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Saturday, May 1, 2010

EDITORIAL 01.05.10

Please contact the list owner of subscription and unsubscription at: editorial@samarth.co.in 

 

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Editorial

month may 01, edition 000496, collected & managed by durgesh kumar mishra, published by – manish manjul

 

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

For ENGLISH  EDITORIAL  http://editorialsamarth.blogspot.com

      For TELUGU EDITORIAL http://editorial-telugu-samarth.blogspot.com

 

THE PIONEER

  1. OBAMA HAS HIS WAY
  2. TORIES LEAD THE RACE
  3. IPL'S CHARTER FOR SEASON 4 – ASHOK MALIK
  4. DON'T WORRY, BE HAPPY! - AJIT BISHNOI
  5. THE RAPE OF YOGA - ASEEM SHUKLA /SHEETAL SHAH
  6. A TIME TO RALLY - SUBHASH C SHARMA
  7. THIS EXACERBATES THE CONFUSION OF THE DESI GENNEXT - SOMANJANA C. BHATTACHARYA

MAIL TODAY

  1. DON'T READ TOO MUCH INTO INDO- PAK TALKS IN THIMPU
  2. MERE APOLOGY WON'T DO
  3. NOTHING LIKE GURUJI
  4. A LOSER IN THE ZERO- SUM GAME - BY BHARAT BHUSHAN
  5. THIRD UMPIRE - QAISER MOHAMMAD ALI

THE TIMES OF INDIA

  1. LOCH, STOCK AND NESSIE'S BARREL
  2. NEW TRIANGLE OF POWER - MINHAZ MERCHANT
  3. ICC TWENTY20 WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP BEGINS SOON AFTER IPL FINALS
  4. R E B O OT I N G I N D I A - KANTI BAJPAI

HINDUSTAN TIMES

  1. LET'S GO (NO ONE MOVES)
  2. ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND - PRATIK KANJILAL
  3. OPAQUE OPERATIONS - BARKHA DUTT

THE INDIAN EXPRESS

  1. CONCESSION RAJ
  2. DATELINE HISAR
  3. BEYOND THIMPHU
  4. RUNNING IN PLACE - SEEMA CHISHTI
  5. PRIVATE LIVES, PUBLIC USES - RAHUL MATTHAN
  6. EYEING IDS - USHARAMANATHAN
  7. DIGITAL DEGREES - SANJAYGDHANDEU
  8. EURO-TRASHED
  9. SHOANIA MANIA - RUCHIKA TALWAR

FINANCIAL EXPRESS

  1. STOP THE SPAT
  2. WHY MORE EXEMPTIONS?
  3. IDENTIFYING BPL ISN'T THE ONLY PROBLEM - JESSICA SEDDON WALLACK
  4. SHOULD BANKS BE ALLOWED TO TEASE? - MADAN SABNAVIS
  5. NO POWER FOR INVESTORS IN KARNATAKA - JAISHANKAR JAYARAMIAH

THE HINDU

  1. ENDING THE IMPASSE
  2. PEOPLE FOR CLIMATE
  3. FOR PROXIMATE AND SPEEDY JUSTICE - K.K. VENUGOPAL
  4. LESSONS FROM MAYAPURI - R. RAMACHANDRAN
  5. FROM THE COLD WAR ERA: 50 YEARS SINCE THE U-2 INCIDENT
  6. BLAKE: LET IS A THREAT TO U.S., TO INDIA, AND POTENTIALLY TO PAKISTAN - NARAYAN LAKSHMAN

THE ASIAN AGE

  1. MANMOHAN'S STEPS FOR PEACE WITH PAK
  2. UNVEILING LIFE IN ISLOO
  3. THE CURIOUS CASE OF COBALT-60
  4. THE NEW ANTI PARTY

