Growth in these areas could be affected by the growing Maoist insurgency in the mineral-rich belt of Eastern India and parts of Maharashtra.

Having said this, India is well onto the eight per cent growth path, which is better than what the highly developed countries have achieved. There are some imponderables that could stymie this — a bad monsoon and uncertainty in the global financial sector. While recovery in India is supported predominantly by domestic demand, trade, financial and sentiment linkages and the uncertain global environment could adversely impact the Indian economy. On the other hand, if the developed world sees a resurgence in growth it could lead to a hardening of commodity prices. Crude prices are already high. This could lead to imported inflation domestically. Another factor that could add to inflationary pressures is capital inflows. As the developed world continues its easy money policy, this money will find its way to the emerging economies which are growing the fastest. Any excessive capital flows to India can only strengthen the rupee, which has already appreciated in double digits over the last one year. This could threaten exports and producers who have to compete with imports in domestic markets. The coming months, therefore, could see the RBI constantly juggling pressures to keep inflation at tolerable levels while not putting speedbreakers in the way of economic growth.







Two events in the last few days deserve special attention of the readers — one, a meeting of the Maha Panchayat of 36 "khaps", or gotras, in Kurushetra, Haryana, on April 13, to protest against the death sentence of awarded to the five accused in an "honour killing" case and the other a march to Jaipur being organised by Rajasthan's Gujjar community to demand five per cent special quota within the quota of other backward classes (OBCs). Though unrelated, both these events provide us an opportunity to take note of certain disturbing trends of social and political behaviour in our democracy and to consider what immediate steps are required to deal with such challenges to the authority of the Constitution and the law.

Let us first take the case of the Maha Panchayat in Haryana. The facts of the case are shocking, even sickening, to any civilised person. A young couple, Manoj, 23, and Babli, 19, were killed allegedly on the diktat of the panchayat two months after their wedding in April 2007. The two had eloped to Chandigarh where they got married in a temple as their parents and "khap" were opposed to their marriage on the ground that they belonged to the same gotra, Banwala. The additional district and sessions judge, Karnal, had sentenced five of the culprits to death, one to life imprisonment and another to seven years imprisonment. The "khap" has come out in angry protest against the court's judgment and has demanded that the government take necessary steps to get the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955, amended so that all matters relating to "social life and moral responsibility" are dealt exclusively by khap panchayats according to the traditions of their gotras. One of the most disturbing aspects of the speeches made at the Maha Panchayat in the Manoj-Babli case is that many among those who protested vigorously against the court's order were educated and well-to-do people.

It is hard to believe that in a civilised society like ours, and at a time when India is emerging as one of the shining examples of technological progress, a young couple could be quietly murdered by hirelings for the simple reason that they chose to get married. Incidents like these are the real challenge to our democracy and if they are allowed to go unchecked and unpunished, India's claim to be the largest genuine democracy in the world may not be accepted by those who believe in human rights and liberties.

We in India were very quick to condemn the Taliban rule in Afghanistan as barbaric, but we often seem to forget that such mock trials and kangaroo courts are active in our country also — in a India that has a rich cultural heritage, with progressive and tolerant traditions. What is equally surprising is that our politicians have not taken serious note of what happened in the Maha Sabha. Obviously, politicians do not want to risk losing the votes of the khaps and Maha Sabhas and prefer to leave the issue to the courts.

I SHALL now turn to the Gujjar agitation for the five per cent sub-quota. Perhaps, Gujjars have a legitimate grievance that they have not received what they deserve and that the crows have been eating away what was intended for the sparrows.

The Gujjar agitation is not an isolated one in India. There have been some demands for quotas within quota in other parts of the country too and certain concessions have been made by some state governments. But now we find that every time an attempt is made to improve the lot of the really disadvantaged backward classes, there is a simultaneous demand for sub-quotas for the most backward categories within that group. We find such demands being made by certain political leaders even in the case of the one-third representation for women in the legislatures for which a bill has already been introduced in the Rajya Sabha.

Perhaps former Prime Minister V.P. Singh believed that it was politically expedient to introduce the reservation system for the other backward communities without really examining how it could be implemented without provoking demands for sub-quotas from all those who claim to be the "most backward group" of the OBCs. Very often governments prefer to yield to political pressure from their votebanks and if this trend is allowed to continue we would have facilitated further hardening of the caste and sub-caste divides in the Hindu community. And eventually this can lead to irreparable consequences affecting national integration and unity of the whole country.

If the government sincerely accepts that the reservation system has not succeeded inadequately delivering social justice expected of it to the deserving communities, the right thing for the government to do is to examine the whole question of reservation and examine what can be done to ensure protection of the legitimate claims of those who are really suffering from various handicaps without having to create sub-quotas.

In fact, the Gujjar agitation has pointed to the need for such an introspection by the government and for appointing a committee of experts to make recommendations for protecting the interests of the most deserving among the backward sections. If on the other hand the government yields to pressure from the agitators and recognises such sub-quotas, the future governments will find that the entire reservation system has become administratively unimplementable — If nothing else, just corruption on a massive scale would have neutralised the benefits of reservation because of the proliferation of sub-quotas.

P.C. Alexander is a former governor of Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra







For the last five weeks Thailand's political crisis has hit a new high with political temperatures rising continually. Even though the protests have dwindled, fissures within the society indicate new divides that are likely to keep the unrest alive.

There is already an attempt to compartmentalise the ongoing political contestation for space as a class struggle. In fact, a deeper look at the issues that have shaped the political scenario of Thailand indicate a far more complex set of issues. The schisms that are evident in Thai politics today resonate the divides between modernists and traditionalists, those who back the constitutional monarchy and the republicans opposing the royal influence and also between competing business interests over political space and resources. The crisis that has prevailed in Thailand is more indicative of an unconsolidated democratic reform process than a mere class struggle.

The crisis which began on March 12, 2010, with large groups of peasants trooping into Bangkok to paralyse the city took a bizarre turn on the 16th when the pro-Thaksin Shinawatra (Red Shirts) and their supporters contributed 10 CC of blood to throw outside government offices as a mark of protest. It signalled the fact that the protesters were willing to fight till the last drop of their blood. Both these events were in response to a ruling by the Thai Supreme Court in February 2010 that led to the confiscation of $1.5 billion of Shinawatra's wealth, which he had accumulated through the abuse of his office.

While some writers have critically examined the Thai political crisis as a class struggle, it would be myopic to look at it merely as an elite versus rural divide. While this may be one of the indicators, it is not the only issue that is leading to the current political situation. There are two critical factors that are contraindicative of a class struggle.

First, in Thailand, the elite are divided on ethnic lines and their cohesion has always been very fragile. Due to this, the political leadership has been unable to manage the elites. In Thailand, as in many other Southeast Asian countries, elites have competed against each other for state power and resources. In fact, if one looks at the history of political leadership in Thailand it has always been elite-led with regular attempts to undermine each other for political and economic space. Even the current crisis is a clear divide between two huge business groups and their supporters. While the pro-Thaksin group draws heavily on rural peasants from its north and northeast support base of the Thai Rak Thai (TRT) party, the Yellow Shirts comprise urban educated middle classes and lower middle class groups.

Second, Shinawatra was as committed to the neo-liberal economic model as all other political leaders in Thailand. To portray Shinawatra as a modern day version of Che Guevara or Fidel Castro would be utterly erroneous. In fact, it was against his neo-liberal measures that in 2004 about 200,000 employees of the state-run Electrical Generating Authority of Thailand went on a massive strike against privatisation. Shinawatra's brand of politics was based on a combination of both populist measures and corporatisation. On the one hand he initiated a universal healthcare programme but simultaneously sold off state-led enterprises to accommodate Western corporate interests.

In fact during his second term, his economic policies shifted from the populism of his first term and focused on neo-liberal restructuring. Since the domestic economic scenario had shown some signs of recovery after the onslaught of the 1997 crisis, Shinawatra's second term actually sidelined labour interests and focused on business-driven wealth accumulation. During his first term in office Shinawatra had opposed privatisation as part of the International Monetary Fund package to overcome the effects of the crisis. However, in his second term he realigned his economic priorities and began to push privatisation agendas.

In fact one of the reasons why Shinawatra wields such control over the peasants is not only due to his own economic measures, but because he had been able to co-opt into the TRT party former members of the dissolved Communist Party of Thailand who actually held the support base among the peasants in the north and northeast of Thailand. Added to this, the group also comprised of big business interests and republican political elements.

In fact, if Shinawatra is the leader he is being touted to be, then he should end the self-imposed exile, return to Thailand, face the two-year prison sentence for charges of corruption and lead his party and supporters to a victory. (Asked to move out of Dubai for fomenting political unrest within Thailand, he has now found a safe haven in Switzerland.)

The Western support for Shinawatra is also driving this wedge further — Shinawatra remained a loyal ally of the US in the war against terrorism and also sought to push forward the agenda of the US-Thai Free Trade Agreement which would have ensured several advantages for Thailand. Another factor is that Shinawatra's use of the military to subdue provincial unrest in southern Thailand suited the US administration under George W. Bush with its emphasis on the war on terrorism.

The issue is not merely about Shinawatra and his brand of populism but more critically about deep complexities of the unconsolidated democracy that Thailand has. In the entire crisis, the 2007 Constitution becomes important — which was passed through a national referendum in August 2007. Though this Constitution had a greater mandate, its disadvantage was that it was passed under a military government and not an elected one. As against the 1997 Constitution which was considered to be a people's Constitution, the 2007 Constitution was seen as a reversal of democratic norms.

This new Constitution gave legitimacy to limiting the space for the electoral process and placed an emphasis on appointment to political offices. It changed the system back to one where constituencies could have multiple members and this has now led to the return of fractious party politics. As a result, the alliances and coalitions formed are weak and divided. Moreover, in the senate of 150-member senate, 76 members are elected — on the basis of one senator per province. The rest 74 are to be appointed. The Yellow Shirts and their leadership, as endorsed by the ruling Democrat Party, in an attempt to reverse the Shinawatra effect, have reversed the process of democratic reforms. Until this is addressed there is likely to be a continuation of the crisis one has witnessed over the last few years.

Dr Shankari Sundararaman is an associate professor of Southeast Asian Studies at the School of International Studies, JNU

Shankari Sundararaman






We have seen how contact with sense objects produces a variety of experiences known as pairs of opposites, such as heat and cold, joy and sorrow. It is only when we consider these experiences to be real that we get into difficulty. We perceive something and automatically lend reality to it. According to Vedanta, these experiences are all anitya, impermanent, and are, therefore, considered unreal. To the extent we give reality to something, to that extent it gains the capacity to give us delight or sorrow. However, once we realise that these experiences are illusory, they automatically lose their power over us.

For example, when we mistake a rope for a snake, we fear the snake. If we come to know that the snake does not exist, that it is only a rope, our fear disappears. In the same way, when we watch a movie we become so absorbed in it that we laugh, cry, become angry and suddenly when the movie ends we realise that none of it was real. The same holds true for our dreams. They seem so real while we are in the dream, but the moment we wake up we dismiss the dream readily.

In addition to our misconceptions about what is real or permanent as opposed to what is unreal or impermanent, we create many expectations and illusions for ourselves. These are all caused by the notion that the body is real. We have given a high degree of reality to this phenomenal life and, therefore, make every issue a matter of life and death, a question of prestige.

When we give that kind of reality to life, intense reactions are bound to be there. If we do not give any reality to it, like the movie illusion, it is over. Lord Krishna explains this to Arjuna in the following verse:
"There is no existence for the unreal, and the Real never ceases to be. Thus, the Knowers of Truth have ascertained the nature of what is real and what is unreal." (II:16)

This verse clearly defines the words "real" and "unreal". Of course, we have our own definitions of real and unreal. We think that whatever we see, perceive, and experience is real. If we define reality in this way, then, of course, the world is real. But we find that this is not a definition that can stand up to any kind of logic. If our reasoning is "what is seen is real" or, philosophically speaking, "perceptibility is reality", our experiences will constantly contradict it. For example, we see the sun rising and setting, we see the waxing and waning of the moon, but we know for a fact that none of it is real.

We do not say that our dream experiences of taste and touch are real. It is true that perceptibility is there, but that does not mean that it is real. In fact, a majority of people may claim that to perceive something with our senses makes it real, but reality is not determined by a majority view. Neither is utility an indicator of reality. For example, we may use the apparent movement of the sun as it rises and sets to measure time, but that does not mean that the sun actually rises and sets.

That which is real is not subject to contradiction, or negation. It never ceases to exist. That which is there one moment and gone the next is only an illusion. Sometimes the unreal may seem to have an existence, but that is only in our mind. For example, take the snake seen in a rope — if the snake were real it would not disappear when the rope is seen.

Only the seers of truth have analysed and understood what is real and what is unreal. All our experiences gathered at the level of body mind and intellect, or through the technology of telescopes or microscopes, are conditioned by the very instruments used to perceive them. We do not see them as they actually are. Thus if we want to give any reality to our experiences they can be "relatively real" only.

The same holds true for all of our sorrows and problems in life. We have assigned reality to them and, therefore, they have gained the power to affect our judgment and happiness, clouding the vision of the self within. We can see this from our own experiences at home and at work. When we look deep into our problems, we discover that they are merely miscommunications or misunderstandings coloured by the play of our personal likes and dislikes.

Actually, there are no problems in life.

That is a fact. If we forget our personal likes and dislikes, even for a moment, all problems disappear. We create our entire world from problems that we have manufactured out of a sense of misunderstanding of what is real and what is unreal.

— Swami Tejomayananda, head of Chinmaya Mission Worldwide, is an orator, poet, singer, composer and storyteller. To find out more about Chinmaya Mission, visit
© Central Chinmaya Mission Trust.

Swami Tejomayananda








Reserve Bank governor Duvvuri Subbarao is too much of a gentleman to tell his political bosses in Delhi to go take a walk. This is why when inflation is nudging 10% and likely to rise higher, when government borrowing is running high, and asset prices are bloating he has chosen to be accommodative in his monetary policy. The decision to raise repo rates and the cash reserve ratio (CRR) by 0.25% is neither here nor there. As a signal, it is too weak to register on anyone's radar. As a measure to tighten money, it means nothing.


For months now, it has been clear that the real battle is against runaway inflation. Households have been watching food prices soar, and now other consumer prices are also taking wing. The Reserve Bank has acknowledged as much: "Inflation, which was earlier driven entirely by supply side factors, is now getting increasingly generalised."


But the locking up of Rs12,500 crore through CRR is not enough to tell all that the RBI is getting into battle gear on inflation. The reason is clear. The government has a huge borrowing programme for 2010-11, and if rates are raised too quickly, the interest bill will rise sharply. Even though the budget announced a lower borrowing target for 2010-11, the government will be issuing more fresh securities this year for various technical reasons. This is why the RBI sees managing this year's borrowing target as a "bigger challenge" than last year's.


The RBI also seems to be pussyfooting around the fact that asset prices are being inflated by excess capital inflows. Thanks to unnecessary caps in several sectors (telecom, and insurance come to mind) and weak movement on reforms, capital flows are going more into stocks and property than job-creating investments. This is fuelling a bubble that can only harm the economy at some point when it bursts.


The real hazard of not raising rates sharply is that it allows New Delhi to pretend that all is well. The government has done little to promote reforms — especially in oil prices — and fiscal consolidation is dependent on the sale of public sector equity.


That's probably one more reason why Subbarao didn't raise rates as much as he needed to. The government needs a buoyant stock market to sell Rs40,000 crore of public sector equity this year, and higher interest rates are inimical to market buoyancy. Subbarao should have done more.







In the last few days, Opposition parties have managed to nail the government — Shashi Tharoor's resignation was just the icing — several times. The proposed cut motion in the finance bill, a parliamentary practice to convey displeasure over the rise in prices, especially that of foodgrains, and the stringent criticism on the handling of the Maoist menace, especially in the wake of the killing of 76 CRPF personnel at Dantewada, has suddenly pushed the UPA government on the back foot. The euphoria of the 2009 election victory is now gone. Till recently, it seemed as if the Congress-led government was in a comfortable position — with a tally of 206 Lok Sabha seats — and without the pin-pricks of its communist allies.


The Opposition parties seemed to be in a shambles, with the BJP being caught up in many inconsequential internal squabbles, and the communists marginalised because of their reduced numbers in the Lok Sabha. But the turnaround has been swift. It is the BJP and the communists who are now relentlessly attacking the government. For a brief while, when the women's reservation bill was being introduced in the Rajya Sabha, the Congress, the BJP and the communists seemed to exude some bonhomie, but the unanimity did not extend to other issues.


The improvement in Opposition unity will, of course, allow the Congress to pretend that everybody is ganging up against the party and that anti-Congressism is the only ideology of its opponents. But that does not wash. While the Opposition looks united for now, the UPA and its allies are not exactly friends. First, the women's reservation bill drove a wedge between the Congress and the Yadavs. The support of Lalu Prasad Yadav's Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) and Mulayam Singh Yadav's Samajwadi Party (SP) can no longer be taken for granted. Second, the IPL controversy has opened up the fault-lines between the Congress and Sharad Pawar's Nationalist Congress Party (NCP).


The united Opposition and the divided UPA do not as yet add up to political instability of any kind. UPA-2 government is in no mortal danger but it cannot hope to drive roughshod over its allies and the Opposition. The tensile situation is an indicator of healthy democratic politics. This will force the UPA to listen to its allies and pay attention to the Opposition. It is now for the Opposition parties to keep doing the good work they are mandated to do — and keep the government on its toes.







After a week of breathless media speculation, minister of state for external affairs Shashi Tharoor has resigned. This is a shame, and it is a disappointing tale of missed opportunities for all parties


First, Tharoor himself. It has been obvious that the long knives are out for him — a warning to "beware the Ides of April" would have been appropriate. There have been too many silly, manufactured controversies about Tharoor's posts on Twitter. The fact that there was media uproar about trivial issues suggested that these were planted in the pliant media. Presumably, there is professional jealousy in the Congress party, because Tharoor has not gone through the mill pressing the flesh and building up IOUs in smoke-filled backrooms. He is the quintessential outsider, and machine politicians simply hate such people.


Besides, it is likely there was personal animosity as well. Tharoor is a dashing person, a good writer and speaker, and popular with women. The joke in Trivandrum constituency was that there was no way Tharoor could lose, as he was guaranteed 50% of the votes — every one of the female votes, young or old!


In Malayalam, there is a proverb about all conflict finally boiling down to "kanakam or kamini", that is, either money or women. Surely there were elements of both in the flap over the cricket team that led to Tharoor's resignation. There was the mysterious Sunanda whom Shashi had been squiring around Delhi; and the matter of the free equity she got in the team for value that was not obvious to the casual observer.


Having been acquainted with the Tharoor family for years, I believe Shashi would be offended if someone tried to bribe him.


Nevertheless, an impression has been put about that Tharoor's alleged woman friend has been given money in order to influence Tharoor. This is unfortunate and it doesn't stand to reason: why would someone as smart as Shashi hurt his political career doing something as blatant and stupid as this? The obvious conclusion is that he was framed. Shashi has been crudely smeared. Fortunately, this is not the last we will hear from him — he's too good a person to keep down.


Next, the Congress party. Did it suddenly become the absolute paragon of virtue? There are the small matters of Quattrochi's ill-gotten gains, and the vast amounts allegedly squirrelled away in numbered Swiss bank accounts, which the Congress resolutely refuses to investigate. But it's quoting scripture when it comes to poor Tharoor?


In any case — although I realise this is a bad question — exactly how much money was at stake? A piddling Rs70 crore or so! There are serving cabinet ministers who have been accused of siphoning off thousands of crores in a spectrum auction, or in dubious overseas transactions using participatory notes. There are politicians caught on camera allegedly bribing opposition MPs in 2008's infamous vote of confidence, but they all got off scot-free. There is an election commissioner whose boss wrote to the government recommending that he not be given any office with any responsibility.


Not one of these people has been asked to resign until their names were cleared in investigations: they have brazened it out. The only person who was sacrificed was Natwar Singh. It is quite likely that he was made a scapegoat to protect others — I wonder if it is the same with Shashi Tharoor.


There is a sinister possibility — that Tharoor was getting rather too popular for his own good. There is an axiom in the Congress party whereby non-dynasty people have a glass ceiling. As soon as someone is viewed as a threat of even the smallest kind to the dynasty scion, well, he is cut to size.


Third, the Opposition. I have no idea why the BJP and the Communists got their knickers in a twist about Tharoor. He is not even an ideological Congresswallah, and might possibly have been persuaded to switch horses as the Congress' fortunes diminished. Lost that chance.


Finally, the citizens of Tharoor's constituency. Instead of standing by their MP — after all, he is certainly more appealing than all the other candidates put together — the good citizens of Trivandrum have either been indifferent or have been secretly enjoying their schadenfraude. Wake up and smell the coffee, it's your constituency's loss!


All in all, a tragic situation. The external affairs ministry is notoriously bad at negotiation, and to lose the one person there who is on first-name terms with most world leaders is not exactly a good thing. I had hoped Tharoor would stay on. Maybe he can be rehabilitated after clearing his name







So, two-thirds of French people don't think I should stand for re-election in 2012. Well, what do you expect? They see the guy with the best job, the prettiest wife, the loveliest home and you also want them to like me!
I've got news for my countrymen. A president's life is not fun. All the tedious state dinners, the pomp, I could do without them. And when I'm no longer president I can assure you that when I go to conferences, I'll make damn sure I get paid!

Now, when Carla tells me I shouldn't stand, she's saying that as a woman who loves her husband and is worried. C'est normal! Whatever I decide, she'll stand by me. The real issue is: Do I want it? If you don't do this with some dream in mind, it's a waste of time. Power addiction? I can handle the detox any day!

Really, you think this job is fun? Every time Barack gives Netanyahu a hard time, the phone rings at the Élysée. It's Netanyahu, of course: "Oh, Nicolas, Barack's on my case again." And I tell him, "If you expect a single word from me against Obama, you're wrong! I tell him, you treated Biden badly, that's not right. I ask him:


What's the point of Israel winning every war and losing the communication war?

And Iran. Ooh la la! All these advisers telling me Khamenei is not Ahmadinejad and Ahmadinejad is not Larijani. C'est du baloney! Du pur baloney! They're all the same band of liars playing with us like a cat with a ball of wool.

So I tell Barack to be firm. And he says, Nicolas, we need the Chinese. The Chinese! I'm a trained lawyer and I tell him, Barack, I could bill you beaucoup hours while you wait for the Middle Kingdom!
Barack's a good guy. He's learning. The press portrays us as two fighting cocks! C'est du twaddle! They need to write something, I suppose. They can't write up their dumb opinion polls all the time! And Michelle, I like her a lot, she runs deep, she knows our work is frustrating. They brought Gramma with them to Europe — that's a very European idea. Now, where was I?

You know, when I was president of Europe I thought I'd go crazy. It's ghastly, the way decisions are made. And it's worse at the United Nations. Du blah blah blah! When I become president of the G-20 and the G-8 in 2011, ça va danser!

I said you need dreams in this job. Well, mine is a new Bretton Woods, a new international monetary order, an end to the dollar as the primary reserve currency, taxes on financial market transactions — and that's just for the amuse-bouche!

Woah, says Barack, that's very interesting Nicolas, but calm down. Calm down! Our financial system looks as convincing as the Maginot Line. Does it make sense to have 50% gyrations between the dollar and euro? Does it make sense to ask the Middle Kingdom to appreciate the yuan when the dollar rules? Sometimes the US reminds me of the friend who invites you to dinner and then gobbles the appetiser, main course and dessert!

But I love America. My dad always told me, go to America, you've got more chance of being elected there. Maybe I'll take over from Bloomberg some day!

That's why I brought France back into NATO, to show we are with you, as we are in Afghanistan. And I tell Barack, as a friend I have the right to disagree. Even though I'm French, I can sometimes be right!
Yes, change! Lower taxes, autonomous universities, the end of the 35-hour week, pension reform coming, 100,000 functionaries gone — this is modernising France! If I'd done one reform, unions would have focussed resistance on that, but because I'm doing 100, they don't know where to turn!

There's only one opinion poll I'm interested in: the history books. The rest is piffle. Du piffle pur!










Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari showed his characteristic streak of wiliness and an exaggerated bravado to make a setback look like an achievement when he smiled before cameras while signing the historic 18th Amendment to the country's 1973 Constitution which took away his controversial powers, including the one to sack the Prime Minister, to dissolve the National Assembly and appoint the Chief of Army Staff. For a man who has manipulated his way to the top, the loss of so much authority in one stroke must have made him shed silent tears. But he was not the one to let his disappointment show. In fact, he cited the passage of this amendment as one of his signal achievements.


Zardari's loss today is Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani's gain, but how much of a difference this would make to Indo-Pak relations is anybody's guess. India has, for quite some time, voiced the view that it is confused who or what is the real power centre in Pakistan, and consequently who it should do business with. When the Mumbai terror attacks occurred in November 2008, while the Pakistan government blamed it on non-State actors, the needle of suspicion pointed also towards the army which was a State actor. Considering that there are signs that Zardari has been made to pay the price for being less close to the army establishment than Gilani is, little would change for India with the army continuing to control the levers of power through remote control. It would indeed be unrealistic to expect Gilani to assume extraordinary powers, with the army breathing down his neck.


The behind-the-scene tug of war between the main political actors in the Pakistani high drama would predictably continue despite the constitutional amendment. Prime Minister Gilani would seek to consolidate his position as an all-powerful leader while keeping the army in good humour. Zardari on his part would strain every nerve to assume the prime ministerial mantle sooner than later so that he can wield real power again. And there is former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif waiting in the wings, itching to stage a comeback. All in all, an interesting tussle lies ahead. While Pakistan's bolstering of parliamentary democracy deserves to be welcomed, the proof of the pudding would lie in its eating.







THE RBI's softer-than-expected increase in the key rates has come as a pleasant surprise. The 25-basis point raise in the short-term lending (repo) and borrowing (reverse repo) rates along with the cash reserve ratio will not hurt growth. After managing the fallout of the global financial crisis and aiding recovery, the RBI abandoned the easy credit policy in January this year like the central banks of China, Australia and the Philippines and turned to fighting inflation. Though inflation at 9.9 per cent is still high, the RBI seems to be taking it easy in the hope that a good rabi crop and a normal monsoon later in July will lift agricultural production and douse the raging food inflation.


While there is a consensus over the RBI's 8 per cent GDP growth projection for 2010-11, its hope of inflation cooling to 5.5 per cent does not have many takers. As global recovery picks up and demand surges, the prices of non-food commodities are bound to soar to uncomfortable levels. Oil has already gone past $80 a barrel and if India is still not complaining, it is because the rupee has appreciated sharply. Since India is next to China in growth, surplus cash from all over is flowing into the country, inflating the equity, commodity and real estate prices. The central bank will have to guard against the building of what experts call "asset bubbles".


A bigger challenge for the RBI is to manage the huge Rs 4.57 lakh crore borrowings by the government, which, it is feared, can crowd out private investment. The government has ignored the RBI advice, tendered in January, to curtail its borrowing spree. Since there is enough money in the system, the small takeaway by the RBI will not hurt small borrowers. Bankers have indicated that they won't push up interest rates. This means the demand for auto, home and education loans may not slacken. So growth will stay on track. 









While Iran appears to be bent upon becoming a nuclear weapon state, it is wary of fresh UN Security Council sanctions, which may be slapped on it in the near future. This perhaps explains why it organised a two-day international conference on nuclear disarmament in Teheran soon after the Nuclear Security Summit held in Washington DC. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad used the strongest language possible to accuse the US of being "the world's only atomic criminal" which talks of nuclear non-proliferation, though "it has not taken any serious measure in this regard". The representatives of 50 countries at the conference could have expected what they heard, yet they came to participate in it. However, the participation of so many countries in the gathering cannot help Iran in going ahead with its pursuit of the ultimate weapon in the guise of having a peaceful nuclear energy programme.


Iranian credentials became suspect the day it was found to have set up a nuclear power plant at Natanz without bringing it to the notice of the International Atomic Energy Agency(IAEA). As a signatory to the Nulcear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), it has certain obligations which Iran failed to fulfil at the initial stage. That is why the US-led drive against the Iranian nuclear programme has succeeded in getting the Security Council sanctions imposed on Teheran. India, too, voted for the sanctions at IAEA governors' meetings in the past, though it believes the Iranian nuclear issue should be resolved through dialogue and diplomacy.


Russia and China, two of the five permanent Security Council members represented at the Teheran conference, have been relentlessly opposing fresh sanctions. Their plea is if harsher sanctions are imposed the sufferers will be the Iranian masses, who cannot be held responsible for the policies of their rulers. However, the indirectly helpful role of Russia and China has been aimed at protecting their economic interests in Iran, which has a huge natural gas deposit. Some of the Western allies of the US, too, seem to have their reservations about taking any step that may destabilise the Iranian economy. That may be the reason why the US has been reluctant to use force to prevent Iran from going nuclear. The emerging scenario is quite disturbing. If somehow Iran succeeds in acquiring nuclear weapon capability, it may lead to a fresh crisis, particularly in West Asia.
















IT is once again Narendra Modi, and his playground is the same state of Gujarat. This time the story is not that of Muslims' carnage—5,000 Muslim families do not return to their homes at night even today—but that of the suffering inflicted on the farmers. Both reflect, however, the same bent of mind: I am the ruler and the plebeians do not count.


During a visit to Ahmedabad a few days ago I found the farmers wailing for water which the Sardar Sarovar had caught nearly three years ago when the Narmada river was harnessed. But the Modi government did not build the canals to carry water to the famished fields. The result is that only 9 per cent of water has been used in the last three years --- 3 per cent a year.


Strange, the same Gujarat saw unanimity on the building of the dam which Medha Patkar, a human rights activist, firmly opposed. "It is our Kashmir," the Gujaratis would say when any question about the dam was posed. The same Gujaratis say today that the question is not about the dam, but the use of water. Even after spending some Rs 40,000 crore—the original estimate was Rs 800 crore—only 30 per cent of canals have been built out of 60,000 km-long networks.


The people of Guajrat are so worked up that they appointed a people's commission, under the chairmanship of a retired High Court judge, to find out the reality on the ground instead of depending on Modi's propaganda. The commission heard nearly 3,000 farmers and went through a ream of affidavits. After eight months of their travel, the commission members came to the woeful conclusion that the farmers had been "cheated and betrayed" because the water had not reached them. The commission found it to its horror that the 40 per cent of water had been diverted to industry which was not to get even a drop from the project meant to benefit farmers.


At a public function a few days ago in Ahmedabad, where many of Gujarat's leading lights like ex-Foreign Minister Madhavsinh Solanki, former head of the Narmada project Sanat Mehta and Gandhian Gautam Thakkar were present, the negligence of the Modi government was highlighted and the state was squarely attacked for not using the Narmada water. The speakers were once the staunch supporters of the dam. They still are in a way. But they wondered whether it was worth reopening the dam issue when the water was available at the reservoir and did not reach the farmers who had been waiting for it for decades.


Punjab and Haryana did not face this situation. When the Bhakra dam was being raised, the people's organisations for the utilisation of water were constituted to take water to their fields. Canals were cemented to avoid seepage. The Modi government did little in this respect, although it made such a promise when the project was announced.


One undertaking given was that a special channel would be constructed to reach drinking water from the reservoir to the parched throats in Saurashtra and Rajkot. Some pipelines have been laid but the expense of water drawn is exorbitantly high. The Maharashtra government is not getting its share of electricity under the agreement and is, therefore, dragging its feet on the allotment of land to the oustees.


The most important part of the people's consent on the dam was the resettlement of the oustees. According to the Narmada Tribunal Award, they would be given land for land and rehabilitated six months before their land was submerged. Gujarat took the responsibility of implementing the award on itself and promised to give land if Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh, the other beneficiaries, failed to resettle the uprooted. But Gujarat has very little land to give. In fact, the state has not been able to requisition fully the land needed for building canals.


It can still be said that Gujarat has done part of its job as far as rehabilitating some of the oustees is concerned. But the other two states have practically raised their hands. Madhya Pradesh is the worst. No amount of pressure has worked on it. An indefinite jeevan adhikar yatra (right to life) started this week. It saw more than 2000 adivasis, farmers, fish workers, labourers, potters and other Sardar Sarovar project-affected persons from the Narmada valley assembling at Rajghat in Delhi recently.


The participants at the yatra challenged the unjust political moves to push the giant dam ahead despite the failure of the rehabilitation of the oustees and also in the face of "gross environmental non-compliance and unprecedented corruption, causing forced and illegal displacement of the two lakh population in the valley."


The biggest defaulter is the Central government which has allocated Rs 11,000 crore even in the current budget for the building of canals. New Delhi has not been able to convince Gujarat, Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh to make the Narmada Tribunal Award good. Former Water Resources Minister Saifuddin Soz was dropped from the Cabinet because he had given an honest report to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh after Medha Patkar's fast unto death. The report admitted that the claims of Madhya Pradesh, where Soz personally went, were bogus and that practically no rehabilitation work had been undertaken. Still the Prime Minister went along with the raising of the dam's height. This meant pounding of more water and uprooting of more adivasis.


Gujarat's pride, as Modi has projected the Sardar Saravar project, has been definitely damaged if not destroyed.

When the farmers have got only 10 per cent of water, they cannot think of holding their head high. These very people celebrated every slab of the dam's height. They admit that there was no hurry in uprooting the villagers from their homes if the government was not ready with the canals to use the reservoir water. The Tata Institute of Social Sciences had said in its report that the height of the dam need not be raised when the present quantum of water remained mostly unutilised. Still Modi is at it. 








We were contemporaries at the university, he in the Department of Medieval Indian History and I in the Department of English. He had a passion for acting and I for writing. We first came together for the inter university youth festival where I wrote the radio play and he read the lead part.


We went on to work together on projects for a local theatre group where I re-worked difficult and inconvenient parts of the script while he had the lead part. I shared his conviction that he would, one day, be a very successful actor and he shared my conviction that I would, one day, be a very successful writer.


Then life pushed us along separate paths and we were caught up in other webs. He fell into conditions of extreme penury and clawed his way desperately up to monitory success, first by working for a travel agency, then, by setting up his own agency. Absolutely brilliant and innovative packages soon catapulted him into the very top league.


Haunted by the memory of those difficult early days, he moved ever upwards on the financial spiral. The pursuit of money kept him so busy he had little time for acting. Then one day he sold his agency and moved to Bombay to pursue this passion. A few character roles and TV commercials came his way. But there was no indication that he would ever graduate to something more substantial.


My own situation was very similar. I became a school teacher and was caught up in the spirit-breaking, tightrope-walking activity of raising a family, building a roof over my head and saving enough to secure my post-retirement years. My writing became a weekend hobby. There were 17 books, and a host of short stories. But none of them showed any flash of that early passion.


We met after a lifetime. After the initial drinks had mellowed us both, he turned to me and smiled and his eyes lit up again with that long ago passion.


"My God, Harish, you can have no idea what a tremendous feeling it is! The smell of grease paint, the warmth of the spotlights, the excitements in your heart when the director calls 'action', I know I will never be anything but a bit actor, but I am content. Every time the spotlight focuses on me and I turn to the camera, it is heaven".


The words found an echo in my heart. I too do 'bit' roles in the drama of literature — my middles. Yet every time a middle is published, every time someone contacts me, and there are many who do, to say how much he liked my middle, it is heaven.


Neither of us has lived up to the promise and passion of our youth — he has won no Oscar and I have won no Nobel prize. But each of us has found success. We have come to terms with our failure, recognised the extent of our abilities and are content!









A recent report released by the United Nations has ironically revealed that India has more cellphones than toilets. Only 366 million people in India had access to improved sanitation in 2008.


Cellphones and toilets reflect the two facets of India. While mobiles are a manifestation of the recent revolution in the information technology, the poor sanitation conditions prevailing in the countryside are reflective of a cultural delusion.


The number of cellphones, which was 0.35 per 100 persons in the year 2000-01, has skyrocketed to 45 per 100 persons now. More than 545 million cellphones are operational in India. The number is expected to rise to one billion by 2015.


Unfortunately, though riding high on economic growth, India remains largely an unhygienic state plagued by tropical diseases and unsanitary conditions. Some 110 million households remain without access to toilets or with no safe way to dispose of human waste and many defecate in the open fields or near the water sources where from they draw water.


Dirty water and lack of toilets and proper hygiene kill 3.3 million people around the world of which India has a significant proportion. Only 86 per cent of the population of India has access to improved water supply, and the duration of this supply averages only 4.3 hours a day.


According to a study conducted by the National Council for Applied Economic Research in 2004-05, morbidity is reported to be lower in households using clean fuels instead of firewood, piped water instead of open source water and flush toilets. Unfortunately, the majority of Indian houses (62 per cent) have none of these amenities and only 7 per cent have all the three.


Though the mobiles have changed from the first to third generation, the level of sanitation in India has not changed much. Open drains in villages still give you filthy smell with breeding colonies of mosquitoes. Cow dung, which could be organically used to increase fertility of the impoverished soil, is still used in "chullahas".


In the urban areas, a major fallout of the robust consumption-driven economic growth is the generation of growing amounts of municipal waste. Many cities and towns are overwhelmed by the increasing volume of waste. Only 25 per cent of the total sewage generated in the urban areas is treated before being released into the rivers and water courses. In old cities the sewerage has become inadequate to carry the increasing load of waste. As a result, it leaks and contaminates the drinking water supply.


In March, 1999, the Supreme Court intervened to bring about India's Municipal Solid Waste (Management and Handling) Rules 2000 providing a clear roadmap for all urban areas for daily doorstep collection and minimising the waste quantities by recycling and stabilising all biodegradable waste for use as compost, but the progress has been slow. The containers carrying solid waste breakdown in the middle of the road. Composting and land-filling are the exception rather than the rule.


Plastics, electronic trash and biomedical refuse are the new generation urban wastes. Not many states have banned the use of plastic carrybags, which continue choking drains and spreading dirt and filth. Feral cows, dogs and boars can often be seen around the heaps of garbage devouring the remains of households thrown in polybags. E-waste is one of the fastest growing waste streams, with people changing their computers, television sets and mobile phones more frequently than ever before. According to one estimate, about 20-50 million tonnes of e-waste is generated annually worldwide to which India contributes 4.00 lakh tonnes a year.


Most of the components in electronic devices contain lead, cadmium, mercury, PVCs, brominated flame retardants (BFRs), chromium, beryllium and phthalates. Long-term exposure to these substances can damage the nervous system, kidney and bones, and the reproductive and endocrine systems. Indiscriminately dumped components can pollute the ground water. Unfortunately, a legal framework on the principle to reduce, reuse and recycle e-waste is not available in India, whereas global initiatives to phase out chemicals from electronic devices started in 2006.


Sanitation means eradication of water-borne diseases like diarrhoea, cholera and hepatitis, gain in productive time, saving the cost of medicines and better health and prosperity. Improved sanitation, including hand washing with soap and water purification, could worldwide save the lives of 1.5 million children, who suffer from diarrhoeal diseases each year.


The UN Millennium Development Goals include a target to reduce by half the proportion of people without access to basic sanitation by 2015. The main focus of the programme is to remove the stigma around sanitation, discuss the importance of sanitation, highlighting poverty reduction, health and other benefits that flow from better hygiene, household sanitation arrangements and wastewater treatment.


The only way to clean up India is to involve communities and popularise environment friendly human-waste disposal systems such as developed by Sulabh International that are cost-effective for the average Indian household. Only a clean India can be healthy and incredible.


The writer is the Chief Conservator of Forests, Punjab








Ghangariya , the base camp for the famous Valley of Flowers in Uttarakhand , is reached by a tough 16 km trek from Govindghat. Almost half the way along the trekking route there are numerous dhabas catering to the tired, thirsty and hungry tourists. The peculiar thing about these eateries is that they are not set up by local villagers but by temporary migrants from UP. In other words , the locals do not seem to benefit much from the tourist business.


The neighbourhood where I live in Bangalore was a sparsely populated suburb when we moved in 15 years ago. For our daily needs, we depended on a nearby small grocery owned by a local named Shetty. Over the years the area's population has multiplied manifold. But Mr. Shetty's shop remains small as it was. The boom benefited a Moplah retailer from Mallapuram in Kerala who set up shop 10 years ago with a small outlet which he went on expanding in size and variety of goods and is today having a turnover which is the envy of any big retail chain operating in the city.


MTR is a landmark restaurant of Bangalore established in 1924, which is famous all over the world for its tasty dosas, idlis and filter coffee. Despite Bangalore's phenomenal growth in the last four decades, the owners of MTR have chosen to remain a one-outlet business whose internal area has not seen expansion since its inception . Guess who benefited from the explosion of consumerism in Bangalore? McDonald , which opened its first outlet in Bangalore just 5 years ago , has already over 15 of them in the city and is planning to open more .


Back in 1947, following partition, a large number of refugees from Sindh were given shelter in Jaipur. In order to help them get back on their feet, they were allotted some commercial space in the city for starting retail shops. Within a span of 20 years, the textiles and clothing market started by the migrants has overtaken in popularity and business volume the much older textile retail trade run by the local Marwaris .


So, what is it about locals that prevents them from riding an economic boom? There is the comfort factor which acts like a sedative. Being in familiar surroundings, the locals do not feel threatened . Complacent about their well-settled business, they do not feel any ambitious push to expand .


Years of being frogs in their little pools render locals ignorant about the ways of dealing with expansion . MTR, for example, tried to trade in its brand image to expand its presence in Bangalore by opening a few franchisee outlets but it remained an ineffectual exercise because the company lacked the expertise in supply chain management, quality control , training etc. On the other hand , McDonald, having decades of experience and tremendous expertise, could successfully roll out a number of outlets in a short period .


