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Tuesday, April 27, 2010

EDITORIAL 27.04.10

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media watch with peoples input                an organization of rastriya abhyudaya



month april 27, edition 000492, collected & managed by durgesh kumar mishra, published by – manish manjul


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















  1. AFTER IPL 3






























  1. Our view on your health: What can be done to shake Americans' salt habit?



































  3. INDIA MATTERS: THE NEED FOR CEPA - By Dr. Rohan Samarajiva











T he Union Minister for Home Affairs is right when he says that the National Technical Research Organisation, better known as NTRO, is an authorised "technical organisation" of the Government of India which was set up on the basis of a Group of Ministers' recommendation. But what he has left unsaid in his statement in the Lok Sabha needs to be stated unambiguously: The NTRO was set up to provide real-time, actionable 'techint' — or technical intelligence — to deal with terrorism, organised crime and similar grave offences that impinge on national security. At no stage was the NTRO conceived as an instrument of the state to snoop on politicians or individuals to gather political intelligence or information that could compromise a person's privacy and liberty. Yet, this is precisely what the NTRO stands accused of today with damning details surfacing in the media about how its state-of-the-art equipment, mounted on roving vehicles, has been used to tap and tape telephone conversations of senior politicians, including CPI(M) general secretary Prakash Karat, Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, NCP leader Sharad Pawar and, amazingly, Congress general secretary Digvijay Singh. The tapping of telephones, it has been revealed, is not of recent vintage, but has been going on since the Congress-led UPA Government came to power. It is anybody's guess as to how many politicians' telephone conversations have been thus taped. Mr P Chidambaram has sought to gloss over the charges levelled by a justifiably incandescent Opposition, but that does not necessarily put a lid on the scandal.


Given the Congress's penchant for misusing agencies of the state for political purposes and the party's long tradition of seeking to weaken the Opposition by resorting to dirty tricks, among them the tapping of telephones, and gathering 'political intelligence' through various means, including deploying IB agents for the task, it is not entirely surprising that the NTRO and its snooping devices should have been used in such a manner. What strengthens this perception is Mr Chidambaram's assertion that "no telephone tapping or eavesdropping on political leaders was authorised by the Government". He has, interestingly, not denied that telephone tapping and eavesdropping have taken place, which would mean they have been done without Government's authorisation. Are we then to assume that the directive came from somewhere else, an authority that wields greater clout and more power than even the Prime Minister without formally being a part of the Government which Mr Manmohan Singh heads and were issued to NTRO spooks directly? In which event, the nation has the right to know who issued the directive. Was it done bypassing those authorised to sanction tapping of telephones and those who are charged with oversight of electronic snooping? Or was an intermediary used?

The law governing tapping of telephones is quite strict in this country with adequate oversight provisions, as it should be in a democracy. The problem, however, is not with the law but its gross violation. In any other democracy if such shocking details of abuse of state power by the ruling party were to come to light, the Government would have been teetering by now. Tragically, in this wondrous land of ours, the Government will just brazen it out. Meanwhile, as NTRO occupies itself with picking up political chatter, the chatter of terrorists will go untapped. Little wonder that we are starved of real-time, actionable intelligence.






With each passing day US President Barack Hussein Obama's presidential election campaign that had captured the imagination of people around the world lies exposed as nothing more than a bunch of carefully crafted lies. For, Mr Obama has either shelved or gone back on most of his election promises. The confidence with which he had announced the coming of a new American regime that would do away with the old way of doing business with global partners has long faded, and it is now pretty much clear that the Obama Administration represents nothing but old wine in new bottle. This was once again evident last Saturday when Mr Obama, to mark the anniversary of the Armenian genocide in 1915, chose to omit the 'G-word' from his statement. This is congruent with his statement issued on the same day last year but starkly inconsistent with his election promise of fully recognising the massacre of 1.5 million Armenians by Ottoman Turks as genocide. It appears that Mr Obama's peace initiatives to effect a thaw in relations between Turkey and Armenia and Washington's bilateral relations with Ankara — a Nato ally — are the reasons why the American President has not delivered on this particular promise. Indeed, last month, the Obama Administration had strongly urged the House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee to not go ahead with a vote that would condemn the 1915 Armenian massacre as genocide. The House Committee withstood the pressure and narrowly passed the vote. But the fallout of the same turned out to be embarrassing for Mr Obama as Turkey briefly recalled its Ambassador to the US in response.

Turkey's valued participating in Nato and the fact that the country provides a key strategic foothold to the Americans in West Asia might have dissuaded Mr Obama from terming the 1915 massacre of Armenians as genocide. Yet, it cannot be denied that the Obama Administration seems to be on a massive friendship drive to win friends within the Muslim world. The strategy would have been a sound one had it not been applied blindly. For, in the process, the people that are being offered the "hand of friendship" — to borrow a phrase from Mr Obama's Cairo University speech last year — are the ones whose interests are aligned with groups that have vowed to impose a new world order through jihad. Whether it is Turkey, Pakistan or Afghanistan, there is credible evidence to suggest that the Americans are taking a more lenient view of those who till yesterday were described as 'radicals' and 'security threats'. Perhaps this explains why all of a sudden there is a desire in Washington to talk to the Taliban and be more patient with Pakistan and its so-called war against terrorism. Mr Obama, it seems, relishes Muslim appeasement more than we can imagine.








Was this the face that launched a thousand ships, And burnt the topless towers of Ilium?

Sweet Helen, make me immortal with a kiss… -- Christopher Marlowe

Ms Sunanda Pushkar's memorable encounter with the former Minister of State for External Affairs has seriously dented Mr Shashi Tharoor's political career even as she has withdrawn, leaving behind the embers of an imploding Indian Premier League. It seems difficult to conceive how modern India's most original and successful international show can go on.

Yet Tharoorgate affords an opportunity to revisit the dangers posed by India's dangerous open-door policy towards foreign nationals; the ill-heeded warning by Samajwadi Party leader Mulayam Singh Yadav against hasty introduction of the women's reservation Bill; and the non-transparency of people in public life.

When Congress gave the Thiruvananthapuram ticket to the wannabe UN Secretary-General in the 2009 Lok Sabha election, there was no hint that he was seeking divorce from his Canadian wife Christa Giles. She was conspicuous by her absence during the campaign, but one assumed she was keeping a low profile to avoid a 'foreign spouse' controversy.

Mr Tharoor was in office for nearly 10 months when the storm unleashed by then IPL commissioner Lalit Modi's tweet revealed that the Minister is (was?) engaged to Ms Sunanda Pushkar, also a Canadian citizen, and currently employed in Dubai. It seems likely that Mr Tharoor met her when serving in the Dubai-based investment firm, Afras Ventures, and remained in touch via nearly 14 trips to the city during his brief stint in South Block.

It is possible she followed him to Delhi with a plan to make him 'mentor' of an IPL franchise in lieu of handsome free 'sweat' equity for his future wife. Dubai is also where Mr Tharoor met Mr Jacob Joseph, who became his OSD and whose father reputedly owns a hefty stake in Afras. It is unknown if Afras founder NK Radhakrishnan has officially invested in the Kochi IPL franchise that is technically owned by an entity called Rendezvous Sports World.

Neither Ms Pushkar nor Mr Tharoor seem likely candidates for conceiving and executing such a grand strategy to put together one of the costliest IPL franchises ($ 333.33 million), that too, in a State like Kerala where sporting facilities are poor and the known sponsors are mainly non-Malayalis! Unlike Reliance Industries, Sahara Group or India Cements, both lack wealth of the kind that permits a grand personal investment. Hence, given the Income Tax Department's probe into alleged benami transactions funding IPL across the spectrum, it seems reasonable to suppose they have much to hide.

As Mr Chandan Mitra has pointed out in "When the umpire becomes batsman" ('The Cuttin Ed', April 18), it strains credulity to believe that unknown businessmen or a suspended Maharashtra transport official could invest over Rs 1,000 crore and outbid a consortium led by the Ahmedabad-based Adani Group. More tasteless was the attempt to implicate Gujarat's Chief Minister Narendra Modi. Given Mr Tharoor's frequent visits to Dubai and his deputing Mr Jacob Joseph to attend official meetings in connection with IPL's Kochi franchise, there is a clear case for invoking the Prevention of Corruption Act to examine his conduct in office.

Mr Ravi Shankar Prasad, spokesman of the BJP, has said that Mr Tharoor's conduct was not merely improper, but a clear criminal offence under Section 13 (when a public servant abuses his office and obtains for himself or for any other person, any valuable thing or pecuniary advantage) and Section 20 (any gratification other than the legal remuneration by a public servant either in his own name or for any other person creates a legal presumption of criminal misconduct). The Shashi-Jacob-Sunanda trio certainly needs grilling.

What baffled observers, however, was his mesmeric hold on 10 Janpath and 7 Race Course Road, which made both authorities visibly reluctant to hasten his exit. Whispers circulated that Mr Tharoor obliged the ruling party by fiddling names listed in the Volcker Report on beneficiaries of Saddam Hussain's oil-for-food programme mandated by the UN. Mr D Raja of the CPI wondered why the Congress leadership chose to project him as India's candidate for the UN Secretary-General's post, for which he was too junior, being merely communications chief at the UN and not in any policy-making department. That is why he was not taken seriously in any world capital. With the Congress unable or unwilling to defend him in Parliament, the leadership reluctantly asked him to go.

Meanwhile, Ms Pushkar's Canadian citizenship and Dubai residence points to a disturbing internationalisation (read dilution) of Indian identity. Unless we put in place stringent laws to inhibit politicians, civil servants and officers of the armed forces from undue intimacy with foreign nationals, we will seriously prejudice our national security, and political and economic interests. The current scandal concerning a naval officer involved in the Gorshkov submarine negotiations with Russia, and Tharoor-gate, are just instances of the perils that face a society that is excessively open to adventurers at its top echelons.

It is pertinent that at the height of the controversy, in a last ditch effort to salvage the reputation and position of her fiancé, Ms Pushkar suddenly decided to relinquish her Rs 70-crore equity in the franchise. This happened immediately after Dubai-based Ashish Mehta surfaced as her lawyer, raising eyebrows amongst the cognoscenti as he happens to be attorney to Dubai's ruler Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum. By an interesting coincidence, when Mr Lalit Modi recently visited Dubai for an ICC meeting, he accepted the hospitality of Sheikh Maktoum rather than stay in a hotel with other delegates.

Finally, the Sunanda Pushkar episode is a grim warning of the kind of women most likely to appear in Parliament if the women's reservation Bill becomes law — locally rootless, but with national and international 'corporate' contacts and an ability to 'fix' things.

This is precisely what Mr Mulayam Singh Yadav meant when he said women who arrived under the Bill would be the kind who got "whistled at". He meant they would be 'friends' of powerful men, who would clog the system with private agendas. So shallow is media discourse in this country that he was shouted out of court; it is time Indian politics ended the unholy alliance of business and politics.






An emphatic electoral victory to complement the military victory against the LTTE. Indeed, a grand success story was scripted by Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa's United People's Freedom Alliance in the recently concluded parliamentary election. By winning 144 seats in the 225-seat Sri Lankan Parliament, it finished marginally short of securing two-thirds majority. But can the latest election ensure ethnic peace when in Jaffna not even 10 per cent voted?

Ironically, it is 'unified', 'direct' democracy that has devastated Sri Lanka. The Tamils were in the vanguard of public life during British rule. Their demand for a 50:50 formula (half the seats to Sinhalese, half to Tamils, Moors, Europeans and Burghers combined) at the time of Sri Lanka's independence in 1948 was overruled by the British.

In post-independence Sri Lanka, Tamils have had to put up with Sinhalese majoritarianism. Unlike Indian Tamils, the Tamils of Sri Lanka never had the privilege of federalism. Article 2 of the Sri Lankan Constitution makes the country a unitary state; Articles 5 makes its 24 districts mere administrative units. Federalism, as articulated by SJV Chelvanayakam, has been at the heart of Tamil politics since 1956 until the Vaddukoddai Resolution of 1976.

Freedom for Sri Lanka came through reforms debated in the State Council, the oldest legislative assembly in Asia, and not through a freedom struggle. Until 1920, the Tamils had as many seats in the Council as the Sinhalese. But thereafter Sinhalese domination began and Tamil seats were greatly reduced. The Hindu Organ observed in an editorial on September 28, 1922: "Swaraj or representative Government is undoubtedly an excellent thing... But experience of the last elections (1921) under the new reforms and proceedings of the Sinhalese leaders of the Congress have shown that Swaraj in Ceylon in the present state of affairs would be Swaraj of one community with all other communities subordinate to it".

Are not Ananda Coomaraswamy's words — "Democracy, understood politically as the tyranny of the majority, is no more congenial to liberty than autocracy" — still relevant for our times?








The apparent lull in jihadi terror activity in the hinterland was broken with blasts at Chinnaswamy Stadium in Bangalore during the IPL match last week. While investigations into the incident are still on, new details have been revealed on the Karnataka connections of the Indian Mujahideen cell reportedly behind the Pune blast. While the motive behind the Bangalore stadium blasts are unclear, it was interesting to note that Asia Times Online saw in it a possible role of the 313 Brigade's Ilyas Kashmiri who has also in recent times been described as the chief of Al Qaeda's shadow army Lashkar al-Zil. There have also been multiple reports of another purported letter written by Ilyas Kashmiri calling for suicide attacks inside India. These reports come at the same time as the United States issued a terror advisory mentioning six specific areas in New Delhi with popular markets as potential targets.

It must be noted in the run-up to the November 26, 2008 fidayeen attacks on Mumbai, there was heightened YouTube activity by the Indian Mujahideen. Interestingly, March 2010 seems to bear a similarity to October 2008 in the Indian Mujahideen activity on YouTube. Two new Youtube channels surfaced during the month of March with jihadi content. The first Youtube channel bore a name identifying itself with Hafiz Saeed, chief of Jamaat-ud-Dawa'h, the parent organisation of Lashkar-e-Tayyeba. The channel carried six jihadi videos. One of the videos featured visuals from the 26/11 attacks with intriguing images of Hafiz Saeed and Mr Bal Thackeray interspersed. The 26/11 visuals incidentally were sourced from a public account on the popular photo sharing site Flickr. The account itself belongs to a Mumbai-based fashion photographer.

The second Youtube channel was far more direct in its identification with Indian Mujahideen in both its name and in its usage of digital images used in Indian Mujahideen e-mails of 2008. This channel opened during March and carried about 50-odd videos. Most of the videos carried clips from Indian news channels featuring the Indian Mujahideen. Interspersed within these videos was one video with specific claims of responsibility for multiple attacks going as far back as 2003 while citing them as revenge for the 2002 Gujarat riots. It was also interesting to note Gujarat being spelled as the Pakistani-origin Gujrat. A new addition to the jihadi lexicon is the phrase of "Lions of Allah" that finds multiple mentions on this channel.

YouTube was not the only video-sharing site witnessing increased Lashkar activity. Praveen Swami writing in The Hindu alerts us to the Jamaat-ud-Dawa'h Facebook page. Further analysis of this Facebook page reveals that it was started the same week as the heightened JuD activity in Paskistan-occupied Kashmir and in Islamabad when Abdul Makki issued his now infamous threat to Delhi, Pune and Kanpur. The Facebook page leads to a rather personal website of a 22-year-old Pakistani male with overt sympathies for Jamaat-ud-Dawa'h. While it is unclear if the Facebook page has official sanction, it clearly seems to be an attempt at mainstreaming the JuD.

This mainstreaming of JuD finds an oblique reference in a piece written by Syed Saleem Shahzad in the Asia Times couple of weeks back. According to Shahzad, the Pakistani military is considering reviving Right-wing Islamic parties as a counter force to regional political parties in the NWFP area.

Meanwhile, it's a season for recorded audios and videos from both sides of the jihadi divide in Pakistan. First, a purported Hafiz Saeed speech to be delivered at seminar in Srinagar organised by a fringe group was disrupted by the Jammu & Kashmir Police. The seminar was to also have JeM's Masood Azhar over telephone. Second a five-part video confession has surfaced on the Asia Times Online from former spy Khaled Khwaja who was reported kidnapped back in March. In the video Khaled Khwaja indicts Hafiz Saeed's Lashkar and Masood Azhar's Jaish for being stooges of the ISI, apart from detailing his role in the 2007 Lal Masjid incident.

Between Saeed's attempts to draw attention to the water issue with rhetoric of sacrifices to be made for the Kashmir cause and Khawaja's video confessions seeking to undermine Saeed's credibility, an interesting dynamic is playing out across Pakistan's jihadi faultlines.

The terror advisory, the heightened jihadi activity on social networking sites and the sharpened rhetoric from Hafiz Saeed should be taken as a leading indicator of impending terror attacks on India. These leading indicators come at the same time as renewed talk of "Limited Dialogue" between Indian and Pakistan at the SAARC summit in Thimpu. As Pakistan seeks to extract revenge with new dossiers, it is unfortunate that the Opposition of the nation remains distracted with non-issues like IPL. The Opposition's failure to hold the Government's feet to the fire of Pakistan has resulted in the UPA fearing no political costs in walking itself into a second Sharm el-Sheikh in Thimpu.

The writer, an expert on security affairs, tracks terrorism in South Asia.







Things are not always as simple as they seem; the current crisis in US-Israel relations has a silver lining. Four observations, all derived from historical patterns, prompt this conclusion:

First, the 'peace process' is in actuality a 'war process'. Diplomatic negotiations through the 1990s led to a parade of Israeli retreats that had the perverse effect of turning the middling-bad situation of 1993 into the awful one of 2000. Painful Israeli concessions, we now know, stimulate not reciprocal Palestinian goodwill but rather irredentism, ambition, fury, and violence.

Second, Israeli concessions to the Arabs are effectively forever while relations with Washington fluctuate. Once the Israelis left south Lebanon and Gaza, they did so for good, as would be the case with the Golan Heights or eastern Jerusalem. Undoing these steps would be prohibitively costly. In contrast, US-Israel tensions depend on personalities and circumstances, so they go up and down and the stakes are relatively lower. Each President or Prime Minister can refute his predecessor's views and tone. Problems can be repaired quickly.

More broadly, the US-Israel bond has strengths that go far beyond politicians and issues of the moment. Nothing on earth resembles this bilateral, "the most special" of special relationships and "the family relationship of international politics." Like any family tie, it has high points (Israel ranks second, behind only the US, in number of companies listed on NASDAQ) and low ones (the Jonathan Pollard espionage affair continues to rankle a quarter century after it broke). The tie has a unique intensity when it comes to strategic cooperation, economic connections, intellectual ties, shared values, United Nations voting records, religious commonalities, and even mutual interference in each other's internal affairs.

From Israel's perspective, then, political relations with the Arabs are freighted but those with Washington have a lightness and flexibility.

Third, when Israeli leaders enjoy strong, trusting relations with Washington, they give more to the Arabs. Golda Meir made concessions to Richard Nixon, Menachem Begin to Mr Jimmy Carter, Yitzhak Rabin, Mr Benjamin Netanyahu, and Mr Ehud Barak to Mr Bill Clinton, and Mr Ariel Sharon to Mr George W Bush.

Conversely, mistrust of Washington tightens Israelis and closes the willingness to take chances. That was the case with Mr George HW Bush and is even more so with Mr Barack Obama. The current unease began even before Mr Obama reached the Oval Office, given his public association with prominent Israel-haters (eg, Ali Abunimah, Mr Rashid Khalidi, Mr Edward Said, Mr Jeremiah Wright). Relations degenerated in March, when his administration simulated outrage on the 9th over an announcement of routine construction work in Jerusalem, followed by a brutal telephone call from the Secretary of State on the 12th and a tense White House summit meeting on the 23rd.

To make matters worse, the Obama Administration figure most identified with maintaining good US-Israel relations, Mr Dennis Ross, was anonymously accused by a colleague on March 28 of being "far more sensitive to Netanyahu's coalition politics than to US interests." A prominent foreign policy analyst used this to raise questions about Mr Ross having a "dual loyalty" to Israel, impugning Mr Ross' policy advice.

These ugly and virtually unprecedented tensions have had a predictable effect on the Israeli public, making it mistrustful of Mr Obama, resistant to US pressure, while inspiring usually squabbling politicians to work together to resist his policies.

Fourth, US-Israel tensions increase Palestinian intransigence and demands. Israel in bad standing empowers their leaders; and if the tensions arise from US pressure for concessions to the Palestinians, the latter sit back and enjoy the show. This happened in mid-2009, when Mr Mahmoud Abbas instructed Americans what to extract from Jerusalem. Conversely, when US-Israel relations flourish, Palestinian leaders feel pressure to meet Israelis, pretend to negotiate, and sign documents.

Combining these four presumptions results in a counterintuitive conclusion: Strong US-Israel ties induce irreversible Israeli mistakes. Poor US-Israel ties abort this process. Mr Obama may expect that picking a fight with Israel will produce negotiations but it will have the opposite effect. He may think he is approaching a diplomatic breakthrough but, in fact, he is rendering that less likely. Those who fear more "war process" can thus take some solace in the administration's blunders.

The complexity of US-Israel relations leaves much room for paradox and inadvertency. A look beyond a worrisome turn of events suggests that good may come of it.

The writer is director of the Middle East Forum and Taube distinguished visiting fellow at the Hoover Institution of Stanford University.








The real problem in Cyprus is not that the status quo is unsustainable," said Mr Phedon Nicolaides of the European Institute of Public Administration in an article in the Cyprus Mail last September. "On the contrary, it is that it's virtually impossible to move away from the (status quo)."

He didn't need the word "virtually". The outcome of the recent election in the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus means that the status quo that has prevailed on the divided island for the past 36 years will become permanent — but it also means that the broader strategic realities in the region will start to change. The changes will not be to the long-term advantage of the Greek-ruled Republic of Cyprus.

Most of Cyprus's people have spoken Greek for three thousand years, but there has also been a Turkish-speaking minority since the Ottoman conquest in the 16th century. The seeds of inter-communal conflict were already there under Ottoman and British imperial rule, but they only grew into a full-scale confrontation when the EOKA guerrilla movement launched its campaign to drive the British out in the 1950s.

Unfortunately, EOKA was not actually seeking independence, which the Turkish minority on the island and Turkey itself would have accepted. Its goal was 'enosis', union with Greece, although the Greek mainland was 800 km to the west and the Turkish coast was only 75 km away. Neither the Turkish-Cypriots nor Ankara would accept that, and the Turkish-Cypriots began to arm themselves too.

Turkey, Greece and Britain were all much more concerned about the Soviet threat in the region, however, so in 1960 they imposed a deal on Cyprus that gave the island independence as a binational republic. The Turkish-speaking minority got 30 per cent of the seats in Parliament and a veto on any changes in the Constitution.

Britain, Greece and Turkey all guaranteed the settlement, but it only lasted three years, mainly because EOKA remained a strong force in the island and was still determined on 'enosis'. Fighting broke out in 1963, and the Turkish-Cypriots were driven into enclaves that were effectively besieged by Greek-Cypriot forces.

The United Nations sent in a peace-keeping force that froze the situation for the next 11 years, but in 1974 the Greek military junta sponsored a bloody military coup in Cyprus. The elected Government was replaced by a band of former EOKA fighters who promised to unify the island with Greece, and Turkey called on Britain (which still had military bases in Cyprus) to fulfill its duty as guarantor and intervene.

When Britain refused, the Turks invaded. 150,000 Greek-Cypriots fled or were driven south before the advancing Turkish forces, while 50,000 Turkish-Cypriots living in the south sought safety behind the Turkish lines. When the fighting ended, all the Turkish-Cypriots were in the north, and all the Greek-Cypriots were in the south.

The Greek-Cypriots had brought disaster upon themselves by ignoring strategic realities and bidding too high, and that pattern has continued down to the present. A UN-backed proposal to reunify the island as a federal republic (with a limited right of return for the refugees) was supported by the Turkish-Cypriots but rejected by the Greek-Cypriots in parallel referendums in 2004.

On April 18 Mr Dervis Eroglu, who opposes reunification, was elected President of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, and for all practical purposes the long story reached its end. The island will remain permanently divided along the current lines, although it may be many years before other countries acknowledge that fact by formally recognising the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus.

This fact will have far-reaching consequences, for it means that Turkey will never join the EU. Without a settlement in Cyprus, the Greek veto on Turkish membership is permanent — but Greece's leverage over Turkey will vanish once Ankara abandons its quest to join the EU.

There is no reason to believe that the present Turkish Government would do anything to disturb the status quo in Cyprus. Perhaps no Turkish Government ever will. But Turkey is re-emerging as the dominant regional power after a century-long gap: Greece is no match for it, and the EU is not a military organisation.

Greek-Cypriots may believe that their own EU membership is an adequate guarantee of their security, but it is not. In a future where Turkey is no longer constrained by the prospect of EU membership, their security will depend mainly on Turkish goodwill.

The writer is an independent journalist based in London.






The new START bilateral nuclear arms reduction agreement between Russia and the United States was signed by Presidents Dmitry Medvedev and Barack Obama on April 8, in Prague, the Czech Republic.

The well-balanced document highlights the commitment of Moscow and Washington to continue resetting bilateral relations. The agreement also heeds Russian national interests.

At the same time, the treaty does not cover high-precision sea-launched cruise missiles, which can acquire strategic capabilities in certain conditions.

What did the parties gain from the treaty, and what did it overlook?

First of all, Moscow can deploy ground-based intercontinental ballistic missile systems with multiple independently targeted reentry vehicle warheads.

The deployment of RS-24 Yars (SS-X-29) ICBM systems will make it possible to compensate for the gradual reduction in the number of previously manufactured RS-20 Voyevoda (SS-18 Satan) heavy-class and RS-18 (SS-19 Stiletto) medium-class missiles.

The treaty places no curbs on the development of ground-based ICBMs and allows Russia to deploy new heavy-class and medium-class ICBMs.

Second, US inspectors will finally leave Votkinsk Plant State Production Association, an engineering and ballistic missile production company based in Votkinsk, which manufactures up-to-date strategic and theater-level missiles and implements R&D projects under the RSM-56 Bulava (SS-NX-30) submarine-launched ballistic missile programme.

Any foreign presence in Votkinsk is undesirable because the city is the mainstay of the national missile potential.

Third, both parties will exchange telemetric information on a voluntary and mutual basis. The relevant exchange mechanism is still unclear because the US has stopped manufacturing new ground-based ICBMs long ago and conducts few ballistic-missile tests.

Although it is possible to exchange telemetric information of prototype Russian offensive systems and US defensive systems, Washington is not prepared for such transparency levels yet.

Fourth, Russia would have had to reduce the number of strategic delivery vehicles, no matter what, because it is unable to extend their service life all the time. The situation was aggravated by insufficient missile procurement volumes and by several abortive Bulava-30 test launches. For a long time the Russian Defence Ministry annually bought 6-7 RT-2UTTKh Topol-M (SS-27 Sickle B) single-warhead ICBMs.

Under the new rules, Moscow has only 608 deployed strategic delivery vehicles with 1,915 nuclear warheads. Consequently, Russia already meets the treaty's launch vehicle ceilings and can easily reduce the number of warheads down to required levels. At the same time, Moscow can retain numerous operationally inactive stockpiled nuclear warheads that will give it an edge over such nuclear powers as France, the United Kingdom or China.

But we should not think that the US is voluntarily reducing the number of its launch vehicles. This reduction is largely made possible by their adaption to conventional warheads. Notably, four refitted Ohio class nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines already carry Tomahawk conventional SLCMs. Strategic bombers are also being refitted in a similar manner. This makes it possible to expand the tremendous US non-nuclear high-precision weapons potential.

This process will continue under the new treaty because the 14 US ballistic missile submarines carry 336 SLBMs. Moreover, the US has 450 Minuteman-3 (LGM-30G) ICBMs and at least 60 nuclear-capable strategic bombers. Previously, 200 bombers were listed in this category. This makes up for 846 strategic delivery vehicles, exceeding maximum delivery vehicle ceilings.


It should be noted that America's conventional high-precision weapons have a serious destabilising potential. For instance, conventional Tomahawk SLCMs have a maximum range of 1,300 km, whereas nuclear-tipped Tomahawks have a maximum range of 2,500 km. They can therefore be classed among medium-range missiles in terms of this parameter. Four Ohio class submarines, as well as Los Angeles nuclear-powered fast attack submarines, Seawolf class and Virginia class attack submarines, Arleigh Burke class guided missile destroyers and Ticonderoga class missile cruisers are equipped with such cruise missiles.

Although they can carry about 6,600 cruise missiles, US Navy warships have between 2,800 and 3,600 Tomahawk cruise missiles of various modified versions. Tomahawk launchers are also used to fire anti-ship and surface-to-air missiles.

The writer is Scientific Secretary of the Russian Academy of Sciences' Coordinating Council for Prognostication.








UNION Home Minister P Chidambaram said the only thing a democratic government could have said about tapping the phones of fellow politicians— that the records show that no phone tapping of political leaders was " authorised" by the government. For obvious reasons under no circumstances would a government admit that it could actually authorise such an action.


Mr Chidambaram's assertion that intelligence agencies functioned within the law, and were fully accountable to the government would have been easier to accept had he told us precisely what the government did to ensure this was so. Most democratic countries have an inspector- general or ombudsman to ensure that such agencies, which have wide powers of covert surveillance, keep within the bounds of the law. Further, there is almost always a system of political oversight over the departments, a process in which senior figures of the Opposition are also involved.


In the absence of either measure, we can take the government's words only at facevalue.


The record of agencies like the Central Bureau of Investigation shows that their default mode is to be the political handmaiden of the government of the day.


The Opposition, too, must ask itself whether it has been as vigilant of people's rights as it claims to be. It has permitted the passage of draconian legislation such as the Information Technology Act of 2008 ( notified last October) which allows government sweeping powers to block internet content and legalises phone tapping, allegedly in a controlled environment.


Whether or not we can get to the bottom of this episode remains to be seen. However, this is a good opportunity for the Opposition to insist that the government put in place some real checks on the powers that they have given to security agencies on the issue.







THE Board of Control for Cricket in India ( BCCI) has replaced Indian Premier League ( IPL) chairman and commissioner Lalit Modi with Chirayu Amin, a long- time cricket administrator and businessman.


Does this mean that the BCCI will suddenly transform itself into a best- practices organisation? Unlikely. The BCCI has always been opaque, and to expect it to open up its doors to financial and moral scrutiny is something we need to hope for, rather than expect.


Yet, this is the perfect opportunity for the BCCI— and its sub- committee, the IPL— to reclaim positive mindspace among cricket fans, advertisers and the general public.


There is so much dirt flying around with allegations and counter- allegations between BCCI president Shashank Manohar and Mr Modi that it is almost impossible that a true picture would emerge soon. Or ever.


The IPL is now the world's most lucrative cricketing tournament, and its popularity has soared since its first edition in 2008. It may be a purist's nightmare, but it is also true that IPL brings in the big bucks and a great deal of entertainment.


Mr Manohar says that the IPL will now give equal importance to commerce and ethics. We certainly hope this will be so.






THE Supreme Court is right to quash the Punjab Assembly's expulsion of former Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh for his alleged involvement in the Amritsar land allotment scam. The verdict makes it clear that a state legislature does not have the power to deprive a former chief minister of his House membership for executive decisions taken during his tenure, even if there are grounds to suspect that he may have bent rules. It also sets right the anomalous situation where a CM of a state during the term of its 12th Assembly saw himself being punished by the 13th.


The move had set a dangerous precedent.


We could have every other government expelling the CM of its predecessor on some pretext. The court has also pointed out that no ' breach of privilege' was made out against Mr Singh for the Assembly to exercise its power under Article 194( 3) of the Constitution.


If Mr Singh has done something wrong it is for the criminal justice system to punish him, as also the people who sent him as their representative to the legislature.








There is much in Arundhati Roy's writings and pronouncements that I have little difficulty, at least with certain qualifications, in accepting. I agree that Indian democracy is far from perfect. I agree that successive regimes in India, at the Centre and at the level of the states, have short- changed vast sections of Indian people, mostly the poor and the marginalised. I think that the continuation of outfits like the Salwa Judum is an abomination and no civilised society ought to tolerate such vigilante groups.


I am with Roy when she says that the lifestyles and livelihood of the adivasis is under grave threat in the name of harebrained ideas of progress and development.


I also agree that P. Chidambaram is a disaster as Home Minister and has scant political sense and no vision, the proverbial man without qualities. At the same time, I dislike Roy's illusions of certainty, her self- righteousness, her inability to go beyond self- serving monologues and her prophetic tone.




Arundhati Roy's essays remind me of two people. Their length and their tone of moral certitude remind me of Arun Shourie, the journalist. He landed ultimately in the BJP and now endorses every crime and misdemeanour of the BJP, including the 2002 post- Godhra riots and Narendra Modi's role during that period. The second person that Roy's writings remind me of is Carl Schmitt.


Those unfamiliar with Schmitt would do well to remember that he was Hitler's apologist, who wrote tracts that

supported the Nazi regime. He found liberal democracy and parliamentarianism impotent and mediocre ways of organiaing human societies. But even today, he is studied seriously for suggesting that in the age of technology, the only political relationship that is feasible is the one between friend and foe. The political for him lies in identifying the enemy and eliminating the enemy. There is, therefore, always an in- group and an outgroup, those who belong and those who do not.


While Roy might use the word " fascist" as a term of abuse, she is hardly aware that she, perhaps

unconsciously, shares much with one of the most articulate and thoughtful apologists of the Nazi regime.


In romanticising the naxals and justifying their violence, she is merely a victim of a philosophy that designates virtue and moral superiority to one section of the population and delineates the rest as morally and ethically compromised. It would be perfectly right to say that the naxals imitate the criminality of the state ( a phrase paraphrased from Marx, no less), but to justify violence as a legitimate means of redressal of grievances is plainly silly.




Roy justifies naxal violence by adding emotive elements on to the question of naxal violence. Hunger and the loneliness of the forests in her eyes justifies this brand of violence. Let us take the question of hunger first. The assumption implicit in Roy's argument is that once people are understanding, but because she is incapable of holding a conversation with anyone other than those that agree with her.


This instinct has two sources. The first comes from the fear that she will lose her identity if she ceased to be marginal. Her marginality is her advertisement, and excess of anything, as Lenin's Russia taught us, is advertisement. The second is a degree of Platonism, where politics is seen as a relentless tutorial in the hands of a few chosen wise men and women.


These wise men and women, it is assumed, have seen the Light and have truth and God on their side. Everyone

else lives under a veil of ignorance, incapable of perceiving their true interests and what is good for society as a whole.


The reason why Roy finds Gandhi to be pious humbug stems from the above reasons.


Gandhi, with all his faults, did not divide the world into friend and foe. He did not believe in winning wars

quickly and expeditiously. If delay in getting justice be the price to pay for simple ideas of decency and civility,

Gandhi was patient enough to wait, sacrifice and endure, rather than let the wild beasts of the forest rule our

world. Aurobindo Ghosh asked Devdas Gandhi what the Mahatma would have done in the face of an adversary

like Hitler, who was different from the imperial, but fundamentally liberal, British rule. Gandhi thought it would

be right for millions to happily die in the gas chambers than compromise on ideas of civility and decency.




Roy finds Gandhi redundant because his politics depended on a certain degree of theatricality and the presence of an audience, something denied to the naxals and the tribals. This is right in a way, since even Roy, the city- dwelling champion of those in the forest, has to invoke Gandhi in order to be heard in order to carry off her own piece of theatre. She obviously knows that the modern Indian state has nothing to do with either Gandhian ideas or with Gandhian methods.


Had she said Manmohan Singh is pious humbug or Sonia Gandhi is pious humbug, foreign newspapers would

hardly have reproduced her article in their pages. Both Mont Blanc and Arundhati Roy need Gandhi, after all, to sell their products.


Having said this, Roy is " right" that Gandhi has little to say about the plight of the naxals and tribals, and even

much less about the mining sharks and the marauding multinationals active in India.


But he also did not have much to say about the cell phone, the ipod and cybercrime.


In sharp contrast, Roy is better placed in having a view about all things known and unknown.


She suffers from no degree of doubt, has little sense of irony and no humour. Along with the BJP and certain strands of the loony Left, she has opened her own National Bureau of Moral Certification.


We now await the founding of her autonomous republic, where the heart will always be full, but the mind empty.


The writer teaches politics at the University of Hyderabad









LAST week, the Andhra Pradesh government led by K Rosaiah took two crucial decisions: first, it increased the power tariff for industrial and commercial sectors, fetching around Rs 3,000 crore to the state exchequer; second, it slashed the number of seats meant for students from rural areas in the three Indian Institutes of Information Technology ( IIITs) by 50 per cent, which would reduce the burden on the state exchequer by Rs 300 crore.


These are very bold decisions and one must admit that Rosaiah has taken calculated risks.


Though he has been claiming in every meeting that he would continue, in letter and spirit, the populist schemes

promised by YSR such as free power supply to farmers, rice at Rs 2 per kg, pensions, reimbursement of scholarships to students etc., he has been feeling the burden of the crippled situation of the state finances. Having been the finance minister of the state for several decades, he knows that implementation of such populist schemes would have serious consequences for the state exchequer. At the same time, he cannot withdraw the schemes as it would have severe political repercussions.


A few days ago, the Planning Commission, during a meeting with state government officials, took serious note of the financial implications of YSR's populist schemes and suggested that the government deal with the schemes on their merit.


Rosaiah began doing exactly that. He examined the welfare and developmental programmes initiated by YSR and instructed officials to focus on only those schemes which required immediate attention. For instance, under the Jalayagnam project, a flagship programme of the YSR government, he asked the officials to release funds to only those irrigation projects which could be completed within the scheduled time.


Secondly, he indefinitely deferred YSR's twin pre- poll promises of increasing the monthly quota of subsidised rice from 20 kg to 30 kg per family and raising the duration of free power supply to agriculture from seven hours to nine hours per day. Instead, he ordered weeding out of bogus ration cards on the pretext that it was essential to implementing the rice quota hike. It is said that there is also a plan to regulate the free power supply to farmers and restrict it only to the poorest among them, so as to check indiscriminate agricultural power consumption. Y et another promise of YSR, that is to reimburse the college fees of students from weaker sections, has also taken a backseat because of the huge financial burden. The recent cut in the number of seats in IIITs from 6,000 to 3,000 is also aimed at reducing this burden. Being a shrewed politician, Rosaiah does not want to take the entire blame on himself. At every cabinet meeting, he impresses upon his Cabinet colleagues that they have a collective responsibility for all these decisions. He involves the ministers in examining every decision and makes them responsible for implementing it. As a result, the ministers are compelled to defend Rosaiah's decisions, stating that they were inevitable due to the precarious financial position of the state.


However, Rosaiah's detractors within the Congress led by Kadapa MP Y S Jaganmohan Reddy, are highly critical of these decisions. Jagan has just concluded a whirlwind tour of the West Godavari and Kadapa districts, invoking the spirit of his father, the late Y S Rajasekhara Reddy, and indirectly attacking the Rosaiah government for dumping YSR's schemes one after the other.


And Jagan has taken a vow that he would bring back the golden era of his father sooner or later.


For those who have seen only aggressive and rabble- rousing public representatives of Majlis- e- Ittehadul Muslimeen ( MIM), the political party of Muslims in Hyderabad, the nomination of Syed Amin- ul- Hasan Jafri for the ensuing Legislative Council elections has come as a welcome change.


Jafri, who has nearly 38 years of journalistic experience, having worked with prominent media houses including Deccan Chronicle, Newstime, Rediff. com, Reuters, AFP, is considered a liberal Muslim intellectual and a walking encyclopedia of state politics. Though he has a long association with political parties by virtue of being a journalist, he has never evinced interest in politics and always maintained a lowprofile even in his writings.


So, it is but natural that Jafri's entry into politics, particularly from the MIM, has raised many eyebrows. It is for the first time since its inception six decades ago that the MIM has fielded a non- political person for the Legislative Council. However, Jafri has been sort of a political advisor to MIM president Asaduddin Owaisi, giving him intellectual inputs on various issues to be raised in the Assembly and Parliament.


Perhaps thats why he was chosen for the MLC seat. " By fielding Jafri for the Council seat, we want to acknowledge the fact the society needs not just politicians but intellectuals as well," said Owaisi. One hopes that Jafri would bring a welcome relief from the aggressive and communal politics of the MIM.



MEDIA persons in the state are fuming and fretting at Chief Minister K Rosaiah these days. Reason: the Chief Minister appointed senior IPS officer P S R Anjayeulu as Commissioner of Police, Vijayawada, much against the demands of the Press Council of India.


The PCI conducted a detailed inquiry into the high- handed behaviour of the police led by Anjaneyulu, who was then a Joint Commissioner of Police in Hyderabad, against media persons covering the police atrocities in Osmania University in February during the Telangana agitation. The PCI, in its recommendations sent to the Chief Secretary, wanted disciplinary action to be taken against three top cops, including Anjaneyulu, Mahesh Chandra Laddha and K Ramachandra, who had indiscriminately beaten up the journalists and damaged their equipment and vehicles. It also recommended that these officers should not be given any key postings.


But within a week of the PCI submitting its report, Rosaiah promoted Anjaneyulu to the rank of DIG and posted him as the Vijayawada Police Commissioner. This angered journalists, who, under the auspices of the Andhra Pradesh Union of Working Journalists, protested against the appointment. They also reminded that the High Court had severely indicted Anjaneyulu. But Rosaiah bluntly said that he was not bound by the PCI recommendations and would go by the rules. The journalists are now gearing up for a big fight with the government.








This IPL is going to be remembered as much for off-the-field action as the actual cricket itself. Nothing summed that up better than the suspension of IPL chairman Lalit Modi, universally credited for putting together the tournament, even as its final was on. On Monday, the IPL governing council, without the presence of Modi, unanimously appointed Chirayu Amin, head of the Baroda Cricket Association, interim chairman of the league. The council has also slapped 22 charges of impropriety against Modi, including accepting kickbacks while assigning the telecast rights to IPL matches.

The BCCI has taken this drastic action in the wake of the ugly controversies surrounding the IPL, beginning with allegations that the bidding for the latest franchisees was rigged. But the way it has gone about it leaves much to be desired. For one, it seems Modi is being made the scapegoat whereas logically the IPL governing council should collectively be answerable to charges of impropriety. Two, it's not just Modi who faces conflict of interest issues; there are others in the IPL governing council in the same boat. Three, why did the BCCI wait so long before getting its act together?

At present, the board's chief administrative officer has been entrusted the job of looking into the records and documents of the IPL. But if there is to be real transparency, an inquiry must be conducted by people from outside the BCCI. The implications of the IPL mess, which has claimed a Union minister, go much beyond cricket. The income tax authorities have begun conducting raids to seize documents related to the bidding process and other financial transactions of the IPL. As some have suggested, lessons could be learned from the Satyam example where an independent body was set up to go into the company's financial impropriety. For IPL, too, a regulatory body comprising people with impeccable credentials, including former cricketers, could be set up to probe the various allegations. This would be a better alternative than a parliamentary probe, which could end up taking too much time and, besides, spare the politicians.

The IPL controversy involves too much money and far too many people for it to be left to the BCCI alone. In a short span of three years, the IPL is being rated as one of the richest sporting leagues in the world. If the IPL brand is to regain its credibility, the BCCI must ensure that the clean-up is thorough and the functioning of cricket bodies becomes more transparent. Only then will it restore the confidence of investors and millions of cricket fans.






It's a unique way of narrating a nation in numbers. But does the census give a correct picture of India? Or, is it an exercise where we are forced to limit ourselves in predetermined categories? Take the case of religion. The census records the religious identity of all Indian citizens. It is assumed that each citizen firmly believes in one religion and holds allegiance only to that religion. It discounts the possibility that there may be people who derive their faith from multiple religious sources which, in fact, is not so unusual in India. There is no space for an atheist or an agnostic in the scheme of the census. It is time the census makes provision for all these categories of people to record their beliefs.

It is presumptuous on the part of the state to slot citizens into predetermined religious selves discounting the fact that faith is a fluid concept and keeps evolving. The faithful don't always respect the boundaries the state or the clergy draws to differentiate between different faiths. The state must respect the syncretism that the faithful uphold. Allow a person to be enumerated as Mohammedan-Hindu, as some communities used to be described in the past, or as a follower of Christ and of Krishna, if she wishes so. Separate categories could also be conceived for religion by birth and religion by belief. There is nothing exotic or unusual about this demand because many Indic traditions have evolved by drawing from different fountains of faith and by sharing texts and tenets. There are, of course, puritans who oppose such collaborative exercises in the search for Truth. By refusing to admit syncretic categories of faith, the census, inadvertently, contributes to the consolidation of religious communities as favoured by conservative sections within them.







We're not alone, suggests celebrated scientist Stephen Hawking. The universe has 100 billion galaxies, so it's logical to expect life to exist out there. True. Given that a single galaxy contains hundreds of millions of stars, we can scarcely cling to an inflexible belief in earth's monopoly on life. But it's harder to support Hawking's idea that we earthlings shouldn't try to contact extraterrestrials. Human nature, he argues, is a clue that visitors from outer space may be hostile. If men have fought, looted and plundered down history, aliens too may be resource-seeking raiders. We should, therefore, lie low rather than court devastation by encountering space nomads on possible missions of inter-galactic conquest and colonization.

Hawking's position is deeply problematic. Pursuit of knowledge is science's defining core. This quest bears risks that can't always be pre-assessed. Abiding optimism is yet the basis of the scientific enterprise, not fear that paralyses. Science means pushing frontiers from particle physics to space probes and space may not even be the final frontier. Also, seeing everything in their own image is a peculiar and dangerous proclivity humans need to overcome. To believe extraterrestrials will be a mirror image of man that too of his darker side is to lean on an anthropocentrism that has no scientific basis.

If anything, the earth's biodiversity itself suggests the universe may bear life in multifarious forms. And even if intelligent aliens exist and do resemble us, it's hubris to think they couldn't have superior social organisations or moral systems based on civilized values like non-violence and harmony. Why should they necessarily be evil rather than good? The point is simple. Aliens may come with fangs bared. Or they may come in peace. If we being true to the best in the human spirit don't reach out to them, we'll never know, will we?






The ministry of corporate affairs released a document, Corporate Social Responsibility Voluntary Guidelines 2009, sometime ago. In a nutshell, this document urges corporate India to voluntarily adopt CSR so that statutory regulations may not be imposed, something the present government seems reluctant to do. It also suggests that this stance could be revisited in a year's time to review the scenario based on the response received

rom various industries.

In essence, the document was a positive, forward-thinking move by the government as is evident from its view that CSR must not be seen as philanthropy and, in fact, needs to be stated in writing and merged with core business vision and goals. It further stated the need to set goals and metrics to measure performance in this area, set in place independent audits of the same, and to communicate CSR activities and spends to internal and external stakeholders.

The core elements of the paper are somewhat open-ended relating to stakeholder rights, human rights, ethical functioning, environment and social and inclusive development. On the other hand, the implementation mechanisms are more focused and structured. Partnerships with NGOs, knowledge sharing between firms and collaboration are the three main thrusts in terms of implementation of CSR-related activities.

Some important recommendations are that companies must commit and dedicate a certain percentage of profits to CSR and those that do not do so ought to communicate to their shareholders their reason for so abstaining. It is further suggested that companies should try to actively influence their supply chain in this matter. The document suggests that companies should network with peers, exchange information on CSR and collaborate amongst themselves and relevant civil society organisations where necessary.

These guidelines are explicitly voluntary. However, it is mentioned that unless the industry response and action are swift and positive, the government may consider making the same mandatory. Two aspects come immediately to mind when faced with such a scenario. One, since governments are influenced by the needs of the corporate community, new laws that constrain corporate behaviour are only likely to be established if they align with (or at least do not undermine) competitive opportunities for the major market players. A case in point is the reaction of industries to the talk of affirmative action.

Second, no matter how comprehensive rules and regulations are, they are ineffective unless regularly monitored to ensure compliance. For credible monitoring systems, there has to be transparency and independence, both of which must by their very nature be voluntary for the most part.