THE TRIBUNE

  1. A TOTTERING TRADING BLOC
  2. UNCERTAINTY IN JHARKHAND
  3. STEALTH SHIP SHIVALIK
  4. US ARMS FOR PAKISTAN – BY GURMEET KANWAL
  5. BACK TO SCHOOL - BY ASHOK KUMAR YADAV
  6. INVASION OF PRIVACY - BY RAJINDAR SACHAR
  7. CRPF: ROOTLESS AND RESTLESS - BY USHA NARINDER SINGH
  8. INSIDE PAKISTAN - BY SYED NOORUZZAMAN

MUMBAI MERROR

  1. MAHA ACHIEVEMENTS

BUSINESS STANDARD

  1. TRIBES, FORESTS AND MINES
  2. INDIRA RAJARAMAN
  3. GETTING IT WRONG - T N NINAN
  4. MONEY, MINES AND MLAS - ADITI PHADNIS
  5. THE GAMES POLITICIANS PLAY - NEHA CHOL;\WDHRY
  6. LOVE, ECONOMICS AND THE IPL SAGA - K NATWAR SINGH
  7. IPL AND CAPITALISM - GURCHARAN DAS
  8. THE WARP IN THE WEAVE - KEYA SARKAR
  9. MAHARAJAS ON WHEELS - KISHORE SINGH

THE ECONOMIC TIMES

  1. HEIDI OUTED
  2. POLITICAL OPPORTUNISM
  3. REFORM THE IPO PROCESS
  4. SAARC: EXPLODING TRADE MYTHS - RAM UPENDRA DAS
  5. 'CONSUMERS TURNING TO FLEXIPACKS' - SANJEEV SINHA
  6. MUTTAR IN THE MATTRESS - VITHAL C NADKARNI
  7. WE WILL PROVIDE HEALTH COVER TO ALL AGE GROUPS: MAX CHIEF - PARAMITA CHATTERJEE

DECCAN CHRONICAL

  1. MANMOHAN'S STEPS FOR PEACE WITH PAK
  2. THE NEW ANTI PARTY - BY FARRUKH DHONDY
  3. THE 'POWER' OF IAS
  4. THE CURIOUS CASE OF COBALT-60 - BY ANTARA DEV SEN
  5. UNVEILING LIFE IN ISLOO - BY KISHWAR DESAI
  6. FAYYAD'S ROAD TO PALESTINE - BY ROGER COHEN

THE STATESMAN

  1. BILATERAL THAWS
  2. POINTERS IN ALBION 
  3. BLOOMIN' NONSENSE
  4. LAST RESORT OF THE AGGRIEVED - BY BIMAL KUMAR CHATTERJEE
  5. 'TAKE PDS OUT OF CORRUPT HANDS'
  6. WHY THE RUSH?
  7. WILL SAARC SAIL OR SINK? - RAJINDER PURI   

THE TELEGRAPH

  1. THE PROMISE OF PEACE
  2. IPL AND THE JUSTICE SYSTEM - SUNANDA K. DATTA-RAY

DECCAN HERALD

  1. STILL TENTATIVE
  2. COMMENT IS FREE
  3. THE POWER MESS - BY S L RAO
  4. THIS ABOVE ALL... A CIVIL WAR? NEVER! - KHUSHWANT SINGH
  5. BE AN ASSAMESE... - BY D V GURUPRASAD

THE NEW YORK TIMES

  1. THE BIG FIX
  2. UNANSWERED QUESTIONS ON THE SPILL
  3. CLEANING UP MEDICAL ADVICE
  4. COURAGE OF THE SISTERS
  5. WHO LIVES IN SHEIK JARRAH? - BY KAI BIRD
  6. TEACHERS ALWAYS SHOW UP - BY GAIL COLLINS
  7. ABORTION'S NEW BATTLE LINES - BY CHARLES M. BLOW

TIMES FREE PRESS

  1. AN OIL SPILL BECOMES A CRISIS
  2. HORRENDOUS OIL SPILL!
  3. RED-LIGHT CAMERAS AND SAFETY
  4. 'GUNS-IN-BARS' PROPOSAL IS FOOLISH
  5. UGLY REALITY SETS IN ON OBAMACARE
  6. BENEFITS AREN'T 'FREE'