Another hurdle which impedes locals from exploiting an economic upturn and consequent business opportunities is the lack of skills . Mega industrial projects in backward areas throw up enormous peripheral small business and employment opportunities . Unfortunately , the locals are virtually shut out of most of these because of the lack of requisite skills , technical knowhow , managerial expertise or entrepreneurial knowledge . Ultimately, most of the new jobs or small businesses or minor contracts are captured by outsiders with ability, experience and ambition. What the locals are left with are the lowest level manual jobs, thereby causing resentment among them.


Some corporate giants have realised the implications of this and taken up skill-building projects in the backward areas of their interest . Tata Steel , for example, has established , near its proposed steel plant at Kalinganagar in Orissa , a training school which imparts to interested local tribals skills in masonry and welding. Much more needs to be done, not just by companies but also state governments, education authorities, NGOs and others to build such skills and business abilities so that locals also participate in the economic growth process. 








A lawyers' forum seems to have come to the rescue of legal correspondents covering the Supreme Court who struggle to report oral observations of judges and the orders dictated by them in the open court.


The forum has filed a petition seeking a mandatory use of microphones not only by the judges but also the lawyers. It also wants video recording of the proceedings to be shown live outside smaller courtrooms which are unable to accommodate all the stakeholders.


Actually, this is not the first time the issue has been raised. The need for using the audio system was voiced at a workshop by none other than Attorney General GE Vahanvati last year when he was the Solicitor General. The problem of audibility is accentuated in cases where the judges concerned are soft spoken like Chief Justice of India KG Balakrishnan.


Estranged fellows

The irony of fate has brought some sworn enemies and traditional rivals, people who could never see eye to eye, in close proximity to each other on the benches of the 15th Lok Sabha. Thus we have Mulayam Singh Yadav seated next to BSP leader Dara Singh Chauhan. In spite of the Left and the NDA being still wary and suspicious of each other, Basudeb Acharia finds himself seated next to Sharad Yadav and almost at an embracing distance of the BJP members.


Still worse, H.D. Deve Gowda is seated next to Lalu Prasad. Past acrimony between them is common knowledge. Therefore, even while sitting together they hardly exchange a glance or acknowledge each other's presence. But both have lost much of their political clout in this Lok Sabha and, therefore, have practically very little to do. Naturally, to kill boredom and avoid noticing the neighbour, the best option is to close one's eyes and doze off which both are seen currently doing together on the front benches.


'Growth with equity'

As Shashi Tharoor's "external affairs" opera involving Sunanda Pushkar broke the TRP ratings of all other soaps, including the daily IPL matches, there is much tongue-wagging going on in political circles. A senior BJP leader was heard commenting how Tharoor has fulfilled at least one poll promise of the Congress party—"growth with equity".

However, this suave elegant and sophisticated minister's choice hasn't gone down well with his admirers among women politicians and journalists. They were making snide remarks about Pushkar's sartorial preferences, her nose job and even "peroxide blonde hair". For once, the men who normally despise Tharoor were sympathetic to him, saying he could not be blamed for "swaying to the charms of such a gorgeous woman".

Contributed by Faraz Ahmad, R Sedhuraman and Vibha Sharma









It was sad to see Lalbaug Parel. Sad to see how a slice of Mumbai's history that has rarely been represented on the screen – finally gets cinematic space but only in a manner that is far from the reality of the hundreds and thousands of reallife stories floating in the neighbourhood of the village of mills.

According to PUKAR research scholar and activist Ajit Abhimeshi, who has been actively involved in the mill lands area for several years now, the film moves away from a balanced approach and gives in to melodramatic and exaggerated representations for sheer shock value.

Instead of choosing to show how women of mill workers often got together in the most enterprising of ways, setting up messes and canteens, taking to street vendoring and hawking, to supplement family income, the film chooses to focus on those rare cases of prostitution that may have happened. Of course, it is no surprise that the film selects those particular scenarios, however rare, but did it have to completely erase the other story? Did women only have to be represented as helpless mother figures?

To find women taking charge of their families' economic crises by delving into the city's street business enterprise was something very special but, unsurprisingly, got totally left out of the script.

The underworld did seep into the neighbourhood and produced figures that became larger than life, but the way the film portrays the average strike-affected youngsters is far from the truth. Ajit points out that unemployment and lack of financial support did have the potential to degrade the most ethical of youngsters. But never to the point that anyone would attack a passerby at night or pick up a fallen wada pav from the pavement.
This is clearly a gaze that comes from the outside. It's most unfortunate that in spite of the amount of material available on the lives of the mill workers, the film's research chose to take the easy way out.

 A good script can bring to light the dramatic potential of an interesting real-life event with tremendous cinematic satisfaction. The millworkers' life post the strike could have created truly powerful cinema but what you get at the end of the day is a gross, old-Bollywoodesque exaggeration.

Within Marathi cinema and theatre there are so many richer conventions to draw from – but the film chooses to walk the path of mainstream Hindi cinema.

At the end it manipulates you into feeling almost sympathetic to the construction companies who brought in a closure to the manufacturing era in the city. You almost feel a sense of relief to see the middle-class, misfit, literary son managing to purchase a flat in the neighbourhood – as if that act is one of continuing lineage and preserving a connect with his broken family, which incidentally continues to lead its fractured life just a few blocks away.

The film does its mandatory bit to portray the politicians and mill owners in a villainous light and ultimately creates a scenario of mindless re-bounding violence but only in the hands of the estranged mill-worker youth who seem to have lost all direction.

What a contrast this portrayal is from the hundreds of youth who actually live in the neighbourhood, who have managed to create a life for themselves nowhere close to the violence torn dystopias nor by being in awe of the upper-class lifestyle that the heroic Prithvi theatre playwright son feels comfortable in.

Once again, real life remains undocumented, even though far more interesting, while a tired predictable story is re-born on screen.


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As far as conventional practice goes, management thinker C K Prahalad has received his due share of eulogy when he died last week. Many rated him on a par with Peter Drucker. Shorn of the hyperbole, Prahalad's real legacy may be less glittering or practical. True, he has been a permanent fixture in annual listings of top ten management thinkers for over a decade. His lectures were always House Overfull. Indian businessmen idolised him because he was (rightly) a champion of Indian entrepreneurial talents.

As far as the standards of contemporary management gurudom go, his reputation is not unwarranted. After all, he has bequeathed enduring terms to management jargon — "core competence", "co-opetition" and, most popular of all, "bottom of the pyramid" (BOP). Few management gurus have created so many catchphrases in one lifetime. For all that, the adulation for Prahalad, an undeniably gifted writer and speaker, may have been overdone. One of the marks of a good philosopher is the ability to predict future trends. In a sense, Prahalad was behind the curve; he provided coherent articulation of existing best practices rather than providing future prescriptors. Take "core competence", the concept he co-created with Gary Hamel — Prahalad and Hamel argue that a firm's competitive advantage flows from its collective learning and skills behind the product line, and its ability to integrate multiple technologies and coordinate diverse production skills. To achieve this, firms needed to organise themselves into a "portfolio of core competencies rather than a portfolio of independent business units". This was a striking point, especially for licence raj-restricted Indian businesses that were forced to diversify haphazardly to grow — but less so for giants like Sony, Philips, Shell, or Tesco which had been practising this for decades.

 "Co-opetition" talked of how corporations need to "co-opt" the customer in designing their products and services. This was an obvious point — in a competitive market, every marketing professional is taught the importance of being pro-active with customer feedback. But most of the praise has been reserved for Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid, in which he argued that firms could potentially make money selling products and services targeted at the world's poorest people. A closer look at this theory and the examples that Prahalad provides suggest a problem in the basic construct. Firms that produce low-cost, mass-market products do so to expand markets among an aspirational lower middle class. For example, the shampoo sachet — incidentally, it predates Prahalad's theory — was aimed at encouraging sampling among rural consumers to expand the market to rural bases. It is a truism that executives often confuse "rural" with "poor", which is scarcely the case. Concepts like micro-finance are aimed at providing poor people access to credit, not making money from them. Prahalad's Umich colleague Aneel Karnani described this attractive and politically correct theory as "at best a harmless illusion and potentially a dangerous delusion". Perhaps the best commentary on its efficacy came from Praja, the BOP company Prahalad co-founded to provide a platform for common people to personalise their own experiences on the Internet. In 2002, the company was sold having made a $55 million loss and laid off one-third of its staff!.







The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) has sent a firm signal that it will stay the course on fighting inflation. While RBI forecasts that the recent surge in headline rates of inflation is set to roll back and prices are expected to moderate, it would like medium-term inflation to return to levels closer to 4-4.5 per cent. However, in effecting only a 25 basis points (bps) increase in repo and reverse repo rates, RBI has sent two messages. First, that it will most likely hike the rates by 25 bps every quarter through the financial year. Second, that there is only that much monetary policy can do to reverse inflationary expectations, without hurting growth, and the rest of the job must be done by fiscal policy. Since the markets had already discounted this action, sentiment is likely to be steady across the board. What is a bit open though is whether the entire range of RBI's expectation — inflation will be contained, inflationary expectations steadied and the recovery sustained — will come about. Inflation is already peaking and this will also lower inflationary expectations. If global recovery does not become full-fledged, export-dependent, labour-intensive sectors like textiles will not get back to full throttle and restore all the jobs earlier lost. Also, RBI has itself indicated that consumer spending is yet to recover fully. If monetary tightening eventually leads to consumer credit becoming dearer, then consumer confidence and spending will not be fully restored and one element in the revival of aggregate demand will not pull its full weight.

Right now, with adequate liquidity around, there is no immediate expectation of banks raising interest rates. This, along with high business confidence and investment plans in the making, should take care of the key driver for high growth, investment expenditure. Banks, in fact, will find it difficult to raise wholesale interest rates as there is a large difference between domestic and international rates; external commercial borrowing is progressing at a fast clip and costlier domestic funds will only hasten the process of disintermediation. Where RBI can help matters is by urging banks to become more efficient and thus reduce their cost of intermediation. This is not all that Herculean as the Indian banking sector has, in recent years, invested heavily in technology and should now refashion its processes to reap the full benefits in terms of reducing transaction costs.

But there is only so much that the monetary authority can do to rein in inflation. Right now it is trying to contain the ill effects of a fisc gone awry. Hopefully, the renewed momentum in the disinvestment process and revenue buoyancy via higher growth will enable the fisc to get back to shape. The other area where RBI has no control in containing inflation, and which is the biggest contributory factor in the recent episode, is agricultural practices and food prices. Mismanagement on that front has been enormous and unless remedial action is taken, no amount of rate-tinkering will help. If growth with better distribution, the aim of the UPA government, leads to greater demand for food and continuous upward pressure on food prices, then macroeconomic policy will have to be managed better.








A recent visit to Japan and a series of interactions with its politicians, diplomats and business leaders, occasioned an inevitable reflection on the road this remarkable country has travelled in the past two decades. That reflection extended to the need for caution while predicting the future based on current trends, no matter how relentless they may appear.

Japan today is a picture of subdued and understated polity. Inevitable, perhaps, after nearly 20 years of depressed or even negative economic growth, a rapidly aging and declining population, the reluctance to embrace any significant structural reforms and the still pervasive hierarchical institutional patterns and ways of thinking. Behind the bright lights, the sense of order and neatness, and the almost obsessive pride in the quality of Japanese products and services, there lurks a premonition of inevitable decline. This colours Japan's relations with the rest of the world.

 And yet how different this picture appears compared to the late 80s, when one was an admiring witness to a "Japan Which Can Say No!". This was the period of "Yendaka", reflecting the muscular rise of the Japanese yen, the domination of the world financial and banking system by powerful Japanese banks and financial houses, and fears that Japan's export-driven economy was "hollowing out" the US and the European industry. There was acknowledgement of the almost mythical ascendancy of Japanese corporations, whether in steel or electronics, automobiles or precision machinery. Japan was portrayed as a predatory economy, playing by its own rules, a modern capitalist market system grafted on to a highly disciplined, almost robotic workforce still steeped in feudal culture. Remember the hand wringing when the iconic Rockfeller Centre in New York became a bauble for a Japanese owner? Or the shock at the news that a priceless Van Gogh, acquired by a Japanese buyer for $46 million, now graced a Japanese corporate boardroom? There was a blustery confidence in the air in Tokyo those days, a sense that nothing could prevent Japan's emergence as Number One in the world.

The well-known Japanese statesman, Saburo Okita, made famous the theory of the "flying geese pattern", in which the lead goose, Japan, would pull other Asian countries along, through trade and investment, towards a higher but, nevertheless, hierarchical growth trajectory. The unspoken assumption was that this would eventually consolidate Japan's political leadership of Asia. I remember asking Okita whether India would fit into this vision. His reply? Asia, for Japan, stopped at the borders of Myanmar in a brand new and benign version of the old Asian Co-prosperity Sphere, drawing upon East Asian affinities and cultural particularities, especially respect for hierarchy. Indians were outside the pale.

And then, as we stepped into the last decade of the millennium, the bubble burst and the Japanese economic machine came to a grinding halt. Twenty years later, there is no turnaround in sight. There have been interludes of attempted reform and occasional assertions of Japan's claim to leadership in Asia and beyond. After all, the country remains the second-largest economy in the world. Its technological excellence is universally admired. It possesses one of the world's strongest conventional military forces. Japan's initial response to a rising China was to try and co-opt it through generous doles of aid and massive investment. When expectations in this regard were belied, there was a phase of confronting China, with a refusal to accept Chinese pre-eminence in the region. In the first half of this current decade, this led to a new interest in emerging India, including a closely coordinated diplomatic offensive to gain a permanent seat in the UN Security Council. Japan took the initiative, with US encouragement, to organise a "quadrilateral" of four democracies — India, Japan, Australia and the US — to anchor a new security architecture in Asia. These initiatives have today run aground. One senses a feeling among a section of Japanese policy-makers that China's emergence at the top of the Asian pile is inevitable. Interest in India, however, remains strong. There are voices, particularly in business and industry, pushing the government to consolidate and upgrade the growing partnership with India, as a means of injecting a new dynamism into Japan's stagnating economy and helping it retain sufficient room for manoeuvre in the region. Nowhere was this more evident than in the interaction organised during my visit, at the initiative of a respected Japanese industry association, to explore India-Japan collaboration in civil nuclear energy, a hitherto taboo subject for a country wedded to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

But what struck me as I headed back home were the parallels in the world's response to Japan's dramatic rise in the 80s and to China's even more spectacular rise today. The anxieties that China's emergence is generating today are no different from those provoked by Japan then. Some of the complacent self-confidence, even arrogance, that afflicted Japanese attitudes then may be glimpsed in China's touchy nationalism today. Japan's sense of inevitable destiny as a pre-eminent power, based on its peculiar brand of social and economic development, is echoed today in China's faith in its model of socialist statism with market characteristics. Japan's rise came to an abrupt end and reversal. The US reinvented itself, the Cold War was over and the unilateral, unipolar moment was all over the place. The suddenness with which the Japanese moment turned sour, just as the unipolar moment appears destined to do today, brings to mind historian Niall Ferguson's cautionary warning: "When thing go wrong in a complex system, the scale of disruption is nearly impossible to anticipate." And so, too, the speed of collapse. One could add to this list the contrary prospect for resurgence and revitalisation of economies, as the US has demonstrated time and again. And as Indians, we are not immune to these same largely inexplicable forces of history. There is no inevitability about India's rise in linear progression either.

So, let us not hold our breath.

The author was India's Foreign Secretary and until recently the Prime Minister's Special Envoy








Among the longest-lasting litigation, disputes over land acquisitions are on the top. The Supreme Court has just decided a case in which the playground of a school was taken over for a "ladies super market" in 1975 at the rate of Rs 4 per square ft. The school climbed the shaky ladder of law and lost in the end at the apex court.

The appeal had been lying in the court for eight years. Since the school, as an institution, does not die, it could stand the long haul. In many cases of individual land owners, the titles of the cases indicate that the original owners have died and the judgments will be received by their legal representatives.

 If the land owner is particularly unlucky, as in the case of Bondu Ramaswamy vs the Bangalore Development Authority, the judgment will come only if one of the judges who heard the case is about to retire. This particular case involving nearly a hundred land owners was heard and the judgment reserved on March 23, 2007. One can be fairly sure that the judgment will be delivered before May 11, when the Chief Justice of India retires.

Most of the disputes arise over the rate of compensation. Though the court has laid down the criteria for calculating the compensation, the authorities usually botch up the relief. The Supreme Court pointed out one reason in its recent judgment in the Bhagwan Das vs the State of Uttar Pradesh case. "The award being only an offer on behalf of the government, there is always a tendency on the part of the collector to be conservative in making the award, which results in less than the market value being offered," the court explained. "Invariably, the land loser is required to make an application to get the market value as compensation. He can make an application seeking reference to the civil court only when he knows that an award has been made." Sometimes he does not get the information required for a long time or he is not given it due to "ulterior reasons". Once six months pass, the government invokes the period of limitation to bar the land owner from demanding fair price. In the Bhagwan Das case, the Supreme Court granted relief to the land owners in that predicament.

In the Hari Ram vs the State of Haryana case, the court recently found an even worse case of arbitrariness and discrimination. The land was acquired in 1992 from 78 land owners for an urban mini-estate in Haryana, which led to 32 writ petitions in the high court. During the long history of the litigation, the government decided to release some of the lands to their owners. But many others were discriminated against and their lands, similarly situated, were not released.

This provoked the Supreme Court to make some acerbic remarks against the state government. The judgment commented: "The government has an obligation of acting with substantial fairness and consistency in considering the representations of the land owners. It cannot pick and choose and release their land from acquisition and deny the same to other land owners, creating an artificial distinction. The government has sought to set up make-believe grounds to justify its action that development planning has been kept in consideration."

The court hinted at corruption prevailing in the process of land acquisition and release of some lands without following a uniform norm. The court observed: "If this court does not correct the wrong action of the government, it may leave citizens with the belief that what counts for the citizens is right contacts with right persons in the state government and that judicial proceedings are not efficacious."

In 1984, 196 acres were acquired for the expansion of Tamil Nadu Magnesite Ltd, a state-owned company. This left a trail of suits which were concluded in favour of the owners by the Supreme Court only a few weeks ago in the Sagunthala (dead) vs Special Tehsildar case. Again, the arbitrariness was evident in calculating the compensation. The court stated that the classification of land into irrigated and unirrigated was unreasonable and erroneous. There were other considerations like proximity of the land to residential colonies and factories, and the land itself being used as housing plots.

In another decade-old case, Mysore Urban Development Authority vs Veer Kumar Jain, the Supreme Court last week found the land owners were not heard before the Karnataka government issued two de-notification orders. The court quashed the orders and asked the state government to start the process afresh.

The 1894 law on land acquisitions is being overhauled in the new social context. But the cases coming to the court show that it is not just the law which gives rise to litigation and frustration, but the way the government implements it. The road forks here, one leading to the court and another to lawlessness of the jungles.








The retail share of IPOs is small, PSU share-sale policies don't help them, the procedures remain tedious — I don't see small investors returning

Why was this question not raised when the Sensex was at the 8,000 level last year? Why does everyone, including the retail investor, ask this only when the market is in a bull, or a near-bull, phase? Is it possible that the big guys remember the small investors only at such times to create takers for their offloading or to sell new shares? It is a hard truth that most want to make money of the retail investor and not for him. It is, of course, little surprise that retail investors too catch the bait, and often miss the gains of a rising market.

Will retail investors come back in large numbers now to the equity market? My sense is otherwise.

The biggest issue continues to be lack of confidence. In the last two decades, too many scamsters, most of whom are yet to be prosecuted, have left the investor very nervous. In India, to unearth a fraud by itself is rare and tedious. To punish the scamsters, and punish them adequately and swiftly, is even rarer. But to the investor, what is even more important than the punishment is the compensation to him. The recent disgorgement of undue profits from the IPO scam, and compensation to the wronged investors, is a watershed event in the history of the Indian capital market. Only more and speedy indictments and several such disgorgement/compensation cases could see more confidence returning to the small investor.

The second constraint is with regard to the policies. Though most reforms are done in the name of the small investor, he has rarely been the true beneficiary. Many policies, in fact, have worked against him. As an example, the allocation to the retail in most IPOs has been reduced to only 3.5 per cent of the company's capital. Or for that matter, while the government keeps harping on enlarging the investor base, its pricing of PSU offerings works totally against this objective.

The processes too are cumbersome and daunting. The number of documentation, and detailed ones at that, which an investor has to navigate through would put even the most savvy to discomfort. As an example, an investor has to sign around 80 times on a KYC form! Finally, lack of financial education has worked as the main reason why most citizens continue to be comfortable in parking their savings in low-earning fixed deposits than in the equity market.

Courtesy the above factors, the retail investing population in the country just refuses to grow and, in fact, their number has actually been falling. Less than 1 per cent of our population invests directly in the equity market. Worse, less than 3 per cent of the household savings gets invested in the capital market.

Though a series of laudable measures have emerged from the regulator in the recent past, including the revolutionary ASBA (application supported by blocked amount) process, a lot of ground still has to be covered. There is, for example, a need to re-look at the offer document which has become too voluminous and unreadable, and Sebi's disclaimer "accuracy and adequacy of contents is not guaranteed by Sebi" does not help either. There is also a need to review some instruments like risk factors, IPO grading and independent directors which are only giving a false sense of security to the small investor.

If the bull run continues, it is likely that some retail investors would start committing more money to equities. Regrettably, most such investors typically, but unfortunately, chase price and not value, and hence get into penny stocks. "Value" of a stock is something even the most savvy of institutional investors are unable to accurately arrive at. For a man on the street without the skills, time and resources to do so is thus unimaginable. Hence, retail investors should be encouraged to invest through the mutual fund (MF) route. For this to happen, the MF industry itself needs to be regulated and incentivised to work for the retail investor.

Regrettably, one may also see more "gamblers". Though equity is the best asset class over the long term, technology and market structure have reduced the horizon to days, and, in fact, to hours. Nearly 80 per cent of the turnover on the exchanges comes from day-trading, almost akin to gambling. If the stock market has indeed been reduced to a casino, retail should realise that the casino never loses. Nine out of 10 small investors that I have met in my lifetime, and I have met thousands of them, have lost money in the equity market.

The only ray of hope for the retail is if the government finally acts on its election promise: "Every household should own PSU shares."


MD & CEO, MCX Stock Exchange

The onset of new- generation stock exchanges will expand the investor base to 100 million by 2015 — it is less than 15 million now

Retail investors should and will come back to the market only if we promote development of an investment cult which is beyond day-trading and delta- trading. A special focus on "financial literacy" will ensure development of a literate investor base for multiple asset classes beyond just equity. This vision of developing an investment cult and a focus on "financial literacy", along with widening the distribution network through the involvement of other banks and financial institutions, will attract the retail investor to the capital market.

In the early 1990s, the government's liberalisation policy and its move to "let the supplies be freed" in industries like telecom, banking and aviation proved to be a magic mantra for these industries. The heightened competition not only augured well for corporate houses by expanding their consumer base, but the customers, in turn, also benefited by getting better and customised services at optimal costs.

The policy thrust of these reforms was primarily focussed on increasing the choices for customers. The end of monopoly in insurance and the dilution of equity in public sector banks along with new private sector banks led to delivery of better consumer service and cost optimisation. As a result, we have over 100 banks, 22 insurance firms and 14 telecom companies servicing a whopping 500 million customers.

Thanks to the vision of regulators and policy-makers, Indian financial markets are now set to witness a growth phase similar to what was seen during the IT boom from 1990 to 2000 and in the telecom industry during 2000 to 2010.

The period between 2010 and 2015 will be an era of Indian financial markets with retail investors actually taking part in India's long-term growth story.

The nature of Indian markets currently is unique with a large retail investor population that saves money worth over $300 billion but allocates less than 5 per cent to financial market instruments other than bank deposits. In spite of a long history and maturity of Indian stock markets, the penetration level remains abysmally low. More than 90 per cent of exchange trade is largely confined to 10 cities and 100 companies, over 70 per cent of volumes is in equities and F&O and 25 brokers do 45 per cent of total volumes.

Internationally, stock markets have been a popular source of capital-raising and investment, and 50-60 per cent of the populace of a developed country participates in capital markets. In India, less than 15 million people invest in equity markets, which is less than 1 per cent of our population.

Therefore, for true financial inclusion, it is essential to make available investment products across multi-asset classes, which will lead to an increase in penetration of the capital market from a mere 1,500 cities and towns at the moment to at least 5,000 destinations.

The renewed vigour on the part of regulators and policy-makers to drive equitable growth in India's financial markets is a move in the right direction. The onset of new-generation stock exchanges will not only drive India's next generation of growth but also lead to an expansion of its investor base to 100 million by 2015.

The extensive efforts on the part of these exchanges on investor education, product innovation and use of technology to bridge the urban-rural divide will drive inclusive growth. The thrust on "financial literacy" will widen and deepen the investment cult and create a literate investor base that is willing to invest beyond just equity as an asset class, and has the prowess to decipher the fineprint of a risk-reward ratio.

Product innovation in multiple asset classes such as bonds, interest rate futures, equity and SME will truly bring about the much-needed multifold capital formation and huge employment generation in India. It will also lead to uniform wealth distribution as there would be a huge repository of capital to provide cost-effective credit and proffer the best and the safest investment opportunity to the investor.

A larger participation in the exchange sector will benefit the economy by bringing in vast savings and resources from all over India, including small towns, to fuel the growth of Indian industry. After all, there are over 13 million SMEs that need more risk capital and not merely debt, and these companies need visibility in the market to tap risk capital.







A violent tropical storm hit parts of Bihar and West Bengal on April 13, killing over 120 hapless people, injuring several hundreds more and rendering thousands homeless. Large sections of the English-language media buried the news of the devastation caused by the natural calamity. One national newspaper made it a front-page brief item and another made it part of a package on natural calamities, including the earthquake in China.


The same national English-language dailies splashed the news of tennis star Sania Mirza's plans to marry Pakistani cricketer Shoaib Malik. The controversy over the alliance between the two sportspersons even became the lead report in one of the national dailies. In sharp contrast, on the day the violent storm killed 120 villagers in West Bengal and Bihar, an English-language newspaper published from New Delhi gave a big display to a news item on two aircraft narrowly missing each other in the Indian skies!

There were, of course, exceptions with just a few newspapers giving due importance to the sudden storm killing so many people in the two states. However, the larger point of the lop-sided news hierarchy and priorities practised by sections of the English-language media was too obvious to have gone unnoticed. The irony is that neither was this actually noticed (as evident from the absence of any public debate or comment on this matter), nor was there any popular consternation over the direction of news coverage in the mainstream media.

That the English-language media — the print as well as the electronic — usually accords greater priority to developments that cater to the information needs of urban India is nothing new. However, both the media and civil society in general have decried this disturbing trend, giving rise to hope that at some stage corrective action would follow. The fact of the media's relative neglect of reporting on the natural calamity in two of India's major states (one of them struggling hard to overcome its economic backwardness and the other striving for rapid industrialisation) going without any criticism seems to suggest that an aberration of the past has now become the accepted norm. The consensus seems to be that nothing much can be done about this aberration, howsoever disturbing that may be.

This seems to be an unhealthy turning point for the English-language media in this country. The emergence of a media that is increasingly becoming influenced by its business considerations has challenged the principle that news hierarchy or priorities for the media should be dictated by its unbiased assessment of what is of larger significance for the largest number of people. The comfort so far was that civil society and enlightened public opinion would question the challenge posed by the compulsions of the media business. Developments in the last fortnight make one wonder if the people of this country have lost that comfort.

The English-language media, at least, can now freely deliver news seen through its newly acquired business perspective and without compunction. The nexus between readers/viewers, advertisers and the media has become much stronger. It is now becoming increasingly apparent that news hierarchy will be determined not by what is of larger significance for a larger number of people, but by what matters more to the media's readers/viewers and advertisers. Villages in Bihar and West Bengal have little relevance for the English-language media from its business perspective. These villages constitute neither the English-language media's readership or viewership, nor the market for mobilising advertising revenues. For the same reasons, floods in Bihar or the north-eastern states have ceased to interest the English-language media.

The point to be noted here is that while the media has cast aside its traditional news perspective of what is important and what is in the public interest, it is yet to grow out of its subservience to the sources of news. The same English-language media, which conveniently ignores the issues concerning thousands of villages mired in poverty in different parts of the country, will write about poverty alleviation programmes simply because the source of the news happens to be the government, a world that makes sense to the media in many ways.

In other words, the media has created a new paradigm for its news perspective. It will write about issues that concern and directly affect its readers. Sania Mirza's wedding controversy or Iceland's volcanic ashes bringing to halt air travel is more important than 120 people getting killed in a storm in a few villages in Bihar and West Bengal! It will also present news, whatever be its content or significance, provided that news is offered to it by the establishment, be it the state or the advertising community. What is missing from all this is the age-old principle of the media deciding on the hierarchy of news depending on its significance for the people in general.







Anxieties that the Reserve Bank of India (RBI), overwhelmed by rising inflation numbers, would over-react and come down with a heavy hand proved misplaced on Tuesday. As expected of a central bank with multiple objectives, the bank has not taken its eyes off growth even as it played by the book, raising policy rates and the cash reserve ratio (CRR) by 25 basis points each. Given the huge uncertainties, on both the external and internal fronts, this is the best course of action.

For now! Apart from the still uncertain recovery in the advanced economies, as the debt manager of an eternally profligate fisc, the RBI faces an additional challenge. For all the talk of a lower fiscal deficit target for the current year (5.5% against 6.7% in 2009-10 ), fresh issuance of securities this fiscal will be Rs 91,300 crore higher than in the previous year. That is, if the government keeps its word on the deficit target— a big if! In such a scenario, the best option is to wait and watch; but with a caveat that if the situation changes dramatically, it should not hesitate to act. Failure to act tough would erode the central bank's credibility, already shaken by the March inflation number climbing way above the bank's estimate of 8.5%.

However, our guarded endorsement of the bank's overall policy stance is tempered by the somewhat uncalled for concessions to infrastructure financing by banks announced in the policy. Admittedly, there is a dire need for infrastructure finance to meet the critical gap in infrastructure. But infrastructure calls for long-term finance and must come from long-term sources, not short-term sources like bank deposits, which are repayable on demand, to boot.

Beyond a point, asset-liability mismatches could prove as risky to the system as reliance on wholesale deposits by some banks during the crisis. The measures, even if a shade too measured, to develop the bond market and its associated markets for interest rate and currency derivatives and credit default swaps are welcome. These and nurturing of long-term players in the market such as insurance and pensions are what infrastructure needs, not yet more on the banks' plate.







A major public service rendered by the IPL controversy is to shed light on the rules governing sweat equity in India. And these turn out to be atrocious. Almost a decade after the Companies Act, 1956, was amended to allow companies to issue sweat equity to employees and directors, there have been few takers for the instrument, at least among listed companies.

Its popularity among unlisted entities is not known. The rules say that the recipients of sweat equity could contribute by way of value addition or intellectual property, and the equity may be issued at a discount or for consideration other than cash.

So far, so good. But then another condition says that, in unlisted companies, sweat equity cannot be issued before one year of commencement of operations. Pray, what sense does this make? Another puts a cap of 15% on the sweat equity that can be issued without specific central government approval.

These conditions are enterprise stifling bureaucratese lazily picked up from the vocabulary of command and control with no thought applied to the new emerging paradigm of entrepreneurship within which sweat equity makes sense. The whole idea is to form a new breed of companies that marry the skills and intellectual property held by one set of operators with capital supplied by another set of players, in a manner that gives ownership to both sets of stakeholders.

Should a potential new young Bill Gates or a Steve Jobs wait for one year to get equity in a venture to which all he can bring at the moment is his vision and his energy? As defined by the law, sweat equity is no different from employee stock options with a one-year vesting period. Why then have a separate rule for sweat equity?

Sweat equity is essential when a company is formed, to assure the financial investor that the knowhow providers would stay on, or for a start-up with limited resources to attract highly-qualified professionals to join the team as long-term stakeholders.

The ministry of corporate affairs must overhaul its rules on sweat equity completely. The one thing it needs to sweat over is transparency, leave the rest to enterprise. Please do not treat sweat equity as a sweetheart deal.







Most state police forces would be abashed if there were seven crude bombs found just outside the gates of a cricket stadium where a high-visibility Indian Premier League (IPL) match was being played.

Of the seven crude bombs planted outside the Chinnaswamy Stadium, two exploded 45 minutes before last Saturday's league game between Mumbai Indians and the Royal Challengers Bangalore, fortunately causing only minor injuries to 15 people, one was defused an hour later and the remaining four were found and

However, Bangalore police commissioner Shankar Bidari maintains that there has been no security failure and wonders why the IPL organisers have thought it necessary to shift the semi-finals of the ongoing T20 tournament from the Garden City to the D Y Patel Stadium in Navi Mumbai where the finals will be held. "We had promised fool-proof security for the semi-finals," Bidari stated. The IPL organisers may have thought that seven crude bombs were seven too many!

So what if the Union home ministry has sent a communication to its Karnataka counterpart, asking how the police allowed the game to go on last Saturday despite bombs being found just outside the stadium! That has not stopped Karnataka home minister Acharya from doing a Sherlock Holmes and wondering aloud whether the bombs had been planted not by terrorists but by those involved in illegal betting, given the limited damage.

Which still does not explain the police failure to prevent the planting of bombs. A bomb is a bomb as far as the man on the street is concerned, irrespective of who plants it. The only ones to come out with any credit from the whole affair are the Bangalore police sniffer-dogs who detected five crude bombs before they could explode. It always helps to have properly trained and fully motivated four-footed personnel!








I have written repeatedly that socialist leaders like Jawaharlal Nehru and Indira Gandhi, as well as left intellectuals, suffered from a deep inferiority complex. They simply did not believe Indian business could compete globally.

My view has been contested hotly by some readers. One says there was no trace of inferiority in Nehru's Discovery of India, or in Constituent Assembly and Lok Sabha debates. "It sounds illogical that Nehru and others who spent the better part of their lives fighting for independence on the grounds that we were competent enough to rule ourselves, should after independence feel inferior to the ousted colonial powers." When Gandhiji was asked what he thought of western civilisation , he quipped "it would be a good idea" Very funny and very superior.

Yes, early leaders of independent India saw themselves as morally, civilisationally, and intellectually superior to whites Many were also bitterly critical and ashamed of the caste system and Indian feudalism, and sought to modernise traditional social structures. Nevertheless they claimed moral superiority.

Yet this superiority complex on morality co-existed with an inferiority complex on business. Leaders claimed that Indian industry had been stunted by British rule. So, did they plan to open up and compete globally after a transition period to overcome the alleged British stunting? Not at all. As a matter of principle they sought self sufficiency over trade, and attacked foreign investment, to attain what they called economic independence to buttress political independence.

This approach, they claimed, reflected not an inferiority complex but the superiority of their socialist thinking. Many had witnessed the collapse of capitalism during the 1930s, and saw the Soviet model as the one to follow. Yet their lack of intellectual honesty was plain in their refusal to draw lessons from the phenomenal post-war success of capitalist countries — including Germany and Japan , the losers of World war II — which soon left the Soviets far behind.

Anand Chandavarkar's recent book Unexplored Keynes and Other Essays has a lovely anecdote about Nehru's unwillingness to see beyond Fabian socialism. Nehru asked B P Adarkar, Trade Commissioner to West Germany," What is the secret of Germany's phenomenal economic recovery?" Adarkar forthrightly responded: "Mr Prime Minister, I know the answer but you will not like it. It is free enterprise." An impassive Nehru merely looked out of the plane window!

Some socialists — intellectuals and politicians — defended their policies on the ground that infant industry protection was legitimate, mainstream economics. Yet they did not bat an eyelid in protecting textiles, the second oldest industry in the world after prostitution. Indian socialists sought to protect infants, geriatrics and all others without discrimination For all their claims to moral superiority this reflected a deep inferiority complex in economic matters.


Rajni Kothari and several other contributors to Economic and Political Weekly forecast in 1991 that economic reforms would make Indian industry collapse or become indentured labour to MNCs. They also claimed that accepting patents in the Uruguay Round would destroy India's pharma industry. Events soon proved them economically illiterate and intellectually bankrupt. Kothari moaned in 1989 that India had moved from self-reliance to Reliance. He could not even conceive that it would be a change for the better!

Nimai Mehta of American University makes a separate point. Nehru and other Indian leaders did not have an inferiority complex, he says. Rather, they had a superiority banias complex with respect to their own citizens — shudras and lower castes — whom they regarded as lesser mortals requiring a guiding hand from great minds. "The trade of ordinary Indians, whether in gold or food grains, was suspect from the start. In this sense, Nehru perhaps was equally infected by what Hayek has termed as socialism's fatal conceit — the belief that others should live their lives as per his wishes."

Mehta is right. Nehru and Co felt that Indian Brahmin-intellectuals were superior to whites, but also that Indian marwaris and banias were inferior. Their superiority complex on the moral and intellectual plane co-existed with a deep inferiority complex on the business plane. Their solution was to go for central planning. This approach assumed that benevolent planners knew better than producers or consumers what should be produced or consumed. The licence-permit raj asserted that people were best off when they had no power at all to decide what should be produced or consumed — that was best left to the rulers!

But this was more than what Hayek called the fatal conceit of socialism. Their socialist conceit was compounded by caste conceit. India's high-caste leaders could not stand the marwari and refused to believe that any economy could thrive if it gave marwaris more freedom than Brahmins.

Let me quote a telling passage from Nehru's Autobiography.

"Right through history, the old Indian ideal did not glorify political and military triumph, and it looked down upon money and the professional money-making class. Honour and wealth did not go together, and honour was meant to go, at least in theory, to the men who served the community with little in the shape of financial regard." (Readers, please note this was Nehru's own Brahminical viewpoint: non-Brahmins like Shivaji and Jagat Seth would have disagreed.) "The old culture managed to live through many a fierce storm and tempest, but though it kept its outer form, it lost its real content. Today it is fighting silently and desperately against a new and all-powerful opponent — the bania civilisation of the capitalist West. It will succumb to the newcomer, for the West brings science, and science brings food for the hungry millions. But the West also brings an antidote to the evils of this cut-throat civilisation — the principles of socialism, of cooperation, and service to the community for the common good. This is not so unlike the old Brahmin idea of service."

So there you have it from the horse's mouth. Nehru himself says that socialism is a form of casteism, one that rightly puts the bania in his place. Will today's socialists please own up too?






The Indian legal system has been prudent to capture the essence of the definition of a 'state' enshrined in the Constitution, to obligate private companies to make disclosures as a public entity because it indirectly involves spending taxpayer money and deploying state machinery to an extent that even a public company might not. It will be an understatement in this context and background if Indian Premier League (IPL) matches are defined as a private affair and, hence, not liable for disclosures.

Following this analogy and the courts' role in implementing law, public interest should supersede the strict interpretations of company statutes when it comes undoubtedly to the disclosure of private companies' stakes in the IPL teams. BCCI should be accountable to the public and make its operations and actions transparent.

However, given the public emotion, money and time that is the bedrock of the institution that IPL has become, a transparent system of self-governance should be evolved so that the greed for material gain does not rob the sport of its glory and integrity. It is imperative to have a mechanism that ensures the sanctity of the sport is maintained, and merit and chance alone dictate match results. In this context, the associations between the team owners and the designers of IPL should come in the form of disclosures rather than seek shelter behind the cloak of lack of mandatory requirements under the Companies Act or other statute(s).

In a cricket-crazy nation like India, it is important that we do not de-sanctify the sport. The reprehensible events that have unfolded over the last few days are a clarion call for a corrective mechanism that would restore integrity and order in the practice of this sport. An autonomous and independent regulatory body is the need of the hour to ensure that minimum checks and balances are put in place so that the sport along with the emotions, hopes and aspirations of a billion people is not held to ransom by an avaricious and rapacious minority.







In the mega-decibel brouhaha surrounding the IPL imbroglio, it is pertinent to remember that the biggest stakeholder in Indian cricket is not Shashi Tharoor, Lalit Modi, the franchisees or sundry political parties who are currently slugging it out, but the Indian public. What began as an ego battle between two tweeter-happy individuals has precipitated into an unholy melee where several agendas are being played out simultaneously, not all necessarily to do with cricket. The ordinary Indian cricket lover, the lifeline for the sport — and, therefore, of the benefits that accrue to all the other stakeholders — is befuddled and angry.

There has been such widespread speculation about money-laundering, match-fixing, betting, nefarious deals and what have you — all unfounded as yet admittedly — that people have willy-nilly become sceptical about the IPL. That is detrimental to the future of the event as well as the sport.

Government agencies have swung into action, and answers to several allegations about how affairs were managed by Lalit Modi should emerge in the next few days. The more relevant issues, however, are of probity in public life and transparency in corporate conduct and governance: in this instance, of the franchises as much as of the IPL.

The political class stands damned in the public perception because of the litany of scams that have been unearthed in the past few decades, but the corporate world is not untainted either. In the current context, the immediate need is for restoration of trust in the public about the game is administered. That will come through action taken against errant politicians and office-bearers of the IPL and BCCI certainly, but will get a fillip if the original franchisees make a public declaration of their shareholdings.

True, in a free economy, ordinarily the shareholding of a business enterprise is nobody's business. But there may be extraordinary circumstances when, as the old Chinese proverb goes, "public before private and country before family".








Forgotten in the latest media blitz on IPL slush funds and ministerial impropriety was the fact that Deccan Chargers' skipper and opening batsman Adam Gilchrist walked in a crucial match even though the faintest of edges had not been heard. Gilchrist knew he was out even if the umpire hadn't realised it because of the noise in the crowded stadium. And this was in a crucial game in the fastest-growing sporting league (ranked number-four in the world after just three years of operations ), valued at $4.13 billion, with TV rights alone accounting for $1.6 billion.