While the government must realise that its role should essentially remain that of a facilitator, the corporate sector must realise that organisations can successfully and profitably address all three elements of the 'triple bottom line' and, in doing so, become innovative. Management, innovation and sustainability research is increasingly demonstrating that sustainability can open doors to new business models and engage new markets. This has to be done by strengthening links with supply chains, and engaging with local communities, governments, NGOs and even competitors as laid down by the government document.

While India Inc has been progressive about CSR, not all companies have active engagements in this area and it is unlikely that all will, at least not voluntarily. However, the number of companies that have made public commitments to environmental protection, social justice and equity as well as economic development is increasingly on the rise and continues to grow. This trend will be reinforced if shareholders and other stakeholders support and reward companies that conduct their operations in the spirit of sustainability.

A question that comes to mind at this point is whether stakeholders such as customers and civil society have power and influence over corporate India in this matter. The answer is no. In India, customers do not judge companies based on CSR activities but on brand equity. As such, domestic consumer consciousness in relation to cleaner technologies, community development, diversity policies, etc, is non-existent.

Further, the role of civil society in this area as compared to its influence and lobby in the West is limited. While there have been instances of civil society organisations influencing industries, these have been few and far between. Also, these have had more to do with the negative consequences of a company or an industry's actions (such as pollution control or infant food) rather than a push to constructive work. With estimates of close to two million NGOs in the country, it is imperative that the sector organises itself to act as an independent auditor advising and informing corporate India about its performance and lags.

The emerging global reality for businesses is that CSR can no longer be viewed as an optional project, but has to be seen as an intrinsic part of business, a way of life. The CSR guidelines are more likely to succeed because they have a basis on industry consensus and dialogue, and this is something the government will do well to keep in mind.






When one of the world's leading cosmologists delivers his considered opinion on something intrinsically connected to his area of expertise, it pays to sit up and pay attention. The first part of Stephen Hawking's argument that somewhere in the universe, alien life is certain to exist is really not problematic at all. True, we have found no concrete evidence of this, but this proves nothing except our extremely limited capabilities. To believe that in a universe with trillions of stars, life has evolved on just one planet would be an act of monstrous, misguided anthropocentrism. And that leads to the second part of Hawking's argument. If we have not been able to effectively explore even our solar system, what makes us so eager to find life on other planets, and is it reasonable to search for it? The answers, in order, are 'misguided optimism' and 'no'.

For once, ironically, Hollywood might be right on this issue. While the numerous alien invasion movies it has churned out over the decades might be over the top and entirely lacking in coherence in many instances, their basic premise holds true what reason do we have for assuming that any alien life we come into contact with will be well disposed to us? If we do find more developed alien life forms or they find us they are far more likely to perceive us as alien elements in their environment and react accordingly. And if they have technical capabilities more advanced than humanity, it could be curtains for us.

As Hawking says, we need only look at ourselves to realise the likelihood of such a scenario. Our history is littered with the bones of conquered peoples. In any contact between two alien groups, uncertainty and resultant hostility are always likely to be the dominant factors, with the more powerful group trying to exploit the weaker.






Not too many people have been able to master the art of parking a car in our busy cities. In recent times, with cars having gotten bigger, and egos bigger still, the task has become next to impossible. In earlier days, while planning the day, one did not have to factor in the extra time it would take to deposit one's car in a comfortable slot. Nowadays, in some cases, you could arrive at a meeting 20 minutes late simply on account of parking woes.

The number of vehicles on our roads has boomed so significantly that finding appropriate parking spaces for all of them is a humungous job. Certain other extraneous influences have also contributed to creating this unhappy situation for motorists. To start with, some big-car owners have the tendency to be in a tearing hurry while parking their monsters, and so position their cars at angles that take away at least three slots. These couldn't-

care-less gentlemen can safely be labelled as 'spoil-sports'.

Then there are the 'obstructionists': those who park their four-wheelers behind those already parked, thereby getting an earful when they finally return from their shopping, for having delayed the poor occupants of the blocked vehicle, and having made them miss the beginning of a movie, or whatever.

Next up, there are the 'novice-parkers': drivers who just do not know how to manoeuvre their cars into the narrow spaces available, thus holding up those behind them inordinately, and ultimately having to seek an expert's help to do the needful.

Even worse are the 'snatchers'. They are those who, though well aware that a vehicle-owner is politely awaiting the exit of another car, rush their machines into the vacant area in a flash, thereby turning the well-mannered driver of the waiting car into a fist-pumping angry young (or old) man.

The 'extremists' are those who park their cars so close to others that the neighbours cannot enter their own vehicles without acting like contortionists and wriggling through the narrowest of angles in order to get in. There are also the 'day-spenders': those couples who view parking slots as places to spend a day cosily, and who do not emerge from their cars at all, having found the ideal setting for their discussions, or for other activities.

I myself fall in an entirely different category, that of the 'parchi-loser'. It is quite a mystery to me how i manage, without fail, to lose the small slip that parking-lot attendants hand over to me. Try as i might, keeping it safely in my wallet or in my shirt-pocket or elsewhere, i can never find it when it is time to leave. Luckily for me, the other occupants of my car normally do not look like car-thieves or the attendant in question would never allow us to exit. A recent incident amply highlighted the travails of the modern-day car-owner. Here's what happened. One worthy found a car positioned right behind his own, and having no time to lose, he decided to try to push the offending object away. He prayed that it was in neutral gear and, happily, it was. Having discovered amazing reserves of strength and having managed to get the other car to move sufficiently away from his, he discovered to his horror that it had hit a mini-slope, and wouldn't stop! The resultant thud, bang and crash were heard many a mile away. Soon enough our friend had not one but two offended vehicle-owners to deal with. There was much pushing around thereafter, but it did not involve the cars.


Our man made a pledge that day. He decided never to use his car again, and to depend only on public transport. After all, he reckoned, the best place to park the car was at home.








British general elections, at the best of times, tend to be cheerless affairs: not only are the candidates themselves drab (none more so than the dour Scotsman, Gordon Brown), but the very silence of the process can be a bit deafening to anyone used to the theatre of Indian campaigns.

A series of three American-style pre-election television debates was meant to spice up things. But theatre? Let's just say it resembles a three-hour-long serious British play full of 'dramatic pauses.'

Pitting Labour's Brown against David Cameron of the Conservative party and Nick Clegg of the Liberal Democrats, the debates have something of ritual British tidiness about them. The three candidates wear dark suits with single-colour ties, though a different colour on each appearance.

There are three television channels, and they take turns to air the debates. And, in an elaborate game of musical chairs, each candidate gets to stand in the centre of the stage at least once. Perhaps it is all meant to symbolise the widely-expected hung parliament.

And so it came as a welcome relief when Labour called reporters recently to cover an impromptu visit by Foreign Secretary David Miliband to the Guru Singh Sabha gurudwara in Southall, the largest Sikh temple outside India. Welcomed by a phalanx of residents of the world's most famous Indian diaspora neighbourhood, the minister tied a bright orange patka on his head before being escorted in by local MP Virendra Sharma.

This is another time-tested ritual of the British election campaign, perhaps borrowed from India — minister makes his way to a South Asian neighbourhood, visits places of worship and tucks into a plate of hot curry; local MP gets to show off the important visitor; minister trundles off back to Whitehall, happily assured of Asian votes.

But the great thing about this process is that it brings a tiny bit of noise and colour into the campaign. As Miliband left the gurudwara, having taken its delicious langar, a group of Punjabi dhol players appeared from nowhere and struck up a boisterous rhythm.

And infectious it was too. Now all of a sudden, members of Miliband's team (also in orange patkas) were walking in a strange and bouncy gait — somewhere halfway between the full-on Bhangra dance and a diffident shake of the leg.

Sharma was beaming, skipping in order to keep up with the tall Miliband who strode youthfully at the head of the joyous group.

The young Punjabi dhol players led the procession, dancing and bounding their way past smiling shopkeepers as the familiar theatre of an Indian campaign briefly roused a corner of suburban London.

In the last few days before polling, loudspeakers will give the campaign the ultimate Indian touch — clearly, a carefully calibrated raising of pitch (and volume).

"But we're always careful when entering non-Indian streets," said Southall Labour veteran Ranjit Dheer. "They don't like too much noise there."





Through Sunday night, India's most talked about reality show, the Indian Premier League, was temporarily eclipsed by India's most popular sporting event, the Indian Premier League. The final match itself was an extraordinary affair, played between one team led by India's favourite sportsman Sachin Tendulkar and the other, led by the Indian cricket team captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni. Even purists, unable to stomach the Twenty20 format of the game — and for whom the IPL has been a tossed salad of top-class cricketers and those of the more garden variety — had to recognise that the tournament in its third chapter has been an unstoppable juggernaut. For seven straight weeks, the imagination of a nation with the attention span of a humming bird's wing flaps was hooked to the sporting spectacle. That despite the off-the-field din about malpractices and shady deals, the noisy sports festival managed to reach a fitting climax with the IPL trophy being lofted by the Chennai Super Kings is a testament to how successful the tournament has been.

Which is exactly why the IPL needs to be saved. Some would say that since April 11, when Lalit Modi decided to turn the tournament into a stadium-sized battle of egos, the IPL brand was destroyed. The fact that the IPL has been battered by charges and countercharges of corruption and wheeling-dealings cannot be doubted. Mr Modi's sheer talent to create and firm up a $4 billion-plus industry cannot hide the fact that something equally gargantuan and unsavoury in its business practices has come out in the public domain. This thick patina of sleaze must be removed.

While the media, hungry to fill up every incremental gap in a developing story, has been feeding off leaks and allegations, at the core of the issue lies the need to keep the IPL baby and throw out the muddy bathwater. This can be done only by having a transparent IPL in place, where the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) cleans its stables, if for nothing else, but to make a very successful sporting brand not become synonymous with corporate thievery and shenanigans. It was evident on Sunday night, when players including Tendulkar and Dhoni spoke about the success of the IPL and how they look forward to next year's tournament, how much of a success the IPL has been. It's wrong to think that the tournament's survival depends on under-the-table deals. Make it a fully transparent, professional body and everyone can reap the rewards of one of the biggest mega-events in the world without being having to be tarnished by muck.





Picture this scenario. You're pottering around your house minding your own business when suddenly there's a flash of coloured lights on your balcony. From a flying saucer-like object, out step little scaly men, their heads wobbling on green stem-like necks. "Take us to your leader," they say. Do you engage them in banter, invite them in for a gin and tonic or direct them to Lalit Modi for a possible inter-galactic IPL series? None of the above if you were to take astrophysicist Stephen Hawking's advice seriously.

Professor Hawking says that instead of scanning the skies hoping that some alien life form will contact you, please don't have stars in your eyes about what could exist in the swirling galaxies light years away. Avoid all contact with ETs. They are likely to be predators who may raid the Earth for its resources. The poor man seems to think that this will frighten us Earthlings. But we don't need any scaly number from Andromeda to come around and loot and plunder. Why, we could teach them a lesson or two in the subject of the scorched earth policy on vital resources. Hawking also thinks that a visit from some supernova could be risky. Clearly, the aliens he has in mind have not been to some of our inner city areas where some of the sights would be enough for an automatic gender change in any alien.

If the aliens are indeed predators, we have sent them enough signals that they would be quite at home here. Look how efficiently we have used up our forests, sucked dry our clean water bodies, gently fouled the air and stuffed our faces with transfats. We have nothing to fear. So, to the professor we say, we're not all that keen to have more plunderers in our midst, we are doing a good job ourselves. But if they decide to drop in, they might be shopping for spares to get back up into the black hole if we have our way.






Minutes after the Indian Premier League 3 final match ended, IPL chief Lalit Modi was suspended from his post. So far, the scandalous exposures of a massive scam appear only to be the tip of the iceberg. Parliament continues to be rocked by the demand for a Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC) to investigate this scam. The IPL is turning out to be a savage expression of 'crony capitalism'. The prime minister, on several occasions, had decried that India can ill-afford 'crony capitalism'. His sincerity will be tested on this score by the government's acceptance, or otherwise, of constituting a JPC.

Meanwhile, various parts of the country are today experiencing a nationwide hartal called by 13 Left and secular Opposition parties protesting against the relentless rise in the prices of all essential commodities. The contrast between the IPL and below poverty line (BPL) India cannot be more stark. The people's mounting anger at their economic hardships continues with the inflation rate that stands at 9.89 per cent. It is way ahead of the Reserve Bank of India's revised target of 8.5 per cent. Worse is the fact that food inflation stands at 17.22 per cent.

There is a newfound euphoria regarding the so-called 'recovery' of the Indian economy overcoming global recession. This is based on the fact that the index of industrial production (IIP) grew at 17.6 per cent in December 2009, 16.7 per cent in January 2010 and 15.1 per cent in February.

Notwithstanding the low base of last year due to global recession, these may appear to be healthy rates of growth. There is, however, a very important fact hidden behind these aggregate figures. Within this high IIP growth rate is the fact that consumer durables (automobiles, refrigerators, TVs, etc) grew by 29.9 per cent while consumer non-durables (mainly food and other articles of daily consumption) grew by a mere 2.3 per cent. This is for the month of February 2010. For the year 2009-10, the average growth of consumer non-durables was just 1.6 per cent as compared to 25.75 per cent for consumer durables.

It is universally accepted that the consumption of non-durable items is driven by low and middle income consumers, who spend a bulk of their money on food and not so much on consumer durables. The credit rating agency, Information and Credit Rating Agency (Icra), states in its latest report that "inflation has affected the purchasing power of the lower income group, especially food inflation, and that is reflecting in the deceleration of growth in the consumer non-durables sector". This clearly shows that the vast majority of the people continue to suffer due to this relentless rise in the prices of essential commodities.

Under these circumstances, it was widely expected that the UPA 2 government would use the much tom-tommed National Food Security Act as its new mascot.  Perhaps, the absence of the Left's pressure (unlike UPA 1 where this pressure led to the implementation of the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme) is preventing this government from implementing its own election pledges: "The Indian National Congress pledges to enact a Right to Food law that guarantees access to sufficient food for all people, particularly the most vulnerable sections of society."

Echoing this, the president, in her first address to the joint Parliament session after the UPA 2 government came to power, said: "My government proposes to enact a new law — the National Food Security Act — that will provide a statutory basis for a framework which assures food security for all." The draft of such an Act that's currently circulating neither guarantees 'access' nor does it provide 'sufficient food'. There is very little for 'all' people and nothing for the 'most vulnerable sections'. The National Advisory Council, recently resurrected under Sonia Gandhi's leadership, seems to have prevailed to ensure 35 kg of foodgrains per BPL family per month as against the initially proposed 25 kg.

UPA 2, however, is failing to reach a consensus on the very number of BPL families that exist. The Planning Commission currently estimates it at 65.2 million. However, the Suresh Tendulkar Committee, appointed by the Planning Commission, estimates the BPL population as 83.2 million. In contrast, the number of BPL cards issued by state governments totals 108.68 million. Clearly, if food security is to be seen in the limited scope of providing only foodgrains, even then they should reach at least 108.68 million people. The National Commission for Enterprises in the Unorganised Sector has estimated that at least 77 per cent of our population survives on less than Rs 20 a day. This may be the closest approximation of 'Real India'. Food security in its complete sense, however, must embrace nutrition security — apart from other aspects determining the quality of life.

Given the Indian reality of an unacceptably high maternal mortality and child malnutrition— at 46 per cent (twice the rate in sub-Saharan Africa) — nothing short of a universal public distribution system (PDS) would be sufficient to change the situation. Every adult resident — not family — of the country must be covered by the PDS with entitlements of 14 kg of cereals per month at Rs 2 per kg, 1.5 kg of pulses at Rs 20 per kg and 800 gms of cooking oil at Rs 35 per kg with children getting half the entitlements. Also, ration cards should be made in the name of the female head of the household. The National Food Security Act must contain these entitlements if the aim is to assure food security for all. If thousands of crores of rupees can be made to feed the IPL, then, surely, resources can — and must — be found to guarantee food security for BPL India.

Sitaram Yechury is CPI(M) Politburo member and Rajya Sabha MP 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






It may appear unfair that Goldman Sachs, the giant investment bank, has become a catch-all for the world's new contempt for Wall Street, and international finance in general. After all, they survived, and even prospered. But two things militate against sympathy for Goldman. First, prospering partly because their major competitors collapsed. And second, there's the fear that some of that prosperity — and survival — came because they profited off insider knowledge that the securities they sold were doomed to tank in value. And so they're the focus of the US Senate's bipartisan anger, and of endless jokes.


Goldman's indictment in the US for fraud — for not telling investors that some of the securities they were selling were "designed to fail" — comes at an intriguing time.


Not just because it was the same week that the bank paid out over $5 billion in bonuses ("to its fraud division", as one comic helpfully explained) but because this week, as Goldman's bosses testify on Capitol Hill and everyone is leaking their internal e-mails, a new financial regulation bill comes up before the US Senate. The bill includes tougher regulation of complex securities — derivatives — and sets up a new consumer protection agency; it also, for now, provides for an industry-financed fund meant to streamline the winding down of banks, but that might be taken out in response to Republican pressure.


These provisions, however, are being questioned anew in light of what Goldman is accused of doing. If the allegations are true, goes this line of argument, how could they have been prevented by regulation — without, that is, over-regulating the sector? Or should new law focus on ending fraud at the expense of fixing systemic problems in the West — oversized banks, insufficient leverage and liquidity requirements, and tax loopholes? Perhaps the most telling accusation — that the US is over-regulating by focusing on rules that, as we in India know, can always be circumvented by smart people, instead of on "principles-based regulation", the preferred method elsewhere, including the UK. But principles-based regulation would require that regulators not be "captured" by those they intend to regulate. As another comic pointed out: "Why are government employees filing a civil suit against Goldman Sachs? That's just going to be embarrassing in a few years when they all go back to work at Goldman Sachs."







After allegations that conversations of key political figures were tapped, the opposition has, expectedly, raised hell. L.K. Advani wrote an eloquent blogpost comparing this to Emergency-style repression, and arguing for strong protective legislation to check such surveillance. Now, the opposition is agitating for a joint parliamentary committee to investigate the issue.


This comes close on the heels of a demand for another JPC, to probe the IPL-BCCI tangle. JPCs, put together from both Houses to investigate matters of highest national importance, are rare affairs. Though they are widely perceived as the last word in rigour and impartiality, there have only been four such instances — over the Bofors scandal, over the two stock market scams in 1992 and 2001, over the cola-pesticides row in 2003. In a climate where national investigation and enforcement authorities are considered manipulable, JPCs are advocated for a neutral scrutiny. But, as the Bofors case shows, there is no guarantee that the JPC's verdict should be the last word on a politically flammable issue. As investigation goes, whether on phone tapping or the IPL, surely it is better to rely on organisations with the skills, the training and the explicit responsibility to hunt for wrongdoing.


Parliament, of course, reserves the right to weigh in on any matter it sees to be of concern. But the way the two Houses have been paralysed by serial demands for a JPC, a rarely used instrument and one that has never really been seen to have delivered adequate results, is cause for disquiet. Given that the clock is ticking on this Budget Session of Parliament and that many important bills are pending, the opposition would inspire more confidence if they facilitated discussion in the House on issues agitating them, instead of forcing repeat adjournments. Parliament is a forum where the executive is held to account. By reflexively falling upon a constant refrain — that too on a demand that has uncertain utility — opposition MPs fail to show the inventiveness needed to keep the big conversations moving in our legislatures.








Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg is not auctioning his party yet, though he may hold the key to the next UK government. LibDem grievances against the current electoral system run deep. The first-past-the-post system (the Westminster model India too employs) — apparently heavily biased towards Labour and which the pre-David Cameron Conservative Party had been even more loath to alter — could produce an outcome where Labour gets the least votes, and yet takes charge in the House of Commons by winning most seats; with a hung parliament a mere impediment. The LibDem vote is evenly distributed; Labour's heavily concentrated in urban and industrial constituencies; and the Tories get their goodies from the shires. As long as the character of most constituencies didn't change, the fight was concentrated in the "marginals", with parties vying for the few floating constituencies.


Therefore, even as all parties talk of some electoral reform, Clegg has made commitment to his blueprint for proportional representation mandatory for his support. But what he's calling for is the Single Transferable Vote, not the strict Dutch proportional representation, while Labour's been harping on Alternative Vote, so that "every MP is supported by the majority of their constituents". Officially, the Tories go as far as "equal value" for each vote by reducing discrepancies in electorate sizes.


The British electorate has changed, with old class-based party loyalties disappearing and votes becoming more fluid, altering the democratic dynamics. Thus it's argued that the mismatch between parliamentary power and political reality must go. Under a more proportional system, some say, the Tories would have had fewer seats in 1979, and Britain would have had a more diluted Thatcherism. But even LibDems perhaps fear a fully proportional system — which, while introducing full-scale coalition politics could make the same almost unworkable, as the experience of Holland and (constituency-less) Israel shows. This is an epic, Westminster-changing UK election — one India, especially, would do well to observe closely. What's uncontested is that some form of fairer representation is necessary.









Communication intelligence is the acquisition of a communication between two parties without their knowledge by a third party which may have a stake in that communication. Rama as a king going out at night to listen to what his subjects had to say about his rule and his overhearing a dhobi slandering Sita about her captivity by Ravana was a case of communication intelligence. Arabian Nights has stories of sultans going round the streets to listen in stealth to the opinions of citizens. According to Chanakya, a ruler must keep in touch with the views of his subjects through his spies overhearing the subjects' uninhibited conversation among themselves.


The modern history of communication intelligence starts with the Boer War where the British used radios for communication for the first time. An outstanding achievement of communication interception was when in 1917 the British intercepted and published the Zimmermann telegram from the Imperial German Foreign Minister to their Mexican ambassador asking the Mexican president to join Germany in the forthcoming war with the US. The publication of the telegram compelled the US to enter the war on the side of Britain and its allies.


Just before the outbreak of World War II, the German cryptographic machine fell into British hands. The British were able to break the German code and read all German radio signals. It was kept such a top secret that when information was available in advance that Coventry was going to be bombed heavily, Churchill refused to pass on the warning on the ground that safeguarding the secrecy of codebreaking was more crucial for winning the war. Similarly, Japanese codes were also broken by the US ahead of the outbreak of war with Japan and President Roosevelt and General George Marshall knew about the Japanese decision to declare war before the Japanese ambassador handed the declaration. Their communication to Pearl Harbour authorities did not reach in time. When candidate Tom Dewey was about to make it an election issue in the 1944 presidential election Marshall persuaded him from doing so in the name of national security. The victory of the allies in World War II was to a significant extent due to their outstanding success in communication intelligence.


Consequently, the US and UK have kept up their signal intelligence cooperation ever since. They have also the cooperation of Canada, Australia and New Zealand. They have a shared communication intelligence system called ECHELON. Its capabilities are suspected to include the ability to monitor a large proportion of the world's transmitted civilian telephone, fax and data traffic, according to a December 16, 2005 article in The New York Times. Some critics claim the system is being used not only to search for terrorist plots, drug dealers' plans, and political and diplomatic intelligence but also for large-scale commercial theft, international economic espionage and invasion of privacy.


Since World War II, both in the US and the UK, intelligence agencies concluded an agreement with telephone and telegraph companies that all overseas communications would be made available to them. This has worked so far and the issue of privacy had not become an issue in those countries. It was by monitoring one of the overseas cables that the assassin of Martin Luther King was apprehended. In the US, the National Security Agency is today the biggest intelligence organisation. The NSA was created by legislation in 1952 and was tasked to acquire foreign intelligence while the FBI was to monitor internal communication intelligence under strict supervision of the courts. After 9/11, it was found that because of compartmentalisation intelligence that should have been shared was not done resulting in the intelligence failure. Thus, a Director of National Intelligence has been created to coordinate all intelligence agencies. The NSA has an arrangement with all US computer manufacturers that they will not sell any equipment which will give an encryption capability that cannot be decrypted by the organisation in a short period.


In India, signal intelligence was done by the Intelligence Bureau in a rudimentary form up to 1963, when the army established the Signals Intelligence Directorate in the aftermath of the 1962 war. When R&AW was established it developed a wing for signal intelligence. In spite of its meagre resources, its outstanding achievement was the taping of the telephone conversation of General Musharraf in Beijing and his chief of general staff, General Aziz, in Islamabad during the Kargil war exposing the Pakistani army's role. The Kargil Committee emphasised the role of signal intelligence for national security and recommended a separate dedicated intelligence organisation for the purpose of the country putting in its optimum effort. This was accepted by the group of ministers of the NDA government and the National Technical Research Organisation was established in 2004 and the R&AW section dealing with signal intelligence was the core around which the new organisation was developed. Its most spectacular achievement was recording the conversation between the 26/11 terrorists and their handlers in Pakistan. Without that signal intelligence neither India nor the US could have nailed the Pakistani lies and compelled Pakistan to acknowledge the origin of the terrorists in Pakistan.


As in all organisations at the stage of incipient development there are turf battles and seniority and promotion grievances in the NTRO too. Disgruntled people would leak information, as in this case, partly correct and partly distorted. Just now there is a case of an NSA person undergoing trial in the US for sharing information with the media. The NTRO's role requires it to monitor specific communication links as well as carrying out general sweeps which would reveal new security targets which will have to be focussed on. Such general sweeps may record telephone conversations of innocent, law-abiding citizens. Abuse of the facility to snoop on political opponents is in the same category as abusing the police or administration for political purposes. The common man is as much interested in preventing the abuse of privacy as he is in eliminating the abuse of the police and administration by our politicians or of parliamentary procedures. Terrorists, military establishments of potentially hostile countries, drugs and arms smugglers, money launderers, organised crime bosses and their political and bureaucratic contacts would like to weaken this valuable tool of intelligence.


Mature democracies have found an optimum between the imperative of signal intelligence in this information age and the norms of privacy and civil liberty. But mature democracies do not also abuse their police, administration and parliamentary procedures. Can we expect our parliamentarians to achieve an all-party consensus on the norms for use of signal intelligence when they are unable to do so in ensuring the smooth, unhindered and dignified conduct of our parliamentary proceedings?


The writer is a senior defence analyst








Haryana is one of the fastest growing states of the country — at 9 per cent, compared to the national average of 7.2 per cent and way ahead of Punjab (of which it was a part till 1966), stagnating at 6.7 per cent. It ranks among the top in agriculture production and has a sound industrial and infrastructure base. The state has to its credit several path-breaking initiatives relating to the welfare of women and girl-children, from free education for girls up to the college level and 33 per cent reservation for women in teachers' jobs. Its innovative steps for pensioners and other welfare measures have been adopted by other states.


However, it has an unenviable track record as far as law and order is concerned, increasingly associated with reports of honour killings, diktats by khap panchayats (geographical or gotra-based self-elected bodies), inter-caste clashes, industrial unrest, highway robberies, rapes and gang wars. Of late, the credibility of the state police has also taken a beating. Apart from convicted former DGP S.P.S. Rathore and former IGP R.K. Sharma, several police officers have been facing serious charges. A rape victim committed suicide outside the office of the DGP because she was not heard despite repeated efforts. Another such victim took her life outside the office of an IGP who had also refused to provide her justice. Its Special Task Force (STF), comprising handpicked police personnel, was recently disbanded as it was caught running an extortion racket.


That its intelligence wing is either dysfunctional or inefficient is evident from the recent Jat-Dalit clash in Mirchpur village in Hisar district. There was a stand-off between the communities for two days but no step was taken to defuse the situation. The decision to suspend the SHO concerned after the violence claimed the life of a polio-stricken girl and her father was too late, and it will, most likely, not be long before he is reinstated.


Recently, there has been a spurt in incidents that reassert the khaps' clout. This is partly due to the fact that panchayat elections are on the anvil next month and none of the political parties wants to take on the mini-khaps and lose their votebanks in the villages. Congress Chief Minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda, who survived a scare in the assembly elections last year, is grappling with the question of his government's survival. Confining himself to the line that "law would take its own course", Hooda has shown no political will to take on those who play havoc with the rule of law. His rival, Om Prakash Chautala, is no better. He has, in fact, demanded an amendment to the Hindu Marriage Act to ban intra-gotra marriages with a clear eye on placating the khaps.


Khap panchayat leaders, meanwhile, assert that there is not one instance where khaps have ordered the killing of a couple. The chief of the powerful Meham khap, Randhir Singh, says that they stand for brotherhood and age-old tradition. The khaps do not favour violence but it is the family members of the affected parties who indulge in it for their izzat, he asserts. But it is evident that the khaps provide tacit support to such acts. In a recent incident, a court official was lynched to death by a mob when he had gone to execute court orders. All that the police had been doing is registering cases against unidentified persons who remain unidentified and subsequently the cases fall flat.


Shockingly, despite such a poor track record and lack of political will to take on those making a mockery of law and human rights, the state does not have a human rights commission. Even neighbouring Punjab has a vibrant commission which takes suo motu notice of such violations and directs the government to take action. The victims can, at best, approach the National Human Rights Commission but few have the knowledge or means to knock on its door. Haryana politicians do not seem to realise that all the gains made by the state in other fields can come to nought if they do not control the downward slide of the law and order situation in the state.







The Oberoi-Trident, Mumbai, which was completely destroyed in the 26/11 attack, reopened its doors to the public on Saturday. In this Walk the Talk with The Indian Express Editor-in-chief Shekhar Gupta, PRS Oberoi, Chairman and CEO, The Oberoi Group, spoke about the renovation, setting high standards, the Oberoi hotels in the pipeline and why he will never retire


Shekhar Gupta: Welcome to Walk the Talk. It's a great feeling. This was the hotel that was in the global media just a year-and-a-half ago in very unfortunate circumstances.


PRS Oberoi: Well, this hotel was unfortunately completely destroyed.


Shekhar Gupta: This was the battlefield.


PRS Oberoi: Yes. They put bombs here. And a lot of grenades. They broke everything. They wanted to kill as many people and do as much damage as they could.


Shekhar Gupta: Where were you when you heard of this and what came to your mind?


PRS Oberoi: Well, I was living in the hotel that day but I had gone to North Bombay for a function. While I was there, I was told there had been an attack. First they thought it was a gang war. Half an hour later, they said it was a terrorist attack. I didn't know what to make of it. When I came and saw what they had done two days later, it was a shock. I was practically in tears. I didn't how long it would take to restore the hotel. It has been completely rebuilt now. Everything, except the structure, is new. I must give credit to our people. They worked very hard to get it to this standard. Eventually what matters is the customers.


Shekhar Gupta: Do you think the terror attack changes the business of travel forever?


PRS Oberoi: No. For instance, people used to be irritated when they were frisked at the airports. I remember they felt it was unnecessary. Now, in so far as hotels or other buildings are concerned, people want to feel secure. They are willing to be frisked.


Shekhar Gupta: Looking back, could there have been anything with this hotel that could have avoided this?


PRS Oberoi: I don't think so. The way they entered the hotel, shooting and killing people, I don't think anything could have... Our staff behaved wonderfully. They were very brave. From the two restaurants in the Trident, they evacuated over 200 people—through the kitchen, through the ballroom and into the Inox theatre.


Shekhar Gupta: That was a brave thing to do.


PRS Oberoi: Yes. And a lot of them came back into the hotel to save guests.


Shekhar Gupta: Did it also worry you that this might affect people coming to India?


PRS Oberoi: Well it did. For the first year, people were refusing to come to South Bombay. They used to go to

North Bombay. I think it was a psychological thing. The sea is next door.


Shekhar Gupta: At the time, I met a lot of travellers from overseas who had stayed at the Trident and they said, 'I came back within a week because I have faith. I have faith in India and I have faith in the Indian service industry'.


PRS Oberoi: Well, I think there were very few of those.


Shekhar Gupta: So what was the most worrying thing that somebody said to you—your guests, your friends...?


PRS Oberoi: Well, nobody really said anything. They were very curious after the first month—they wanted to know when the hotel would reopen.


Shekhar Gupta: Did you let anyone come and look at what was going on?


PRS Oberoi: No. Very few people saw it. It was horrific. This whole atrium was black with soot. Everything was broken. There was a lot of water damage. I saw blood where someone was shot.


Shekhar Gupta: You've now rebuilt it. A restaurant where many people were killed has been renamed Fenix, which is very symbolic.


PRS Oberoi: I think it's a good name. It wasn't my choice. The president of the Oberoi Hotels and Resorts, Liam Lambert, chose it.


Shekhar Gupta: It's a good name. In fact it is the only reminder. This and the plaque on the other side mentioning the names of your staff who died unfortunately in that attack. These are the two reminders of what happened.


PRS Oberoi: Yes.


Shekhar Gupta: More than five years ago, on Walk the Talk, you talked about the problems—the bad state of our airports, the shortage of airline seats coming to India and going out, visa problems, shortage of hotels. Many of those problems have miraculously got solved in the past five years. But a new one has come—security and terrorism.


PRS Oberoi: Terrorism is everywhere today. Wherever you travel, you are not 100 per cent safe. So I don't think that will prevent people from travelling to India or elsewhere.


Shekhar Gupta: What are hotels doing to give people a new sense of security?


PRS Oberoi: I think most hotels have done whatever they can. For instance, we have 50 people in security. Some of them are armed. Earlier we weren't allowed to have armed people. We have many more cameras now—I can't tell you how many for obvious reasons. We have very good fire protection. It was so good that when the attack happened, the whole hotel was full of water because the attackers had forced some of our staff to light fires. They poured liquor on table cloths and napkins and set them on fire.


Shekhar Gupta: The business has changed. There are many more hotels in Mumbai—and all over India—now than before. So the competition is much greater.


PRS Oberoi: I think competition is better for the industry. It is better for tourism. People have a choice. With our GDP growth at 8 per cent or more, I hope that in the future, more people will be travelling to India. Tourists are still not travelling. Visas are still a big complaint.


Shekhar Gupta: The last time we talked, you talked of the past. You said that anytime you talked of opening a hotel, someone in the government would say it's a waste, rooms will be lying empty. You said that if you had half a chance, you would rebuild the Delhi Oberoi.


PRS Oberoi: When we built our hotels in Jaipur, Udaipur, the 'vilas' hotels... When the Jaipur hotel was six months from opening, I was in London. I asked Sonny Iqbal to do a little survey, talk to people who travel to India, businessmen, travel agents, airline people and ask them how we will fare against our competitor. Because we were building a very special hotel. He said one of our competitors, with poor service and poor staff, had a very good image. That worried me. So I said, we can't call it the Oberoi Jaipur because people will think it's a multi-storied hotel like Delhi or Bombay. Somebody came up with the name Rajvilas. We named our new hotels Oberoi Rajvilas, Oberoi Udaivilas, etc. Our future hotels, I think, will all be of that standard. Since Rajvilas and Udaivilas were built, our competitor's hotels have improved considerably. So we have done a service to the country.


Shekhar Gupta: Well, you have always set the standard. Is that something your father taught you or something you learned over time?


PRS Oberoi: Well, I lived in hotels till I was over 40. We didn't have a home till 1973. Hotels are in our blood. And quality, of course. My father said to me, you should build hotels that are amongst the best in the world. We achieved it.


Shekhar Gupta: He read all the guest comments himself even well into his 90s.


PRS Oberoi: Yes. And I do too. When I meet friends I ask them what was wrong in the hotel. They are surprised. I say, don't be embarrassed, you pay good money to stay or eat in a hotel.


Shekhar Gupta: So what was it that was bad once and that you had to fix?


PRS Oberoi: Room service is one. People expect breakfast served on time in their rooms. Businessmen, particularly.


Shekhar Gupta: I remember a time when smoking was not such a bad thing and I think you had a law that in a lobby or a restaurant, no guest should be allowed to light a cigarette by himself. Somebody should reach out...


PRS Oberoi: And always with a match, never with a lighter. I'm old-fashioned.


Shekhar Gupta: Between you and your father, you cover 150 years. Did you have arguments with him?


PRS Oberoi: Well, we did have discussions. Some arguments. For instance, he wanted this hotel to be known as the annexe of Oberoi Towers. And I said, it's got a new lobby, new restaurants, it's a new, much superior hotel. Eventually I won. He was a very good father. He was more a friend than a father. We once had a discussion about whether we should install computers or TV sets. This is maybe 25-30 years ago. And he said, everybody is saying we should have TV sets. I said computers would help us a lot. He succumbed. I think we were the first company to computerise. We got TV sets later.


Shekhar Gupta: Tell us about the arguments you have with your son, nephew and your top management teams.


PRS Oberoi: Well, we have arguments about what is good interior design and what is not. Usually I prevail.


Shekhar Gupta: So what is next? You are building hotel after hotel. You are renovating them. Your face lights up when you talk about them.


PRS Oberoi: The next hotel will open up in Gurgaon. Then we have the Dubai opening. We are working on a hotel in Morocco. An Oberoi is under construction in Hyderabad. So we are quite busy. We have four-five Trident openings.


Shekhar Gupta: You think your children and your management team will be able to maintain the same quality?


PRS Oberoi: I hope so. People understand quality in our company. When people ask me what my biggest asset is, my answer invariably is people. I spend a lot of time on people.


Shekhar Gupta: At 81, you look fitter than most people your age. What is it? Is it work? Is it a state of mind? What keeps the Oberois going?


PRS Oberoi: If you work and you like your work, it keeps you younger. I never intend to retire. I will work as long as I can.


Shekhar Gupta: The other thing in your business is that you tend to work with young people all the time.


PRS Oberoi: Yes. We have a very young team. I think the average age of our managers must be 35.


Shekhar Gupta: And now they have a reputation. Wherever you go, you find somebody from the Oberoi. Even Al Burj in Dubai is full of former Oberoi people.


PRS Oberoi: We are proud of that. When people want to leave, they come to me. I always like to see them before they leave. I try and advise them that if they are bettering their lives, I have no quarrel with it. Some people go and start their own businesses. And some of them come back in senior positions because they've had experience. They've travelled.


Shekhar Gupta: Now with globalisation, just like your people get jobs overseas, do you also hire a lot of expats?


PRS Oberoi: Not too many. We probably have .1 per cent expats in the company.


Shekhar Gupta: If there is something you want to tell the government—because we still get very few tourists—what would it be? What is the next thing to do?


PRS Oberoi: I think we have to do something about visas. Most people don't know that till 1982 you didn't need a visa to travel to India. There were only two countries that needed you to get a visa those days—South Africa and Rhodesia.


Shekhar Gupta: Israel as well.


PRS Oberoi: About Israel, I don't remember. You can go to Sri Lanka without a visa. You can go to Thailand. And it doesn't always work in reciprocity.


Shekhar Gupta: Visa is one thing. What else?


PRS Oberoi: I think infrastructure, generally. Power and water are becoming a big problem.


Shekhar Gupta: Are you recycling water in your hotel? Fully?


PRS Oberoi: Yes, of course, everywhere. We use all the water for our gardens. We don't let it go waste.


Shekhar Gupta: Are you water-harvesting in your new buildings? Because the new trend seems to be green hotels. ITC has built one in Bangalore.


PRS Oberoi: Not only that, we are very conscious of power. In our rooms, for example—the new rooms in this hotel—there is only 500 watts of power.


Shekhar Gupta: That is because you've used LCD.


PRS Oberoi: We've used the latest technology. New bulbs for lighting, for example. I think we have to be very conscious of the environment. And our guests want to know what we are doing. They are becoming very conscious. So if you are not being environmentally friendly, they frown upon it.


Shekhar Gupta: You've seen history being made. In your business you have made history. What do you predict for your industry in the next 20 years? What will be the next big cutting edge changes now?


PRS Oberoi: I think we haven't scratched the surface of the industry. After all, we are over a billion people. People say there are more hotel rooms in Las Vegas than in the whole of India. And they say that about Beijing. We need hotels of all categories—one star, two star, three star, four star and quality hotels.


Shekhar Gupta: The quality budget hotel could be the symbol of growing India.


PRS Oberoi: Yes. Indians are travelling more now. They have to travel if there is more business, if our growth is as anticipated.


Shekhar Gupta: So do you also need more schools and colleges to teach and train more hotel personnel?


PRS Oberoi: Well, it does not take that long to teach. We have our own school, as you know.


Shekhar Gupta: Yes. But this could be the next big job.


PRS Oberoi: Yes. I think many people don't understand that this industry could be one of the biggest employers in the country, or in any country. Tourism is. It's not just people working in hotels, there are the taxi drivers, chauffeurs, shopkeepers...


Shekhar Gupta: I know at one point you offered to rebuild the toilets at the Delhi airport. You don't have to do that now.


PRS Oberoi: Now we don't have to do that. Thank God. I think industry and the government have to work together. Without cooperation you can't progress.


Shekhar Gupta: You said you will not tire and retire, but have you thought through succession?


PRS Oberoi: I think the Oberoi Hotels and Resorts are an institute. It's no longer a family company. So things will fall into place as time goes by.


Shekhar Gupta: Every couple of years there are rumours of a bid on the company—about ITC and other trying to acquire shares.


PRS Oberoi: I can assure you we won't lose control as long as I'm around. I can't say what will happen after that.


Shekhar Gupta: All we hope for is that this hotel remains the benchmark of quality, hospitality and safety in the years to come. Biki, it's been wonderful chatting with you.


PRS Oberoi: Thank you.








The curtains finally came down on IPL 3 at Mumbai's DY Patil stadium on Sunday evening. The end of the cricket-end of things was swiftly followed by the suspension of IPL chairman & commissioner, Lalit Modi, and his replacement with Chirayu Amin, who, apart from being a vice-president of BCCI, also presides over the Baroda Cricket Association and is the chairman & managing director of Alembic, a mid-sized pharma business. It now falls upon Chirayu Amin to initiate the clean-up act, at the business-end of things, in the IPL. But one has to wonder whether a BCCI insider will be able to clean up a mess that goes to the heart of the way in which the BCCI itself is run. Remember, the IPL is simply an offshoot of the BCCI. And just as IPL lacked transparency and failed to follow even the most basic norms of corporate governance, so does the BCCI. There are plenty of links between high officials of the BCCI and the mess in IPL—to take just one example, BCCI secretary N Srinivasan also owns an IPL franchise, in fact the winners of IPL 3, Chennai Super Kings. The solution, of course, isn't to nationalise the BCCI or the IPL as some have suggested, but instead to corporatise it. BCCI and IPL could do with less politics and more professionalism.


It is easy to forget that despite some evidence of murky business dealings, the IPL has been a great success as a product, lapped up by consumers, advertisers and indeed players themselves. Just as the BCCI, under the earlier leadership of Jagmohan Dalmiya, put Indian cricket on the world stage for the first time, the IPL, conceptualised by Lalit Modi under Sharad Pawar's mentorship, has taken Indian cricket to a whole new level. Who would have imagined just five years ago that the world's best players would come in droves to play in an Indian cricket league? In the final analysis, it is the game (played by the world's finest players) that attracts the audience and, therefore, commercial interest. That is certainly worth preserving. It is less clear how important the elements of glamour and glitz thrown in by the organisers are in sustaining a top sports league. Sports leagues elsewhere in the world survive and thrive on the merit of the sport and its players, not on the support of film stars or the presence of high-profile owners. Indian cricket needs professional managers who can run a clean and efficient business. The popularity of the game of cricket will take care of the rest.







India's 3G spectrum auctions kicked off after much controversy and many delays on April 9, and they are proving to be a major success. The department of telecom had fixed a base price of Rs 3,500 crore for a pan-India 3G spectrum. As against this base price, provisional bids for the 3G spectrum had more than doubled on Friday and have gone on increasing since. This represents a bumper revenue harvest for the government. Let's grant that this is also one of the last of the world's great 3G auctions, which means India has delayed coming into the game more than most countries. Still, the auction's success—attracting industry leaders ranging from Bharti Airtel and Reliance Communications and Idea Cellular to Vodafone Essar, Tata Teleservices and Aircel—affirms the attraction of the Indian mobile phone market, which is the fastest growing mobile phone market in the world. But, as The Financial Express reported yesterday, all the 3G euphoria puts the spotlight inexorably back on the mess that was made with the 2G spectrum in 2008. Instead of being auctioned, licences were doled out on a questionable first-come first-served basis. All that the government got was a measly Rs 1,651 crore per licence. This was despite the fact that a) the Sensex was roaring louder then and mobile operators would have shelled out monies more generously; b) unlike in the 3G case, 2G spectrum equipment and networks would not have required higher capex and this too would have recommended more aggressive bidding; c) the Indian market is much more driven by voice than data, which again suggests higher premium for 2G than 3G services.


All of this is to say, in short, that we cannot just put A Raja's shenanigans on the backburner. Of course, the CBI as well as the CAG and the CVC are pursuing allegations that the lack of competitive bidding combined with the selling of 2G licences at a nominal rate fixed in 2001 were on account of illegitimate collusion. But while we await the conclusion of enquiries into how Raja may have played an integral role in duping the taxpayer via the 2G route, he has not been helping the 3G cause either. Whether by way of arguing shortage of spectrum blamed on the defence ministry or by way of disagreeing with the finance ministry on the reserve prices, Raja has lately made his presence felt by impeding rather than expediting the 3G auction. Let's remember that if things had gone as scheduled, this auction would have been wrapped up last year. As work on 4G spectrum now gets underway, can India afford to leave Raja in charge?








The US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) has just opened a case for fraud against Goldman Sachs. The case concerns a complex instrument, known as a Consolidated Debt Obligation (CDO), which Goldman Sachs put together. A CDO is a collection of equitised sub-prime mortgages. The allegation is that Goldman was put up to this by John Paulson, a well-known hedge fund manager. At that time in early 2007, the sub-prime mortgage market was still bullish and banks across the world were keen to get a piece of the action. Paulson was later credited with being the one person who foresaw the coming collapse and shorted the market making $1 billion.


The contention of the SEC is that it was John Paulson who had selected the assets that went into the CDO, which Goldman sold to its customers. Technically, Goldman asked another agency ACA to select and 'ratify' the contents of the CDO. When the sub-prime market collapsed, many banks lost money. On this CDO, Goldman itself lost $100 million, while ACA lost $900 million, for which ABN-AMRO (now owned by Royal Bank of Scotland) accepted liability.


If it can be proved that Paulson had chosen the assets and Goldman knew as of then that Paulson was shorting the sub-prime market assets, then legally Goldman should have warned the purchasers of the CDO that Paulson was playing against it. The SEC has not cited Paulson in the case but only Goldman.


Bankers are not popular and Goldman has had bad press for a long time. It is fast growing, brash and it makes a lot of money—roughly $3 billion in the first quarter of 2010. In the US, Obama has raised the stake against the Wall Street and Congress is debating a complex piece of legislation regulating the financial sector. Still, I cannot see the case the SEC is trying to make. Goldman was selling an instrument that was well known in the market for some years. The buyers were not innocent small savers but sophisticated banks who should have taken their own view of which way the sub-prime mortgage market was heading. In 2007, it was very eccentric to think that the sub-prime market would tank. Paulson is guilty of being one step ahead of the rest and taking a contrary position.


It is a puzzle that when economics is being accused of telling everyone that markets are perfect and that everyone has identical expectations (which is why we are told the markets collapsed), the SEC is punishing Goldman for not foreseeing that it was wrong. With hindsight Paulson set everyone up, perhaps. But that is only with hindsight. SEC seems to have jumped the gun and tried to make political capital out of the unpopularity of Goldman. My own hunch as a non-lawyer is that Goldman will win the case. By not including Paulson in the list of accused, SEC has given the game away. The issue is not whether the large profits made by banks are moral but whether the particular sale was fraudulent. Even terrorists deserve a fair hearing and so do successful bankers.


What is much more likely is that some form of Tobin tax will now become a reality. When James Tobin, the Nobel Laureate from Yale proposed it in the early 1970's he was trying to curb speculation in foreign exchange markets, which had just become liberated from the old Bretton Woods arrangement of the Dollar-Exchange Standard. Many NGOs got very enthusiastic as their collective mouths began watering at how much money could be collected through such a tax. But there were many cogent objections against it, especially about reducing liquidity in forex markets. Now 40 years on, we have had a crisis. Banks not only collapsed but also had to be rescued at taxpayers' expense. (I was and continue to be against all bank rescues. Banks should be allowed to fail.) So it is legitimate that taxpayers who have bailed out banks do something to prevent it from happening again and if that is not possible (banks will fail again sure as eggs is eggs) at least collect money as insurance.