TEHRAN TIMES

  1. POOR MEXICO AND THE WICKED AMERICANS - BY GWYNNE DYER
  2. HYPOCRISY OF THE NUCLEAR GAME - BY PATRICK SEALE

HURRIYET DAILY NEWS

  1. A BIRD'S EYE VIEW - WHY DO YOU BELIEVE? - ADVENA AVIS
  2. SIIRT AND THE GENDER GAP REPORT - GİLA BENMAYOR
  3. THE OBAMA VISION MAKES TURKEY ESSENTIAL - İLHAN TANIR
  4. EROSPOLIS - SIMPLY SIIRT  - NAZLAN ERTAN
  5. TURKEY'S SOFT POWER IN THE ARAB WORLD - MUSTAFA AKYOL
  6. THE CORRIDOR - COULD ANY AMENDMENTS DROP OUT OF THE PACKAGE? - GÖKSEL BOZKURT
  7. RIDING THE CULTURAL WAVES - 'VERBAL COMMUNICATION' - ZAFER PARLAR
  8. PRESIDENTIAL SYSTEM: LOOKING FOR ABSOLUTE POWER - CENGİZ AKTAR
  9. TURKISH-ARMENIAN PROTOCOLS: ANY HOPE LEFT? - GÜNER ÖZKAN
  10. EYÜP CAN

I.THE NEWS

  1. HOPE ON THE HORIZON
  2. POLICE STATE?
  3. FINALLY, A THAW - ARIF NIZAMI
  4. MAY DAY UNDER THE PPP - FAROOQ SULEHRIA
  5. NO 'GOOD' TALIBAN - ZAFAR HILALY
  6. A GRAND POLITICAL CLEAN-UP - DR MUZAFFAR IQBAL
  7. OUR SPOILS SYSTEM - BABAR SATTAR
  8. WHAT PREVENTS IT? - ROEDAD KHAN

PAKISTAN OBSERVER

  1. JUBILATION OVER DIALOGUE WITH INDIA
  2. IMPLICATIONS OF HAQQANI'S STATEMENT
  3. REVITALISING THE ROLE OF ENGINEERING INDUSTRY
  4. HARNESS ENERGY ON WAR FOOTING - MOHAMMAD JAMIL
  5. AMAN KI ASHA, TWO FACES OF INDIA – ASIF HAROON RAJA
  6. INTERNATIONAL LABOUR DAY - SHAMIM AHMAD
  7. A PRELUDE TO THE SAARC SUMMIT - ALI SUKHANVER
  8. FAYYAD'S ROAD TO PALESTINE - ROGER COHEN

THE INDEPENDENT

  1. MEANINGFUL MAY DAY
  2. MEGA PLAN FOR TOURISM
  3. BOB'S BANTER - ROBERT CLEMENTS
  4. THE POLITICAL ECONOMY OF THE BUDGET - FORREST COOKSON
  5. AGE-OLD HOSTILITY AND RENEWED SANCTION ON IRAN - ENGR. MIRZA FERDOUS ALAM
  6. MAY DAY - MOHAMMAD SHAHIDUL ISLAM

THE AUSTRALIAN

  1. A RARE CHANCE FOR TAX REFORM
  2. ACCOUNTABILITY IS ESSENTIAL TO IMPROVE ALL OUR SCH
  3. WHY CHINA IS THE KEY TO EUROPE'S DEBT CRISIS
  4. SPINELESS PM NOT WORTHY OF WIPING GOUGH'S SHOES
  5. SNARE VILLAINS IN LOCAL NETWORKS
  6. IN SPORT, NORMAL BUSINESS RULES SHOULDN'T APPLY
  7. THE CAPE IS TRAGIC PROOF COLONISATION IS FAR FROM DEAD
  8. SOMERSAULTS AND BACKFLIPS MAKE WAY FOR ELECTION CIRCUS SOON TO ARRIVE
  9. CLIMATE GOALS UNVIABLE AMID POLICY DISARRAY
  10. ONTENDERS FACE MASSIVE TASK REBUILDING DECLINING BRITAIN
  11. REPORTS OF SCUDS STIR TALK OF WAR
  12. RUDD'S REFORM PUSH ENDS IN POLITICAL NIGHTMARE
  13. BARACK OBAMA'S A-GRADE PREACHING GALLS C-GRADE PUBLIC

THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD

  1. RUDD - A WHITLAM IN WEEKLY EPISODES
  2. TAKE ME TO YOUR LEADING RESTAURANT
  3. TOP-END TINKERING WON'T BROADEN SAVINGS POOL

THE GUARDIAN

  1. GENERAL ELECTION 2010: THE LIBERAL MOMENT HAS COME

DAILY EXPRESS

  1. A TRULY FEEBLE SENTENCE
  2. TIME TO PUT GORDON BROWN OUT OF HIS MISERY
  3. IT'S TAKEN A WHILE BUT OUR RIVALS HAVE FINALLY GOT THEIR DESERTS
  4. OLD WIVES' TALES RULE OK
  5. THE REAPPEARANCE OF TONY BLAIR IS LABOUR'S FAREWELL INSULT
  6. FULHAM FANS DESERVE THIS EURO GLORY

THE JAPAN TIMES

  1. CHINA'S SUMMER SHOWCASE
  2. MONJU REACTOR SET TO RESTART
  3. PRESIDENT LEE DEMONSTRATES COOL IN CRISIS - BY TOM PLATE
  4. HOW NEWS SKEWS VIEWS - BY RAMZY BAROUD

THE JAKARTA POST

ANOTHER LABOR DAY

REDD, CBFM AND OUR FOREST SUSTAINABILITY - SIWI NUGRAHENI

UAN: ONE STEP FORWARD OR TWO STEPS BACK? - M. MARCELLINO

 

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THE PIONEER

EDITORIAL

Obama has his way

PM CAVES IN, RESUMES TALKS WITH PAKISTAN

 

They met on the sidelines of the SAARC summit and came away grinning from ear to ear. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his Pakistani counterpart Yousuf Raza Gilani seem to be making up for the frost in India-Pakistan relations that followed the 26/11 attacks on Mumbai. An earlier effort at Sharm el-Sheikh last year had backfired on Mr Singh. But it is apparent that he believes that sufficient time has elapsed to rediscover bonhomie with Pakistan. Following his meeting with Mr Gilani, it has been decided that the best way forward for both the countries is through the resumption of the bilateral dialogue process. Both the leaders have affirmed that they would like to see their respective Foreign Ministers and Foreign Secretaries meet at the earliest to restore the 'trust' and 'confidence' in the bilateral relationship. There is also a possibility that a new format of talks will be created, replacing the old format of the composite dialogue process — a clever ploy by Mr Singh to try and pacify those who question the efficacy of these bogus talks. But the fact remains that terrorism — something which Mr Singh claims he believes has been responsible for impeding the progress of talks between the two countries — and anti-India jihadi organisations are still being sponsored by the Pakistani military-political establishment. There is absolutely no reason to believe that Islamabad has done anything at all to end terrorism emanating from Pakistan. And there is no reason to assume that this will happen in the near future. The so-called trial of those who plotted the 26/11 attacks is nothing but a sham, Lashkar-e-Tayyeba chief Hafiz Mohammed Saeed is still a free man and faces no restrictions as far as making hate speeches against India is concerned, and terrorist infiltrations from across the LoC into Jammu & Kashmir have increased in recent months. Yet, somehow, Mr Singh believes that all this will change if we re-engage Pakistan through bilateral talks.