Till the latest controversy broke, everything, including team-valuations and the amount bid for IPL players, was going up and up. The total amount bid on March 21, 2010, for the two new franchises of Pune and Kochi by Sahara and Rendezvous, respectively , added up to $703 million, just $20 million less than what had been bid on January 24, 2008, for the eight original franchises of Mumbai, Bangalore, Hyderabad , Chennai, Delhi, Mohali, Kolkata and Jaipur by Reliance, the UB Group, Deccan Chronicle, India Cements, GMR, Zinta/ Wadia/Burman/Paul, Shahrukh/Mehta, and the Emerging Media, respectively.

In its third year, IPL-3 was estimated to have reached a television audience of 108 million (up from 72 million for IPL-1 ), with a TRP rating of 4.69 allowing the telecaster Sony to charge between Rs 4 lakh to Rs 5 lakh for a 10-second commercial. However, in the wake of the latest controversy, all valuations could go for a six, with India's finance minister stating that every aspect of the IPL would be probed, including the source of funds, the manner in which they were spent, the ownership of each franchise and the shareholding pattern.

The earlier euphoria and the latest controversy would more than drown out the noise of the ball taking the edge of the Glichrist bat and being caught behind. Yet the Deccan Chargers' skipper walked as he has always done, not just during IPL but throughout a long and distinguished career as Australia's finest wicketkeeper-batsman. Whether they play IPL or not, cricketers are in a league of their own when it comes to their love for the game. The very next morning after returning from a foreign tour with the national team, Sachin Tendulkar has been known to quietly turn up on the Azad Maidan to play the Kanga League for an infinitesimal fraction of the amount he is getting for leading Mumbai Indians in their quest for their first-ever IPL title. On December 15, 2008, when he scored a series-winning century in the second innings of the Chennai Test against England , Tendulkar dedicated his knock to the victims of 26/11 even while the British TV commentator hailed the match-winning stroke with a cry of 'This is for Mumbai' !

Valuations fluctuate but values remain constant to an extent where cricketing metaphors have come to symbolise life. "Playing with a straight bat" means upholding the highest standards in life. "It's not cricket" describes any deviation from these standards. "The game is bigger than the individual" is something which everyone needs to be reminded of, whether he is a cricketer, a minister turned mentor for an IPL franchisee or the commissioner for the world's fastest-growing sporting league! The legendary Don Bradman, who ended his career just four runs short of what would have been a perfect Test-batting average of 100, once remarked that his mother had always told him that individual achievements were like pebbles on a seashore being picked up by a boy!

The cricketing metaphor of a second innings even offers redemption for those whose career has come under a cloud, whether they are ministers who have had to resign abruptly after a hitherto distinguished record of public service or commissioners who were hailed till the other day for building the world's fastest-growing sporting league. IPL should have ideally been all about reconciling valuations with values which are priceless.

Time and again during IPL-3 , Nita Ambani has seen to it that the man-of-the match award at every home game played by the Mumbai Indians was presented not by her but by schoolchildren from a disadvantaged background, sometimes by a physically-challenged child in a wheelchair , who would receive an autographed bat from Tendulkar. Those who love the game would remember that author Ralph Barker's Ten Great Innings included not just the first ever 300-score in a single day in first-class cricket by Bradman but also a match-winning knock in English county cricket by a virtually unknown youth who, despite missing the bus, made it to the ground in time for the game, thanks to a friendly truck-driver who had never heard of him. It was Barker's love for the game which kept him going throughout his tenure as a Royal Air Force gunner in World War Two. Timeless values transcend temporary valuations!




                                                                                                               DECCAN CHRONICAL



The Reserve Bank of India's monetary policy statement for 2010-11 has come as a relief to borrowers and corporate bodies alike. At least for the moment. Though the RBI has increased the repo rate (which banks pay to borrow money from the RBI) and reverse repo rate (which banks are paid to park their money with the RBI) and increased the cash reserve ratio (money that is impounded by the RBI) — all by just 0.25 per cent — it has said if the situation demands it will make further changes mid-way as it did at the end of March, five weeks before the scheduled credit policy announcement. The RBI has said its soft policy rate (what it calls the velvet policy) will continue, as it sees inflation moderating to 5.5 per cent by March 2011 and GDP growth for 2010 at eight per cent. So home, personal, consumer and other loan rates are expected to remain untouched for the moment as banks see no need to hike them right now. There is still enough liquidity in the system — an estimated Rs 32,000 crore after the last CRR hike in January — to meet both industry and government demands. That the banks are comfortable was evident when HDFC last week announced its teaser rate of 8.5 per cent for home loans. However, the government's borrowing, particularly for unproductive non-Plan expenditure, could prove to be a spoiler. The RBI governor, Mr D. Subbarao, has given the government a word of caution about its borrowings, and the need for qualitative fiscal consolidation. Government borrowings are still very high, and if this continues it might lessen funds available to the private sector, possibly triggering higher interest rates. In his policy statement, the RBI chief clearly told the government that it needs to shift from one-off gains such as farm loan waivers and the Sixth Pay Commission award, and move towards structural improvements on both the tax and expenditure sides while moving on to the path of fiscal consolidation. On controlling inflation, the RBI's optimism rests largely on the expectation of a good monsoon, and of industry and business doing well. The industrial production index has been showing robust growth, but the resurgence is not across the board. One hopes the RBI will also factor in the not-so-robust growth in the non-consumer durables and basic goods sector. Growth in these areas could be affected by the growing Maoist insurgency in the mineral-rich belt of Eastern India and parts of Maharashtra. Having said this, India is well onto the eight per cent growth path, which is better than what the highly developed countries have achieved. There are some imponderables that could stymie this — a bad monsoon and uncertainty in the global financial sector. While recovery in India is supported predominantly by domestic demand, trade, financial and sentiment linkages and the uncertain global environment could adversely impact the Indian economy. On the other hand, if the developed world sees a resurgence in growth it could lead to a hardening of commodity prices. Crude prices are already high. This could lead to imported inflation domestically. Another factor that could add to inflationary pressures is capital inflows. As the developed world continues its easy money policy, this money will find its way to the emerging economies which are growing the fastest. Any excessive capital flows to India can only strengthen the rupee, which has appreciated in double digits over the last one year.






Two events in the last few days deserve special attention of the readers — one, a meeting of the Maha Panchayat of 36 "khaps", or gotras, in Kurushetra, Haryana, on April 13, to protest against the death sentence of awarded to the five accused in an "honour killing" case and the other a march to Jaipur being organised by Rajasthan's Gujjar community to demand five per cent special quota within the quota of other backward classes (OBCs). Though unrelated, both these events provide us an opportunity to take note of certain disturbing trends of social and political behaviour in our democracy and to consider what immediate steps are required to deal with such challenges to the authority of the Constitution and the law.

Let us first take the case of the Maha Panchayat in Haryana. The facts of the case are shocking, even sickening, to any civilised person. A young couple, Manoj, 23, and Babli, 19, were killed allegedly on the diktat of the panchayat two months after their wedding in April 2007. The two had eloped to Chandigarh where they got married in a temple as their parents and "khap" were opposed to their marriage on the ground that they belonged to the same gotra, Banwala. The additional district and sessions judge, Karnal, had sentenced five of the culprits to death, one to life imprisonment and another to seven years imprisonment. The "khap" has come out in angry protest against the court's judgment and has demanded that the government take necessary steps to get the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955, amended so that all matters relating to "social life and moral responsibility" are dealt exclusively by khap panchayats according to the traditions of their gotras. One of the most disturbing aspects of the speeches made at the Maha Panchayat in the Manoj-Babli case is that many among those who protested vigorously against the court's order were educated and well-to-do people.

It is hard to believe that in a civilised society like ours, and at a time when India is emerging as one of the shining examples of technological progress, a young couple could be quietly murdered by hirelings for the simple reason that they chose to get married. Incidents like these are the real challenge to our democracy and if they are allowed to go unchecked and unpunished, India's claim to be the largest genuine democracy in the world may not be accepted by those who believe in human rights and liberties.

We in India were very quick to condemn the Taliban rule in Afghanistan as barbaric, but we often seem to forget that such mock trials and kangaroo courts are active in our country also — in a India that has a rich cultural heritage, with progressive and tolerant traditions. What is equally surprising is that our politicians have not taken serious note of what happened in the Maha Sabha. Obviously, politicians do not want to risk losing the votes of the khaps and Maha Sabhas and prefer to leave the issue to the courts.

I SHALL now turn to the Gujjar agitation for the five per cent sub-quota. Perhaps, Gujjars have a legitimate grievance that they have not received what they deserve and that the crows have been eating away what was intended for the sparrows.

The Gujjar agitation is not an isolated one in India. There have been some demands for quotas within quota in other parts of the country too and certain concessions have been made by some state governments. But now we find that every time an attempt is made to improve the lot of the really disadvantaged backward classes, there is a simultaneous demand for sub-quotas for the most backward categories within that group. We find such demands being made by certain political leaders even in the case of the one-third representation for women in the legislatures for which a bill has already been introduced in the Rajya Sabha.

Perhaps former Prime Minister V.P. Singh believed that it was politically expedient to introduce the reservation system for the other backward communities without really examining how it could be implemented without provoking demands for sub-quotas from all those who claim to be the "most backward group" of the OBCs. Very often governments prefer to yield to political pressure from their votebanks and if this trend is allowed to continue we would have facilitated further hardening of the caste and sub-caste divides in the Hindu community. And eventually this can lead to irreparable consequences affecting national integration and unity of the whole country.

If the government sincerely accepts that the reservation system has not succeeded inadequately delivering social justice expected of it to the deserving communities, the right thing for the government to do is to examine the whole question of reservation and examine what can be done to ensure protection of the legitimate claims of those who are really suffering from various handicaps without having to create sub-quotas.

In fact, the Gujjar agitation has pointed to the need for such an introspection by the government and for appointing a committee of experts to make recommendations for protecting the interests of the most deserving among the backward sections. If on the other hand the government yields to pressure from the agitators and recognises such sub-quotas, the future governments will find that the entire reservation system has become administratively unimplementable — If nothing else, just corruption on a massive scale would have neutralised the benefits of reservation because of the proliferation of sub-quotas.

- P.C. Alexander is a former governor of Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra








AFTER waiting nearly a week as an Icelandic volcano spewed turbine-mangling ash into the atmosphere — thwarting flights into, out of or through Europe — several airlines began flying passengers again on Tuesday.

Governments, businesses and most travellers, irritated by disrupted itineraries and worried about lost productivity, are delighted to see planes back in the sky. But I, for one, wish this blessedly jet-free interlude could have continued a little longer. In the eccentric, ground-level adventures of some stranded passengers — 700-mile taxi rides through Scandinavia, for instance, perhaps a horse-drawn stagecoach over the Alps if things got really desperate — I'm reminded of the romance we trade away each time we shuffle aboard an airplane.

In the five decades or so since jets became the dominant means of long-haul travel, the world has benefited immeasurably from the speed and convenience of air travel.

But as Orson Welles intoned in The Magnificent Ambersons, "The faster we're carried, the less time we have to spare". Indeed, airplanes' accelerated pace has infected nearly every corner of our lives. Our truncated vacation days and our crammed work schedules are predicated on the assumption that everyone will fly wherever they're going, that anyone can go great distances and back in a very short period of time.

So we are condemned to keep riding on airplanes. Which is not really travelling.

Airplanes are a means of ignoring the spaces in between your point of origin and your destination. By contrast, a surface journey allows you to look out on those spaces — at eye level and on a human scale, not peering down through breaks in the clouds from 35,000 feet above — from the observation car of a rolling train or the deck of a gently bobbing ship. Surface transport can be contemplative, picturesque and even enchanting in a way that air travel never will be.

My girlfriend and I recently set out to circumnavigate the globe without the aid of any aircraft. Along the way, we took the Trans-Siberian Railway across the wilds of Russia from Moscow to Vladivostok, and drove a car through the empty doomlands of the Australian outback. These journeys take less than half a day if you go by plane. Each lasts nearly a week when you stick to the ground. But taking to the air means simply boarding, enduring the flight and getting off at another airport. Going our way meant sharing bread and cheese with kindly Russians in a shared train cabin, and drinking beers with Australian jackaroos (we'd call them cowboys) at a lonely desert roadhouse. These are warm, vivid memories that will stay with us forever.

Think of the trans-Atlantic flights you may have taken. Do you remember anything about them? (Turbulence, bad in-flight movies and screaming children don't count.) Because flying is an empty, soulless way to traverse the planet, the best flights are in fact the ones you forget immediately after hitting the tarmac.

Now, imagine floating across the Atlantic on a ship. Do you think you might enjoy those days of transit — the joys of a starry night in the middle of the ocean, or a round of drinks with new friends as you look out across the stern railing at the glimmering water — and hold them in your memories well after your vessel made landfall?

My hope is that some travellers stranded by the volcanic eruption have been able to discover the joys of slow travel for themselves. With airplanes out of the picture over the past few days, pretty much the only form of public transport between the United States and Europe has been aboard the Queen Mary II, making one of her weeklong treks between New York and Southampton, England, or on one of the select few container ships that will rent spare cabins to civilian passengers.

I can vouch for the container ship option, having taken a nine-day-long freighter passage from Philadelphia to Antwerp as part of my globe-circling trip. You can hang out on the navigational bridge with the officers, who will teach you to chart a course. You eat your meals with the crew in the mess room. You spot broad-winged seabirds and enormous whales and pods of dolphins.

Were you to see a plane flying overhead, you'd look up at its contrail and pity those poor people shrieking through the sky in a cramped aluminium tube.

They will arrive days before you, sure. But they will have missed out on the wonders of a journey where there is no choice but to sit back, relax and pleasantly ruminate, as the ship chugs steadily through the waves.

- Seth Stevenson is the author of Grounded: A Down to Earth Journey Around the World







EVEN if Shashi Tharoor had kept a safe distance from the honey-pot it was inevitable that aspects of the IPL would warrant probing ~ there were too many mega-bucks floating around to convince us that all was clean. Yet while a thorough investigation into financial affairs, tax compliance, conformity with corporate law etc. is to be unequivocally welcomed it is necessary to warn against confusing issues. Perhaps it was poorly formulated, but the promise from the finance minister in Parliament was vague, open to conflicting interpretation. It would, therefore, be prudent to appoint a probe panel comprising officials from investigative and regulatory wings of the ministry with specific terms of reference. Definitely worthy of probe are sources of funding, whether there has been tax evasion and possible violations of foreign exchange rules. But it must be neither witch-hunt nor fishing expedition (which would include no selective leaks), and operate within the framework the law provides. Nothing more: the government's writ is limited. An entirely different set of issues must be dealt with by the BCCI, including the conduct of Lalit Modi and his continuance as IPL Commissioner. His "success" has clearly gone to his head, he functions arrogantly and arbitrarily but that does not automatically equate with being a swindler as many politicians are alleging and TV channels are mischievously hinting. It has indeed become fashionable to go berserk.

Much of the anti-IPL fire in Parliament was ignited by an obsolete mindset. Obsessed as they are with government control (hence their capacity to "influence") our netas have yet to reconcile themselves to economic and commercial factors playing an increasing role in public life. Objections raised 20 years ago when the economy was unshackled from sarkari constraints are now being regurgitated. The IPL is a heady cocktail of commerce, entertainment and sport, with several "add-ons"; it has been modelled on American sporting leagues, and has opened attractive avenues for financial success, some of which has trickled down to the players. For a generation of politicians bred on the theory that "profit" is a dirty word the IPL has been difficult to stomach. So it was back to the days of "Tata/Birla bashing", calls for a JPC (a political rather than an inquiring mechanism), nationalisation, some inter-party rivalry and display of caste complexes. Happily, unlike some Delhi MLAs, there was no fuming over "leggy" cheer-leaders. The financial independence of the game in general and the IPL in particular is clearly the cause of envy and heartburn, but to use agencies like the IT Department, ED, DRI to satiate political whims would not be "playing cricket". Pranab Mukherjee must keep his bat straight!






THE astute Narendra Modi has suffered a setback with the Gujarat Governor returning the Bill that had made voting mandatory. There is little doubt that the Chief Minister had attempted the unconstitutional, and had in effect blurred the distinction between a fundamental right and duty. The political spin had made him impervious to the fact that the individual's right to vote and the right not to vote are two sides of the freedom of expression coin. Ergo, the proposed legislation had run counter precisely to the freedom of expression. Theoretically, the Gujarat government may be right with its claim that a low turnout doesn't reflect the "true spirit of the will of the people in the electoral mandate". Nor for that matter do crowds at election meetings mean votes. It  was only too obvious last December, when the Bill was passed, that the reasoning was contrived so as to suit the party. No less preposterous was the clause on punishment for those who would choose not to vote. In other words, Mr Modi, through the Gujarat Local Authorities Laws (Amendment) Bill, 2009, had arrogated to the state the right of electoral policing. A more conscious violation of the democratic engagement would be difficult to find. It has required gubernatorial intervention to buttress the obvious message to the Chief Minister's office that "no punishment can be meted out for not participating in the electoral process".
The other issue to which the Governor has taken serious objection was the second indiscretion on the part of Mr Modi. The provision on mandatory voting was clubbed with 50 per cent women's reservation ~ a wholly unrelated issue ~ in the same Bill. Considering the  flavour of the season, some may concede that the decision to raise the quota for women in local bodies from 33 to 50 per cent is indubitably a progressive measure on the part of a BJP government. This has now been reaffirmed with the party's support to the Women's Reservation Bill. But over the past four months, the Chief Minister has managed to make his agenda seem still more puzzling to the Opposition. The latter is in favour of women's quota but is against compulsory voting. Mr Modi's brainwave, if applicable only to local elections, is unmistakably based on cold electoral calculations. Had it been equipped with a legislation on compulsory voting, the BJP would have used its organisation to mobilise the numbers, at least in Gujarat. The Chief Minister is now under instructions from the Governor on where to draw the line. Voting can never be compulsory.








THE Left has been complaining about Trinamul unleashing a reign of terror in the districts just as Trinamul has submitted lists to the Governor and the Centre of its workers who have been killed in what they call a concerted assault by the CPI-M to hold on to its political turf. Claims and counter-claims have become part of what is regarded as a last-ditch attempt to determine the result of the coming elections. That can never absolve the administration of its responsibility to sustain the conditions for normal life till the votes are cast. It is thus shocking that the state secretary of the ruling party and chairman of the Left Front can predict that elections to 81 municipalities, including Kolkata and Salt Lake, would be soaked in blood without any contradiction from the government. How is Biman Bose so sure at this point that the inter-party clashes in some of the worst affected districts like Hooghly and North 24-Parganas will spill over to Kolkata and Salt Lake during the campaign and perhaps on polling day? If he speaks as leader of a party, it is up to the administration to clarify what steps have been taken to ensure peaceful elections. Deployment of Central forces is one safeguard but it does not guard against a calculated attempt to raise the temperature through provocative outbursts.
Nothing should stop the police from acting firmly against those who have arms at their disposal to deal with political rivals. The question is whether the police are free to act against anti-socials on either side. It is more doubtful whether the administration that is responsible for law and order can reassure voters that it has the machinery to deal with the kind of predictions being made by the Left Front chairman. On the contrary, it is quite alarming from the voter's point of view that the example set by the chief minister in North Bengal in calling upon cadres to "resist'' the opposition is being followed by campaign managers at lower levels to the point of unnerving the electorate with threats of a bloody contest. The Left, while it is in power, has a responsibility to voters. It cannot, through word and deed, demonstrate that survival is more important than governance.









THE Dantewada tragedy must make the Central Para Military Forces realise that any suo motu operation without proper assistance and cooperation from the State police is fraught with risks. While the CPMFs have the advantage of superior weaponry and numbers on their side, they are, otherwise, seriously handicapped by the absence of knowledge of the terrain, people, language, customs, Intelligence, and the nuances of local problems. Inputs on such parameters are generally available with the  local police. But both the state and central paramilitary are required for a synergy of efforts and initiatives to make the operation effective. It is well established  that insurgencies or extremism are better contained by an efficient police force with the valuable assistance of the CPMFs. It bears recall that it was the state police in West Bengal which brought the Naxalite problem of the late 60s  under control.  As were the activities of the PWG by the Andhra Pradesh police in the Nineties.  The tide turned against Sikh extremism only after the Punjab police confronted the extremists with grit, valour and tact. In this regard the 'psy ops' play an important role in weaning away the support of the people from the extremists'. In the event of undue publicity, the sensitive operations tend to become counter-productive; these only help alert the adversaries and impede the progress and the impact of the campaign. 


FOR its part, the state police has to upgrade its aptitude, skills, weaponry, technology and training, and, thus, acquire the capability to confront the Maoists. Some states have either raised special operation groups or are in the process of raising them to deal with the problem which is quite different from routine law enforcement. The core strength of any police force lies in the efficacy of the arm of its law enforcement. Over the years, the latter has been hamstrung by the thin spread and presence of grossly under-staffed police stations. For instance, the three Maoist-affected districts of West Midnapore, Purulia and Bankura in West Bengal require 58 police stations, but only 28 are presently functional. In view of the extraordinary situation prevailing in these districts, the composition, content and character of the thanas will have to be transformed dramatically. In a word, they will have to meet the growing challenges of policing.

The politicisation of government services by the Left Front has taken a heavy toll, seriously undermining the quality of policing. People have lost faith in the machinery in the tribal belt in particular, for it often works as an instrument of the government to advance and safeguard the interests of the party in power. The helpless manner in which the police leadership has  acquiesced in it has made matters worse.

Since the Dantewada carnage, the NGOs and the human rights activists have maintained a studied silence. They are yet to react to the gruesome killings of the jawans coming from the same poor background as the Maoists for whom their hearts always bleed. Not even words of sorrow have been expressed for the families of the policemen. It will not be long before the civil rights activists come out in support of the Maoists, claiming that for the capture of state power it is necessary to kill the sentinels guarding the doors of a 'sham democracy'.
In sharp contrast, the BJP and other political parties of different hues except the JD-U in Bihar have come out in defence of the Centre  and the Home Minster in particular. They have lined up their support to carry forward the struggle with stronger determination and commitment to save Indian democracy. This is the first time in the country that such a change in the attitude of the political parties, irrespective of their affiliations, has been noticed. In West Bengal, however, the Left Front and the Trinamul remain poles apart on the issue.
  The bipartisan approach at the national level needs to be consolidated so that a national consensus can emerge from within the political spectrum. This will help curb the tendency to politicise and trivialise the issues connected with the safety and security of the country.

'One-eyed' policy

DANTEWADA has exposed the sharp differences within the ruling party and certain other political parties on the strategy to be adopted to deal with the Maoists and their armed struggle. Some have described the policy being pursued by the Centre as "one-eyed"; others have vehemently opposed a bellicose stance. There is a group which believes that the remedy lies in crushing the movement by force. As several thoughts contend, it is important that in the aftermath of the massacre, the morale of the CPMFs and the police is maintained. In future, all operations should be planned and executed with utmost secrecy and precision. They should not be brutal and brazen. For, that will further alienate the people from the state and the government. This is precisely what the Maoists want. Restraint and logic must temper and guide the response to the outrage. Aggression should be more intelligently planned  with tactics, equipment and procedures that value the lives of  people who may be caught in the cross-fire of the ongoing battle.

This is an uphill task and needs a well thought out strategy which is comprehensive, coherent and credible. Its main focus should be on the restoration of the rule of law and development of the tribal areas with the tribal people playing a participatory role to make things better. It is a long haul. It is not going to be achieved overnight because the malaise is too deep and entrenched for years.  Setbacks can be minimised if proper lessons are drawn quickly from 6/4, and  changes and modifications are introduced with urgent despatch.
The road to victory is paved not by killing and capturing but by removing the deficits of democracy and development in the quest for  improving the quality of life of the tribals. The mission requires the support and assistance of one and all. For its success, the buck stops at the door of every one of us.  








With reference to the case of B Marcelline, who was charged at the instance of the Sukea Street Police, with carrying on ring gambling under circumstances already reported, the accused was discharged on Thursday last by Mr Dundas, Officiating Commissioner of Police. He was told that he would run the risk of being prosecuted again. If the modus operandi of the game differed in any way from the details as mentioned in Mr Justice Fletcher's judgment reported in the Calcutta Law Reports, Vol VI. He was, however, at liberty to carry on the game in a way which would not amount to gambling. The accused said that the method he was pursuing was quite inoffensive and in future, he would take particular care to conform to the details an embodied in the High Court judgment.







 The ongoing political conflict on Bangkok's streets and the bloody clashes on 10 April 10 have rattled the nerves of Asean leaders as they ponder their grouping's future political landscape. Last week, Vietnam was quick in wanting to issue a statement on behalf of Asean on the violence. On the same day, Cambodia immediately stepped in, calling for a special Asean summit to discuss the crisis in its eastern neighbour - unprecedented moves. Both plans were aborted.

Naturally, Thailand blocked the chair's statement. Bangkok felt it was not necessary as the Abhisit government is still in power and continues to handle the crisis in a transparent manner. Most importantly, Thailand is an open society and the local and foreign media are free to report on the unfolding events on a daily basis. In responding to numerous enquiries, the government reiterated the non-use of forces during the confrontation.
Finally, Vietnam, on it own issued a short statement saying: "As a neighbouring country of Thailand, a member of Asean and concurrently the chair of Asean, Vietnam follows with great attention the current complicated developments in Thailand. Vietnam wants to see the parties concerned exercise restraint, refrain from violence, and peacefully settle issues through dialogue so as to bring about early stability for Thailand." That much was clear.

Within hours, Vietnam also responded to Phnom Penh's request with a short and crispy message: it is not practical to have such a summit. Putting the two diplomatic moves together, one wonders the reasons why Vietnam and Cambodia were so eager to highlight the Thai political uncertainty. Throughout the political quagmire in Burma, since its admission in 1997, the two members have yet to play any pro-active role at all.
For instance, at the Hanoi summit, the Asean leaders discussed the situation inside Burma, especially the upcoming farcical election. Quite a few countries, including Indonesia, Thailand and Singapore, wanted a strong statement from the chair to express "concern" about the current conditions there. But Vietnam as the Asean chair refused to do so. Therefore, the final statement by the chair contained the lowest denominator of Asean's positions on Burma in a decade. The statement "underscored" the importance of national reconciliation in Burma and the holding of a general election in a free, fair and inclusive manner.

The previous Asean chair's statement on Burma included the call for the release of Aung San Suu Kyi and political prisoners (2003). During the bloodshed in September 2007, Asean expressed revulsion at the violence in Burma and the use of weapons in the crackdown against monks and students. At the Hanoi summit, the leaders told the Burmese that Asean was ready to share its electoral experience to help Burma; they could also send observers. But there was no response from Burma. Deep down, Asean would like to see Burma carry out a decent election that is acceptable internationally as it would be a boon to the grouping's credibility as a whole. For the past 13 years, Asean has been suffocating from the family's rogue member, who is not willing to listen or consider opinions and requests of peers.

Last October, Vietnam and Cambodia (along with Laos and Brunei) did not back Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya's initiative calling for the pardon and release of Aung San Suu Kyi. After months of lobbying, the planned joint Asean appeal finally fumbled. Obviously as the Asean chair, Hanoi can take an initiative to reflect on any issue as it sees fit. It must be noted that most of the past Asean joint statements made were mainly on common crisis such as food security, financial crisis and recovery, pandemics, among others.
Such is the dilemma of the 43-year-old rule-based organisation. Political division remains as stark as ever. Southeast Asia, now under a single Asean roof, remains the world's only region that comprises all forms of political systems. They range from absolute to constitutional monarchies, one-party dictatorship to one-party cronyism including various shades of socialism-cum-capitalism. Whenever a consensus is needed, Asean members take an extraordinary amount of time to decide, especially on sensitive issues.

Amid all these inconsistencies within Asean, there is one bright spot - Indonesia's democracy, and its further consolidation. The New York-based Freedom House picked Indonesia as the only free country in the region. On the day Vietnam rejected Cambodia's request for a summit on the Thai crisis, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono was speaking in front of an international gathering of the Sixth Assembly of World Movement for Democracy with over 600 participants from 110 countries in a downtown hotel. It was a vote of confidence for the 12-year-old democracy, the world's third largest.

In his keynote speech, Yudhoyono declared proudly that democracy in Indonesia is irreversible and a daily fact of life. The home-grown democracy in his country, the President reiterated, showed that democracy and economic development can go hand in hand as it was no longer a zero-sum game. With the third highest economic growth among G-20 countries, after China and India, Indonesia is confident that its democratic development is on the right track. He pointed out that the desire to get rid of corruption, collusion and nepotism came wholly from within.

Thailand's democracy, despite its long 78-year history, is still not taking root and the Philippines continues to struggle to find its own democratic formula. The Filipino public are hoping that the next election would enable a respectable leader offering good governance to emerge. Just imagine the implications on the Asean political landscape if Thailand and the Philippines overcome their political instability and attain a certain degree of democratic maturity. Together with Indonesia, they would represent nearly 70 per cent of the Asean population of 595 million. It could be a new benchmark.

It is extremely significant that Jakarta is taking up the Asean chair next year, changing places with Brunei. First of all, Indonesia's chair automatically pre-empts Burma from resuming its skipped chair in 2005. The earlier fear was that after the scheduled election and a new government in Burma this year, the regime might request Asean to return its chair. For 2012, Cambodia has already reaffirmed that it would surely stick to the original schedule as the general election is slated for 2013. Burma, under the name of Myanmar, will take up the chair in 2015 when Asean is supposed to become one community.

Finally, this would allow the grouping's biggest member to pursue its broad global agenda as the Asean chair. It remains to be seen how Indonesia can balance its global and regional roles.

The Nation / ANN







On Civil Services Day, it is hard not to be assailed by feelings, paradoxically, both of pessimism and optimism. Pessimism is not strange, nor out of place, since it is difficult to live the feeling down. The sense of optimism emanates from a civil society that has realised its responsibilities through the Right to Information Act and a vigilant media that has forced the government to undo many wrongs.


It won't make bureaucrats happy if I were to suggest that the system warrants drastic changes. Any change is likely to upset their applecart. But change we can and a beginning should be made.

Any discerning observer would have noticed the drastic fall in quality of personnel opting for the civil services in the last decade and a half. Gone are the days when the bureaucracy attracted the brightest and the best. The reason is not hard to seek. In the wake of liberalisation and globalisation of the economy, employment opportunities have opened up and government-controlled jobs no more hold the same attraction they did. Corporate jobs with larger pay packages and perks coupled with easier opportunities for switching jobs held greater attraction for the meritorious than government jobs with the vision of power that the quota-licence-permit raj engendered. With this raj taking a beating and power (rather abuse of power) shrinking, corporate jobs offered better alternatives. The quality in civil service dropped abysmally.

Sadly, few in the government admit this change. They like to live in a make-believe world and refer to the number of candidates appearing in the civil services examination. This is the flaw in the old mode of recruitment. The civil service examination alone cannot decide the service a candidate is allotted. No modern management guru would subscribe to this view. Induction training is crucial and performance during this training must form  part of the selection to a particular service to ensure that the right candidate is selected.
Further, there is a need to reduce, if not  eliminate, the gap between the corporate world and the civil services. This gap is not merely financial. The absence of an adequate mechanism to reward the competent and, as a corollary, weed out the incompetent, is perhaps the single important factor that discourages the talented to choose civil service as a career today.

But is this easy? And can this be brought about? What does one suggest to make the civil services competitive and merit-based? Is it possible to suggest converting the permanent civil service to a contractual one? It would be blasphemous to say that the majority of posts could be contracted out for three, four or five years with renewals open only to the meritorious and honest. It is a truism that the concept of permanent civil service has bred complacency and inefficiency. Today's bureaucracy largely follows an escalator-paradigm: why walk (read work) when you know that the escalator shall willy-nilly take you up the ladder!
Further, for the civil services to be attractive, it is imperative that every activity that affects career planning is transparent and based on objective criteria of meritocracy. This is where the concept of "right man for the right job" must take centrestage.

One problem that afflicts the civil service today is that merit is neither recognised nor rewarded; worse, rewards are selectively and venally done. A glaring example is the manning of posts under the Central Staffing Scheme. The whole scheme follows the "principle of flagrant inequality" that allows some  automated promotion/placement on empanelment while others languish post-empanelment - never to occupy the posts they were empanelled for. While the meritorious are good enough to be empanelled, some are deemed more deserving than others to win placements!

The mechanism for empanelment of officers for higher levels which today is shrouded in unholy secrecy must give way to transparency. This is where the godparents-godchildren syndrome is the most merciless. One knows of any number of undeserving personnel who have no moral right to continue working, let alone occupy select posts, having been picked up only because they have powerful godparents. This is perhaps the saddest commentary on the Indian bureaucracy. Needless to say, it tells on the morale of the deserving, apart from ensuring that governance is below par.

The practice of wholesale promotion of empanelled officers of one batch to the post of Secretary (when vacancies are available) or Special Secretary (when vacancies are not available) is perhaps the saddest feature of the bureaucracy. This "upsizing" makes a mockery of the objective of "rightsizing" or "downsizing" or "resizing" the bureaucracy to bring down the cost of service delivery, apart from betraying the trust placed by the constitution and civil society by ensuring a higher payout for the services provided.

Given the kind of fossilisation that besets the bureaucracy, there is urgent need to bring in professionals from the "open market" for senior posts in areas such as economic planning, industry, commerce, power, petroleum, agriculture, food processing, external affairs, urban planning, and health. In fact, except for areas like internal security, there is scope for bringing in outside experts at the senior level in almost all areas of the government. The aim should be a decision-making system instead of a hierarchical system. The present system of selection of personnel to a variety of posts that fosters cronyism must change.

In recent times, various civil services have become more service-oriented and citizen-centric. Almost all the departments of the government have adopted customer-focused measures to make public dealings easy and accessible. Information Technology can be catalyzed to bring about more of these changes. As regards accountability, independent regulators/agencies with representatives from neutral inter-departmental bodies and stakeholders could strengthen this mechanism. In some cases, the stakeholders could be involved in evolving the parameters, if not in the actual accountability. It must be said that certain changes have been suggested and some even implemented. Variable pay though on the anvil is yet to be implemented.

On the contrary, the confidential reports have ceased to be confidential. In an order, the Department of Personnel and Training (DoPT) last year directed that Annual Performance Appraisal Report (APAR) be communicated to the officer reported upon for representation, if any, for the sake of fairness and transparency in public administration. It came about at the Supreme Court's behest. It is indeed a move in the right direction to reduce, if not eliminate, subjectivism in report-writing. But is the Indian civil service today professional enough for this to succeed?

The honest answer is "no". How many seniors would have the intellectual honesty to assess their subordinates objectively and have the courage of conviction to call a spade a spade? The problem gets worse because most civil servants suffer from delusions of personal excellence. So, with APAR made transparent now, any grading less than outstanding is not going to satisfy them. Few in the bureaucracy today realize the professional definition of experience: Experience = Capacity to Learn (CL) x Desire to Learn (DL) x number of years of service; put a zero at CL or at DL and you know what I mean! More often than not, the impulse will be to play to the gallery; consequently reports are mostly overpitched. APAR, one would surmise, in such an environment, won't breed transparency, but, paradoxically, hypocrisy.

I would seek the readers' indulgence to narrate my personal experience to convey how all the good intentions get nullified through callous and lackadaisical implementation. In 2004 orders were issued at the Prime Minister's behest instituting a mechanism for government servants to seek redressal. High-power committees were constituted to provide quick redressal of grievances so that morale remained high. When I learnt about this order I wrote to the committee on an issue concerning me that was fairly straight-forward but had been botched up for five years. Far from providing redress, I failed to elicit an answer for about three years, when out of desperation I met the Secretary, DoPT who was the convener of the committee, with a request to "please give me a reply". He assured me that the "reply" would be sent. I waited, and waited. No reply ensued. Helpless, I had to finally approach the Central Administrative Tribunal to direct the Redressal Committee "to give me a reply"! Only then was the reply forthcoming. And my grievance redressed.

This is not all. Flip the coin and see the goodies a government job offers. Look at the largesse that government servants enjoy vis-à-vis their corporate counterparts. Apart from 104 days of holidays (Saturdays and Sundays), there are 17 public holidays plus two restricted holidays plus 30 days earned leave and eight days' casual leave granted annually. Women are twice blessed because they are entitled to 180 days of maternity leave that can be availed twice over and the newly introduced 730 days of Child Care Leave granted during their careers if they have children below 18 years of age to be taken care of. Mind you, all these are fully paid. There are also 20 days of half-pay leave granted every year that can be accumulated. I'm yet to know of a more altruistic nation than ours. Never mind if governance goes to seed!

The irony is that most government officials abhor retiring. But retire they must. This is why we witness furious jockeying to land post-retirement sinecures. Given accusations of pliability, if not crass favouritism, when in service as they seek around post-retirement pastures, it is time post-retirement carrots are eliminated. Let all posts held post-retirement be held during the period of active service: membership of commissions, tribunals, regulatory bodies, the IMF, the World Bank or anything else. This would be an incentive for youngsters.

The writer is Principal Controller of Defence Accounts based in Bangalore. The views expressed in the article are his own.






India wants to be part of global trends but on many crucial issues it refuses to follow accepted global practices and conventions. One area in which this is particularly noticeable is the official attitude to government documents and their availability to historians and researchers. The convention in most democracies is to follow what is called the thirty year rule. By this rule, after 30 years have lapsed, government records and documents are declassified and made available in archives or public records offices. In India, the thirty year rule is honoured more in the breach. What is worse is that even papers of individuals that have been deposited by their families and heirs in libraries and archives are not open to scholars. All sorts of restrictions are imposed. A recent example of the official attitude to government records is the statement made by the defence minister, A.K. Antony. The minister refused to make available to the public a report about India's military failures in the Sino-Indian border dispute in 1962. This report was prepared by T. Henderson Brooks, who was a general of the Indian army. The report is still classified as "top secret", and Mr Antony said that its contents "are not only extremely sensitive but are of current operational value".


Mr Antony's reasons are inexplicable for more reasons than one. They completely disregard the thirty year rule by taking refuge under that highly dubious term, "sensitive". They beg the question, "sensitive" for whom? Even without the Henderson Brooks report, the broad contours and the details of the 1962 conflict with China are well known. There exists a slew of memoirs and papers of some of the important actors which bring to light India's forward policy in Ladakh and NEFA that was a factor in precipitating the conflict; these records also show up India's military unpreparedness and the blunders made by the leadership, civil and military. The Henderson Brooks report would at best reveal a few more details and at worst assign specific responsibility. What harm would that cause nearly half a century later? Mr Antony scores an own goal when he says that the contents are of "operational value" even today. If the details of 48 years ago are of relevance today, then it is an admission that in 48 years India has made little progress in its dispute with China. The fragility of the reasons is indicative of an attitude that makes a fetish of secrecy.








Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee must have finally realized that it is never too late to learn. But it is impossible to miss the bitter irony in his sudden discovery of Calcutta as an "anarchic" city. The Marxists cried foul when Jawaharlal Nehru described Calcutta as the "city of processions" and also when, decades later, Rajiv Gandhi derided it as a "dying city". The trouble with Mr Bhattacharjee's discovery is that it smacks of an outrageous act of self-deception. He has been West Bengal's chief minister for the past 10 years. His party, the Communist Party of India (Marxist), has been ruling the state for 33 years. Like the economic ruin of the state, the decline of Calcutta is a legacy of the long Left rule. That is why Mr Bhattacharjee's lament does not sound like an honest confession. Nor does it inspire any hope that he can do much to change things in Calcutta. The citizens did not exactly need Mr Bhattacharjee to remind them of the problems that bedevil their lives. Everyone knows about the killing levels of air and noise pollution, fire hazards, encroachments on pavements and about traffic dislocations caused by endless political rallies.


What the people do not quite know is whether the government and the civic authorities have the will or the power to end the "anarchy". Few would, therefore, be surprised that Mr Bhattacharjee's lament came on a day when a CPI(M) rally stalled the city's central business district for hours. It is even possible that his supposed self-criticism is only a ploy to retrieve Calcutta for the Marxists during next month's elections to the civic board. The mayor, Bikash Ranjan Bhattacharyya, who has withdrawn from the coming contest, possibly knows, like the chief minister himself, that it is a lost battle for the Left. The Left Front's decision to drop nearly 65 per cent of the sitting members in the current civic board from the coming polls is a measure of its desperation. The move to field women in 47.5 per cent of the total seats is another such gamble. Putting up new faces for elections is a welcome move in a country where it is common for political parties to nominate the same candidates in poll after poll. The result often is that the elected representatives become part of the vested interests. The real issue for the citizens, though, is whether a change of guard at the civic body can make the city a little less anarchic.










The results of our general election were always going to be interesting, even those with ears closest to the political ground being unable to make the call. The campaign itself, however, seemed likely to be little more than a dreary extension of the less than covert party jockeying that has been going on since Gordon Brown first inherited the prime ministerial mantle. Gamesmanship has become the name of the game and death by platitude for those watching for a sign that politicians put the people and voters of the country before their own self-seeking ambitions.


Who would have expected that a first time ever televised debate between the three main party leaders, played out under bizarrely restrictive rules, could suddenly heighten the interest of the country? Even the most disinterested can hardly have remained unaware of the event and may now even know the name of the Liberal Democrat leader. Whether they are persuaded to exercise their democratic rights and actually vote when the time comes is less certain. There is deep disaffection with the whole political race but at least people are talking about what is going on.


On Thursday night in a one-and- a-half-hour debate, Nick Clegg, the Liberal Democrat leader, was given equal billing with David Cameron and Gordon Brown and frankly trounced the pair of them. To be fair, he was the underdog with less to lose than the others, the leader of a party that last held power under its wholly Liberal guise in 1915. Less reason for nerves then, but his demeanour and performance were not only relaxed and attractive but also very much those of a highly intelligent young statesman right on top of his game. If he did get some of his facts and figures wrong, so did the others — and with them we had heard it all before.