So we are to have a financial activities tax. This will be in addition to taxes on bankers' bonuses. I cannot say that I terribly mind. Banks will find some way to pass it on to their customers and all will go on as before. The recovery in the profits of large multinational banks is breathtakingly fast and many governments who bought equity while bailing out these banks stand to make profits. Money does grow on trees. Let us plant a few more.


The author is a prominent economist and Labour peer








There's news that the government may allow FDI of up to 51% in multi-brand retailing other than primary goods (food, groceries and vegetables). This is good news but access to better furniture or toys doesn't really help the common man too much. What he needs is food that's cheaper and of good quality. Of course, newspaper reports do talk of the government being keen to permit FDI in the retail of foodgrain as well as other essential commodities to create a network that is parallel to the public distribution system. In his Budget speech, the FM referred to a statement made by the Prime Minister, who said: "We need greater competition and therefore, need to take a firm view on opening up of the retail trade."


Taking a cue from that, the FM observed that it would help bring down the considerable differences between farm gate prices, wholesale prices and retail prices. "This is certainly a step in the right direction and I would like to see the concrete measures that the government intends to take in this regard," he said, elaborating that this is a key element of propelling agricultural growth related to the reduction in wastages as well as in the operations of existing food supply chains in the country.


The minister is spot on; FDI needs to be allowed into the food and grocery space. But, simply allowing FDI into retail will not do the trick. Organised retailers must be allowed to buy from the farm gate and not be compelled to pick up their stocks from the mandis where price discovery is not really scientific.


While retailers will benefit when buying directly from the farmer as they can buy fruits and vegetables at costs that are lower by about 10%, they also need to fork out money to store and transport these perishables across the country to their outlets. But buyers will have greater control over the quality of the crop and that means the product will have a longer shelf life and therefore, less will be wasted. It's a win-win situation because farmers too can realise good prices if they deliver the right quality, and once they are assured of regular orders, their incomes will become secure. Also, better cold storage facilities will result in lower wastage, so prices could actually fall. The less the wastage, the easier it will be for the government to maintain the buffer crop that it understandably wants to.


What foreign retailers, who team up with Indian companies, can bring to the table is expertise in the area of supply chain management, and of course, much-needed capital. Already, retailers like the Aditya Birla Group are buying about a fourth of their requirements in Maharashtra directly from the farmers. But in many other states, it has been far more difficult for the retailers to reach the farmer; for obvious reasons, the middlemen have made it difficult for them to get to the farm gate. That's where the central government will need to step in and ensure that all states implement their respective APMC (agricultural produce marketing committee) Acts. A study by Icrier in 2008 found that farmers are much better off selling directly to organised retailers rather than to intermediaries or to the mandis—because their profits are as much as 60% higher. That's a big number in itself.


While Icrier found no evidence of a decline in 'overall employment in the unorganised sector as a result of the entry of organised retailers', it's fine if the government wants to restrict the outlets of these joint ventures to cities with a minimum population of one million. However, the government needs to be reasonable when it comes to laying down the rules for the minimum built-up area that stores should occupy. With real estate costs being what they are, the stores cannot be profitable if they are very large. That's one reason organised retailers in the country haven't exactly been raking it in and even the biggest of them all is believed to have written off large sums. Smaller players are struggling to get their act together; Subhiksha has been wound up while Vishal Retail is struggling to survive. The Future Group's chain of KB Fair Price shops will become Ebitda-positive only after restructuring the business. Even those with a headstart, like Shoppers Stop or the Future Group, don't really make much money yet. Some of them experimented with too many formats simultaneously and have been forced to exit some of them. In a business with wafer-thin margins, it's hard to be profitable without scale. The cost of rolling out a store can be anywhere between Rs 1,000-2,000 per sq ft, depending on the location and the format. Although backed by big business houses, organised retail could do with more capital and that's where FDI will help. Consulting firm McKinsey has said organised retail could create 1.6 million jobs in the next five years. So the money will be well worth it.








Within days of imposing a hefty Rs 2,500 per tonne export duty on cotton, the government suspended pre-shipment registration of new cotton exports and also of cotton wastes. Ostensibly, both the measures, announced in a span of less than a month, are meant to bring down soaring cotton prices.


Existing contracts, however, might not be impacted as the suspension of registration does not apply to them, but it is a big dampener for fresh exports since sellers would now be wary of entering into any sort of contractual agreements with their regular buyers. And even if they do, the new price would have to be higher since it has to take into account the export duty. In other words, cotton exports, from one of the world's largest producers, have been stalled for now.


Cotton prices in the domestic markets rose by almost 54% last year, pushing up textile prices by as much as 50%. And it was the group of local textile makers who were demanding restriction on cotton exports, on the grounds that rising raw material cost was hurting their margins. Raw cotton, which was selling at around Rs 22,000 per candy of 356 kg each around October 2009, soared to almost Rs 28,300 per candy in recent weeks. Almost 8 million bales of cotton (1 bale equals 170 kg) have been registered for shipment since October 2009, of which 6.1 million bales have already been shipped.


But is only export demand fuelling the rally in cotton prices? A recent US department of agriculture report said domestic cotton consumption in 2010-11 in India is projected to rise by 4.6% to 20.1 million bales, largely because of a strong demand from the local textile industry. And with production hovering around 29-31 million bales, rising domestic consumption, rather than exports, is putting pressure on prices.


In any case, why should the government listen only to the textile manufacturers' lobby? It is after all in the aam cotton farmer's interest to get the best price for his produce. Banning exports will harm the farmer constituency the most.








This year's south-west monsoon will be normal, says the India Meteorological Department in a forecast issued recently. But that is also what the IMD predicted last April for the 2009 monsoon, which then turned out to be a severe drought. This time the odds favour the IMD forecast being correct. Atmospheric scientists usually define a normal monsoon as one where the nationwide rainfall from June to September is within 10 per cent of the long period average for the season; a rainfall deficit of more than 10 per cent is taken as a drought. By that definition, the south-west monsoon has been normal 70 per cent of the time over the last 130-odd years. There has been a drought in only about 16 per cent of the years. There have been droughts in two successive years on just three occasions. Moreover, thus far whenever a drought involved a rainfall deficit of 20 per cent or more, as happened last year, the subsequent monsoon has invariably been normal.


India was the first country in the world to embark on operational seasonal forecasting. The first such forecast for the south-west monsoon was issued over a century ago, on June 4, 1886, drawing on the inverse relationship between Himalayan snow cover and monsoon rainfall. Since then, for its operational seasonal forecasts, the IMD has relied on various empirical models that took into account statistical relationships between various atmospheric and oceanic parameters and the monsoon. But published research that looked at the forecasts issued from 1932 to 2004 came to a dispiriting conclusion. There has not been, the scientists noted, "any improvement over the years, in spite of the continuing attempts to revise the operational models based on rigorous and objective statistical methods." Besides, the IMD has not been able to predict a drought in its seasonal forecasts. Now, the Ministry of Earth Sciences has proposed launching a National Mission on Monsoon that will seek to develop reliable dynamical models for seasonal forecasting of the rainy season. Such models try to reproduce the complex interplay of processes that go on in the ocean and the atmosphere. The existing dynamical models, developed principally in the U.S, Europe, and Japan, have been good at forecasting the progress of the monsoon a few days in advance and shown considerable skill at predictions for up to 10 days. But they perform poorly in seasonal forecasts and fail to accurately reproduce the monsoon's year-to-year variability. Improving the models will require better understanding of the monsoon's links with processes that happen elsewhere. Then the models must be suitably modified to incorporate the new knowledge. All this is going to take both time and effort. But such an undertaking could offer the best hope for better seasonal forecasts.







There is no question of India agreeing to Pakistan's demand for custody of Ajmal Amir Kasab for testifying against the seven Lashkar-e-Taiba men being tried in a Rawalpindi court for involvement in the November 2008 Mumbai terror attacks. Of the 10 men who carried out the three-day attack, Kasab was the only one captured alive. His "admission of guilt" statement to the Mumbai court that tried him has provided many details of the LeT involvement in the attack, even though he later denied all of it. The court will pronounce its verdict on May 3. Given the legal position and also the known links between the LeT and Pakistan intelligence agencies, there is no question of India acceding to Pakistan's demand. While Islamabad did take some unprecedented steps in the wake of the Mumbai attacks leading to the indictment and the ongoing trial, it has subsequently failed to show sincerity in dealing with the LeT and other anti-India militant groups. Instead, the government has given a long leash to the Jamat-ud-dawa, the charity front of LeT, and its leader Hafiz Saeed.


Even if we assume that the custody demand is not a ploy by Pakistan to shift the blame on New Delhi for its inaction against the perpetrators of the Mumbai attack, and is born of a legal tight corner for the prosecution in the Rawalpindi court, there are ways of getting around it. The demand for Kasab can be traced back to a defence argument that his confessional statement was not admissible in a Pakistan court. In response, the prosecution sought to make him a party to the Pakistani trial — asking the court to declare him a fugitive and declaring its intention of seeking an Interpol "red corner" notice for him. In addition to Kasab's custody, Pakistan has asked for the magistrates and police officials who recorded Kasab's statements to testify before the Rawalpindi court. Since the Pakistani authorities have repeatedly said that their own investigation has yielded sufficient evidence to obtain convictions against the seven accused, this legal tangle over Kasab, if that is what it is, should not have arisen. But if the case needs strengthening, both sides should be able to agree that as provided by the law, the magistrates who took down Kasab's statements can provide the required testimony — in writing, as the law allows, rather than in person. The Law Ministries on both sides should be able to handle the required procedures. The demand for Kasab must not be allowed to become a new source of hostile rhetoric between the two countries.










India has been in the news for its robust economic performance and for growth despite the recent global recession. The recent Indian Premier League suggests unbelievable investor confidence and provides great advertising opportunities, fantastic revenue, world-class sport, extraordinary entertainment, phenomenal television ratings and immense customer satisfaction. Yet, the incredible indices of development in India mask the inequity in the country and the human cost of the nation's progress. For millions of Indians hunger is routine, malnutrition rife, employment insecure, social security non-existent, health care expensive, and livelihoods under threat. The vibrant economy, "the shining India," is restricted to the upper classes, while the majority in Bharat eke out a meagre existence on the margins.


Indices of wealth and development: The gross domestic product (GDP), the indicator of economic growth, is employed to assess the wealth of nations and the well-being of societies. However, its adequacy to evaluate the human condition or the welfare of nations has been questioned. An increase in GDP reflects economic growth but does not take into consideration its sustainability, life expectancy, health and education of people nor its impact on the environment. An example of its biased assessment is that misfortunes for some, due to natural disasters and wars, also mean economic opportunity and wealth for construction, pharmaceutical and defence industries and an increase in the index.


The Human Development Index (HDI) was conceptualised to focus on people-centred measures and policies, rather than on national incomes. The HDI employs life expectancy at birth, adult literacy and enrolment ratios and a measure of the GDP per capita to evaluate human health and longevity, knowledge and education and standards of living. While the HDI does provide a bigger picture when compared to the GDP, it has also been criticised for not capturing the complexity of the human situation.


Inequity in plenty: The Gini quotient is a measure of inequality of income and wealth. The mapping of this parameter shows that many countries with high GDPs also have a high Gini index, suggesting that the measure of economic growth hides gross inequity and high human costs within countries. Recent attempts at evaluating human well-being use varied indicators such as environmental impact, government debt, diversity of species, etc. Bhutan has suggested happiness as an indicator of national well-being. Measures like the Net National Product take into account the depletion of human capital. However, the use of a single index to reflect well-being does not make these new attempts superior, only different. Nevertheless, most people will agree that any such measure should move beyond economics and economists; the debate must involve diverse stakeholders and the indicator(s) ought to express the multifaceted nature of human well-being.


Capitalism and greed: The failure of communism, despite its ideals of a fairer society, to increase wealth resulted in its demise. Many nations now place their faith in capitalism and governments choose it as the strategy to create wealth for their people. The spectacular economic growth seen in Brazil, China and India after the liberalisation of their economies is proof of its enormous potential and success. However, the global banking crisis and the economic recession have left many bewildered. The debates tend to focus on free market operations and forces, their efficiency and their ability for self correction. Issues of justice, integrity and honesty are rarely elaborated to highlight the failure of the global banking system. The apologists of the system continue to justify the success of capitalism and argue that the recent crisis was a blip. Their arguments betray an ideological bias with the assumptions that an unregulated market is fair and competent, and that the exercise of private greed will be in the larger public interest. Few recognise the bi-directional relationship between capitalism and greed; each reinforces the other. Surely, a more honest conceptualisation of the conflicts of interest among the rich and powerful players who have benefited from the system, their biases and ideology is needed; the focus on the wealth created should also highlight the resultant gross inequity.


Inherent talent or inherited advantage: Capitalism results in the creation of wealth. The supporters of the system argue that the "American dream" can be achieved by hard work, diligence and resourcefulness and can be replicated across the globe. They believe that the system rewards hard work and talent. However, even a cursory examination of the assets of and disparity across peoples suggests that those who succeed have inherited advantages and favourable playing fields, compared to those who did not. The focus on apparent merit does not take into account the different histories, the varied physical environment, the divergent contexts and the grossly dissimilar opportunities. The many economic policies of the International Monetary Fund and western financial institutions, driven by ideology rather than by reality, have resulted in further enslavement of many developing economies.


The Indian context: The economic liberalisation and globalisation have resulted in massive and sustained growth in the Indian economy. Yet, an examination of the Human Development Index suggests that the country is poor on this measure. The trickle-down effect of development, talked about in theory, has little actual impact on the poor. The rights of the poor are probably more important than the rights of the rich who drive development. Economic policies should be clearly preceded by a careful assessment of their impact on the population, their lives and livelihoods. Care must be taken to ensure that regulations proposed by our legislatures and upheld by the judiciary are not pro-rich and at the cost of the rights of the poor.


The need for regulation: Ancient wisdom argues that, under normal circumstances, the rich will get richer and

the poor, poorer. Civilised societies will necessarily have to employ different standards to achieve an egalitarian social order. Such democratic ideals imply the use of regulation to curb the excesses of "laissez-faire" capitalism with its penchant for minimal controls. For example, the practice of forcibly acquiring agricultural and forest land, displacing the poor and tribal folk with the loss of their livelihood and culture is too big a sacrifice from these people in return for commitment of a fraction of the wealth of corporate houses in order to increase the GDP. "Progress and development" are high sounding clichés from capitalists and often spell the destruction of older forms of social existence. There is a need to foreground justice and equity, the basic precepts of enlightened nations. Without level playing fields and affirmative action, inequity will persist and increase, resulting in injustice to the vast majority of people who are without capital.


Law and justice: It is generally believed that the theory of justice drives the practice of law. In reality, legal

practice constantly engages with theory and re-equips it. It cites theory in specific contexts and provides perspectives, transforming and even re-making it. The demand for justice brings a case before the law; this claim puts the law under the scanner. Justice, then, renews the law and makes it contemporary; it extends its reach and re-interprets it. The demand for justice is never fully met, suggesting that the law needs to constantly keep up with the mandate for justice. The requirements of the context and the call of justice create the necessity for citing of the law in relation to the questions before it. Law-makers and the judiciary may opt to close the call of justice and renew the rule of the law in relation to the new question. Alternatively, they may take up the challenge and re-think, re-make, and cite the law, as best as they can, in ways that measure up to the call of justice. India needs to revitalise its statutes and transform its courts of law into courts of justice.


Much of the debate on the creation of wealth employs a private language, replete with insider jargon. A refusal to comply with the unstated rules in such circles often results non-compliant voices being frozen out of professional circuits. These operations produce papers for academics, assignments for bureaucrats, policies for governments, wealth for capitalists and stories for the media, but they often discount the bigger picture that should dominate the discourse. The inequity is ignored, the discrimination disregarded, the ideology justified and injustice normalised. India should not only focus on economic growth but regulate its markets and economy with equity and integrity to provide justice for all its people.


( Professor K.S. Jacob is on the faculty of the Christian Medical College, Vellore.)








For years, British politicians derided televised election debates as a vulgar American "import" which the mother of parliamentary democracy could well do without. The whole idea, they said sniffily, smacked too much of presidential-style electioneering with its stress on razzmatazz rather than substance. Even Tony Blair, embarrassingly starry-eyed about anything American, was against it arguing that it made no sense in a system which already provided for direct contact between voters and their leaders.


The real reason, of course, was the fear of venturing into uncharted territory — a fear fuelled by scare stories from across the pond about how even the most sure-footed politician could blow his/her chances in an unguarded "moment of madness" in front of TV cameras. George W. Bush Sr.'s defeat in the 1992 elections is memorably attributed to just such a moment when he was caught looking at his watch during a debate with Bill Clinton, a gesture which was taken as a sign of his indifference to voters.


So, let's acknowledge, it was rather courageous of Gordon Brown, especially given his reputation for caution, and David Cameron, his Tory rival, to offer themselves as guinea-pigs in Britain's first television debates in the run-up to next week's general election. But, even so, one doubts, whether they really recognised the risk they were taking. Indeed, with hindsight, they must be kicking themselves for it.


For, the two debates held so far (the third and the last is due this week) have been a disaster for both leaders with Nick Clegg, the relatively inexperienced and unknown head of the Liberal Democrat party, running away with all the prizes. Relishing the role of the plucky outsider, he was able, on both occasions, to label Messrs Brown and Cameron (and by extension Labour and the Tories) as the two sides of the same "old" establishment with nothing new to offer while portraying himself and his party as the "change" that Britain needed.


Mr. Clegg's dramatic "victory" has turned him into a political star overnight. In the media, he is being hailed as the new pin-up boy of British politics. And his party (once derisively dismissed as consisting of a bunch of muesli-eating, sandal-wearing day-dreamers) is now seen as the only credible show in town while Labour and the Tories are struggling to make sense of the "Cleggmania" sweeping the country.


"Has the whole world turned yellow?" a Tory candidate asked, alluding to Lib Dems' party colour, as she looked at the post-debate polls.


Such has been the impact of the debates that all bets are now off and, for the first time in more than 30 years, the traditional two-horse race for power between Labour and the Tories has transformed into an electrifying three-way contest. Lib Dems are now neck-and-neck with the Tories and Labour in the third place.


It is a "historic" surge for Lib Dems, as The Economist noted, and even if they are not able to sustain the bounce until the polling day it is now looking increasingly unlikely that either Labour or the Tories — depending on who emerges as the single largest party — will be able to form a government without their support.


Because of the quirks of Britain's first-past-the-post electoral system, Lib Dems will always trail behind the

other two parties in terms of seats even if they dramatically increase their share of the national vote. But, on present showing, they can hope to win enough seats to be able not only to dictate the complexion of the next government but also to do it on their own terms. They have already made known their shopping list: it includes key Cabinet posts and radical electoral reforms that would pave the way for an end to the current system that they say works against smaller parties. And, in a sign of the times, both Labour and the Tories have indicated that they are willing to consider.


Coming back to the debates, it is not really surprising that Mr. Clegg should have done well (outsiders with no baggage and nothing to lose invariably do); nor was Mr. Brown's stuttering performance exactly unexpected given his lack of articulation and charisma. What was unexpected was Mr. Cameron's lack-lustre performance.


With his media-savvy image and reputation for supposedly possessing the best presentation skills in Westminster, the debates looked tailor-made for him. In the event, though, he simply crumbled under pressure and was particularly pathetic in the first debate, failing to impress either on style or substance.


Mr. Clegg, on the other hand, won on both — and in both debates. Even the much-ridiculed Mr. Brown was able to deliver a few soggy punches, mostly on economy. But, the man, tipped to be the hero, simply failed to get going. This has led to a whispering campaign within his own party putting him under huge pressure to raise his game in the next debate on Thursday.


Meanwhile, back in America, they are apparently not even aware that Britain is going to the polls — and couldn't care less judging from the following from New Statesman's Washington correspondent:


"I have yet to see a single piece of U.S. television news coverage of the British election, even when the three leaders adopted yet another piece of Americana by staging the first U.S.-style televised debate on 15 April."


Famous American insularity? Or just sheer indifference towards the Brits?









Two years ago, Yves Behar helped prove that a laptop could, with a little imagination, be stripped back to its basics and sold for just $100. Since then, more than one million portable computers based on his practical design have been distributed in developing countries as part of the One Laptop Per Child programme.


Now the California-based designer has turned his skills to an even more ubiquitous piece of kit: the humble spectacles.


He became involved after a Mexican optics company, Augen, discovered that students' eyesight — especially in the country's poorer states — was having a drastic impact on their marks.


Research showed that 11 per cent of children were not learning simply because they could not read blackboards or books. The company found that in schools in states such as Morelos, Sonora and Chiapas up to 70 per cent of pupils needed glasses. Augen teamed up with the Mexican government to launch a programme along the lines of Mr. Behar's OLPC, called See Well to Learn Better. The plan is to provide 400,000 free pairs of glasses every year.


The problem was the cost, which is where Mr. Behar came in. But he did not want to compromise on quality, strength or style. "Similar to the OLPC philosophy, I want to design products that are suited to the children's specific needs, life and environment," he said.


Children everywhere are among the fussiest consumers on the planet, so the frames also had to be wearable.


The incredibly light and almost unbreakable glasses are made from advanced plastics and have a two-part design — giving children the option to mix and match colours and shapes when they choose their frames. This allows an extra dimension of individual expression, and easy assembly of the lenses inside the frame without costly heating processes.


The glasses are to be distributed by optometrists, who will travel to the schools, test the children, and then place the order with the factory.


Augen and Mr. Behar are now looking at expanding the programme to other countries. — © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2010








* Three of the most read authors at the start of the 21st century find themselves in opposition to the Pope
* Novelists pick up hints of potential developments at a time when they are too abstract for journalism and too frightening for


The weekend's leaked British Foreign Office memo means that Catholic clergy and Vatican officials will continue to find that newspapers make for painful reading. And for the next few years they should probably be nervous of the bookshop: the scandal over the protection of paedophile priests will inspire a lot of volumes. Indeed, long before this horrible saga of abuse and denial claimed international headlines, it had already spawned a significant literature. The writers of popular fiction stand revealed as preachers and prophets.


Three of the most powerful fictional franchises of the last decade are Dan Brown's trilogy about Harvard

cryptologist Robert Langdon; Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials and J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter septet. And, oddly, all three forest-clearing phenomena are explicitly or implicitly opposed to the Roman Catholic Church.


In Mr. Brown's Angels and Demons and The Da Vinci Code, Langdon tackles baddies in the Vatican. And, although many readers were unaware of Mr. Pullman's dogmatic under-structure until he began to spell it out in Dawkinsesque interviews, the Magisterium, the evil empire in his best-known trio, took its name from a historical term for Catholicism.


J.K. Rowling's conflict with the bishops is more tangential. In creating a fantasy around a necromantic academy, she was not intentionally going for Rome, but Pope Benedict went for her. And, as a result of this, three of the most read authors at the start of the 21st century found themselves in opposition to the Pope — a cultural position that, amid the scandals of clerical pederasty, looks strikingly prescient.


In retrospect, the plot lines are startlingly specific. In The Da Vinci Code, Rome is attempting to cover up facts (a secret, indeed, involving sex) that, if widely known, will destroy papal authority. In Mr. Pullman's trilogy the central characters, most at threat from the Magisterium, are children. It also now seems rather unfortunate that Ms Rowling's episcopal critics accused her of polluting the minds of the young.


Such prescience in mainstream fiction was, in one sense, predictable. Writers are licensed to have society's dreams and nightmares. In 1818 Mary Shelley, in Frankenstein, anticipated the malign possibilities of science before the benign ones had really got going. Jules Verne and H.G. Wells went to the moon long before NASA. Some novels by Wells can also be seen now to foreshadow the First World War, just as Chekhov's plays apprehended the fall of the Russian aristocracy, and a number of American novelists (including Tom Clancy and Charles McCarry) previewed the shape and nature of the Islamist attacks on the U.S., even to the extent of plane bombs being flown into national landmarks.


Such stories are not prophetic in any mystical sense. Novelists and playwrights pick up hints from philosophy, spying or science of potential future developments at a time when they are too abstract for journalism and too frightening for politics. So the last decade's literary demonisation of Catholicism is another example of the nostrils of novelists twitching at a smell in the air. Mr. Brown had the practical problem of beginning his career as a thriller writer just as the traditional villains of 20th-century beach reads — the Soviets — had imploded. In locating a replacement, he selected one of the few surviving structures that exercised global influence through rigid central control and had an institutional tendency to secrecy. Yet, though logical, this substitution is ironic because the Catholic Church, through Pope John Paul II, had been instrumental in the opposition to Kremlin-led communism.


These books, though, draw on a general liberal hostility to Catholicism (because of its opposition to abortion rights and alleged misogyny) and, in the works of Mr. Brown and Mr. Pullman, the Vatican may also be a surrogate for other disgusts.


In his most recent novel, The Lost Symbol, Dan Brown gives a character a speech listing the good points of the Catholic Church: presumably a response to lobbying from angry readers. But he should keep quiet. His prescience in predicting a future enemy is the only thing likely to get him compared to Chekhov. — © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2010








In less than 10 years, Indian cricket faces its second big crisis. Match-fixing and its many ramifications that dogged the sport since the turn of the century had only recently begun to fade. With the welter of allegations erupting around the Indian Premier League and the man who ran it for its first three years, Lalit Modi, there is a sense of deja vu. The ouster of the IPL's self-appointed commissioner and the many charges that have now been laid at his door since the fateful day he first Tweeted an allegation about the companion of then junior foreign minister Shashi Tharoor will almost inevitably lead to a shakeout in the way the IPL is run in the future. More important, it will bring back to life the many real fears that surfaced in the wake of la affaire Hansie Cronje. This then is the real crisis that faces the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI), now desperately seeking to contain the fallout from what was a clear lack of oversight — financial and administrative — on its part when it came to Mr Modi's functioning. To pin all the blame on one man would be a travesty of justice — there was after all a governing council of 13 other men who were supposed to have run the IPL — but at the moment, it would appear that all ills have been laid at the door of Mr Modi alone. The charges are many, and varied. They range from allegations of rigging franchise bids to irregularities over the sale of broadcast and Internet rights to concealing paperwork detailing franchise ownership and instances of crony capitalism and insider dealing. Clearly, the BCCI is aware of the dangers these developments pose to its hot new — and extremely lucrative — baby and, on a wider scale, to the image of cricket itself. For better or worse, India today is a world powerhouse in the sport and the IPL mess has wider implications for cricket as a whole. Little wonder then that BCCI president Shashank Manohar on Monday stressed that ethics and transparency were even more important than protecting the integrity of the IPL alone, and added that Mr Modi's manner of functioning had "brought a bad name to the administration of cricket and the game itself". Already, the taxman has become involved given the complexity and density of transactions that have been woven around the lucrative league, and relevant documents have gone missing, adding further fuel to an already raging fire.

In an attempt to start clearing out the Augean stables, the BCCI on Monday said former India captains Mansur Ali Khan Pataudi, Sunil Gavaskar and Ravi Shastri had been asked to organise the IPL's fourth season next year. Much more must be done if the mandarins of Indian cricket are to convince an increasingly-sceptical nation that they are serious about cleaning up the IPL. For his part, Mr Modi has promised to clear his name of the many accusations made against him, launching his first salvo at the IPL-3 post-final prize distribution ceremony late on Sunday night where he made the point that if any rules had been broken, he would bear the full responsibility. That is exactly what the board's bosses are hoping will happen. In all this, cricket itself has been forced to take a back seat, much as it had to for much of IPL-3, with the focus more on glitz, glamour and post-match parties, which were also turned into money-making opportunities by the eagle-eyed Mr Modi. With so much muck washing about, those who prize cricket purely for the sake of the sport will be hoping that clarity, and sanity, is restored soon.







Human justice originally was simply vengeful — demanding "eye for an eye". Several modifications gradually came to soften its intent, but almost all of them have been criticised for they also cramped the perspective of justice. Distributive justice, proportional justice, retributive justice, criminal justice, environmental justice, social justice and so on — none of these represent justice holistically. For example, the concept of distributive justice, also called equitable justice, has been contested on the ground that justice and equality are not necessarily co-extensive.

Despite best intentions and formal vows to uphold its ideals, human justice has often faltered. It is subject to error — it has been said that human justice is blind, and "deaf and dumb as a wooden leg". It has also been proclaimed that "extreme justice is often unjust" and that "there are times when justice brings harm with it".
Justice can also be marred by corrupt practices. Guru Nanak had this to say about the state of justice during his time:

Judges administer justice in the name of God

That they chant Oh! rosaries;

But they accept bribe and block justice.

He had courage even to chastise kings:

Even the king administers justice only if his palm is greased.

Public leaders are required to help enforcement of justice. But they are not always chaste people. Guru Angad

ev remarked:

The troublemaker is made the leader

And the liar is given an honourable seat.

This is how humans corrupt the instruments of justice. There are vagaries also in people's expectations from

One sows seeds of poison, but demands ambrosial nectar,

Behold, what kind of justice is that!

Divine justice, by contrast, is not only incorruptible but also error proof. The Gurus have termed it as sach niaon or justice of truth. Guru Ram Das says:

You yourself are true, O Lord, and true is your justice.

Why then should we fear anything?

He also employs another term for Divine Justice, that is dharam niaon or justice of rectitude, and offers

estimony that:

Superb is the greatness of the Lord

For his justice is entirely rectitudinous.

Love, power and justice have been considered ontologically inseparable, but while human justice operates mainly through power, Divine Justice operates through love, simply because God is love.

According to Sikh cosmogony, God's eons-old samadhi got interrupted when his love became intensely desirous of its own expression. Hence it was that God, in order to dole out his love and grace,
Created the great expanse.

Then, as love, He pervaded that expanse, his creation. Hence, says Guru Gobind Singh:
Here, there and everywhere, He abides as love.

He administers His justice through his all-pervasive love, and his justice is co-extensive with his will.

That alone is true justice which pleases the will of the Lord.


And this justice is not occasional or temporal, it abides through eternity. Within his home, there is justice ever and for ever. It is not blind like human justice, but ever vigilant. He knows us all from within.

The inner-knower, the searcher of hearts knows.

Without our speaking, He understands...

No one is as great knower as the Lord,

So his justice is always righteous.

Our body is the field of action, in it what we plant that we harvest.


Mercy and forgiveness are the instruments of His love. From the human point of view, mercy and justice are considered antithetical. Mercy operates through attachment while justice operates through detachment. But in Divine Justice, no such antipathy operates. Mercy is also just, so too forgiveness. Kabir says:
Where forgiveness is, there is God himself.

Not that He does not punish.

He honours the righteous and chastises the sinners.

He defeats the sinners and saves his humble devotees. But He never punishes without cause:

Why should we burn with anxiety

When the Lord does not punish without cause?

Moreover, even when He punishes, His intent hardly appears to be really punitive; it rather appears to be reformative. Often what man considers as punishment is instead His grace. Martydom, looked at superficially, appears to be like capital punishment. In effect, a martyr establishes that his moral ideals are higher, and dearer to him, than his life. Thus a martyr reforms and saves multitudes whom he inspires by his atonement. Likewise, what we consider as reward may really be a curse. Monetary and material gifts are, in the human context, considered as rewards for these are given in return for what appears to be admirable action. However, when such gifts lead to arrogance, as they often do, then they cause moral degradation and become a curse.
In brief, human justice is occasional and often based on inadequate enquiry, doubtful evidence, arbitrary laws, questionable law-enforcers and whims of the judges even if they are honest. It often errs or even fails. By contrast, Divine Justice is not occasional but prevails permanently, is based on the infallable personal knowledge of the ever vigilant Lord whose justice works with His unquestionable love and mercy. It never errs, never fails; though often forgives for considerations that He himself knows.


J.S. Neki, a psychiatrist of international repute, was director of PGIMER, Chandigarh. He also received the Sahitya Akademi Award for his contribution to Punjabi verse. Currently he is Professor of Eminence in Religious Studies at Punjabi University, Patiala.

J.S. Neki






Cobalt may be a lovely colour in the paintbox. But "Cobalt 60", the radioactive isotope that made it to a scrap dealer's shop in Mayapuri, west Delhi, earlier this month, leaving nearly 10 persons seriously ill, is a sign of the insecure times we live in.

More than a fortnight after the incident, we are no wiser about the source of the radioactive scrap. Scientists investigating the presence of the radiation source say that the likelihood of the detected Cobalt 60 being of indigenous origin is pretty slim. They assert that it most probably came as part of the industrial waste imported from abroad. However, we don't know, as of now, from where or who imported it. Nor do we have any details about its journey from its source to the Mayapuri scrap mart.

What we do know: swadeshi or videshi, the radioactive scrap wreaked havoc. Even if it is not local, as the scientists tell us, it made it through the customs. This means that one government agency is not to blame, but another is. The moot point: the condition of some of those suffering from exposure to the Cobalt 60 and admitted to the All-India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) is worsening.

Today, Mayapuri, the industrial area dotted with hundreds of tiny scrap-metal shops, is shrouded in fear. Official investigations, using "tele-detectors", have led to the detection of 11 sources of radioactive Cobalt 60 from the Mayapuri scrap yard. More shop-by-shop searches are on the cards. As a result, Cobalt 60 has blasted its way into public consciousness in India.

That the episode is a telling commentary on our glaringly inadequate mechanism to monitor the movement of such hazardous radioactive waste is obvious. But more than a fortnight after the first detection, it is time to highlight some key issues: when scrap metal is one of the most widely traded international commodities, a better monitoring apparatus in countries like India has to be complemented by better enforcement of export laws in the developed world where much of the hazardous stuff originates. An Indian trader importing scrap needs to obtain a certificate from the exporting country stating that the consignment is free from radioactive material. But since the exporting country is keen on getting rid of such stuff, the scrutiny is less than stringent. Also, there is a desperate need for not only an outraged but a better-informed public — both at home and in countries sending out radioactive scrap.

"Half Life, Radioactive Waste in India", a report brought out by environmental NGO Toxics Link last year, provides useful context. In 2008, for example, France's Nuclear Safety Authority (ASN) found that the elevator buttons used by Otis Elevator Co. and supplied by French company Mafelec were using materials sourced from an Indian supplier. The buttons had traces of Cobalt 60. The incident came to light when 20 French workers who had handled these buttons were believed to have been exposed to radiation. The contamination posed no threat but ASN raised the alert level as a precautionary measure.

Subsequent investigations by India's Atomic Energy Regulatory Board tracked the Indian companies which had supplied the products that had been contaminated with Cobalt 60. The contaminated radioactive scrap was tracked to a foundry in Maharashtra which recycles scrap purchased from dealers who import scrap from Europe and the United States and sell to various steel companies in India.

The Toxics Link report said the experts believed that Cobalt 60 could have come from different countries which supply scrap metal to Indian firms for recycling.

Despite such a precedent, and despite the continuing influx of scrap from abroad, India has had no real policy to deal with what is called "orphan radioactive sources". These are radioactive sources that are outside regulatory control.

According to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the United Nations nuclear watchdog, there are two main types of radioactive material that may be found in scrap metal. First, radioactively contaminated material that may have been lost from, or never was, under regulatory control. Second, material contaminated with radioactivity in a number of ways, the most likely being from the demolition or decommissioning of a nuclear installation or other facilities that had used radioactive material.

How to protect people from radioactive material that can end up at junk and scrap yards was the subject of discussion at an international conference on Control and Management of Inadvertent Radioactive Material in Scrap Metal in Spain last year. Expert recommendations included harmonising the world's regulatory approaches to radiation safety, based on IAEA safety standards. Another suggestion was to provide better guidance to regulators, scrap dealers, and metal recycling industries on how to deal with problems when they occur.

In the last three years the IAEA is reported to have become aware of around 500 radiation incidents, about 150 of which were related to scrap metal or contaminated goods or materials.

It is vital that all Indian ports are equipped to detect radiation. But, side by side, there is an equal need to upgrade the capacity of workers in the recycling industry. The safety protocol for waste-handlers, now being drafted by the National Disaster Response Force, needs to be accorded top priority.

At a time when India and other developing countries are importing growing amounts of scrap metal, partly to help meet rising domestic demand for steel, the Mayapuri episode offers a valuable lesson. No matter how lucrative the trade is, strict enforcement of rules to keep out the dirty and dangerous stuff, like Cobalt 60, is a must. We need to know what exactly is coming in through our borders and we need to have the resources and equipment to keep out the stuff that puts lives at risk. Anything short of this will lead to more Mayapuris.

Patralekha Chatterjee writes on development issues in India and emerging economies and can be reached at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

Patralekha Chatterjee






Girija Vyas, the National Commission for Women (NCW) chairperson, wants consensus between all parties on the Women's Reservation Bill. Though there was bickering and division over the bill in the Rajya Sabha, Ms Vyas thinks that once the bill is passed in the Lok Sabha all parties will turn a new leaf and India will become a "complete democracy". In an interview to Syed Asim Ali, the NCW chairperson also talks about her plans to tackle cases of domestic violence against Indian women in foreign countries and honour killings.

Q. The government appears to have gone slow on the Women's Reservation Bill after getting it passed in the Rajya Sabha amidst tumultuous scenes. Is your party having second thoughts on 33 per cent reservation for women?

A. I don't know where the question of second thoughts is coming from? The Congress Party has always stood for 33 per cent Women's Reservation Bill and it is because of the party's commitment to the principle behind the bill that it was pushed despite the hue and cry. The bill is not just about 33 per cent reservation for women; several of its provisions will have far-reaching impact on the Indian political scenario in the future.
We have had two major meetings on our next step and though it's too early to comment, I can tell you that the bill will pave a new way ahead.

When the bill was introduced in Rajya Sabha, for the first time in recent years both the leading political parties of India, the Congress and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), stood together. The BJP gave its full support to the bill; even the Left supported the bill though many of their allied partners were opposing it. This kind of unity is being seen as an initiative to check the influence of small and regional parties in national politics.

Q. Will the Congress introduce the bill in the remaining part of the Budget session. Or will it again go into cold storage?
A. Frankly, the right person to answer this question is the chief spokesperson of the Congress Party. What I can say as a member of the party is that there is no question of the bill going into cold storage. I can proudly add that the bill was passed despite huge opposition. We heard comments like "only the rich upper class women will be benefited by the bill and that is why some parties are demanding quota within quota". Despite such attacks we stood by the bill. So there is no way the Congress will forget the bill.

Q. Does this mean that you are in favour of the idea of quota within quota?

A. No, not at all. I am not in favour of sub-quotas. When the Women's Reservation Bill becomes a a reality, it can be used by political institutions to empower women belonging to minority communities. I think the whole idea of 33 per cent reservation for women will open a new chapter and take us to new possibilities.

Q. But why shouldn't there be a sub-quota for dalit women, for women belonging to scheduled castes and scheduled tribes and Muslim women?

A. I don't want to comment on what other leaders have said or proposed. But I think that 33 per cent reservation is sizeable enough to empower all women. Without using sub-quotas, parties can use the 33 per cent reservation to bring in women of religious and ethnic minorities into the mainstream. I would conclude this answer by saying that while the bill is capable of empowering all women, dalit and Muslim, it depends entirely on party leaders which women they chose to represent their parties.

Q. Why can't parties have a quota for women to contest Lok Sabha and Assembly polls to ensure greater representation in Parliament and state legislatures?

A. I strongly believe that reservation for women can be used effectively to empower women in minority and other backward communities. It is the duty of party leaders to bring women of marginalised sections into the mainstream by utilising provisions of the bill.

Q. We have recently had several shocking cases of honour killings in rural areas, particularly Punjab and Haryana. In such instances does the NCW have adequate powers to take action against those guilty of killing or harassing innocent girls and boys?

A. There is a need to understand the issue at the ground level. We have to investigate and see how the panchayats, or khaps, are paving the way for such barbaric actions. There is need for more involvement of the civil society in areas that are prone to honour killings. We need people who can influence panchayat decisions and at the same time educate people in areas where such cases are taking place. We have had a few meetings and soon steps will be taken.

Q. What steps are you are planning?

A. More civil society involvement and NCW officials working in rural areas to curb such barbaric and cruel activities.

Q. There are also numerous instances of Sikh girls being forcibly married off to non-resident Indians. There have also been cases where girls have been killed when they have dared to go against their family's wishes. Can the NCW step in to stop these forcible marriages?

A. See, in the cases of NRI marriages, sometimes women are forced and sometimes they are duped into such marriages. However, in most such cases women are financially dependent on their in-laws and that is why they keep enduring domestic violence. There have been cases where Indian women living in foreign countries and facing domestic violence have not been able to sue their in-laws only because they don't have money. To find a solution to this problem we are planning to keep two lawyers each in the Indian consulates of countries like the United States, England and Canada. These lawyers will take up cases of domestic violence against Indian women. I am sure this step will be a big relief for Indian women abroad.


Q&A Girija Vyas






That the Indian Premier League (IPL) had a murky underbelly was not exactly an official secret. Yet when Lalit Modi's tweet sparked off a chain of circumstances that led to the resignation of Shashi Tharoor, and Mr Modi's eventual suspension — and which may still claim more victims — few could have imagined the manner in which the nexus between politics, business, sports and entertainment would get exposed in a heady cocktail of sleaze and scandal. Even as this story plays itself out with daily disclosures of dubious deeds, almost a decade after tales of betting and match-fixing had tarnished the reputations of many cricket stalwarts, one can only hope that henceforth some transparency would mark the affairs of a game that obsesses millions of young people in this country and across the world.

Who remembers Garfield Sobers and Anju Mahendru? Cricket and cinema always had a connection. But when a third "C" — cash — is added, the combination is a sure-fire route to a fourth "C", corruption.
That Mr Modi was not exactly an exemplar of probity and corporate social responsibility was known to many, and they were not just insiders. More than a year ago, in March 2009, Alam Srinivas and T.R. Vivek wrote a 200-page book that was titled IPL Cricket & Commerce: An Inside Story (Roli Books). The February 16, 2009, issue of Outlook carried a cover story with a headline that read: "The Curious Case of Lalit Modi".
Did Mr Modi realise that he would open a can of worms when he sent his infamous tweet about the ownership pattern of the Kochi franchisee and the sweat equity that was proposed for Sunanda Pushkar? Did the leaders of the Nationalist Congress Party, notably Union minister for agriculture, food and consumer affairs Sharad Pawar and civil aviation minister Praful Patel, anticipate that the business links of their family members would consequently be scrutinised through the microscope of the media? After Mr Tharoor and Mr Modi, who will be the next fall guy?

The $4 billion IPL tournament was touted by its cheerleaders — not the busty blondes from Central Asia and other parts of the world — as a shining example of the maturing of the post-liberalisation economy of the country, and a successful brand promoted by India Inc. that was coping better than the corporate sectors in most recession-hit Western nations. The problem was that the glittering IPL edifice was built on a foundation of money routed through a complex web of companies, many of them registered in tax havens, and was excessively dependent on the munificence of influential politicians who control sports bodies that are registered as non-profit-making societies but are flush with funds obtained from the public at large. The most notable example of such an organisation is, of course, the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI).
That various government agencies should be providing tax concessions and subsidies to the cash-rich BCCI is nothing short of a crime in a country where the latest official estimates indicate that more than one out of three people live below the poverty line. Why should the BCCI and the IPL be eligible for the kind of tax breaks that it has received so far? How much longer should the BCCI be allowed to operate in a brazenly non-transparent manner? Should the most-affluent of sporting bodies in the country be allowed to function like a closed club where only the privileged few are permitted entry? These are rhetorical questions for the answers are all too obvious.

The fact that IPL match tickets have been sold for Rs 40,000 per person with an all-night party in a five-star hotel thrown in for good measure, is a manifestation of the kind of conspicuous consumption that the elite in India has acquired notoriety for. Is this really the kind of "brand" or "business" that makes us hold our heads high in the comity of nations?

The Income-Tax Department, the Enforcement Directorate that oversees foreign currency transactions, the Directorate of Revenue Intelligence (all of which come under the ministry of finance) as well as the Intelligence Bureau (which comes under the home ministry) have been providing detailed reports on a daily basis to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, even when he was in Brasilia. Official investigators were initially focused on the Kochi affair and then switched their attention to Mr Modi and his associates. The Central Bureau of Investigation may soon be asked to jump into the fray.

However, at least one investigator confided to this correspondent in private that he and his team were unsure about how deep they should dig, about how the compulsions of coalition politics would play themselves out.
The Congress may now find it easier to keep its ally in Maharashtra on a tighter leash. After facing flak for his inability to control food inflation in general, and sugar prices in particular, the agriculture minister and his protégé, the civil aviation minister, may find themselves more on the defensive — or, to use a more apt analogy, on the backfoot.

Yes, the IPL has graduated to have becoming the fourth largest sporting event of its kind in the world. But the filth that has been flung around has hardly enhanced India's image across the globe. Who knows? Being an incorrigible optimist, one might be tempted to believe that some good may even come out of this muck-raking, more than what took place in the aftermath of the match-fixing scandal. Mohammed Azharuddin is a Congress Lok Sabha member of Parliament. Mr Modi could now actively consider a career in politics.

Paranjoy Guha Thakurta is an educator and commentator








The ouster of Lalit Modi from his posts in the Indian Premier League is hardly a surprise — not even perhaps to the very defiant Modi. But surely this move is not enough to clean the Aegean stable that is apparently the IPL. Modi has been suspended on 22 accounts of impropriety, but the problem seems to be much larger than the alleged transgressions of one man.


The way the public trial has been conducted has been akin to a lynchmob, working on suspicions rather than looking for proof. In an unfortunate sense, this hysteria will suit those who run cricket in this country because it masks their own sins of omission and commission.


It has been unclear from the beginning why exactly the IPL governing council and the Board of Control for Cricket in India allowed Modi so much operational freedom. Therefore, the entire culpability cannot rest with him. Because of the money involved in cricket in India, many powerful people want a piece of the pie. Impropriety is not the sin of one man alone.


Questions have to be raised about how the people who run cricket are selected and about the strong political involvement in cricket administration. But this does not require a joint parliamentary committee, which may only compound the problem. While this cleansing is going on, we need to consider the voice of the cricketer as well. While it can be said that many big ticket players — Gavaskar, Shastri and Pataudi being a few of them — are already part of the cricket administration, perhaps a wider consultative body is needed.


The entry of big money into cricket has been a boon in many ways. As a result India has got a stronger voice in the cricketing world. The success of the IPL is testament to that. But the enormous amounts of money generated has not been matched by any regulatory methods and, in the absence of corporate governance, ethics and social responsibility, the lure of the lucre appears to have become the chief driving force.


Better control, accounting practices and transparency are the need of the hour. The BCCI and the IPL must be treated like all other corporate entities which are accountable to the laws of the land. The BCCI has a greater responsibility — it is also accountable to the ideals of cricket and to the people of India. It is a custodian of the sport and not its owner. That should be reason for it to clean up its act and restore cricket's glory.







The Medical Council of India never lived up to the standards expected of a regulatory body. It is not surprising that Anbumani Ramadoss, health minister in the earlier UPA government, wanted to abolish it. He had his motives for concentrating all decision-making in his own hands and that of his ministry. But there were enough reasons for him to make a case against the ineffective and incompetent MCI.


The charge that the regulatory body of medical colleges and the medical profession in the country are also corrupt can now be added to the list of complaints against it. The arrest of MCI president Ketan Desai, caught accepting a bribe of Rs20 million from representatives of a private medical college and hospital, serves as the proverbial last nail in the coffin.


Union health minister Ghulam Nabi Azad has responded promptly by setting up a three-member committee to look into the episode while the Central Bureau of Investigation, which has uncovered Desai accepting the bribe, will continue with its probe. It is quite evident that the MCI is not an exemplary body and this can be inferred from the many medical institutions that exist in the country which are under-equipped and under-staffed, but which continue to charge exorbitant fees from students.


Medical education, as much else in the country, continues to be hobbled. The MCI has not been able to do what it has been mandated to — the role of a watchdog. It is but a step from laxity to outright corruption as has been proved through Desai's arrest.