The truth is that Mr Singh is under tremendous pressure from the Obama Administration to re-initiate the dialogue process. This is because the Pakistanis have complaining to the Americans that the frost in relations with India has created a 'trust deficit' between the two countries, preventing the former from diverting troops from its eastern border to its western tribal areas to fight the 'bad' Taliban. And given the Obama Administration's obsession with securing an early exit from Afghanistan — at least by the time the US President is up for re-election in 2012 — it is obvious that Washington, DC will be more inclined to lean on New Delhi to pacify Islamabad. The consequences of our troop-cut in Jammu & Kashmir — at the behest of the Americans who seem to be dictating the UPA Government's policies — are there for everyone to see.


Now that formal talks between India and Pakistan are set to resume, there is little doubt in the fact that Islamabad will use the opportunity to once again shame and slander New Delhi. Yet Mr Singh believes (or has been forced by the US Administration into believing) that it is better to talk with Pakistan than shun a rogue state which brazenly promotes jihadi terrorism and is loath to act against mass murderers. No purpose is served in blaming Pakistan as nothing better can be expected of its military-political establishment. But what about our effete Congress-led Government?

 

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THE PIONEER

EDITORIAL

Tories lead the race

Labour flounders, surge for LDP


After nearly a month-long see-saw electoral battle which saw the Liberal Democrats, never considered a serious contender for power in Britain with its entrenched two-party system, suddenly posing a challenge to both optimistic Tories and a beleaguered Labour, the Conservative Party appears to have once again wrested the advantage which it was perceived to have had before Prime Minister Gordon Brown called the May 6 general election. Thursday night's televised debate, the third in a first-of-its-kind series in Britain, saw Mr Brown floundering: He scored the worst and ended at the bottom. On the other hand, voters rated the Conservative leader, Mr David Cameron, as the best; the Liberal Democrats' choice for 10, Downing Street, Mr Nick Clegg, held on to his number two position. In a sense, this was Mr Brown's last chance to turn the tables on Mr Cameron and thus put Labour ahead of the Tories. But he failed miserably, and remained at number three, a position he has held in all the television debates. Snap polls conducted soon after Thursday night's debate show the Tories leading the race with 38 per cent share of the vote, followed by the Liberal Democrats with 32 per cent. Labour is a distant third with a dismal 26 per cent.


Amazingly, rather than put up a fight and claw his way back into the race, Mr Brown stumped Labour's loyal supporters by virtually conceding defeat in next week's election which, by all accounts, will be keenly contested. In his closing statement at the end of the debate, Mr Brown said, "I know that if things stay as they are, perhaps in eight days' time David Cameron, perhaps supported by Nick Clegg, would be in office." Pundits see this as confirmation of what they have been predicting: Either the Tories will secure a slender majority of their own, or will form the Government with the help of the Liberal Democrats. In a sense, Labour losing the election was a foregone conclusion. It was also believed that the Conservative Party would sweep the poll. While the first assumption seems to be on the verge of coming true, the second does not appear all that certain. Mr Clegg has emerged as the proverbial dark horse, giving Mr Cameron a run for his money. It's too early to arrive at any firm conclusions about the sudden surge in the electoral fortunes of the Liberal Democrats, but it would seem that they have gained enormously from traditional Labour voters switching loyalties and young voters backing them over the Tories. If Mr Clegg is able to secure a boost for the Liberal Democrats, it could change the electoral landscape — as well as politics — of Britain forever.

 

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THE PIONEER

EDITORIAL

IPL's charter for Season 4

Ashok Malik


Make no mistake, despite the Shashi Tharoor-Lalit Modi mess, despite the financial scandals and allegations of impropriety, the Indian Premier League will endure. It will be back in 2011. If nothing else, keeping it alive and well is imperative for a variety of stakeholders.


At the root of a sports franchise system is a combination of business and an ego trip. Whether it is football clubs in England or baseball teams in the United States, the decision to purchase a sports team is not always a rational one, driven by profit-loss calculations alone. Often well-heeled individuals or businessmen do it to announce their arrival. When their fortunes decline, they sell to the next billionaire from the next sunrise industry. The fact that supply is limited — there will only be a finite number of football clubs or IPL franchises — keeps demand robust.