The format of three men standing at lecterns is an uncomfortable one for both participants and audience and one to which we are unused in this country. Our politicians more usually appear as individual interviewees, part of panels or in inevitable party political broadcasts. This way they looked more naked and a lot less happy. Admittedly the programme started by looking like no more than a carefully orchestrated tripartite party political broadcast of adjudicated sound bites. Excessive nervous use of hand gestures from all three during early statements made them look like a row of puppets having their strings pulled. This feeling was aggravated by the somewhat robotic delivery of over-rehearsed anecdotes used to illuminate particular issues and the usual rerun of trite statements from Cameron and Brown over Afghanistan.


Clegg, immediately easier in his own skin than the others, increasingly commanded the stage, his manner, his confident and articulate delivery and the things he actually said sounding like a breath of something really new. As some commentators have said, it was a performance reminiscent of the young Tony Blair with a similar diffident charm and a sense of the wind of change blowing. It was believable and highly appealing.


Brown just played himself. Ultimately a performance judged relatively relaxed and not wholly unsuccessful, his answers and statements larded with the usual level of statistical back up we expect from him, whether or not we believe in their veracity. He was authoritative enough as the man in the driving seat and looked reasonably at home if not actually happy. Occasional flashes of the peculiar forced grimace that passes for his smile after a near joke or at least a dig at Cameron looked relatively genuine and, for an incumbent prime minister with his back against the wall, he survived relatively unscathed, coming an easy second to Clegg.


Cameron frankly blew it. He looked intensely nervous in an elegant bespoke suit that unfortunately underlined his stiffness. For those critics hunting for the bogeyman of class, his trappings reeked of privilege and the old-style conservatism that might once have been a comforting contrast to a rough, tough Labour Party. These days we no longer trust signs of privilege among our political representatives and the image of old-style conservatism, played up recently by the Labour Party, has become one of the old-style class distinctions. This is a low blow in the vain endeavour to make any distinctions at all for the average voter between one party and another, and it was Cameron's bad luck that his background showed so clearly on Thursday night. The more Clegg relaxed, the more rigidly ill at ease Cameron became. His brow furrowed, face set and mouth a hard, unfriendly line, he looked furious and unattractive, the boyish charm completely gone. This picture of contained rage and frustration has, one suspects, been the biggest turn-off for viewers. Whoever scored winning points over the well-known and contentious issues discussed, and we were busily collating them at the time, the details are already almost forgotten. There is no doubt that Cameron came off worst in substance as well as style, but a few days later it is the style that is counting in Clegg's favour and a vague feeling that the things he said last week may make him a genuine force for change.


Will this change the results of an election that is already completely up in the air? Who can tell? Nobody is second guessing this one but the Liberal Democrats, the third party by a mile for as long as anyone can remember, never likely to hold more than at best a balancing power without a change to proportional representation, have suddenly thrown the campaign open and made it altogether a more interesting affair. If they do pick up the disaffected Labour vote, the reluctant Tories, the terminal floaters and, most of all, the young for whom they have enormous appeal, they will still remain the third party in Parliament. Barring the sky falling and unimaginable voter swings, our first-past- the-post system does not allow for a LibDem victory. If they gain a high proportion of the overall vote in the country they will nevertheless be a powerful force in a hung parliament where Labour will probably retain the largest number of members of parliament.


With a large proportion of the country LibDem constituents, the party would be in a position finally to fight for electoral reform and the real substance of dramatic change. For the Conservatives, it must be pretty galling, for this week at least, to look like has-beens when the party electoral banner is "Vote for Change". Cameron is fighting back but the press vultures have been circling in the aftermath of Thursday's personal setback and he doesn't seem to be summoning up the smiles. He is now saying, quite truthfully, that a vote for Clegg could keep Labour in power but nobody much cares at the moment. By polling day that may change. Meanwhile, new Conservative policy ideas, such as instituting elected police chiefs, are being treated with entirely reasonable distaste; the police force has enough problems without politicizing it further. Proposals for a metamorphosis in governance being tagged as 'small government, big society', are being scorned as faintly ridiculous electioneering.


As for the Labour Party, they seem to be keeping their heads carefully below the parapet. One imagines they are getting on with the job and hoping no one asks tricky questions about the economy and one or two wars. They came out of last week respectably enough and the flak is currently flying elsewhere while the country's attention is mainly on the Icelandic volcano that has brought European air travel to a standstill and left British travellers stranded all over the world. Well, we still have a long way to go if an hour-and-a-half's television can throw this sort of spanner in the works — and there are more debates to come. Who would have imagined it could all become such compelling entertainment?






SIR ALEC BEDSER (1918-2010)


Adelaide, February 1947. The delivery started from outside the off stump, kept straight for a while, then swerved in and pitched in line with the leg stump and zipped out to smooch the off bail. The off and middle stumps lost their crown. Donald Bradman, the recipient, was astounded and had no answer to the movement. Bradman, ever the gentleman, turned towards the bowler and nodded in appreciation. Alec Bedser, the young bowler, reciprocated the master's gesture with a modest smile.


Sydney, December 1954. On the morning of the opening day of the second Test, the English skipper, Len Hutton, took a very difficult decision: he omitted Bedser from the team. None dared to question Hutton's decision. Bedser, loyal to the core, did not display any disappointment. As the senior player, he busied himself in motivating the younger bowlers in the dressing room. Bedser, however, had every reason to be upset. Not only was he the world's premier medium pacer, but he had also helped England wrest the Ashes from the old enemy in the summer of 1953. Neither success nor disappointment seemed to leave a mark on this player who was totally devoted to the team.


For a full decade, between 1946 and 1955, Bedser carried England's bowling attack on his massive frame. He was a medium-pace bowler in the best tradition of English cricket, and he represented the magnificent lineage of Sydney Barnes and Maurice Tate. Cricket-lovers in India would point out correctly that Bedser's variety and canniness resembled Amar Singh's, the magnificent medium pacer from India.


Alec Victor Bedser served Surrey from 1939 to 1960. He made his Test debut against India in 1946 and was an immediate success with 11 wickets each in his first two Tests. His glorious career ended after 51 Tests and with 236 wickets at less than 25 runs per wicket. At the time of retirement, he was the highest wicket-taker in Tests, a record that remained unbroken for quite a few years.


Gentleman cricketer


Bedser was never happy with his own art and craft. Even at the height of his fame, when he helped Surrey to seven consecutive titles, he still never gave the impression of being satisfied. He could swing and cut the ball either way, but his stock delivery was the ball that came in. His mastery over the in-swing was unsurpassed. He also had the ability to make the ball rise to the rib cage for short-leg fieldsmen to pounce on. He had Bradman caught by Hutton in the leg trap no less than three times.


The magical delivery that rattled the top of Bradman's off and middle stumps was no accident. Bedser had perfect control over the leg-cutter. He would keep the ball slower than normal so that the batsman could be trapped to turn completely square. He mastered this art, and it presented him with worthy gifts in terms of wickets. Leg-cutters and slow bumpers are not modern-day innovations. Bedser had perfected both deliveries. Bedser relied on change of pace and deviation, but mostly only on his intelligence and tactical execution. He troubled the best of batsmen: Vijay Merchant, Vijay Hazare, Arthur Morris, Lindsay Hassett— none could escape Bedser's guile and variety.


Bedser was too dignified to resort to gamesmanship. After retirement, he became involved with team selection. For more than two decades, he selected English sides. Once, he even dropped England's match-winning fast bowler, John Snow, for shoulder-charging Sunil Gavaskar as the latter went for a run. He also served as manager for English teams and administrations. He was closely connected with cricket for more than 50 years. When Bedser was conferred knighthood, people applauded the decision. He was indeed a living legend.







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






A Twitter message that opened the Pandora's Box as far as the Indian Premier League is concerned and led to the resignation of  Shashi Tharoor as Union minister, has incrementally exposed the seamy side of the IPL, with fresh revelations, charges and insinuations casting a shadow on the popular event. The government has ordered an investigation into its affairs and it is bound to be directed at the actions of the all-powerful IPL commissioner Lalit Modi, his relatives and others close to him who are thought to have made illegal gains. There is much that has to be gone into – the nature of the bidding process, sources of funds and their channels, charges of money laundering, award of various rights connected with the IPL matches and even suspicions about betting. The government has promised a fair investigation covering all aspects and appropriate action as per law, if any wrong-doing is found.

After having tasted blood with the resignation of Tharoor, the opposition has upped the ante and become more aggressive. It has got an opportunity to put the government in the dock and is trying to extract more gains. That has naturally led to absurd demands like a ban on the IPL, and suggestions like the need to set up a joint parliamentary committee. Even the nationalisation of the IPL was sought, as if that is a remedy. IPL may have suffered from opaque dealings behind the closed doors. But blatant politicisation of the entire IPL enterprise can only do greater damage. The opposition should desist from blaming the government for all the ills of the IPL and the government should curb the temptation to extract political revenge for the embarrassment it has suffered.

The IPL has come into adverse attention because of the big money involved in it. But it has also provided enjoyment and entertainment to millions of people. It has become an unprecedented and iconic success story by mixing entertainment with business. The ills that have been exposed are a result of that success, especially because its business model is new to India. The effort, through the current public debate and the investigations that are on, should be to eliminate those ills and make the IPL a healthy venture. There should be transparency and accountability in IPL's working and errant conduct should be penalised. But it will be unwise to throw the baby out with the bath water.









The question  who killed Benazir Bhutto is still unanswered long after her assassination in December 2007. There were no definitive answers from within Pakistan and the United Nations report, made after an investigation by a commission on the request of the Pakistan government,   also has not provided any answer. But the commission has stated the possible motives for the assassination and has shed light on many circumstances that made it possible. Benazir had taken a strong position against terrorists.  She wanted to improve Pakistan's relations with India. The forces in Pakistan which did not like her  positions  on these issues might have been behind the assassination.  There is suspicion that the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan or the ISI might have had a hand. They are difficult to be confirmed.

But the commission has confirmed other facts and circumstances which are known. Benazir was not provided the level of security she needed in view of the seriousness of the threat to her life. The commission indicts the Musharraf government for it and has even named some officials for their lapses. The government, which had under US pressure entered into a deal with Benazir, not only failed in ensuring her protection but also tried to scuttle further investigations into the assassination.  Taken together they show the dubious role of the Musharraf government in the series of incidents starting with the deal through her return to Pakistan  to the assassination. The report points fingers, and shows the people who made it easy for the killers to act, though it does not name the killers. It has mentioned the decisive role of the army and the ISI in the affairs of Pakistan  and has called for an investigation into charges that they were involved in Benazir's assassination.

There is an internal investigation still going on into Benazir's assassination in Pakistan. It can work on the information contained in the UN report and the findings it has made. But it is doubtful if it can reach any firm conclusions. The government has taken some action against lower level officials named in the report. But the big fish who actually planned the assassination and executed the plan are likely to remain outside the net even if the present or any future investigation is allowed to go through the motions. The value of the UN report is that it has given credibility to many suspicions surrounding the conspiracy, the assassination and its cover-up.









There is no other country that presents a more shameful paradox of plenty- grains rotting in the open while millions live in hunger. At the same time, no other country allows its staple food to be exported while the population of hungry and malnourished continues to multiply.

It can happen only in India.


In the United States, from where India borrows its economic prescriptions, food is only allowed to be exported after the country ensures that in addition to 309 million people, 168 million cats and dogs have also been well-fed. In India, food — and that includes wheat, rice, maize, pulses, fruit and vegetables — is routinely exported, and the government often provides subsidies to offset the losses incurred in trade.  

Federal support

In America, where one in every six citizen lives in hunger, it provides a massive federal support of US $ 205 billion for a period of five years to feed its hungry under various nutrition supplement programmes. This marks a continuous increase over the year. In India, which has the world's largest population of hungry, the food subsidy bill is proposed to be pruned, from Rs 56,000-crore for 2010-11 to Rs 28,000-crore, under the proposed National Food Security bill.

It happens only in India.

The plethora of government scheme to fight hunger and malnutrition is at least impressive on paper. The ministries of women and child development, human resource development and  of food and agriculture between them run 22 programmes to alleviate hunger and poverty.

Despite such a wide array of programmes already running, the budget allocation for which is enhanced almost every year, the poor still go hungry. Unicef tells us that more than 5,000 children die every day in India from malnourishment. More than 320 million people, as per a conservative estimate, are unable to manage three square meals a day.


Let us accept that the existing programmes and projects have failed to make any appreciable dent. We will once again fail the nation if we refuse to bring about a radical overhaul of the existing approach to fight hunger. I have the following suggestions to make a beginning:

Poverty line: First and foremost, the time has come to draw a realistic poverty line. The Suresh Tendulkar committee has demarcated 37 per cent of the population to be living in poverty. Earlier, Arjun Sengupta committee had concluded that 77 per cent of the population is able to spend not more than Rs 20 a day. And more lately, former supreme court judge, Justice D P Wadhwa committee has recommended that anyone earning less than Rs 100 a day should be considered as living below the poverty line.

Knowing that India has one of the most stringent poverty lines in the world, I think we need to accept that faulty projections will not address the reality of hunger. It should therefore have two lines to demarcate the chronic hungry from those living in poverty.

The Tendulkar committee's recommendation of a cut-off of 37 per cent should actually constitute the new Hunger Line, which needs low-cost foodgrain as an emergency entitlement. In addition, the Sengupta committee's recommendation at 77 per cent should be the new Poverty Line.

The approach for tackling absolute hunger and poverty would therefore be different.  


Make villages hunger-free: There is no reason why in the 600,000 villages of the country, which produce food for the country, people should be living in hunger. These villages have to be made hunger-free by adopting a community-based localised foodgrain bank scheme. Such traditional systems exist in several parts of the country, and there is an immediate need for its revival.  

Food for all: In the urban centres and the food deficit areas, instead of reducing the number of beneficiaries, a universal public distribution system is required.

The existing PDS system has to be overhauled, and this requires a strong political will. Also, there is a dire need to involve social and religious organisations in food distribution. At the same time, nothing can succeed if we do not ensure safe drinking water and sanitation to be part of the hunger mitigation programmes.

Revenue foregone

Financial support: It is often argued that the government cannot foot the bill for feeding each and every Indian. This is not true. In the budget 2010, Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee has announced a 'revenue foregone' of Rs 5 lakh crore, which means the sales, excise and other tax concessions plus income tax exemption for the industry and business. The annual budget exercise is for roughly Rs 11 lakh crores. Which means, the government is doling out massive subsidies to the industry.  

I suggest that Rs 3 lakh crore from the 'revenue foregone' be immediately withdrawn. This should provide resources for feeding the hungry, and also for ensuring assured supply of safe drinking water and sanitation.  

Policy changes: But all this is not possible, unless some other policy changes that do not take away the emphasis on long-term sustainable farming, and stop land acquisitions and privatisation of natural resources.  This is what constitutes inclusive growth. A hungry population is an economic burden.








The election victory on Sunday of hardline Turkish nationalist candidate Dervis Eroglu in the Turkish Cypriot presidential election is a consequence of the partitionist policy pursued by Ankara for decades. Turkey may suffer if Eroglu scuppers negotiations to reunify the island, divided since Turkey occupied the north 36 years ago, and Cyprus and Greece block Turkey's entry into the European Union (EU).  

Eroglu, 72, is a disciple of Rauf Denktash, the veteran Turkish Cypriot leader who saw himself as the Muhammad Ali Jinnah of Cyprus. Denktash and his supporters in Ankara used inter-communal conflict to promote this cause before and after independence in 1960 and in 1974 achieved de facto partition when the Turkish army invaded and occupied the northern 36 per cent of the island and ethnically cleansed Greek Cypriots from the area. Turkish Cypriots living in the south, controlled by the internationally recognised government of the republic, were compelled by Turkey to relocate to the north.

Turkey based 35,000 troops there, paid an annual subvention to the separatist administration, installed 'advisers' in its ministries, and settled 110,000-160,000 of its own citizens in the area. They now outnumber native Turkish Cypriots. In 1983 the 'Turkish Republic of North Cyprus' issued a unilateral declaration of independence recognised by no country but Turkey.

While Turkey consolidated its hold, Ankara encouraged its surrogate regime to engage in long-drawn out negotiations with Greek Cypriots for the reunification of the island in a bizonal, bicommunal federation. Greek Cypriots, the UN and the EU insisted that Cyprus, a small island with just over a million inhabitants, should reunite in a single state with a single citizenship and sovereignty. But Denktash and Ankara sought to impose a 'two state solution' involving two sovereign states linked cosmetically by a loose confederation.

Serious negotiations

As Cyprus prepared to enter the EU in 2004, Turkish Cypriots under the leadership of Mehmet Ali Talat — the politician defeated by Eroglu in the presidential poll — mounted popular demonstrations with the aim of staging a coup against Ankara's partitionist policy. They demanded serious negotiations for reunification in a polity acceptable to both communities.

Ankara played along, sidelined Denktash, promoted Talat, and appeared to adopt the reunification-federal formula. But Turkey's real intentions were revealed when a plan, drawn up by UN officials under instruction from Turkey's friends, the US and UK, was rejected by Greek Cypriots. Instead of reuniting the island, the plan reaffirmed its division, separation of the two communities, and Turkey's dominance of the north.

End deadlock

Greek Cypriots were castigated for rejecting the plan, isolated until 2008 when they elected to the presidency Demetris Christofias, the communist party boss. He pledged to end the deadlock and reach a deal with Talat, who had been elected Turkish Cypriot president in 2005. The two men, old friends, met 70 times in 19 months and achieved some progress but did not reach a deal. Turkey did not permit Talat to negotiate freely as a Turkish Cypriot looking after Cypriot interests.

Furthermore, ahead of the election, Talat was being undermined by mainland Turkish opposition parties which dispatched activists and funds to the Eroglu campaign.

While Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan backed Talat, his call for voters to cast their ballots for 'reunification' rang hollow. Erdogan had, after all, promoted the 'two state' line ever since his moderate fundamentalist Justice and Development Party won power in 2002.

Now it is payback time. Eroglu says he is ready to negotiate with Christofias. But Eroglu holds that they should start from scratch rather than from the point the process broke off. He continues to demand separate sovereignty, the continuing presence of Turkish troops and the right of Turkey to intervene in Cypriot affairs. Since Greek Cypriots reject  these propositions, negotiations are expected to collapse. Cyprus and its ally Greece will then use their vetoes in the EU to block Turkey's entry.

Ergogan, who has staked his party's rule on securing EU membership for Turkey, will lose credibility ahead of the coming parliamentary election. Denied EU entry, Turkey could also lose the opportunity of containing its controlling military and developing a truly democratic political system. Turkey's relations with Greece could deteriorate, weakening the eastern flank of Nato at a time the US and Britain, facing the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan, seek to strengthen the organisation. Therefore, Washington and London could also pay a price for supporting Turkey's partionist policies.









From childhood, I had nurtured the whim of playing a crucial character in a drama. But for some reason or the other, this dream of mine hadn't attained fruition for a long time. I'd occasionally do some back stage art work, help with props and wistfully watch as the others performed. After school, I joined National College, Jayanagar for the PU course.

The intracollegiate drama fest was in vicinity. Our enterprising economics professor and class co-coordinator asked us who wanted to participate. I raised my hand impulsively. Sir nodded perspicaciously. The following day, he had the Kannada translation of Tennessee Williams' play- 'The Glass Menagerie' ( Gaajina Gombe) and those of us who were zealous were assigned suitable roles. The play consisted of four major equally relevant characters. Having never had an opportunity to display histrionics before, I struggled with diction during rehearsals. I was advised to be diligent and to get thoroughly immersed in my character.

The ten days that we rehearsed were a mixed-blessing. We were alternately reprimanded and praised for our gestures, expressions, voice throw, dialogue delivery et al. We went through travails and toil. I also made many good friends during this period. Days and nights merged and we had very nearly forgotten our true identities and had metamorphosed into our respective characters mind, heart and soul.

The day our play was to be staged in H N Kalakshethra arrived. We were all excited. An expert make-up artiste had been appointed and in a matter of minutes he had transformed two lasses into presentable young men, one girl into a graceful elderly lady and yours truly into a very traditional girl with a thick long braid. We inhaled deeply, marched on to stage and did our job. At the end of the play there was dead silence for a minute. We tensed. Had we botched up? Then, much to our relief, thunderous applause followed.

Our play bagged the second prize. More importantly it received critical appreciation from the judges, lecturers, fellow students and other well-wishers. We were elated and humbled by the response we received. Recently, I located a friend who is currently working abroad, on a social networking site. We had enacted many scenes together in the show. The code I used in my personal message to her was - 'Gaajina Gombe!'. Fond memories of the play apparently flooded her. Now we keep in touch everyday. Years have passed but it seems like yesterday when we used to rakishly hang about the NCJ campus.









The attempt to de-Judaize the Holocaust is quite shocking



Every Holocaust Remembrance Day and every Independence Day the public and the world Jewish community is subjected to a soft barrage of messages. The central thread in them is that the Holocaust is not a unique event, that Jews are exploiting their genocide in some way and that the Palestinian Nakba ("tragedy" of 1948) is somehow linked or equivalent to the Holocaust.

This degradation has at its core a supposedly positive message: The Holocaust was a universal event from which all humanity must learn and the Palestinians can better understand the Jews if they think their Nakba is like the Holocaust and if the Jews also accept this. Last year one of the messengers was Bradford Pilcher who titled his article in the on-line magazine Jewcy: "The Holocaust... not just for the Jews."

Pilcher tells us that the Jews practice "one-upsmanship" by daring to think of the Holocaust as an event that affected them and did not equally affect others such as homosexuals and Roma. He writes, "We shouldn't be drawing up borders between Jewish suffering and others'" because otherwise the Holocaust will reflect merely our "bitterness."

This year the message began on March 23 with the revelation that Hanna Yablonka of Ben-Gurion University and head of the Education Ministry's advisory committee on history studies had claimed "studying details of the Shoah has no educational value" and merely constitutes a "pornography of evil." There is no use in people learning "how Jews were murdered, the stages of the final solution."

The next day she was one-upped by an unnamed senior figure in one of the institutes for Holocaust studies who claimed "there was too much emphasis on the Jewish aspects of the Holocaust." Haaretz writer Anshel Pfeffer followed with an editorial entitled "The Holocaust isn't just about the Jews." Pfeffer asked if "Jews [can] honestly demand to reserve sole usage rights of the Holocaust for political purposes?" The Holocaust "has an immense universal meaning as well."

THE ATTEMPT to de-Judaize the Holocaust is quite shocking, as much as it is tempting and ultimately false. The 2001 BBC/HBO film Conspiracy, starring Kenneth Branagh, depicts the Wannsee conference of 1942 in which the Nazis decided on the final solution. The film follows the transcript kept by leading executioner Adolf Eichmann. In it the word "Jew" is used multiple times per minute in a meeting that lasted 85 minutes. Other groups persecuted by the Nazis are not mentioned, except for a short reference to the euthanasia program used against mental and handicapped patients.


The Wannsee conference participants might be annoyed to think their plans for murdering the world's Jews was not about the Jews, but had some nebulous universal message. Perhaps they would also smile in satisfaction at the thought that the people they attempted to exterminate debate whether the extermination was about them at all.

What is more perplexing is if one considers that it is the Holocaust, alone among the tragedies of the world's peoples, that's bent and degraded into a "universal message." The same well-meaning person who wants the Holocaust to have a broad "human" message is the same one who bows his head in sorrow during Black History Month and sobs crocodile tears for African-American slaves. Does anyone honestly ever claim that slavery in the US is anything but a story about African-Americans, the evils done to them and the lasting affects it has had on the US and blacks?

Does anyone attempt to take the Armenians out of the Armenian genocide, except the Turkish government which denies it? And does the Palestinian's Al-Kuds daily ever have editorials telling its readers that the "details" of the expulsion of the Palestinians is unimportant for educating the youth and that "the Nakba isn't just about the Palestinians"? No. The "Nakba" is about the Palestinians and no one denies that, even if they don't agree with how the Palestinians memorialize it.

Avraham Burg, former speaker of the Knesset, demands that the 1904 genocide of the Herero, an African tribe, be referred to as a "holocaust" much as Robert Fisk of the Independent speaks of an Armenian "holocaust." It seems everyone gets their holocaust except the Jews. Why is it the Jews alone must have one of their central traumas turned into a universal story that applies to everyone?

People accuse Israel and the Jewish people of, in the words of Burg, "expropriating and monopolizing" the Shoah. Pfeffer speaks of a "Zionist reading of the Holocaust that cannot be the only one young Israelis are offered." Muhammad Barakei, who was lauded for recently claiming that Arab schools should teach about the Holocaust, claims there is a "commercialization of Holocaust Remembrance Day and [an] attempt to commercialize it for Zionist purposes."

They have gotten it wrong. The Shoah is not a "Zionist narrative," it is Jewish narrative.

No one expects that other nations should not understand the Holocaust in their own terms. Of course non-Jews should understand it in a universal or personal manner. But why should Jews have it stripped from them at the same time?

No one wags a finger at African-Americans and tells them to stop "monopolizing" slavery. The Pfeffers and Yablonkas could learn from the Palestinians in this respect. They could learn that the details are important and that national tragedies are, well, national and should stay that way.

The writer is a PhD researcher at Hebrew University.








At what point does comforting ritual become Obsessive Compulsive Disorder?



Obsession: a persistent preoccupation, idea or feeling     – Collins English Dictionary

The thing that started me writing these lines was a half-comic, half-serious desire to know why, when I see a roll of toilet paper in its holder, it must unwind down over the front, and not dangle down the back. When I see the latter, it makes me uneasy and I often turn the roll around, even though I may never visit that place again.

My curiosity about this predilection was only enhanced when I mentioned it to two or three people – who promptly admitted that they felt compelled to do the exact opposite.

"It's the way it tears off," explained my friend Sara Schachter. "I also change it around – I have to."

We then waded deeper into the question of obsessive behavior.

"You don't have to look further than the (Jerusalem Sam Orbaum) Scrabble Club," she observed, wryly. "Those of us who also play on the Internet cannot pass a computer without seeing if someone has made a move."

For many club members, attending every week borders on an obsession: Players will, as far as is humanly possible, schedule events and appointments, even departures abroad, so as to miss as few sessions as they can. Between sessions, they will "obsess" about games lost and opportunities missed.

MANY people are obsessive about locking their front doors or turning off their gas burners, and will return home – sometimes more than once – to check that they have done so. Others (mainly women, this one) cannot abide disarray in their kitchens.

"I can just about tolerate an unwashed cup if it's in the sink," my friend Ella said. "But used dishes lying on the counter-top – that's intolerable to me. I have to wash them.

"Most people clean up after they're done cooking," she smiled self-mockingly. "I clean my kitchen – stove-top, counters and sink – before I begin."

There are those who cannot get into bed if their shoes or slippers aren't perfectly aligned. Still others – as I learned when I sent out an email to my Post colleagues asking about their idiosyncracies – simply can't bear it if a picture on the wall or article of furniture in the room isn't straight.

"Sometimes when I am at other people's houses," a colleague confessed, "I wait until they leave the room – and then straighten their pictures. A crooked picture will drive me crazy!"

Here's one you might not have heard:

"I can't deal with sticky honey jars. I go nuts when I see people drizzling honey all over the place when they take the spoon out of the jar. I've perfected a drizzle-proof method of spooning honey out, and it reached a point where I wouldn't let guests at my house take their own honey unless they were pros.

"I've since gotten better about that," she admitted. "I just breathe deeply and let it go."

THESE sorts of obsessions one can giggle about. But at what point does personal finickiness become the mental problem known as Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, or OCD? It's when such behavior starts to control one's life.

In the April 20, 2009 issue of Health magazine, Ginny Graves quoted an American freelance writer who has battled the disorder on and off for years:

"When it first started, I'd check the locks and stove a few times. As time went by, I started checking more and more things – the iron, the hair dryer, the window-screen locks... dozens of times before leaving for work and before going to bed.

"At its worst, the checking and re-checking took three to four hours a day. It became difficult to socialize, because it was exhausting, physically and emotionally.

"I would look at a gas burner and see it was off, but the second I looked away a flicker of doubt would enter my brain, and I'd think, Is it really off? Maybe I accidentally bumped it and turned it back on. I wouldn't feel safe until I checked it again."

Wrote Graves: "We all have our little rituals that give us comfort and help us cope... Some women count to 10 before driving on when the light turns green... kiss their children on the forehead three times every night before bed.

"It's even trendy these days for anyone who's a neat freak or a little worried about germs to say, "I'm sooo OCD...."

In fact," Graves observed, "nearly half of us do engage in some of the rituals associated with OCD, and some of us have a subclinical version of the disorder."

She quoted Jonathan Abramowitz, director of the University of North Carolina Anxiety Disorders Clinic, who noted: "Almost everyone washes their hands sometimes when they don't need to," adding that it would be hard to find someone who hasn't had an occasional obsession or compulsive urge: unwanted thoughts of something bad happening or the need to check a locked door.

But "for most of us, those things don't cause lots of distress, interfere with our jobs or relationships, or take an inordinate amount of time – and that's what differentiates people with clinical OCD from everyone else."

One OCD patient rarely left the house, fearing that her germs would make others sick. Another was so worn out by his morning rituals – including making his bed over and over again – that he could barely function during the rest of the day.

Sometimes sufferers understand that their obsessions and compulsions are not real. But at other times they may not be sure, or may be convinced they are genuine.

TRIGGERED by fears and anxiety, OCD is known as "the doubting disease" because sufferers "cannot be sure of anything," wrote Jerusalem Post health reporter Judy Siegel-Itzkovich in an August 2, 2009 article, quoting from American psychiatrist and hassidic scholar Abraham Twersky's preface to Religious Compulsions and Fears: A Guide to Treatment by Jerusalem psychologist and Orthodox rabbi Dr. Avigdor Bonchek.
Giving in to their compulsions grants OCD sufferers temporary relief from the anxiety that caused the compulsions in the first place; but the relief doesn't last, and so the condition is self-perpetuating.

"Someone may have washed his hands many times or spent hours in the shower," Twersky observed, "but still doesn't feel clean. He may have repeated a word in davening [praying] many times, but may feel it has not been pronounced correctly... An OCD sufferer may take on absurd and totally unnecessary precautions to avoid mixing milk and meat... In short, he is tortured by persistent doubt."

Many ultra-Orthodox Jews exhibit symptoms of OCD – or something very like it – in their excessive cleaning before Pessah.

OCD typically appears in early adulthood, sometimes even in childhood.

"My daughter won't eat leftovers, even from the family," the mother of an OCD sufferer in her mid-20s told me. "Her fear is she will get sick. She is also obsessed by the sell-by dates on foods lest she swallow something 'tainted.' 

"At night her blinds must be tightly closed because the sunshine mustn't reach her medication."

Bonchek, who has treated a large number of OCD patients, believes that Cognitive Behavior Therapy, sometimes aided by guided imagery, can treat or even cure OCD by helping sufferers gradually "unlearn" their compulsive behaviors and obsessive thoughts.

"OCD can seem insurmountable," one former sufferer, now cured, told me."But if you can come to believe it isn't – often with professional help – it gradually becomes conquerable and fades away."

ABOUT the toilet roll having to hang down the "right" way: I came across an entire Web discussion dealing with the issue – though I didn't find out what I wanted to know, which is why it feels so important.

Not that everyone agreed it was.

"You are kidding, right?" was one comment posted on the site. "That's one of the funniest and weirdest things I have ever heard of. I don't even notice, I just do my biz and get out of there."

Added a pragmatist: "I don't care how it hangs, just as long as it's not on the floor."








At a recent event hosted by J Street head Jeremy Ben-Ami, I was inspired by the man's dedication to principle and morality.




AIPAC is both praised and criticized as the powerful Israel lobby. It hasn't done a good job of promoting peace, however. There is a new kid on the block doing just that, promoting peace. It's called J Street and it's headed by Jeremy Ben-Ami. I recently had a chance to hear Ben-Ami speak to a tough audience of American Jews at Am Yisrael synagogue in Glencoe, Illinois.

His words inspired me because of the clarity of his dedication to principle and morality. It made me even wish there was a Palestinian version, maybe called A Street. All we Arabs have are the extremist activists who dominate public discourse and the ineffective Arab League, which spends a fortune doing nothing. The closest equivalent of Ben-Ami in my community is probably the articulate intellectual Hussein Ibish.

But if we wait for the Palestinians to get their act together, we'll probably wait forever. Is that a reason not to pursue peace?

J Street, founded in April 2008, is fast becoming the impetus for a revival of the peace process and reinforcement among many that peace is possible, including among many Arabs and Palestinians I know.

BEN-AMI is no Jewish quisling, nor a self-hating Jew, and not anti-Semitic. He's not anti-Zionist and not some leftist activist looking to achieve the impossible, to turn the clock back to 1947 and achieve "one state." He's hard core Jewish, Zionist and very pro-Israel.

But Ben-Ami makes points I make all the time: Jews don't have to abandon their diehard support for Israel (nor Palestinians for Palestine) to support a peace plan that brings peace and safety to both.

Ben-Ami's grandparents were among the founders of Petah Tikva in 1882. His father served in the Irgun.

He candidly laid out Israel's three choices: hang on to all of the land, hang on to Israel's Jewish character and hang on to Israel's democratic tradition. Israelis can only pick two of the three.

Ben-Ami argues convincingly that the majority of Jews, including in America, support two states and compromise. He said, "This conversation we are beginning is not about American foreign policy... but about who we are as a people... How Jews act and behave when we are not the minority. When we are not powerless, but the powerful."

I could not have been more inspired as a Palestinian. He quickly won the support of the more than 250 Jews and others in the synagogue, with the exception of a small handful of sometimes disruptive foes of peace.

He answered the tough questions and dispelled false rumors, like the one put forth, he said, by Alan Dershowitz, that Norman Finkelstein, the extremist anti-Zionist Jew from Chicago, was a speaker at a recent J Street event. (My support of two states, attacks against extremists and condemnation of Hamas as a terrorist organization have drawn Finkelstein's ire.)

Ben-Ami warned the audience the clock is ticking on the two-state solution, something the fanatics recognize too. They'll stop at nothing to block peace. "Time is not on the side of peace. Time is no longer on our side," he said.

He reflected many of the views I embrace: The wall is needed, but not in Palestinian territory. It should have been built on "recognizable borders." Israelis and Palestinians need a time separation, especially once peace is established, to help overcome natural animosity from a century- long conflict.

Jerusalem is already a divided city, but that division can continue in a peace accord with Israel controlling the Jewish areas and Palestine the Christian and Muslim areas.

Ben-Ami said Hamas is both a terrorist organization and a political voice that represents a sizable segment of the Palestinian population. But, he added, Israelis and Jews "must recognize that every movement will use violence, and I speak from my own family experience." Two-states can be achieved through a swap of land on a one-to-one basis. As many as 75 percent of settlers could remain in the West Bank.

He was especially outraged at the hateful campaign against the renowned jurist and international legal scholar Judge Richard Goldstone who headed the UN inquiry into allegations of war crimes committed not just by Israel, but by Hamas as well during Operation Cast Lead. Ben-Ami stressed that many Israeli leaders believe the allegations should be investigated, but said "the vilification of Judge Goldstone is ludicrous and out of bounds."

FINALLY, BEN-AMI was asked why he isn't as critical of the Palestinians as he is of Israel (which isn't true).

"We do a disservice if we refuse to look at the reality of the West Bank... to call the West Bank a terrorist breeding ground does a disservice to the reality and to people like Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad who are working for support peace," Ben-Ami said. "There will be violence from both sides" as we get closer and closer to peace.

He stressed that he is Israeli and a Jew. His responsibility is not to tell the Palestinians how to forge their own society, but to help improve, strengthen and define Israel and the Jewish people.

It's a similar message I make when addressing Arab and Palestinian groups. As a Palestinian, it is not my place to tell Israelis what to do with their country. Is it Jewish or not Jewish is up to them.

"My focus is on what my people and my country are doing," Ben-Ami said.

In other words, Jews and Palestinians can help the process not by blaming the other side or telling the other side how to act. As a Palestinian, my responsibility is to do more to end the campaigns of violence against Israel and to speak out more forcefully against the voices of extremism in the Palestinian community.


Palestinians can't keep pointing to what Israel does as an excuse to ignore what Palestinians are doing to Israelis. That goes the same for Israelis.

The battle is not between Palestinians and Israelis. It is, as Jeremy Ben-Ami so eloquently argued, "between those who support compromise and those who do not."


Named Best Ethnic Columnist in America by New America Media, the writer is a Palestinian-American columnist and peace activist. He can be reached at








Yes, we Jews unfortunately have our criminals. Yes, we Orthodox Jews unfortunately have our felons. We're human, too.


At middle age I have come to accept my limitations. Although I like to have an opinion on almost everything, I am conscious of the fact that I am not a legal scholar and do not understand all the complexities of the criminal case against Sholom Rubashkin, former CEO of America's largest kosher meat plant, Agriprocessors of Postville, Iowa.

But I am not a stupid man either. And I and a heck of a lot of other fairly intelligent and educated people are scratching our heads as to why government prosecutors are requesting that Rubashkin, who has 10 children, including an autistic son, and a reputation for enormous philanthropy, be given a life sentence in prison.

Life behind bars – the very words are ominous. Isn't that reserved for society's most heinous offenders? A life sentence has one conjuring images of rapists and murderers, international drug cartel kingpins and white-collar criminals guilty of gargantuan fraud, like Bernard Madoff.

What did Rubashkin do? After an INS raid on the plant that found hundreds of illegal immigrants, the company was pushed to the brink of bankruptcy and Rubashkin, who had already been arrested for employing illegals, was subsequently found guilty of defrauding a bank and producing false invoices to keep the business going. There is no insinuation that he did any of this for personal profit or gain. Unlike Madoff, he had no Hamptons estate, no fancy yacht and no Manhattan penthouse. By all accounts he and his family lived in incredibly modest circumstances.

Obviously, the Rubashkin story has been an enormous embarrassment to the American Jewish community in general and Orthodoxy in particular. The largest kosher meat plant in the country employing hundreds of illegal immigrants? Engaging in bank fraud to remain a going concern? Falsifying invoices and misleading lenders? These are serious charges that go against both terrestrial and celestial law and constitute actions that neither man nor God can condone. The expected flight of Jewish leaders and spokespeople from Rubashkin's side ensued, whatever the injustice of his proposed sentence. We Jews are accustomed to run from scandal like the plague.

SO LET'S remove the smoke from this unsavory story and focus on truth.

Yes, we Jews unfortunately have our criminals. Yes, we Orthodox Jews unfortunately have our felons. We're human, too. We have people guilty of serious wrongdoing. And we too must confess our sins, repent of our actions, are punished for our crimes and teach our children to always do better and never excuse our behavior.

Our community needs to know that no matter how important you believe it is for other Jews to eat kosher, you cannot purchase that mitzva at any price. You cannot be a good Jew if you are not an honest person. A religious obligation that comes through theft – even when the intention is to simply keep a business open so you can eventually pay off your loans – subverts all principles of religious morality.

Rubashkin is no hero. Whatever the nobility of his intentions, he is a poor example to religious youth. He has been found guilty of a crime and he must do the time.

But he is no monster either. Unlike Wall Street bankers, he did not bet the farm and other people's deposits to buy himself a Ferrari. Unlike AIG executives, he did not cost the government billions in bailouts and then get a bonus. And while I, of course, understand that criminal conduct is infinitely more serious, so is prosecutorial overzealousness that borders on fanaticism.

The time that Rubashkin serves must be fair and just. This is America. Just as there is no room for toleration of criminal conduct, there is also no room for a lynch mob mentality. I realize I am not a lawyer. But I have enough sense to understand that a punishment of a few years in prison sets an unassailable example that criminal conduct is utterly inexcusable. Anything more than that for a crime of this nature gives the false impression that the American justice system is prejudicial and untrustworthy.

As for the outcry from the hassidic community that Rubashkin is being treated unfairly and that his yarmulke and beard make for a prosecutorial bull's-eye, I love America too much to believe any of it. This is the fairest, most decent country on Earth. But I do believe it possible that when an overtly religious person perpetrates a crime – especially one that involves companies catering to religious needs – there is a feeling on the part of many that the hypocrisy mandates an even harsher sentence.

So let's be clear.

This is not in any way analogous to other ugly religious stories dominating the news like pedophile priests. There is no suggestion that Rubashkin's crimes be covered up. Less so is there any insinuation that Rubashkin be moved to another state where he can start up a new kosher meat plant. Rubashkin's trustworthiness in the American Jewish community is finished.

But there is an insistence that he be treated like a human being. That it be taken into consideration that he has no prior offenses and that his company provided kosher meat to hundreds of thousands of people at affordable prices so that more Jews could observe their faith. That he and his family are legendary in the hassidic community for their charitable giving, their hospitality and their communal involvement. That Rubashkin himself devoted a substantial portion of his profits to funding a soup kitchen and supporting organizations like Kollel Chabad that feed the hungry and the poor. To disregard all these considerations when it comes to sentencing is to disregard the universal belief that the good we do is not cancelled out by our horrendous mistakes.

I know my own limitations. Perhaps Rubashkin's prosecutors ought to know theirs.

The writer is the international best-selling author of 23 books, winner of the London Times Preacher of the Year and winner of the American Jewish Press Association's highest award for excellence in commentary.







Against the backdrop of Remembrance Day and Independence Day, the harsh allegations of graft, kickbacks and bribery give us particular pause.




We temporarily pushed aside Holyland corruption revelations this week to celebrate our independence, having first honored those who sacrificed their lives to make sovereignty possible. But now that the collective feelings of tearful remembrance and prideful self-determination have been marked, the nation must turn once again to the sordid details of what has been dubbed by the media "the real-estate scandal of the century."