The MCI's low moral fibre becomes an issue when there is so much talk about toning up higher and professional education in India. There is the simultaneous recognition that standards can only be maintained through a transparent regulatory framework. The rot in the MCI is symptomatic of the many things that are wrong in the educational system in the country. A root and branch reform of the MCI and other regulatory bodies like the All India Council of Technical Education (AICTE) is a must to make the educational system both competitive and qualitative.


There is no escaping the fact that governments and politicians at the helm would not be of much help setting things right. It will be necessary for medical professionals in the country to give the issue the serious attention it needs. There has to be a guild of professionals which should serve as an apex body. The MCI has to go but it cannot be replaced by a government-appointed body.







The Indian Premier League (IPL) did not start with Sunanda Pushkar. It has been around for more than three years. The relationship between IPL franchises and tax havens is not something new. But the investigative hounds were unleashed after the exit of minister of state for external affairs Shashi Tharoor.


Initial findings by the finance ministry's department of revenue — which has the income tax wing and the enforcement directorate under it — suggests that many IPL franchises had routed their money through tax havens.


The World Sports Group (WSG) has reportedly told officials that Multi Screen Media (MSM) did pay $80 million as "facilitation fees" for the IPL's telecast rights. The money was apparently transferred to the Virgin Islands. The structure of the Jaipur franchise is intriguing. JIPL is a 100% owned subsidiary of EM Sporting Holdings Ltd, Mauritius, which has made investments in JIPL.


The Mauritius holding company is again a joint venture between: Tresco International Ltd, registered in the British Virgin Islands; Emerging Media (IPL) Ltd, UK; Blue Water Estate Ltd, Hong Kong; and Kuki Investments Ltd, the Bahamas. These centres are among the tax havens under the scrutiny of the Indian government.


A detailed report in DNA (April 24, 2010) suggests that 18 benami firms may own stakes in IPL and most of it from tax havens like the Virgin Islands, Cyprus and Mauritius.


The information is not surprising given the promiscuous attitude of our elite towards illegal funds and the laxity of our own rulers. We can consider some recent events.


The ministry of finance, in an affidavit filed before the Supreme Court (SC) in the case of Ram Jethmalani versus Union of India (on black money in tax havens; May 2009) says that the tax demand on one Hassan Ali of Pune is Rs71,849.59 crore. It also says that he and his wife were operating accounts with UBS of Switzerland. It is interesting to note that Hassan Ali Khan is out on bail in a fake passport case.


But disclosing the list of defaulters in the Rajya Sabha on August 4, 2009, minister of state for finance SS Palanimanickam said in a written reply that Khan topped the list of tax defaulters with outstanding arrears of more than Rs50,000 crore.


But wait — more curious things happen! As per budget 2010-11, the income tax due from individuals (both disputed and undisputed) is a much low sum of Rs49,176 crore. (Annexure10: Tax revenue raised but not realised — under Rule 6 of the FRBM Rules 2004).


Obviously, someone in the finance ministry has missed out on Khan and his associate. The finance minister seems to categorically assert (interview in The Week, March 14, 2010) that the government has recovered its tax dues from Khan.


Unfortunately, this cannot be true, as the revised estimates for 2009-10 do not reflect the same. Rs50,000 crore or Rs70,000 crore is too large a sum to be lost even in the government of India's budget.


In 2009, there was a list made available by the German finance ministry regarding Indians holding illegal funds

in a Liechtenstein bank. Unfortunately, the public do not know the status of that enquiry. There were reports that 38 out of 135 foreign venture capital investors registered with Sebi are Mauritius-based, having the same address, phone and fax numbers; these were not fully in compliance with Sebi's norms of scrutiny.


When the former chief minister of Jharkhand, Madhu Koda, was investigated by the enforcement directorate, it

was reported that funds in various tax havens were partly used to buy mines in Liberia. In the case of the spectrum scandal, it was reported that the companies were fronted by other groups registered in tax havens.


The president in her joint address to Parliament in February stated that her government will initiate action to get back money stashed abroad. Prime minister Manmohan Singh said in the Lok Sabha (March 5, 2010) that India will take every possible measure to ensure the return of ill-gotten money stashed in tax havens abroad. The finance minister, taking a tough stand on various tax havens, said at a seminar on transfer pricing that tax havens not only eroded a country's revenue, but were also a cause of concern from a national security point of view.


So the time has come for the government to constitute a joint parliamentary committee on tax havens. The home minister is the appropriate person to take the initiative in this issue. He will understand that while the Maoists are working to destroy our republic from below, the tax havens are destroying our republic from above.







Wilfred Owen's very moving First World War poem Dulce Et Decorum Est questions the old adage that it is beautiful and good to die for your country. Owen was one of the celebrated British war poets who died very young in the war. Love for your country is a peculiar thing and as much as it does great good, it can also be dangerous. Which is why, said the great man, patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel.


But this is not about patriotism and its many conditions and definitions. This is about cricket. Now that the Indian Premier League is over — although the fascinating hoopla surrounding it continues — we will be thrown straight into the jaws of jingoism with the World T20 championship.


Already, we saw signs of it during the IPL itself as several television talking heads started jabbering about how the IPL was about the country, about how all they wanted was for Indian players and teams captained by Indian captains to win and how IPL had done great damage to the image of cricket which would all be sorted out once the Indian players played for the "country" in the World T20 championship. Indeed. (These are Indians generously paid by television channels as experts and analysts, well aware that a league is based on cities and that each team is made up of a mix of Indian and foreign players who are picked up in auctions.)


But how about the fact that cricket is not played for the "country". It is played for the sport of it. And for money. Cricketers are paid by private bodies to play against one another. Yes, in these international fixtures, they play under the name of the country they come from but the State, the government, has little to do with them. (Hockey players play for their "country" and we all know how interested we are in them, pretend breast-beating about the demise of Indian hockey aside.)


Yet, we pretend. We cannot seem to accept that there is no shame in playing a sport for money. The day of amateurs in sport is long over. Even in the Olympics, once an amateur's domain (and before that of course, a war-like event), big stars and performers make big endorsement money. So what? No one else is expected to work for free and even soldiers are paid — perhaps not enough, but that's another matter — what could be called guilt money to fight and possibly die on our behalf.


But the minute talk of cricketers and money begins, we start to get hypocritical and sanctimonious. They are after all professional entertainers and they deserve to be rewarded for their skills and compensated for their effort. Playing cricket is not an act of charity and these days, even those who work in the social sector are compensated for their efforts.


If a parallel can be made to the arts, no one expects painters, dancers and writers to work for free. As if, had they hopefully been starving, they would have produced better work. The idea of the malnourished painter producing works of genius belongs to legend. The modern ethos is that work — even intellectual and artistic work — must be paid for. We are at that interesting crossroads in our society when we are moving away from a restricted, pseudo-socialist past to a capitalist era.


Most times we applaud our economic success but whenever there is a crisis, we tend to retreat to our comfort zone of hypocrisy. Part of the problem could be our own guilt with the amount of money we make, while we are well aware of the continuing plight of the starving millions. Cricketers become an easy target and we pull out these presumably unbeatable shibboleths like "country" to bolster our arguments. How about it's just beautiful and good to play and leave the country out of it?


But then, perhaps, if our sports stars gave back more to society and shared their incredible wealth — as international sportspersons do — then we might be less judgmental. Next, let's target all those fat cat businessmen and ask them to give back more. Now that will be fun and an entertaining sport of another kind.











WITH the Supreme Court Constitution Bench quashing the peremptory expulsion of former Punjab Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh from the State Assembly for "breach of privilege", the Congress leader has scored a major victory. A five-judge Bench headed by Chief Justice K.G. Balakrishnan ruled on Monday that the State Assembly had no power to expel him for the "executive action" taken by him. Capt Singh was expelled from the House on September 3, 2008, after a resolution was passed on the basis of the report of a special committee appointed by the House to look into the Amritsar land scam. The report had alleged that Capt Amarinder Singh had granted illegal exemption to certain developers, thus causing a loss of several crores of rupees to the state exchequer. Calling his expulsion as arbitrary, whimsical and unconstitutional, Capt Singh had argued that the Assembly had no powers under "breach of privilege" to expel a former Chief Minister or Minister as long as the alleged act "does not have any nexus with the House".


Significantly, the Bench has ruled that the Assembly had acted "erroneously" as the alleged act of irregularities was committed during the 12th Assembly session whereas the 13th Assembly had expelled him. Admitting Capt Singh's petition, it disapproved of the House's action and cautioned that if such a practice was upheld, it would open a Pandora's box as every time a new party assumes power, it would sit over the executive decisions of the previous regime and expel the former Chief Minister or a Minister from the House under the garb of "breach of privilege". Thus, the apex court has not only redefined a State Assembly's power of expulsion under Article 194 but also cautioned against its misuse by the government of the day.


Capt Singh didn't get justice during the hearing of the case as the apex court had rejected his appeal for a stay on his expulsion. The Bench has restored his seat which was declared "vacant" by the 13th Assembly. Though he may draw comfort from Monday's ruling, the Bench has said that quashing the expulsion would in no way interfere with the ongoing criminal probe against him. He has to clear his name in the Ludhiana City Centre scam and the assets case too and thus he has a long battle ahead. For now, however, Capt Amarinder Singh stands vindicated and his political fortunes could well be on the upswing.







LATE on Sunday night when Chennai Super Kings and Mumbai Indians were battling it out in a thrilling final of the Indian Premier League III, BCCI bosses were engaged in an equally crucial meeting of their own. Well past midnight, they suspended IPL commissioner Lalit Modi on 22 charges of impropriety and issued him a show-cause notice. While Modi, who is facing charges ranging from financial irregularities to rigging bids, proxy holdings to kickbacks in broadcast deal, is very much answerable for all the allegations, the cloak-and-dagger way the order was passed presented him with a chance to wear a martyr's halo for no reason. Now he can claim with some justification that he was suspended to prevent him from rebutting the charges against him in person. Perhaps he made mistakes; but even he needs to be given a fair trial. The midnight coup in which he was suspended should have been avoided.


May be the BCCI was rattled because Modi had decided to attend and chair the IPL Governing Council meeting on Monday morning. Indeed, that should have been the right forum to nail him, but that was not to be. He now has 15 days to reply to the show-cause notice and can be depended upon to name names. Here is hoping that the authorities would be as prompt in probing these allegations as they were in putting income tax sleuths on his trail as soon as he picked a fight with the then Minister of State for External Affairs Shashi Tharoor.


Apparently, there are lots of skeletons in the IPL cupboard. Now that the cleaning operation has started, it must be taken to its logical conclusion. Nobody should be persecuted just because he is rich and powerful. At the same time, nobody should escape just because he is rich and powerful and politically well-connected. There are reasons to believe that some top politicians were party to the unholy goings-on in the IPL. It is time cricket – rather every sport – is rescued from their dangerous tentacles. The IPL had some undesirable elements perhaps. That does not mean that the IPL itself should be banished.









HOME Minister P. Chidambaram's statement in Parliament that the Union government did not authorise any phone tapping notwithstanding, the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government, already on the back foot because of the IPL scam, price rise and other issues, is now virtually against the ropes in Parliament in the face of the united onslaught of the Opposition. What has emerged from the din that has surrounded the issue is that the phones of various VIPs, political leaders, even UPA allies, were tapped by intelligence agencies, even though Mr Chidambaram has categorically denied that the government had ordered the phones to be tapped. The issue forced three adjournments of the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha on Monday. The MPs were not satisfied by the Home Minister's statement and are demanding a probe by a joint parliamentary committee.


The National Technical Research Organisation (NTRO), an intelligence agency constituted to combat terrorism, obviously has the expertise and the equipment to tap cell phones at will. NTRO has been implicated in the media expose, though there is no confirmation that it is involved. Antiquated laws like the Telegraph Act govern the monitoring of communications in India, although a Supreme Court judgement in 1996 gave more guidelines. It is unfortunate that the Information Technology (Amendment) Act 2008 passed through Parliament without debate. This is the Act that deals with electronic communications and it is now obvious that the MPs want to take a closer look at the powers that the government has for interception, monitoring and blocking of electronic communications. The country needs to have the laws, as well as proper oversight, checks and balances to ensure that intelligence agencies are used only for legitimate purposes.


Phone tapping is a serious breach of privacy and should only be used on legally sanctioned targets for specific reasons. Governments have had to pay a high price for phone tapping, when used for political reasons. A silver lining to this controversy is that the spotlight on the issue may pave the way for closer scrutiny of measures taken for the security of the nation, and to ensure the privacy of ordinary citizens of the county.

















THE fact that US Defense Secretary Robert Gates had to write a secret memo to warn White House officials that the US does not have an effective long- term policy for dealing with Iran's sustained march towards nuclear weapons capability underlines the confusion that surrounds the Obama Administration's attempts to deal with Iran. After extending his hand of friendship and getting spurned by the Iranian mullahs, Barack Obama is now quietly back to where George W. Bush was when he left office. America's Iran policy is once again getting militarised after Obama's Iran policy seems to have gone nowhere. Rather than latching on to Obama's friendly overtures as the US had hoped for, the Iranian theocracy is now at its jingoistic best. While celebrating Iran's march to nuclear capability, the authorities in Tehran have been coming down heavily on their opponents, jailing a large number of them and executing a few to send a message.


The Obama Administration, of course, has nothing to say on the domestic developments in Iran. It had hoped that by keeping quiet on the internal political troubles in Tehran, it would be able to get Iranian cooperation on the nuclear question. But Iran has rejected all Western overtures on the nuclear issue and things are rapidly coming to a boil. Despite its protestations to the contrary, Iran appears particularly intent on maintaining an independent capability to enrich uranium and seems to have decided to test how far it can push the West. Iran's ambassador to the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna, Ali Asghar Soltanieh, has informed the agency setting out the plan to begin enriching its stockpile to 20 per cent purity after President Ahmadinejad personally ordered his atomic scientists to begin the process.


It remains far from clear that Iran has the capability to enrich fuel to the level ordered by the Iranian President, who is apparently seeking to increase pressure on the West to reopen negotiations on providing fuel for the medical reactor on terms more favourable to Tehran. Until now, Iran has never enriched significant quantities of fuel beyond the level needed in ordinary nuclear reactors, part of its argument that its programme is for peaceful purposes. But any effort to produce 20 per cent enriched uranium would put the country in a position to produce highly enriched uranium - at the 90 per cent level used for weapons - in a comparatively short time.


The US is seeking global consensus for sanctions against the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, so far without much success. China and Russia continue to hold out on their support. They have no real incentive to cooperate with the West on this issue. US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton had gone to the extent of publicly warning Beijing of significant trouble if Iran's nuclear programme was not tackled by the international community immediately. But China's oil interests in Iran remain significant, preventing it from supporting additional sanctions on Tehran. Beijing has argued that pressure for tighter sanctions against Iran over its nuclear programme could block the chances of a diplomatic settlement to the dispute. The much-hyped Nuclear Security Summit failed to evolve any consensus among major powers on sanctions against Iran.


Meanwhile, the US is ratcheting up military pressure on Iran and its policy now seems to be gearing up for a possible military challenge in the Gulf. It is speeding up the deployment of anti-missile defences in the Gulf not only to put pressure on Iran but also to ward off a growing perception that Iran is rapidly emerging as the most powerful entity in the regional balance of power. Several countries in the Gulf, including the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Bahrain and Kuwait, are talking of these defence systems from the US. This is part of a larger arms build-up in the region whereby the US has sold more than $25 billion worth of arms.


The US is helping the Saudis to triple the size of their 10,000-strong protection force, conducting large-scale joint exercises with Arab militaries and sharing extensive intelligence on Iran. Though this military build-up began under Bush, the Obama Administration has expanded it to include the deployment of Aegis ships equipped with missile interceptors to help defend Europe and US forces against Iranian rockets.


The US wants to demonstrate its resolve to Tehran as well as allay concerns among its Gulf allies that it will be there to support them in case Iran becomes aggressive. The credibility of the US had suffered when Obama had seemed to be reaching out to Iran early in his term at the expense of traditional American allies in the region. Now the US is trying to rectify those perceptions. There is, of course, another element in the US thinking and it is to reassure Israel that America will take the steps necessary to counter Iran, and that Tel Aviv should desist from undertaking any unilateral military strike.


For the US, a lot is at stake in the evolving strategic environment in West Asia. Seven years after the US invaded Iraq, in part to transform West Asia, Iran is ascendant while many see an America in retreat and the Arab states awash in sectarian currents that many blame the US for exacerbating. Iran, meanwhile, has deepened its relationship with Palestinian Islamic groups, assuming a financial role once filled by Arab Gulf states. In Lebanon and Iraq, Iran is fighting proxy battles against the US with funds, arms and ideology. Reminiscent of the heady days of the 1979 Islamic revolution, Iran is today exerting power and influence in the strategic vacuum created by the overthrow of the Iranian foes in Afghanistan and Iraq.


Facing these realities, the US is back to good old-fashioned balance of power politics in the region. Across the region, the Shia-Sunni divide is increasing at a menacing pace, with the potential to destabilise the entire region. The rise of Iran is seen as symptomatic of Shia resurgence, to the discomfiture of Sunni regimes in the region. As a consequence, the US is hoping that Iran's rise will provide a single, agreed enemy that can serve as the organising point of reference of policies throughout the region.


As the endgame nears in US-Iran confrontation, India will be confronted with difficult diplomatic choices. India has significant stakes in the strategic stability in the Gulf. The crisis between the US and Iran is not going to get resolved merely because India wants a peaceful resolution of the Iranian problem. Therefore, it is imperative that India starts re-assessing its options and thinking clearly as to what it can do to maintain the balance of power in the region, so crucial for Indian interests.


The writer teaches at King's College, London.







OURS was a generation that grew up on stories narrated by mothers and grandmothers. Stories that were sometimes sad, sometimes funny but invariably with a moral. In joint families, a system that, alas, has all but disappeared, ones aunts, uncles, sisters, cousins, maids et al too were often repositories of innumerable tales, fables, myths and legend. As children we would huddle around them and their words would cast a spell on us transporting us to lands unknown.


A whole new world of daring warriors and crusaders from the Mahabharata, the Ramayana and the like unfolded before us as did the wisdom of the Panchatantra through their narration. Tales of courage and valour, honour and pride, betrayal and deceit, beauty and character stimulated our imagination and fuelled fantasy.


In school to there would always be one or two teachers who would excel in the art of story telling. Many were the evenings spent listening to them with rapt attention as they recreated the world of fairies, tiny dwarfs and little imps, of ferocious giants and fire-spitting dragons, fierce ogres and demons, of swashbuckling knights and fair maidens. In the end, good had to prevail over evil and truth triumphed.


Ours was the age of romanticism and high adventure, sensitivity and perception. It was not as if we were bereft of reason and rationale. It was something else. I think it was that we believed as children, in magic and that yes, there was a "Once upon a time."


The present times, because of the advent of hi-tech, have snatched away from those wideeyed tiny-tots their gift of incredulous wonder. Gone is their ability to indulge in flights of fancy and to dream of an Alice in Wonderland or Alladin and his Magic Lamp. The Pied Piper of Hammylin or Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves. Or the awesome escapades of Hanuman and the pranks of Krishana and his cowherd companions of Brindaban.


In the here and now everything has been reduced to laptops, ipods, ipads, internet, google, youtube, Cisco, Oracle, it's endless. Who has the time to take these toddlers on these fascinating journeys into the enchanting world of the real, the unreal and the make-believe!


I wonder why we have stopped talking to our children and listening to their prater. Our history, our culture, our folk and all that is our heritage is so rich, vibrant and colourful. Yet we allow them to be possessed by the television, electronic and computer generated games. No longer bedtime stories or lullabies. Sagas of heroes, monarchs, patriots, scholars, soldiers, bards, all but consigned to oblivion.


Theodre H. White in his remarkably well-researched book "In Search of History" writes about President John F. Kennedy of America never tiring of listening to the lines from Camelot, the story of King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table, "Don't let it be forgot, that once there was a spot, for one brief shining moment that was known as Camelot". Every child is entitled to his or her Camelot, to their dreams, even those less privileged.


Prince and pauper, sinner and saint, jester and clown, it is the circle of life in many hues and in the realm of perhaps the real, maybe the unreal. We live on hope. One day fortune will surely smile on those who keep faith. Miracles do happen. Magic is there. And of course, believe you me, there always was a "Once upon a time".








Politicians are again under the scanner for their role in the IPL. The complex web of intrigue and investment, slush funds and tax havens could not have survived without the patronage of politicians. While the IPL is under a cloud, the Bombay High Court has struck the right note. Is there a conflict of interest if a serving minister remains an active member of a sports body, it has asked.


MONEY laundering, betting and 'ayyashi'. Underworld connections and use of black money. Deals aimed at tax evasion , international monetary deals and foreign exchange violations. Silent ownerships and match-fixing. Manipulating contracts in favour of cronies. The range of allegations clouding the Indian Premier League is truly mind boggling.


Eyebrows were raised at the marketing gimmicks this year. Deals were signed with cinema halls to screen IPL matches live. It was a win-win situation because late night shows in multiplexes rarely attract a full house. The rates were high and everybody seemed happy.


Even the fines imposed on captains for slow over-rate were astronomical. According to media reports, Sourav Ganguly and Sachin Tendulkar were fined Rs 10 lakhs. How much money were the players being paid ?


What was even more brazen is the cocky claim that the IPL had no tax liability since it was a part of the Board of Control for Cricket in India, which is registered as a charitable organisation devoted to promoting cricket in the country. It was public knowledge that the IPL had earned a revenue of over Rs 600 crore in the first season itself ---websites and periodicals and business papers were falling over each other to hail IPL and Modi for beating the recession.


But the Finance ministry and its regulatory bodies, the Enforcement Directorate, the CBDT, the Registrar of Companies, seemed strangely silent. The CBDT now claims it raised questions last year and sent notices. But the agencies clearly had no 'political mandate' to go after the IPL.


That is where politics comes in. Whether it is business or industry, educational institution or entertainment, trust or a cooperative-without blessings from politicians, nothing really works. But the Finance Minister has now assured the Parliament that no wrong-doer would be spared. And the agencies have quickly gone into an over-drive, raiding offices, interrogating people, sending notices and summons.


The whiff of a political witch-hunt is undeniable. TV channels and the media openly speculated that the ruling dispensation is out to corner Sharad Pawar, who is considered ambitious and having the capacity to embarrass the UPA government. By putting his protégé Lalit Modi on the mat, heat could be turned on him.


While nothing has emerged so far to directly link Pawar to the murky deals of the IPL, he still appeared vulnerable because of his son-in-law. Sadanand Sule, it was leaked, had stakes in a company which negotiated the revised telecast rights of the IPL. Pawar's daughter, Supriya, was quoted as saying that her family had 'nothing to do with the IPL' but the dirt stuck. Following the leaks she shifted position and explained that the stakes were inherited by her husband and that too way back in the early nineties.


The selective leaks do suggest a sinister pattern of the establishment hitting out at political rivals. The onus is clearly on the finance minister to table in Parliament a preliminary report detailing the findings. It remains to be seen if this is done before the Parliament is adjourned, in the first week of May, till the winter.


Even the Bombay High Court has queered the pitch. On Monday it asked the Maharashtra state government to file its reply by May 5 on a substantive question of law. Is there a conflict of interest, it asked, if a serving minister also serves the BCCI ? Can ministers hold office even in charitable organisations ?


There are other politicians ( see box) whose roles have come under a scanner. Many more seem to have escaped scrutiny. With the kind of incestuous relationship politics has with business and industry in this country, it would be a wonder if the murky deals being alleged in the IPL do not lead to politicians.


Even the success of the IPL is being credited to politicians. How did all the 55 matches start on time ? How did the flights maintain their schedules ? How is it that power never went off during the IPL matches ? How much money did the state governments pay for security and other arrangements ? How is it that the bureaucrats in so many states went out of their way to ensure that glitches do not mar the event ?




Do politicians have silent stakes in Rajasthan Royals, Kolkata Knight Riders and Kings XI Punjab ? Despite denials by Shilpa Shetty, Shah Rukh Khan and Preity Zinta, CBDT sources claim that investigations are on to find out if some of these franchises sent money overseas through hawala. Sources of funds used in the auction of these teams in 2008 are being traced to find the involvement of companies registered in safe havens like Mauritius or Cayman islands.


"We do not know the entire structure by which money came to India, and we have to establish how money laundering took place. The facilitation payment running into millions of US Dollars could actually be a commission," claimed a member of the CBDT.


It remains to be seen if the opposition in Parliament mellows on its demand for a Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC) to investigate into the IPL. It has been suggested that while official agencies are competent to carry out the inquiry and report to Parliament, the JPC should turn its attention to money stashed in tax havens and in Swiss banks.








Before Sharad Pawar, the closest a Maharashtrian politician came to shaking up the cricketing establishment was S K Wankhede, a former Speaker in the state assembly. As President of the BCCI, he locked horns with the hallowed Cricket Club of India over share of tickets during matches. When the CCI refused to oblige him, he simply got the state government to allot land and built a new stadium in just six months flat in the mid-1970s. The stadium was named after Wankhede himself, possibly as a tribute to his ability to mobilise funds and cement in an era of shortages.



While supporters of Pawar are seen to be doing well in the field of cricket, his opponents have been brought to grief. Dnyaneshwar Agashe from the Mumbai Cricket Association was supposed to vote at the BCCI election in which Pawar was defeated. Agashe was delayed as the train he had taken to Kolkata did not reach on time and failed to cast his vote. People thought he did it deliberately. Shortly afterwards he found his business ruined. Cases were filed against him by the home ministry in the state controlled by the NCP because of which Agashe was put behind bars. He died allegedly because medical assistance was denied to him while in jail.



Sunil Gavaskar, the Indian legend who is also Vishwanath's brother-in-law, wrote shortly before the KSCA election in 2007, "The result of the election will tell you whether the voters want those who have played cricket at the highest level to run the game in their state, or those who profess to be interested in the game but are actually there only for the increased profile that it will bring. So, if Gundappa Vishwanath doesn't become the president of the KSCA and his opponent, who has never probably held a bat in his life wins, then that will be a good indication of what those who run grassroots cricket want". Vishwanath lost.









Die? I should say not, dear fellow. No Barrymore would allow such a conventional thing to happen to him," actor John Barrymore, who was fighting cirrhosis, famously said on May 29, 1942. A few minutes later, he passed away.

 Lalit Modi's tweet on Sunday afternoon ("As normal practice after GC we will schedule a press conferance (sic) at noon tomorrow") was similarly unprophetic. He was sacked that night with his promise unfulfilled. At least it wasn't the last tweet of his life, just the last as IPL chairman.

 Modi is neither the most innocent nor the most conventional victim of the Board of Control for Cricket in India, the white elephant many of us have spent our entire careers fighting. But he could end up as just another casualty in a long list of power-brokers who thought they'd become larger than the intangible pillars that hold up the giant BCCI edifice. The way the board closed ranks last week was classic, like it has done many times before, and better than anyone else does.

However, by taking a moral high road to justify this mandatory weeding, the BCCI has left itself open to severe criticism. If Modi was actually removed for lack of transparency, kickbacks and family ties with the IPL franchises, the board must explain why it allowed him to run riot for three years, and why it still lets the biggest conflict of interest – secretary N Srinivasan is the owner of Chennai Super Kings – continue. Without this the action against Modi can't be seen as part of a genuine cleansing, and the raging IPL storm still has the capacity to blow away the BCCI – edifice and all. Which (it's hard for me to finish this sentence after slamming the board for years) will be disastrous for cricket in India.

 For all the crimes that columnists such as I have held the cricket board guilty of, the events of the last three years have been proof enough that the BCCI needs to survive for Indian cricket to have a bright future. Simply because the alternatives are too scary to consider.

On one side there are politicians and bureaucrats such as Suresh Kalmadi and KPS Gill, who turn everything they touch into ash. With them at the helm, it's only a matter of time before India fights with Zimbabwe for a place on the Test circuit.

   On the other side are corporate houses, which have tasted blood after the IPL's success and will be more than happy to take control of everything, milk the sport dry, and move on. If they're in charge, cricket will be reduced to a money-spinning slugfest in which genuine batsmen will be considered old-school, and captains will take orders from consultants.

One could argue that the BCCI, too, has a history of businessmen, politicians and bureaucrats – M A Chidambaram, M Chinnaswamy, S K Wankhede, Scindia, Bindra, Dungarpur, Muthiah, Dalmiya, – and that many of them are still involved in various capacities. But these administrators, the board's old guard, did not harm cricket as terminally over the years as other games in India were destroyed by their federations. Despite individual interests, petty corruptions and shady deals, at some level these guys still loved the sport, and still did things for its betterment.

 It wasn't easy to find it, but there was some good in their intentions right through. This trait was again displayed last week by Shashank Manohar – an archetype of the old guard: earthy, conventional, firm – when he put his foot down to oust Modi despite the threat of exposure and pressure from patriarch Sharad Pawar.
   But Manohar stopped halfway by not accepting the board's mistake of allowing cricket to be put at risk, by not announcing a complete shake-up, and by not asking Srinivasan to make a choice between his team and his office. Already, Modi has threatened to hit back through his latest tweet: "I am still chairman of IPL. Just suspended. Wait – we have just begun." The board will have to go the whole hog to ensure these are no more than famous last words.



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So the bad guy at the Indian Premier League (IPL) is out, an interim chief has taken over in place of the disgraced but still defiant Lalit Modi, an interim management team has been put in place to look after IPL's fourth season, another team has been put in place to examine the records (some of which are said to be missing) and Mr Modi's culpability, and to deal with all queries from investigating agencies, like the income tax department. In all probability, a new management team with a professional CEO will be appointed and, in much the same way that a company is run, this team will report to the IPL governing council. In other words, the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) is promising the country that Mr Modi was an aberration and, from now on, IPL will be run by the book.

This promise should be taken with a pinch of salt. Too much has come out for there to be any credibility to the thesis that Mr Modi had been playing a solo game for three years. If the investigation and clean-up are to be credible, they must be seen as shielding no one. It is by no means certain that BCCI-IPL can deliver such an exercise, so there is a good case for an external agency stepping in. It would also be a good idea if the government were to make public what its investigation arms and "survey" teams have found by way of tax evasion, foreign exchange violations and the like.

The source of the IPL problem is manifestly BCCI-run as it is by politicians, ex-bureaucrats and sundry folks with their thumbs in the pie even as they declare in unison "What a good boy am I!". The web of interlocking interests, marked by conflicts of interest, lax governance and opaque deal-making, has to be shredded if India is to get the cricket administration it deserves. Getting the government to take it over, as some have suggested, is a terrible idea. And yet, BCCI cannot be allowed to make pots of money through a government-mandated monopoly, and yet be accountable to no one but itself. A good way to start cutting through the maze would be to declare that such sports monopolies with tax-free status are automatically covered under the law on the right to information; this will ensure a level of transparency and accountability that has been missing so far. A parallel step should be to declare that all posts in such bodies are by definition offices of profit, so that no parliamentarian controls these organisations. It is evident today, for instance, that the UPA government's parliamentary arithmetic has led to both Sharad Pawar and Praful Patel being treated with kid gloves, and quite differently from Shashi Tharoor, for instance.

Finally, the new people who have been put in charge of IPL need to ensure that this cricket extravaganza loses none of its lustre. The tournament has given a massive opportunity for dozens of players to showcase their abilities and become household names, and it has brought the best global players to play before Indian audiences for several weeks every year. These will contribute to the popularity of the sport and help build new depth in India's cricket talent. For that, if nothing else, even an unlamented Lalit Modi deserves congratulations; he has done more for Indian cricket than many of the worthies who continue to occupy BCCI's seats of authority.






The Met forecast that this year's monsoon is going to be "normal" will provide reassurance to many, since the country has just come through a drought year. But the reliability of the Met office's long-range monsoon predictions has been so poor that fingers should continue to be crossed. Bear in mind that met officials failed to predict the droughts of 2002, 2004 and 2009. Last year, the Met's first-stage long-range rainfall projection was 96 per cent of normal rainfall. An updated forecast of 93 per cent precipitation, made after the onset of the monsoon in June, also turned out to be too optimistic. The unprecedented step of revisiting the forecast in August, when the monsoon season was already more than half way through, resulted in an anticipated rainfall figure of 87 per cent. In the event, actual rainfall was just 77 per cent of normal. So, when the same Met people forecast 98 per cent of normal precipitation this year, bear in mind this track record.

The truth is that the forecasting ability of the Met department has shown little or no improvement over decades. As much has been acknowledged by the weather scientists themselves in some of the research papers published in recent years. The only bright spot was a brief period, between 1988 and 1993, when the Met generated fairly accurate long-range forecasts by using a 16-parameteric power regression model. That model too proved unreliable subsequently, and had to be discarded after it failed to give any indication of the 2002 drought, which saw a 19 per cent deficiency in rainfall, against the Met prophecy of it being 1 per cent above normal. Since then the Met has been tinkering with various monsoon prediction models. The model used for generating this year's rainfall prediction of 98 per cent is the same five-parameteric statistical model that was used last year. Introduced in 2007, this model has already erred twice. What confidence can such a record inspire?

 The Met department has invested in strengthening its data-collection infrastructure, instrumentation and forecasting techniques after the 2002 drought. It now possesses a fairly dense network of satellite-based automatic rain gauge stations for online monitoring, an augmented network of upper air observations, an intensive infrastructure of S-band Doppler radars for complete coverage of coastal areas and more C-band storm detection radars, besides, of course, better computing facilities for faster data processing. Failure after all this points to plain incompetence.








The economic news from China is habitually "inflectionary", conveying frequently a dramatic break from the past. Just when you thought that the output numbers are unrealistically high, there comes another series which is even higher. For many years, the official growth GDP target has been around 8 per cent, with officials sheepishly admitting to double-digit growth post facto. This year's growth too will cross 11 per cent while the rest of the world is still wobbly. Consider more recent news. The exporting juggernaut, whose trade surplus has been as high as 7 per cent of its GDP, is now reporting a trade deficit for the first time in six years. Imports have been surging at a pace of 85 per cent, with cooper and oil imports alone clocking 130 per cent in March. This data also reflects import inflation, but clearly the export behemoth is now a giant sucking sound for imports too. In automobiles, China has replaced the US as the biggest car maker.

This was supposed to happen only in 2020, not now. Last year, when car production in the US fell drastically, Chinese auto makers grew at 45 per cent, further accelerating to 72 per cent in March. During the pre-crisis super-cycle years, Chinese consumption accounted for more than half the world's production of aluminium, copper, cement, coal and iron ore. Those pre-crisis shares continue to go higher, and even prices threaten to go back to pre-crisis levels. So, even as China's export markets are yet to recover, its domestic consumption is stepping in, indicating a much overdue rebalancing. While China slowly switches its GDP composition toward domestic consumption rather than exports, it no longer wants to be a price-taker in the world. Its size as consumer and producer is large enough for it to try and tilt the terms of trade to its advantage. Thus, in energy markets, it is actively securing oilfields in Africa, in addition to stockpiling at home. The most recent example of Niger shows that a military coup and overthrow of a detested dictator does not alter the diplomatic leverage of China.

 Indeed, it may enhance, thanks to its deep pockets as buyer and willing investor in infrastructure. In metals too, China has its own metal exchange in Shanghai, where price discovery is often different from the more liquid and historically entrenched London Metal Exchange.

Prices of many metals can be as much as 20 per cent cheaper in Shanghai. But that does not mean that arbitrageurs can buy cheap in Shanghai and sell dear in London. Export restrictions, a clever VAT rebate and elaborate regulations ensure that only downstream and value-added domestic producers can access that cheap metal in China, while the rest of the world has to contend with much higher price of raw materials. In iron ore, where it is a major consumer, China has caused the global giants to buckle and abandon annual contracts, and switch to more frequent quarterly adjustments. The arrest of senior Rio Tinto executives was also seen as indirect arm twisting into either allowing Chinalco a stake in Rio or else a guarantee to lower priced ore (Rio Tinto sells $10 billion worth of ore to China). The most long-lasting strategic manipulation has been of the currency, which remains significantly undervalued (but more about this below).

Till the developed economies collapsed in the wake of the financial crisis, China depended on them both as consumer markets and also as source of foreign direct investments. If there is one country which could use leverage to browbeat China into behaving less strategically (i.e. accepting market forces), it is the US. The US and China have an uneasy equilibrium relationship, not unlike a Sumo wrestler lock. For the past decade, it was the interlocking of a large trade deficit and large surplus of the respective countries. Under President Barack Obama, there have been plenty of reasons for this relation to sour. These include Tibet (Dalai Lama), Taiwan (US arms sale against Chinese wishes), Google (freedom of speech), Iran (Chinese refusal to support sanctions), environment, trade and, of course, currency protectionism. Despite these thorns, the US has been reluctant to discipline its Sumo wrestling partner. Despite plenty of evidence, the US did not use its domestic legislative power to label China a currency manipulator. On its part ,China owns more than $1 trillion of US bonds, which are financing the huge US fiscal deficit. But it still can't credibly threaten to dump these bonds, for what else will it buy? The Sumo embrace thus continues.

The Dragon's strategic behaviour holds lessons for India as well. Firstly, on currency. We must avoid excessive overvaluation, now that the chances of yuan revaluation are slim. Secondly, we must recognise (like the Chinese) that exports create jobs, imports don't.

Thirdly, the scope for using cheaper imports to curb inflation is limited, since energy prices are anyway not a pass through.

China is India's biggest trading partner, but the composition of that trade is very skewed, implying long-term strategic disadvantage for India. Indeed, China recently replaced India as Bangladesh's biggest trading partner, a fact which should cause grave concern. Are China's low-cost producers with access to low-cost Shanghai metal and artificially low-priced energy enjoying unfair advantage? Indian power sector players don't enjoy symmetric access to China, as do their Chinese counterparts to Indian markets, a fact publicly lamented by the likes of L&T and Bhel. No wonder that the WTO has denied China full membership market-economy status. But this handicap has not deterred China from employing wily, non-market methods in exploiting world trade.

India and China together have about 11 per cent of world's GDP, but only China seems to be using its clout which comes with size. It is time India too adopted some Dragon dancing steps to match its 1.5 trillion dollar status.

The author is Chief Economist, Aditya Birla Group. Views expressed are personal








On February 12, Union Health and Family Welfare Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad sent out a letter to all deans and principals of medical and dental colleges situated in different parts of the country. In retrospect, it did appear to be an unusual letter from a minister.

 In that letter, the minister said that it had come to his notice that some persons claiming to be close to him were approaching medical as well as dental colleges with the promise that they could ensure approval or recognition of their colleges for both under-graduation and post-graduation courses for the 2010-11 academic year. The apparent purpose behind the minister's move to send out the letter was to inform them "categorically" that he had not authorised any individual or organisation to approach any medical and dental college on his behalf for such permissions.

The letter contained another interesting directive. It asked the medical and dental colleges to call the minister on his phone, or inform him through a fax letter or e-mail him (the letter listed the minister's phone numbers and his personal e-mail address) if anybody approached them on his behalf or on behalf of the Medical Council of India (MCI) or the Dental Council of India. There was even an assurance of necessary action from the minister against those approaching these colleges with such unusual offers.

Finally, the minister's letter reiterated his desire to maintain absolute transparency in the functioning of his ministry. A warning followed. "If any college authority entertains such middlemen or brokers, it will be viewed seriously and I would not hesitate to take stringent and stern action, including withdrawal of the recognition and debarring from admitting a new batch of students for a year or two," the letter warned.

It is not clear what response the minister's letter may have evoked from the medical and dental colleges. However, its significance must have dawned on everybody last Thursday, when the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) arrested the president of the Medical Council of India (MCI), Dr Ketan Desai, in a Rs 2-crore bribery case. In addition to the MCI president, the CBI also arrested three more persons, all of whom were alleged to be middlemen from a medical college based in Patiala. The CBI case rested on its finding that the MCI president had granted permission to a medical college to start admissions in violation of existing rules in return for monetary considerations.

Did the minister have an inkling of the financial malpractices that afflicted the system of granting permissions to medical and dental colleges for starting operations? It would certainly appear so if the February 12 letter from Azad is any indication. If the minister was aware of such malpractices, several questions arise. It was clear from his letter that he knew that his name was being used to secure irregular clearances for medical and dental colleges. If he knew that his name was being misused, was a simple letter warning the medical and dental colleges enough? Or was it simply a convenient ploy to keep his own name out of a potential scandal? It would be interesting to know what concrete steps the minister for health and family welfare took to cleanse the corrupt system, apart from warning the medical and dental colleges.

It might be argued that the CBI action against the middlemen from the Patiala medical college and the MCI president was the outcome of a ministerial initiative only. And his letter (which was put up on the ministry's website and given due publicity by his staff in March this year) to the medical and dental colleges was part of the same ministerial strategy. However, several weeks lapsed between February 12 and April 22. Did the minister wait for an opportune moment for some middlemen to fall into the trap and vindicate the stand he took in his letter? Why didn't he use the intervening period to clean up the system and put in place checks and balances to prevent such malpractices from taking place?

Yet another disturbing development pertains to the manner in which the health and family welfare minister responded to the CBI action last Thursday. Immediately after the CBI arrests on April 22, Azad said the government had no plan to remove Ketan Desai as MCI president as the Council was an elected body and it was up to the Council to take such a decision. "The government can neither elect nor remove the MCI president," Azad had said. This may be the correct position. But surely the government cannot remain a passive bystander if the country's medical and dental colleges are run by a regulatory body in violation of all known codes of conduct and good governance. Sending out letters of warning is not enough. Ministers must also initiate steps to fix the problems in the system.






Would you eat your favourite brand of noodles if you knew it had a chemical that is carcinogenic? You would probably change your brand immediately.

Last year you voted for your local MP because your favourite newspaper did lots of stories about how he had done a great job. What if you came to know that those articles in the paper were actually paid for by the candidate and that he was a fraud? Can you change him?

 What if you came to know that the Rs 10 lakh you spent on an MBA degree for your son was a waste. The ranking of institutes by the magazine you went by was paid for. The institute was not half as good as it was made out to be. Can you take your son out of it?

If you would not accept adulteration in what you eat or drink or use for personal hygiene, why would you accept it in your media brand. Both have equally disastrous consequences.

Yet there is no way knowing which newspaper or news channel is carrying paid news or adulterated content and which isn't. There is no rating, no sign that indicates this. In fact, till recently, there was no evidence that this was happening.

Then came the Lok Sabha elections of 2009. In the run up to the elections, some of India's best-known newspapers and news channels (English and language) were alleged to have charged money from candidates for coverage. Following complaints, the Press Council of India (PCI) appointed a sub-committee. Its draft report, which will be finalised this week, documents more than a hundred examples of paid news based on the evidence within newspapers and news channels and from interviews with politicians of all hues. Almost every media brand accused has denied any wrong-doing.

The draft, which I have read, is weak on documentary evidence. But if you know how the news business operates, then there is enough to show that there has been large-scale, institutionalised hanky panky.

This, as co-author of the report Paranjoy Guha Thakurta puts it, "is fraud at three levels". One, it is hoodwinking the reader. In most newspapers and news channels, there is a clear differentiation between advertising and editorial content. If you read a supplement or an article praising a bank or a company that is paid for, it is usually marked as "Media Marketing Initiative", or "Advertorial". Globally, that is a valid way of selling space. But in this case, the whole value of the coverage and the premium paid for it depend on the reader's belief that this is news.

Two, the money comes to the media company in cash, so shareholders and income tax authorities lose.

Three, it flouts the Election Commission norms which limit publicity expenditure, because candidates don't show it as such.

Most publishers and news broadcasters are sanguine about the whole thing. The going belief is that at the end of the day, even if readers came to know, they wouldn't care. Maybe they don't. But what if they don't even know the extent to which this is happening. From the movie you see to the fridge you buy to the holiday you take, newspapers and news channels influence everything. If readers knew the full extent of the fraud, they would react.

And for that it is critical that media brands that don't sell their editorial, and there are dozens of those, get together to shame the brands doing it. How about a Michelin-style rating or badge. "This paper does not carry paid content in any hidden form," a simple disclaimer made loudly and proudly. And a rating either from the PCI or any other non-governmental body, say a consulting firm that audits ethics, just like it audits corporate social responsibility programmes. Why not make that the gold standard of media brands. Think of it as the J D Power rating of credibility, albeit in another context.

The bottom line is that people break rules and benefit because there is a silent majority of people who follow them.

Why then not turn the tables on the rule-breakers and create a premium for brands that don't compromise? It benefits consumers and could actually turn out to be a profitable way of dealing with a mucky situation. 






At the height of the first Naxal movement, reflections of the revolution could be seen in the works of writers from Kerala, Bengal, Andhra and other "affected" states. Some romanced the gun, some romanced the revolutionaries; some were fiercely anguished works that are still read, if only in the college library.

It is unwise to expect the conflicts of the day to draw an immediate response from writers, but the Maoist conflict in India over the last few years has begun to leave its mark on writing in English. You may or may not be among the ranks of Naipaul believers, but give him credit for his sharp instincts.

 In 2004, four years before Red Sun, Sudeep Chakravarti's non-fiction exploration of Salwa Judum and the Maoists, was published, Naipaul came out with Magic Seeds, in which his protagonist Willie Chandran joins a revolutionary movement in India. Like C P Surendran's 2006 Iron Harvest, Magic Seeds illustrates the pitfalls of writing about revolution. Ideological debates seldom make for strong plot points, and it requires the cynical eye of a Graham Greene to turn calls to the barricades into good writing. Naipaul flourished his own brand of cynicism: "Murders of class enemies — which now meant only peasants with a little too much land — were required now, to balance the successes of the police." But if Iron Harvest was imbued with an excess of revolutionary fervour and disillusionment, Magic Seeds exuded listlessness.

Perhaps non-fiction will be the more useful form for this insurgency, or conflict. Before Arundhati Roy walked with the comrades, Jason Motlagh did a prescient piece that reflected his unease with the aims and the violence of the present-day Maoists. In 2001, journalist Satnam had travelled to Bastar to meet the comrades; his deeply sympathetic account was published in 2003 in Punjabi. Jangalnama: Travels in A Maoist Guerrilla Zone (Penguin) has just been published in English, and it's both interesting and dated.

Satnam is blunt about the fact that his sympathies lie with the Maoists, and in many parts, Jangalnama reads like a paean to the simplicity and openness of tribal life — with a nod to the considerable economic hardships. "The laws of Manu have not influenced their lives," he observes, joining in with the 18-hour marches, the collective song sessions, the basic meals of rice with pumpkin gravy. There is much understanding and sympathy here — in fact, the parallels between Satnam's journey and Roy's more recent journey are startling — but no questioning of violence, and little reflection on the lives of the children whose co-option into the movement as young guerrillas is essentially choiceless. Jangalnama is interesting as a historical curiosity, but Satnam's romanticising becomes a barrier. The great revolutionary novel or account of this decade is yet to be written.

RIP, Alan Sillitoe

"A sure qualification for turning into a writer is to grow up with a divided personality…" Alan Sillitoe, who died this week at the age of 82, wrote in his biography, Life Without Armour. It's a pity the book is out-of-print, because it remains a remarkably honest account by one of Britain's Angry Young Men.

Sillitoe's life was brutal; his father was a vicious drunk, his mother sent him — briefly — to an institution for the mentally challenged because they provided free porridge and daily meals, and he led a working man's life for years before making his bones as a writer. But this is really a reader's biography: pages and pages taken up by lists of what he was reading, the early discovery of the Williams and Biggles books, the comforts of the public library. He was a voracious reader, despite his father knocking books out of the young Alan's hands.

Sillitoe wrote a great deal more than most realise, but the book we all remember is iconic: The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner. It marked a point in British writing when stories about "us" and "them" were being written by "them", for perhaps the first time in the 20th century. The protagonist discovers his talent for cross-country running while in a Borstal prison, realises both a genuine passion for running and his contempt for the governor who wants him to win a specific race. Instead of mourning Sillitoe, read Long Distance Runner again: "Cunning is what counts in this life, and even that you've got to use in the slyest way you can; I'm telling you straight: they're cunning, and I'm cunning. If only 'them' and 'us' had the same ideas, we'd get on like a house on fire, but they don't see eye to eye with us and we don't see eye to eye with them, so that's how it stands and how it will always stand." 