Yet, there is also a strong element of business. Some of the better managed IPL franchises are beginning to turn the corner, though not quite make huge money yet. They are exploiting a strange paradox in India. The Indian economy is today large enough to support and sustain more than one sport. Even so, India remains fundamentally a one-sport society.


This means advertisers, sponsors and team owners are simply over-invested in cricket. This also explains why the IPL was created as a summer-time sport and entertainment product, and advertising magnet. There was no competition around and some version of cricket was found convenient to fill a massive commercial gap.


Nevertheless, there are four angularities the IPL authorities need to sort out in the coming months, well before Season IV. These challenges, and how the IPL's new bosses address them, will determine the future of cricket's richest league.


First, can the IPL institutionalise Mr Lalit Modi's best skills without inviting his worst traits? As IPL committee chairman, Mr Modi was overbearing and dictatorial. He took policy decisions to the Governing Council — the body he was supposed to be chairing as a sort of first among equals — only for post facto validation. As for League laws, he made them as he went along.


Yet, Mr Modi was also an incredibly quick decision-maker. He put together a logistics and management structure that was hitherto unknown in Indian sport. The tournament was planned and run by a crack team from consultants IMG. As a Kolkata Knight Riders executive says, "Before we reached a new city, our IMG-designated liaison person there had already contacted us. He had primed the hotel about dietary preferences of individual cricketers. Practice grounds and specific training needs had been taken care of." It was a level of professionalism unheard of in the history of the Board of Control for Cricket in India. If the IPL is to survive and thrive, so must this work ethic.


Second, can the IPL be cleansed of its cronyism? Take two examples. Mr Modi's three-year IPL reign saw a massive television deal and seven-star meals being served to guests in the boxes and marquee seats. The structuring of these contracts has proved highly controversial. The presence of intermediary companies and so-called 'facilitation fees' has raised suspicions. Are these agencies and euphemisms for kickbacks to those in the upper echelons of the IPL?


Even the IMG deal, despite the company's exemplary work, has not been free of accusations of window-dressing. In 2009, the BCCI forced Mr Modi to get IMG to renegotiate and agree to a lower fee. After initial bravado, IMG surrendered. Where was the gravy going? In the coming weeks, the BCCI and Government investigators will be asking tough questions of Mr Modi and the IPL's nominal CEO, Mr Sundar Raman. Expect jobs to be lost; prepare for serious allegations of fraud.


Third, can the Kochi franchise be made kosher? Having promised to pay a huge licence fee of $ 333.33 million over the next decade, the consortium that has bought the Kochi franchise is looking at a loss of Rs 800 crore to Rs1,000 crore in this period. So is the other new franchise — the Sahara-owned Pune Warriors — it may be contended, but it is backed by a cash and asset rich business house. In contrast, 26 per cent of the Kochi franchise is with a fly-by-night operation based in Sholapur and put together with a paid up capital of Rs 1 lakh.

For better or worse, the IPL is now stuck with Kochi. It cannot annul the franchise without causing a political crisis in Kerala. Yet, as things stand, the Kochi business model is a weak link in the IPL. Unattended to, it could pull down the rest of the League and become a cash-guzzler vulnerable, in a worst case scenario, to betting syndicates. This is not scare-mongering; responsible people in the BCCI have already discussed these concerns. To put a chastity belt around the IPL, Kochi's controversial 26 per cent has to be found a good home.


Fourth, can the IPL's paraphernalia be a little less in-your-face? There is a subtle difference between a party and an orgy. This year, in the public eye, the IPL breached it. Importing models from Brazil and the former Soviet Union for post-match fashion shows; parties and binging sessions extending to 4.00 am; the case of a senior franchise official banging on the door of a room shared by two foreign models in a Chandigarh hotel; the buzz about cocaine lines: Did the IPL really need all this?