Considered against the backdrop of Remembrance Day and Independence Day, the harsh realities of graft, kickbacks and bribery allegedly infecting the highest echelon of political leadership give us particular pause. The scandal is fueling a sense of outrage, bitterness, even betrayal. But even as we encourage the police and the state prosecution to work efficiently to expose and punish illegalities, we should resist the temptation to despair at what can sometimes seem like a gradual deterioration of morals caused by hedonism and the capitalist effects of globalization. For a start, there have arguably been worse times in Israeli history.

Already in the early 1950s, in a socialist economy tightly controlled by austerity programs, the establishment of "dollar shops" that granted privileges to those few who could obtain foreign currency from abroad sparked a heated debate on deteriorating moral standards.

In the 1960s, Mapai's "New Guard" (Moshe Dayan, Shimon Peres, Abba Eban) launched an unsuccessful attack on the senior leadership of their own party, especially against Pinchas Lavon, then secretary-general of the all-powerful Histadrut labor federation, calling for meritocracy to replace protekzia (nepotism).

By the 1970s, the Israeli public refused to accept the way Mapai – known by that time as the Alignment – distributed political favors and economic patronage with the arrogant confidence of a traditional aristocracy.

"Kicking through a rotting door" is the way Prof. Bernard Avishai described the Likud's 1977 election victory. Incumbent prime minister Yitzhak Rabin had been forced to step down in a mini-scandal about an illegal US dollar bank account. Housing minister and Mapai leader Avraham Ofer had committed suicide before he could be thoroughly investigated. Other key officials such as Asher Yadlin and Michael Tzur were jailed on corruption charges.

SOME CLAIM that Israeli corruption is a direct result of a revolutionary break with the past. Zionism's founding fathers rejected the exile – which was seen as an abnormal reality of groveling powerlessness and humiliating rootlessness. The rich traditions of the Diaspora associated with this "exile mentality" were systematically uprooted and replaced with a secular socialist ethic. However, as socialism waned and was gradually replaced with capitalism, a yawning moral vacuum was all that remained.

Others claim that the problem is our inordinate dependence on the largesse of affluent Diaspora Jews. This would appear to explain why Ezer Weizman was forced to cut short his stint as president after allegedly accepting hundreds of thousands of dollars in gifts from a French textiles magnate between 1988 and 1993, and why former prime minister Ariel Sharon came under scrutiny for his connections with a South Africa-based British businessman.

Whatever the reason, the insidious effects of political corruption are devastating to any country. But for Israel, which is under constant existential threat, this is doubly so.

The decisions of political leaders have immediate life or death ramifications for the soldier on the battlefield, for the citizen of Sderot or for the potential terror victims – in short for everyone. That's why Israelis have always had zero tolerance for any kind of political misconduct. It's also the reason there have been relatively few cases of corruption throughout the nation's history. After all, what politician has the gall to forsake soldiers and citizens who depend so completely on their good judgment.

Anyone who this week was exposed to the personal stories of soldiers who fell in Israel's seven wars and countless battles, recounted by the courageous families and fellow soldiers they left behind, or who witnessed the tens of thousands who gathered at Rabin Square to honor the deceased in quiet song, or who stood singing Hatikva in one of the hundreds of ceremonies that took place around the nation, knows that the vast majority of Israelis have not lost their faith in Jewish sovereignty, with all its imperfections.

Though we should never stop aspiring to moral perfection as befits the Jewish people, failures, and yes even occasional corruption scandals, are part of the price we pay for realizing a dream.








Im Tirzu once again divides, points fingers and ostracizes with another anti-NIF campaign, this time on Remembrance Day



I never met my father, but he is with me wherever I go. He was killed in the Yom Kippur War, in the Golan Heights, only two days before I was born. I never met him and he never had the chance to meet me. This loss has had an immense impact on the way I view the world: the very basic human experience of pain over the loss of life has crystallized my respect for all human beings and my commitment to human rights and social justice. These ideals drove me, ten years ago, to join the staff of the New Israel Fund (NIF) and to the position I hold today as Associate Director of NIF's flagship grantee, the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI).

Yet, despite this personal and intimate story, which unfortunately so many Israelis share, we are witnessing unprecedented, cynical attempts to manipulate grief in order to further delegitimize the work of human rights organizations, and specifically portray their activists as inhuman, as traitors, or worse. To be doing this on one of this country's most sensitive and non-partisan days – Yom HaZikaron (Remembrance Day) – sets a new low in Israel's public discourse.

Yet, as ACRI was careful to point out, even such levels of insensitivity, vulgarism, and manipulation are protected aspects of freedom of speech. Hence I do not wish to take those expressing such positions to court nor limit their speech. I do insist on arguing with them in the court of public opinion.

JUDGING FROM the appalling anti-NIF "campaign" re-launched by the Im Tirzu organization purposely on this day (including an advertisement in The Jerusalem Post), my personal grief and the national grief are just another hook for its incitement against fundamental democratic values and for the delegitimization of the NIF and the human rights community in Israel. It exploits Remembrance Day to divide, point fingers, and ostracize with vicious words like "we remember – they persecute" and "at a time when Israel mourns its soldiers, let us vow to oppose those among us who would sully even our heroes."

Im Tirzu thus attempts to deny my belonging – and those of others who do not share their positions – to Israel's family of bereavement. It wants to mark me and my fellow human rights activists as enemies of the state. If we criticize the army, we can't grieve. Im Tirzu even had the audacity to re-write one of the most universal and time-honored Jewish prayers, "Yizkor," to bash those who they deem "unpatriotic".

Yet, what's at stake here is more than offensive, reckless words. Trying to define, on behalf of an entire society, and through the most intimate and universal human experience – grief – who's a true Israeli and who's not contravenes democracy itself. Can grief be appropriated? Is the grief of some more legitimate than that of others? Who gives the right to anyone within Israeli society to decide who belongs and who doesn't?

Criticism and free speech are critical and essential to the survival of Israel's fragile democracy. In fact, much of ACRI's work focuses on preserving the most basic civil liberties for all Israelis – including members of Im Tirzu. Now that the organization has spoken yet again, we can analyze the meaning of its positions.

It will not stop at the cynical use of personal tragedy and even religion to try to splinter our society and expropriate the most human of experiences. It attempts to turn Israel into a society that hounds those who dare point out its shortcoming. That is the present – and future – it is striving to create for all of us. My vision for the future of my country – a vision of equality, social justice, and human rights for all – is radically different.

For me, striving for that future is the legacy of my loss. I wish that the members of Im Tirzu and others would never feel the deep wound of an untimely loss. But I ask them not to deprive me of it. My father was taken by the war. All I have left are stories and other people's memories of him; don't try to take that from me as well.

The writer is associate director of the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI).








In its attempts to portray IDF soldiers as violators of judicial rulings and war criminals, the newspaper would not let itself be distracted by the actual facts.



Many in the media say that what Anat Kamm uncovered was an important revelation. The IDF, they claim, violated High Court of Justice orders, and conducted targeted killings while violating judicial guidelines. The IDF, they continue to assert, committed war crimes, and there is no journalist out there who would have remained silent, were he or she to receive documented proof of this.

Let us put aside the thousands of documents that have nothing to do with the leaks she gave to Haaretz journalist Uri Blau and which contain military information with no journalistic value. And let us put aside the fact that the IDF was forced to alter its military plans due to the stolen information. And the fact that the possession of such material constitutes a criminal offense, which an Israeli paper is aiding.

Let us deal with the heart of the matter this time.

Were the documents revealed and brought before the public indeed proof that the IDF violated judicial orders? The headline, at the time, was "The chief-of-staff and IDF leadership authorized killings of wanted and innocent men." The word "innocent" appears almost 20 times in the article in which the documents were published. The impression is that the IDF has been committing war crimes, an impression Haaretz intentionally attempted to create.

We should rise to the challenge, and examine what these documents show exactly.

The main argument was regarding the High Court of Justice and the legality of targeted killings. It was no other than former president of the Supreme Court Aharon Barak who made the determination in 2006: that it is impossible to determine a priori that all targeted killings are forbidden by international law, just as it is impossible to determine a priori that all targeted killings are permissible according to international law. This is a very clear statement that is somewhat at odds with the impression received when reading Haaretz back in 2008, when the documents appeared in Blau's article, and certainly today, as the paper attempts to hide behind the guise of exposing the truth.

The documents, it should be noted, deal with the need either to arrest or target an Islamic Jihad cell – clearly terrorists, who have committed acts of murder and planned more attacks. They consistently roamed the land with rifles and bomb belts. Any army of a democratic nation would regard their assassination as something both legitimate and desirable. This would not involve any troubles of conscience. According to Haaretz, however, it was more appropriate to arrest these righteous cell members than harm them.

THE DOCUMENTS indicate that the IDF rigorously abided by the ruling. They reveal four matters.

First, that OC Central Command Maj. Gen. Yair Naveh ordered an arrest rather than an assassination. Only if these turned out to be the Islamic Jihad members that, as stated earlier, were walking around with bomb belts and rifles, and only if events developed into a situation that both necessitates and allows this, should they be killed.

Second, it appears that the implementing force received an additional order: if there are women or children in the area, assassination must be avoided. Here then, argues the sanctimonious Haaretz, is the proof that there was an alternative to assassination and that arrests were possible. Nonsense. This proves one thing only: that when there are innocent civilians on the premises, particularly women and children, IDF troops take on themselves a far greater risk.

Third, it shows that the IDF places restrictions on the implementing force, in all things concerning the possible harming of innocent civilians. In the course of the meeting conducted by Naveh it was decided that only if there were as few as two unidentified men in addition to those that are wanted, could the operation take place.

In a second meeting, this time under Gen. Tal Russo, it was decided to restrict this further and allow only one innocent individual to be accidentally struck. The matter reached the chief-of-staff, and there too, Ashkenazi ordered that the operation against the arch-terrorists from Islamic Jihad take place only "if there is no more than a single unidentified individual" on the scene. Not even two.

In other words, if there are women and children, the operation is off. And if there are two unidentified figures, the operation is off. And it should be stressed that there was certainly no order to take out the unidentified figure. Does this violate the High Court of Justice's rulings? Let us examine. In the ruling, Barak states that "collateral damage in which innocent women and children are harmed shall be legal only if it abides by proportional standards."

Let us suppose, for the sake of argument, that we are talking about the accidental killing of two innocent civilians, compared to the striking down of five murderers belonging to a terrorist cell. Is this proportional? The man who was in charge of targeted killings in the Pentagon, Marc Garlasco, a former defense intelligence analyst at the Pentagon – yes, he of the Nazi memorabilia fiasco in 2009 – was interviewed on 60 Minutes, where he told interviewers that when it came to the assassination of a senior Iraqi terrorist, the guidelines were to kill as many as 29 innocent individuals, in order to take the man out. For them the US, it is one to 29 innocent men, and in Israel, permission is only given if there is one unidentified figure on the scene. And no, there is no order take him or them out. There is a huge gulf between Israel and the United States. Garlasco, incidentally, is responsible for the killing of some 200 innocent civilians, as part of pursuits of wanted terrorists – all while no terrorist was actually struck. No international arrest warrant was issued against Garlasco. On the contrary, he later became a senior member of Human Rights Watch. These are the ratios. This is the proportionality. Haaretz has failed to explain what it regards as proportional. Nor will it ever explain.

FOURTHLY, IT appears that in order to authorize any operation against Islamic Jihad members, many deliberations across different echelons take place. In these deliberations it was determined that innocent civilians shall not be harmed. That arrests are preferred over assassination. That women and children must be protected. That proportionality must be rigorously defended.

And these were not merely debates, the OC Central Commander himself could not approve the operation, and the authorization of the chief-of-staff was required. Can this complex process, of wavering, of debate after debate, of orders to safeguard the lives of women, children and innocent civilians, of clear definition of proportionality, be called a war crime, or murder?

In the course of the mission discussed by the Haaretz article, two terrorists were killed, Ziad Tzubahi Mahmad Malaisha and Ibrahim Ahmad Abed-El Latif A'abad. The two, not only according to the IDF but also according to a statement published by Islamic Jihad, were killed as they attempted to resist arrest, and while they were armed with M-16s in the throes of a battle with IDF troops. Islamic Jihad regards them as fallen troops. Haaretz created the impression that they were victims of war crimes.

In the very same article, the newspaper presents at length the views of three legal experts, Motta Kremnizer, David Kremnizer, and Moshe Hanegbi. They conclude, each in his own way, that the the troops on the mission has violated IDF orders, and that their actions constituted war crimes.

Based on what? What evidence do they present? Any search would be in vain. Haaretz turned to three legal experts whose opinions it knew in advance. The aim was to implicate the IDF. The legal experts brought home the bacon.

But, there was one other opinion. Following the report, two attorneys, Michael Shepherd and Avigdor Feldman, approached the attorney general and demanded that the matter be investigated. The attorney general at the time, Menahem Mazuz wrote in a reply: "the military sources in the IDF General Staff received constant legal council, were aware of High Court of Justice guidelines, stressed and executed this in every state of planning and approval of the mission."

Haaretz would not allow itself to be distracted by the facts. After all, legal advice is not an exact science. Therefore, the paper chose to approach legal experts who would recite exactly what it wanted to hear.

One could, of course, add that the number of targeted killings in recent years stands at approximately zero. There were targeted killings during the second Intifada but following the 2006 High Court ruling, the number of assassinations did indeed decline, and the number of innocent civilians killed in the process fell to zero.


And now, in order to justify the view it has long held, Haaretz attempts to create the opposite impression, one of mass targeted killings and harming of innocent civilians, contrary to the High Court's ruling.

Anyone reading the paper gets the impression that the IDF is deeply engaged in the criminal act of assassination when nothing could be further from the truth.

The demonizing, and delegitimizing of Israel got some help these past days thanks to Haaretz.

The paper has the right to hold its views and run any story it pleases. However, this recent affair should be called by its name: a libel manufactured by Haaretz.

The writer is a regular columnist at Maariv.








What was the use, on Memorial Day, of President Shimon Peres mentioning Israel's capabilities, while warning Iran of the perils of ignoring those capabilities? It appeared for a moment that the Israeli president had decided to compete with Iran's president with the same type of dangerous rhetoric at which Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is so skilled. But when the Israeli president issues threats, or at least a warning, they have many implications, perhaps even more than those made by Ahmadinejad.

When Israel threatens Iran with its "capacities" it reinforces what Israel has refrained from declaring openly: the nuclear potential that is attributed to Israel and the possibility that Israel will use it. Once again, such a threat makes Israel the spearhead in the battle against Iran, presenting the conflict as a bilateral confrontation. All this comes when, after great effort, Iran has become the focus of multilateral action.

Even worse, when the countries of the West, especially the United States, are mobilizing to impose new sanctions on Iran, Israeli military threats, as expressed by the Israeli president or any other top official, are liable to turn the tables. Instead of mobilizing support against Iran, they could stoke international pressure on Israel, portraying the country as a catalyst for the next war in the Middle East.



Iran does not need reminders about Israel's capabilities, just as Israel is not blind to Iran's military arsenal. When Iran outlines the constellation of threats against it, it lumps Israel and the United States together as a single threat; it portrays the U.S. capacity to attack as if it were an indivisible part of Israel's capabilities. This strategic concept should guide Israel when it considers the extent of its power. There is a limitation to this power: necessary coordination between Israel and the United States, even if this coordination appears to make things harder for the people in Israel who advocate a more hawkish policy.

Boasting about the capacity to hit Iran, as the president did, damages wise strategic thinking and thus harms Israel's national interests. Peres would have done better to use Memorial Day as an occasion to put the spotlight on the terrors of war rather than hinting at the next one.








The holidays are over and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has a problem. He has to respond to U.S. President Barack Obama's ultimatum, the gist of which is the demand to freeze construction in East Jerusalem and the numbers of Jews moving there. Netanyahu would have been glad to dismiss Obama's demands, but he understands that he can't, so he's waging a PR campaign in the United States to soften the administration's position.

Netanyahu has been saying for many years now that the president is not an autocrat and that American foreign policy is influenced by Congress, public opinion, the media and think tanks. Now his theory is being put to the test. Over the past three weeks the administration has been flooded with letters by U.S. representatives and senators, ads of support by Ron Lauder and Elie Wiesel, editorials and columns, television interviews with the prime minister and e-mails from Jewish supporters of Israel. They all warn, at various levels of bluntness and harshness, that Obama is abandoning Israel in the face of threats from Iran's nuclear program and Palestinian terror.

Obama's pressures have called Netanyahu's bluff: It's not Iran that is Netanyahu's top priority, as he claimed before he was elected, but rather the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah. The fact is, the prime minister did not call on Elie Wiesel and members of congress to warn against the "second Holocaust" that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is plotting, but to prevent construction plans at the Shepherd Hotel, Silwan and Ramat Shlomo from shutting down, which would cost the prime minister his right-wing coalition.


From Netanyahu's point of view, Obama misled him. The prime minister wanted only one thing: not to come out looking like a sucker. To him, statecraft consists of give and take, of "if they give they'll get," while Obama wants only to take - he opposes a surprise attack on Iran's nuclear facilities and is hardening his demands on the Palestinian issue. It started with the acceptance of the two-state principle, continued with a construction freeze in the settlements, and has now arrived in East Jerusalem, in the shadow of a threat to force a solution that will take Israel out of the West Bank and to the 1967 lines.

Netanyahu is coming out a super-sucker: He gave and gave and got nothing. Netanyahu expected that in return for his gestures to the Palestinians, Obama would harden his position on Iran and come closer to the threshold of conflict ("paralyzing sanctions"). But the president is not playing along. His feeble moves signal that the Americans are coming to terms with the Iranian nuclear program. Instead of pressuring Ahmadinejad and Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, he is pressuring Netanyahu to get out of the territories and hinting that Israel might embroil America in a very bloody and costly war.

Obama-haters are using Israel to goad the president for "hurting allies," and this is driving the White House even crazier. Netanyahu is torn between his political supporters at home and in the United States who are pushing him toward a direct conflict with a hostile administration, and his understanding that the rainy day will come when Israel needs Obama's help.

But Netanyahu's problem is much deeper and more serious than the coalition's makeup. Replacing Shas, Yisrael Beiteinu and Habayit Hayehudi with Tzipi Livni would soften Israel's aggressive tone toward "the world" but not really change the situation. No Israeli government would risk rockets on Tel Aviv, a civil war with the settlers and a political rupture in the Israel Defense Forces just to satisfy Obama.

An Israel that is preparing for conflict with Iran and that does not trust American support will not move an inch in the territories. Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak will try to wear Obama and his people out with empty discussions until a decision is made on whether to go to war. Netanyahu and Barak know that the extent of Israel's concessions in the territories will determine the extent of American help in stopping the Iranian nuclear program. Itamar in exchange for Natanz.

Netanyahu managed to rouse public discourse in the United States about Israel, and Obama got the message. His statement on Independence Day was enthusiastic and warm, speaking about Israel as the historic homeland of the Jewish people and assuring continued efforts to work for a two-state solution and "to counter the forces that threaten Israel, the United States, and the world" (that is, Iran). Now that the fireworks are over, it will become clear whether the president's message was mere lip service to quiet the criticism at home, or whether it signals intent to forge a deal with Netanyahu.







The alliance between secular Israelis and religious Zionists has always been a very important facet of Zionism. But if anything is clear after 62 years of Israel's existence, it is that the term "religious Zionist" is becoming irrelevant.

The party that used to represent this public, the National Religious Party, collapsed long ago, and its votes have been scattered between the secular parties and a few religious splinter parties.

A series of incidents over the past year, including the affair of Rabbi Eliezer Melamed and the threat to boycott a march in memory of the Lamed Heh (35 soldiers killed en route to reinforce Gush Etzion during the War of Independence), shows that not only the party, but the public for which it was named, is collapsing.


One fault line within this community is the question of its attitude toward democracy, and toward Zionism as a democratic movement. Some religious Zionists, especially those known as the Zionist ultra-Orthodox, have joined the non-Zionist ultra-Orthodox in refusing to honor governmental decisions.

A prime example is the support for soldiers disobeying orders expressed by Rabbi Melamed, head of the Har Bracha yeshiva.

On the other side, a few religious Zionists have made what for them was the very difficult decision to join with the secular in a desperate effort to defend democracy and Zionism. It was impossible not to notice, for instance, that no real outcry developed over the decision to expel Melamed's yeshiva from the hesder system, which combines Torah study with army service.

The second fault line relates to the cultural aspects of religion: the fact that a portion of the religious Zionist community is distancing itself from modern life and adopting rules of modesty and separation of the sexes that border the extreme demands of the ultra-Orthodox. Thus in January, the Bnei Akiva youth movement threatened to boycott the Lamed Heh memorial march to Gush Etzion because an army troupe comprising both men and women was to perform at the end of the march.

A report published last week by the Taub Center for Social Policy Studies in Israel warned that the growing number of students learning in ultra-Orthodox schools, which do not teach secular subjects, endangers the state's existence. But the religious Zionist community also includes a large segment that has also removed the core curriculum from its schools.

On the other side, it is becoming clear to many moderate members of the religious Zionist community that the main victims of religious coercion are its own women. It is these women, for instance, who have no way to circumvent the rabbinical courts, which discriminate against them.

And the moderates have begun drawing conclusions. In the previous Knesset, the two most prominent fighters against ultra-Orthodox religious coercion were religious Zionist MKs Michael Melchior (Labor) and Menahem Ben-Sasson (Kadima).

In Jerusalem's last municipal election, most of the religious Zionist public joined with the secular public to elect a secular mayor, Nir Barkat.

In the middle are the members of the Habayit Hayehudi party, who perhaps still believe that they are a bridge between two communities. But in practice, they are perched on the high wall that divides the Zionist public from the community that separates itself from the rest of society, and they are refusing to come down.

Science and Technology Minister Daniel Hershkowitz has criticized the phenomenon of soldiers disobeying orders or holding demonstrations on army bases, but urged that the Har Bracha yeshiva not be punished. Hershkowitz also cast the deciding vote in the cabinet in favor of moving a planned new emergency room at Ashkelon's Barzilai Medical Center to a different location.

It is thus no wonder that voters are abandoning his party. Voters do not like putting their votes on the fence.

Sooner or later, we will have to get used to thinking of religious Zionists as two distinct communities, or even more. And sooner or later, even supporters of Habayit Hayehudi will have to take sides. They will either have to join the community that is alienated from the Zionist enterprise, or join the effort to save Zionism from the threats to its democratic character and economic future. And it is vital that this happen before it is too late.

The writer is vice president of research and information for Hiddush - For Religious Freedom and Equality.








It's been a decade since Israel withdrew from southern Lebanon. Was the move a success or a failure? A little of both? Is there a common lesson to be learned from it and the withdrawal from Gaza, which took place five years ago this summer?

The phrasing of the questions themselves is misleading. The withdrawal from southern Lebanon was just one of a series of withdrawals after 1978's Operation Litani, followed again by staged withdrawals after the Israel Defense Forces pushed to Beirut in September 1982. One of the withdrawals, from the Chouf Mountains, was carried out despite intense opposition from the United States, which was concerned about possible intercommunal slaughter in Lebanon.

The physical position Israel took up in 1985 - "the security zone," as it was mistakenly called - would have been dismantled well before 2000 had it not been for the South Lebanon Army, its military proxy. Senior officers and veterans of Lebanon currently recommend that the U.S. military in Afghanistan emulate the South Lebanon Army model; for example, in the dangerous deployment of accompanying supply convoys, because there is nothing like locals to sniff out danger (and also be hit by shrapnel and thereby reduce pressure from home to withdraw).



The expression "the withdrawal from Gaza" in 2005 is also not accurate. A withdrawal was also carried out on another front, in northern Samaria in the West Bank. There the results were absolutely positive. The removal of the four Jewish settlements contributed to security, and no rockets were fired at Afula from the ruins of the settlement Homesh.

Withdrawals do not occur in isolation, but rather against a backdrop, a context and especially an aftermath. They are what shapes the outcome, not the pictures of the soldier waving the flag from the armored personnel carrier, the commander shutting the gate or the settler weeping over the ruins of his house.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, in her greetings on Monday for Independence Day, mentioned how quick Harry Truman was to recognize the State of Israel. Under pressure from Truman, David Ben-Gurion was also quick to withdraw from El Arish in the Sinai Campaign. Ben-Gurion understood the contradiction between capturing territory to expand borders or to create a buffer zone on the one hand, and the need to shorten the front line, avoid confrontation with world powers and attract support for holding onto Israel's portion of a partitioned Land of Israel.

That's the difference between immediate protection and longer-term security, between gaining immediate control and longer-term integration, between tactics and strategy. Hence Ben-Gurion also hastened in 1956 to dispel any illusions of a third Israeli imperial kingdom and withdrew from Sinai and the Gaza Strip under U.S. and Soviet pressure.

After the Six-Day War there were no withdrawals, which was one of the reasons for the Yom Kippur War. In the periods between other wars, however, there were many withdrawals, following incursions into Jordan, Lebanon and Egypt. Arab military pressure and American diplomatic pressure in the Yom Kippur War forced Israel out of parts of the Golan Heights and Sinai (and from the foothold in "Africa" taken during the war).

If not for the Israeli withdrawal from the rest of Sinai and the peace with Egypt, Israel would have collapsed under the intolerable weight of maintaining troops there. It would have needed many more divisions, reserve duty until old age and infirmity, fighter squadrons and defense budgets to pay for them - and all this under conditions that had not yet been experienced in the entanglement in Lebanon and the intifada in the territories.

The withdrawal from Lebanon, after which Israel mistakenly did not respond harshly to the abduction of three Israeli soldiers in 2000 in the Har Dov border region, did not address the problem of Hezbollah. It simply deferred the next round of violence because we did not have the necessary context of an agreement with Syria. The withdrawal from Gaza was carried out with unfortunate timing in a mistaken manner by a fading leader. The Gush Katif settlement bloc and the other Gaza settlements should not have been built, but should have been evacuated. The border area with Egypt at Rafah, and even better, north of the town, should have remained under Israeli army control, however. And Israel never should have given in to U.S. pressure to allow Hamas' participation in the 2006 Palestinian elections.

The antiquated objective of taking the enemy's capital no longer makes sense. Perhaps it would be beneficial in Gaza in toppling the Hamas regime, but not in Beirut or Damascus. And even if an enemy took Jerusalem, including the Knesset, ministry buildings and even the Holyland project, it would not subdue Tel Aviv in the process. Distant enemies with missiles, including the Soviets at one time, then the Iraqis and now the Iranians, have no common border with Israel that we could have illusions of crossing to conquer territory and subdue them.

The proper lesson to be drawn from Lebanon and Gaza is that in the absence of a correctly executed withdrawal - with a start, middle and end - there will be no progress toward peace, and thus no security.








"Colombian-Israeli" is how Maria Cantillo describes herself in an April 16 article by Yossi Klein in the weekend supplement of Haaretz's Hebrew edition. Cantillo, the daughter of foreign workers from Colombia, has lived here since the age of 3. Because her younger brother was born in Israel and granted legal status, she was allowed to stay in the country as well.

The Hebrew Cantillo speaks is entirely Israeli, with heavy dollops of "like" and "awesome." When she visited Colombia her Spanish sounded odd to the locals, who took her for a foreigner.

She is now 17, and next year will enlist in the Israel Defense Forces. When asked about her feelings toward Israel, Klein writes, her answers are uniformly patriotic." Her responses are always the right ones, testifying to her loyalty to her new homeland," he notes.

The writer, it seems, is casting doubt on the honesty of the young woman's remarks. But why? She has integrated into Israeli society beautifully, even if not yet completely. She has yet to learn all the codes of Israeli discourse; for example, she has yet to discover that not in every situation is it wise to heap praise on the country.

The Interior Ministry will not deport her in light of her residency status. It is, however, still trying to expel a large group of foreign workers' children who were born and raised in Israel. These are children who speak fluent Hebrew learned in public schools, where they marked Israeli days of joy and days of mourning and know no other country, society or culture.

Public pressure and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's intervention have thus far prevented these children's deportation. If they are ultimately allowed to stay - the battle for their rights won't be easy - we will probably see them among us taking part in the next Independence Day celebrations. That's how immigrants integrate successfully - both socially and culturally - in their new country, even when innumerable obstacles must be overcome.

But these developments are unpalatable to the worldview of Interior Minister Eli Yishai and to many others who consider themselves more modern and enlightened than the Shas leader.

The truth, however, is that these immigrants present no danger to the Jewish people - if we correctly understand the term "people" as a sovereign nation-state. On the contrary, they represent a historic victory of modern Jewish nationhood.

It is no trifling matter that today, in this country, we Jews are not being assimilated into other nations, but others are being assimilated into us. Assimilation, at least in the first generation, need not be decisive and complete to be successful. Who understands that better than Jews?

That's how immigrants integrate into a sovereign nation - by integrating into society, adopting its language and culture, identifying with the state and in the final phase, accepting citizenship.

In Israel, there is a unique path to such integration - the Law of Return, allowing Jews the world over to immigrate. But it need not be the only possible path.

In our day, we cannot completely prevent migration to a successful, attractive country. And that's what Israel is - were it not, this discussion would not even be held. The national interest is not to stick our head in the sand, but to promote wise, thought-out immigration and citizenship policies - not instead of the Law of Return, but alongside it.





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




Four years after Massachusetts enacted its ambitious health care reform, the state has achieved its goal: covering most of the uninsured without seriously straining its budget. Most citizens seem to like it.


Massachusetts cannot stop there. It also needs to figure out how to rein in the escalating costs of medical care and health insurance. The new national reform law includes many provisions designed, over time, to reduce costs, but Massachusetts will have to move sooner.


The Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation, a business-supported nonpartisan watchdog, calls the state's health reform "remarkably successful" in expanding coverage to 97 percent of residents at a modest incremental cost to taxpayers, consistent with projections.


It also has strong popular support. Even after Senator Scott Brown won election this year with a pledge to block national health care reform, half of his voters (and two-thirds of all voters) told pollsters that they supported their own state's similar reforms.


While an independent candidate for governor, Timothy Cahill, the state treasurer, is denouncing reform as a "fiscal train wreck" — a view eagerly embraced by national critics of reform — the newly chosen Republican candidate, Charles Baker, did not even mention the issue in his speech to his party's convention.


So what is really going on? Massachusetts is struggling to pay its Medicaid bills, as are most states

in this deep recession. Health reform increased the number of poor people eligible for Medicaid. Half of the added costs were matched by federal funds, and the problem should dissipate in all states as the recession recedes.


Critics also point to sudden jumps in premium rates (up to 34 percent) proposed for individuals and small businesses. That is not because of reform. Remember California's Anthem Blue Cross, which announced increases of up to 39 percent for individuals this year?


But now that Massachusetts has required all individuals to buy insurance and all employers to provide it or pay penalties, it will have to quickly deal with the problem. State regulators recently rejected almost 90 percent of the proposed increases. Even if the rejections survive legal challenges, they are a short-term fix.


Like the rest of the nation, the state needs to deal with the underlying issue: the relentlessly rising prices charged by health care providers. Those are driven in part by costly new technologies and treatments. In Massachusetts, it is exacerbated by the outsized bargaining power of prestigious teaching hospitals and regionally dominant community hospitals.


When Massachusetts's politicians designed their reform, they calculated that achieving near-universal coverage first would then give all participants in the health care system an incentive to help rein in costs. There are encouraging signs that that is starting to happen.


One hospital consortium, Partners HealthCare, that had been accused of extracting unjustifiably high reimbursements from insurers, has recently offered $40 million to help reduce big premium increases for small businesses and says it wants to be "part of the solution" in finding ways to reduce costs.


State leaders have commissioned studies and held hearings to come up with more fundamental solutions. Legislative leaders seem determined to end within five years the prevailing fee-for-service system, in which doctors and hospitals are paid for the volume of care they provide whether or not it is high quality or needed.


One possible substitute might be a system in which groups of doctors and hospitals are paid a fixed sum to provide whatever care a patient needs over the course of a year. There are also proposals in the Legislature to let the government regulate provider payments as a temporary solution, and some experts think regulation may be the most effective way to tame costs in the long run.


Massachusetts's experience offers some useful lessons for the national reform effort. That begins with the fact that once citizens have near-universal coverage, they like it — no matter what current polls and politicians may say. And while the federal reform law is confronting the cost problem from the start with a slew of pilot projects to determine what works best, the administration and Congress will need to press hard to expand every promising approach.






The Census Bureau is hiring a million or more people to assist with the 2010 count. It is temporary work, but it pays well. With national unemployment at nearly 10 percent, it looks like an excellent opportunity. That is unless you are one of the nearly 50 million Americans with any arrest or conviction on record.


A new class-action lawsuit has been filed on behalf of applicants who say they were unfairly turned down for census jobs based on an opaque screening policy that relies on F.B.I. checks for any criminal histories. Those checks are notoriously unreliable. A 2006 federal report found that half of them were inaccurate or out of date.


The Census Bureau is vague about what makes someone ineligible. In Congressional testimony, it suggested that it is excluding people who have been convicted of crimes involving violence and dishonesty. The bureau's Web site seems to say that applicants whose background checks turn up any arrest — no matter how trivial, distant in time, irrelevant to the job — receive a letter advising them that they can remain eligible only if they produce "official court documentation" bearing on the case within 30 days. Incredibly, the letter does not identify the alleged criminal activity. Applicants must prove eligibility, even if they don't know why they were flagged.


Official court records are often unobtainable for the millions of people whose convictions have been sealed or expunged or for people who have been arrested and released because of lack of evidence or mistaken arrest. This problem falls heaviest on black and Hispanic communities where stop-and-frisk policies and indiscriminate arrests are common.


The hiring problem is not limited to the Census Bureau. After 9/11, Congress required port workers to undergo F.B.I. background checks to keep their jobs. Last year, a study by the National Employment Law Project, an advocacy group for workers, found that the government had mistakenly denied credentials to tens of thousands of those workers.


States and cities are wisely revising employment policies. The federal government needs to develop a fair and transparent screening system for job applicants and a more effective appeals process. Congress must also require the F.B.I. to verify the criminal records — and find missing data before issuing background checks.






The Census Bureau is hiring a million or more people to assist with the 2010 count. It is temporary work, but it pays well. With national unemployment at nearly 10 percent, it looks like an excellent opportunity. That is unless you are one of the nearly 50 million Americans with any arrest or conviction on record.


A new class-action lawsuit has been filed on behalf of applicants who say they were unfairly turned down for census jobs based on an opaque screening policy that relies on F.B.I. checks for any criminal histories. Those checks are notoriously unreliable. A 2006 federal report found that half of them were inaccurate or out of date.


The Census Bureau is vague about what makes someone ineligible. In Congressional testimony, it suggested that it is excluding people who have been convicted of crimes involving violence and dishonesty. The bureau's Web site seems to say that applicants whose background checks turn up any arrest — no matter how trivial, distant in time, irrelevant to the job — receive a letter advising them that they can remain eligible only if they produce "official court documentation" bearing on the case within 30 days. Incredibly, the letter does not identify the alleged criminal activity. Applicants must prove eligibility, even if they don't know why they were flagged.


Official court records are often unobtainable for the millions of people whose convictions have been sealed or expunged or for people who have been arrested and released because of lack of evidence or mistaken arrest. This problem falls heaviest on black and Hispanic communities where stop-and-frisk policies and indiscriminate arrests are common.


The hiring problem is not limited to the Census Bureau. After 9/11, Congress required port workers to undergo

F.B.I. background checks to keep their jobs. Last year, a study by the National Employment Law Project, an advocacy group for workers, found that the government had mistakenly denied credentials to tens of thousands of those workers.


States and cities are wisely revising employment policies. The federal government needs to develop a fair and transparent screening system for job applicants and a more effective appeals process. Congress must also require the F.B.I. to verify the criminal records — and find missing data before issuing background checks.






For those of us old enough to remember, school sports used to be all about the boys. In 1972, Congress passed Title IX, which outlawed gender discrimination in educational programs and activities receiving federal financing, including school sports, at all levels.


The George W. Bush administration rolled back some of that progress, issuing guidelines that made it far too easy for schools to evade their obligation to provide equal opportunities. All schools had to do was hold an online survey showing that female students had no unmet sports interests. A low response rate, typical with such surveys, could be equated with a lack of interest.


This week, the Obama administration restored the pre-Bush-era approach. Schools trying to show their sports offerings comply with Title IX will be allowed to use surveys, but low responses will not count as a lack of interest in athletics. The assessment will also include more telling measures, like participation rates in feeder high schools or recreational leagues, and the views of administrators and coaches.


This wider approach recognizes the link between expressed interest in sports and actual sports opportunities on campus. Students who want to play field hockey, for example, are less likely to apply to a school with no field hockey team.


The new policy also recognizes that nearly 40 years later, there is still a significant disparity between school athletic opportunities for women and men, and the scholarships and career opportunities that often follow. It is a matter of fairness that transcends sports.






There had been a lull in sleazy Albany headlines. Have no fear, nothing has changed. Attorney General Andrew Cuomo provided a reminder of that on Tuesday, filing a civil lawsuit against Pedro Espada Jr., the Senate majority leader, claiming that Mr. Espada, his family and aides took at least $14 million from a family-run charity.


Mr. Cuomo said that Mr. Espada, a Bronx Democrat, used his nonprofit health care organization, the Comprehensive Community Development Corporation, as a "personal piggy bank." The suit, part of an ongoing inquiry, seeks the removal of Mr. Espada and others from the nonprofit's board and restitution of the charity's assets.


Mr. Espada, who has heatedly denied the charges, founded the corporation more than 30 years ago. It runs health clinics in the Bronx, known as the Soundview HealthCare Network, that receive much of their financing from Medicaid and Medicare. The details of the suit suggest that this public service was too much about serving Mr. Espada.


The senator's severance contract with the charity is now worth about $9 million — more than the charity has in available funds. The lawsuit also alleges that at least $250,000 in personal charges were made on Mr. Espada's charity credit card, including vacations for the family and $20,000 to sushi restaurants that delivered to the Espadas' Westchester County home.


When investigators began looking into whether he lives in the Bronx district he represents as the law requires,

the suit alleges that Soundview paid $2,500 a month for an apartment there. It says the charity provided at least $100,000 for campaign literature. Both parties should be embarrassed by ties to Senator Espada, who has a long history of failing to file campaign finance reports and at one point owed more than $60,000 in fines. He also has starred in some of Albany's seediest theatrics.


Last June, Republicans briefly lured Mr. Espada to their side with a leadership job and the bonus that goes along. That resulted in a month of absolutely no governing until Democrats lured him back, in part by making him majority leader, which also included a bonus.


Meanwhile, lawmakers have done nothing to pass real ethics reform. The state needs a major overhaul, starting with nonpartisan redistricting for 2011, fairer campaign finance rules and a true ethics police. Unless something changes soon, voters will have to throw out nearly the whole crowd come November.








I've been thinking about President Obama's foreign policy lately, but first, a golf tip: I went to Dave Pelz's famous short-game school this winter to improve my putting and chipping, and a funny thing happened — my long game got better. It brings to mind something that happened to Obama. The president got health care reform passed, and it may turn out to be his single most important foreign policy achievement.


In politics and diplomacy, success breeds authority and authority breeds more success. No one ever said it better than Osama bin Laden: "When people see a strong horse and a weak horse, by nature they will like the strong horse."


Have no illusions, the rest of the world was watching our health care debate very closely, waiting to see who would be the strong horse — Obama or his Democratic and Republican health care opponents? At every turn in the debate, America's enemies and rivals were gauging what the outcome might mean for their own ability to push around an untested U.S. president.


It remains to be seen whether, in the long run, America will be made physically healthier by the bill's passage. But, in the short run, Obama definitely was made geopolitically healthier.


"When others see the president as a winner or as somebody who has real authority in his own house, it absolutely makes a difference," Defense Secretary Robert Gates said to me in an interview. "All you have to do is look at how many minority or weak coalition governments there are around the world who can't deliver something big in their own country, but basically just teeter on the edge, because they can't put together the votes to do anything consequential, because of the divided electorate." President Obama has had "a divided electorate and was still able to muscle the thing through."


When President Dmitri Medvedev of Russia spoke by phone with Obama the morning after the health care vote — to finalize the New Start nuclear arms reduction treaty — he began by saying that before discussing nukes, "I want to congratulate you, Mr. President, on the health care vote," an administration official said. That was not just rank flattery. According to an American negotiator, all throughout the arms talks, which paralleled the health care debate, the Russians kept asking: "Can you actually get this ratified by the Senate" if an arms deal is cut? Winning passage of the health care bill demonstrated to the Russians that Obama could get something hard passed.


Our enemies surely noticed, too. You don't have to be Machiavelli to believe that the leaders of Iran and Venezuela shared the barely disguised Republican hope that health care would fail and, therefore, Obama's whole political agenda would be stalled and, therefore, his presidency enfeebled. He would then be a lame duck for the next three years and America would be a lame power.


Given the time and energy and political capital that was spent on health care, "failure would have been unilateral disarmament," added Gates. "Failure would have badly weakened the president in terms of dealing with others — his ability to do various kinds of national security things. ... You know, people made fun of Madeleine [Albright] for saying it, but I think she was dead on: most of the rest of the world does see us as the 'indispensable nation.' "


Indeed, our allies often complain about a world of too much American power, but they are not stupid. They know that a world of too little American power is one they would enjoy even less. They know that a weak America is like a world with no health insurance — and a lot of pre-existing conditions.


Gen. James Jones, the president's national security adviser, told me that he recently met with a key NATO counterpart, who concluded a breakfast by congratulating him on the health care vote and pronouncing: "America is back."