The recent financial and economic (crisis) has underscored the limits of monetary policy, and endowed fiscal policy, severely mauled several years ago by Milton Friedman and the Chicago School, with the new-found halo of macro-economic tool of last resort. What is less prominently underscored, however, is that beyond restoring growth, the crisis has also defined entirely new spheres for fiscal policy, such as financial stability and correcting global imbalances. These new roles would make fiscal exit, already complicated by the confluence of rising (crisis related) cyclical and (ageing related) structural deficits, even harder. They also compound the difficulties of keeping public debt, including contingent liabilities in the form of effective public guarantees, within sustainable levels.

Some emerging markets had no doubt been using fiscal policy as part of their overall strategy to counter the destabilising impact of large capital inflows. Financial stability, however, has traditionally been addressed through regulation that ensured transparency, avoided conflicts of interest through firewalls, protected consumer and shareholder rights, ensured liquid and competitive markets, put limits on leverage, and mandated adequate capital buffers to avoid liquidity traps and provision for losses, etcetera. The recent crisis has now underscored how fragile and procyclical financial markets can be and, with several financial institutions being considered too systemically important to be allowed to fail, taxpayers' money and guarantees are likely to be used to bail out what are essentially public utilities.

One way of addressing the issue is to break up financial institutions too large to fail, and raise capital buffers, including fee-based contributions by financial institutions to Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC)-type insurance bodies that can resolve individual failures. The international consensus, at least in advanced economies, however, appears to be veering in the direction of taxing the financial sector to recover, and provide for future, public bailouts in the belief that, consequential moral hazards notwithstanding, these are eventually unavoidable. The underlying belief is that it is neither desirable nor practicable to break up big financial institutions. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has lent its considerable authority and influence to this viewpoint. These taxes may initially be a new source of revenue but have the potential of distorting markets, fuelling new public expenditures and subjecting taxpayers to greater risks in the long run.

Despite the fact that the global economy has rarely been balanced, and current account imbalances reflect developmental, demographic and cultural asymmetries across nation states, the recent crisis has painted global imbalances as the fall guy whose disciplining is essential to reduce future risks to the global economy. Reducing global imbalances has become the subject of a raging debate amongst economists, in financial daily OpEds and within the G20.

Unfortunately, the debate has focussed excessively on economies with the biggest current account imbalances and the role of pegged exchange rates. Simplistic solutions like tweaking the dollar-yen exchange rate under the Plaza Accord did little to reduce Japan's current account balance. Neither did the appreciation of the Chinese yuan post-2005 diminish China's. Since a disproportionate share of China's exports involves processing of imported goods, Chinese exports are likely to be less affected by currency appreciation that would only make imports cheaper. Moreover, in the absence of other adjustments, the US may simply end up importing similar but costlier goods from other countries less competitive and productive than China, but more competitive and productive than the US. Even countries with floating exchange rates, such as Germany and Japan, have significant external imbalances, and there are imbalances even within the eurozone. Indeed, given the vast differences in productivity between Germany on the one hand and Southern Europe on the other, an appreciation of the euro could actually worsen current account imbalances of the latter.

External imbalances simply mirror domestic savings and investment imbalances, and can ultimately be adjusted only through changes in domestic consumption and investment patterns. While public policy can influence both, consumption patterns are largely cultural and behavioural in nature, whereas investment responds more to economic opportunities and policies. Thus, the loose monetary policy in the noughties in the US fuelled an asset-based consumption boom, while similarly low real interest rates fuelled an investment boom in China. US households are increasing their savings to repair their asset price-inflated balance sheets, but this is being partly offset by rising public sector government dis-savings as the government tries to compensate for the fall in private demand to stimulate growth, and takes on the liabilities of the over-leveraged financial sector. While changes in monetary policy may be required to prevent a relapse into overconsumption through future asset price booms, short-term interest rates may be too blunt a policy instrument for this, as there is likely to be collateral damage to investment and growth. Over the medium to long term, beyond reducing government's own deficit, fiscal policy may be required to dampen private consumption, as the current US debate on the introduction of a new value added tax indicates.

In surplus countries, on the other hand, either government expenditures would need to rise, or taxes lowered, to increase consumption. The jury, however, is still out debating whether such policy changes would induce the behavioural changes necessary to reduce savings and enhance consumption, especially since these would need to counter the logic of demographic transition and cultural preferences. Japan's burgeoning fiscal deficits have not resolved external imbalances. Would putting extra money in the hands of a Swabian housewife induce her to spend more or save more? Would increased government expenditure on social security nets in China induce Chinese households to collectively spend more of their current income even as dependency and poverty ratios fall? If fiscal adjustments simultaneously enhance fiscal deficits, as is likely although theoretically not necessary, there would be the additional pitfall of ricardian equivalence, as consumers may simply save more to offset higher taxes in future.

Ironically, despite being discredited for contributing to economic crises in the recent past, and question marks on its efficacy, since monetary policy has also been found wanting, the recent crisis has not only crowned fiscal policy as the macro-economic policy tool of last resort, but is also resurrecting it for new functions to address financial stability and global imbalances. This could bring fiscal policy under increasing pressure not only in deficit countries, where it is already an issue, but also in surplus countries, where it is presently not an issue. While the tool itself may be robust, policy-makers would need to use the tool adroitly, especially since there could be conflicting objectives at the best of times. Moreover, experience indicates that fiscal policy tends to get emasculated by the political minefield it has to necessarily navigate. Going forward, this does not bode well for either inflation or interest rates.

The author is a civil servant.The views expressed are personal






Manmohan Singh and Yusuf Raza Gilani hold the key to South Asia's progress

The world is convinced that the 21st century will be Asia's century. The only question is whether it will be only East Asia's century or South Asia's as well.

China's great moderniser Deng Xiaoping famously told the late Rajiv Gandhi that "the 21st century can only be the Asian century if India and China combine to make it so". Prime Minister Manmohan Singh can well tell his Pakistani counterpart this week that the only way South Asia can become a vibrant element of the new Asian century is if India and Pakistan combine to make it so.

As leaders of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (Saarc) meet later this week in Bhutan, they must all ask themselves where this important part of Asia is headed, even as Asia to our East moves relentlessly forward.

Do any of Saarc's members have a future that can be truly independent of their South Asian identity? Hardly. Can Pakistan hope to be part of a dynamic and rising Asia without resolving its problems at home and with India? Impossible. Can India sustain high growth for long, like China, without a more cooperative relationship with its neighbours, including Pakistan? Unlikely.

At the end of the first decade of the 21st century, South Asia stands once again at a cross roads. It can go forward, along with the more dynamic economies of East Asia, and emerge as the second engine of global growth by the middle of the century, or it can remain in a low-level equilibrium of poverty, conflict and perpetual instability.

If there are any political leaders or strategic analysts in any of the South Asian countries who think that their country can break loose from the neighbourhood and have a rosy future irrespective of what happens in the region, they live in a world of make believe.

The region has had such leaders before. Many in Pakistan thought they could delink from South Asia and attach themselves to the richer Arab and Islamic world to their west. Some in India thought New Delhi too can delink itself from its neighbourhood and "Look East" for prosperity. South Asia's smaller countries also had fanciful notions of their individual autonomy. Some, like the Maoists in Nepal and the Sinhala chauvinists in Sri Lanka, still see a future for themselves independent of the "Mother Continent".

The saner lot, even in Pakistan, recognise that what geography and economics propose, mere politics cannot dispose.

If Saarc has to be revived and made a more dynamic regional organisation, then India and Pakistan must get their act together. Both countries have huge internal problems and there are constituencies for peace in both countries, just as there are constituencies for exporting domestic problems across the border in both. Pakistan has used terror to thwart India's progress, but the elephant moves on at a handsome pace of 8 per cent and more, even as Pakistan has slowed down to 2-3 per cent growth in recent years.

The last few years have, however, shown that the two neighbours owe it to their own people and their region as a whole to amicably resolve their differences, if each of the two countries and the region as a whole have to move forward.

The starting point of any meaningful dialogue between India and Pakistan is for the two to recognise each other's concerns. Pakistan must demonstrate much greater understanding of India's concerns about cross-border terrorism and the need to convince Indian public opinion about its sincerity in dealing with the planners and perpetrators of the 26/11 Mumbai and several other terrorist attacks.

Equally, India must address Pakistan's genuine fears about river water utilisation and deal convincingly with the issue of Kashmir. Pakistan must rid itself of baseless fears about Indian attempts to destabilise it because any destabilisation of Pakistan can only hurt India even more.

The dialogue between Dr Singh and former Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf began with the mutual acknowledgment of these realities and each other's concerns. It reached a critical point of mutual agreement when President Musharraf got dethroned.

It appears Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani is fighting shy of picking up the threads from where President Musharraf had left them off. Much water has flown down the Indus and US President Barack Obama's AfPak policy has muddied the waters. It has certainly encouraged Pakistan to overplay its hand.

Dr Singh should remind his counterpart that despite all the money the US is pouring into Pakistan, its economy is in doldrums, with mounting debt, 3 per cent growth and 9 per cent inflation. Pakistan has itself become a victim of the jihadi terrorism and internal conflict.

If realism on Pakistan's part implies getting a reality check on India's relative size and success, realism on India's part implies coming to terms with Pakistan's power to be a spoiler. Dr Singh and Mr Musharraf came around to getting a balanced and correct view of each other's strengths and weaknesses. They worked out a realistic modus vivendi. Mr Gilani and his friends in the Pakistan army must catch up and get real.

A realistic and pragmatic leadership in the region is one which tries to resolve cross-border issues so that domestic problems can be handled better. The challenge for every Saarc government is at home and unless domestic problems are tackled, the region will not progress or congeal.

India and Pakistan bear a special responsibility to revitalise Saarc as the region's biggest nations. The India-Pakistan quarrel has made Saarc non-functional. A resolution of the disputes between the two is vital to the region's development.

It was in April 2005 that Dr Singh and Mr Musharraf began writing a new chapter in South Asian history. April 2010 would be a good month to get that project back on track.








Marilyn Monroe knew what she was talking about when she crooned, Men grow cold as girls grow old /And we all lose our charms in the end/ But square-cut or pear-shaped/ These rocks don't lose their shape / Diamonds are a girl's best friend!" No wonder Naomi Campbell viciously knocked over a mediaperson's camera when asked about the rock she was allegedly presented by the discredited former Liberian ruler Charles Taylor.

Blood diamond or not, she is unlikely to chuck it out (if she does have it) as the world's biggest supplier of the gemstone, De Beers, has warned this week that stocks may soon run out. The company virtuously added that it plans to cut production "to extend the life of its mines". That's a new one, because back in 2008 when sales of luxury items fell to a four-year low in the biggest diamond market, the US, diamond producers had couched a rollback decision in rather more pragmatic terms — cut supply to support prices. So Russia cut its output of rough diamonds, and De Beers shut down its Botwana mines sporadically in 2009 and ended the year with a net loss.

Only, till last year, no one was really in the mood to listen to diamond woes. Given that no new major diamond deposits have been found in the last 20 years, the finite stock story may indeed have a cent of truth if not a carat.

Yet, the two monopoly players — De Beers and Russia's ZAO Alrosa — cannot be too reluctant to reduce output again for analysts are already predicting this could now see diamond prices rising 5% annually for the next five years.

The "buy it while it lasts" gambit should also impel believers in Monroe's Doctrine to sprint to the nearest jewellery store to corner their soonto-be-priceless nugget of history. More so, customers in fast-growing India and China. After all the industry survives on an Elizabeth Taylor-Sushmita-Sen-like yearning for handy best friends...







The Board for Control of Cricket in India has shown the grand impresario of the Indian Premier League the door. With this move, it hopes the controversy over IPL would settle down, too. It should not. The entire IPL act needs to be cleaned up.

Indians love cricket and that love serves as the basis for a whole lot of commercial activity spanning advertising, broadcast rights, event management, merchandising, etc. Completely underhand measures have been adopted by some, closely linked to IPL organisers and their cronies, to corner as large a share of the revenue generated by these activities as possible, in the entire organisation of the League. And the BCCI cannot disclaim responsibility.

Let us not forget that the IPL got a monopoly on league cricket in India because BCCI got the international cricket body to disqualify players who took part in the Indian Cricket League, a league experiment that took off without BCCI's sponsorship. Now, this was armtwisting and an exercise in monopoly, and against the principles of competition, blocking free entry into the market for commercial cricket. BCCI owns, benefits from and supports IPL. So whatever IPL did had the implicit or explicit support of BCCI, which comprises leading politicians and businessmen (and suffers some people associated with the game as well, to be fair to the body).

The chargesheet against Modi is revealing, including as it does rigged bids for team franchises, payoffs for securing telecast lights, misappropriation of funds, non-disclosure of interests in teams, and so on. These are damning charges. But how did Modi manage to get away with all these till his tweet against Shashi Tharoor?

Cricket lovers deserve better. The League they love to watch must be rid of sleaze. Team ownership should become transparent, as also the allotment of franchises. Above all, integrity of the game of cricket must remain shielded from the shadow of suspicion, not to speak of the grime of match fixing scandal. So far, the BCCI has failed in its supervisory responsibility. Who's holding the political maestros of BCCI to account?







It is indeed welcome that the government has categorically stated that it has not authorised any tapping of the phones of political leaders. Neither had its immediate predecessor, Home Minister Chidambaram assured Parliament on Monday.

However, this does not mean that political leaders are not subjected to eavesdropping; rather, if any eavesdropping happens, it is unauthorised. News reports suggest the availability of sophisticated equipment that would allow just about anyone to monitor calls from phones within a short range, without the involvement of the telecom service provider. The service provider gets involved when it gets a written request from designated functionaries of the government.

However, without official sanction, without the telecom operator's knowledge, people can eavesdrop on conversations. This is a scary proposition. Commercial intelligence could be at risk. Personal privacy is at stake. Terrorists could listen in on the security establishment's plans. Intelligence agencies could run unauthorised operations, to serve the interests of the party and politicians in power. Worse, unscrupulous spooks could run their own rackets with confidential information obtained through unauthorised eavesdropping.

We need more than a strong statement from the government to ward off these possibilities. We need strong laws to protect privacy, and technological capability to detect unauthorised hacking into telecom networks. And we need the will to stop misuse of the official machinery. This is the obverse of the obvious need to use signal intelligence for national security.

A public good is one whose provision to one person does not reduce its availability to another, and from whose provision it is not possible to exclude anyone. Law and order is a classic example. Privacy, too, fits the bill. If it is not sufficiently part of the law, the statute should be strengthened. We expect from the Opposition cooperation to create legal and institutional capability to safeguard privacy, not holier-than-thou belligerence.







Yet another phone-tapping allegation is playing out along expected lines, there is an interesting sub-text to the tale. The BJP camp feels terribly let down because none of its top leaders figured in the 'tapped list'. Party supporters see in this a deliberate design to make it evident their leaders don't 'pose a threat' for the regime.

This prompted the Congress camp to recall how Sonia Gandhi `figured prominently in the list of tapped leaders during the NDA regime. But supporters of Prakash Karat are feeling relieved to find his name in the list as an acknowledgement of his importance and a sort of consolation prize after the ill-fated toppling bid on the UPA-I.

While the Mulayam Singh fans feel less embarrassed since Mayawati too failed to make it to the list, the Lalu Yadav camp is livid as arch-rival Nitish Kumar stars in the episode even after RJD chief 'withdrew' support to UPA-II. On his part, Digvijay Singh says the BJP regime in MP was all along tapping his phone. A twist in the tale?


Lalu Yadav and Mulayam Singh insisted on raking up the IPL issue in Lok Sabha even while being part of Opposition protests over `phone tapping. Outside LS, some RJD MPs aired their ire over the way IPL controversy 'is being drowned in the tapping din'. They see a Congress-BJP conspiracy to provide cover-fire for the UPA and BJP leaders, caught in the cricket mess.

The other sides claim the Yadav duo's Ban IPL posturing is meant as an attention-seeking exercise of those who have invested heavily in the IPL ring. But the BJP camp is intrigued by Yashwant Sinha seeking the resignation of Sharad Pawar and Praful Patel even when the party chose to be ambivalent on their cases. The conspiratorial BJP campers point out Sinha's 'etough stand' coincided with Lalit Modi publicising an email from Arun Jaitley, endorsing Sashank Manohar's opposition to Modi's 'desire' to bare details of all stakeholders in teams. It's a `no-compromise fight vs selective strikes.


Away in Kerala, tales of the Mughal durbar attend a political succession war. As part of positioning before the Congress organisational polls, K Karunakaran loyalists met at his residence to discuss the leadership's 'undelivered promises'.

While his daughter Padmaja attended the meet, the leader chose to tactically stay away. The post-meeting resolution said 'Padmaja, as the political heir of Karunakaran', has been authorised to take up future issues. Prompt was the repartee from Karunakaran's son Muraleedharan, the in-house rival of Padmaja. Maintaining that his father is capable of choosing his own heir, Muraleedharan said everybody should remember how shortlived was the reign of Aurangzeb who captured the Mughal throne by imprisoning father Shah Jahan.

There was mention of Shah Jahan's favourite daughter Jehanara and the fate she met eventually. In politics, the unsaid part matters too.


After many unsuccessful attempts, AP Chief Minister Rosaiah finally met Sonia Gandhi recently. A relieved CM then told reporters about his plans for an 'imminent cabinet expansion' so that he could tighten his grip on the post-YSR party.

Within days, YSR's son Jagan Mohan Reddy launched his 'rath yatra' showcasing his 'popularity'. His message to the CM was clear: "drop YSR loyalists from the cabinet at your own peril." With the tricky Rajya Sabha poll and civic election next month, the high command decided not to risk factional tension now. So, the CM's cabinet rejig plan has now hit an air-pocket.






The government seems to be considering a new system to replace the present system of targeted public distribution system (TPDS) with food coupons or direct cash transfer. The ills that plague the present TPDS are well-known and well-documented.

The two national surveys, one by Programme Evaluation Organisation of the Planning Commission and the other by ORG-Marg, both at the instance of the Union government, have identified the major problem areas in the present system. These can be summarised as follows:

Exclusion errors: Families who deserve to be in the BPL list are excluded,

Inclusion errors: Families who are not eligible are included,

Ghost cards: Ration cards in the name of fictitious/non-existent families,

Leakage at fair price shop: Simply stated, the quantum of food grain leaked/stolen by transporters/shopkeepers, and Unacceptable quality: Complaints of quality sometimes due to the replacement of procured stocks by lower quality at various levels.

Does the proposed system of food coupons address these deficiencies? The system of food coupons cannot address the issues of exclusion and inclusion errors since these emerge from the process of identification. Who would not like to be included in the BPL list, especially when many goodies flow from the welfare state, be it subsidised health care or an Indira Awas?

The chances, therefore, are that the errors in identification will remain. Add to this the arguments for increasing the scope (read: size) of the BPL list (Tendulkar committee, Saxena committee et al). Ghost cards, however, could be minimised if the payment systems are designed properly.

The food coupons can effectively break the hegemony of the present set of fair-price shopkeepers, who, over a period, have developed vested interests and have also managed to gain substantial political clout. In fact, most of the ills of the present system can be attributed to the patronage in allocating fair price shops.

To be fair to these shopkeepers, the commission they get is so low that they are compelled to resort to malpractices, which over a period of time has become a habit driven mostly by greed. The resistance faced by the government of Chhattisgarh in moving to a new system of shops is ample testimony to this.

The first step in the food coupon system, therefore, has to be the closure of all existing fair price shops - they can continue to be normal grocery shops if they wish - in the area and giving a choice to the coupon holders to buy their food grain from any 'designated' grocery shop in the region. I use the word designated because the payment mechanism for the proposed coupons will need financial oversight. If there are too many choices, managing the accounts could be problematic. Ideally, the coupon holder in a ward/area could be given an option to purchase her food grain from a set of identified grocery shops - not less than three and not more than five - every month. The coupons shall carry a fixed value - the value will have to change at least every year to take care of inflation - and the shopkeeper permitted to encash these coupons from designated bank branch(es) in the locality. The coupons should also have a validity period to allow the shopkeepers to deliver food grain every month. The success of the scheme will depend on a caveat that there will not be any scrutiny of the items purchased by the family as long as the coupon has been used in the designated shop and during the month for which it is authorised.







Stanley Baldwin, sometime Prime Minister of the UK, once said, 'I am one of those who would sink with faith than swim without it'. It's a much-quoted and well-received sound bite because of the mesmerising quality of its words that seem to be saying something pithily perfect - if not extremely profound - about the nature of belief.

Parents, preachers, teachers and those of a more orthodox disposition are usually fond of citing it as some kind of a we told-you-so guiding principle that ought to be followed if one is not to flounder in the unforgiving deep waters of life during a later stage of regret.

Yet, when you come down to it, all it actually means is we should definitely believe in something even if it turns out to be totally wrong. And we're not talking here about those who are resolute in their religion or God because much greater people than a lot of us have swum with their faith through martyrdoms, crucifixions, burnings at the stake and genocide without ever sinking into the tiniest fragment of unbelief.

The question about being wrong never entered their heads. Or to paraphrase the poet Ralph Hodgson, to them, some things had to be believed to be seen. Instead, wefre talking about those who at the drop of a loved onefs death have immediately abdicated all their faith. Obviously, they had been swimming without it for a while.But to accept any faith in general as an unfalsifiable construct is to court disaster.

The history of politics, science and the cultures we live in has been full of rebels with causes who, while they had their grand moments of heroics at one time, have become ludicrous as their faiths turned out to be laughable in hindsight.

The builders of the Titanic, for instance, come to mind. They had such faith that their ship was unsinkable till it sank beneath their wisdom on its maiden voyage that not enough lifeboats had been provided, resulting in the greatly unnecessary number of deaths that occurred.

However, while misplaced faith is indeed laughable, and regrettably so sometimes, any journey - whether accomplished by mechanical movement or existing only in the mind - is also ludicrous without belief buttressing that progression. As mentioned here earlier in another context, the whole point is not where we are going . which is beside the point really - but, rather, why we're going there at all which matters.








As Microsoft evolves into a cloud computing services company, it's betting big on India. The software behemoth is thrilled about the huge business potential of cloud computing in India, and is open to even investing in a data centre. In an exclusive interview to ET, Microsoft COO B Kevin Turner shared insights about how the company is transforming itself, what it means for businesses and consumers, and how the strategy will pan out in India. Excerpts:


Please give us a sense of Microsoft's cloud computing strategy and its plans to transform itself as an organisation?
The global macro economic financial crisis, which we went through in the past 18 months, drove us to step back and see whether we are looking at the market in terms of market transition and emergence of latest technology. This was vital since we can then place our R&D bets accordingly. It became apparent to us that this is the time to go full throttle on cloud services. So, we are now transitioning and transforming the company into a cloud services company in all facets of our business.

This year, Microsoft will invest around $9.5 billion in R&D, which is nearly $3 billion more than the next closest tech company. The largest share of this will be used in the cloud services space. Over 70% of our developers are working on cloud services today and by 2011, almost 90% of them will work on cloud services. As a part of the transformation, we are looking at the market in two different ways — consumer cloud services and commercial cloud services.

How much potential do you see in India for cloud services?

In India, cloud services provide an excellent opportunity. We think emerging markets like India have a huge advantage over matured markets as they can skip a lot of legacy applications and investments. India can go straight to cloud services. In fact, we need to scale up fast enough in India to live up to the demand. In the past 2-3 months, we launched our Business Productivity Online Suite and the Azure platform in India. While the former has more than 3,500 Indian customers, over 3,500 applications have already been developed in India on Azure. The momentum is really beginning to take-off in India.

Any plans to collaborate with Indian companies in this regard?

We have a great relationship with the large Indian system integrators and cloud services is on their mind as it is in the mind of their customers. It's a unique opportunity we have, and we will look at ways to deepen those partnerships. We have entered into interesting partnerships with telcos like Bharti Airtel, Reliance Communications and BSNL in the past 6-9 months. In India, there are some four million small businesses, of which only 1.8 million have at least one PC and only 3 lakh of them have a network of any sort. Cloud services allows flexible payment model like 'pay as you go', for which there is a huge pent up demand in India. But, won't the 'pay as you go' model eat into the revenues you get from outright software sales?

Most of the big companies will have a hybrid model — they will have some level of on-premise software that will provide outright sale revenue and some level of cloud services. However, small businesses may rely completely on cloud services. This changes the dynamics of when you get paid for the software. It is no doubt a different economic model as compared to upfront payment for the software. But clearly, the economic model is not a consideration on whether we go into cloud services or not. What is important is whether it supports our three-string approach to connect the PC, mobile device and TV with cloud computing as we transition ourselves. We think it is a natural transition for us.

Please elaborate on consumer and commercial cloud services.

In consumer cloud services, we already have a fairly impressive inventory. There are some 369 million hotmail accounts which are active, 600 million people utilise our MSN home page, about 500 million people have signed up for Windows Live and 20 million people have joined the paid service for Xbox Live. The Bing searches up to 3 billion queries a month. These assets are very important to us, and we are going to keep investing on consumer cloud services in a big way.

We also plan to bridge the PC, the mobile phone and the TV with cloud services to connect a person's digital lifestyle and digital workstyle. For example, the same Word document or Excel sheet will be available across all the three devices. And, in commercial cloud services, we think about it in business customer terms. Microsoft Office is a big productivity tool and with the ensuing 2010 release, we are going to take this to the cloud.

The 2010 version of our collaboration tool SharePoint, which is the fastest growing product in the history of Microsoft, is now in cloud. People wanted a development platform and we have our Windows Azure and SQL Azure in the cloud. These are available in India as well. As these 2010 products come to market, we will be market leaders in the commercial space by a substantial margin. So, it's a huge market transition that Microsoft is betting on.

Are there any plans to invest in data centres for cloud computing in India?

It can indeed happen. It will depend on the demand for the service. Right now, we have six big data centres — two in Americas, two in Europe, and two in the Asia-Pacific. Going forward, we will set up data centres in markets where we see good demand. In terms of R&D, we have our second-largest development centre outside the US in India. We will continue to hire and invest in our development centre in India as the development work will contribute significantly in our cloud services transformation.

Microsoft, last year, rolled out exclusive brand stores in the US. Are there any plans to launch them in India?
I am optimistic about taking the Microsoft stores outside US, including India. The early signs in the US are good and clearly we will scale it up globally. However, we are yet to finalise our plans.








How has the relationship between South Africa and India strengthened over the years?

The relationship has strengthened in leaps and bounds over the last few years. Various industry bodies like CII, IMC and South Africa/India CEO's forum have been very proactive to promote cross-border trade and investment between the two countries. By setting ambitious trade and investment targets, Indian business no doubt sees South Africa as a new frontier and is searching for opportunities that are principally driven by commodities.

Can you give an overview of the banking sector in South Africa?

South Africa has a well regulated and developed banking sector. Recently, the South African banking sector was announced as the 5th best regulated in the world. There is a wide range of product sophistication in the Corporate and Investment Banking as well as Commercial and Consumer Banking segments.

What opportunities do you foresee in the banking sector in India?

Although the Indian banking sector is well developed and competitive it offers many exciting opportunities for players who are committed to the country. As the Indian economy emerges even further, the need for the financing of infrastructure development and cross-border trade and investment will be massive. Banks who can figure out ways and means of servicing the bottom of the pyramid will be the winners.

What kind of changes do you foresee in this sector in future and how should the overall management strategy shape up?

The banking sector will continue to be highly regulated and extremely competitive. However, there will be an increasing role for foreign banks due to high credit growth on the back of a booming economy. There will also be a definite increase in profitable microfinance and allied activities in India.








Accenture's India MD, Harsh Manglik, who manages the company's 47,000 employees in the country, has now been now given the additional responsibility of giving direction to the 2.3 million- strong Indian IT industry. In his first interview after being appointed as Nasscom chairman last week, the IIT-Kanpur alumnus and IT industry veteran talks about the future of the $60-billion sector and the challenges ahead. Excerpts:

What's your immediate agenda on taking over as Nasscom chairman?

My agenda as Nasscom chairman would be to see that all challenges in the path of the $60-billion ITBPO industry are removed. We should be on track to become a $225-billion industry by 2020. On a mean rate, we are sure to touch at least $175 billion, provided everything goes well.

In 1999, Nasscom had predicted that the IT industry will gross $50 billion by 2009. The industry performed on target, last year. My effort will also be to see that domain skills are acquired along with scale. I am honored and take it as an opportunity that will make an impact.

Is there any hope that the over 35%-40 % growth era will return ?

The growth curve is never a straight line. That is a reality of life and we have to accept it. But considering a large number of conditions in the world market, our view at Nasscom is that for the next 10 years, the industry should be able to grow at a CAGR of 25% year on year.

Last year, we saw large scale layoffs by IT firms. Will Nasscom advocate a labour policy or encourage unionisation in the industry?

HR issues are best solves by companies themselves. Nasscom will never favour intrusive legislation on this front. When an industry achieves a critical mass, these issues are automatically evened out. And I think the IT industry has achieved that mass.

In the last 10 years, the majority of net new jobs in urban areas have emerged as a result of the IT industry . Secondary jobs like security guards, catering, transportation have also benefited. A tinkering with the existing laws may block that flow.

What are the imminent roadblocks in the path of industry's growth? Is it time for companies to start paying taxes?

Infrastructure and power are the basic issues. Almost 45% companies in the IT sector produce their own power which is an additional cost. After all, it's not only about competing within companies but now countries are also competing for the same business. We need to make sure that India does not lag behind in any regard.

Small companies which cannot afford SEZs should be given tax benefits. On the supply side there are so many challenges. India is the youngest country in the world. But population is no longer a hindrance. We have to put their aspirations where their dreams are and that is possible with the right kind of education.

The supply gap is also a factor of quality of education . Will Nasscom intervene to change the curriculum taught in engineering colleges?

My belief is that Nasscom should not be seen as specifying the curriculum in the country. Instead, greater autonomy should be given to colleges to let them try out new ideas. We should not be prescriptive . India already has the raw material (in terms of talent) we just have to retool them.

We should have more schools of higher learning and make them specialised. For instance, universities like Caltech, Harvard and Berkeley in US are very different from each other but they are all highly revered.








The Jaypee Group plans to raise around Rs 2,350 crore through an initial public offering (IPO) of infrastructure subsidiary Jaypee Infratech. The company is raising Rs 1,650 crore through fresh issue of shares at a price band of Rs 102-117 per share. In addition, the parent company, Jaiprakash Associates, is divesting six crore equity shares through offer for sale at the same price. In an exclusive interview with ET, group founder Jaiprakash Gaur said the IPO will help in funding the ongoing 165 KM Yamuna Expressway project and unlock the shareholders' value. Excerpts:

Jaypee Infratech, with 6,175 acre of land, is developing five integrated townships between Noida and Agra. Would you describe it as an infrastructure company or a real estate company?

This is an infrastructure company. We were awarded the expressway and land was given as part of the project. Being an infrastructure player, the company was given 10-year tax holiday. At the same time, we have large parcels of land along the expressway.

We have started developing the first parcel in Noida and will start developing other parcels in the course of this year. This is probably a unique business model, in which infrastructure and real estate are the core business areas. In the Noida project, we are going to develop approximately 80 million sq ft. Of this, we have only sold 21 million sq ft with saleable value of approximately Rs 6,300 crore.

As a substantial part of the expressway is completed, what is the purpose of raising funds?


The expressway project entails a capital expenditure of Rs 9,739 crore. Of this, we have already spent Rs 6,250 crore from promoters' contribution, internal accruals and long-term debt from banks. Our intent is to enter the market after completing more than half of the project so that investors have complete visibility in terms of its completion.

This is in line with our group's philosophy. We have never entered the market at the planning stage of the project even in other areas. The project is being financed through promoter equity contribution of Rs 1,250 crore, internal accruals of Rs 955 crore. And we have a tied-up debt of Rs 6,000 crore, of which Rs 4,044 crore has already been disbursed. Proceeds from the fresh issue will be used for completing the expressway.


Isn't the proposed price band of Rs 102-117 per share on the higher side in the current market conditions, especially when many real estate and infrastructure companies have lined up their IPOs?

On the contrary, the price is on the lower side. Our group's philosophy is to reward shareholders. Given the inherent strength of the company, in terms of prime land bank and the expressway, which is in advanced stage of implementation, the merchant bankers have priced the issue conservatively. A discount of up to 5% to the issue price, which will be decided through book-building process, shall be offered to retail investors.

When will the expressway be completed?

The project will be completed by March 2011.

In 2011-12, when the expressway will be ready, what percentage of revenues will come from toll business?

Since, we are in the middle of the IPO, I cannot give any financial projection.

In FY10, what was Jaypee Infratech's revenue and profit?

The full year figures have not been announced. In the first three quarters ended December 2009, it has reported a net profit of Rs 399 crore and a turnover of Rs 533 crore.


(BCCL, the publisher of this newspaper, has a pre-IPO holding of 0.082% in Jaypee Infratech)




                                                                                                               DECCAN CHRONICAL




Let's hear it for the Senate's Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations. Its work on the financial crisis is increasingly looking like the 21st-century version of the Pecora hearings, which helped usher in New Deal-era financial regulation. In the past few days scandalous Wall Street email messages released by the subcommittee have made headlines.

That's the good news. The bad news is that most of the headlines were about the wrong emails. When Goldman Sachs employees bragged about the money they had made by shorting the housing market, it was ugly, but that didn't amount to wrongdoing.

No, the email messages you should be focusing on are the ones from employees at the credit rating agencies, which bestowed AAA ratings on hundreds of billions of dollars' worth of dubious assets, nearly all of which have since turned out to be toxic waste. And no, that's not hyperbole: of AAA-rated subprime-mortgage-backed securities issued in 2006, 93 per cent — 93 per cent! — have now been downgraded to junk status.

What those emails reveal is a deeply corrupt system. And it's a system that financial reform, as currently proposed, wouldn't fix.

The rating agencies began as market researchers, selling assessments of corporate debt to people considering whether to buy that debt. Eventually, however, they morphed into something quite different: companies that were hired by the people selling debt to give that debt a seal of approval.

Those seals of approval came to play a central role in our whole financial system, especially for institutional investors like pension funds, which would buy your bonds if and only if they received that coveted AAA rating.

It was a system that looked dignified and respectable on the surface. Yet it produced huge conflicts of interest. Issuers of debt — which increasingly meant Wall Street firms selling securities they created by slicing and dicing claims on things like subprime mortgages — could choose among several rating agencies. So they could direct their business to whichever agency was most likely to give a favourable verdict, and threaten to pull business from an agency that tried too hard to do its job. It's all too obvious, in retrospect, how this could have corrupted the process.

And it did. The Senate subcommittee has focused its investigations on the two biggest credit rating agencies, Moody's and Standard & Poor's (S&P); what it has found confirms our worst suspicions. In one email message, an S&P employee explains that a meeting is necessary to "discuss adjusting criteria" for assessing housing-backed securities "because of the ongoing threat of losing deals". Another message complains of having to use resources "to massage the sub-prime and alt-A numbers to preserve market share". Clearly, the rating agencies skewed their assessments to please their clients.

These skewed assessments, in turn, helped the financial system take on far more risk than it could safely handle. Paul McCulley of Pimco, the bond investor (who coined the term "shadow banks" for the unregulated institutions at the heart of the crisis), recently described it this way: "explosive growth of shadow banking was about the invisible hand having a party, a non-regulated drinking party, with rating agencies handing out fake IDs".

So what can be done to keep it from happening again?

The bill now before the Senate tries to do something about the rating agencies, but all in all it's pretty weak on the subject. The only provision that might have teeth is one that would make it easier to sue rating agencies if they engaged in "knowing or reckless failure" to do the right thing. But that surely isn't enough, given the money at stake — and the fact that Wall Street can afford to hire very, very good lawyers.

What we really need is a fundamental change in the raters' incentives. We can't go back to the days when rating agencies made their money by selling big books of statistics; information flows too freely in the Internet age, so nobody would buy the books. Yet something must be done to end the fundamentally corrupt nature of the issuer-pays system.

An example of what might work is a proposal by Matthew Richardson and Lawrence White of New York University. They suggest a system in which firms issuing bonds continue paying rating agencies to assess those bonds — but in which the Securities and Exchange Commission, not the issuing firm, determines which rating agency gets the business.

I'm not wedded to that particular proposal. But doing nothing isn't an option. It's comforting to pretend that the financial crisis was caused by nothing more than honest errors. But it wasn't; it was, in large part, the result of a corrupt system. And the rating agencies were a big part of that corruption.





In less than 10 years, Indian cricket faces its second big crisis. Match-fixing and its many ramifications that dogged the sport since the turn of the century had only recently begun to fade. With the welter of allegations erupting around the Indian Premier League and the man who ran it for its first three years, Lalit Modi, there is a sense of deja vu. The ouster of the IPL's self-appointed commissioner and the many charges that have now been laid at his door since the fateful day he first Tweeted an allegation about the companion of then junior foreign minister Mr Shashi Tharoor will almost inevitably lead to a shakeout in the way the IPL is run in the future. More important, it will bring back to life the many real fears that surfaced in the wake of la affaire Hansie Cronje. This then is the real crisis that faces the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI), now desperately seeking to contain the fallout from what was a clear lack of oversight — financial and administrative — on its part when it came to Mr Modi's functioning. To pin all the blame on one man would be a travesty of justice — there was after all a governing council of 13 other men who were supposed to have run the IPL — but at the moment, it would appear that all ills have been laid at the door of Mr Modi alone. The charges are many, and varied. They range from allegations of rigging franchise bids to irregularities over the sale of broadcast and Internet rights to concealing paperwork detailing franchise ownership and instances of crony capitalism and insider dealing. Clearly, the BCCI is aware of the dangers these developments pose to its hot new — and extremely lucrative — baby and, on a wider scale, to the image of cricket itself. For better or worse, India today is a world powerhouse in the sport and the IPL mess has wider implications for cricket as a whole. Little wonder then that BCCI president Mr Shashank Manohar on Monday stressed that ethics and transparency were even more important than protecting the integrity of the IPL alone, and added that Mr Modi's manner of functioning had "brought a bad name to the administration of cricket and the game itself". Already, the taxman has become involved given the complexity and density of transactions that have been woven around the lucrative league, and relevant documents have gone missing, adding further fuel to an already raging fire. In an attempt to start clearing out the Augean stables, the BCCI on Monday said former India captains Mansur Ali Khan Pataudi, Sunil Gavaskar and Ravi Shastri had been asked to organise the IPL's fourth season next year. Much more must be done if the mandarins of Indian cricket are to convince an increasingly-sceptical nation that they are serious about cleaning up the IPL. For his part, Mr Modi has promised to clear his name of the many accusations made against him, launching his first salvo at the IPL-3 post-final prize distribution ceremony on Sunday where he made the point that if any rules had been broken, he would bear the full responsibility. That is exactly what the board's bosses are hoping will happen. In all this, cricket itself has been forced to take a back seat, much as it had to for much of IPL-3, with the focus more on glitz, glamour and post-match parties, which were turned into money-making opportunities by Mr Modi. With so much muck washing about, those who prize cricket purely for the sake of the sport will be hoping that clarity, and sanity, is restored soon.






That the Indian Premier League (IPL) had a murky underbelly was not exactly an official secret. Yet when Mr Lalit Modi's tweet sparked off a chain of circumstances that led to the resignation of Mr Shashi Tharoor, and Mr Modi's eventual suspension — and which may still claim more victims — few could have imagined the manner in which the nexus between politics, business, sports and entertainment would get exposed in a heady cocktail of sleaze and scandal. Even as this story plays itself out with daily disclosures of dubious deeds, almost a decade after tales of betting and match-fixing had tarnished the reputations of many cricket stalwarts, one can only hope that henceforth some transparency would mark the affairs of a game that obsesses millions of young people in this country and across the world.

Who remembers Garfield Sobers and Anju Mahendru? Cricket and cinema always had a connection. But when a third "C" — cash — is added, the combination is a sure-fire route to a fourth "C", corruption.
That Mr Modi was not exactly an exemplar of probity and corporate social responsibility was known to many, and they were not just insiders. More than a year ago, in March 2009, Alam Srinivas and T.R. Vivek wrote a 200-page book that was titled IPL Cricket & Commerce: An Inside Story (Roli Books). The February 16, 2009, issue of Outlook carried a cover story with a headline that read: "The Curious Case of Lalit Modi".
Did Mr Modi realise that he would open a can of worms when he sent his infamous tweet about the ownership pattern of the Kochi franchisee and the sweat equity that was proposed for Ms Sunanda Pushkar? Did the leaders of the Nationalist Congress Party, notably the Union minister for agriculture, food and consumer affairs, Mr Sharad Pawar and the civil aviation minister, Mr Praful Patel, anticipate that the business links of their family members would consequently be scrutinised through the microscope of the media? After Mr Tharoor and Mr Modi, who will be the next fall guy?

The $4 billion IPL tournament was touted by its cheerleaders — not the busty blondes from Central Asia and other parts of the world — as a shining example of the maturing of the post-liberalisation economy of the country, and a successful brand promoted by India Inc. that was coping better than the corporate sectors in most recession-hit Western nations. The problem was that the glittering IPL edifice was built on a foundation of money routed through a complex web of companies, many of them registered in tax havens, and was excessively dependent on the munificence of influential politicians who control sports bodies that are registered as non-profit-making societies but are flush with funds obtained from the public at large. The most notable example of such an organisation is, of course, the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI).
That various government agencies should be providing tax concessions and subsidies to the cash-rich BCCI is nothing short of a crime in a country where the latest official estimates indicate that more than one out of three people live below the poverty line. Why should the BCCI and the IPL be eligible for the kind of tax breaks that it has received so far? How much longer should the BCCI be allowed to operate in a brazenly non-transparent manner? Should the most-affluent of sporting bodies in the country be allowed to function like a closed club where only the privileged few are permitted entry? These are rhetorical questions for the answers are all too obvious.

The fact that IPL match tickets have been sold for Rs 40,000 per person with an all-night party in a five-star hotel thrown in for good measure, is a manifestation of the kind of conspicuous consumption that the elite in India has acquired notoriety for. Is this really the kind of "brand" or "business" that makes us hold our heads high in the comity of nations?

The Income-Tax Department, the Enforcement Directorate that oversees foreign currency transactions, the Directorate of Revenue Intelligence (all of which come under the ministry of finance) as well as the Intelligence Bureau (which comes under the home ministry) have been providing detailed reports on a daily basis to the Prime Minister, Dr Manmohan Singh, even when he was in Brasilia. Official investigators were initially focused on the Kochi affair and then switched their attention to Mr Modi and his associates. The Central Bureau of Investigation may soon be asked to jump into the fray.

However, at least one investigator confided to this correspondent in private that he and his team were unsure about how deep they should dig, about how the compulsions of coalition politics would play themselves out.
The Congress may now find it easier to keep its ally in Maharashtra on a tighter leash. After facing flak for his inability to control food inflation in general, and sugar prices in particular, the agriculture minister and his protégé, the civil aviation minister, may find themselves more on the defensive — or, to use a more apt analogy, on the backfoot.

Yes, the IPL has graduated to have become the fourth largest sporting event of its kind in the world. But the filth that has been flung around has hardly enhanced India's image across the globe. Who knows? Being an incorrigible optimist, one might be tempted to believe that some good may even come out of this muck-raking, more than what took place in the aftermath of the match-fixing scandal. Mohammed Azharuddin is a Congress Lok Sabha member of Parliament. Mr Modi could now actively consider a career in politics.

Paranjoy Guha Thakurta is an educator and commentator




Justice: Divine vs human

By By J.S. Neki

Apr 27 2010

Human justice originally was simply vengeful — demanding "eye for an eye". Several modifications gradually came to soften its intent, but almost all of them have been criticised for they also cramped the perspective of justice. Distributive justice, proportional justice, retributive justice, criminal justice, environmental justice, social justice and so on — none of these represent justice holistically. For example, the concept of distributive justice, also called equitable justice, has been contested on the ground that justice and equality are not necessarily co-extensive.

Despite best intentions and formal vows to uphold its ideals, human justice has often faltered. It is subject to error — it has been said that human justice is blind, and "deaf and dumb as a wooden leg". It has also been proclaimed that "extreme justice is often unjust" and that "there are times when justice brings harm with it".

Justice can also be marred by corrupt practices. Guru Nanak had this to say about the state of justice during his time:

Judges administer justice in the name of God

That they chant Oh! rosaries;

But they accept bribe and block justice.

He had courage even to chastise kings:

Even the king administers justice only if his palm is greased.

— J.S. Neki, a psychiatrist of international repute, was director of PGIMER, Chandigarh. He also received the Sahitya Akademi Award for his contribution to Punjabi verse. Currently he is Professor of Eminence in Religious Studies at Punjabi University, Patiala.

Public leaders are required to help enforcement of justice. But they are not always chaste people. Guru Angad Dev remarked:

The troublemaker is made the leader

And the liar is given an honourable seat.

This is how humans corrupt the instruments of justice. There are vagaries also in people's expectations from justice.

One sows seeds of poison, but demands ambrosial nectar,Behold, what kind of justice is that!

Divine justice, by contrast, is not only incorruptible but also error proof. The Gurus have termed it as sach niaon or justice of truth. Guru Ram Das says:

You yourself are true, O Lord, and true is your justice.

Why then should we fear anything?

He also employs another term for Divine Justice, that is dharam niaon or justice of rectitude, and offers testimony that:

Superb is the greatness of the Lord

For his justice is entirely rectitudinous.

Love, power and justice have been considered ontologically inseparable, but while human justice operates mainly through power, Divine Justice operates through love, simply because God is love.

According to Sikh cosmogony, God's eons-old samadhi got interrupted when his love became intensely desirous of its own expression. Hence it was that

God, in order to dole out his love and grace,

Created the great expanse.

Then, as love, He pervaded that expanse, his creation. Hence, says Guru Gobind Singh:

Here, there and everywhere, He abides as love.

He administers His justice through his all-pervasive love, and his justice is co-extensive with his will.
That alone is true justice which pleases the will of the Lord.

And this justice is not occasional or temporal, it abides through eternity. Within his home, there is justice ever and for ever. It is not blind like human justice, but ever vigilant. He knows us all from within.
The inner-knower, the searcher of hearts knows.

Without our speaking, He understands...

No one is as great knower as the Lord,

So his justice is always righteous.

Our body is the field of action, in it what we plant that we harvest.

Mercy and forgiveness are the instruments of His love. From the human point of view, mercy and justice are considered antithetical. Mercy operates through attachment while justice operates through detachment. But in Divine Justice, no such antipathy operates. Mercy is also just, so too forgiveness. Kabir says:
Where forgiveness is, there is God himself.

Not that He does not punish.

He honours the righteous and chastises the sinners.

He defeats the sinners and saves his humble devotees. But He never punishes without cause:
Why should we burn with anxiety

When the Lord does not punish without cause?

Moreover, even when He punishes, His intent hardly appears to be really punitive; it rather appears to be reformative. Often what man considers as punishment is instead His grace. Martydom, looked at superficially, appears to be like capital punishment. In effect, a martyr establishes that his moral ideals are higher, and dearer to him, than his life. Thus a martyr reforms and saves multitudes whom he inspires by his atonement. Likewise, what we consider as reward may really be a curse. Monetary and material gifts are, in the human context, considered as rewards for these are given in return for what appears to be admirable action. However, when such gifts lead to arrogance, as they often do, then they cause moral degradation and become a curse.
In brief, human justice is occasional and often based on inadequate enquiry, doubtful evidence, arbitrary laws, questionable law-enforcers and whims of the judges even if they are honest. It often errs or even fails. By contrast, Divine Justice is not occasional but prevails permanently, is based on the infallable personal knowledge of the ever vigilant Lord whose justice works with His unquestionable love and mercy. It never errs, never fails; though often forgives for considerations that He himself knows.

 J.S. Neki, a psychiatrist of international repute, was director of PGIMER, Chandigarh. He also received the Sahitya Akademi Award for his contribution to Punjabi verse. Currently he is Professor of Eminence in Religious Studies at Punjabi University, Patiala.