At some point in the season that just ended, and even before the Tharoor-Modi scandal hit the headlines, the IPL stopped being a sports event and a celebration of athleticism. Instead, it began to be mocked as India's biggest, most bizarre reality TV show. As the IPL's impresario, Mr Modi seemed to just lose the plot, not giving a damn for what the semiotics of the 'Indian Party League' was doing to the branding of the Indian Premier League. Next year must be a new story.


 malikashok@gmail.com

 

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THE PIONEER

EDITORIAL

DON'T WORRY, BE HAPPY!

AJIT BISHNOI


Many a times we get confused between planning and worrying. The word 'planning' means to make detailed arrangements for something one wants to do in the future. On the other hand, the word 'worrying' means to keep thinking about unpleasant things that might happen or problems one might have. It also means to make oneself anxious about something that is not in our control. As we can see, these words are worlds apart in terms of their respective meaning. Planning is taking into consideration one's circumstances, desires, possibilities, etc, whereas worrying is nothing but thinking of what all could go wrong.


Planning is positive but worrying is negative. Planning helps one focus whereas worrying makes one hollow from within. Planning has the element of hope associated with it. But those who worry are afflicted by the illusion of control. Proper planning keeps one rooted in the present; worrying takes one away from the present to an uncertain future. And one can only be peaceful in the present because the future is always going to be uncertain. What sets apart an intelligent person from a person who worries? An intelligent person uses his or her intelligence for proper planning whereas one who worries employs his or her intelligence to self-destruct.

How does one cure oneself of this painful habit of worrying? There are several things one can do, beginning with trying to live in the present. We can only live in the present, for, the past is gone and the future is yet to come. Planning for the future is fine, but trying to live that future in one's mind is an extremely painful practice. Rather, one should concentrate on what can be done under the present circumstances and not worry about the result. If nothing can be done, then one should try to forget the whole thing. Being anxious is a futile exercise.

We should not give complete freedom to our minds because that is sure recipe for disaster. Rather, the mind should be controlled through spiritual practices. Pranayam is very helpful in this. Being soft is fraught with danger. It makes one unfit in this challenging world. Therefore, let us plan for a glorious future and not spoil the present.


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THE PIONEER

OPED

THE RAPE OF YOGA

ASEEM SHUKLA /SHEETAL SHAH


Apart from distorting it beyond recognition, the proponents of America's $ 6 billion Yoga industry deny Yoga's inseparability with the Hindu way of life. The philosophy behind Yoga must be extolled


The burgeoning the Yoga industry, built off of $108 Yoga pants contoured to bind and sculpt the body, $185 Yoga studio membership fees and $100 yoga mats custom designed to decrease slippage from sweaty palms, continues to skyrocket in popularity. The latest fad at a spinning studio round the corner: "combination spin and Yoga", where the goal is to burn fat and loosen thigh muscles - ostensibly to decrease that pesky sore hamstring. But that shouldn't be surprising when there already exists Yoga in the nude, yoga and food, and even "Doga" - i.e. yoga with one's pet dog.


Welcome to Yoga 2010 sweeping the United States @ $ 6 billion per year, where it is legit to pair Yoga with just about anything, including faith. Apart from the aforementioned distortions of a 5,000-year-old science, we now see the rise of "Christian Yoga", "Muslim Yoga", "Kabbalah Yoga" and what have you.


Each of these "nuanced faith-yogas" have appropriated the knowledge of countless yogis without so much as a nod of gratitude towards Hinduism, the faith that gifted them this treasure. Hinduism today is identified overseas more with holy cows than Gomukhasana, the arduous twisting posture and exotic and erotic gods rather than the unity of divinity of Hindu tradition - that God may manifest and be worshiped in infinite ways; as a religion of incomprehensible ritual rather than the spiritual inspiration of Patanjali, the second century BC commentator and composer of the Yoga Sutras, that has formed the philosophical basis of practical Yoga for millennium.