But is it? While Obama's health care victory prevented a power outage for him, it does not guarantee a power surge. Ultimately, what makes a strong president is a strong country — a country whose underlying economic prowess, balance sheet and innovative capacity enable it to generate and project both military power and what the political scientist Joe Nye calls "soft power" — being an example that others want to emulate.


What matters most now is how Obama uses the political capital that health care's passage has earned him. I continue to believe that the most important foreign policy issue America faces today is its ability to successfully engage in nation building — nation building at home.


Obama's success in passing health care and the bounce it has put in his step will be nothing but a sugar high if we can't get our deficit under control, inspire a new generation of start-ups, upgrade our railroads and Internet and continue to attract the world's smartest and most energetic immigrants.


An effective, self-confident president with a weak country is nothing more than a bluffer. An effective, self-confident president, though, at least increases the odds of us building a stronger country.


Maureen Dowd is off today.







LAST week the United States military pulled out of the Korengal Valley in eastern Afghanistan. Six miles long, sparsely populated and of dubious strategic value, the Korengal was the scene of some of the most relentless fighting of the Afghan war. American forces have been there in one form or another since the summer of 2005, when Taliban fighters cornered a four-man Navy Seal team on a nearby mountain and killed three of them. They then shot down a Chinook helicopter with 16 commandos on board. All of them died.


For much of 2007 and 2008, I was an embedded reporter with a platoon of airborne infantry at a remote outpost called Restrepo, which was attacked up to four times a day. Many soldiers had creases in their uniforms from bullets that had brushed them. In one firefight a bullet hit a sandbag six inches from my head.


The psychological pressure was enormous. "I've only been here for four months and I can't believe how messed up I am," one soldier told me. "I went to the counselor and he asked if I smoked cigarettes and I told him no and he said, 'Well, you may want to think about starting.'"


There were around 20 men at Restrepo — part of a 150-member unit called Battle Company of the 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team — and the possibility of getting overrun by the enemy was openly discussed. The men slept next to their guns and sometimes with their boots on. More than 40 American soldiers have died in the Korengal Valley.


Now, the military has retreated, saying that the valley is too isolated and that the American presence was possibly pushing the locals to side with the Taliban. This raises some questions: If the Korengal was really worth fighting for, why would we ever pull out? Or, conversely, why did we go there in the first place? Like the soldiers at Restrepo, I was looking at the war through a tiny keyhole, and have no way to answer such overarching questions. But I do know that several important points must be acknowledged.


First, a significant proportion of enemy fighters in the Korengal were foreigners who had come to Afghanistan to wage jihad. There were Pakistani cellphone numbers painted on rocks around the valley as a recruiting tool for potential volunteers; there were Arabic graffiti urging local men to join the fight. These foreigners presumably would have fought the Americans wherever they found them; if we had avoided the Korengal they would simply have shifted the battle elsewhere. (To a better place? A worse one? I doubt even the Taliban could say.)


Furthermore, I was told that one of the reasons for establishing a base in the Korengal was to prevent militants from using the valley to stage attacks on the vastly more important Pech River Valley, immediately to the north. The Pech was a major corridor for moving men and supplies, and after American bases were established in the Korengal, attacks at Pech dropped off significantly. The Korengal may not have been important per se, but arguably the Pech was, and there may have been no way to strategically separate the two.


War is a complex endeavor that has no predictable outcome: ill-equipped militias can defeat modern armies, huge battles can hinge on luck or bad weather. Expecting commanders to make strategically correct decisions every time is not a realistic criterion for evaluating the war.


Some 30,000 British soldiers were killed and wounded in the folly that became known as the Battle of Dunkirk, and yet the Allies went on to win the war. There is no way to know how World War II would have unfolded without Dunkirk. And there is no way to know what would have happened in Kunar Province — or in Afghanistan as a whole — had several hundred local and foreign fighters not been tied up in the Korengal by American forces.


That said, the emotional repercussions of the pullout cannot be discounted. One of the young men I was with at Restrepo is now in a unit that is about to deploy to the Chowkay Valley, immediately to the south. Enemy fighters would come up the Chowkay and then into the Korengal to attack the American positions. Having fought for over a year and nearly lost his life in a battle now deemed pointless, this young man seems unlikely to throw himself into the fight in the Chowkay with the same determination.


I'm a civilian, though — not a soldier — and I may be entirely wrong. The men at Restrepo seemed to make "sense" of combat in a completely personal way. They were not interested in the rest of the war and they were not much concerned with whether it was just, winnable or even well executed. For soldiers, the fight is what gives a place meaning, rather than the other way around.


In that sense, the Korengal was literally sacred ground. Every man in Battle Company lost a good friend there, and every man was nearly killed there. These soldiers did not require "strategic importance" or "national interest" to give the place value — it already had that in spades.


Outpost Restrepo was named after Juan Restrepo, a platoon medic who was killed on July 22, 2007. He was one of the best-liked men in the platoon, and his death was devastating. The men took enormous pride in the outpost they built, and they can now go online and watch videotape of it being blown up by an American demolition team. It is a painful experience for many of them, and in recent days, e-mail messages have flown back and forth as the men have tried to come to terms with it. One man became increasingly overwrought from watching the video over and over again, wondering what all the sacrifice had been for. Another soldier finally intervened.


"They might have pulled out but they can't take away what we accomplished and how hard we fought there," he wrote to his distraught comrade. "The base is a base, we all knew it would sooner or later come down. But what Battle Company did there cannot be blown up, ripped down or burned down. Remember that."


Sebastian Junger, a contributing editor for Vanity Fair, is the author of the forthcoming "War" and co-director of the documentary film "Restrepo."







"TRANSPARENCY is non-negotiable," declared Europe's new commissioner for digital issues, Neelie Kroes, in a speech last week laying out her thoughts on net neutrality. "In a complex system like the Internet, it must be crystal-clear what the practices of operators controlling the network mean for all users."


Ms. Kroes's comments reflect the decision made by the European Union in November to avoid any of the more extreme regulations that could stifle the innovation that has been the hallmark of the Internet. Instead, the union chose a more measured approach that emphasizes transparency.


This at odds with the Federal Communications Commission, which is currently considering versions of net neutrality regulation that would severely restrict firms' business models and pricing flexibility. Before the commission embraces regulation, it should take another look at the European model and focus on a policy built on transparency.


Under the new European rules, providers are required to inform customers of any limitations that they impose on access, or on the use of services and applications, including bandwidth caps.


Similarly, providers have to notify customers of any standards that they use to measure or shape traffic patterns in response to network congestion, and supply information on how those standards may affect service quality.


The directive also requires carriers to notify users of security breaches, like hacker attacks and identity theft, that could jeopardize their privacy. All these regulations typically inflict only relatively low costs on providers and allow consumers to make more informed decisions.


The European directive does grant individual nations the authority to establish minimum quality-of-service requirements, but — and this is important — does not require it. Indeed, the union has explicitly acknowledged the efficiency-enhancing properties of price and quality discrimination, while at the same time condemning limits that hinder competition.


As such, each European country will be left to deal with the merits and costs of regulation on a case-by-case basis. However, if any country goes too far in imposing more intrusive regulations, the European Commission retains the authority to intervene to maintain a common regulatory framework and a consistent internal market within the union.


Perhaps the most noteworthy thing about the European regulations is what they do not do. They do not prescribe business or pricing models for European telecommunications companies. This represents a vote of deserved confidence regarding the effectiveness of Europe's current competition policy as well as the evolution of pricing, competition and investment in the industry. Europe already has all the tools needed to address lapses in competition if they occur.


As American policymakers decide what should be done about net neutrality, they would do well to consider the precedents set by Europe's new framework. The goal should be to develop — through a deliberative process involving regulators, the public and affected companies — industry-wide disclosure requirements that provide consumers with easy-to-interpret information on company-based limitations on access, use of services or applications.


When it comes to the Internet and net neutrality, ensuring transparency promises to enhance the evolution of this dynamic market. Imposing heavy-handed rules about how providers can operate will only hinder it.


John W. Mayo and Marius Schwartz are professors of economics at Georgetown. Bruce Owen is a professor of public policy at Stanford. Robert Shapiro is a senior policy fellow at the Georgetown Center for Business and Public Policy. Lawrence J. White is a professor of economics at New York University's Stern School of Business. Glenn Woroch is the executive director of the Center for Research on Telecommunications Policy at the University of California, Berkeley.








THESE days, it's hard to find anyone who doesn't use credit and debit cards regularly — they're convenient and compact and often come with small cash-back incentives.


But what almost no one realizes is that those benefits are far outweighed by an implicit transaction fee, set by credit card companies and their issuing banks, that costs consumers more than $48 billion a year. As Congress works toward passing consumer financial reform legislation, it should include new rules about how — and how much — credit card companies can charge.


The credit and debit card system is dominated by two companies, Visa and MasterCard, respectively accounting for 47 percent and 35 percent of the general purpose credit card market in 2008. While those firms handle the transactions, they depend on banks to issue the cards to consumers. The result is that Visa and MasterCard compete to deliver the highest returns to the banks rather than offer the lowest prices to consumers.


Card companies generate those returns by charging an "interchange fee" for every credit or debit transaction they run — when a merchant accepts your card for a $100 item, it gets approximately $98 in payment. These costs are passed on to all consumers — even those who pay by cash — in the form of higher retail prices.


None of this is new or controversial information; you can find it in a recent Government Accountability Office report to Congress. What is less well known, however, is that many countries have instituted consumer protections against such hidden taxes, while the United States, which has some of the developed world's highest interchange fees, has left them completely unregulated.


True, there's an antitrust class action suit by merchants pending, but its resolution is a long way off and it's unclear if or how it would benefit consumers. And while several legislative proposals are sitting patiently in Congress, they would at best only chip around the edges of the problem.


Instead, Washington should take two straightforward steps.


First, Congress should recognize the obvious: debit cards, whose use and fees are growing at a rapid rate, are actually no more than plastic checks. Congress and the Federal Reserve do not allow banks to charge their customers a percentage of each check, and it should put the same restriction on debit cards.


Second, Congress should authorize the Federal Reserve to limit credit card interchange fees to their actual cost, fairly determined, plus a reasonable profit. The annual savings to merchants would be in the tens of billions of dollars. Since retailing is highly competitive, most of these savings would be passed on to consumers in lower prices or in the form of improved services by retailers that could afford to hire more people.


How can we be sure this would work? Because other countries have already done it. In Australia, for example, regulation brought the credit card interchange rate down from .95 percent to .50 percent — compared to our approximately 2.0 percent. Five years of experience has confirmed that the payments system works fine; in 2008, the Reserve Bank of Australia estimated the savings during the previous year to have been around 1.1 billion Australian dollars (approximately $1 billion).


If the United States were to reduce the interchange rate from 2.0 percent to 0.5 percent, the savings would be $36 billion per year, less some relatively small offsets.


Not only would such savings make our retail payment system more fair, but it would represent a significant economic stimulus at a time when consumers are just starting to spend again. And best of all, it wouldn't cost Washington a thing.


Albert A. Foer is the president of the American Antitrust Institute.









Given all the talk of impending catastrophe, this may come as a surprise, but as we approach the 40th anniversary of the first Earth Day, people who care about the environment actually have a lot to celebrate. Of course, that's not how the organizers of Earth Day 2010 see it. In their view (to quote a recent online call to arms), "The world is in greater peril than ever." But consider this: In virtually every developed country, the air is more breathable and the water is more drinkable than it was in 1970. In most of the First World, deforestation has turned to reforestation. Moreover, the percentage of malnutrition has been reduced, and ever-more people have access to clean water and sanitation.


Apocalyptic predictions from concerned environmental activists are nothing new. Until about 10 years ago, I took it for granted that these predictions were sound. Like many of us, I believed that the world was in a terrible state that was only getting worse with each passing day. My thinking changed only when, as a university lecturer, I set out with my students to disprove what I regarded at the time as the far-fetched notion that global environmental conditions were actually improving.


To our surprise, the data showed us that many key environmental measures were indeed getting better. We also found a disturbing gulf between the chief concerns of rich countries and the problems that actually do the most damage to the world.


If anything, this gulf between perception and reality has gotten wider over the years. For example, one of the "core issues" that the organizers of this year's Earth Day say we should be worrying about is the use of fertilizers and pesticides. It may be unfashionable to point this out, but without the high-yield agricultural practices developed over the past 60 years, virtually all the forests of the world would have to have been cleared to make way for food production. And starvation would be much, much more prevalent.




Of course, in the minds of Earth Day activists, no environmental challenge is more urgent than the need to drastically cut carbon emissions in order to stop global warming. But is climate change really the No. 1 problem we face?


What about indoor air pollution, which happens to be the world's No. 1 environmental killer? In poor countries, 2.5 billion people rely on "biomass" — wood, waste and dung — to cook and keep themselves warm. This year, the resulting pollution will kill about 1.3 million of them, mainly women and children. Switching from biomass to fossil fuels would dramatically improve the lives of more than a third of the world's population. Unfortunately, you're not likely to hear any of this year's Earth Day speakers promoting greater use of fossil fuels in poor countries.


I'm not saying we can blithely ignore global warming. Man-made climate change is real, and we do need to do something about it. But in a world in which most developing countries depend almost exclusively on fossil fuels to power their economies, it's both impractical and immoral to insist that the only solution is for everyone to drastically cut carbon emissions. This approach might make sense if we were able to offer developing countries practical, affordable alternatives to coal and oil. But we cannot— and as long as we can't, all we're really doing when we call for massive carbon cuts is asking the world's poor people to continue living lives of misery and deprivation.


Help the developing world first


So what should we do? Well, to begin with, we might consider one of the fundamental lessons of the past 40 years of environmental concern. You cannot expect people to care about what the environment may be like 100 years from now if they are worrying about whether their children have enough to eat. With this in mind, we should focus on the many more immediate problems faced by the developing world today — problems such as malnutrition, education, disease and clean drinking water. At the same time, we should take meaningful steps to ensure that the future of the developing world will be powered by green energy. As long as the electricity from sustainable sources such as solar panels costs us 10 times as much as electricity generated by coal-fired generators, no one but rich nations will go green (and then only if there are government subsidies). What we need to do is to promote the kind of technological breakthroughs necessary to make solar panels cheaper than fossil fuels. Once we have done that, no one will have to be ordered to give up coal and oil.


Our goal should thus be twofold: first, to confront the most immediate problems facing the Third World; second, to provide developing countries with the energy technologies they need to create a green, prosperous world. Surprisingly, these goals seem to turn off many in the environmental movement. But while they will use Earth Day to writhe in collective shame at the damage that greedy, gas-guzzling Western consumers are delivering to the fragile planet, the rest of us should celebrate our environmental successes and chart out a reasonable path through the challenges that remain.


Bjorn Lomborg is the director of the Copenhagen Consensus Center at Copenhagen Business School and the author of Cool It: The Skeptical Environmentalist's Guide to Global Warming.








Washington's nomination industry is gearing up yet again in preparation for whomever President Obama names to replace Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens.


It will be war, and much of it will be waged on the Internet. Slander and praise of the top potential nominees compete for online attention. When new names are mentioned, partisans and the news media turn to the Internet and, within minutes, develop online profiles that can boost or shred a candidate's chances.


As messy as the process is, it is oddly appropriate, given whom the new nominee will be replacing. For it was Stevens who, in 1997, wrote the decision that gave the Internet the First Amendment freedom it enjoys today. A justice who has just turned 90 was responsible, as much as anyone else, for the Internet's youthful, wildly creative and virally destructive culture. Whether you think the Internet is the most democratic or the most pernicious medium in the history of humankind, you probably have Stevens to thank or curse.


The decision was Reno v. ACLU, and though it was decided only 13 years ago, the context now seems almost quaint. Congress, frightened to its censorious core by the spread of online pornography that children could stumble onto, had enacted the Communications Decency Act. It was a blunt instrument that would have made a criminal out of a parent who sent birth control information to a child in college. When President Clinton signed the bill into law, some Internet sites went dark for a day of mourning.


How the Supreme Court would rule on the law was far from certain — but vitally important. Through history, the court had been cautious in deciding where to place a new medium — movies, radio, or television — on the spectrum of First Amendment protection. Radio and cable TV could be regulated more than newspapers, the court had decided, because they shared a limited and public resource — the airwaves. But here was the Internet, where anyone with a computer and a modem could broadcast a message far more broadly than the mightiest newspaper publisher.


At the court, there was a practical concern as well. Not all justices — their average age then was 63 — were computer-literate. As the justices deliberated, the court's library set up demonstrations, and their law clerks walked them through the Internet.


But Stevens, then 77, did not need much training. "He was at least as computer-savvy as we were," Olatunde Johnson, one of his law clerks from that year, told me last week. Stevens had been using e-mail for years.


When he set out to write the majority opinion in the Internet case, Stevens saw a direct connection between Internet users and the classic speakers who inspired the First Amendment more than two centuries earlier. "Any person with a phone line can become a town crier with a voice that resonates farther than it could from any soapbox," Stevens wrote. "Through the use of Web pages ... the same individual can become a pamphleteer." The "unproven benefit" of the Internet law, Stevens added, is outweighed by "the interest in encouraging freedom of expression in a democratic society."


In its relative infancy, Stevens had anointed the Internet with the highest level of First Amendment protection. Today's Internet could not be nearly as robust as it is without that blessing.


The power of this new medium to inform our democracy on an endless list of subjects — including the appointment of a new justice — is exactly what Stevens had in mind, and it is a key element of Justice Stevens' rich legacy.


Tony Mauro covers the Supreme Court for The National Law Journal and American Lawyer Media, and is a member of USA TODAY's Board of Contributors.








I refuse to join any club that would have me as a member," Groucho Marx used to joke. Now the Supreme Court is mulling whether state-run schools must let religious clubs with discriminatory practices join in all the benefits that other clubs on campus receive.


OPPOSING VIEW: 'Protect unpopular voices'


The case involves the Christian Legal Society, a network of law student groups that requires members to sign a statement of faith that, among other things, pledges a student to oppose "all acts of sexual conduct outside of God's design for marriage between one man and one woman, which acts include fornication, adultery and homosexual conduct."


To be sure, any student who agrees with such faith principles should be able to join such a group, and the group should have an absolute right to recruit members and be active on campus. The tougher question, however, is whether an institution funded with taxpayer dollars must extend formal recognition and benefits to a religious group that discriminates against gay men and lesbians, in accordance with the beliefs of many American churches.


The answer should be that no religious group has a claim on public support — just the right to practice its beliefs without interference.


The issue reached the high court this week after the University of California's Hastings College of Law refused to authorize the Christian Legal Society as a "recognized student organization" because it violates the school policy that any official student group must be open to all students. The issue is a volatile one that provokes charges of discrimination against religious groups.


It need not, as long as Hastings and other public institutions treat every group equally. Hastings attempted to satisfy that standard by allowing the society to meet on campus but refusing to recognize it as a club that could, among other things, tap into student fees.


Critics of the Hastings non-discrimination policy argue that the policy is unworkable because it would force groups to admit members directly opposed to the groups' beliefs and aims. "To require this Christian society to allow atheists not just to join, but to conduct Bible classes, right? That's crazy," said Justice Antonin Scalia during Monday's arguments.


Justice Samuel Alito took the same tack, imagining a small Muslim student group with 10 members overwhelmed by "50 students who hate Muslims (and) show up and they want to take over that group."


Those arguments are logical, but Hastings didn't seek to dictate the Christian group's rules, just to maintain its standards for receiving the benefits that official recognition bestows.


In a related case, the court ruled in 1983 that Bob Jones University, a religious institution, could be denied tax-exempt status because of its racist policies.


The attorney for the Christian Legal Society protested that the group should and would not discriminate on the basis of gender or race, but had every right to discriminate on the basis of belief. That prompted Justice John Paul Stevens to ask sharply, "What if the belief is that African Americans are inferior?"


Although student groups do lose out if they can't get formal recognition and benefits, those aren't constitutional rights. Hastings and other schools should bend over backward to allow students to practice their religion freely, but without putting the school or taxpayers who fund it in the awkward position of endorsing discrimination.








Racists leading the Black Student Union? Pro-life students taking over a fledgling abortion activist group — and its budget? At most universities this couldn't happen because schools recognize — albeit sometimes after court orders — that the First Amendment protects the right to associate around, and advocate for, shared beliefs. Religious, political and other groups commonly exercise this right by limiting their leaders to those who share their views.


OUR VIEW: Religious freedom? Yes. But don't fund discrimination.


The outlier? The 9th Circuit, and particularly the University of California's Hastings College of Law in San Francisco, which claims every group must allow those who reject its views to vote on its policies or lead it. Although several of the 60 Hastings student groups say they limit membership to those of like mind, the Christian Legal Society (CLS) is out because, while its activities are open to all, its leaders and voting members share its Christian beliefs and try to live their lives accordingly. So no stealing, lying, cheating, or extramarital sex.


In CLS v. Martinez, the Supreme Court is examining Hastings' denial to CLS of the rights others enjoy, including participation in the student organization fair, e-mail, bulletin board access, a share of the student fees its members pay, and equal access to meeting space. CLS never sought a dime from Hastings itself, and Hastings requires all groups to say they aren't school-sponsored.


CLS' Christian views are now countercultural on many campuses, and students who share them are a minority. Those who reject CLS' beliefs can form their own group. They just can't lead Bible studies or vote on policies of a group whose views they reject. That's not "discrimination" — it's common sense and the First Amendment at work.


Universities have recently shown an odious habit of suppressing student groups that conflict with the prevailing orthodoxies. In the past, universities excluded anti-war, ACLU and homosexual groups, who then won the right to be on campus.


Today, universities are targeting evangelical Christian groups. Tomorrow's target might be alternative campus newspapers critical of university administrators. The First Amendment protects them all, and the Supreme Court should again protect unpopular voices in the marketplace of ideas.


Casey Mattox is a legal counsel with the Alliance Defense Fund, which served as co-counsel with the Christian Legal Society in that group's Supreme Court case.









Jordan's King Abdullah has recently disclosed that he believes an Israel-Hezbollah-Lebanon conflict is "imminent."


The fact that Israeli authorities are handing out gas masks and have launched a media campaign stressing their importance lends credibility to the monarch's chilling prediction.

Israel fears peace more than war. The Arab peace proposal is still on offer until July this year while U.S. President Barack Obama is said to be working on a new "road map." But there is one major obstacle: Israel's right-wing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reluctantly pays lip service to the concept of a Palestinian state but, in reality, he isn't interested in exchanging occupied land for peace. And neither is he prepared to relinquish East Jerusalem to be the capital of a new Palestinian state. It's a dangerous impasse that has frustrated Palestinian hopes to the extent some are calling for a third intifada, which would achieve nothing except bolstering the flagging Israeli narrative that Palestinians are "terrorists".

If this slick-talking, uncompromising Zionist were to chance upon a genie-in-a-bottle, he would magic the Palestinians away. But since geniis are in short supply nowadays, he is intent on diminishing the Palestinian population with a military order declassifying Palestinians residents of the West Bank as infiltrators if they fail to produce valid permits. Those considered to be illegal residents will be criminalized and exposed to fines, imprisonment and deportation.

Once the Palestinian presence is suitably pruned, he would be amenable to a demilitarized noncontiguous Palestinian state that has no control over its borders, coastline or airspace; in other words, a sort of Greater Gaza where the population would exist or subsist according to an Israeli leader's whims.

Unfortunately for Netanyahu his game is up. President Obama sees through his foot-dragging and is piling on the pressure with an implicit threat of a US-imposed settlement. The U.S. leader has made firm demands for Israel to cease expanding Jewish colonies on the West Bank, to end the demolition of Palestinian homes in East Jerusalem and to relax the blockade of Gaza. He has also included Israel in his calls for nuclear nations to sign-up to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). There are signs that this president is in no mood to shower Israel with unconditional love even if this means head-butting an Israel-subservient Congress.

Such an unprecedented strain in US-Israeli relations is eroding Netanyahu's popularity at home and could lead to early elections.

Just a year ago, Israel could do no wrong in the eyes of the international community whereas now it can do little right. However, Israel would quickly be released from the doghouse if it were seen to be at war for its very survival. The U.S. would be forced to back up its longtime ally, Middle East peace would be relegated to the backburner and dependent on the outcome of such a conflict, Netanyahu's approval rating would soar. There are certainly indicators that such a devious plan without any regard for human life may be afoot.

In recent days, Israelis warplanes have violated Lebanon's airspace and have illuminated the skies over a southern Lebanese village with flares. Concurrent with those provocations, Israel is accusing Syria of supplying Hezbollah with Scud missiles with the potential of being fitted with chemical warheads and capable of reaching Tel Aviv.

Damascus denies this claim and, for the moment, Washington is fence sitting. A State Department spokesman has confirmed that the U.S. is "increasingly concerned about the sophisticated weaponry that is allegedly being transferred"; another official has doubted the veracity of the allegation.

Whether or not Hezbollah is armed with Scuds isn't an issue when the organization's leader Hassan Nasrallah has admitted that his military wing has 30,000 missiles with enough range to damage any city within Israel. Ali Fayyad, a pro-Hezbollah Lebanese MP has protested that "the Israeli enemy is going too far with its aggressive and provocative acts" and has asked the Lebanese government to file a complaint with the United Nations Security Council.

It's unlikely that Hezbollah will easily take the bait… Conflict would not be in the interest of Lebanon which is enjoying renewed economic stability and neither would it benefit Hezbollah, which has an influential presence within the Lebanese government and whose military worth is already proven. But if Israel's provocation becomes too intense, then Nasrallah may be forced to respond. Alternatively, Israel could ignite hostilities with a false-flag operation that would paint Hezbollah as the belligerent party.

Netanyahu's possible motives for attacking Lebanon are manifold. Following the failure of the Israeli military's mission in 2006 which was to disarm Hezbollah, Israel needs a definitive win so as to propagate the myth of its invincibility and eradicate the threat from Hezbollah on its northern border.

According to The Times, Syria is to be held responsible in the event Hezbollah sends ballistic missiles into Israel. "We'll return Syria to the Stone Age," an Israeli minister was quoted as warning.

Obama needs to read the tealeaves and nip Israel's aggression in the bud while Arab states must find a united voice and a unity of purpose before the rabid dogs are once again unleashed leaving death and destruction in their wake.

(Source: Arab News)








In some circles, 'nuclear terrorism' is linked to the acquisition, possession, proliferation and utilization of nuclear weapons by terrorists. However, for the victims of a nuclear attack, it does not matter whether the perpetrator is a terrorist organization, or a state that possesses nuclear weapons. A nuclear attack is nuclear terrorism.


The harrowing accounts of some of the survivors of the bomb attacks upon Hiroshima and Nagasaki, -- the Hibakusha -- are testimony to the terror that griped the citizens of these two Japanese cities on 6 and 9 August 1945. One such Hibakusha, Setsuko Thurlow, who was then a 13 year-old schoolgirl in Hiroshima, narrates how her schoolmates "were incinerated and vaporized without a trace…" And the perpetrator of that terror was not a conventional terrorist. It was the United States of America.

This is why the attempt to present the acquisition of nuclear weapons by terrorists as a much greater threat to humanity than the possession of nuclear weapons by states, is fallacious. Both portend calamity. While no terror outfit has as yet gained access to nuclear weapons, there are at least eight or nine nuclear weapons' states. Apart from the fact that it is a state that had deployed its nuclear arsenal with devastating consequences on two occasions, it is also a state that has allegedly threatened to flex its nuclear muscle on at least four occasions. Besides, if terrorist networks seek nuclear weapons, it is because there are a few states that monopolize nuclear weapons. Indeed, it is because there is a nuclear states' club, that other states are also determined to acquire the capability to produce nuclear weapons.

What this means is that the only way to curb the proliferation of nuclear weapons, including their spread to terrorist groups, is to eliminate all nuclear weapons. That there is no alternative to complete and comprehensive nuclear disarmament is a hackneyed cliché that is worth repeating over and over again. In this regard, the New Start (Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty) signed between the U.S. and Russia in Prague on 8th April 2010 which pares down their arsenals to 1,550 warheads each is a modest step forward. At the 47 nation nuclear summit hosted by the U.S., its president, Barack Obama, renewed his pledge to work towards a world without nuclear weapons. He sees it as a quest that will go beyond his generation.

Perhaps this is the right moment for citizens' groups all over the world to accelerate and expedite the mobilization of the masses for a global campaign for total disarmament. A signature campaign that targets millions of people may be an idea worth pursuing. The signatures could be presented to governments and the United Nations. Groups that have been conducting such campaigns on the nuclear issue, and on other issues, should come together to plan this mass mobilization. Our expanding gamut of information and communication technologies (ICT) could play a major role in this endeavor.

Total disarmament is part of the UN Convention on Nuclear Security proposed by the Prime Minister of Malaysia, Najib Razak, at the recent nuclear summit in Washington. A UN Convention would presumably make the elimination of all nuclear weapons the responsibility of the entire global community and not just a matter to be resolved through bilateral negotiations between nuclear powers. It should not only provide for the effective monitoring of the disarmament process but also prohibit the production of fissile material for nuclear weapons. At the same time however the Convention should reiterate the right of all nations, big and small, to harness nuclear energy for peaceful purposes.

For the Convention to succeed, and for nuclear disarmament to become a reality, one has to draw upon a resource that has seldom been utilized in the quest for a nuclear weapons free world. This is religion. It is potentially a powerful resource since more than 80 percent of the world's population is attached to some religion or other. Besides, religion has a greater capacity to change an individual's outlook and attitude than most other instruments of transformation.

The values and principles embodied in all our religions suggest that the manufacture and deployment of nuclear weapons is an unconscionable act. From an Islamic perspective for instance there are at least three reasons why nuclear weapons are morally reprehensible. One, they kill indiscriminately: the vast majority of the victims are bound to be civilians. Two, they harm and injure unborn generations, as we have seen in the progeny of some of the Hibakusha. Three, nuclear weapons devastate the physical environment.

Of course, there are Muslim jurists, just as there are Christian, Jewish, Hindu and Buddhist theologians who endorse nuclear weapons. Their stance is influenced more by power and ego than by the enduring humane and compassionate values and principles that lie at the heart of their faiths. On the nuclear question, as with many other issues of great import that confront us today, it is these values and principles that should triumph.

Dr. Chandra Muzaffar is Professor of Global Studies at Universiti Sains Malaysia and President of the International Movement for a Just World (JUST) based in Malaysia








In yesterday's deliberation for this column, we found ourselves mulling the career of Frederik Willem de Klerk, the last apartheid president of South Africa. To what degree was it his long defense of segregation and his conservative reputation that enabled him to end apartheid, free Nelson Mandela and draft the new constitution allowing the country's first free election in 1994? This line of reasoning, of course, took us to the 1972 visit by anti-communist crusader Richard Nixon to China, an event that has become a metaphor for politicians acting out of character. We also discussed the career of late Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin. Some of us argued that only his credentials as a militant Zionist (some at the Daily News used the word terrorist for his bombing in 1948 of the King David Hotel) allowed him to sign a peace treaty Egypt in 1979.


We conducted this history lesson as we asked the question that is certainly on the minds of everyone concerned with the continuing division of the island of Cyprus: What are the implications of Sunday's election of President Derviş Eroğlu, long an advocate of two loosely-federated states at best with a preference for his northern side of the island to just go its own way and make its de facto independence truly de jure?


This is not a scenario we support. We still believe, as we did in 2004, that the European Union-backed "Annan Plan" was a realistic and just solution. We still believe that its rejection by the island's Greek community was wrong. And we still believe that the bungling ever since by the feckless diplomacy of the European Union should be a case study taught in every international relations class. It remains a case, to reverse the maxim, of "rescuing defeat from the jaws of victory."


So our own hopeful scenario is that this victory of the candidate of intransigence will perhaps wake up the Cyprus team at the EU which has been asleep for the last six years. If you trample on the EU's own founding principles of non-admission of states with disputed borders, if you renege on your promises to ease the isolation of those economically trapped in the north and if you reward the transgressor of world sentiment and punish those seeking to comply... well, this is what you get.


We can only agree with French Europarliamentarian Helene Flautre, co-chair of the EU-Turkey Joint Parliamentary Committee. As we reported yesterday, it is her view that it is time to take stock and consider a new beginning that should start with the opening of direct trade with Turkish Cyprus.


As complicated an issue as Cyprus is, it is not divided Kashmir. It is not the Palestinian Territory. It is not Sri Lanka, nor Mindanao, nor Darfur. The division of Cyprus is the most eminently resolvable "hot spot" on the planet. Perhaps Eroğlu is the man to make this understood







They gave us coffee and a sandwich and gave the Turkish side a four-course champagne dinner." This is how a Greek Cypriot official had justified the resounding "No" in Greek Cyprus to the final version of the Annan plan. Six years after the referendum for the reunification of Cyprus failed, the Turkish Cypriots probably thought that all their president, Mehmet Ali Talat, could get them from the West was coffee and a sandwich.


Sunday's presidential election in Turkish Cyprus reflected that thinking: the mistrust for Mr. Talat was a result more of exogenous rather than indigenous factors. Call it disappointment, or frustration, whatever the sentiment, it goes all the way through to Western lands.


No matter what, or how, we all should respect the election results which, borrowing Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's most beloved rhetoric, reflected "the will of the Turkish Cypriot nation," just like the "Yes" vote to the reunification six years ago.


The pro-reunification camp may have been disappointed. But the recent history of the island famous for its "bitter lemons" is full of miscalculations. It was retrospectively (and widely – and wrongly, too?) accepted by the pro-reunification wings of both communities and their guarantor states that "Denktaş" could never do a "Talat," or "Papadopoulos" could never do a "Vassiliou," or a "Christofias." But the fact is, presidents Talat and Dimitris Christofias did not make a "Kohl" or "Gorbachev" either.


For several years the Greek doctrine basically was "Nicosia decides -– Athens supports." It is highly probable that the Turkish doctrine after the election of 'nationalist' (again, a wrong epithet?) Derviş Eroğlu to presidency could be "Davutoğlu decides – Eroğlu supports." In this regard, Mr. Erdoğan spoke the truth when he said that "a different phase would not emerge." He also accused the West of "dishonesty" and, quoting former German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, for "immorality," but this columnist should not judge.


True, Mr. Talat was instrumental to help Ankara boast a better foreign policy posture, especially regarding Turkey's EU bid and the related issue, Cyprus. But many in Mr. Erdoğan's cabinet grudgingly supported "this old communist who is probably also an atheist." For Ankara, Mr. Talat's face value was not his political profile or ideology, but his help for the Turkish government "internationally."


Now a very different man will be at the wheel. He is ideologically closer to the Justice and Development Party, or AKP, especially to the "nationalist" wing of the Turkish cabinet. But it is suspected he will return to an intransigent posture as far as the reunification negotiations are concerned. This may not be true.


There will probably be bruises and scratches until the Turkish Foreign Ministry and Mr. Eroğlu's negotiating team (yet to be formed) find a modus vivendi. But eventually Turks and Turkish Cypriots have good chances to "start speaking the same language" as both sides clearly consist of men known for their pragmatic skills.


Some demographic change in Turkish Cyprus toward religious conservatism, an inflow of Turkish imams to teach "these ignorant island Turks their religion," a proliferation of Islamic community (cemaat) schools and universities, a few new mosques coupled with an inflow of impressive amounts of cash from the mainland, there you'll see a very different Mr. Eroğlu, always willing to cooperate with Ankara. Ah, business… Sure there will be new "business opportunities" benefiting everyone involved.


Hence, it will be "Davutoğlu decides – Eroğlu supports." Ankara will in no time teach Mr. Eroğlu that cooperation will be in his best interests. And the pragmatic Mr. Eroğlu will probably behave pragmatically.


This may make a perfect scenario for Ankara: Our man in the north of Nicosia in place, and exporting some Islamic influence to the "island Turks" who are not notorious for their piety.


One of these days Mr. Eroğlu will show up in Ankara, like every Turkish Cypriot president-elect has done, and get his first lecture on "Mainland-Babyland Relations 101." With a little bit of luck, who knows, the "nationalistic/intransigent" Mr. Eroğlu could make an ideal student with high honor marks.


But I personally cannot help smiling at a remote possibility… If Mr. Erdoğan and his men successfully export their principal ideological commodity to the Turkish Cypriots and whatever has happened in Turkey also happens in the north of Cyprus…


Meanwhile, if reunification talks – hopefully – succeed as everyone involved says they should… It would be truly fun to see the always Mr. Erdoğan-loving Greeks and Greek Cypriots having to co-habit with a society demographically altered into their favorite Turkish leader's ideological preferences…








Last Saturday, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan had a six-hour-long meeting with about four dozen Turkish writers. The topic was what the government calls "the democratic initiative," or "a project for national unity." (A less politically correct definition would be "the effort to win the hearts and minds of Kurds, and to disarm the Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK.") And Erdoğan's goal, as it turned out, was to listen to different views rather than air his own.


Most writers who were invited to the "working breakfast," which extended until late afternoon, were novelists or poets. Others, including me, were political commentators who have written on the Kurdish issue. And not all of these people were fans of Erdoğan. Ayşe Kulin, a famed novelist and a staunch secularist, noted this frankly. "I did not vote for you, will not do so in the future, and you probably know that," she said to the prime minister. "That's why I appreciate the fact you invited me here to hear what I think."


The gap between both sides

Here is how things went. We all gathered in the prime minister's office in Dolmabahçe, Istanbul. Unlike most official buildings in Turkey, the place was neither ugly nor lavish. Erdoğan arrived soon to personally welcome all guests, and then to make an introductory speech emphasizing the cultural diversity of Turkey. Then the floor was given to the guests, which included Turks, Kurds, Armenians, Jews, liberals, Islamists, conservatives, Marxists and more. For more than three hours in total, all these intellectuals shared their opinions, critiques and concerns.


Roni Margulies, a Trotskyite Jew, pointed to the still-intact limits on free speech and reminded everyone he was on trial for referring to Abdullah Öcalan, the jailed leader of the PKK, as "Sayın." (A prefix in Turkish which denotes respect.) Fatma Barbarasoğlu, a conservative Muslim lady who wears a headscarf, complained about the discrimination that some Kurdish high school students seem to have faced in the recent university exams.


I, for my part, noted that the government will not be too successful in its "democratic initiative," unless it explains to society why it is necessary. "The steps you take often look like too little for the Kurds, and too much for the Turkish majority," I said. "This huge perception gap in society makes it very hard to proceed. You need more effective public diplomacy to help the Turkish and Kurdish sides understand each other's story."


Erdoğan listened to all these remarks carefully and took notes. Then, during the last part of the meeting, he commented back, by referring to each and every speaker, either acknowledging their contributions, or promising to follow the points they raised.


All in all, I found him as a good listener, which is I think a must for being a good politician. If I am not wrong, no other Turkish prime minister has ever organized such a meeting before to listen to public intellectuals for hours. No other Turkish prime minister, with the exception of the late Turgut Özal, my all-time favorite, has also shown the courage to solve the Kurdish question by deviating from the 80-year-long official rhetoric (i.e., we-are-all-Turks-and-those-who-differ-are-traitors).


That's one reason that I still have faith in Erdoğan's potential to make Turkey a better place. My criticism toward his excesses (such as his intolerance toward critical media, his bursts of anger, and his patrimonial style of politics) remains. But he is still the only leader around who can "sell" some crucial liberal reforms, such as the ones we need on the Kurdish issue, to Turkey's conservative masses. Other leaders on the scene (such as Deniz Baykal or Devlet Bahçeli) promise nothing but more of Ankara's rotten status quo.


State or society

A heated discussion that emerged in the intellectual's meeting with Erdoğan was, interestingly, right on this gap between the old and new ways of political thinking. Alev Alatlı, a bestselling novelist, spoke in a way which fell at odds with the liberal attitude that dominated the scene, and expressed her faith in the state with an interesting question:


"By whom would you like to be tried? By a commission of republican judges, or a jury of randomly elected citizens? I would opt for the former."


I, on the other hand, agreed with the answer that Etyen Mahçupyan, the editor of the Armenian daily Agos after the killing of Hrant Dink, gave:


"I certainly would prefer the jury of randomly elected citizens. For I trust the conscience of society more then that of the state."


This is not because Turkish society is a beacon of wisdom and righteousness. (No society is that way.) It is rather because the traditional Turkish state elite is worse, for they venerate nothing but the state, and put the official ideology above the rights of the citizens.


And, honestly, Erdoğan's party is still the only considerable political force that offers a way out.








Years ago when I set up Virgin Atlantic Airways, my friend Freddie Laker gave me some advice, which I have never forgotten. He said, "If you want to become a millionaire, first become a billionaire and then buy an airline."


This remains as true today as it was then. The airline industry can be a difficult one to navigate through, thanks to a combination of archaic rules, which remain in place decades after they were conceived along with a history of state-owned carriers that operate in a very different way to more modern, independent airlines.


That toxic cocktail of regulation and state intervention leaves our industry continually weighed down by obstacles to becoming truly commercial. For example, many state-owned carriers, such as Japan Airlines, are facing the new reality but still receive massive government support, thereby tilting the playing field against commercially run airlines.


American carriers benefited from U.S. Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.


The airline industry must be free to operate like other normal businesses, so governments have to stop giving bailouts and subsidies. Carriers such as Japan Airlines aren't moving far enough or fast enough in cutting loss-making international routes, yet they will still receive massive government support. That is unhealthy for Japan and unhealthy for our industry.


Turning closer to home, the way the regulators deal with issues over the Atlantic - the busiest air corridor in the world - is the major focus of my attention. British Airways and American Airlines' proposed joint venture - effectively a merger of their businesses on the world's busiest long-haul routes - is currently under evaluation by authorities. They have a duty to ensure consumers aren't harmed by big businesses getting together to stitch up markets. It is very clear to me that regulators should be stopping BA-AA in its tracks.