Girija Vyas, the National Commission for Women (NCW) chairperson, wants consensus between all parties on theWomen's Reservation Bill. Though there was bickering and division over the bill in the Rajya Sabha, Ms Vyas thinks that once the bill is passed in the Lok Sabha all parties will turn a new leaf and India will become a "complete democracy". In an interview to Syed Asim Ali, the NCW chairperson also talks about her plans to tackle cases of domestic violence against Indian women in foreign countries and honour killings.

Q. The government appears to have gone slow on the Women's Reservation Bill after getting it passed in the Rajya Sabha amidst tumultuous scenes. Is your party having second thoughts on 33 per cent reservation for women?

A. I don't know where the question of second thoughts is coming from? The Congress Party has always stood for 33 per cent Women's Reservation Bill and it is because of the party's commitment to the principle behind the bill that it was pushed despite the hue and cry. The bill is not just about 33 per cent reservation for women; several of its provisions will have far-reaching impact on the Indian political scenario in the future.
We have had two major meetings on our next step and though it's too early to comment, I can tell you that the bill will pave a new way ahead.

When the bill was introduced in Rajya Sabha, for the first time in recent years both the leading political parties of India, the Congress and BJP, stood together. The BJP gave its full support to the bill; even the Left supported the bill though many of their allied partners were opposing it. This kind of unity is being seen as an initiative to check the influence of small and regional parties in national politics.

Q. Will the Congress introduce the bill in the remaining part of the Budget session. Or will it again go into cold storage?
A. Frankly, the right person to answer this question is the chief spokesperson of the Congress Party. What I can say as a member of the party is that there is no question of the bill going into cold storage. I can proudly add that the bill was passed despite huge opposition. We heard comments like "only the rich upper class women will be benefited by the bill and that is why some parties are demanding quota within quota". Despite such attacks we stood by the bill. So there is no way the Congress will forget the bill.

Q. Does this mean that you are in favour of the idea of quota within quota?

A. No, not at all. I am not in favour of sub-quotas. When the Women's Reservation Bill becomes a a reality, it can be used by political institutions to empower women belonging to minority communities. I think the whole idea of 33 per cent reservation for women will open a new chapter and take us to new possibilities.

Q. But why shouldn't there be a sub-quota for dalit women, for women belonging to scheduled castes and scheduled tribes and Muslim women?
A. I don't want to comment on what other leaders have said or proposed. But I think that 33 per cent reservation is sizeable enough to empower all women. Without using sub-quotas, parties can use the 33 per cent reservation to bring in women of religious and ethnic minorities into the mainstream. I would conclude this answer by saying that while the bill is capable of empowering all women, dalit and Muslim, it depends entirely on party leaders which women they chose to represent their parties.
Q. Why can't parties have a quota for women to contest Lok Sabha and Assembly polls to ensure greater representation in Parliament and state legislatures?

A. I strongly believe that reservation for women can be used effectively to empower women in minority and other backward communities. It is the duty of party leaders to bring women of marginalised sections into the mainstream by utilising provisions of the bill.

Q. We have recently had several shocking cases of honour killings in rural areas, particularly Punjab and Haryana. In such instances does the NCW have adequate powers to take action against those guilty of killing or harassing innocent girls and boys?

A. There is a need to understand the issue at the ground level. We have to investigate and see how the panchayats, or khaps, are paving the way for such barbaric actions. There is need for more involvement of the civil society in areas that are prone to honour killings. We need people who can influence panchayat decisions and at the same time educate people in areas where such cases are taking place. We have had a few meetings and soon steps will be taken.

Q. What steps are you are planning?

A. More civil society involvement and NCW officials working in rural areas to curb such barbaric and cruel activities.

Q. There are also numerous instances of Sikh girls being forcibly married off to non-resident Indians. There have also been cases where girls have been killed when they have dared to go against their family's wishes. Can the NCW step in to stop these forcible marriages?

A. To find a solution to this problem we are planning to keep two lawyers each in the Indian consulates of countries.








A FORTNIGHT down the gutter and there is little to suggest that an honest cleansing of the obscenely-rich Indian Premier League is on the cards. So numerous and varied are the allegations, innuendo, threats and muck-raking doing the rounds that it has become obvious that sinister forces have been at work: and that there could be more of the same in the coming weeks. Dumping Lalit Modi ~ not that anybody, except the man himself, favours his continuance ~ is no panacea, and unravelling the sordid strands of the scandal now exposed would appear beyond the supposedly remedial measures that the BCCI has announced. In fact the Board's meeting, and the information it made available, was a poor attempt to whitewash its' letting Modi run amok, yet sent out a clear signal that it saw little need for major in-house reform. That it will await Modi's response to its five-point charge-sheet (not 22) before proceeding further ~ it will drop the matter if he comes up with a convincing counter-punch ~ indicates it is aware that its action might prove legally infirm. Logic, not any kind of support for Modi, would therefore raise queries if the Monday meeting was called in haste, the minutes-after-midnight suspension order was playing to non-cricketing galleries. For everybody has a right to be heard before being condemned. The denial of political interests at play rang hollow. As hollow as the BCCI chief's claim that the IPL governing-council was unaware of Modi's manipulations, or that it could not have been expected to monitor the alleged skullduggery. 

In the light of that argument, whatever steps the BCCI took on Monday appear for "show" only, and given Modi's capacity to play tough (dirty?) there could be more bouncers ahead. Regretfully, the manner in which the Income-Tax authorities used the media ~ and some news organisations thrive on slander ~ to leak spicy information that it has yet to substantiate lends weight to the argument that the IPL was being targeted for extraneous factors: if there is no follow-up action under the various financial laws what a fraud would have been played on aam aadmi. Clearly there is need for a comprehensive expert probe ~ not a JPC, parliamentarians have vested interests ~ since even the manner in which in-house issues are being dealt with in a personality-driven manner will not satisfy. Even as the knives were being sharpened on Sunday night hundreds of thousands across the globe were treated to pure thrill. The fans, and the players who make T20 what it is (to hell with academic purists) to the masses, deserve better. Crooks and cricket cannot co-exist.








THE crisis has deepened in Thailand with its Prime Minister turning down the Red Shirts' compromise offer after weeks of furious strife. The concession advanced by former PM Thaksin Shinawatra's stormtroopers was a fairly reasonable halfway house intended to defuse the situation in Bangkok, indeed the turmoil that has caused 26 deaths and thrown the country's economy and tourism off the rails. Specifically, they had agreed to the dissolution of parliament and the holding of fresh elections within 30 days instead of immediately as demanded hitherto. On the part of the Red Shirts, this marked a distinct softening of stand. But by rejecting that offer ~ crucially in the company of the army chief ~ Abhisit Vejjajiva, the Prime Minister without a mandate, has made it explicit that he is loath to give up power, however constitutionally spurious his authority. Attitudes have stiffened on both sides with the Red Shirts promptly announcing that they would be pulling out of the negotiations. With tension mounting over the weekend, the military appears to be Mr Abhisit's major support base. The siege of the capital is bound to intensify. A comprehensive and generally agreeable solution seems unlikely in the forseeable future. Suffice it to register that the Thai government has lost  control over events on the streets of Bangkok. 

Mr Abhisit lacks credibility, let alone legitimacy. His government  assumed power under military pressure through a parliamentary vote after disputed court rulings ousted two elected pro-Thaksin governments. And for close to two months, governance has been reduced to a state of suspended animation. It is becoming increasingly obvious to the world that nothing short of dissolution of parliament and fresh elections will restore a semblance of order. And the tension, the violence and the defiance of the state of emergency shall persist until there is a dramatic transformation of the scenario. However tenuous his claim to authority, his government owes the country a measure of normality. Electoral democracy is in danger both in Thailand and Myanmar, its neighbour to the north. The second is firmly in the grip of the military junta. Mr Abhisit's televised address on Sunday made  it visually apparent that Thailand may be under army control by proxy.









Before expressing pious hopes of thanas being monitored by a non-political organisation so as to escape from political pressures, leaders of the West Bengal Police Association need to explain why men in uniform in this state have to form a trade union. They have disgraced themselves not only by dancing to the tune of leaders but by betraying the trust of citizens who need the police in an emergency. More than protecting the rights of people, who expect law enforcement authorities to act on occasions such as the recent road accident in Kolkata that saw a hospital being vandalised or to register FIRs without checking political connections of complainants, the police have resorted to the unique measure of unionising themselves to look for benefits like other classes of government staff. That would not have been as much of a concern had it not meant guarding against the prospects of disciplinary action for offences ranging from petty bribes from truck drivers and pavement vendors to conniving with criminals. All this calls for a massive cleansing operation. The association produces the red herring of a non-political body to protect all its skeletons while pretending to free itself from political clutches. Even if the association's intentions are honest, it would seem impractical to go out in search of thousands of "non-political'' citizens to be attached to thanas. Unless they remain decorative names ~ allowing business to go on as usual ~ even the most respected citizens are liable to run into a political storm the moment they choose to act with the firmness required. The chief minister had broached the idea of thana committees and local football tournaments to make his force people-friendly. Nothing worked because cosmetic measures cannot take the place of sustained reforms when the Marxists have institutionalised the system of the police taking orders even from local leaders. It is ridiculous to now suggest that the police will act only on the basis of written orders routed through the board. This is a pathetic abdication of responsibility and, given the manner in which the administration works, a recipe for disaster. If the police are honest about cutting loose from political influence, they cannot shy away from immediate, independent and purposeful action. Where the fundamentals are not in place, a monitoring agency may look like another escape route for incompetence.










LET us all observe a minute's silence. The West Bengal Human Development Report has met with a quiet death under mysterious circumstances. May its soul rest in peace.


Why mourn the demise of a report? The reason is that the state Human Development Report is the only source of finding out in an objective manner how the common people of West Bengal are living their lives and whether or not they are getting the minimum requirement of a dignified life. Globally, every year, the United Nations brings out the Human Development Report, which explains how each country is doing in terms of the Human Development Indices. However, it is not possible to understand from the global report how a particular state in India is performing. Hence the significance of the state level Human Development Report.
Yet this rather untimely death of the report is definitely somewhat of a puzzle and one that calls for an investigation. In 2004, when the first West Bengal Human Development Report was published as the outcome of a joint project of the UNDP, the Planning Commission and the Government of West Bengal, the document was profusely praised. It even won an award from the UN. It was a reasonably balanced account of the present state of West Bengal's human development. Even today the report is one of the best sources of knowing how the common man in West Bengal was faring at the turn of the century.

Somewhat biased

IT was divided into chapters on land reform, people's participation through the panchayati raj, the material conditions of the people, employment trends, health and nutrition, education, human security, issues related to the environment and problems of specific regions. It presented a comprehensive picture of the condition of the citizens of the state. The narrative chapters were backed by an impressive set of tables and maps which gave a vivid statistical picture. The common reader had no difficulty in comprehending the data.
My own opinion on the report is that it was somewhat biased in favour of the Left Front government but was nonetheless an outstanding achievement. Each of the districts was ranked in terms of indices on health, income and education as well as in terms of a composite Human Development Index. Kolkata predictably stood first, while Purulia was mentioned in the last rung.

What the report brought out for the first time in terms of scientific data was that development in West Bengal has been dangerously uneven with the bulk of the progress restricted to the districts surrounding Kolkata. The chapter on land reform, while lauding the achievements of the state, demonstrates that recording of bargadars indicated a dramatic upswing in the immediate aftermath of the Left Front's coming to power ~ between 1978 and 1981.  Thereafter, it declined no less dramatically, and there was once again a very sharp variation in terms of the districts. In other words, land reform was not uniformly impressive in all the districts.
The chapter on panchayati raj lauded the experience of decentralisation in the state and showed that the lower castes had come to power in the local governments. In terms of income, the report carries a chapter on material conditions. West Bengal was ranked ninth in India although the state has done impressively in terms of reduction of poverty. However, it noted that average consumption was still quite low and there were "pockets of particular concern and deprivation." While the state has recorded  impressive growth in rural unemployment, the report noted, there was a disconcerting increase in educated unemployment. Factory employment has been stagnant since the 1980s. No wonder there are so many hawkers around.

No answer

After being complimented for bringing out the report, one would have expected the publication of the West Bengal Human Development Report to be a regular event like the publication of the global report. This would have had a strong impact on policy, development debates and perhaps even in political discourse. Imagine a Human Development Report coming out in 2010 and the debates in the next Assembly elections revolving around it. In a state where political debates are more often than not characterized by shrill rhetoric rather than objective analysis of facts, the HDR could have ushered in a paradigm shift. If the indicators had improved, the Left Front could have quoted the figures as its achievement, and effectively trashed the Opposition criticism  once and for all. On the other hand, if the data showed a negative turn, the Opposition could have used it to its advantage. In other words, the debates could have taken place on the basis of scientifically accepted data rather than a loud display of demagogic skills.

What happened after 2004 is a story of faulty planning at the state as well as at the national level. The UNDP, the Planning Commission and the state governments decided to scrap the state-wise reports and go in for district-wise HDRs. The task proved to be too ambitious and didn't yield the expected results. In West Bengal, the HDRs for only three districts are now available. They are of no use if one were to ascertain whether or not the state has improved in terms of Human Development Indices since 2004. Was the decision to shift from state HDR to district HDR a result of poor planning or was it a shrewd move to ensure that the true picture remains hidden from the public? The answer shall forever lie hidden in the darkness of the corridors of power.
The writer is with the Institute of Social Sciences, New Delhi








It is good that the CPI-M, by questioning the accuracy of poverty estimates at the national level, has raised the issue of the impact of economic reforms countrywide. The Centre, relying on Planning Commission data, is desperate to show that economic reforms have reduced poverty to imply that the majority of the people have been benefited by the private sector-led economic reforms in which the Centre has lowered its investment in agriculture and fertiliser subsidy, dismantled the public distribution system, devastated farm lands by allowing SEZs and, most important, allowed itself to leave its commanding role to private and even foreign agents.
The latest Planning Commission estimates for 2004-05, based on the 61st Round NSSO report, put national poverty incidence at 27.5 per cent, implying that 30.17 crore in the country live below the poverty line. It is 28.3 per cent for rural areas and 25.7 per cent for urban areas. But these contrast with a number of studies giving an alarming picture of poverty, hunger and food insecurity. The most important is the Arjun Sengupta Committee (NCEUS) report which says that 77 per cent cannot spend even Rs 20 a day. It indicates massive poverty in the country as per the World Bank norm of earning $1.25 a day as the global poverty line.
The Bank's criterion claims that 45.6 crore Indians or 42 per cent of the population are poor. Besides, while the Saxena Committee, appointed by the ministry of rural development to supervise social sector schemes during the 11th Plan, estimates that 50 per cent of Indians are BPL, the Tendulkar Committee, appointed by the government to rectify the much criticised Planning Commission estimates, finds it is 37.2 per cent. This is corroborated by the Global Hunger Index, 2008 prepared by the International Food Policy Research Institute which shows that India has close to 35 crore  (almost 30 per cent of the total and equal to the  population of Germany, France and the UK) who are food insecure (not sure about their next meal). Debates are going on as to which estimate will embarrass the government the least when it claims that economic reforms have reduced poverty.

Obviously, the Empowered Group of Ministers on implementing the newly introduced Food Security Act giving 25 kg of cereals at Rs 3 a kg to BPL families in a month has accepted the Tendulkar Committee estimate and decided to begin the scheme for 10 crore poor people initially. One reason for the low poverty estimate by the Planning Commission is that it derives the poverty line from needed expenditure to meet minimum calorie intake which was estimated to be Rs 368 and Rs 559 per person per month for rural and urban areas respectively. While the  Saxena Committee also considered calorie intake as the basis for deriving the poverty line, the Tendulkar Committee modified it by including spending on food, education, health and clothing. In fact, economic reform has widened the disparity among people as, during the decade 1993-94 to 2004-05, the segment of people spending Rs 12.5-20 a day, classified as the most vulnerable group, increased from 46 crore to 60 crore. All this vindicates the NCEUS's study. So the CPI-M's objection to the official poverty estimates is timely and justified.

But the CPI-M has caused a problem for itself at the state level. If the Planning Commission's national level poverty measures are underestimated, how can its state-level estimates be accurate? Those must be underestimated and, in this sense, the latest Planning Commission estimate of West Bengal's poverty at 24.5 per cent is questionable. Similarly, its associated rural poverty estimate of 28.6 per cent and urban poverty estimate of 14.8 per cent are dubious. In the state assembly on 18 March, Professor Asish Banerjee, a Trinamul Congress MLA, taking part in the debate on the Governor's inaugural speech for the budget session, had stated that the state has a much larger incidence of poverty since all the districts barring Kolkata were sufficiently poor to be considered fit to introduce the NREGP which gives 100 days' work to unemployed youth since 2008-09.
I had the opportunity to hear him from the public gallery. Citing estimates of the National Institute of Rural Development, he said that while the five districts adjacent to Kolkata had poverty ratios ranging between 20 to 40 per cent, the other 13 districts had the same between 40 to 60 per cent. The latter group includes all the six districts of North Bengal. He mentioned that the institute had pegged West Bengal's rural poverty at 31 per cent and urban poverty at 16 per cent. Even if the Planning Commission's estimates of poverty are accepted, he maintained, it cannot bring glory to West Bengal because the state lies behind 20 other states among 29 states of the country. Professor Banerjee mentioned Planning Commission figures to say that the state has been reeling under massive unemployment — rising at the annual rate of 14 per cent, the second largest in the country after Kerala. With 26.6 per cent of rural unemployment and 24.0 per cent of urban employment, West Bengal ranked second and fifth, respectively, among the 16 major states.
All this angered the chief minister who stood up to reply and rubbished all the information provided by Professor Banerjee. Instead of the expected discussion on the gloomy economic scenario, he scolded the opposition member for presenting such "stories" sticking to official poverty estimates.

Thus the CPI-M utilises central agencies' data on poverty for its own purposes. Sometimes it discards them while at other times it accepts them for political gain.  This has been its practice for the last three decades. It accepts the Centre's figures and advice while accepting money but criticises the Centre's policies using its own data when the Centre demands accounts of expenditure. It confuses people as well as policy makers.
Professor Asim Dasgupta, the state's finance minister, has led this campaign for the CPI-M for more than two decades. The annual budget speech has been his chief weapon. In fact, he is used to treating the assembly like his class and the MLAs, particularly of opposition parties, as his students. In the name of his annual budget speech, he "teaches" them different economic problems of the country and the Centre's role and responsibilities, hiding, to the best of his abilities, the grave economic situation in his own state. He never mentions West Bengal's high indebtedness, rural poverty, rural and educated unemployment, sickness and closure of SSI units, the school dropout rate and the sluggish infrastructure, particularly in road transport and rural electrification. He always uses rhetoric with own data which are far from real.

This year's budget speech on 22 March was no exception. Only one example from this year's budget speech will suffice. He mentioned that out of 37,910 villages in the state, electricity has reached 37,755 villages . This means 60 per cent usage of generation capacity. Even if the figure is correct, there is a wide gap between reaching and availability of electricity as our daily experience of power cuts proves.

The writer is associate professor of economics, Durgapur Government College








Special Representative for Disaster Reduction Margareta Wahlström said that the eruption of a volcano in Iceland, which grounded flights in Europe for one week, has exposed the world's vulnerability to such disruptive events and underscored the need for global plans to minimise  fallouts in the future.

"We only realise how disruptive hazards can be when they have already happened," said Wahlström. She noted that even as air travel was starting to pick up again, thousands of passengers continued to be affected, and the threat of further eruptions meant even more delays were possible.

The UN International Strategy for Disaster Reduction called on European governments to integrate volcano risk into their air travel policies and legislation. The agency is endeavouring to ensure greater coordination between authorities and scientists through Hyogo Framework for Action, a 10-year plan to make the world safer from disasters triggered by natural hazards adopted by 168 governments in 2005. "This situation demonstrates that it is important to have international and regional contingency plans, in addition to local or national ones, to assess volcano risks,"  Wahlström stressed.

Thai clashes: Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon voiced concern over the ongoing political standoff in Thailand, where several dozen people have died in clashes between anti-government protesters and police on the streets in Bangkok, according to UN spokesman Martin Nesirky. "The Secretary-General is very concerned about the continuing stand-off and tensions in Thailand, and the potential for this to escalate," he told reporters in New York.

According to media reports, three people died and many were injured in Bangkok after a series of explosions linked to the political tensions. Mr Ban "appeals to both the protesters and the Thai authorities to avoid further violence and loss of life and to work to resolve the situation peacefully, through dialogue. This is a moment requiring restraint on all sides", he said.

Protecting earth: The Secretary-General stressed the need to respect and care for the earth, and noted that safeguarding the environment would impact efforts to achieve development goals and ensuring the health and well-being of its inhabitants. Environmental sustainability is one of eight Millennium Development Goals that world leaders have pledged to achieve by 2015.

"Without a sustainable environmental base, we will have little hope of attaining our objectives for reducing poverty and hunger and improving health and human well-being," he stated in a message on International Mother Earth Day. He stressed that the Earth is under pressure. "We are making progressively unreasonable demands on her, and she is showing the strain."

Lebanon: Mr Ban Ki-moon has warned that the presence of armed militias pose a threat to Lebanon and the region, despite major progress in strengthening Lebanon's sovereignty and territorial integrity. "The existence of armed groups outside government control is a fundamental anomaly that stands against the democratic aspirations of Lebanon and threatens domestic peace. It is also an obstacle to the prosperity and welfare that the Lebanese people deserve," he wrote in his latest report to the Security Council on the implementation of resolution 1559.

It was adopted by the Council in 2004 after concern over high tensions within Lebanon. It called for free and fair elections, an end to foreign interference and the disbanding of all militias.

Gaza blockade: Director of Operations in Gaza for the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East John Ging said in a news conference that recent easing of Israeli restrictions on the entry of goods into Gaza was welcome but infinitesimal when compared to the needs of the 1.5 million Palestinians living. He told reporters in New York that "it is a drop in the bucket".

"A drop in the bucket, of course, is not a half-full glass," he said of Israel's agreement to allow in some supplies of clothing, wood and aluminium, the latter needed for a prime UN objective rebuilding UNRWA schools devastated by Israel's military offensive against Gaza's Hamas authorities.

Mr Ging noted that a conference in Sharm el-Sheikh put a price tag of $4.5 billion on the reconstruction and recovery of Gaza. UNRWA cannot cater to the thousands of children with the right to education under UN resolutions as refugees, he stressed. Gazans are "demanding of us to accommodate their children in our schools.


They have not been allowed to build a school in Gaza for three years," he added.
Israel imposed its blockade for what it called security reasons after Hamas, which does not recognise Israel's right to exist, ousted the Fatah movement in the Strip in 2007.

Asia-Pacific jobs: The International labour agency and the government of Australia have signed a partnership agreement to support jobs for people in Asia and the Pacific region. "This reinforces our bond with Australia and our strong common commitment to the Global Jobs Pact,, said María Angélica Ducci on behalf of Juan Somavia, Director-General of ILO.

The five-year partnership agreement will provide $13.9 million in the first two years, according to a press release issued by the agency. The funds will go to ILO initiatives, such as the Better Work Programme, designed in 2006 to improve labour standards and competitiveness, and is being piloted in Jordan, Lesotho and Vietnam. The funding will support labour law reform, a Pacific growth and employment plan, youth employment in Timor-Leste, green jobs and labour migration governance.

Human trafficking: An independent UN human rights expert commended Egypt's efforts to combat human trafficking, while highlighting several challenges that need to be tackled, including a lack of awareness about the full extent of the problem and an absence of accurate data. Joy Ngozi Ezeilo, the UN Special Rapporteur on Trafficking in Persons, especially women and children, presented her preliminary findings at a news conference in Cairo as she concluded her 11-day mission to the country.

The absence of accurate data on trafficking in persons, especially in women and children, which has made it impossible to measure the magnitude of the scourge in Egypt, is among her "issues of immediate concern", according to a statement issued today. Ms Ezeilo, who visited Cairo, Alexandria and Sharm el-Sheikh during the mission, added that the forms and manifestation of trafficking in persons are not well understood and there is a "general lack of awareness and knowledge" about the problem.

"There is a growing trend of sexual and economic exploitation of young Egyptian girls by their families and brokers, who execute marriages that are also popularly known as 'seasonal or temporary' marriage," the statement noted. "These types of marriages sometimes provide a smokescreen for providing sexual services to foreign men."

Common forms of trafficking in Egypt also include child labour, domestic servitude and other forms of sexual exploitation and prostitution. Although the country has been described as a transit country for trafficking, it may also be a source and a destination country, said the statement.

Asylum applications: The world refugee agency has urged Australia to look for alternatives for detained asylum-seekers arrive by boat who pose no health or security risk to the public, after the government announced it will reopen a remote facility. The Australian government said it would temporarily freeze asylum applications from Afghans and Sri Lankans arriving by boat, and that it would reopen the remote Curtin Air Base in the north-west to house them.

Over 1,800 asylum-seekers have arrived in Australia by boat since 2010, mostly from Sri Lanka and Afghanistan, the agency reported.







Democracy signifies the right to debate and discuss. The right to protest, also a part of democracy, follows from a failure of discussion. In Indian democracy, unfortunately, the right to protest precedes the right to discuss and debate. Take the functioning of the Lok Sabha in its current session, known in parliamentary parlance as the budget session. In this session, the Union budget, which was presented to Parliament at the end of February, is supposed to be discussed threadbare, and then the finance bill is supposed to be passed. Thus the budget session enables the government of the day to proceed according to the budget that it has presented to the elected representatives of the people. But in this budget session, up to the time of writing, the budget has not been discussed by the members of the Lok Sabha. Issues of great pitch and moment like a junior minister's involvement with a cricket team, the allegations of corruption within the Indian Premier League, the phone-tapping of politicians and so on have occupied the attention of the members of parliament. Precious hours in Parliament have been spent in shouting and protesting against a variety of subjects, but the one theme that was missing was the one that ought to be the focus of debates in the budget session. This speaks volumes about the MPs' sense of priorities.


It has often been said that the real strength of Indian democracy is its demographic depth: millions of people have the right to vote. As a result of this, people who previously had no access to State power and to governance are getting elected to the Lok Sabha and even becoming ministers. A deepening of the right to vote and a broadening of the gateway to political power does not necessarily signify the robustness of a democracy. The ability to discuss and debate, which is the essence of democratic governance, is disappearing from the Indian polity and its institutions. Parliament is the principal sufferer of this process. High decibel levels and disruption are more heard and seen on the floor of the house than reasoned discussion. Yet this is not the reason that people elect their representatives to the Lok Sabha. The aim is to give to the country the best available form of governance. But issues of governance have taken a back seat in the deliberations of Parliament. In fact, it will be no exaggeration to suggest that deliberation has yielded place to protest.








Patience is a virtue, unless it is a Calcuttan's patience. Another day wasted for most people in the city, as in the

state, is just part of routine. Almost as though it is ordained by nature, like a cyclone or flood. The point, of course, is that it is not a cyclone or a flood that is stopping work and movement, but a group of political parties led by the Communist Party of India (Marxist) in protest against the rise in prices. It is an all-India bandh, predicted to be fully effective only in West Bengal. Besides, the Trinamul Congress, in headlong opposition with the Left Front, has a lot of points to prove in that same unhappy state. The citizens of West Bengal are not only patient to the point of inertia, but they are also used to great expectations of unpleasant excitement. But so deep-seated is the culture of protest through the stoppage of work that the Socialist Unity Centre of India (Communist), along with a few other parties, has called a bandh on this same day, without supporting the CPI(M)-led bandh. The issue, though, is that of rising prices. This one — a mental microscope may distinguish it from the CPI(M)-led bandh — accuses the Left Front of not having used its powers as a state government to correct the price-rise. But the day of work stoppage is the same, the logic of that being closer to that of the world beyond Alice's rabbit-hole than anything in the unexciting workaday world. This mind-boggling imbroglio is made still more amazing by the fact that the SUCI(C) is the Trinamul Congress's electoral partner. The latter is committed to opposing the Left-led bandh; how is it going to separate the wheat from the chaff?


All of this could have been just an exhausting joke, had it not meant the wastage of another day of work, another prolonged violation of civic rights, further hours of harassment for the acutely ill and those who tend them, another empty day for the daily wage-earner. It may be relevant from the point of view of man-hours and productive energy wasted to recall that the week preceding the bandh has been one of protests, dharnas and processions campaigning for municipal election candidates, holding up traffic and commuters for hours on end. Not a single party is innocent. In this city of protests, it is ironic that the citizens have not found a way to protest against protests. Maybe they do not want to. That is when patience becomes a vice.











The last but one week of March saw major events involving the immediate neighbourhood, the impact of which will undoubtedly have profound strategic implications for India. Even before the Pakistan foreign minister's delegation that included both General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, the army chief, and Lieutenant General Ahmed Shuja Pasha, the Inter-Services Intelligence chief, had left the shores of Pakistan for a much heralded strategic dialogue with the United States of America, the US ambassador in Pakistan stated that a US-Pakistan civil nuclear deal on the lines of the Indo-US deal could be discussed. This was followed by an interview to Pakistan television by the secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, in which her body language clearly conveyed a message to the people of Pakistan that the US needed Pakistan badly.


Closer home, the Afghan president, Hamid Karzai, was on a formal visit to China where he was given the red carpet treatment. He followed this up with a visit to Tehran, where he participated in the first festival of the international day of Nauroz, attended by some 25 heads of State or senior representatives of countries. Aware that it was his country's future that would form the centrepiece of the US-Pakistan dialogue in Washington, Karzai's travels also had a message.


The Indian foreign minister's absence at the Tehran ceremony after having been invited by his counterpart was because the Iran government shifted invitation dates once, followed by a second time. Clearly, our foreign minister got the hint and mercifully declined. Iran was conveying its own message regarding India's earlier voting in favour of the International Atomic Energy Agency's censure of Iran.


Considering that we have a vital stake in what shape the future of Afghanistan takes, one wondered what message India had for those attempting to shape this future in Washington. Judging by the nation's infatuation with the Narendra Modi-Amitabh Bachchan tamasha, there was none. Those in the corridors of the State department no doubt got the message and drew their own conclusions.


In all fairness, the US has never pretended to be sensitive to our security concerns if they clashed with its national interests. That is why it was not the least apologetic about denying our agencies access to David Headley, who is the self-confessed mastermind of the 26/11 Mumbai attacks. Although that situation has changed since, it can be asked whether the US would have taken kindly to being denied access to Ajmal Kasab, the lone survivor of the Mumbai attackers. Would India have had the courage to deny it access? Since Headley has named serving Pakistan army officers as responsible for planning and executing the Mumbai carnage, the least India expected was a US censure of Pakistani military and intelligence establishments, if not out of conviction then at least out of form.


Instead, it appears that praise was showered on General Kayani and the Pakistan army for their efforts on the AfPak front and commitments extracted that the Afghan Taliban, Pakistani Taliban and al Qaida — all organizations targeting the US and North Atlantic Treaty Organization forces in Afghanistan — would be tackled. No such assurance was considered necessary for Lashkar-e-Toiba and the Haqqani network, both of which are considered Pakistani strategic assets to target India. This in spite of their also featuring on the US president's list of those to be dismantled and defeated. Aware of these double standards and so to appease Indian sentiment, the US promptly announced the conclusion of the nuclear reprocessing agreement with India, hailing it as further consolidation of a strategic partnership.


The US is well on its way towards working out its exit from Afghanistan, and has decided that this needs the support and cooperation of the Pakistan military and intelligence agencies. How this strategy will impact the regional security scene is difficult to tell, but one thing is certain. Unless India is willing to work out a strategy to safeguard its interests and not outsource this to the US or anyone else, it may well be the biggest loser in this game.


Since every bit of action in Washington and in the neighbourhood would have a profound and long-lasting effect on India's internal and external security, one had expected the nation to be treated to loads of informed news and discussion in both the print and electronic media. Instead what we got was Modi mania peppered with Bachchan drama.


It is not this writer's intention to join political issues or defend the person of Narendra Modi who, as an elected representative from Gujarat and holding the constitutional post of chief minister, must abide by the law of the land and face the consequences. But surely, like every citizen, he must be presumed innocent until proven guilty and surely a constitutional authority needs more respect than to be subject to sustained media trial?


The issue that concerns one is the inability to separate the personality of an individual holding a constitutional post from the dignity and sanctity of the post itself and, by extension, the equation of the person rather than the position with the State. Some years ago, Modi, as chief minister of Gujarat, in which constitutional post he would carry a red Indian diplomatic passport, was denied a visa by the US authorities. Denial of a visa to an Indian diplomatic passport holder was a rebuff to the Indian State. The Central government should have strongly reacted to this slight to an Indian diplomatic passport holder. That it failed to do so and in fact relished Modi's discomfiture speaks poorly of our national pride. Perhaps a counter-question would make the point. Would the US have tolerated such a slight at Indian hands to one of its diplomatic passport holders?


Similarly, to target Amitabh Bachchan because he is promoting Modi, when he is promoting Gujarat and its tourism potential, is to target the people of the state and, by extension, the people of India. Is it the case of Modi-baiters that all government functionaries acting on his orders or on his behalf are to be boycotted or their actions considered illegitimate? Such denigration of constitutional posts has other serious ramifications. What would this writer have done today had he been the air force commander of the region that encompasses Gujarat, in which capacity there are occasions to either call on the chief minister or attend formal functions presided over by him? This writer in his time, and as part of protocol, has done precisely this in Gandhinagar, Jaipur, Mumbai and all capitals of the northeastern states. But those were times when, in the words of Rabindranath Tagore, the clear stream of reason had not lost its way in the dreary desert of dead habit.


There is grave danger that today regional commanders with the Gujarat area under their command would rather duck these protocol obligations. If they do they will have conveyed a poor message to the people of Gujarat, to all their formations located within the state and indeed all uniformed people belonging to the state. Before any further damage is done to the constitutional fabric of the country, the prime minister and leaders of all political parties need to draw clear red lines beyond which petty politics must bow at the altar of national interest.


That a person holding a constitutional post is being investigated as per the law of the land speaks volumes for our justice system. But the system fails us by delaying justice. Rather than milk the delay to derive political mileage, our lawmakers would do well to institute laws to ensure that such cases are completed within stipulated time frames, and that during their pendency, the individual concerned steps down from the constitutional post. Whilst this may appear to infringe on individual rights of presumption of innocence until proven guilty, in the larger interest of the sanctity of constitutional posts, the price is well worth paying. Today, we have undermined the authority of the post of a chief minister by putting an incumbent on media trial. This is an indirect affront to the people who have, through a democratic process, elected their chief minister, and to his authority to govern. We are treading on very thin ice.


This brings us to the media, which of late have been in the news in the context of paid media reporting prior to the last elections with some electronic media channels reportedly offering paid news packages to political parties. A cynic could well conclude that the hype in the media over the Modi-Bachchan issue was to camouflage the far more serious ramifications for our future security that were unfolding in Washington under the patronage of our avowed strategic partner, the US. In this age of information warfare and commercialization, one wonders if such cynicism amounts to letting imagination run wild.


The author is a retired air marshal of the Indian Air Force







The Heathrow Airport, gateway to the next Olympics, can perhaps learn a lesson or two from South Asia, writes Jonathan Todhunter


I forgot that we are living in the United Kingdom of Delayed Maintenance. Also that we are at the entry gate to the most sophisticated city in the world (London, in case you asked). Well, "We apologize" seems to be the mantra of this State. So as I got into Terminal 1 at Heathrow to go to Geneva, there was the usual loudspeaker apologizing for various things, and I didn't immediately get it, because it seems that this is what they do here in the airports and railways of England. There is a whole loudspeaker system set up to apologize for what is not working, and to warn you, every five minutes — in case it hadn't occurred to you already — against taking things from strangers to carry to your destination, or against leaving your bag unattended.


Slowly, the truth dawned on me. I discovered that the whole communications and computer system of the airport was down, not to be restored till somebody could come and fix it. When I started looking at the signs for the flights, they just said, "We apologize; no information available." I didn't get it, until I walked around to several boards and saw the same notice. Of course, in such situations, you look around for someone who will help you. But in this age of saving money on personnel, and "We apologize because we are short-staffed" notices, you simply cannot expect to speak to a human being. And this, of course, was London, not to be confused with Accra or Mumbai. I am talking of Heathrow Airport, gateway to the next Olympics. So, no signs, and nobody around. Nobody knew when any flight was leaving or from what terminal it was leaving. We were just apologized to endlessly and reminded to stay next to the luggage and not to talk to strangers. That's it!


Eventually, a really bright spark, who came from the subcontinent, and thank god for that, worked out, maybe from the subcontinent's experience, that a large piece of paper and a walkie-talkie would do the trick. So we had a whole takeover of the airport by Hindi or Pushtun, I cannot tell the difference, language doesn't run that exotic with me. A lady from the subcontinent was putting up the boarding gates and the supposed schedules on a huge piece of paper with a marker pen, in two colours even, and holding it up for the mob of hundreds to see. Ergo, the eponymous 'people' more or less got to their gate, thanks to the experience and down-to-earth practicality of the subcontinent. History doesn't relate when the computer system started working again, and people got to see their gates and departure times, and we got back to the 20th century in the next Olympic capital of the world.


Of course, from this capital there had been a lot of huffing and puffing and harrumphing in high places as to whether China.... yes, China, would be capable of staging the Olympics. I wonder whether there is some concern in Beijing now as to whether London can do that as well. Maybe, with some help from the subcontinent, it will make it. Heaven forbid that the subcontinent gets the Olympics — "they haven't done anything since the Raj, old boy, Poona is just not what it was" — at least, that was what I heard in the drawing rooms of the great establishment. Thank god they came here to save us from ourselves, and so we can buy the newspaper and a bottle of milk in the morning at the humble corner store, and maybe, to take over the workings of the great Heathrow Airport when our United Kingdom of Delayed Maintenance is yet again in a fix.


So that was Heathrow. But I did make an observation on the late departure, where the time needed to fill the plane is critical. We have the luxury of placed seating on the great historic national airlines, but what does that do? It triples the boarding time, as everyone fusses around trying to find their precious seat number. If you fly Ryanair or easyJet, the seats just fill up in a third of the time. That is perhaps why we are now getting to pay more for Ryanair and easyJet, because they are on time and reliable, and especially because they seem concerned about being on time and reliable, and the old airlines don't seem to care too much, any one of them. Wake up, you great historic airlines, the low cost airlines are overtaking your fares too, because they do what airlines should do. They are easy to book, they fly you efficiently on time to your destination. Their coverage of Europe has liberated millions of people from Aberdeen to Cairo, and they are taking over, yes, because of the price, but also because they do a better job.


Then we had the Swiss problem. It snowed in Zürich on this particular morning, and so all flights to Zürich were late. Naturally, your correspondent here was trying to save money on easyJet, a full 20 euros, and flying Swiss. But, of course, it didn't go directly to Geneva, it went through Zürich, otherwise it would probably have cost twice. So after an hour's delay, we were late, and I was pushed into another flight. That's fine, but 300 other people were pushed too, and the line to change the tickets was at least 3 hours long, with five, yes five, desks to handle everyone. Now Switerland works like the fabled cuckoo clock, but they can't handle something different like this. Perhaps they too should get some help from the subcontinent on how to handle emergencies. Indeed, such problems are encountered daily on the subcontinent and handled with zest and determination. When such an event occurs, the crowd is immediately surrounded by an army of hucksters, facilitators, baggagewallahs, experts on every aspect of your travelling life, and somehow the problem gets resolved in amusing and interesting ways.


Ryanair and easyJet would have just left you there and saved the bother. Without a baggagewallah or a problem-solver, it is better in the end. However, this was Switzerland, and I decided to I bale myself out, pulled the cord, and walked to find a train to Geneva. What a luxury, but it cost as much as the return ticket to London.


So here I am in Val d'Isère recovering, thanking god that we have got some solid citizens from the subcontinent over here to save us from ourselves, our pomposity, our smugness about the rest of the world, and our tragic inability to maintain anything.








March 30 was a great day for particle physics


Geneva, March 30, 2010. Beams of protons circling around in opposite directions collided at 7 tetraelectronvolt in the Large Hadron Collider at 13.06 Geneva time — a historic moment. Never before has man reached such energy levels in the history of science. The whole world is rejoicing, and the scientific world is jubilant. It is not only a unique achievement but has also opened up a thousand windows to new concepts and ideas till now shrouded in the darkest preserve of nature.


There was no dearth of anxious moments. Beams started circling the night before without colliding — suddenly around 7 a.m. there was no beam. Something went disastrously wrong. The proton simply refused to be pushed around. After some clever tricks, at around 10.30 a.m. on March 30, the beam came up again.


Higgs Boson; dark matter; what can be the source of dark energy; do supersymmetric particles exist — these fundamental questions are going to be addressed at the LHC. Further, when the two nuclei will go into colliding mode, we shall have a glimpse of the universe through the lens of mini bang, a microsecond after the Big Bang.


Technologically, the LHC is a marvel. It is the hottest place in the universe (a million times the temperature of the interior of the sun) as well as the coldest (a couple of degrees Kelvin), even colder than the microwave background radiation encompassing the entire cosmos. It is the hiss of the universe, the remanence of its creation in a Big Bang and therefore, the hiss of the expanding universe. Already, the data coming out of the colliding protons are overflowing the computers at the detectors: Alice, CMS, Atlas, LHCb.


The invention of grid computing system, which networks all the computers in Tiers 1 and 2 around the world, has been so fantastic that immediately after March 30, the facility has been fully operational. The Variable Energy Cyclotron Centre, Calcutta, and Saha Institute of Nuclear Physics are members of Tier 2.


The fundamental questions that have bothered man are going to be examined critically: why is there matter and not antimatter? Is it possible for all forces to be grandly unified? What is the origin of mass? Indeed, when the nuclei collide in near future and (hopefully) create a plasma of quarks and gluons (the fundamental building blocks of nature), we shall have much deeper insight into the nature of strong interaction that binds neutrons and protons inside the atomic nucleus.


Guido Tonelli, the spokesperson of the CMS experiment says, "We'll address soon some of the major puzzles of modern physics." A collaboration spokesperson, Fabiola Gianotti, says, "LHC experiments are propelled into a vast region to explore and the hunt begins for dark matter, new forces even new dimensions." In the Alice detector, VECC, Calcutta, and SINP have made major contributions in terms of Photon Multiplicity Detector and the 'Manas' chip of the dimuon spectrometer. We are jubilant to have already collected the newest data that man has ever seen. The director-general of Cern, Rolf Heuer, said, "It is a great day to be a particle physicist".


Cern will run the LHC for 18-24 months with the objective of delivering enough data to make significant advances across a range of physics channels. As soon as it has re-discovered the known Standard Model particles, a necessary precursor to looking for new physics, the LHC experiment will start the systematic search for the Higgs Boson. With the amount of data expected, called one inverse femtobarn by physicists, the combined analysis of Atlas and CMS will be able to explore a wide mass range.

"The LHC has a real chance over the next two years of discovering supersymmetric particles", explained Heuer, "giving insights into the composition of about a quarter of the Universe. Over 2,000 graduate students are eagerly awaiting data from the LHC experiments."


A moment has come when the young can make their mark and become famous for more than 15 minutes. The world will not be same again. The LHC will take man up to a different height.




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






Home minister P Chidambaram's bland denial of any government role in the tapping of political leaders' telephones does not answer all the questions raised by reports of intelligence agencies' surveillance of personal communications.  The minister's statement in parliament on Monday is in fact not a complete denial. He has only denied authorisation by the government of the reported activities of an intelligence outfit which pried into the telephone lines of leaders like Sharad Pawar, Prakash Karat and Nitish Kumar. He has even kept a window open by saying that the government is ready to thoroughly investigate the charge if there is evidence. That is as good as saying that if the telephone tapping has taken place, the government has not ordered it. But government sanction is not the issue; it is whether it has taken place, with or without  authorisation. If a government agency has done it, the government is responsible for the action. Period.

Reports had suggested that an intelligence outfit called the National Technical Research Organisation, which was formed after the Kargil war to monitor security threats, had regularly eavesdropped on the conversations of political leaders. All electronic communications, not just phone calls, may be under surveillance. This is an intrusion into the citizens' privacy and a violation of their fundamental rights. Governments have been tempted to use intelligence agencies for political purposes. Tapping of phones had come to light during the Emergency and later during Ramakrishna Hegde's chiefministership in Karnataka. In an open and democratic society such violation of rights and misuse of intelligence machinery for political ends are absolutely unacceptable.

Laws governing surveillance of individuals' communications are not strong in the country, even though the issue has come into the public realm a number of times. The guidelines issued by the supreme court on telephone tapping are not effective. There may be a case for strengthening the laws but the technology is growing so fast it is easy to find loopholes in the law. The issue is one of attitude, of respect for others and commitment to the rights of people and to fair play in politics. No one will grudge the state's power to enter people's lives to ensure national security. But it cannot be misused, and if there is misuse, those responsible for it should not be spared. Chidambaram's statement was not reassuring and has not removed all apprehensions of the Big Brother's presence in our lives.









The arrest of the Medical Council of India president Ketan Desai last week has again drawn attention to the faulty functioning of the body and many irregularities in it. Desai has been charged with  accepting a bribe of Rs 2 crore for granting recognition to a medical college in Punjab. This is said to be only the tip of the iceberg. When corruption in the IPL seems to be the flavour of the day, the MCI  seems to have done worse. The CBI, according to reports, expects to recover about Rs 2,500 crore in cash, 1,500 kg of gold and other properties from him. He has controlled the MCI for many years. Raids and corruption charges are not new to him either. Desai was forced to step down as MCI president in 2001 following a Delhi high court order which held him guilty of corruption and misuse of office. But he staged a comeback last year and is now even president of the World Medical Association.

The MCI has a major role in the country's medical education and  in setting standards for the profession. It approves and grants affiliation to medical colleges, and has to ensure uniform academic standards. But it has often been called a den of corruption. Desai is said to have accepted Rs 25-30 crore and more for an approval. Apart from the MCI team, he had formed a personal contingent of about 20 inspectors to visit colleges. Not only has the MCI failed in its functions but it has helped malpractices like capitation fee to grow. Almost every decision and activity had a corrupt dimension. Desai has recently been trying to extract money for approval of the new rural medical courses planned by the government.

Desai would not have been operating alone. During the investigation names of others in the MCI and the health ministry have come up. Connections in politics and business are also sure to follow. Major reforms are needed in the MCI and the health ministry if medical education has to be improved. Some time ago it was found that membership of the MCI was not representative and in violation of the rules, there were as many nominated members as there were elected ones. The present raid and investigation should not end up as a flash in the pan and should lead to lasting reforms.







Clearly, New Delhi should focus on economic and political rather than any military engagement in Afghanistan.



The Afghan President Hamid Karzai's arrival in New Delhi on Monday can be seen as of a piece with the 'new thinking' in the Indian foreign policy in the recent months. The revival of the traditional ties with Russia, the inclination to move away from futile finger-pointing towards meaningful interaction with China, signs of course correction on Iran — tendencies that seemed tentative are indeed gaining traction and assuming a purposive direction in diplomacy.

The timing and estimations behind New Delhi's invitation to Karzai merit attention. No doubt, the Afghan situation is nearing a turning point. The foreign minister level meeting of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (Nato) held in Tallinn, the Estonian capital, on Friday officially set in motion a process to roll back the alliance's operations in Afghanistan.

While this would be a natural process and not a 'run for the exit,' as Nato secretary-general Anders Fogh Rasmussen put it, the political reality is that the western allies have reached agreement on basic guidelines for commencing the hand-over of responsibility for security to the Afghan forces on a case-by-case basis within this year.


"I expect that we will start handing over responsibility to the Afghans this year", Rasmussen said. "Today, we took an important decision to help make that happen. We agreed the approach we will take to transition." Karzai will have the opportunity to 'tweak' the alliance's approach.

These measured steps of 'Afghanisation' ought to prompt Delhi to contemplate what role India can play. Clearly, Delhi should focus on economic and political rather than military engagement in Afghanistan to bolster long term security in that country and in the region. Indian can train Afghan specialists in various fields, provide training and equipment to the Afghan army and cooperate in a range of counter-terrorism and counter-narcotic activities.

The question of any military deployment should firmly remain excluded from the consideration zone despite India's vast experience in peacekeeping operations. Entanglement in potentially exhausting military missions abroad needs to be avoided. Below that threshold, diplomatic ingenuity and creative thinking would lie in figuring out how economic expansion can be the key element of India's security strategy in Afghanistan.

Secondly, Karzai's visit is an occasion to refine our thinking apropos the 'reintegration' and reconciliation strategy towards the Taliban. To be sure, Delhi has come a long way in the direction of recognising that any Afghan settlement to be durable needs to be inclusive and Afghan-led and the international community cannot be prescriptive in what is quintessentially a fratricidal war.

Plural character

The Afghan leader's reconciliation strategy aims at forming a broad-based, representative government that affirms the country's plural character. Delhi should not only empathise with Karzai's strategy but should extend whole-hearted support to it politically.

There is a growing awareness in Washington that instead of berating Karzai — and at times even undercutting him — the US should learn to work with him. Secretary of state Hillary Clinton made this clear during a press availability in Tallinn on Friday, pointing out that "President Karzai has one of the most difficult jobs in the world, balancing the internal forces inside Afghanistan, balancing the neighbourhood and all of the regional powers that surround Afghanistan."
If these helpful words translate as US policy, all is not lost in Afghanistan. Especially so, as regards the prospects of the jirga or tribal assembly, which Karzai hopes to convene in Kabul.

Exactly 20 years ago in May 1990, the then Afghan President Najibullah convened a Loya Jirga in Kabul with a similar lofty aspiration of reconciliation and power-sharing. It remains a blot on the international community that it failed to seize the historic occasion and give Najibullah a fair chance. That failure pushed Afghanistan into the vortex of violence and anarchy and made it a revolving door of terrorism.

History shouldn't repeat itself. India should do all it can to buttress the feeling in the regional capitals that the sinews of the government in Kabul must be strengthened. This should be done bilaterally at the government-to-government level and amply supplemented through regional and international forums.

India must raise its voice at the upcoming international conference in Kabul. India must strive to contribute to the deliberations of the summit meeting of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation scheduled to be held in Tashkent in June. External Affairs Minister S M Krishna's visit to Tehran in mid-May provides fresh opportunity to pick up the threads of the moribund Iranian offer to work together on issues affecting war and peace in Afghanistan.

A fundamental mistake India made in 2001 was to hitch its Afghan policy with the US' 'war on terror.' Alas, Delhi rolled back its diverse contacts with Afghan groups.

Ironically, to quote Clinton, "I've met with a number of the ministers of the current (Afghan) government, and they're very impressive… I would invite attention to the accomplishments of a number of them who have revolutionised the way business is done." In the most recent years, in contrast, Indian diplomacy went into slumber. Hardly any Afghan leader visits the Indian capital.

(The writer is a former diplomat)









Summer time and cool drinks go together. The 'thanda' drink is relished as much by guests who drop in for a chat as by family members. But for most home-makers coping with the summer thirst is just a hop to the super market to load their fridges with fancy, caffeinated drinks. This year, for a change, sift through your kitchen spices and make your own drink for reasons of health, novelty, variety and taste.
Here are some innovative ideas that are easy on the pockets too.

Ragi drink: Ragi is calcium rich and has good protein content. It is not only nutritious but soothing and cooling too.     

Take two tea spoonful of ragi powder, mix with water and boil for a few minutes, stirring continuously to avoid lumps. Allow it to cool. Add enough normal water to make it thin. Mince a piece of onion and mix it. Add some curd, salt and chopped coriander. Keep the drink cool and serve it in tall glasses.

A sweeter variation of this could be had by soaking a few dates in hot water, grinding them to a paste and mixing it with the ragi drink. Honey and jaggery are other choices to sweeten purees, coriander and mint juices.
Tamarind-jaggery drink: Tamarind is a good antidote for sun strokes, while jaggery is an instant energy booster that peps you up from the heat. Heat a lemon-sized lump of jaggery along with two strands of tamarind till the jaggery dissolves. When cool, mash the tamarind, strain the liquid, add salt and jeera powder. The drink is ready.

Spicy dal water: Dals are full of proteins and other nutrients.  Turn the water in which dal is cooked into a delectable drink.     Boil dal water with a piece of onion and two to three flakes of garlic. When cooked, mash the onion and garlic well, strain the water, cool it. Spice it with lemon, jeera powder, hing and pepper.
Green tea: It is rich in folic acid niacin, vitamin C, polyphenols, etc. It has antioxidant properties that fight cholesterol, carcinogens and cell mutations, raises immunity (half tea spoon for one cup). Keep covered for a while, strain, add lemon juice and honey. Serve cold or hot.

Barley water: Barley is one of the first cereals to be discovered. It is said that kidney and urinary problems are less among communities that consume barley in plenty. Its bland Taste puts off many. But spicing it with lemon juice, jeera powder, etc and adding sugar and salt makes it tasty. Boil a few grains of barley in water till the grains puff up and are soft like cooked rice. Strain the water, cool it, and add lemon juice, sugar, salt, etc and serve.

Rice ganji with salt and ghee: Rice consists of the three constituents of food viz fats, carbohydrates and proteins. The water in which it is cooked deserves to be put to use and is a good thirst quencher. Add a pinch of salt and a drop of ghee to the water you get after draining the cooked rice. If it is preferred cool then add only salt because ghee solidifies when cooled.

It's time to use your imagination to breeze through this summer and make your guests and family members also happy!







Bt crops never claim to boost yield, but they kill insects that eat the plant thereby reducing crop losses.



A brinjal farmer can be hesitant to consume his own crop. The pest — brinjal fruit borer — can damage up to 70 per cent of his harvest and he resorts to multiple types of pesticide sprays during a single crop cycle in a desperate attempt to control it. Bt brinjal was expected to be a solution to this problem.

Scientists had engineered these plants to produce an insecticidal protein originally made by the soil bacteria Bacillus thuringeinsis (Bt). Bt has been used to control crop pests since 1920s. Bt microbial products have more than 40 years history of safe use especially in organic farming. In the case of Bt brinjal, instead of spraying the protein, the plant was genetically modified (GM) to make the protein. The Bt protein is only toxic to specific insects that include the brinjal fruit borer which is killed upon consuming the brinjal, thereby protecting the plant. Bt thus serves as an effective and environmentally friendly substitute to using deadly chemical pesticides.

Conflicting information

The scepticism over GMs appears to have stemmed from conflicting information from the media, scientific organisations and advocacy groups. Bt poses health risks is a false alarm. Safety studies conducted by independent regulatory committees from many countries including UK, EU, Russia, USA, Canada, Japan and South Africa, found no risk of Bt protein on human health. There is broad scientific consensus that Bt protein is not an allergen, is quickly broken down in the digestive system and shows no toxic effects on animal health. However, it must be noted that no food, whether conventional, organic or GM can be certified as 100 per cent safe.

On the other hand what has been proved clearly are the health hazards of insecticides. WHO records show that 18,000 farmers die from extreme pesticide poisoning every year.

It is argued that Bt crops do not raise productivity and so are giving false hope to farmers. Bt crops never claim to boost yield, but they kill insects that eat the plant thereby reducing crop losses. On an average at least 40 per cent of brinjal produce in India can be lost by insect infestation. Multi-state field trials in India have shown that yield of undamaged fruits from Bt brinjal was double that of non-Bt plants. From a practical perspective this does mean an increase in productivity.

A valid concern among environmentalists is that non-pest insects like the Monarch butterfly could become innocent victims when they feed on Bt crops. However an exhaustive analysis of 42 independent field studies showed that more non-target insects were killed by insecticides than by GM crops.

The effect of GM crops on reducing bio-diversity has been another concern. Ever since humans started practicing agriculture, more than 10,000 years ago, we have always been purposeful in propagating varieties of plants that were the most useful to us leading to a decline in local biodiversity. The green revolution introduced high yielding hybrid crops that unfortunately also led to the loss in diversity of many local cereals and legumes.

This is not a feature unique to GM crops and does happen with conventional plants. Being aware of this, it is important to do all that we can to preserve wild relatives of important plants. For instance national gene banks can serve as great repositories of native species.

By 2006, 250 million acres of land were being cultivated by 10 million farmers in 22 countries. Majority of these farmers are in the US, where up to 80 per cent of the processed food contains ingredients from a GM crop. Last year China approved the bio-safety of Bt rice commercialising the most important food crop in the world. Argentina, Brazil and Canada are the other main producers of GM crops.

The concern of the Indian farmer on the long-term impacts of GM crop technology still remains a valid point. Genetic engineering has opened up ways on altering organisms that was previously thought to be impossible. With great power comes great responsibility and it is wise to proceed with caution.

It is important to exercise caution when it comes to new technologies; however we should not hold GM crops and products to standards not required for food or feed produced by conventional technologies. The UN estimates that in developing countries, food production must be raised by almost 100 per cent between 2007 and 2050. This would put undeniable pressure to get maximum food output from the available arable land. Genetic engineering is not the magic bullet that can take on this challenging task but it is definitely one of the weapons in the arsenal.

(The writers are post-doctoral researchers in the US)








The burka can't be permitted under the freedom of religious expression, just as full nudity can't.

The burka ban debate raging in Europe has made it to Israel. MK Marina Solodkin (Kadima) announced this week her intention to initiate a bill that would prohibit the wearing of a full-body and face covering for women. Solodkin said that her bill would not differentiate between Muslims and Jews.


The burka is most commonly tied to Islam. It is worn in more extremist Muslim traditions as part of a conscientious adherence to hijab – the Islamic requirement to dress and behave modestly in public. But in recent years a zealot sect of haredi women, numbering perhaps a dozen or two, has also adopted the burka as part of their understanding of tzniut – Judaism's modesty requirements. The most prominent member of this splinter group, who became known as the "Taliban lady," was charged with sexually abusing her children.

Solodkin, inspired by a recent anti-burka campaign launched by French President Nicolas Sarkozy, argues that the burka is an attack on the dignity of women. We agree.

Whether there are in Israel enough burka-wearing women to justify devoting the energy and resources needed to legally discourage the phenomenon is unclear. But in principle, a strong argument can be made for banning the burka and what it represents.

First, the custom is misogynistic. The aim of covering a woman from head to toe is to blot out her feminine presence in the public domain; to turn her into a nonentity that cannot express her desires and her thoughts; to deny basic human interaction. Religious freedom, like any other right, is granted on condition that it is not exploited for destructive goals, such as the subjugation of women.

Muslim women who say they choose to wear the burka might argue that they are no more a product of male domination than anorexic western women vainly striving to meet men's prurient demands for a perfect body. But while the objectification of women is wrong, it cannot be compared to the brutal erasing of their very presence. The burka deviates so radically from accepted Western norms that it cannot be permitted under the pretext of freedom of religious expression, just as full nudity can't. That's why the vast majority of moderate Muslims oppose the burka.

The burka also undermines social cohesion. Women who wear the burka in Western countries send out a strongly anti-integrationist message. It is part of a wider rejection of Western values by radical Islamists who insist on full communal autonomy and the official recognition of Sharia law, including the imposition of the niqab (full veiling of the female face), and sometimes the right to perform female genital mutilation.

In Britain, for instance, this total lack of willingness to integrate on the part of some Muslims has become an obstacle to the formal learning of English, has heightened inter-communal tensions, and has reinforced the ghettoization of Asian Muslims into separate enclaves with high unemployment and increased social alienation.

Finally, the burka can be a security or crime risk: It hides the identity of a potential terrorist or criminal.

FOR THESE reasons, lawmakers in several European countries, including Holland, Austria, Switzerland, Belgium, Germany, Italy and France are pondering anti-burka legislation. In January, Denmark decided to restrict niqab in public institutions.

Those who support such legislation realize that an easygoing multiculturalism works only when there are basic shared values and a willingness to integrate. But European multiculturalism has deteriorated into rudderless moral relativism and a pusillanimous reluctance to criticize radical Islamic customs for fear of being branded an Islamofascist.

Sadly, some Jewish leaders, such as Rabbi Pinchas Goldschmidt, chief rabbi of Moscow and leader of the Conference of European Rabbis, have helped foster such unfounded fears. "Sixty-five years after the liberation of Auschwitz," wrote Goldschmidt in the New York Times in February, in an op-ed opposing the idea of bans on the burka, "Europeans can permit themselves to be squeamish about how things start and how things, if left unabated, can end." As a rabbi, he added, "I am made uncomfortable when any religious expression is restricted, not only my own."

Goldschmidt has got it wrong. Europeans have a right to feel uncomfortable. But not, as Goldschmidt argues, because Europeans are being too hard on Muslims. Rather, because they are being too soft.








A decade ago this month the Tal Committee, tasked with getting yeshiva students into IDF ranks or national service and, eventually, into the workforce, presented its report to the Knesset.

The centerpiece recommendation, later ratified by the Knesset as part of the Tal Law, was to give yeshiva students aged 22 the option to take a one-year leave of absence, without facing immediate conscription, during which they could learn a trade or work. After that year was over, they could either return to the yeshiva, or perform a minimal military stint (four months with reserve duty) or national service (one full year) before being free to embark on a career.

Before the Tal Law, yeshiva students who stopped studying full-time were immediately conscripted.

But unpreparedness on the part of the IDF and the national service authorities, coupled with yeshiva heads' opposition, led state representatives to admit to the Supreme Court in 2005 that the law,  passed in 2002, had failed. Just 3 percent (1,432) of the haredi males who had deferred military service had chosen to even consider the options offered by the law, and only 74 had actually enlisted.

In May 2006, the Supreme Court ruled that the Tal Law's inherent discrimination against secular Israelis, who are obligated by law to do three years of IDF service, could not be justified, considering the low haredi turnout. But the court gave the state a year and a half to improve its implementation.

In July 2007, the Knesset voted to extend the Tal Law to 2012, while in parallel creating a national service directorship that placed haredi young men in non-profit organizations – primarily in ones that served the haredi community. The IDF also opened haredi-friendly "Shahar" service tracks.

This led to modest improvements. In 2009, a total of 2,000 haredi young men, previously enrolled in yeshivot, opted to either serve in the IDF or do national service. The rise from just 400 the previous year was substantial; still, these men represented just 3.5% of the total number with military deferrals.

NEW DATA presented last week to a Knesset oversight team headed by MK Yohanan Plesner (Kadima) prove that much more needs to be done to encourage yeshiva students to become economically productive members of society.

In April 2000, when former judge Zvi Tal presented his committee's recommendations to the Knesset, there were 31,000 yeshiva students ages 18 to 41 who had received deferrals from the IDF. Today there are an unprecedented 60,000.

For the first time in Israel's history, there are more than 100,000 men who devote their days to the study of the Talmud, Halacha, Jewish philosophy and various homiletic rabbinic literature. About 70,000 married men receive annual state-funded stipends of NIS 10,000, and 33,000 unmarried young men receive about NIS 5,700 a year. The total annual yeshiva budget is about NIS 1 billion.

The present situation is not only discriminatory, it threatens to unravel the delicate fabric of Israeli society. The haredi population is soaring. Currently, 48% of elementary school students are either haredi or Arab and, as highlighted in these columns before, that is set to rise to 78% by 2040.

Unlike religious Zionists, the haredi population chooses to interpret Jewish tradition and texts as incompatible with, if not downright hostile to Zionism. Half (5,500) of the annual potential male IDF draftees who legally skirt military service are haredim, resulting in a breakdown of the "army of the people" ethos and a dearth of able-bodied soldiers.

As for the economic burden, in 2008, 65% percent of the male haredi population aged 35 to 54 did not work and had no intention of looking for work, a rise of 200% over the past three decades. To support these men and their dependent families, average per-capita welfare allowances have increased five-fold in real terms since 1970, while Israeli living standards, as reflected in per-capita GDP, have only doubled.

The situation is untenable. The same segment of male Israeli society that works also dedicates at least three years to IDF service, while being forced to pay higher taxes for welfare transfers to another segment that does neither.

The 2009 Tal figures show a step in the right direction – achieved via a greater stress on appropriate tracks to draw more haredim into the IDF and into national service, promoted via interaction with the haredi community itself. But more is urgently required.









Since the announcement of my upcoming meeting with Pope Benedict many of my Jewish friends have expressed disappointment. "They blamed the pedophile-priest scandal on Jews, and compared the attacks on the Church to anti-Semitism. How could you, Shmuley?" "The pope was in the Hitler Youth and wants to make Pope Pius XII, who never even condemned the Holocaust, a saint." "The Church has *always been anti-Semitic; you're being used."

Come now. Jewish insularity is the ultimate obstacle to the dissemination of Jewish values, while Jewish contempt for the non-Jewish world because of its past immorality and Jew-hatred is itself immoral and hateful. Pope Benedict is being kicked in nearly every part of the world. But I as a Jew do not forget that for all his failures in properly handing the abomination of pedophile priests, Benedict has been a great friend to the Jewish community, visiting an unprecedented three synagogues in four years, as well as the State of Israel. And who benefits by seeing a mighty Church fall? The millions of orphans it tends to? The schools it runs? The hope its priests give the poor, especially in the Third World?

I have been one of Pope Pius XII's foremost critics. But Benedict is not Pius, and before we holler for his demise let's recall that as the cardinal secretary of state he did more to extend the Church's hand in friendship to other peoples and faiths than nearly anyone who preceded him.

There is much in Jewish law and tradition that could bring healing to the Church, beginning with the Jewish laws of sexual seclusion. In Judaism a man and woman who are not married are not allowed to be in a locked room together. When I was rabbi to Michael Jackson, I took this law and applied it to his special circumstances. I told him the only way he could rehabilitate his reputation after the pedophile accusations was to simply forswear ever being alone with a child. I even grabbed Michael's shoulders and made him promise me he would never seclude himself with a child not his own. And for the two years for which we were close, he stuck to the script. When he and I launched our initiative to help children, the focus was on working with parents to make their kids a top priority, rather than with the kids themselves.

It wasn't until he stupidly disregarded this simple advice and decided to share a bed – however platonically – with a young child and then brag about it on TV that he was arrested, and so began the inexorable decline that ended in his death a few years later.

THE CHURCH should embrace the same straightforward rule. No priest should be allowed to be alone with a child. Period. If a priest needs to speak to a child alone, the door must never be locked and there must always be the possibility that they can be intruded upon. If they walk in a park, it cannot be one that is empty. This way we'll know that any priest who breaks the guidelines will be punished, whether or not he abuses a child. It would significantly curb the potential for child molestation, and might even discourage pedophiles from entering the priesthood.

But more importantly, it's time for Jews and Catholics to work together to promote new values in America. While our country is gripped by an epidemic of materialism and an orgy of greed, the only values religion seems to talk about is its opposition to gay marriage and abortion. But this emphasis on the negative is not going to create much that is positive. We need values that promote family, strengthen marriage, inspire selflessness in children and advance the cause of a purposeful life – one less obsessed with money and status.

This is why I wish to suggest to the pope that the Catholic Church get behind our "Turn Friday Night into Family Night" initiative – the push for a global family-dinner night. Imagine if all the world's families – Catholic, Jewish, Muslim, atheist, agnostic – sat down every Friday night and embraced the "Triple Two." Parents giving their children two uninterrupted hours every Friday night, inviting two guests to teach the children about hospitality and discussing two important subjects rather than a movie or celebrity gossip. Friday night could be the one evening that unites all. It's sacred already to Jews and Muslims. Up until the Second Vatican Council it was a night on which Catholics were forbidden to eat meat. And for the nonreligious it's the beginning of the weekend. If a family gets together on Friday night, chances are it will do more stuff together on Saturday and Sunday.

This is the right time for a global family-dinner night. The pedophile-priest scandal has reinforced the conclusion of some that the Church is an old boys' club that at best makes concessions to the weakness of human nature by allowing men and women to marry; the ideal, however, is celibacy and childlessness.

The Church must return to its previous posture as a champion of the family, and what better way than to require that all Catholic families worldwide do as Jesus' did?

Put the worldly stuff away on Friday night and consecrate it as an evening of holy togetherness.

The writer is founder of This World: The Values Network. His book, Renewal, will be published by Basic Books on May 14.









In his book Imagining Zion, Prof. Ilan Troen discusses some of the pre-state dreams of the early pioneers which never materialized. One of these was the construction of an opera house in Afula. Today, almost 80 years later, the idea of a major opera house in Afula probably seems even more far-fetched than it did then.

But many opera houses in Afula have been built during the past 50 years –  although they are not called opera houses, nor are they in Afula. One of them, as unimaginable at the time it was created as was the idea of the opera house, celebrates its 40th anniversary tomorrow. Ben-Gurion University of the Negev will commemorate 40 years since the first classes were held in the then-remote and isolated town of Beersheba, far from the centers of culture and literacy in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.

It started under the auspices of senior professors at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, but during the relatively short period of 40 years has established its own international status, partly drawing on its location as the university of the desert. BGU has developed an international reputation for its research into arid regions, the efficient use of water, exporting its expertise from the desert campus of Sde Boker to other desert regions from China to Africa.

For 16 of those 40 years, the university became associated with one man – professor (now minister) Avishay Braverman. Arriving at a university which was still surrounded by a broken wire fence and a campus which had more open and desolate spaces than buildings, Braverman succeeded, in his brash and independent way, in creating a campus which has become second to none in its environment, its diverse academic programs and its international status. Like or dislike the man, his boots have proven to be almost impossible to fill since his departure. Vision and academic leadership have largely been replaced by managers for whom the slogans "efficiency" and "balance sheets" have become more important.

The fact that Braverman's replacement as president, Prof. Rivka Carmi, is the country's first female university leader, is an important social statement which needs to be copied by many other public institutions – gender equality in practice and not just as a politically correct slogan.

THE NATURE of tomorrow's festivity is not a conference or a gathering of scholars. It is a festive parade through the streets of Beersheba, aimed at highlighting the links between the university and the community. BGU prides itself as the most socially aware university in the country, with a wide range of programs which reach out to the local population – the poor neighborhoods of Beersheba and the surrounding development towns, as well as the local Beduin communities. This is particularly noticeable in such departments as social work and education, or through the Center for Beduin Studies – training and empowering social workers and teachers from the local communities who, it is hoped, will then return to their communities to pass on their knowledge.

BGU also has a high percentage of its students engaged in the Perach program, where students work with children from disadvantaged backgrounds, in return for which part of their tuition is covered. Many of the students, a large percentage of whom come from other areas, reside in apartment blocks close to the university while some of the more enterprising have opened small restaurants and bars in these areas.


But what you see from here is not always the same as what you see from there. For most residents of these neighborhoods, the campus remains a gated and fenced-in community which, with the exception of the many menial laborers who work there, is only seen from their apartment windows or from the bus.

The plan to construct a library of the Negev, which would have served the local community as much as the students and faculty, was – along with the intention to create the country's fifth law school – scrapped some years ago due to the changing financial climate.

BGU has also become a major center for social and political debate. The Ben-Gurion Research Institute at the Sde Boker campus is a focus for research into the changing political values and institutions of the state since the pre-independence period. By contrast, the Faculty of Social Sciences and Humanities in the sociology, politics and Middle Eastern departments, has become a place where many of the traditional state ideologies and myths are questioned, engaging a more critical and global generation of students.

The Humanities Faculty also hosts the country's leading department of Hebrew and Israeli literature, including such authors as Amos Oz, Haim Beer and Nissim Calderon among its staff, while the university's only Israel Prize recipient, Prof. Gerald Blidstein, a world expert on Maimonides, reflects the immense contribution of BGU in shaping the cultural and philosophical agenda of the country.

The generation of university founders, the fresh young doctoral students of the late 1960s and early 1970s, are now retiring. The leadership of the university is gradually being taken over by younger and more globally orientated scholars, while the retirees (budget cuts allowing) are being replaced by fresh young faculty who will shape the next 40 years. If, during the next four decades, the university has half as much impact on the region and the country's public and social agenda as it has in the past four, the opera house of the Negev will have emerged as much more than just a dream.

The writer was elected as the next Dean of the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences at Ben-Gurion University on Monday. He is professor of political geography at the university and editor of the International Journal of Geopolitics.









Jerusalem is the eternal capital of the Jewish people and the State of Israel. The connection of the Jewish people to its holy city is undisputable. Every place you dig, you touch Jewish roots. Our prayers and scriptures are filled with yearnings for Jerusalem, and reinforce our historic and religious links to the city. We turn to Jerusalem in prayer three times a day and recall it during our most important rites of passage.

Israel, the nation-state of the Jewish people, could have no other capital. I, who immigrated to Israel more than three decades ago – an Israeli by choice, as I call myself – have brought three children into the world in Jerusalem. I would choose to live in no other city. Jerusalem is my home.

I love to drive by the Old City. I love to wander through its narrow streets and alleys, with its quarters reminding us of the centrality of this place to civilizations gone by. We recognize that the three monotheistic religions view Jerusalem as a sacred city. Billions of people around the world have Jerusalem in their consciousness, and many have physical symbols of this awareness in their homes, churches, mosques and, of course, synagogues.

Jerusalem is also the center of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Both sides claim national rights in and to the city.Between 1948 and 1967 the city was physically divided by barbed wire and walls. The Jordanian annexation of east Jerusalem was illegal by international law and was not recognized by the international community. In June 1967 the physical boundaries were removed, but the city remained deeply divided, as it is today. Israel annexed east Jerusalem and declared the city its united and eternal capital. The annexation was illegal by international law and was not recognized by the international community. There is not one country which recognizes even west Jerusalem as the capital. Not one country has its embassy in Jerusalem.

From 1948 until 1967, Jews were denied the right to go to their most holy places in the Old City. Since the Oslo process began in 1993, Palestinians have been denied free access to their holy places in Jerusalem, as the city has been separated from the rest of the West Bank.

AFTER 1967 Israel enlarged the land area of Jerusalem and began a massive settlement-building drive, surrounding all the Palestinian neighborhoods of the expanded city. A ring of Jewish settlements from Ramot in the north to Gilo in the south surrounds east Jerusalem. A road network was created that links the Jewish neighborhoods to each other and to west Jerusalem, leaving the Palestinian neighborhoods as disconnected islands. Israeli-Jewish Jerusalem experienced rapid development and modernization, while Palestinian Jerusalem has regressed into underdeveloped, depressed urban slums interspersed with spots of unplanned independent growth launched by private initiatives. There has been no urban planning and development-oriented growth for Palestinians in Jerusalem since 1967.

When an Israeli Jerusalemite and a Palestinian Jerusalemite describe their city, it is as if they are speaking about two different urban spaces. We all share common symbols such as the Old City or the Temple Mount, but we give them different names, and those symbols carry very different connotations. Jerusalem is the most segregated city in the world. There are no common places; every building is either Israeli or Palestinian, and Israelis and Palestinians do not live in the same space.

Palestinians have never recognized Israel's rights to east Jerusalem; they have never participated in the democratic process offered to them by the system we all inherited from the British, which enables noncitizen residents of a municipality to participate in municipal elections and run for office. Palestinians have boycotted those elections for 43 years.

AFTER THE first intifada and through the beginning of the Oslo process, Palestinians saw the development of their national institutions in Jerusalem, Orient House being the most significant. With the Oslo process, however, Jerusalem was cut off from the Palestinians as their economic and political center through the Law for the Implementation of the Oslo Agreement. Since Jerusalem is defined as a "permanent-status issue" to be negotiated, the Palestinians unsuspectingly agreed that their Palestinian Authority would not be able to function in east Jerusalem.

The law passed to enable the government to implement various aspects of the Oslo agreement was used cynically to close down Palestinian institutions in Jerusalem, despite promises by Shimon Peres and despite Israeli obligations under the Road Map to reopen Palestinian institutions in east Jerusalem.

The law of unintended consequences has had two significant negative impacts on Jerusalem for Israel. The removal of the direct influence of the PA has created a power vacuum. Governmental, municipal and national institutions, including the police, do not sufficiently function in Palestinian Jerusalem.

As a result, others have filled the vacuum. The most prominent are Hamas and Hizb al-Tahrir – the party of liberation, a radical Islamic group. While the PA has done a remarkable job in the past two years of shrinking the influence of political Islamic groups in the West Bank, under Israel's (non)watch and (non)authority those groups are thriving in east Jerusalem.

Additionally, in constructing the separation wall in Jerusalem, which primarily separates Palestinians from Palestinians, more than 30,000 Palestinian Jerusalemites who left the city because of housing shortages have returned for fear that they might lose their residence rights.

TODAY, JERUSALEM is an unimportant, underdeveloped capital city of little international consequence. It is a city which falls way too short of its amazing potential. In many respects it is hardly a capital of an important country. At times it seems like a suburb of a city that doesn't even exist.

Yet Jerusalem's potential is bewildering. Jerusalem could be the most important place in the world in demonstrating that humanity could actually celebrate the diversity of three faiths that reside side by side and cherish it. The Muslim world will have guardianship over the Haram al-Sharif (the Temple Mount), while Jews will have guardianship over the Western Wall. Respecting the sanctity of the entire compound, we will all agree not to dig, tunnel, construct or damage what is on top or what is beneath.

Imagine that area E-1 – the controversial plan to develop a land bridge of Jewish homes between Jerusalem and Ma'aleh Adumim, cutting the West Bank in half – became the diplomatic quarter of Jerusalem, with embassies and diplomats' living quarters being developed. Jerusalem could be a city where some 200 nations have their embassies that serve two countries. Imagine the tens of thousands of internationals who would be making it their home. Imagine the potential of Jerusalem becoming a real city of peace, where tens of millions visit, where Jewish, Muslim and Christian pilgrims come to celebrate their faith. Imagine Jerusalem the recognized capital of the State of Israel.

This is all possible. Jerusalem will become the city of peace and the capital of the State of Israel, but only after it is also recognized as the capital of Palestine. Jerusalem's true unity will only come through its political division. Jerusalem, with two sovereigns, will be an open city demonstrating the human ability for creativity, ingenuity and the spirit of understanding, compassion and true sanctity.

The writer is the co-CEO of the Israel Palestine Center for Research and Information ( and an elected member of the leadership of the Green Movement political party.









If safeguarding international security is the chief aim of US President Barack Obama's foreign policy, then at some point he can be expected to change course in the Middle East. For today, Obama faces the wreckage of every aspect of his Middle East policies. And largely as a consequence of his policies, the region moves ever closer to war.

In Iraq, Obama's pledge to withdraw all combat forces from the country by the summer has emboldened the various forces vying for control of the country to set it ablaze once more.

In Afghanistan, Obama's surge and leave policy has left would-be US allies hedging their bets, at best. And it has caused the US's NATO partners to question the purpose of their deployment in that country.

Then there is Iran. Last week's report by The New York Times that this January Defense Secretary Robert Gates penned a memo to National Security Advisor James Jones warning that the Obama administration has no effective policy for dealing with Iran's nuclear weapons program exposed the bitter truth that in the face of the most acute foreign policy problem they face, Obama and his crew are out to lunch.

Gates's attempt to mitigate the story's impact by claiming that actually, the White House is weighing all its options only made things worse. Even before the ink on his correction note was dry, his Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Michele Flournoy was telling reporters in Singapore that the military option, "is not on the table in the near term."

Iran for its part continues to escalate its menacing behavior. Last week its naval forces reportedly interdicted a French ship and an Italian ship navigating through the Straits of Hormuz.

President Shimon Peres's announcement last week that Syria has transferred Scud missiles to Hizbullah in Lebanon was a sharp warning that Iran and its underlings are diligently preparing for war with Israel. It also demonstrated that the Obama administration's attempts to use diplomacy to coddle Syria away from Iran have failed completely.

Administration officials' statements in the wake of Peres's bombshell make clear that Syria's bellicose actions have not caused the US President to reconsider his failed policy. Obama's advisers responded to the news by irrelevantly boasting that their policy of "engagement" enabled them to bring the matter up with their Syrian interlocutors three times before Peres's announcement and once more after he made the statement.

AND THAT'S not nearly the end of it. As Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced last week, soon the Obama administration will expand its dialogue with Syria by returning the US ambassador to Damascus for the first time since Syrian President Bashar Assad ordered the assassination of former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri five years ago. That is, Obama has chosen to respond to Syria's open brinkmanship by rewarding Assad with newfound legitimacy and panache.

And that's still not the worst of it. What is worst is that Obama's advisers openly admit that they have no idea why Syria remains a rogue state despite their happy talk. As one administration official told Foreign Policy, understanding why Syria – Iran's Arab client state – is acting like Iran's Arab client state is, "the million dollar question." "We do not understand Syrian intentions. No one does, and until we get to that question we can never get to the root of the problem," the official told the magazine.

But while they wait for the Oracle at Damascus to decode itself, they are content to continue wooing Assad as he provokes war.

Then there are the Palestinians. After rejecting Obama's envoy George Mitchell's latest plea to conduct indirect negotiations with Israel, Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas explained that Obama's own statements have convinced the Palestinians that there is nothing to negotiate about.

As he put it, "Since you, Mr. President, and you, the members of the American administration, believe in [the urgent need for a Palestinian state] it is your duty to call for the steps in order to reach the solution and impose the solution. Impose it. But don't tell me it's a vital national strategic American interest... and then not do anything."

Finally there is Israel. In the same week that the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Michael Mullen refused to rule out the possibility that the US will shoot down Israeli jets en route to attack Iran's nuclear installations, and Obama again blamed Israel for the deaths of US soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan, Jim Jones tried to reassure Jewish Democrats that despite the administration's hostile actions and statements, it is not hostile to Israel.

Jones's speech was part of a very public outreach plan the administration adopted last week in the face of a groundswell of American Jewish anger at Obama for his adversarial posture towards Israel. Given that American Jews have been the Democratic Party's most secure voting bloc since 1932, recent polls showing that the majority of American Jews oppose Obama's treatment of Israel are a political earthquake.

According to a Quinnipiac poll published last week, a whopping 67 percent of American Jews disapprove of Obama's handling of the situation between Israel and the Palestinians. A poll of American Jews taken by John McLaughlin earlier this month showed that a plurality of American Jews would consider voting for a candidate other than Obama in the next presidential elections.

And on Israel, American Jewish disapproval of Obama is fully consonant with the views of the general public. As the Quinnipiac poll shows, only 35 percent of Americans approve of his treatment of Israel.

Jones's speech before the Washington Institute for Middle East Policy was a friendly affair. He waxed on dreamily about how wonderful the US's alliance with Israel is and how much Obama values Israel. And the crowd rewarded him with a standing ovation.

But the substance of his speech made absolutely clear that while Obama and his advisors are concerned that for the first time in 80 years a significant number of American Jews may abandon the Democratic Party, they are unwilling to pay even the slightest substantive price to keep the Jews loyal to their party.

After he finished his declarations of love and his joke about crafty Jewish businessmen in Afghanistan, Jones made clear that the Obama administration continues to view Israel's refusal to surrender more land to the Palestinians as the key reason its efforts to convince Iran to give up its nuclear program, the Syrians to quit the Iranian axis, the Palestinians and the Lebanese to quit the terror racket and the Iraqis and the Afghans to behave like Americans have all failed.

As he put it, "One of the ways that Iran exerts influence in the Middle East is by exploiting the ongoing Arab-Israeli conflict. Iran uses the conflict to keep others in the region on the defensive and to try to limit its own isolation. Ending this conflict, achieving peace between Israelis and Palestinians, and establishing a sovereign Palestinian state would therefore take such an evocative issue away from Iran, Hizbullah, and Hamas."

JONES, OBAMA and the rest of their gang must have been asleep when the Saudis, Egyptians, Jordanians and the rest of the Arabs told them that Iran is unrelated to the Palestinian issue and that it must be stopped from acquiring nuclear weapons regardless of the status of Israeli-Palestinian relations. This after all has been the main message communicated to Obama and his advisers since January 2009 by every Sunni-majority state in the region as well as by many Iraqi Shiites.

They must have been at the golf course when their generals in Iraq and Afghanistan warned them about Iran providing weapons and training to irregular forces killing US servicemen.

The fact that even as he faced a Jewish audience, Jones couldn't resist the temptation to repeat the central fallacy at the root of the administration's failed policies in the Middle East makes clear that the Obama administration fundamentally does not care that the American people as a whole and the American Jewish community specifically oppose its policies. It will continue to push its policies in the face of that opposition no matter what. And if American Jews want to leave the party, well, they shouldn't slam the door on their way out.


The Obama administration's treatment of New York Senator Charles Schumer this week is case in point. Schumer has been one of Obama's most loyal supporters. If as expected Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid loses his reelection bid in November, Schumer is in line to replace him as the Democratic leader in the Senate.

Yet this week, responding to what has likely been an enormous outcry from his constituents, Schumer blasted Obama for his shabby and dangerous treatment of Israel. Rather than respond graciously to Schumer's criticism, Obama's spokesman Robert Gibbs dismissed it sneeringly saying, "I don't think that it's a stretch to say we don't agree with what Senator Schumer said in those remarks."

In his interview last week with Channel 2, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said he has no doubt that if Obama wishes to stop Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons he is capable of doing so. As he put it, "Barack Obama demonstrated his determination with regard to issues he felt were important, and his determination was quite impressive. I think President Obama can show that same determination with regard to Iran."

No doubt Netanyahu is correct. Moreover, the politics of such a move would make sense for him. Whereas Obama's decision to ram the nationalization of the US healthcare industry through Congress against the wishes of the American public caused his personal ratings and those of his party to plummet, were Obama to decide to take on Iran, he would win the overwhelming support of the American public. Indeed, a determined and successful bid by Obama to block Iran's nuclear aspirations could potentially block what is currently looking like a midterm election catastrophe for his party in November.

But as Gates's memo about Iran, Clinton's announcement that the administration will go ahead with its plan to dispatch an ambassador to Damascus, Mitchell's latest failure with the Palestinians, Jones's newest accusation against Israel, and the US's strategic incoherence in Iraq and Afghanistan all show, mere politics are irrelevant to Obama. It doesn't bother him that his most loyal supporters abandoning him. It doesn't matter that his policies have endangered the Middle East and the world as a whole.

Obama's refusal to acknowledge his own failures make clear that his goal is different than that of his predecessors. He is here to transform America's place in the world, not to safeguard the world. And he will move ahead with his transformative change even if it means abetting war. He will push on with his transformative change even if it means that Iran becomes a nuclear power. And he will push on even if it means that US forces are forced to leave Afghanistan and Iraq in defeat.








Money buys you reasonable amount of happiness, but maybe not as much as sex.


Money buys you a reasonable amount of happiness, but maybe not as much as sex.

Sure, those with higher incomes are healthier and happier than those with lower incomes. But for the typical individual, a doubling of salary makes a lot less difference than life events like marriage or unemployment. A hot date is likely to make you happier than a few thousand dollars extra in bonus. There really is some evidence in this.

A few years ago, my colleague Andrew Oswald and I found that to "compensate" for the loss in happiness of a major life event, such as being widowed or a marital separation, it would be necessary to provide the average individual with $100,000 in extra income a year, or more than double his income.

We can also use these data to calculate the money value of sex. On average, the amount of happiness bought by going from sex less than once a month to at least once a month is roughly equivalent to about $40,000 of annual income. Sex brings a lot of happiness, but diminishing returns from sex does set in after that. Some is a lot better than none.

IN THE most recent survey data from the General Social Survey, conducted in 2008 by the National Opinion Research Center in Chicago, the typical adult American reported having sexual intercourse two to three times a month (among people younger than 40, the median amount of sex is once a week).

About 6 percent of the population reported having sex at least four times a week. Forty percent of American women older than 40 say they didn't have sexual intercourse in the previous year. The figure for men is 21%. These celibate folks are especially unhappy.

There is evidence that sex has disproportionately strong effects on the happiness of highly educated people. Highly educated females have fewer sexual partners. The number of sex partners men have is uncorrelated with their level of education. Money buys neither more sexual partners nor more sex for men or women. People with one sex partner over the preceding year are happier than those with multiple partners.

Even with the iPad, the Blackberry and portable GPS devices that tell you how long your shot is to the flag, Americans are no happier today than they were in the 1970s. We know this from the answers to questions posed in the General Social Survey.

Respondents are asked "taken all together, how would you say things are these days – would you say that you are very happy, pretty happy or not too happy?"

In 1972, 30% of respondents said they were "very happy." When the question was asked in the 2008 survey, 30% of respondents also said they were "very happy." The obvious concern is that such qualitative responses tell you little or nothing about an individual's level of well-being. It does seem, though, that they do say something. There is a large body of evidence now that shows these reports are strongly correlated with objective characteristics such as unemployment and ill health, as well as assessments of the person's happiness by friends, family members and spouses.

Happy people have a lower risk of coronary heart disease and lower blood pressure; they even heal faster from injuries. Happy people are demonstrably different from less happy people on skin-resistance measures of response to stress and electroencephalogram measures of prefrontal brain activity.

Interestingly, in these surveys women report having higher levels of happiness than men, but the gap has narrowed sharply over time. Women's happiness has fallen while men's has barely changed.

A similar story is found in the health data where women are now more subject to stress-related illnesses related to work than they were in the past. Hence, the feminist movement has made women more equal, but less happy.

Harvard University's Erzo Luttmer has shown that an increase of 10%, say, in neighbors' earnings, or a 10% decrease in one's own income, have roughly the same negative effect on well-being. My happiness rises if I get a new BMW but doesn't if my neighbors also get one. Here, neighborhood should be thought of broadly as any relevant comparator group, including colleagues and friends.

A couple of hot dates will probably do more for your sense of well-being than a higher bonus. Money isn't everything. Go and raise your happiness. Do it for the good of the country. – Bloomberg News

The writer, a former member of the Bank of England's monetary policy committee, is professor of economics at Dartmouth College and the University of Stirling.








With less than two weeks to go to the British general election, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is being used to manipulate the electorate in some crucial voting districts containing disproportionately high Jewish or Muslim populations.

Even before the announcement of the May 6 election, the rhetoric had been vicious. Accusations of "Jewish" political financing and Israel pulling the strings behind Britain's electoral scenes have been hitting the headlines.

Martin Linton, a Labor MP, recently gave a talk in Parliament to the Friends of Al-Aksa and spoke of Israel's "long tentacles" that fund British election campaigns and which are trying to buy a Conservative victory in this one. Linton said that he failed to appreciate the Nazi-era symbolism of the Jewish octopus controlling the world with its long tentacles and apologized, but he stands by his thesis of "Israelis and pro-Israelis trying to buy a Conservative victory."

At the same meeting Gerald Kaufman, a Jewish Labor MP, spoke of Lord Ashcroft owning one part of the Conservative Party and right-wing Jewish millionaires owning the other part.

These are, of course, unfounded and defamatory accusations that paint many British Jews as being more loyal to Israel than to Britain. Labor has deselected neither Linton nor Kaufman.

Such alleged funding has not, so far, proved a good investment, however, with David Cameron, the Conservative leader, recently making reference to "occupied east Jerusalem."

Until very recently, the third party, the Liberal Democrats, were only in the late teens in the opinion polls and their leader, Nick Clegg, was relatively unknown, but British politics has been turned on its head over the past 11 days since our first televised leaders' debate.


Clegg's poll ratings have now soared into the low 30s, putting his party on par with the Conservatives, who just days ago were favorites to win an outright majority, and ahead of Labor, which has governed since 1997.

The Liberal Democrats will still come way back in third place on May 6 but could increase their intake of MPs substantially, making them the kingmakers courted by Labor and the Conservatives.

This likelihood of a hung Parliament could bring with it the electoral reform that the Liberal Democrats might demand for supporting Labor. Traditional Conservative and Labor domination of British politics will end should proportional representation take over.

IRONICALLY, IT was David Cameron who challenged Gordon Brown to televised debates, but it is Clegg who has outperformed. The last of the three debates will be broadcast this Thursday.

These unchartered waters in British politics should concern Israel. Clegg has already called for a ban on the sale of arms to Israel and his party contains many vociferously anti-Israel politicians, including Sir Menzies Campbell, Sarah Teather, Chris Davies and Baroness Jenny Tonge.

A hung Parliament could result in Clegg as deputy prime minister, or another Liberal Democrat as foreign secretary, in return for their supporting either Labor or the Conservatives should neither win an outright majority on May 6. Ed Davey, Liberal Democrat shadow foreign secretary, is chairman of the Liberal Democrats Friends of Palestine.

ON THE ground, the Liberal Democrats' approach to Israel often depends on the ethnic or religious makeup of voters in a particular voting district. Take two neighboring voting districts in London.

Holborn and St. Pancras has a disproportionately high Bangladeshi community and the leaflets of the Liberal Democrat candidate scream "Stop Arming Israel." My father received a polite, hand-delivered, letter from her that didn't mention this, but that might be because he has a mezuza on his door.

Hampstead and Kilburn is more disproportionately Jewish and so the leaflets are more pro-Israel with pictures of the Liberal Democrat candidate's recent visit to Israel, Hebrew writing included.

Then there is the Muslim Public Affairs Committee. MPAC's Web site asks "is your MP a Zionist?" and then goes on to list 36 MPs and prospective parliamentary candidates that it deems "Zionist." The main qualification is being affiliated to a Friends of Israel group of one of the three main political parties.

In 2005 Lorna Fitzsimons, now head of British Israel Communications and Research Center, lost her seat as a Labor MP due to MPAC. The 2006 Report of the All Parliamentary Committee into Anti-Semitism found that MPAC, to help unseat Fitzsimons, distributed leaflets stating "she had done nothing to help the Palestinians because she was a Jewish member of the Labor Friends of Israel."

Fitzsimons is not Jewish. Sadly, in the current campaign, death threats against some "Zionist" candidates have already been reported.

With election day almost here, Jewish and Muslim voters can expect their sensitivities to be unashamedly manipulated right up to the ballot box to propel a political candidate into Parliament, or to reduce his chances.

The writer is a London-based freelance journalist, studying for a master's degree in Near and Middle Eastern studies at SOAS. He blogs at







The rise of radical tribal-based nationalism is leading to increased provocative measures being taken against neighboring countries as well as citizens from other ethnic backgrounds.


In its recently published survey, Freedom House concluded that Jordan is not a "free" country. This startling finding raises serious doubts over the Hashemite regime's commitment to modernize and build a moderate, peaceful and democratic society.

Jordan is in the midst of a full-scale political and economic crisis due to the King Abdullah II's inability or unwillingness to build a modern democratic system. Indeed, contrary to the king's public pronouncements regarding his commitment to political and economic reform, it is clear that the Hashemite regime's long-term strategy is to acquire permanent status as an "emerging democracy," without the need to actually deliver on its public commitments for political reform.

In spite of the $6 billion in economic aid that Jordan has received from the US since 1991, the Hashemite regime has been unable to transform the fortunes of the ailing Jordanian economy. Indeed in 2010, Jordan's deficit doubled to 9 percent of gross domestic product and led to a steep rise in public debt to a staggering $13 billion, or 60% of GDP. Due to the failure and obvious shortcomings of the government's economic reform program, the king feared that Jordanian nationalists would try to capitalize on widespread public frustration and discontent by applying increased pressure on his fragile regime. In 2009, he dissolved parliament in a thinly disguised attempt to quash any political opposition to his regime.

TRADITIONALLY, JORDANIAN tribes have supported the Hashemite regime, as long as they have benefited from economic patronage from the state. However, when this economic support was subsequently withdrawn – due to the mismanagement of the economy, the tribes considered this a breach of the unwritten agreement it had in place with the state. Consequently, the king has sought to counter this potential conflict with the tribes by maintaining "ethnic cohesion" inside the security/military establishment. This has had the added benefit of enabling the regime to collaborate with the US Army in training troops in Iraq, Afghanistan and, most recently, in Yemen. It has also allowed the regime to secure US military aid.

As a consequence of the above policy, the king has failed to integrate the urban Palestinian-Jordanian majority into the security/military structure. Instead, the king has adopted his grandfather's 1920s policy by appointing Bani Sakher as the major tribe in control of Jordan's security affairs. The heads of military, public security as well as the minister of interior now belong to a single tribe that fought other tribes on behalf of the Hashemites before the creation of the Arab Legion.