The facts of the case speak for themselves; BA will have huge dominance on key U.K.-U.S. routes, market shares ranging from 100 percent on Heathrow-Dallas, 80 percent on Heathrow-Boston, 70 percent on Heathrow-Miami and 62 percent on Heathrow-New York JFK. At no point has BA, AA, the U.S. Department of Transportation or the European Commission been able to identify any concrete consumer benefits that could justify approval for the deal - a prerequisite of the approval process you would think.


I have no doubt whatsoever that BA will use its exemption from competition laws and its overwhelming dominance to destroy competition, reduce choice and raise fares - after all when has a monopoly ever led to lower prices?


One of the primary justifications for these proposals receiving the go-ahead seems to be to preserve parity among the large global alliances. This isn't a reason for approval. The competition authorities have a mandate to preserve competition and only approve deals that can provide tangible public benefits and demonstrate that these outweigh the risks to competition.


The fact is that approval of this deal would distort competition further, not restore it. If the regulators take this decision on the false assumption that a three-alliance vision can meet all competitive needs, they will be making a big mistake and doing a disservice to consumers.


On a number of the key U.K.-U.S. routes, Virgin Atlantic offers the only competition to BA and AA, and the other two alliances are nowhere to be seen. And on many of the routes that the other two alliances do serve, BA and AA aren't present and won't be adding any more services in future because their main European hub, Heathrow Airport, can't take more flights. For as long as Heathrow remains the most constrained major airport in Europe, it is hard to see how a BA-AA alliance can be permitted, because the fundamental requirement of regulators is to see free entry to the market - and at Heathrow there simply isn't that freedom to get in and compete.


Virgin Atlantic isn't against consolidation and we aren't against alliances - we merely oppose bad alliances that will serve only to undermine competition. On the scale of bad alliances, British Airways and American Airlines is the worst to date and should be rejected because of the enormous damage it would cause consumers.


I continue to hope that the European Commission will side with the U.S. Department of Justice in ruling this anti-competitive and be braver than the U.S. Department of Transportation when it considers its decision on BA/AA. Consumers on both sides of the Atlantic are relying on it.


Meanwhile, Virgin Atlantic will continue to compete vigorously as it always has and I continue to look forward to a future when the old archaic rules are removed and airlines can operate all around the world like any other business.


Richard Branson is chairman and founder of Virgin Group, the parent company of Virgin Atlantic Airways. This abridged article was originally published by Bloomberg News.








After days of almost total standstill, planes are flying again over large parts of Europe. Since the end of last week, a gigantic cloud of ash coming from Iceland has been floating over the northwestern part of the continent.


According to the authorities, the cloud poses a huge threat because the minuscule particles within it could seriously damage the engines of aircrafts flying through that cloud. For that reason, the airspace over all affected countries was totally closed. The magnitude of the effects of this simple measure is hard to imagine.


Almost 750,000 travelers have become stranded. I am one of them. Last Thursday, I was onboard one of the last airplanes allowed to land in Amsterdam. In the evening, I chaired a meeting on the democratic initiative with Şahin Alpay and Nadire Mater, organized by the Dutch Turkey Institute. I was supposed to fly back to Istanbul on Sunday, but that was impossible. Since then, I have been stuck in the Netherlands.


I am lucky in the sense that we still have a small apartment here where I can stay and my agenda this week in Turkey was not too full. But most passengers had no place to go and thousands all over Europe have spent days and nights at closed airports. Apart from people, tons of goods are transported by air every day. That came to a sudden halt as well. Thousands of truck drivers could not deliver their cargo and millions of euros were lost because flowers, food and other deliveries were spoiled.


It is only at moments like these that one starts to really understand how crucial the role of airports is these days, especially in economies such as the Dutch one, which is based on exports. One also realizes, all of a sudden, how vulnerable modern societies are when faced with extraordinary natural phenomena such as faraway volcanoes bursting to life – phenomena that are uncontrollable, even with the latest technologies.


The unexpected interruption of daily economic life has opened some interesting debates, including one on who should decide to close off a country's airspace and on the basis of which facts. At the moment, national authorities are in charge. They can stop all air traffic over their country when they make the calculation, based on national and European data, that it has become too dangerous to fly.


Because of the nature of flying, national decisions in one country have a huge effect on neighboring territories. The recent events have led to a debate inside the EU as to whether it would not be better to take these kinds of drastic measures at a European level, based on the same European information. To be able to do that in the future, the EU should also revise its policies. Years ago, it was decided that, in the event of a certain density of volcanic ashes in the air over Europe, the whole airspace should be closed. But after the problems seen in the last few days, a rising number of specialists have criticized this all-or-nothing approach.They look at the solutions found in the United States and Latin America, areas with much more experience with volcanoes than Europe. In the event of huge volcanic eruptions, airplanes are allowed to fly, as long as they keep far away from the dangerous clouds. This prevents a total breakdown of all traffic. The solution found Monday by the EU ministers of transport already goes a long way in that direction by making a distinction between safe, semi-safe and unsafe parts of the European airspace.The critics also emphasize the need to put safety first. The debate is on how to assess the risks and how to find practical solutions that strike the right balance. All thanks to one gigantic lava eruption on Iceland, a country seeking EU accession. Are we sure we want that volcano inside the EU?








The prime minister has arranged meetings for weeks now.


He talks about the Kurdish initiative, a.k.a. the Democratic initiative.


It started out with editors in chief and went on with movie stars. He pronounces an attitude that state leaders never before dared to speak about. He voices views we have never heard before.


He stuns the democrat-liberal public.


And on top of that he asks them for support.


"We won't get anywhere if you don't help me out," he says.


He appeases all of them.


He speaks and speaks and tells and tells.


Everything seems fine so far and hearts are won but the target that we call the initiative does not move forward.


It got stuck where it was.


We got hung up on what was experienced in Habur.


Ok, we get it.


It was a mistake and unnecessarily attracted the reaction from part of the public.


Will we keep waiting?


Better to ask, what are we waiting for?


Are we waiting for Öcalan's road map or for Karayılan to put down his weapons or for the BDP to obey?


No one is able to understand this side of the matter.


If the initiative process has been put on hold because of vote concerns before general elections, we wouldn't know. But let's not forget that Pandora's Box has already been opened and no matter how much we try we won't be able to turn back the time.


Turkey has a basic problem that deals with relations to our Kurdish origin citizens. We may identify them as PKK terrorists as much as we want, but millions of people don't disapprove of this organization and consider it differently, while some even openly support it. We may curse them on TV or in papers as much as we want, it will not change anything.


The initiative in this respect has opened the doors of a very vital exit out of this course. But it didn't work.


Unfortunately the administration was not brave enough.


The prime minister may talk as much as he likes but either he stands up for his words to revive the process or he needs to give up these meetings in which he searches for support.


For, these meetings as they are started to miss the point.


Only so he could say 'I told you'


Probably many of us suffer from the same disease.


It's called the: "I told you so" disease.


Unbelievable how we struggle, how we spend efforts to find a mistake… If only we can be right about our comment or view that we tossed around. Because then we become extremely delighted.


But we always expect a negative development.


"The European Union is a virtual project and condemned to fail. No matter what Turkey does, it won't be able to become a full member."


And people will do everything to make this happen. Only to be able to say "See, I told you." As if that person will receive a medal for it.


"… The Kurdish initiative won't work…"


Not only do journalists or people on TV suffer from this disease but also politicians.


They keep insisting as if they don't know that the only way out for Turkey's most important dilemma is the initiative.


"The Kurdish initiative is ridiculous. It won't lead us anywhere guys."


And especially if we encounter a period that makes developments more difficult, they almost make a happy dance.


"…Didn't I tell you? ..."


Smiling all over their faces they tell everybody how right they were.


The most important thing is to be right. The rest is unimportant.


Who cares if the country is split into pieces or people are not better off.


It is enough for these people to say, "It happened the way I told you."


I don't see how we could get rid of this disease.


We feel like we always have to destroy things.


We feel like we need to drag each politics of the party we don't like through the mud. I wonder if we should not adopt any of it.


Do we have to reject everything?


Yes, we do.


This is not only true for our attitude toward the AKP. Tomorrow when the CHP comes to power, they will be handled the same way.


The same disease was present during Demirel's term but it was not as widespread as today. It got worse during successive terms.


Özal too had his share of this "I told you" disease. As soon as someone came to power who would make a "reform" and destroy taboos, this disease would surface. Representatives of the status quo and the choir would take action. They would not posses any idea or backbone to stand up for what they say. Their sole job would be to object.


They would not be able to rid themselves of the fascination of saying "…Didn't I tell you…" The rest would be of less importance. Even if Turkey falls apart it would be satisfactory for them to say "Didn't I tell you?"








Dear Mr. President,


It would not be an exaggerated statement if I say that your exceptionally impressive speech to the Turkish Grand National Assembly on April 6, 2009, captured the hearts and minds of the Turkish people.


This speech, and the other statements you made during your visit, left a deep imprint on Turkish public opinion, conveying the belief that you look at the world and Turkey with goodwill and without adverse prejudices.


Unfortunately, the subsequent statement that you made April 24 regarding the events of 1915 in eastern Anatolia seriously disappointed the Turkish people and cast a shadow on the positive impression formed during your visit. Although your statement omitted the highly charged word "genocide," you twice employed the expression "metz yeghern" (Meds Yeghern), which is the exact translation of "genocide" in the Armenian language.


Furthermore, the statement said, "Each year, we pause to remember the 1.5 million Armenians who were subsequently massacred or marched to death in the final days of the Ottoman Empire." Thereby, in effect, it reprised the expression "Armenian genocide" that you used frequently during your election campaign.


Mr. President, in addition to being a world statesman of the first rank, you are also justifiably regarded as a distinguished scholar of law, having graduated from the world-renown Harvard Law School and having taught law as a senior lecturer at a prominent university. In light of these qualifications, we are particularly perplexed by your characterizations of historically controversial events that took place 95 years ago in terms that are incompatible with the universal principles of law as well as provisions of the U.S. Constitution and U.S. national law.


"Genocide" is an international crime codified in an international legal instrument, the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. This was adopted unanimously by the United Nations General Assembly in 1948 and subsequently became the supreme law of the United States, as stipulated by Article VI of the Constitution pursuant to its ratification by the U.S. Senate.


Article II of the Genocide Convention delineates the crime of "genocide" and prescribes the objective/material and subjective/mental elements that should be proven to show the existence of the crime. To incriminate a person of the crime of "genocide" or for state responsibility to arise, it must also be proven that the crime has been committed with specific intent, and a competent court must ascertain that the crime has been perpetrated. The Convention's Article VI specifies that the competent judicial authority is the competent court of the state in the territory of which the alleged act was committed, or an international penal tribunal, the jurisdiction of which has been accepted by the parties. Article IX of the Convention provides that the states can take disputes on matters relating to "genocide" that arise between them to the International Court of Justice.


Mr. President, consequently, unless the existence of the material and mental elements of the crime, as well as its execution with specific intent, have been proven, and unless the perpetration of the crime has been determined by a competent court, a charge of "genocide" leveled against a person or a state has no legal value and only constitutes a defamation.


Until today, no accused has ever been incriminated in the crime of "genocide" or a "crime against humanity," a crime as odious as "genocide," without a decision by a competent international criminal court. Indeed, the Nuremberg International Military Tribunal, after a long trial process, found guilty the leaders of the German Nazis accused of "crimes against humanity" and sentenced 22 of them to death. Furthermore, those incriminated of "genocide" for the events that occurred during the Rwanda and Yugoslavia conflicts have been tried and convicted by the Rwanda and Yugoslavia international penal tribunals.


As is known, both tribunals are ad-hoc courts that had been set up by decisions of the U.N. Security Council. Saddam Hussein, who was charged with crimes against humanity, was tried and convicted in an Iraqi Special Court established in line with the principle of due process of law. Recently, the legal action brought by Bosnia and Herzegovina against Serbia was heard by the International Court of Justice. In its decision in February 2007, the court reaffirmed that genocide was committed at Srebrenica, but has not convicted the state of Serbia of having committed genocide.


Mr. President, I am certain that you hold dear the concept of the presumption of innocence, whose roots go back to the Magna Carta. Article 11 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which was unanimously adopted in 1948 by the United Nations General Assembly, describes the principle of the presumption of innocence as follows:


"(1) Everyone charged with a penal offense has the right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty according to law in a public trial at which he has had all the guarantees necessary for his defense.


"(2) No one shall be held guilty of any penal offence on account of any act or omission which did not constitute a penal offense, under national or international law, at the time when it was committed. Nor shall a heavier penalty be imposed than the one that was applicable at the time the penal offense was committed."


This principle is set forth in the European Human Rights Convention, Article 6, paragraph 2:


"Everyone charged with a criminal offense shall be presumed innocent until proven guilty according to law."


The principle of presumption of innocence is also guaranteed by the Fifth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which prescribes that "No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime" unless tried fairly and indicted by a court.


Therefore, Mr. President, wouldn't it be a gross injustice and a grave violation of the principle of the presumption of innocence to heap accusations on Turkey for disputed events of the past?


Mr. President, as you would agree, the principle of legality, which is as old as the concept of law itself, is a basic concept in both international and national justice. According to this principle, an act is not recognized as a crime unless it was legally defined before the act was committed. "Genocide," as a word, as a concept and as a codified international crime, did not exist in 1915. After being defined for the first time by the U.N. General Assembly document 96 (I) on Dec. 11, 1946, it was codified by the U.N. Genocide Convention on Dec. 9, 1948.


Consequently Mr. President, by leveling accusations of the crime of "genocide" (directly during your campaign speeches and indirectly in your 2009 remembrance day statement), haven't you contravened the two dimensions of this principle expressed by the maxims "nullum crimen sine lege" and "nulla poena sine lege" – there is no crime without a law, and no punishment without a law?


Mr. President, the judgments made in your statement appear to us to violate the spirit of the U.S. Constitution, which espouses the principle of legality in its Article I, Section 9 by forbidding the passage of ex-post-facto criminal laws and bans retrospective criminal sanction. We also must note that President Thomas Jefferson, in his Aug. 13, 1821, letter to Isaac McPherson, asserted that "ex-post-facto laws are against natural right." This shows that an abhorrence of retroactive application of laws in criminal justice has a deep-rooted legal history in the United States.


Moreover, the principle of legality is equally prescribed by Article 28 of the 1969 Vienna Convention of the Law of Treaties under the heading, "Non-Retroactivity of the Treaties."


Mr. President, in light of the foregoing irrefutable points, certain concerns and questions inescapably arise.


What are we to infer from the statement you might make this year regarding the disputed events of 1915, if this statement includes the word "genocide," or, echoing your 2009 statement, employs the word's exact Armenian translation, "metz yeghern" (Meds Yeghern), and alleges the massacre of the 1.5 million Armenians?


Wouldn't such a statement flagrantly violate and flout universal principles of law, international law and the U.S. Constitution? And to what possible worthy end?


Wouldn't it constitute, for the Turkish people and their forebears, a judgment without trial?


Wouldn't the Turkish people consider this gross injustice inflicted on them the outcome of narrow domestic political calculus, heedless of basic fairness and shared U.S.-Turkish interests?


Wouldn't the imputation of historical guilt upon the people of Turkey and upon their forebears, who themselves suffered enormous losses and were exposed to unbearable pains during those tragic times, be at utter odds with your stated proposal before our Parliament to build a model partnership between the United States and Turkey?


Mr. President, historian Arthur Ponsonby penetratingly discusses the terrible and enduring effects of war propaganda that persist for generations in his "Falsehood in Wartime":


"The injection of the poison of hatred into men's minds by means of falsehood is a greater evil in wartime than the actual loss of life. The defilement of the human soul is worse than the destruction of the human body."


I think that Ponsonby's cogent words are valid now and will remain valid in the future. What we need today, more than ever, is an international environment that we can hand over to our children and future generations – a world where peace, security, tolerance, friendship and goodwill reign, instead of prejudices, hatred and passions for revenge.


For this reason, Mr. President, I must urge you to avoid being influenced by superficial stereotypes regarding the events of 1915 that are rooted in large part in the deliberate wartime propaganda efforts of the World War I Allies. I ask that you foster impartiality and avoid contributing to a deepening of the wounds suffered by the Turkish and Armenian nations in this enormous human tragedy.


In this context, the best course for the U.S. should be, in line with an ethical and evenhanded approach, to encourage the parties to bring to light and to clarify the obscure and ambiguous aspects of the conflict between the Ottoman state and the Armenians. This would best be accomplished by employing a common, scientifically disciplined research effort by Turks and Armenians regarding their mutual history and by completely opening their archives to examination.


I am submitting these views for your consideration, trusting that you will examine them with objectivity and fairness.


With my deepest respect,


Dr. Şükrü M. Elekdağ


* Şükrü Elekdağ is a Republican People's Party, or CHP, deputy from Istanbul and a former ambassador to the United States.








New Turkish Cypriot leader Dr. Derviş Eroğlu is busy establishing his team for the direct talks with the Greek Cypriot side while waiting for his Friday inauguration as the third president of northern Cyprus.


Contrary to claims by outgoing President Mehmet Ali Talat that an Eroğlu presidency would end the Cyprus talks process, the president-elect has already conferred with Greek Cypriot leader Dimitris Christofias and the two have agreed for the resumption of the talks "from where Talat left" in early May. In the meantime, Christofias will convene his National Council for a three-day long closed door evaluation of the 18-month talks with Talat and devise a "strategy" while Eroğlu will start as early as Friday for consultations with Ankara on ways of speeding up the Cyprus talks process. Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu will be attending the inauguration of Eroğlu and the new president and Davutoğlu are slated to have extensive talks on the Cyprus problem. Furthermore, within the next few weeks, depending on the schedule of Turkish leaders as well, Eroğlu is planning to travel to Ankara for extensive talks with President Abdullah Gül and Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.


Though tired of the intense election campaign, Eroğlu is stressing that he will push hard for an accelerated process aimed at reaching a "compromise settlement" which must be viable, just and lasting and based on the partnership in sovereignty of the two equal peoples and the two politically equal sovereign founding states of the new federation.


While he is stressing that he is prepared for a compromise settlement and urgency of reaching a deal with Greek Cypriots, he cautions that the success of the process will depend on to what extent the Greek Cypriots have the political will to reach a just and lasting agreement with the Turkish Cypriot side.


Eroğlu is making clear that the Turkish Cypriot side will continue the process in full consultation and harmony with the Turkish government while implying at the same time that his red lines in a Cyprus deal continue to be non-diluted bi-communality, bi-zonality, the political equality of the two founding states, Turkey's continued effective guarantee for his people and, if there will be a federal deal, the single sovereignty of that new federal administration be derived from the two sovereign and politically equal constituent states which, even after an agreement, must retain some residual sovereign powers.


Committed to talks


"We shall not be the side withdrawing from the talks," he says, stressing that despite all the claims that he was against a settlement on the island, he was "someone who lived through all the pains of the conflict, who witnessed the sufferings of this people, and who has lost members of his family to this conflict, I want a settlement on this island far more than anyone else. The settlement, however, must be just, lasting and should include necessary clauses so that there can be no return to past tragedies."


Indeed, the main difference between the president-elect and the outgoing president Talat, was Eroğlu's stress all through the campaign that "single sovereignty" of the future federation should be created through the transfer of some sovereignty elements from the sovereign constituent states, while Talat was rather vague on that issue. For Talat, there would have been a new federal state which would have shared some of its sovereignty with the founding states.


Another contentious issue was Talat's acceptance of the "cross-voting" or "weighted vote" offer of the Greek Cypriot side which was giving the Greek Cypriot people a weighted 20 percent say over the Turkish Cypriot presidential election and vice versa. Talat tried to explain his acceptance of the proposal defending that with such a practice hardliners of the two sides would be forced to win hearts and minds of the other community if they wanted to be elected and thus the atmosphere of enmity would be eradicated, while Eroğlu said Talat compromised from a very important sovereign power of his people by accepting that offer.


While he is now stressing that he will pick up the talks from where Talat has left, Eroğlu is making clear that "We will continue discussing all six negotiation chapters and as nothing is agreed as everything is agreed and since discussions on both the sovereignty and cross-voting issues are not yet over, we will define from where the federal sovereignty will be derived, and get away with the cross-voting idea."


Frustration among Turkish Cypriot people with the failure of the EU and the United States in living up to their pledges was a fundamental factor in Talat's election defeat. Eroğlu is expecting to see the EU trying to fulfill its pledges toward his people and thus prodding the Greek Cypriot side more in the new period to be more forthcoming in accelerated talks for a just and lasting compromise settlement.
















The placing of his signature on the 18th Amendment Bill should mean President Asif Ali Zardari has effectively relinquished his powers and reverted to the status of a figurehead. This change of course restores the spirit of the 1973 Constitution, with power resting with the prime minister and parliament. As Zardari himself says, it will now be more difficult to subvert the Constitution or manipulate institutions. The move should be applauded. But are we genuinely looking at a powerless president? Is Mr Asif Ali Zardari really willing to give up his status as a man who most in the country believe makes almost every decision affecting national life with help from a few cronies who seem permanently housed in the presidency? What is democratic about this? It is significant that Mr Zardari has himself stressed that he is not powerless, talking of powers 'resting with the people and democracy'. Beyond the rhetoric our political leaders are so fond of spouting, this may not mean anything at all in concrete terms. But it does suggest a frame of mind and unwillingness in Mr Zardari to part with the power he has held in his hands since the PPP government came to power just over two years ago. His status as chief of the party also means he is in a position to dictate many matters. Indeed, at Naudero recently, this was made quite clear by the PPP Central Executive Committee. The dual role adds complications to the overall picture.

The question then is: are we to see any kind of real democracy or meaningful change? Much will depend on a number of factors. Foremost among these is the question of how the prime minister and parliament intend to act. Now that, in legal terms, they wield power, it is up to them to grasp hold of it in practical terms too and use it to benefit people. Mr Gilani has, from time to time in recent months, made a bid to exert his authority and prove that he is capable of taking decisions independently. But the impression conveyed has not always been a convincing one. He and his parliament need to do more to take matters into their hands and prove the sovereignty of the legislature. If this can be achieved, we will have taken a big step forward. If they do not, we will in time hear criticism of the 18th Amendment as a document that has no real impact on national life or in bringing about any change in the fate of people. This would indeed be a pity.







One thing that political oppositions never have to do is implement the policies they propose. Thus it is that the proposals made by Shahbaz Sharif who has presented a nine-point formula to manage the loadshedding crisis have a whiff of unreality about them – but also points that are not so easily dismissed and are worthy of consideration if not implementation. Some of his proposals are going to do little in the short term. The construction of Bhasha Dam is not going to happen in much less than five years, if at all, nor is the production of energy from coal – we have large deposits but as yet no means of turning them into power in the wires. Of more interest are the burning of sugarcane waste (bagasse) and the simplification of official procedures surrounding the operation of power generation projects in the private sector. Both of these sound like they have potential and are worthy of further exploration. Somewhat less worthy is a vague suggestion about the use of canal water as a power generator and the launch of a countrywide movement for energy conservation – which would be universally ignored.

Mr Sharif rightly points out that several past attempts at power crisis management have had mediocre results – altering the trading times of shops for instance, which never had the support of the retail community and failed dismally. It may be worth pulling the plug on all billboards and decorative lighting, and it would certainly be worth exploring a more equitable distribution of the available power, because as things stand it does look as if Punjab is bearing the brunt of loadshedding, much to the detriment of industry there. The load the opposition carries is relatively light, but if it were more evenly distributed, shared between the parties responsibly, we may just find ourselves better governed as a result. There is something of a spirit of cooperation in the political air, and the government would be unwise to dismiss out of hand the proposals put forward by Shahbaz Sharif. After all, a problem shared is a problem halved.













It is not possible anymore to find words to describe the scenes that follow bomb blasts in so many places, ravaging life and destroying peace. We have written in the past of blood spilled on streets, of panic-stricken people desperately seeking loved ones and of scenes of desperate mourning at hospitals. As more and more such paragraphs appear in print, the impact is somewhat lost. But, for the 24 people killed at the Qissa Khawani Bazaar in Peshawar, for those who mourn them and for those who watched the school hit by bombers spill out screaming, injured children, the misery is just as acute. The senselessness behind the suffering inflicted adds to this. We are currently seeing a new wave of terror in NWFP. Over 70 have died within three days, and it seems likely that the toll will continue.

The fact of the matter is that militancy remains unchecked, even a year after the war on terror picked up pace. Blood still flows down our bazaars. It has become an increasingly cheap commodity. The question is how to staunch it. Perhaps the time has come to put new tactics in place and to think out new strategies. Certainly, something needs to be done to restore the basic normalcy of life. Far too many aspects of it have been destroyed by the bombers who show no sign that they are ready to disappear from our lives.






What an irony that it took Shaheed Benazir Bhutto's party and its government nearly two years-and-a-half only to know that she died because the "security arrangements" for her were "fatally insufficient and ineffective" and that subsequent official investigations into her death were "prejudiced" and amounted only to a "whitewash."

Benazir Bhutto had herself been publicly voicing apprehensions about the inadequacy of her security. She addressed a letter to President Musharraf before her return to Pakistan in October in which she had even named individuals whom she suspected of plotting to kill her. According to the PPP, she addressed another letter to Pakistan's interior secretary on Oct 26, highlighting her security concerns and seeking foolproof security arrangements.

This sordid tale was further compounded by a story CNN's Wolf Blitzer had hoped he would never have to report -- an email sent to him by Benazir Bhutto through an intermediary eight days after her narrow escape from the bombings of Oct 18 in Karachi. She wrote that if anything happened to her, "I would hold Musharraf responsible," and that because of inadequate security "I have been made to feel insecure by his minions."

Joseph Biden, then chairman of the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee and a leading presidential candidate, released a letter that he and two of his Senate colleagues wrote to President Musharraf at Ms Bhutto's request soon after the Oct 18 attack on her in Karachi. In it he had urged him to give her "the full level of security support afforded to any former prime minister," including bomb-proof vehicles and jamming equipment.

In a television interview after the Dec 27 tragedy, Senator Biden deplored that the appeal failed to evoke a response and that the Pakistani government was "indirectly complicit" in the assassination because it failed to provide adequate security to her. "I'm not saying had she had the protection she would have lived, but it sure bothers me that she did not have the kind of protection she needed," Biden said.

Not only was Ms Bhutto riding an old and defective vehicle and was without a proper security cordon around her vehicle, but those within her own party who were responsible for her security also did not ensure adequate protective cover for her despite the gravity of the known threat to her life.

Amid extensive media coverage, including some telltale electronic images, she had just stood up briefly through the sunroof of her vehicle to wave to the cheering crowd when a gunman apparently stalking her managed to get close enough to target her with a gun. She soon disappeared from the scene. The UN Commission now also talks about a young suicide bomber who blew himself up and who in its view could not have acted alone.

Irrespective of whether or not the UN Commission was professionally competent enough to investigate a tragedy representing no less than a new Byzantine chapter of political intrigue, its report does address the political and security context of Benazir Bhutto's return to Pakistan; the inadequacies of security arrangements made for her by the Pakistani authorities as well as her own political party, the PPP; events immediately before and after the assassination; and the grossly faulty acts of omission and commission of the Pakistani government and police in the aftermath of the crime.

Her return to Pakistan on Oct 18, 2007, to be followed by her assassination, culminated a year of intense political conflict, revolving largely around the elections scheduled for later that year and their potential for opening a transition to democracy after eight years of military rule. It was also one of the most violent years in Pakistani history. She returned in the context of a tenuous and inconclusive political agreement with Gen Pervez Musharraf, as part of a process facilitated by Britain and the US.

According to the UN Commission, Ms Bhutto's assassination "could have been prevented if adequate security measures had been taken." The responsibility for her assassination has been laid on the federal government, the government of Punjab and the Rawalpindi district police. None of these entities, the report says, "took the necessary measures to respond to the extraordinary, fresh and urgent security risks that they knew she faced."

The UN Commission also finds this bizarre "efficiency" of the local police in hosing down all traces of evidence from the crime scene as a deliberate attempt to inflict an irreparable damage to any future investigation. In fact, the government of the time never intended to conduct any investigation. It made no effort to go into the circumstances for any meaningful investigation.

That government came out with at least three different versions of the causes of Benazir Bhutto's death. These inconsistencies raised serious concerns and doubts about the credibility of the government. Contrary to the categorical requirement of the law, an autopsy was also not conducted on the slain leader. The PPP leaders rejected the Musharraf government's version as a "pack of lies" and "skewed stories," and the party's central executive committee called for an international commission to probe into the assassination of its leader.

The UN has no locus standi for investigation into cases falling within the domestic jurisdiction of its member-states. Its role is confined to maintaining international peace and security and ensuring peaceful settlement of dissipates. Article 2 (7) of the UN Charter clearly stipulates that "nothing contained in the present Charter shall authorise the United Nations to intervene in matters which are essentially within the domestic jurisdiction of any state or shall require the Members to submit such matters to settlement under the present Charter."

The UN secretary general agreed to President Zardari's request for an "inquiry" through a three-member panel with restricted mandate, only "to inquire into the facts and circumstances of the assassination." It had no judicial status and thus was not competent to indict or accuse anyone for Ms Bhutto's assassination. The duty of determining criminal responsibility of the perpetrators of the assassination remains with the Pakistani authorities. Till now, no one knows who killed Benazir Bhutto, and why.

Even the UN Commission has not been able to name any person or persons who could be accused of killing her. It only conjures up circumstantial evidence to attribute responsibility for security lapses on the part of the state as well as on the part of the PPP. The report of the Commission not only blames the PPP as an organisation but also some of its prominent leaders for making arrangements for their slain leader's security that were characterised by total "lack of direction and professionalism."

The UN Commission said in its report that "the duty of determining criminal responsibility of the perpetrators of the assassination now rests with the Pakistani authorities, which must carry out a serious, credible criminal investigation" that "determines who conceived, ordered and executed this heinous crime, and brings those responsible to justice." This indeed is the only legal way for the PPP-led government to determine the truth and not to pass the buck.

Instead of making euphoric claims of "vindication" or taking precipitous action against any individuals named in the UN report, the PPP government has an obligation to hold an independent enquiry into the Bhutto tragedy through a high-level non-governmental commission headed by a retired chief justice of the Supreme Court and comprising eminent persons of non-partisan stature with an investigative background, preferably assisted by foreign experts and the International Commission of Jurists.

No matter what the PPP says publicly, its ambassador to the UN has ruled out any action by his government to address the security and judicial failures detailed in the UN report. President Zardari is also quoted to have said in this context that the PPP was not looking for revenge. For him "democracy is the best revenge." Indeed, he is enjoying its dividends.

The writer is a former foreign secretary. Email: shamshad1941







Just for a moment take off the cloak of reverence from Iqbal's persona and forget that he was our national poet and visionary, and independently judge the credibility of his scholarship and insight from an impartial yardstick. One is simply amazed by his diversity and depth. With a command over Arabic, Persian, Urdu, Punjabi, Sanskrit, German and English languages, he had a keen perception of Eastern and Western literature, ancient as well as modern. An ardent follower of the history of civilisations and religions, coupled with his interest in sociology and economics (he had written a handbook on Economics, Ilmul Iqtisad, early in his career), his grasp of the march of human thought was phenomenal. Never formally a student of science, still he was acutely aware of the contemporary advances in the field and their transforming impact on human landscape. Not to forget his lifelong association as an ardent student of philosophy and law, in which he held formal degrees.

Not content with all that, his versatility found expression in poetically mediated thought. Urdu poetry, which traditionally operated in the narrow confines of love and melancholy, found a practitioner that lifted it to celestial heights, introducing subjects that were fresh, virile and inspirational.

Unleashing the potential inherent in an individual, Iqbal is a vociferous advocate of human empowerment. He prepares an individual through awareness and self-realisation, and ultimately guides him towards self-actualisation. He raises man to such heights where even Divine force acts as a coworker in unison with human aspirations. The cultivation of Khudi or Self is a recurrent theme in his works. For him it is these individual building blocks that need to be nurtured and trained to foster higher collective aims. It is their individual worth and association with lofty ideals that would equip them with self-belief, which in turn would chart a glorious course for the Nation.

But Iqbal is not just the prophet of Khudi or 'Self', as some would emphasise. That Khudi, on a higher and advanced plane, finds expression in Bekhudi or 'Selflessness'. No wonder Iqbal's Mathnawi Asrar-e-Khudi (Secrets of the Self) was followed by Rumooz-e-Bekhudi (Mysteries of Selflessness). For him it is just like a drop submitting its being to an ocean. It retains its essential identity, yet is an intrinsic part of a larger whole. Thus Iqbal methodically prepares a choicest crop of individuals, aware of their boundless creative capacity, and offers their services for the realisation of higher collective ideals. And it is this submission that ensures their individual preservation.

The individual is firm by nation's coherence, otherwise nothing/The wave is only in the ocean, and outside it is nothing.

On a much broader horizon Iqbal envisions humanity as one entity. It would be naïve to assume that he was partial towards the East and had antagonism for the West. He was beyond such parochial prejudices. Actually he opposed everything that had a detrimental impact on the creative existence of mankind. So while he vehemently criticises the West for its crass materialism and hegemonic greed, in the same breath he censures East for slavish imitation and intellectual sloth. He stands for the emancipation of humanity. In the New Year Message (Iqbal's last message) broadcast from the All-India Radio Station Lahore on 1st January,1938, he unequivocally asserts, "…Only one unity is dependable, and that unity is the brotherhood of man, which is above race, nationality, colour or language…" Iqbal's is simply an all-embracing creed that yearns to usher in a dawn of shared human prosperity.

Don't shun the East, nor look on West with scorn/Since Nature yearns for change of night to morn.
Bridging the physical divide amongst humanity, Iqbal's genius did not shy away from confronting the ideological frontiers that posed complex and divisive problems for human societies for centuries. With his encyclopedic scholarship and critical insight he initiated a discourse that aimed at reconciling the duality of seemingly divergent perspectives like spirit and matter, religion and science, man and nature, art and life, tradition and modernity. His fresh and innovative approach opens many exciting vistas for reflection and probe. It is indeed a sad reflection of our national character that we could not carry the baton further, enriching the modern human discourse on a wide range of issues.

The spectrum of Iqbal's vision is astounding. Be it a celebration of cultural diversity, or social justice and educational reforms, issues of good governance or the role of life-sustaining art and literature, Iqbal seems more a man of our times than his own. In him we see creativity transcending spatiotemporal constraints. He could envision a harmonious balance in the existential trinity of God, Universe and Man. After a lifelong quest of learning from innumerable founts of wisdom he had ultimately ascertained the veracity of Islamic ideals enshrined in his early upbringing at Sialkot , so he proclaimed.

It is a pity and a national disgrace that we have consigned such a rare genius to our libraries and bookshelves, paying homage to his greatness by including a cosmetic sprinkling of his poetry in our textbooks. He is a poet of action and his legacy demands to be circulated like blood in our body polity. If not today his time is bound to come. Rather than wallowing in despair, let's grab the moment, enact his vision, and truly make him our very own.
The writer is an academic. Email:







The writer is a freelance journalist with over twenty years of experience in national and international reporting.


The story I relate stinks to high heavens because it's so fishy. But the stink never reaches the public, thanks to the small fries who act as red herrings to divert the nation's attention.

Daggers appear drawn between Aitzaz Ahsan and Ali Ahmad Kurd on one end and Barrister Akram Shaikh and Qazi Anwar on the other end of the spectrum. The fight is over the 18th Amendment. Jumping in the fray are Imran Khan and a few television anchors keen to keep the citizens engaged in a never-ending NRO/presidential corruption debate fuelled by Babar Awan. Nawaz Sharif, of late, appears to have joined Zardari's ranks against an "independent judiciary" because he wants to become the prime minister the third time, many conjecture.

All are trotting out the tired old tattle, drawing us away from the real issue of corruption.

You may recall the recent letter sent to the army chief by Transparency International, Pakistan. The army's image is being sullied, warns the missive. "Pakistan armed forces' reputation is at stake due to the action of a few army officers and other army procuring agencies in violation of procurement rules. Corruption by armed forces officers endangers the very existence of the country which may result in the procurement of sub-standard arms due to conflict of interest, and for personal gains over the national cause by a few individuals."

You may also recall watching the widows and orphans of victims who died due to the negligence of the engineers responsible for the construction of Shershah Bridge in Karachi. These miserable souls were being doled out compensation cheques by the government. The Supreme Court chief justice has already taken suo moto notice of the case. "The question that needs to be asked, however, is: how and why did the standards of civil engineering and construction at the National Highway Authority (NHA) deteriorate to this point?" my sources-in-the-know say. "Which department is next? WAPDA? What if the recently raised Mangla reservoir fails? Millions will perish?"

The NHA jokingly called 'National Hanging Authority' was born in the late eighties as the Indus Highway Board. It then became the NHA Board and finally an 'Authority' responsible for all federalised roads and their maintenance and asset management throughout Pakistan. With its birth was also born the unholy nexus between the NHA, the NLC (National Logistics Corporation), the FWO (Frontier Works Organisation) and NESPAK (National Engineering Services of Pakistan). These hubs of corruption have within their wings scores of passed-over army engineers and incompetent bureaucrats who have become multi-millionaires, many living in retired luxury, driving BMWs and owning huge establishments. All these government 'servants' and retired army personnel are a white elephant pocketing hefty salaries and enjoying perks along with stealing the taxpayers' money and filching chunks from foreign loans meant for infrastructure development. The NLC, originally raised by Zia to ferry arms to the mujahideen, is now a conglomerate with interests in logistics, toll tax collection, rubber, construction, real estate, CNG, and whatever else they can get their hands on.

'Plan, promote, organise and implement programmes for construction, development, operation, repairs and maintenance of national highways/motorways and strategic roads' is the mandate the NHA displays proudly on its website. This very wide scope of work leaves ample space for its employees to indulge in unchecked corruption from top to bottom and across the breadth. "The authority has an operating budget that now routinely runs into hundreds of millions of dollars feeding an epidemic called corruption that has over time fully tainted every entity that has ever come into contact with it," say sources. "The sheer volume of cash is hard to resist, even for the ministry of communications and the Planning Commission and their officers. Men who are supposed to oversee the NHA are routinely bought out by the authority's officers and contractors."

Any guesses who these corrupt contractors are?

The NLC and the FWO! Headed by serving lieutenant-generals, major-generals down to captains, and stuffed like packed sardines with retired and serving army corps of engineers, these two entities are the authority's biggest contractors. They receive contracts worth tens of billions each year by "hook or by crook."

Enter NESPAK with its civilian face informing us that it's the authority's largest management consultant, responsible for design, contract and construction management, including quality control. "If you analyse the NHA's balance sheet, you will notice that more than 50 per cent of its contracts are being executed by the FWO and the NLC at any given point in time, with NESPAK as the consultant in charge of quality control in many cases."

Get the picture?

All the four entities are filled with civil and military officers. "They are retired or passed-over army officers and civilians, usually course-mates, batch-mates and the like. And they are all in cahoots. A case of the fox guarding the pen!" my sources tell me.

Every construction contract has an 'engineer,' who is meant to be the honest and impartial third-party in charge of resolving disputes among contractor, client and consultant, as well as approving design changes. "A majority of the 'engineers' are again retired army officers, and are nominated and paid directly by the NHA, usually the chairman."

The authority has had six men in uniform heading it since its inception. The last one sat there for seven years!

My sources give me minute details of how the booty is shared. The commission on construction contracts ranges from 16 per cent for maintenance contracts, decreasing to 6-10 per cent for the large multi-billion rupee contracts. On a bill-by-bill basis (called an interim payment certificate) the authority's hierarchy is paid according to a fixed amount. I need not go into the details at this point.

"When you understand that contracts generally turn over tens of millions each month, you begin to appreciate the volume of money we are talking about," say my sources.

They give me an example: say, in a Rs100 contract, the contractor will cough up Rs10-20 to pay in bribes / kickbacks / commissions. How then do the contractors make up for these 'losses?' I ask them. "Cut corners! What else?" The result? A collapsed bridge (Shershah); hundreds of orphans and widows; a big hole in the government's kitty made up of your and my taxes!

One NLC officer serving in a truly remote location is known by his staff for his weakness for the Kentucky Fried Chicken. "Each time a driver is sent to unit headquarters at a distance of 700 kilometres to bring back the fried chicken for the boss."

Don't treat the above information as chickenfeed. Nor allow small fries to show us red herrings instead of leading us to barracudas that guzzle public money and eat up anything that comes before them.

While we are blinded by the brazen corruption of our politicians, the presidency and its cronies, let's also look around us – just as the chief justice of Pakistan has done. But one man cannot control the sleaze that has penetrated so deep that it cannot be pumped out by mere suo moto notices.

Let the army under its chief take cognisance of the corruption carried out by a few in and out of uniform. No more holy cows, please!

If the NHA, the NLC, NESPAK or even the Pakistan Army wish to dispute any of this and give their side of the picture, our space will be available to them. But please, give us the truth.—Editors







The confrontation between the political leadership and the judiciary appears a certainty now. When that happens, it will be a sad day for those who have struggled for the empowerment of institutions in the country without which true democracy cannot take root.

Apparently, it is the inability as well as unwillingness of the political leadership to implement the numerous directives of the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court's insistence that the government take necessary steps with regard to the initiation of cases against the president in the Swiss court hinges on its belief that these cases are not covered by the much-hyped immunity clause. Another view that is supported by a vast majority of the jurists is that it remains the exclusive prerogative of the Supreme Court to interpret the immunity clause with regard to its applicability and its scope, both within and outside the country. Since the Supreme Court has already passed orders to start the proceedings in Switzerland vis-à-vis the money laundering cases against President Zardari, it appears to emanate from the belief that the onus of seeking this interpretation rests with the executive. The executive, on the other hand, keeps parroting its resolve that there is no need for any interpretation as the contents of the immunity clause are self-explanatory.