This policy has exacerbated ethnic tension within the kingdom, and the adoption of a policy of apartheid, clearly demonstrated by the withdrawal of the Jordanian citizenship of more than 2,700 Palestinian-Jordanian citizens. This clearly creates additional challenges for any potential resolution to the Arab-Israeli conflict, and signals a willingness by the Jordanian nationalists to adopt hostile measures against Palestinians and Israelis.

The lack of ethnic diversity in the security establishment has raised concerns that the king may be losing legitimacy in Jordan. Accordingly, the Hashemites are reestablishing kinship ties as a way to preserve his influence in security-related decisions.

But this policy has also put the lives of Jordanians, Americans and even Afghanis at risk. The Khost attack on seven CIA officers last January in Afghanistan was the direct result of the misguided appointment of Prince Ali bin Zeid as the Jordanian case officer, who seemingly failed to convince the Jordanian al-Qaida bomber to cooperate with Jordanian intelligence.

Due to the obvious differences in their social, economic, cultural and ethnic background, the prince was unable to establish and build a relationship of trust with the Jordanian bomber, which would lead to a successful operation. Apparently, the royal family was hungry for a historical victory against al-Qaida, and perhaps huge financial rewards from the US.

AS TRIBALISM flourishes, freedom within Jordanian society will gradually erode. This has led to a weakening of state control that has already resulted in chaos and anarchy erupting in major rural towns. Almost five citizens are killed in Jordan on a weekly basis as a consequence of tribal clashes. The security forces have been unable to maintain order; fortunately, local sheikhs have stepped in to prevent further disturbances.

This is a further example of a weakened state, unable to control actors or impose the rule of law within its own borders – returning back to the Transjordanian norms that characterized the society prior to the establishment of the kingdom. Consequently, the tribes are becoming an increasingly important and active force within the state, which has been greatly assisted with the widespread availability of weapons to citizens.


Jordan's domestic policies are inconsistent with what is needed to achieve regional stability – vis-à-vis the Arab-Israeli conflict. Apparently, the effect of rising tribal-based nationalism is that it is eating into the cohesive force of citizenship and its institutional manifestations. Accompanied by the weakening structure of the state, the emergence of violent non-state actors is becoming evident. The rise of radical Transjordanian nationalism is leading to increased provocative measures being taken against, and engendering hostility toward, neighboring countries – as well as Jordanian citizens from other ethnic backgrounds.

Perhaps it is time for the international community to revise its policies toward the kingdom – taking into consideration its recent adoption of a policy of apartheid and the lack of political and economic reform within the kingdom.

The writer is a policy analyst and senior fellow at the Center for Liberty in the Middle East.








Israel still lags behind Europe and North America in every facet of waste management. Instead of recycling waste or using it to produce energy, Israel deals with its garbage mainly by burying it, thereby both squandering its land reserves and creating environmental hazards. But the cabinet's decision on Sunday to endorse a package recycling bill, drafted by the Environmental Protection Ministry, could generate a substantial improvement in Israel's quality of life.

According to the bill, package manufacturers would be obliged to send packaging waste to recycling. The recycling rate is slated to reach 60 percent within four years, thus preventing the burial of a sizable portion of this waste. Since the manufacturers have already agreed to the legislation in principle, it has a good chance of being passed swiftly by the Knesset.

Implementing the packaging law is but the first step toward a comprehensive waste management policy. The second step, also being promoted by the Environmental Protection Ministry, is to create a waste-collection system that enables every household to sort its waste into dry (cardboard, paper and plastic) and wet (mainly food leftovers) and place them in separate bins. This will provide the recycling industry with better-quality raw material.



The cabinet's support for the bill will also presumably entail organizational and budgetary aid for the recycling system. Among other things, this means allocating money from a "clean fund" managed by the Environmental Protection Ministry to set up facilities for sorting, recycling and producing energy from waste. Today, this fund is financed by a tax collected at landfills, with the goal of making waste recycling more worthwhile.

The cabinet must ensure that the recycling legislation it is promoting indeed makes manufacturers responsible for collecting, transporting and disposing of the waste.

It will thereby avoid repeating the mistake made in the bottle deposit law, which enabled manufacturers to set up an independent corporation. This exempted them from direct responsibility and made it difficult to meet recycling targets.

The public also bears a weighty responsibility. To help create a clean environment, people must invest effort in sorting their waste. The state can ensure the accessibility of bins and sorting facilities, but every household will have to practice environmental responsibility to ensure the cleanliness of public spaces and a real improvement in our quality of life.








There's no argument that all limits have been breached and greed has overcome top executives. No one can deny that a monthly salary of one million shekels is insane and unjustified. Nobody is worth NIS 33,000 a day.

Neither can there be any argument that this reality must be changed, because it reflects a manifest breakdown of the market. A truly competitive market would never reach sums like this. Perhaps there is an executive, or even two, who merit this kind of excessive wage, but we don't have dozens of such geniuses, and certainly not hundreds.

Inflated salaries at the top have a disastrous social effect. When gaps in earnings are so vast, society is torn apart and its potency is diminished - and the motivation to work sinks. It's hard to see the CEO making in one month what a manual laborer earns in ten years. All of this, however, does not mean that the bill proposed by Knesset members Shelly Yachimovich and Haim Katz is worthy of support. It is a particularly bad bill, pure populism, and could cause severe damage to the economy.


There isn't another country in the world, except North Korea and Cuba, that puts a cap on salaries, and there's a good reason for this; even though many other countries have a similar problem of executives taking home enormous salaries, they don't have legislators dragging the level of public discourse to so low a level just to get their names into the headlines. Across the entire globe, there is nobody who can determine exactly what a CEO should earn. Why should the maximal salary be precisely 50 times the minimum? Perhaps it should be 10 times greater, or 100 times? In the Soviet Union they did know what everyone should earn - in the end everyone was dirt poor, unless they were Communist Party members, and the method that Yachimovich favors collapsed.

The moment a CEO's salary is set by politicians we will no longer be able to compete and improve. Company owners won't be able to attract a successful CEO from another company - after all, he's already earning the maximum, say NIS 200,000 a month. What will the proprietors of a small bank do if they want to lure the CEO of a bigger bank? And how will the emigration of top executives be prevented?

Nevertheless, something can be done about the problem. First it must be understood that gigantic wage packets were the method invented by owners of controlling shares in public corporations who wanted to rob the other shareholders. They made themselves chairmen of the board, and so that they could take millions for themselves, they had to pay similar sums to their salaried CEO's. That is how the norm of crazy salaries at the top evolved.

Therefore, the Securities Authority should bar controlling shareholders in public companies from taking more than nominal sums as salaries. Inflated salaries come at the expense of distribution of a fair dividend to shareholders.

The second stage in solving the problem is to build up independent and courageous boards of directors in public companies, comprised of people who do not depend on the controlling shareholders. The appointment of associates, relatives, buddies or just cowards should be prohibited, and only gutsy professionals who are capable of standing up to the owners should be allowed to serve on boards. Because if they do not do their job properly and divide up millions any which way, the law should make it possible to sue them for negligence and they would have to compensate shareholders out of their own pockets.

Another problem in the executive earnings sphere is the annual bonus, which often leads to the taking of enormous risks. This is because a bonus paid in a good year (2007, for example) does not become a fine in a bad year (like, say, 2009). The bonus system must therefore be altered, and based on long-term results.

The problem of inflated salaries also springs from the excessive power enjoyed by the 20 families that control the big conglomerates. Their potency in the marketplace is huge, so they can pay huge salaries without sustaining too much damage to their profits. They should be dealt with by the method already practiced in the United States: enabling shareholders to vote by mail at general meetings, taxing dividends that subsidiaries pay their parent companies and a ban on the setting off of profits between component companies within conglomerates.

That way, it won't be worthwhile any longer to hang on to conglomerates. They will gradually fade away, economic power will be decentralized and salaries will subside to a normal level.

There are things that can and should be done. There are solutions. But Yachimovich and Katz are not looking for genuine solutions. They are looking for headlines, of which they have already received a great deal.







The defense establishment has missed a chance to abandon a mistaken home front defense policy dating from the eve of the first Gulf War and adopt a different, saner one. In October 1990, on the eve of America's assault on Iraq, a special ministerial committee decided to distribute gas masks to every resident of the country. The decision was the result of a vicious circle that began with a series of frightening scenarios painted by the leaders of the defense establishment, with the energetic encouragement of then foreign minister David Levy. The frightened public responded with pressure of its own, and this led to the decision to distribute gas masks in an effort to calm it.

This was a mistake, because the signal it sent to Saddam Hussein was that Israel had relinquished one of the central elements of its defense doctrine: deterrence.

Even though Syria and Egypt have had chemical weapons since the 1970s, successive governments decided, and rightly, not to distribute gas masks to civilians. Instead, they based their policy against this threat on the credibility of Israeli deterrence. And it worked. Even when the Egyptian and Syrian armies found themselves in very difficult situations during the 1973 Yom Kippur War, their leaders refrained from using chemical weapons, fearing a harsh Israeli response. And it was a mistake to assume two decades ago that Saddam would behave differently.


The gas masks were distributed, and Saddam Hussein, as expected, was afraid to use missiles with chemical warheads. But Israel's deterrence was undermined. Later, when Saddam's son-in-law, General Ali, defected to Jordan, he was asked why the Iraqis did not use chemical weapons against Israel. The officer responsible for Iraq's chemical arsenal said that they were worried about a nuclear response from Israel.

Nevertheless, the lesson was not learned: In 2003, on the eve of the American invasion of Iraq, the Israel Defense Forces ordered civilians to prepare their gas masks for use in case of a chemical weapons attack - an order that cost the taxpayers NIS 1 billion.

Three years ago, a decision was made to collect the gas masks from Israeli homes in order to refurbish them. That was an opportunity to adopt a different policy and revert to basing our defensive doctrine against the threat of chemical attack on deterrence.

Instead, the government again decided to distribute gas masks to every Israeli. Not only was the distribution slated to take over three years and cost more than NIS 1 billion, but it was nonsensical to begin with - because the relevant chemical threat comes from the missiles in Syria's arsenal, and in the future, perhaps also from rockets held by Hezbollah.

Against Syria, experience shows that Israel's deterrence is sufficient: It is doubtful that the Syrians would dare make use of chemical weapons, as they know Israel's response would exact a heavy price.

Deterrence would also presumably work against Hezbollah should that organization acquire chemical weapons. Hezbollah realizes that Israel's response to a chemical attack would be to raze of all of Lebanon's infrastructure and strike strategic targets throughout the country, and not only those linked to Hezbollah. In view of Hezbollah's aims, and its role in Lebanon's political system, its leader, Hassan Nasrallah, cannot allow himself to bring about Lebanon's destruction. While the group may fire rockets with conventional warheads, against these, gas masks are useless anyway.

In any event, the presence of gas masks at home will not help if the home front suffers a surprise attack, since anyone who is caught outside his home will not be able to return to put on the mask. The flight time of rockets from Lebanon to northern Israel is too short. And it cannot be assumed that henceforth, every Israeli will go everywhere, all the time, with a gas mask in hand.

Therefore, it would be more appropriate to store the gas masks in central storage facilities and distribute them to the population only if the regional situation changes drastically and it becomes clear that deterrence does not provide a sufficient response. That is not the case at this time, nor does this seem likely to change in the foreseeable future. This also goes for Iran, where it is doubtful that the leadership would risk a decisive Israeli response.

But when politicians are incapable of demonstrating responsibility and civic courage, preferring instead to make populist decisions, what are a few billion shekels and damage to the credibility of our deterrence? And anyway, what would the Home Front Command do if it did not supervise and manage the distribution of gas masks?








The events of the past few days have created two illusions. One is that Israel and the United States are equal; the other is that the problem is Jerusalem. These illusions are dangerous for Israel, in that they create a dangerous diplomatic perception and self-image.

The United States is a superpower; it is doubtful whether Israel is even a regional power. And the problem is not Jerusalem, or even the holy places, but Gaza. Finally, it is in Israel's best interest that the Quartet's decision to promote the establishment of a Palestinian state within two years not be implemented unilaterally.

Gaza is Israel's big problem. Because of the political, security and civic failure of the disengagement, the road to a solution of the problem of Gaza runs through Ramallah and Jerusalem. In Ramallah, it is in the hands of one man - Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. But Benjamin Netanyahu's government refuses to accept that fact. So Abbas is preparing a surprise for it in the form of a "no-partner" declaration.


American bayonets will not bring Abbas back to Gaza, and the Israel Defense Forces certainly will not. He will resume ruling in Gaza - just as he proved, to the chagrin of many in the defense establishment, that he could in the West Bank - on the shoulders of the Arab world, and perhaps also of a joint NATO-Arab force. Such a force would first establish itself in the West Bank, after the IDF evacuates that territory, and at the border crossings with Jordan in the Jordan Valley.

In this way, without negotiation and without the need to explain why there are no negotiations, Abbas could dispel the charges that he is a "pet Palestinian" and get around his domestic problem with his prime minister, Salam Fayyad.

Gaza is the fuel for the anti-Israel struggle. It is the symbol of that struggle throughout the Arab and Muslim world, even among those who live in Western countries. And it is up to us to uproot the anti-Israel cells the flourish there. Gaza's hunger is the fuel of the struggle. We must dry up this fuel. It is not a tool for getting Gilad Shalit back, or for toppling Hamas.

Perhaps we acted like a responsible power in Haiti, and we deserve praise for that. But in the Middle East, it would be best for us to simply behave as a responsible country. For its own security, and to protect its own interests, Israel must seek negotiations that will deal with the issues of borders and security as a single unit, with the involvement of a multilateral Arab military force and with major involvement by NATO.

Not so long ago, such a formula would have drawn disparagement from the security establishment and even accusations of "internationalizing" the conflict - that is, forfeiting Israel's security. When senior reserve officers raised the idea of such a force as part of a solution to the problem of Gaza's northern border, both during the serious clashes that preceded the disengagement and thereafter, they received chilly telephone calls from "the establishment." Meanwhile, the American force in Sinai was ignored, as was the high quality of the UN force on the Syrian border, and the fact that while the IDF is not satisfied with UNIFIL's performance in Lebanon in the wake of UN Resolution 1701, no one has come up with a better solution.

The defense establishment is beginning to understand that it is better to redeploy. We need the world, including the Arab world. Several think tanks are thoroughly studying the insertion of a force of this type.

The road to the Arab world will require Israel to treat itself like a country that is not a world power and not one of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, but rather a regional or a local power. It was that road that led to Israel's previous victories. We must not give it up. We are getting closer to a situation in which if we do not act, Abbas will invoke his no-partner thesis.

The writer was a political adviser in the Defense Ministry, responsible for the Palestinians' "fabric of life"

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Believing and observant Jews harbor a question about God: Why did the Lord of the Universe redeem his own people through a secular state. Wouldn't it be better to have a little more Yiddishkeit around here? It is a difficult question. But affairs such as Deputy Health Minister Yaakov Litzman and his bones, or the discrimination against Sephardi girls at a school in Immanuel, provide a good answer. After all, even the strictest Haredim occasionally raise an eyebrow and ask, what's going on here?

It must be stated, clearly and simply: The system of halakhic ruling and spiritual leadership, that was designed to provide a solution for isolated communities, must undergo a deep, prolonged process to render it capable of both fully preserving its identity and providing answers within a broad framework of government.

This is about more than esoteric problems such as ancient graves or segregation in a school system. It is about the management of the country's values. A good example can be found in "The Status of Minorities in the Jewish State: Halakhic Aspects," a position paper by Eliezer Hadad published recently by the Israel Democracy Institute. This enlightening work surveys references by halakhic scholars to minorities living in the Jewish state.


Notwithstanding Hadad's consolatory summary, anyone who looks at the range of opinions and the nature of the deliberations can only be thankful that the state is still secular. I write this with great sorrow, because to me halakha is the essence of Jewish existence. But were the secular rein to slacken and the debate be based only on the scriptural sources, as is the norm for the interpretation of Jewish law, we would very quickly be doing ourselves much of the evils that our enemies did to us. The Jewish state would thus become a horrifying historical joke. All of our past claims of discrimination, humiliation, inequality and racism would become the claims of the minorities who live among us.

A few halakhic adjudicators take the path of cleaving to the simple meaning of the written word, ignoring the fact that halakha is supposed to define reality, to give meaning to the concrete issues before us. This path, when combined with a nationalist or political outlook, could lead rabbis into a serious discussion of whether it is permissible to kill a gentile. These rabbis overlook the fact that there are also halakhic rulings permitting the killing of nonobservant Jews or the beating of women for failing to wash their husbands' feet.

No rabbinic authority would rule, as did the Rambam (Moses Maimonides), that it is permissible to kill someone for being secular. But when it comes to minorities they seize on the most simplistic interpretation of halakha as if it were precious treasure, finding more than ample support for very odd and violent viewpoints.

I presented this argument for the necessity of a secular governmental mechanism to a Haredi man. Why beat around the bush, he responded, it is simply a good thing that they didn't give us the state. Would you want the hole state to look like Bnei Brak?

But he was wrong, the problem is not one of sanitation and town planning, the main problem has to do with the attitude toward fixing society. While the sages of the Talmud paid a great deal of attention to rules aimed at fostering social harmony and repairing the world, today's halakha is slow and cautious. Feminist ideas, critical theories, philosophies of liberty and equality, human rights - they are reality. Do the great rabbinical authorities seek to ignore it, or to relate to it?

They are not wrong to be cautious, but for now it's a good thing that the Knesset is not discussing whether members of minorities can be killed; it's a good thing that we have a secular state.

Rabbi Benny Perl is head of the Bar-Ilan Arts and Sciences Yeshiva High School in Tel Aviv and a member of the Association for Civil Rights in Israel board of directors.




******************************************************************************************THE NEW YORK TIMES




There has always been something miraculous about transmissions from space — those thin datastreams trickling toward Earth from research spacecraft. Over the years, the transmissions have grown more and more robust, richer in information, giving us dazzling and detailed panoramas of Saturn's moons and rings and the surface of Mars. But there has never really been anything like the Solar Dynamics Observatory. Launched in mid-February, it is shipping a torrent of data our way from its orbit above the Sun.


Last week, the Goddard Space Flight Center took the craft online, releasing the first videos and still images it shot. The quality of these images is extraordinary, 10 times the resolution of high-definition television, according to NASA.


We have seen the surface of the Sun before, but never with this clarity. Every 10 seconds, the satellite

photographs the solar disk in eight different wavelengths, and what emerges — even in these earliest images — is both stirring and disorienting. The Sun is the most constant object in our lives, but what we see in these videos is a livid, roiling star, mottled and seething on every wavelength. It is a thing of intense, disturbing beauty.


The Solar Dynamics Observatory follows on the work of other important solar projects, including the Solar and

Heliographic Observatory and the twin satellites of the project known as Stereo, for Solar Terrestrial Relations Observatory, which has its own iPhone app. For the next five years and more, this new satellite will be studying the patterns of solar energy that affect life on Earth, like the solar storm that lit up the aurora borealis in the past few weeks and can disrupt navigation and communications. And, in a sense, it creates a new solar effect, which is the ability of humans to peer directly into the most familiar of stars and realize how alien it is.






There are two tragic anniversaries this month. It is 11 years since two Colorado students gunned down 12 of their fellow classmates and one teacher at Columbine High School and three years since 32 students and faculty members were gunned down at Virginia Tech.


Those horrors haven't slowed the gun lobby's relentless push to weaken the nation's already far too weak gun laws — or Congress's eagerness to do the gun lobby's bidding. Last week, House Democrats had to pull back legislation that would have finally given the District of Columbia a voting representative in Congress because of amendments tacked on to the bill that would have gutted local gun laws.


The only bright spot in all of this is that gun victims' families and Mayors Against Illegal Guns, a bipartisan group co-led by Mayor Michael Bloomberg of New York City, are fighting back. They have begun a campaign to get Congress to close the loophole that has allowed criminals, troubled teens and the mentally ill to evade federal background checks and purchase weapons from unlicensed private dealers at weekend gun shows.


The Columbine shooters used four high-powered weapons obtained by a friend, no questions asked, from "hobbyist" gun-show dealers. These shows are a leading source of illegally trafficked guns — a large number of guns recovered in crimes come from states that do not require background checks at gun shows.


Senators Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey, Jack Reed of Rhode Island and Dianne Feinstein of California, all Democrats, have introduced a bill that would close the loophole nationally. It now has 17 sponsors. Shamefully missing from the list are Senator Mark Udall of Colorado and Senators James Webb and Mark Warner of Virginia.


In a newspaper ad last week, Tom Mauser, whose son Daniel was murdered at Columbine, called on Senator Udall to sponsor the legislation. Relatives of victims and a survivor of the Virginia Tech massacre took out their own ad.


"Every day in the United States, 35 people are murdered with guns — that's a Virginia Tech-sized massacre every single day," they wrote in an open letter to the two senators from Virginia. "We have seen firsthand the incredible toll that gaps in the federal background check system have on public safety, and we live with the personal toll every single day of our lives."


The mayors' group also ran TV ads last week, pressing the three senators, and several others, to support the bill. In the House, meanwhile, three Virginia representatives have circulated a letter seeking co-sponsors for their pending Gun Show Loophole Closing Act.


Before any more tragedies happen, lawmakers need to stop listening to the gun lobby and start listening to their constituents. Mr. Udall? Mr. Warner? Mr. Webb?






A bitter seven-year legal struggle between an impoverished Indian tribe and scientists at Arizona State University reached a reasonable settlement when the university's regents agreed to pay $700,000 and to collaborate on other forms of assistance dealing with health, education and economic development. Left unresolved was the underlying question of how scientists can best obtain "informed consent" from patients whose education and command of English may be limited.


As described by Amy Harmon in recent Times articles, the struggle pitted a tiny tribe living deep inside the Grand Canyon, the Havasupai Indians, against Arizona State researchers who started drawing blood samples for genetic studies two decades ago. The researchers had been asked to help the Indians cope with a devastatingly high rate of diabetes that led to amputations and forced many Indians to leave the canyon for dialysis.


The researchers did look for gene variants that might cause diabetes, but also for genes linked to other conditions as well. The Indians, who stumbled onto this research years later, took offense at studies of schizophrenia and inbreeding, which they thought cast a bad light on the tribe. They also deplored research suggesting that their tribe's ancestors had come to North America from Asia and had not originated in the Grand Canyon as their traditional myths contended.


Members of the tribe say they thought the research was aimed solely at diabetes, but the scientists clearly had broader goals in mind from the start, including research on schizophrenia. More than 200 tribal members signed a consent form stating that their blood could be used to "study the causes of behavioral/medical disorders." That seems broad enough to cover almost all of the studies undertaken — except the analysis of the tribe's migration route from Asia to this continent.


In settling the case, after spending $1.7 million fighting it, the university's regents said they had "long wanted to remedy the wrong that was done." For the future, it seems important that scientists make certain that any consent is truly informed and that they describe any research likely to offend the donors with great clarity, not bury it in vague language like "behavioral/medical disorders." No scientists can foresee all the research pathways that might open up over a span of years, but if they keep the donors reasonably informed they can probably head off bitterness and litigation.






Among the Senate's most important tasks this year are fashioning a rational, humane immigration policy and a rational, comprehensive energy policy to address climate change and oil dependency. Unless Lindsey Graham and Harry Reid can patch up a needless feud, the Senate could end up doing neither. That would be a terrible outcome, since nobody knows what the appetite for either task will be after the November elections.


A rapprochement may require White House intervention. Late last week, Mr. Reid, the Senate majority leader,

hinted that he might bring up immigration reform before an energy bill. Mr. Graham went ballistic.


The South Carolina Republican has been working on a bipartisan energy bill for months, and had been led to believe by the White House that it had priority. He also supports immigration reform, but angrily charged that

putting it first was nothing more than a "cynical political ploy" to help Mr. Reid win Hispanic votes in his home state of Nevada.


Mr. Reid fired back, insinuating that Mr. Graham was abandoning the energy bill under pressure from the Republican leadership. (He's gotten heat in his home state for supporting both bills and having them sidetracked would, by the way, lower the temperature.)


Trading insults gets the country nowhere. The energy bill is vital. But Congress must respond to Arizona's xenophobic new law, which threatens to turn legal immigrants, even citizens, into targets of the police for merely looking Hispanic.


Mr. Reid knows that Washington's failure to enact national immigration reform has left the country open to that kind of mischief. So he must deal with that as well as other complex issues like energy, financial reform and a new Supreme Court vacancy.


Mr. Graham is feeling a bit fragile. Virtually alone among Republicans, he has worked not only for climate

change legislation but for immigration reform, and has helped the White House on other issues as well; he was

also the only Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee to support Sonia Sotomayor for the Supreme Court. For his pains, he has suffered a steady hammering from the Republican leadership and conservative voters.


Truth is, Mr. Reid and Mr. Graham need each other. And there is no reason this has to be a zero-sum game.


The energy bill so laboriously drafted by Mr. Graham and Senators John Kerry and Joseph Lieberman is ready to be presented to the relevant committees. Indeed, it was to have been unveiled on Monday until Mr. Graham pulled out. Immigration reform is not that far along, but aides to Mr. Graham and Senator Charles Schumer, a New York Democrat, are said to be toiling away on a draft.


What's important now is to get both back on track. The time left until people run back home to campaign for re-election is dwindling fast







TODAY, we will have the pleasure of watching outraged members of the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations fire questions at a half-dozen executives from Goldman Sachs. The firm first attracted anger for its return to making billions, and paying its employees millions, right after the financial crisis. And since the Securities and Exchange Commission this month charged Goldman with fraud over an investment tied to subprime mortgages, politicians have turned the firm into the arch-villain of the economic collapse.


But the transaction at the heart of the S.E.C.'s complaint is a microcosm of the entire credit crisis. That is, there are no good guys here. It's dishonest and ultimately dangerous to pretend that Goldman is the only bad actor. And the worst actor of all is the one leading the charge against Goldman: our government.


Each of the supposed victims here was, at best, a willing accomplice. Let's start with those who bet that the investment in question, Abacus 2007-AC1, would be profitable for them: a bond insurer called ACA Capital Holdings and a German bank named IKB Deutsche Industriebank. These companies allegedly didn't know that Goldman, in exchange for $15 million in fees, had allowed a client, the hedge fund manager John Paulson, to help design the investment in order to improve the odds that it would fail.


But there was nothing hindering ACA's ability to see that mortgages sold to people who probably couldn't pay weren't great investments. Meanwhile, the company's insurance arm was covering as many subprime mortgages as it could to increase its own short-term profits. In some ways, the ACA story is the A.I.G. story: The company thought it had found free money — and basically bankrupted itself.


Similarly, the German bank advertised itself as a sophisticated investor, but didn't seem to have bothered to analyze the subprime-backed bonds it was buying. The bank just relied on the AAA rating and, not surprisingly, pretty much bankrupted itself, too.


Which brings us to the rating agencies that stamped over 75 percent of Goldman's Abacus securities with that AAA rating, meaning the securities were supposed to be as safe as United States Treasury bonds. They did the same to billions of dollars worth of equally appalling securities backed by subprime mortgages at other firms. Without the cravenness of the rating agencies, there would have been no Abacus, and no subprime mortgage crisis.


None of this excuses Goldman. Whether the transaction was legal or not, there's a difference between what's legal and what's right. Goldman, where I worked at a junior level from 1992 to 1995, has always held itself up as a firm that adheres to a higher standard. "Integrity and honesty are at the heart of our business" is one of Goldman's 14 principles. There is no way to square this principle with the accusation that Goldman did not tell a customer who didn't want to lose money — the very definition of a buyer of AAA-rated securities — that the investment it was selling had been rigged to amplify the chances that it would, yes, lose money.


Transactions like this one open up a window into modern finance, and the view is downright ugly. This deal didn't build a house, finance a world-changing invention or create any jobs. It was just a zero-sum game that transferred wealth from what Wall Street calls "dumb money" (often those who manage the public's funds) to a hedge fund. It certainly belies what Lloyd Blankfein, the firm's chief executive, told me last fall: "What's good for Goldman Sachs is good for America." Could the scary truth be that, at best, the success of one has nothing to do with the success of the other?


Yet, in the end, it comes down to this: Goldman Sachs, ACA Capital, IKB Deutsche Industriebank and even the rating agencies never had any duty to protect us from their greed. There was one entity that did — our government.


But it was the purported regulators, including the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency and the Office of Thrift Supervision, that used their power not to protect, but rather to prevent predatory lending laws. The Federal Reserve, which could have cracked down on lending practices at any time, did next to nothing, thereby putting us at risk as both consumers and taxpayers. All of these regulators, along with the S.E.C., failed to look at the bad loans that were moving through the nation's banking system, even though there were plentiful warnings about them.


More important, it was Congress that sat by idly as consumer advocates warned that people were getting loans they'd never be able to pay back. It was Congress that refused to regulate derivatives, despite ample evidence dating back to 1994 of the dangers they posed. It was Congress that repealed the Glass-Steagall Act, which separated investment and commercial banking, yet failed to update the fraying regulatory system.


It was Congress that spread the politically convenient gospel of home ownership, despite data and testimony showing that much of what was going on had little to do with putting people in homes. And it's Congress that has been either unwilling or unable to put in place rules that have a shot at making things better. The financial crisis began almost three years ago and it's still not clear if we'll have meaningful new legislation. In fact, Senate Republicans on Monday voted to block floor debate on the latest attempt at a reform bill.


Come to think about it, shouldn't Congress have its turn on the hot seat as well? Seeing Goldman executives get their comeuppance may make us all feel better in the short term. But today's spectacle shouldn't provide our government with a convenient way to deflect the blame it so richly deserves.


Bethany McLean, a contributing editor for Vanity Fair, is writing a book about the financial crisis with Joe Nocera of The Times








LAST week, Pope Benedict XVI told victims of sexual abuse by priests in Malta that the Catholic Church was doing all it could to investigate abuse accusations and find ways to safeguard children in the future. With the pope's pledge, and the resignation in recent days of three European bishops involved in the sex abuse scandal, it might appear that the church is finally taking responsibility for failing to protect children against molesters for hundreds of years.


But the church is not doing everything in its power to help victims. In fact, it is worsening the sins of the past by taking a leading role in preventing abused children from getting the compensation they need to help remedy past abuse.


I saw this behavior firsthand when I represented a victim of child sexual abuse in a case brought against a nonsectarian private school in New Jersey. The trial court in that case had held that a state statute immunizing charities against negligence also protected the school even if its employees acted "willfully, wantonly, recklessly, indifferently — even criminally."


I volunteered to help appeal that ruling of absolute immunity, and get it reversed. On the other side were

lawyers for the insurance company that would have paid the bill if the school had been found liable. Their position was completely understandable: An insurance company has an obligation to its shareholders.


What was truly astonishing was the appearance of the New Jersey Catholic Conference in the case. As its Web site explains, the conference "represents the Catholic bishops of New Jersey on matters of public policy," because "the Catholic Church calls for a different kind of political engagement: one shaped by the moral convictions of well-formed consciences and focused on the dignity of every human being, the pursuit of the common good and the protection of the weak and the vulnerable."


Yet the "well-formed consciences" of the conference had not entered the case on behalf of the weak and the vulnerable. The Catholic Conference had filed a brief in support of the insurance company, to defend a rule that would have left institutions — like the church — immune from responsibility even if employees "criminally" protected an abuser.


The New Jersey Supreme Court ruled against the insurers in 2006. But representatives of the Catholic Church have continued their work against the "weak and the vulnerable" here in New York. New York has one of the nation's most restrictive statutes of limitations for child sexual abuse, requiring victims to sue within five years of turning 18, whether or not they have recognized the psychological harm caused to them by their abuse.


Assemblywoman Margaret Markey, a Queens Democrat, has introduced a bill to give victims another five years to seek compensation, plus a one-year window for victims blocked by the old limitations to now bring suit. That legislation has passed the Assembly three times, yet the Senate has refused to consider it. It has now been reintroduced into the Assembly.


At the core of the opposition to this bill is heavy lobbying by the New York Catholic Conference; according to published reports, the conference has hired top-dollar lobbyists to kill the bill. At least one bishop is reported to have threatened to close schools and parishes in legislators' districts if they vote for the bill. And as Marci Hamilton, a law professor at Cardozo University, has written, bishops "publicly rail against statute of limitation reform as though it were the equivalent of mandatory abortion."


If the New York Catholic Conference stops this reform, it will achieve three things. First, it will protect its own wealth. Second, it will assure that potentially thousands of victims who have been abused by priests will have no opportunity for compensation. And third, it will help preserve a system of irresponsibility that makes it too easy to ignore child sexual abuse, because the costs of ignoring it are lower in New York than in most other states.


If Pope Benedict and the church want redemption for the crimes of Catholic priests, there must continue to be confessions of those past sins. But just as important, the church must look at what it is doing today and end its campaign to block the weak and the vulnerable from receiving help to deal with the consequences of criminal sexual abuse.


Lawrence Lessig is a law professor and the director of the Edmond J. Safra Foundation Center for Ethics at Harvard.







Between 1997 and 2006, consumers, lenders and builders created a housing bubble, and pretty much the entire establishment missed it. Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac and the people who regulate them missed it. The big commercial banks and the people who regulate them missed it. The Federal Reserve missed it, as did the ratings agencies, the Securities and Exchange Commission and the political class in general.


It's easy to see why this happened. People who make it into the establishment work and play well with others. They are part of the same overlapping social networks, and inevitably begin to perceive the world in similar, conventional ways. They thrive in institutions where people are not rewarded for being cantankerous intellectual bomb-throwers.


Outside the establishment herd, on the other hand, there were contrarians who understood the bubble (which was the easy part) and who figured out how to take counteraction (which was hard). Michael Burry worked at a small hedge fund in Northern California. John Paulson ran an obscure fund in New York. Eventually, there were even a few traders at the big investment banks who also foresaw the imminent collapse. One of them was "Fabulous" Fabrice Tourre of Goldman Sachs.


If this were a Hollywood movie, the prescient outsiders would be good-looking, just and true, and we could all root for them as they outfoxed the smug establishment. But this is real life, so things are more complicated. According to Gregory Zuckerman's book, "The Greatest Trade Ever," Burry was a solitary small-time operator far away. Paulson was cold and diffident.


And as for Fabulous Fab, he seems to be the product of the current amoral Wall Street culture in which impersonal trading is more important than personal service to clients, and in which any product you can sell to some poor sucker is deemed to be admirable and O.K.


In this drama, in other words, the establishment was pleasant, respectable and stupid, while the contrarians were smart but hard to love, and sometimes sleazy.


This week the drama comes to Washington in two different ways. First, as is traditional in our culture, the elected leaders of the clueless establishment have summoned the leaders of Goldman Sachs to a hearing so they can have a post-hoc televised conniption fit on the amorality of Wall Street.


This spectacle presents Goldman with an interesting public relations choice. The firm can claim to be dumb but decent, like the rest of the establishment, and emphasize the times it lost money. Or it can present itself as smart and sleazy, and emphasize the times it made money at the expense of its clients. Goldman seems to have chosen dumb but decent, which is probably the smart narrative to get back in the establishment's good graces, even if it is less accurate.


The second big event in Washington this week is the jostling over a financial reform bill. One might have thought that one of the lessons of this episode was that establishments are prone to groupthink, and that it would be smart to decentralize authority in order to head off future bubbles.


Both N. Gregory Mankiw of Harvard and Sebastian Mallaby of the Council on Foreign Relations have been promoting a way to do this: Force the big financial institutions to issue bonds that would be converted into equity when a regulator deems them to have insufficient capital. Thousands of traders would buy and sell these bonds as a way to measure and reinforce the stability of the firms.


But, alas, we are living in the great age of centralization. Some Democrats regard federal commissions with the same sort of awe and wonder that I feel while watching LeBron James and Alex Ovechkin.


The premise of the current financial regulatory reform is that the establishment missed the last bubble and, therefore, more power should be vested in the establishment to foresee and prevent the next one.


If you take this as your premise, the Democratic bill is fine and reasonable. It would force derivative trading out into the open. It would create a structure so the government could break down failing firms in an orderly manner. But the bill doesn't solve the basic epistemic problem, which is that members of the establishment herd are always the last to know when something unexpected happens.


If this were a movie, everybody would learn the obvious lessons. The folks in the big investment banks would learn that it's valuable to have an ethical culture, in which traders' behavior is restricted by something other than the desire to find the next sucker. The folks in Washington would learn that centralized decision-making is often unimaginative decision-making, and that decentralized markets are often better at anticipating the future.


But, again, this is not a Hollywood movie. Those lessons are not being learned. I can't wait for the sequel.






Our view on your health: What can be done to shake Americans' salt habit?


We all need some salt in our diet. But there can be too much of a good thing. And right now, Americans are consuming a lot more sodium than they need — an average of 3,400 milligrams daily when the recommended maximum is 2,300 milligrams.


That excessive sodium can lead to high blood pressure, which is associated with strokes, kidney damage and congestive heart failure. In fact, a report released last week by the Institute of Medicine, the independent health arm of the National Academy of Sciences, estimated that reducing sodium intake could prevent 100,000 deaths a year and save $18 billion in medical costs.


Less noticed but just as important is the fact that salt is also a major contributor to the obesity crisis. That's because food makers recognize that combining salt with sugar and fat creates a multilayered cocktail, both tangy and sweet, that leaves taste buds craving more.


These intense flavor combinations can trigger a response in the brain so pleasurable that many people, seeking to recreate the experience, become trapped in a cycle of craving and overeating. Not to mention that salt makes people thirstier for calorie-laden soft drinks and alcoholic beverages, which is why bars put out all those free snacks.


The extra sodium in our diets isn't coming from sprinkling the salt shaker too generously. Instead, 77% of our intake is from prepared and processed foods. Food makers use it as both a preservative and as a taste enhancer — and apply it abundantly. Consider the amount of sodium per serving in these products: Kraft's Catalina dressing (380 milligrams), Progresso's New England Clam Chowder (890 milligrams) and DiGiorno's Supreme pizza (990 milligrams). The result is a climate where even an informed consumer has trouble eating a diet that isn't loaded with salt.


So what's the answer?


For some foods, there isn't a good one. In cheese and bread, for instance, it's hard to reduce sodium content without severely compromising taste and texture. But even in those cases, better disclosure could help consumers keep track of their sodium intake. The Food and Drug Administration is working on front-of-package nutritional labeling that would both be clearer and more prominent than current back labels. In restaurants, meanwhile, fast food is notoriously salty, and the new federal health care law helps by requiring chains to post their menus' nutritional content.


The FDA is also working with food manufacturers to achieve voluntary sodium reductions. In recent years,

some companies, including Campbell's Soup and Hormel Foods, have reduced sodium in some of their products. Others have announced plans to do so.


But as long as salt promotes excessive eating, and consumers' tastes are conditioned to prefer products with

high sodium content, food sellers have an incentive to pack food with it. That's why the IOM is recommending that the FDA set legal limits for sodium content in foods, implemented gradually so taste buds can adjust.


Given the nation's obesity epidemic, such a move might eventually be needed, but a collaborative approach is preferable. If that effort falls short, however, blatant warning labels on foods with unneeded salt content are an option.


The trick is to give people the means to protect themselves without dictating their choices. The USA would be a healthier nation, however, if fewer people said "pass the salt" and more said "pass up the salt."








When salt, an essential nutrient, is significantly reduced, the population's response is mixed. About 30% experience a minor drop in blood pressure, about 20% experience a slight increase and the rest experience no change at all. So any policy that treats the population as a homogeneous mass is discriminatory because we all react differently.


On top of that, women around the world consume 800-1,500 milligrams less sodium per day than men do. In the U.S., women consume 1,200mg less sodium per day than men do. Because we all eat from the same food supply, if you reduce sodium in all food, will women end up at greater risk of hyponatremia because they naturally consume far less sodium than men?


Hyponatremia is a serious condition that can reduce cognition, increase the risk of diabetes and result in loss of balance in the elderly. Pregnant women on low-salt diets give birth to low weight babies that have a lifelong increased salt appetite. Several peer-reviewed publications indicate that congestive heart failure patients placed on low-salt diets die, or are readmitted to hospitals, far more frequently than those not placed on low-salt diets.


There is far more in the scientific literature on salt and human health than is under consideration by the Institute of Medicine and the Food and Drug Administration, which is why the Salt Institute has repeatedly asked the secretary of Health and Human Services to carry out a large clinical trial to determine the actual impact of salt reduction on population health outcomes. Because there are no historical records of consuming the low salt levels recommended by the IOM, compelling the entire population to consume these levels effectively would place everyone into the largest clinical trial ever carried out, without our knowledge or consent.


The FDA would have done the public a better service if it had focused on promoting a fully balanced diet, rather than on a silver bullet that the scientific evidence does not fully support.


Italians eat much more salt than we do, but they have among the best cardiovascular figures in the world because they eat a balanced diet with far more vegetables and fruits. Here, our consumption of vegetables has dropped because we don't spend enough time promoting their benefits. Consumers deserve better treatment.


Morton Satin is director of technical and regulatory affairs for the Salt Institute.








Before Republicans lock themselves into a strategy of portraying President Obama as an out-of-the-mainstream radical, they should confront an uncomfortable challenge: Can they name a single policy this administration has pursued that would have been unthinkable for Hillary Clinton?


It's a potent question because so many conservatives during the campaign endorsed the idea that Hillary represented the moderate, more acceptable Democratic alternative to Obama's extremism.


After John McCain secured the Republican nomination, Rush Limbaugh famously launched Operation Chaos, urging Republicans to change their registration to vote for Hillary in Democratic primaries. Ann Coulter openly endorsed Clinton over McCain, suggesting she'd make a stronger commander in chief. Whatever doubts other Republicans harbored about then-Sen. Clinton, few questioned her position at the center of her party and the mainstream of American politics.


It therefore seems odd, even to this anti-administration conservative, to argue that Obama governs as an extremist (the "most radical president in American history," according to Newt Gingrich) when he pushes the same initiatives that Hillary or any other Democrat would have championed. When it comes to health care reform, the failed Clinton program of 1993 (universally known as "HillaryCare") was an even more sweeping and bureaucratic expansion of intrusive government power than Obama's legislation of 2010. The pork-laden stimulus package, the cap-and-trade proposals and out-of-control government spending all resemble strikingly similar proposals that Clinton advanced in her presidential campaign.


A familiar Cabinet


As secretary of State, her support for the Obama agenda has been enthusiastic rather than merely dutiful. Concerning the president's ambitious push toward disarmament, Clinton penned an enthusiastic piece for Britain's Guardian newspaper that appeared with the gushing headline, "Our giant step towards a world free from nuclear danger."


In terms of major appointments, it's also difficult to see that Obama's selections count as more extreme or polarizing than the likely choices of any potential Democratic president. Would a President Hillary Clinton have drawn the line at any of the current Cabinet-level aides? Those appointments include two veteran Republicans (at Defense and Transportation), two highly decorated generals (as national security adviser and secretary of Veterans Affairs), and popular governors and senators from conservative states (Kansas, Iowa, Arizona and Colorado). The most outspoken leftist in the entire Obama Cabinet, Attorney General Eric Holder, is a Clinton administration veteran (as deputy attorney general), as is controversial chief of staff Rahm Emanuel (one of Bill Clinton's senior advisers).


If there's scant difference between Obama and the Clintons in terms of policies or personnel, how did President Bill Clinton earn such a strong reputation as a pragmatic centrist while Obama strikes so many observers as a leftist ideologue?


The contrast owes more to circumstance than to substance. After the GOP took control of both houses of Congress in the conservative tidal wave of 1994, the Clintons fought for political survival with the strategy of "triangulation" — positioning the White House as an independent "third force" between squabbling Democrats and Republicans on Capitol Hill. Only after Gingrich became speaker of the House did President Clinton make his cynical declaration that "the era of Big Government is over."


If Republicans repeat their achievements of 1994 and claim one or both legislative chambers in 2010, it's likely that Obama will try to follow Clinton's example. But when your own party holds all levers of power, it's tough to triangulate and to distance yourself from your own eager loyalists.


While the news media have fixated on the near-unanimous Republican opposition to the president's programs, they've overlooked the lock-step support he has received from Democrats. Every single Democratic member of the U.S. Senate initially voted for Obama's health care reform, as did more than 85% of Democrats in the House. This is almost the same percentage of members of his own party who tell pollsters that they approve of the president's job performance.


It's the party, not the man

Republicans would fare better if they criticized the unyielding extremism of the Democratic Party as a whole rather than focusing on the president as a singular example of fanaticism. Conservatives overstate their case and undermine their own momentum with shaky claims that the ideological perspective of the White House qualifies as "unprecedented," "Marxist," "shocking" or "radical." His critics could rightly identify the president and his henchmen as conventional, Big Government, borrow-and-spend liberals — a designation that most voters understand (and dislike). He has aroused determined GOP opposition not because he seeks to lead the nation in unexplored and perilous new directions, but because he seeks to restore the misguided welfare state priorities that characterized his party, and failed, for decades.


Republicans can agree that the president threatens to push the country in precisely the wrong direction. But the best argument against the faction that dominates both White House and Congress isn't that Obama is too radical or daring, but that he's too typical of an exhausted, discredited and tired approach. Instead of the exciting, unifying new departures he promised, he delivers only the hyperpartisan nostrums of the traditional Big Government party and seems perversely determined to repeat its past mistakes.


Syndicated talk radio host Michael Medvedis a member of USA TODAY's Board of Contributors and author of The 5 Big Lies About American Business.








Though it has been settled law since the Civil War ended that a state cannot secede from the union, Arizona's extreme action suggests it imagines it can.


Given this existential loophole, Gov. Jan Brewer has signed a bill that unilaterally gives her state the power to enforce federal immigration law and mandates that people who cross its borders carry an identity card acceptable to Arizona. The law defines this as an Arizona driver's license, identity card, tribal identification, or any federal, state or local government ID issued after a person proved he's a legal resident of the U.S. Anyone caught in the Grand Canyon State without one of these IDs will be subject to up to six months in jail and a $2,500 fine. The law takes effect 90 days after the Legislature adjourns.


Arizona's law ostensibly targets "alien(s)" who are "unlawfully present in the United States." But there's little doubt it will be used disproportionately against Hispanics, who are 30% of the state's population. "We cannot sacrifice our safety to the murderous greed of drug cartels," Brewer said at the bill signing ceremony. "We cannot stand idly by as drop houses, kidnappings and violence compromise our quality of life. We cannot delay while the destruction happening south of our international border creeps its way north," she said in an apparent reference to the drug war raging in Mexico.


But the law doesn't target drug dealers so much as it stigmatizes Arizona's large Mexican population. "The way it's tailored is very clear. You're looking for brown-skinned individuals. ... It's people coming across the border illegally and they're talking mostly about Mexicans," Santa Cruz County sheriff Tony Estrada told Tucson TV station KGUN9.


Keeping people from illegally entering this country isn't a bad idea. But Arizona's law is an "ends justify the means" attempt that enjoys widespread support among its voters. According to a Rasmussen poll, while 53% of the state's likely voters think enforcement of the law will potentially violate the civil rights of some U.S. citizens, 70% support it anyway. The law is backed by 84% of Republicans, 51% of Democrats and 69% of unaffiliated voters.


There are, fortunately, some pockets of resistance. Phoenix Mayor Phil Gordon, a Democrat, has threatened to file suit against the new law. Interim Maricopa County Attorney Rick Romley, a Republican, tried to talk Brewer into vetoing the immigration bill.More than a 1,000 Phoenix high school students, who used Twitter and Facebook to organize, walked out of class and marched to the state capitol to protest the measure a day before Brewer signed it Friday.


But it will be left to the federal government to counter Arizona's immigration witch hunt. The Obama administration can do this by refusing to take custody of any non-violent illegal immigrants whom local police charge with " misdemeanor trespassing" — the immigration offense the new law creates.Faced with a $3 billion budget deficit, Brewer is pushing a controversial 1-cent sales tax increase that will be on the state's ballot on May 18. If illegal immigrants are left in the state's custody, Arizona will have to bear the financial cost of its decision to usurp the federal government's authority to legislate immigration laws.