What complicates matters further is the gross lack of legitimacy of the government that remains so even after the passage of the 18th Amendment leading to the transition of powers from the hands of the president to the prime minister. Many argue that this is only cosmetic and the real power would remain vested in the person of the president who is well-entrenched and in firm control of events as the co-chairperson of the PPP.

The essence of democracy hinges on an equitable and fair distribution of power among the various organs of the state. When these powers are exclusively used to benefit the interests of a select coterie, or just one person, it does not conform to any established rationale or morality. It is under these circumstances that those organs of the state that view things differently, and more correctly, start asserting their will to change the course of the tide. Concurrently, the coterie that has benefited from the dictatorial proclamations and enactments feels threatened, thus baring its undemocratic fangs to defend its stated and un-stated positions. That invariably leads to the onset of a conflict situation.

The situation is further complicated by a visible perception that there is a need for cooperation among different political forces as otherwise the undemocratic forces would find a rationale to walk in. This is a flawed argument as quite significant and unprecedented changes have already occurred indicating where the real power rests. The holding of a meeting chaired by the chief of army staff that was reportedly attended by some sitting secretaries and a couple of ministers within the confines of the General Headquarters announced this change with a bang. If any ambiguities still remained, the COAS's dominant role in the Strategic Dialogue all but erased them. The GHQ is firmly in control and the insinuation that it may stage a coup is both improbable and untenable. This transition of power from the political to the military command has taken place ever so quietly, without even the proverbial whimper. It represents the inherent lack of legitimacy of the incumbent political leadership while sadly stamping the supremacy of the GHQ.

In the event the looming confrontation that currently hangs on the horizon precipitates, its outcome would be determined by the manner in which the military exercises its dominant position. With increasing contradictions that plague the working of the ruling political conglomerate, it may not require much imagination to determine which way we may be headed.


The writer is a freelance contributor based in Lahore. Email:







Few students of Pakistani literature know that Faiz Ahmed Faiz translated Allama Iqbal's Payam-e-Mashriq into Urdu. An equally little-known fact is Iqbal's presence at the founding conference of the Progressive Writers Association. While Iqbal, being the national poet of a confessional state, has been "Islamised" beyond recognition, a section of the left has written Iqbal off as reactionary. However, many progressives, notably Ali Sardar Jafri, glorified Iqbal as a neo-progressive.

But Faiz finds these evaluations "far from satisfactory.'' He criticises writers who put a "great deal of stress on the religious element in Iqbal's work without clarifying that Iqbal's concept of religion was in many ways opposed to the concept of the orthodox Muslim theologian.''

On the other hand, Faiz disagrees with progressive commentators who make much of Iqbal's admiration for Marx and Lenin. These progressives, Faiz thinks, "ignore that Iqbal's approach to social and economic problems was idealistic and abstract, and the scientific basis of Marxist materialism did not enter into his concept of socialism.'' For Faiz, Iqbal was neither a reactionary ("The mullah or the orthodox religious preacher is the subject of some of the bitterest satirical verse written by Iqbal''), nor a socialist ("He frequently confused the materialist and capitalist points of view").

Instead of colouring Iqbal red or green, Faiz has tried to contextualise Iqbal's message. Placing Iqbal among "poets of affirmation'' like Dante, Milton and Goethe, Faiz described Iqbal as a product of his period whose "work reflected all the inner intellectual contradictions, all the conflicting impulses, all the confused dreams and aspirations of the middle strata of Indo-Pakistani Muslims.'' "It is precisely because of this," says Faiz, "that his work is popular among progressives and reactionaries alike.''

Despite the fact that Iqbal benefited from Western philosophies, according to Faiz, he devoutly believed that it was only the authority of Islam that could truly validate the message he carried. However, to drive home his message, Iqbal, as a first step, "sought to cleanse the House of God of all false idols, of scribes and Pharisees, the obscurantist mullah, the withdrawn mystic, the charlatan and the demagogue.'' Faiz finds in Iqbal a believer in the process of never-ending cosmic creation signified by constant change. To quote a line by Iqbal:

Sabaat aik taghayyur ko hai zamanay main."

("Only change has permanence in this world.")

Iqbal applies this change, Faiz claims, "as much to the subjective and the ideological as to social and material factors'' and "the principal agent in this creative process is the human Ego, or Personality or Self--Khudi, as Iqbal calls it.'' To meet the challenge of creation, Khudi has to be fortified by "perceptual knowledge of the physical world and intuitive passion (or love, 'Ishq' in Iqbal's terminology).''

Only Iqbal's Perfect Man (Mard-e-Kamil) is capable of meeting this challenge. However, Faiz finds the Perfect Man different from Nietzsche's Superman, as this Perfect Man does not develop in isolation but "in the context of the totality of social relationships.'' Hence, unlike the Superman, the Perfect Man negates "all forms of nationalist chauvinism, imperialist domination, racial discrimination, social exploitation and personal aggrandisement, since all of them make for the debasement and perversion of human personality.'' For Faiz, "Iqbal is a humanist not only in the formal but in the literal sense of the word.''

Unlike many critics, Faiz attaches great importance to Iqbal's style too. After all, it is Iqbal's "vibrant and impassioned verse and the persuasive appeal it carried which accounts for much of his influence.'' But before analysing Iqbal's style, Faiz warns: ''First of all I might clarify that Iqbal himself was deadly opposed to art for art's sake and, therefore, we cannot study his art or his style or his technique or his other poetic qualities in isolation from his theme.''

Faiz believes that Iqbal's thought, and hence his style, went through a four-phase evolution influenced by the political milieu in the Indian Subcontinent. In his younger days, Iqbal's themes are either descriptive and colourful delineations of natural phenomena or "subjective experiences typical of adolescent years, experiences of nostalgia and romantic melancholy.'' Iqbal is "obviously under the influence of Bedil, Naziri and Ghalib.'' The style is "a bit florid, a bit diffuse, a bit undefined.''

In the early twentieth century, "as the first wave of nationalist anti-imperialist sentiment, after the great uprising of 1857, arose in undivided India and saw the birth of various political organisations,'' Iqbal's verse enters the second phase as Iqbal "transferred his attention from personal subjective observations and experiences to the collective sentiments and experiences of his country – his nationalist, patriotic phase.'' Now his style becomes monolithic. "It becomes almost uniform, having no ups and downs, practically keeping the same pace and same level.'' This is second progression.

In the period before and immediately after the First World War, when the subcontinent was convulsed by a series of widespread anti-imperialist movement, the "Indian Muslim, while fully participating in these movements shoulder-to-shoulder with non-Muslims, had some additional emotional and political motivations which were distinctly their won, and which found expression in what came to be known as the Khilafat Movement.'' This struggle took a Pan-Islamic character. Hence, notes Faiz, "Iqbal's poetry, correctly reflecting the emotional and political impulses of his people, also turned from Indian patriotic to Pan-Islamic anti-imperialist themes, which is the third important phase of his poetic evolution.''

The same period also witnessed the abolition of the Khilafat and the birth of Soviet Russia as first socialist state. "For Iqbal these were the years of deep study and meditation, resulting in the fourth and last phase of his work, the most mature and most valuable, the phase of his philosophical humanism.'' This final theme is Man and Universe. As Iqbal goes Pan-Islamic, one witnesses the third progression in his work and style, "the progression which integrates disjointed phenomena, disjointed experiences into a single whole, through a process which is both intellectual and emotional.'' And the fourth progression, as Iqbal goes universal, is "transition in emotional climate'' when Ishq (passion) replaces Mohabbat (love as a sentiment).

This is no coincidence. After all, the entire universe is man's domain and "each stage of evolution is merely a step to the next stage.'' Hence, Faiz observes, "the dynamics of this evolutionary struggle are provided firstly by what Iqbal calls 'Ishq,' or passion, in the sense of dedication to a humanist ideal, and, secondly, by what he calls 'amal,' or action, as opposed to the more passive contemplation or meditation advocated by mystics and idealist philosophers.''

Faiz admits that "Iqbal's approach to these themes was abstract and philosophical, which frequently gave use to contradictory expositions by his followers and admirers.'' However, he points out, Iqbal's poetry "contributed a great deal to the rise of the progressive movement in the Urdu language, firstly because its high and purposeful seriousness demolished many decadent notions regarding the function of poetry as trivial entertainment, like the notion of art for art's sake, and, secondly, because the core of his humanist thought held up admiration for the great human ideals of freedom, justice, progress and social equality.''

The writer is a freelance columnist. Email:






The name that has been most-linked with the "strategic dialogue" in the US political and diplomatic circles, and cited in international and local media, is that of Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani. His role in organising the agenda for the talks, and later as a participant, was so pervading that it made the other members of the delegation, including the foreign minister who fronted as the head of the delegation, appear as mere extras.

No other army chief, except perhaps the four who seized power and became dictators, was involved to the same extent as Gen Kayani in drawing up the agenda for a critical dialogue with the US, and filling the role of the lead presenter and negotiator from the Pakistani side.

It can perhaps be argued that after 9/11 civil and military matters have become intermingled. The prime threat to a country's security is no longer external, from an invading army, but from within – ethnic and religious violence, civil wars, insurgencies, terrorism and other such phenomena. At worst, the external threats can be from cross-border terrorists and smugglers, and such which the civil armed forces should cope with. The threats from within are most worrisome, and they cannot be classified as purely civilian, or purely military -- they are both. Therefore the military's involvement is inescapable.

Except for the hazard of war with India, if it decides to make good on its continual threats to Pakistan, all above would be true for Pakistan. The danger, however, with "the military's involvement is inescapable" argument, is that unless the civil executive leadership is supremely confident and committed, decidedly capable and competent, with a vision, and is strong, the reins of leadership will slip into the army's hands, without it actually taking over.

If, however, the civil executive leadership is blessed with all the above qualities, the army's role would remain strictly functional. There may be some overlapping of policies in the army's functional role; but the army will not drive policy, it will be driven by it.

The events before, and during the dialogue -- Gen Kayani's preparatory meetings for the strategic dialogue with top civilian bureaucrats from various ministries summoned to his GHQ office, his organising the agenda, his backroom individual meetings with US officials in Washington, his brief presence to get started the foreign minister's meeting with Hillary Clinton, leaving the foreign minister otherwise to flaunt smiles in public, the accompanying defence minister occasionally seen, but not heard – are all signs of an inadequate civil executive leadership.

The civil-military relationship predicament is not restricted to less-developed countries such as Pakistan. All professional militaries are well-trained, disciplined institutions, and dislike, even if they must tolerate, civilians entering their space. Frequently, issues rise between the military and the civil executive. In countries with a tradition of mature governance these are settled through institutional strengths in the system. In countries such as Pakistan, where the institutions are weak or non-functional, they can blow into a crisis and sometimes lead to martial law.

In the US, the generals through several recently retired colleagues, including Gen Anthony Zinni, "revolted" against Donald Rumsfeld, the US defence secretary from 2001 to 2006 under President Bush, by demanding that he resign, or be sacked. He had overstepped his role and begun to interfere with the actual conduct of the war in Iraq, through what he called his "8,000-mile-long screwdriver," or his authority over the generals conducting the war in Iraq.

Rumsfeld's case was not helped by the army's pet hate of his personal high technology "doctrine," which held that future wars will be fought through hi-tech weaponry usable only by the air force and navy, and that the army was on the way to obsolescence. Rumsfeld had to go.

For democracy to survive, its institutions have to function within the boundaries of their respective roles. If that is not so, then it is not democracy that is functioning but some fabrication of it, such as, for example, the "controlled," "guided" or "basic" democracies of the 1950s and 1960s in Pakistan, or "my" democracy, as it was called by the president during his 2009 US visit.

If what is functioning is fabricated democracy, governance becomes an ad hoc affair and one or the other becomes all-powerful – the president, the prime minister, or the army chief. The all-powerful ruler then seeks to consolidate his hold on governance by weakening what he sees as the strongest threat to himself – the army. The weakening process consists of finding ways to appoint as army chief a general whose prime quality is personal loyalty to the all-powerful ruler. While this may provide illusionary comfort to the ruler, its effect on the army as an institution can be damaging.

Ironically, the first example of this was set by a military president, Ayub Khan, when he appointed a nondescript but personally loyal general, Musa Khan, to succeed him as army chief after he became president. He later appointed another perceived loyalist, Yahya Khan, to replace Musa Khan. Neither appointment served Ayub's personal interests, but hurt the army's, with the second one proving disastrous for the country.

Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, mistakenly convinced of the man's meekness and subservience, yanked Zia-ul-Haq from way below several more competent generals to make him army chief, thereby helping to open the darkest chapter in the country's life, and losing his own life in the process.

Nawaz Sharif, never known for his dexterity in dodging traps, nicely created one for himself when he picked Pervez Musharraf, believing that, as a "Muhajir," Musharraf would not have much of a say in the army. When he was proved wrong, he blundered by clumsily attempting to "replace" Musharraf, and blundered again, by picking a general from a non-combatant arm as the "replacement."

If the civil executive has been left wringing its hands, while the army has taken charge of the unified military and foreign policy, there are good reasons for it. The army's higher echelons have very largely risen to the present ranks through merit-based progression. Before Bhutto decided to dispense with the age-old civil service, without a cogent alternative in hand, the bureaucrats formed a progressive class, not any more.

The political higher echelons are made up primarily of those who have not done a day's honest work, have lived off inherited wealth, and the educational qualifications of most of whom are questionable, and who arrived at the present level of political standing on a hereditary track. But as the country has learnt in four long lessons, generals do not make good rulers. As anywhere else, it has to be politicians, despite their abominable record in Pakistan.

The army is skeptical of the politicians' capacity to provide the quality of leadership that can keep the country moving with the rest of the world. There is no chance of such leadership emerging from within our politicians until the class and calibre of our politicians are improved, which will not, until the culture of inherited wealth is rationalised through hard reforms, and rural Pakistan cleansed of the immorality of feudalism. This would also make the hereditary track to political power narrower and narrower.

The only serious effort made to defang feudalism was by Ayub Khan, but the feudals found ways to redistribute their holdings within the family and continued to retain their influence. Zulfikar Ali Bhutto's land reforms were perfunctory, leading to nowhere.

Bhutto's thrust was on nationalisation of industry, banks and institutions, which was like letting the genie of corruption out of the bottle, and which no government since has been anxious to put back in. The education sector, especially, was wrecked by nationalisation, and will take a generation of earnest effort to recover.

Education and feudalism are inversely linked: if there is feudalism, there will be no education; if there is education, it will work to end feudalism. In other words, if Pakistan is to ever have a functional democracy, the focus has to be on ending feudalism and providing education to everyone.

The writer is a former corporate executive. Email:








AFTER clearing many obstacles, the 18th Constitutional Amendment Bill has become an act following signing of the document by President Asif Ali Zardari at a ceremony at Presidency on Monday. The President gave his assent to the bill in the company of prominent political personalities and important governmental figures, which itself was a rare show of solidarity, as aptly described by analysts and political commentators.

It was indeed a historic occasion and a moment to joy and all concerned — the President, who volunteered to part ways with his enviable powers; the Prime Minister, who worked zealously towards building consensus; Mian Raza Rabbani, who headed the Parliamentary Committee on Constitutional Reforms and every party represented in the committee deserve congratulations. The provinces too can legitimately take pride in securing the much-awaited autonomy, which would in turn strengthen the federation. With this, a major cause for political bickering is now over, paving the way for focusing attention on issues that agitate the minds of the general public. Though the Prime Minister has preferred to point out that with the adoption of the Bill, Parliament has become supreme as the President has ceded most of his powers in favour of the chosen representatives of the people but the fact remains that the Prime Minister himself has emerged all powerful as a result of the transfer of authority from the President to Parliament. He would have greater say in statecraft and would be in a position to assert himself in a better way than before. However people of Pakistan would be expecting much more from the Prime Minister now and this will be the biggest test of his political acumen. In a nutshell, he should think himself as CEO of a company where entire focus remains on the business concerned, improvement of the service and delivery. Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani has been expressing his resolve to go all out for good governance and one hopes that he would deliver on that. Corruption is rampant in Govt departments, price-hike has made life of the people miserable, job opportunities are dwindling, industrial stagnation is compounding economic difficulties, load-shedding has turned into a curse, and crime rate is alarmingly high. Under these circumstances, Mr Gilani has not much time to waste and we hope he will deliver expeditiously. Same is expected from the federating units which will have more powers and resources at their disposal.








AS the energy crisis has forced people to come on roads, the Government thought it appropriate to convene a two-day moot to ponder over ways and means to overcome the crippling shortage of power. At the National Energy Conference, a number of suggestions were presented including the attention grabbing nine-point formula floated by Punjab Chief Minister Mian Shahbaz Sharif.

It is really tragic that two years down the drain, we are still at the beginning of the journey and the so-called short, medium and long-term measures trumpeted by Minister for Water and Power every now and then have not brought about an iota of improvement in the situation. Instead, the problem has further compounded reflecting poorly on the achievements of Raja Parvez Ashraf. It is also regrettable that instead of taking the much-needed steps to minimise the power shortage, the Government is again thinking on the same old lines of so-called energy conservation. People are now fed up with the cosmetic measures that are unlikely to mitigate their sufferings and instead create more problems for them. There is some sense in the proposal to shut down markets, commercial centres and shops at about 8.00 p.m., as the energy thus saved could be used to meet industrial and domestic demands. However, traders had been resisting such decisions in the past despite the fact that they would not incur any losses, as people would adjust their shopping habits according to new schedule. But one fails to understand what objective could be served by observing two weekly holidays, as such tactics did not produce any tangible benefit in the past. Already, we observe too many holidays on this or that account and closure of offices and businesses for two days in a week would inflict more harms to the national economy. People have rejected gimmicks like advancing clocks by one hour or observing two-day weekly holidays and their sentiments should be respected







AS the energy crisis has forced people to come on roads, the Government thought it appropriate to convene a two-day moot to ponder over ways and means to overcome the crippling shortage of power. At the National Energy Conference, a number of suggestions were presented including the attention grabbing nine-point formula floated by Punjab Chief Minister Mian Shahbaz Sharif.

It is really tragic that two years down the drain, we are still at the beginning of the journey and the so-called short, medium and long-term measures trumpeted by Minister for Water and Power every now and then have not brought about an iota of improvement in the situation. Instead, the problem has further compounded reflecting poorly on the achievements of Raja Parvez Ashraf. It is also regrettable that instead of taking the much-needed steps to minimise the power shortage, the Government is again thinking on the same old lines of so-called energy conservation. People are now fed up with the cosmetic measures that are unlikely to mitigate their sufferings and instead create more problems for them. There is some sense in the proposal to shut down markets, commercial centres and shops at about 8.00 p.m., as the energy thus saved could be used to meet industrial and domestic demands. However, traders had been resisting such decisions in the past despite the fact that they would not incur any losses, as people would adjust their shopping habits according to new schedule. But one fails to understand what objective could be served by observing two weekly holidays, as such tactics did not produce any tangible benefit in the past. Already, we observe too many holidays on this or that account and closure of offices and businesses for two days in a week would inflict more harms to the national economy. People have rejected gimmicks like advancing clocks by one hour or observing two-day weekly holidays and their sentiments should be respected.










The UN Investigation Commission's report about Benazir Bhutto's assassination released last Thursday has identified the 'insufficient' security cover as the major factor for BB's non-protection from the assailants' attack. It has accused former President Musharraf for inadequate security measures despite the knowledge about potent threat to BB's life. The Commission has also noted that the security arrangements made by the PPP for the Liaquat Bagh public meeting were also 'ill-organised and were characterized by lack of professionalism'. It also termed the police failure to investigate the assassination as 'deliberate'. It asserted that the UN probe was 'hampered' by Pakistani intelligence. 'The Commission was mystified by the efforts of certain high ranking Pakistani government authorities to obstruct its access to military and intelligence sources', the report said. It also observed that the hosing of the area of the tragedy and failure to conduct post mortem badly affected the investigation. The Commission has, however, not gone into the motive behind BB's assassination apparently because of the limitations on account of its terms of reference. It has confined itself only to the circumstances of the murder.

Understandably, President Musharraf had cautioned BB for more than once about the possibility of an attempt on her life after her return to Pakistan from self exile in October 2007. The suicide attack on her procession in Karachi on the day of her arrival that claimed more than 150 lives had amply proven that the threat to her life was quite potent. She escaped the assassination bid, but it emphasized the need for greater security arrangements for her. The Karachi carnage was supposed to make the federal and provincial governments more responsive to the threat, but there were hardly any visible signs of the desirable security cover for BB on the fateful day. It was evident from the security environment outside Liaquat Bagh before and after her assassination. Although it's always difficult to make foolproof security arrangements for the popular political leaders having knack of emotional public appearances like Benazir Bhutto, yet the failure of both the government and the Peoples party to protect her from the attack was simply disgusting. Interestingely, President Zardari is on record having said that several of his 'jail companions' had perished in the suicide attack on BB outside Liaquat Bagh.

The Commission has seemingly not referred to the TV footage that showed a hand holding pistol pointed towards BB although it has mentioned absence of post mortem as a missing link in the probe. The Commission has also referred to the circulation of several 'conspiracy theories' since the assassination with an assertion that the UN probe was 'hampered' by Pakistani 'intelligence' and certain 'high ranking Pakistani government authorities' obstructed its access to military and intelligence sources in the context of its probe. It's really disquieting since the developments pertain to the time when PPP is in power. Its co-chairman Asif Ali Zardari is President of the country while hardcore party loyalists Yusuf Reza Gilani and Rehman Malik are at the helm of the country's affairs as Prime Minister and Interior Minister respectively. And pertinently, Rehman Malik is incharge of the 'intelligence' agencies as Interior Minister. The allegation is serious since it substantiates some of the 'conspiracy theories' referred to by the UN Commission. The present government, therefore, owes responsibility to hold serious and credible investigation to bring the conspirators and perpetrators of the crime of BB's murder to justice as per the UN Commission's observation. Such an inquiry will also help banish many of the 'conspiracy theories' surrounding BB's assassination.

Practically, the UN Commission has not brought out any new points except that its probe was hampered by the Pakistani intelligence and that it was prevented by high ranking government authorities to contact some of the civil and military sources. There is a generation perception that many a pertinent question pertaining to BB's assassination still remain unanswered. The allegation of hampering of the UN commission's probe and denying it access to the certain military and civilian sources, however, needs to be looked into seriously as it can help in finding the lead to the real culprits. The government has initiated action against some people mentioned in the UN report in the context of security lapses and post-assassination developments. President Zardari has, however, said that the PPP is not looking for revenge. He, however, said that 'we are looking to punish those who deserve punishment'. It's unfortunate that culprits for political murders have never been brought to justice in our country. Whether it's Liaquat Ali Khan or Gen Ziaul Haq, truth has remained hidden till today. It's hoped that President Zardari will take the UN report to the logical conclusion and will call for a comprehensive and credible inquiry into the assassination.

The government is, in fact, in a fix on the issue of NRO, Supreme Court's suo moto notices of some corruption scams and controversial provisions of the18th amendment. The Accountability bill will be yet another important issue for the Supreme Court. Tension is thus mounting between the government and superior judiciary. Federal Law Minister Babar Awan's controversial actions and professions are adding fuel to fire. Lawyers have been divided into pro and anti judiciary groups. Some of yesterday's 'Janisars' of Chief Justice Iftikhar Hussain are now holding out warnings against any adverse judicial action against the controversial provisions of the 18th amendment. A great responsibility has devolved on the judiciary once again to prevent distortion of the constitution being inflicted through the 18th amendment. The Chief Justice has rightly observed that the legislature has to make laws within the parameters set by the constitution and the judiciary 'may strike down any law inconsistent with the injunctions of Islam as laid down in the Holy Quran and the Sunnah as well as the fundamental rights enshrined in the constitution'. This holds an indication of the judiciary's determination to uphold truth and justice within the ambit of the Islam and constitution. The nation hopes that wisdom will prevail in the government camp and it will refrain from pushing the Supreme Court to the wall. Isn't it ironic that the government is engaged in issues of its own concern rather than taking steps to mitigate the sufferings of the common man on account of prolonged power outages resulting in mounting unemployment due to closure of industrial units, price hike and increasing cost of utilities.








Pakistan remained the most allied ally of USA since 1954 whereas India remained the camp follower of Soviet Union. The US tried hard to woo India particularly after its skirmish with China in 1962 but couldn't succeed. Despite India 's coldness, the Democrats in particular strove hard to induce India to jilt USSR and fall in their embrace. When Pakistan began to get closer to China in early 1960s due to US leanings towards India, the US had expressed its displeasure. Pak-China friendship continued to blossom despite US reproaches. It was essentially because of US special liking for India that it not only refused to assist Pakistan during 1965 and 1971 Indo-Pak wars but also punished Pakistan by way of blocking flow of war munitions knowingly that Soviet Union was meeting defence needs of India. Had the US stood by the side of its ally, Pakistan would have won 1965 war and would not have lost East Pakistan.

After fall of USSR in 1991, the US dumped Pakistan and happily hugged India, which at that time was feeling marooned. It preferred India over its old and loyal ally because India had agreed to help US in containing fast expanding influence of China in the region. Pakistan refused to perform this role because of its extra ordinary close relations with China . It had already annoyed many neighboring countries when it became part of western pacts. It had to suffer direly for acting as a conduit to bring US-China closer in 1971.

Pakistan wanted to maintain close relations with USA but not at the cost of China . China factor was one of the principal factors in cementing Indo-US strategic relations. While the US has never objected to India signing defence and nuclear deals with Russia or cementing political, cultural and economic ties with China , or becoming the biggest buyer of Israeli arms, it frowns at Pakistan if it attempts to fulfill its military, economic or energy needs from other countries. It has all along tried to restrain Pakistan from developing closer relations with China and objected to any defence equipment acquired from Beijing . Besides China , Iran-Pakistan friendship is another irritation for USA since current Iranian leadership is on its hit list. Pakistan has inked Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline project which has not been received well in Washington . The US has advised Pakistan to remain at a distance from Iran and scrap gas pipeline deal without realizing Pakistan 's worsening state of energy crisis. Our gas needs are mounting at an alarming rate. It is estimated that by 2013-14, as against our production rate of 4 billion per cubic feet the requirement would jump to 8 billion cft per day. While pressuring Pakistan to cancel the deal, the US is not prepared to give civil nuclear facility. India opted out of Iran-Pakistan-India gas pipeline project at the behest of USA but was rewarded in the form of civil nuclear deal.

While America is prodding Pakistan hard to befriend India and stop treating it as arch enemy, it doesn't press India to bring a change in its belligerent attitude and hegemonic policies. The US has helped India in acquiring economic, military and nuclear strengths thereby seriously disturbing regional balance of power. It has done so in disregard of the fact that India is ambitious and has dangerous designs against Pakistan . Being an apiarian country, it has constructed 62 dams over rivers flowing into Pakistan to turn its fertile lands arid. It has resorted to this immoral and inhuman practice since it is in forcible occupation of two-third Kashmir , which also enables Indian forces to encircle Pakistan . It is essentially because of sinister designs it harbors against Pakistan that it is not prepared to find an amicable solution to this chronic problem for the last six decades. Pakistan would not have given preference to security matters over development had India believed in the policy of peaceful coexistence and promoted peace in South Asia . Pakistan would never have pursued expensive nuclear path if hegemonic India not done so in 1974. Pakistan would not have carried out nuclear tests in May 1998 had India conducted five nuclear tests and then hurled vitriolic and provocative statements. Pakistan 's tit for tat response was not to overawe India but to mellow down its belligerence and to deter India from undertaking another 1971 like invasion.

Pakistan would have signed NPT and CTBT had India done so and USA not taken a discriminatory stance. Pakistan made umpteen proposals in 1980s and in 1990s to make South Asia nuclear free but each offer was haughtily spurned by India . Unresolved Kashmir dispute has kept India-Pakistan at warpath. Time has not diminished suspicions and antagonism since India has neither resolved Kashmir issue nor brought any change in its hostile attitude. In fact India has become economically sound and militarily more powerful and aggressive. It has become a strategic partner of US and latter has pledged to turn India into a major world power and permanent member of UNSC.

The Republican Party and now the Democrat Party are equally close to India and go all-out to keep it in good humor. This is evident from the lucrative economic, military and nuclear agreements doled out and the fawning attitude of each US official visiting New Delhi . It was essentially to earn India 's goodwill that the US has been whipping Pakistan under various pretexts. The US is least interested in finding an amicable solution to Kashmir dispute since any facilitation in this direction will be at the cost of annoying India. The US fail to comprehend that when it talks of Indo-Pak amity, until and unless Indian occupation of Kashmir gets terminated and water aggression against Pakistan effectively checked and reversed, meaningful goodwill cannot be promoted between the two arch rivals. Soon after occupying Afghanistan, the US gave a green signal to India to not only consolidate its position in Afghanistan but to make full use of Afghan soil to undermine Pakistan, which it had designated as a frontline state to fight and defeat terrorism. Well knowing that India does not share border with Afghanistan , is a Hindu dominated country and has played no role in war on terror, yet the US is determined to make it a key player in Afghan affairs and to let India fill the vacuum once it departs.

Indian military has now been assigned to train Afghan Police and Army even after Gen Kayani expressed his strong reservations. As long as Af-Pak policy framed by Obama was to the advantage of India and harmful to Pakistan , Indian leaders were quite satisfied and kept making additional suggestions to make it more biting. It projected Pakistan as a collaborator and part of the problem. Now that the US has decided to take Pakistan off the hook, India is feeling highly perturbed. Had the US weapon sight been shifted from Pakistan to India , latter's worry would have been understandable. India wants Pakistan to remain a target country and is trying to befool the world that Pak armed forces aided by dreadful Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) and assisted by China would trounce India.

Comparing political, economic and strategic clout of India vis-à-vis Pakistan , former has a definite edge. Other aspects which keep India in good books of western world are that it is a non-Muslim state and credits itself to be secular and champion of democracy. Above all, it projects itself as a bulwark against China .

Notwithstanding falsification of these claims and Indian gimmicks, the US led west has accorded preferential treatment to India and has been treating Pakistan as an underdog. Even under changing geo-political realities in the region in which Pakistan 's significance has shot into prominence, it will be fanciful on part of our leaders to expect that the US would prefer Pakistan over India


The writer is a retired Brig and a freelance defence analyst.








In the context of Allama Mohammad Iqbal, today the contradictory couplet, 'reverence and relevance' engenders Shakespearean 'saucy doubts' quite pathetically. For, if we substitute 'and' with 'versus', then all the combinations sound irksome at some point on a plane with the coordinates 'reverence and relevance'. In other words, there could be reverence but not relevance or vice versa, and there could be both 'reverence and relevance' or none at all. In the present article, through the instrument of Iqbal's last Persian book Pas Cheh Bayad Kerd Ae Aqwam-e-Sherq (what should be the strategy then, O the Nations of East, 1936), we will try to try it out as to which combination is the most optimal one, given….but given what? Ironically speaking, our collective patriotic conscience? Be it. 'Poetry is what is lost in translation' said Robert Frost, and we are dwelling on the translation of Iqbal's Persian book. So the instrument is faulty? If so, so is the collective patriotic conscience! Blind guiding blind. Let's see how we end up.

Iqbal has rendered admiration by quoting Persian poets Urfi, Saadi, Zahoori etc. in his poetic works, has saluted Karl Marx for his work 'Capital' that 'though he is not a prophet yet carries a Revealed doctrine'. He appropriates word genius in his lectures 'the reconstruction of religious thought in Islam' for the German poet-philosopher Goethe on account of his Faust. Nevertheless, Iqbal relishes Khush Haal Khan Khattak for not succumbing to great Moghal Empire, even embraces great work of Einstein, the theory of relativity and rejoices in finding inkling of the same in his Secrets of Self; recollects from Professor Whitehead, matches Ghalib with Shakespeare, accommodates Ibn-e-Arabi, Farabi, and Razi and finally embraces Ghazali. In his upward journey to spiritual maturity halts and ends up at a pinnacle, a Sufi, an embodiment of enthusiasm, selflessness, valor, faith, self-assurance and action, that is Rumi. In the introductory part of his last Persian book, Iqbal pays Rumi tribute starting with the line 'Peer-e-Rumi Murshid-e-Roshan Zameer': The Rumi saint, a guide with conscience bright, That train love and trance, does lead aright. Beyond the sun and moon, his homestead lies, With stay of galaxy his tent he ties. The Quran's light is in his breast aflame, His mirror, cup of Jamset puts to shame. Resolve and trust make Momin's dynamite, Whom 'frenzy'; calls the man of purblind sight.

To proceed, 'The greater part of valor is discretion'; says Shakespeare; so one embracing discretion can espouse valor as well, or vice versa probably with a variation of requisite time, effort, zeal and energy, but can never win the inverse of any of these duets that is 'valor and discretion' or 'discretion and valor'. The pursuer of any of these predispositions, like a ruthless tiger can taste the taste of the other as well; others however would always remain the 'others'; tasteless and hence listless. By the same token, a valiant would always feel crowned if he is rendered crownless by a worthy man than an unworthy; prophet Joseph would be satisfied that wolf tore him than a hyena did. Of tiger's strength no cattle secret knows, Thy secrets to tigers alone disclose, It's better would a wolf our Joseph tear, Than if a low-born man buys him to rear. A quilt on dervish back weighs heavily, Like breeze thy kit as light as scent should be. But to Iqbal, this conception of being intrepid calls for an internalization of first the notion of an egoless world, implying "Nothingness" (Laa), regardless of the form, route, substance or spirit of things; and then turning to Eternal Ego, "None-but-One" (Illa). Iqbal clarifies it through the poem 'The philosophy of Moses', his stick becomes snake and devours tens of opponent snakes. No magic, no snakes; 'Nothingness' (Laa) but 'None-but-One' (Illa) Whose Will is embedded in the stick. Here stick by its essence is a form of 'nothingness' for the belief is the real instrument, not the stick. Now stick, then snake, again stick; either way it is an expression of belief, the will of God regardless of the might or frailty of the subject; the manifestation of both Laa and Illa simultaneously. He teaches "God-is-all". All else is nil, Lest man of God fall prey to Jack or Jill. "They need not fear", has as lesson to impart, This courage fresh puts into human heart. I fail to understand what magic he performs, But soul within the frame of clay transforms. By virtues of his being does a Momin show, That real is He, all else is but shadow. From La Ilaha if takes he glow and shine, The sun and moon shall move to his design. The phrase 'they need not fear' comes from Quran, Soora Younas, verse 62. After this conceptual foundation, in his poem La Ilaha Illa; Iqbal introduces 'Laa' and 'Illa' in yet another form; contextualized with reference to Faqr. Faqr is not destitution; it's prosperous by virtue of a godly heart, a wealth in its own self. Momin first treads in the universe as a hollow-whole under the influence of 'Laa', where he himself is a sub-set of the empty-whole, the universe. He then is abruptly interrupted by a sublime force, the only impetus that is 'Illa'. In other words, the slate of heart is first emptied implying 'Laa', and then is inscribed on it the word of grandeur 'Illa'; the serene slate (that is heart) now becomes wholesome, intrepid, possessive, related with the Absolute, where the word 'Illa' on the previously empty slate is to glow, only glow and glow alone! World's destiny in La, and Illa lies, To motion La, to rest gives Illa rise. The secret of La until we fully grasp, We can't of anti-God break bondage-clasp. From La does everything in the world proceed, For man of God it's foremost stage indeed.

So this is the foundation upon which Faqr dwells, the predisposition triggering from 'nothingness' inclusive of means of subsistence and substance; Faqr personified as Ali treads to conquer Khyber forte under the superb and Supreme Embodiment of Faqr, Prophet Mohammad (SAW). Form Iqbal's poem Faqr: Know ye what's Faqr O' men of world of clay, A heart alive, an eye that knows the way. It's weighing one's deeds judiciously, And twining ones self on "No-God-but-He" It Khyber conquers, fed on barley bread, And holding saddle-bag a royal head. Love, taste and trust and resignation Faqr does make, All this we hold in trust for the Prophet's sake.

The living proof of Faqr is virtue, deed, purity, humanism and godliness; categorically speaking, possession and practice of Godly attributes. As put by Nietzsche 'God wants to create god out of man'. According to Iqbal, Faqr is not escape from mundane obligations, Faqr nevertheless prefers a splendid death over a reclusive refuge and his moments are testified through Prophet's deeds: What's Momin's Faqr? The world of subjugate? It does in man God's attributes create. It is kafir's Faqr recluse in waste to be, But Momin's Faqr shakes the land and sea. That thinks in cave's repose his life does lie, This deems it's life a splendid death to die. On Prophets touch-stone proving sterling gold, Then only he creates a new world out of old.

Towards the end of this book, Iqbal concludes under the heading of Contemporary Politics as to why today's Momin is away from Faqr, hence destitute. The crux of the matter according to Iqbal is, that Momin has rendered himself westernized, a slave, so he is remote from his center 'Kaba', away from his own majesty and God's mercy, and thus closer to hellish consequences. With his life devoid of Quranic precepts, his contract with God has become void rather voidable, his days are hollow of Prophet's attitude and habitude. In such circumstances if inadvertently he recites Darood, his conscience rightfully thrills and his forehead sweats, haply he reverts to his center Kaba: Though wise man does his heart to none confide,

My agony from thee I cannot hide. In slavery born, as long as slave am I, Far off from door of kaba's shrine lie. Whenever I recite in the Prophet's name, "Peace be on him", shame fully sweats my frame. Love says, o slave of anti-God, thy chest, Like idol-house thy images infest. Unless you have the Prophet's shape and habitude, Don't soil his name reciting thy Darood.








It is being said that Commodore Sukhjinder Singh's links with a Russian have been confirmed. So what? Almost half a quarter of Indians are directly or indirectly linked with Russia. Is it simply kickbacks in Admiral Gorshkov, which has been given name of "INS Vikramaditya" or what? Only time would able to prove that what is actual story. At present, doubts even exist in Indian Ministry of Defence as well as Navy authorities. Due to repeated set backs Indian Armed Forces has lost its reputation.

Already, the Parliamentary Committee on Defence tabled its latest report in both Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha after a number of land scams by Army, which recommended setting up of an independent regulator by the Defence Ministry to manage its estates in order to have fool-proof system to regulate the defence estates. Although, Ministry of Defence has refused to abide by the recommendations in the presence of adequate existing system within the Defence Ministry but the committee is very serious to settle the matter once for all and made it very clear that its recommendations for having an independent regulator is binding on Ministry of Defence.

According to the details, Commodore Sukhjinder Singh's links was posted to Russia to oversee the re-fit of aircraft carrier Admiral Gorshkov. Where he interacted with a number of KGB agents including a women with whom he developed very close relations. During the recently concluded Unified Commanders conference, it was decided that in the light of Court of Inquiry (CoI) against Commodore Sukhjinder Singh, in which his involvement has been proved beyond doubts, another detailed secret inquiry would be held. It is pertinent to mention here that member of US intelligence have been invited to monitor the inquiry as observer. However, at present, it is beyond comprehension what is the connections between US or the Russian lady. It appears that it is a simple case of leakage of classified information by an Indian Navy officer to Russian but where Washington is in whole affair cannot be ascertained at this stage. The Naval intelligence sources are tight lipped but it seems that it was about some sophisticated monitoring equipment that has been loaned to New Delhi to monitor Tehran but has been passed on to Russia for reverse engineering. Unless the second round of inquiry is completed, nothing can be said with certainty.

India is not happy with Admiral Gorshkov deal but that has nothing to do with Commodore Sukhjinder Singh's Russian visit. He was not in Moscow to conclude any deal or negotiate but simply his business was to oversee re-fit. Ironically, Commodore Singh is accused of loose moral conduct due to some of his objectionable photographs with some lady during his posting in Russia but this cannot be the issue that is so important to be included in top agenda at Unified Commanders conference. Many among the defence personnel have linked it with cost escalation and delay in the delivery of Admiral Gorshkov. One wonders that Singh was deputed to Russia to supervise re-fitting and other technical requirements of Admiral Gorshkov from 2005 to 2007 but the carrier is still undergoing a refit at Russia's Sevmash shipyard, so how come a person posted four years back is responsible for the mess. New Delhi has paid $ 2.35 billions as the cost of the carrier, refit and a squadron of MiG-29K jets that will be deployed on the vessel. It is a matter of great concern that Indian Armed forces are loosing their reputation. One wonders that how long in the name of secrecy Indian Ministry of Defence would be covering the filth due of some nonprofessional high ups and officers like Commodore Sukhjinder Singh would be treated an escape goats. Unless the second inquiry is not concluded, nothing can be said with certainty but one thing is certain that New Delhi is not going to allow the cat to come out of the bag, at least as concerned to Washington's role.










New Delhi wants to repay Washington for lifting international civilian nuclear suppliers' embargo on nuclear exports to India by making it possible for American firms to bid on Indian nuclear power plant construction projects. There is only one problem: Indians are now reluctant to pony up the level of nuclear-accident immunity that American nuclear vendors are demanding before they'll bid. It's easy to understand why. On Dec. 2, 1984, thousands of Indians were killed when a Union Carbide pesticide plant in Bhopal accidentally released toxins that poisoned half a million people. Some casualty estimates exceed 20,000 dead. The Indian government demanded $3.3 billion in damages from the US-based Company, but eventually settled for just $470 million. Civil and criminal cases are still on file in the Manhattan US District Court. A quarter century later, no one has yet been prosecuted.

No one in India wants to see this history repeated. But New Delhi has nevertheless proposed legislation that would grant US nuclear vendors the immunity from third-party lawsuits that they seek. Under the proposed Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage Bill, the Indian government would prohibit anyone harmed offsite in an Indian nuclear accident from suing American nuclear vendors for possible damages. It also would cap the responsibility of Indian nuclear reactor operators for such damages at $100 million. If offsite damages exceeded $100 million, Indian taxpayers would then pay