As Yoga becomes more "mainstream", its Hindu roots continue to be buried further and further by studios, practitioners and the media. While magazines such as Yoga Journal are replete with references to ancient India, new age blather and even Buddhism, it is only logical to ask why is there so much resistance to openly acknowledging Yoga's inextricable links with Hinduism.

 

Firstly, perhaps because not all of the great Hindu Yogis who introduced the West to this ancient philosophy took the uncompromising path of a Swami Vivekananda in his open assertion and embrace of his Hindu faith. A generous perspective would be that these more modern yogis and swamis couch their teachings in secular syntax to benefit millions of followers. But a more realistic view would reach far harsher conclusions. The followers of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, under whose tutelage the Beatles steadied their mind, packaged and even trademarked the benefits of meditation as Transcendental Meditation (TM). Yet, a search of the words "Hindu" or "Hinduism" on TM's website reveals not a single instance of either word.


Contemporary gurus unwisely continue this trend that severs yoga from its very wellsprings of inspiration. From Ayurveda to meditation and Yoga to pranayama and riya, the path of least resistance for acceptance in the West is seen to simply indulge the consumer with homilies to wellness, holistic healing and rewiring the mental hard drive without eliciting the baggage of that pariah term: "Hinduism."


As these gurus highlight only the universal nature of Yoga while discarding overt references to Hinduism. They end up grabbing the transcendent philosophical fruits of the ancients, leaving Hinduism with stereotyped detritus of incomprehensible ritual and the cliched "caste, cows and curry." As the popularity of Yoga has skyrocketed and spiritual practice has morphed into a $6 billion industry, this delinking has become so prevalent and commonplace that many in the western yoga community are outraged that any faith, particularly one that is now largely associated with colorful rituals and multi-headed gods, could dare claim to be the mother of Yoga.


Critics, such as the American Yoga Association and Deepak Chopra have argued that Yoga predates Hinduism - a term coined just a few hundred years ago. Based on this flawed logic, would these critics also venture to say that neither the Vedas nor the Upanishads nor the Bhagavad Gita are fundamental "Hindu" texts because they all pre-date colonial India? Would these same critics then take issue with the legendary BKS Iyengar's statement in Light of Yoga that "some asanas are also called after the Gods of the Hindu pantheon and some recall the Avataras, or incarnations of Divine Power"? Or would they perhaps venture to state that Shiva is not a Hindu god because He is mentioned in the opening line of Swami Svatmarama's Hatha Yoga Pradipika.


Even more baffling are the practitioners who learn to master asanas such as Hanumanasana or Natarajasana while simultaneously denying the Hindu roots of Yoga. Lord Nataraja's eternal dance precedes creation of this universe itself, but when will the Deepak Chopras of the world concede that the spiritual tradition moving to His divine rhythms is what we all accept as Hinduism?


For these self-indulgent appropriators of Yoga in the US, the end-all-and-be-all of Yoga is asana-based classes. They have not delved into Yoga's foundational scriptures, such as Patajanli's Yoga Sutras. For these "lay" yogis, the focus is on sculpting muscles or simply balancing in Sirshasana for 10 minutes, ignoring that the ultimate goal of Yoga is also that of Hinduism: moksha, the attainment of liberation from worldly suffering and from the cycle of birth and rebirth. Yoga 2010 is only a stress-buster, 90 minutes out of the American's day, a few times each week.


And unfortunately, much of what is practiced in the West is exactly this - asanas in the name of Yoga, making it that much easier to decouple the practice from its Hindu roots. It's rather simple to brush off the idea that Hinduism, or any faith for that matter, can lay claim to a headstand or spinal twist or any physical pose. But for Hindus working toward the ultimate goal of moksha, Yoga is not just an asana practice that can be forgotten after "arising" from savasana. Instead, yoga is lived every minute of everyday and both asana and pranayama are small, but integral components. As Prashant Iyengar, the son of BKS Iyengar, so aptly states, "There is no physical Yoga and spiritual Yoga. If it is exclusively physical, it won't be Yoga. Yoga is dealing with the entirety; it is a union."


Yoga is not only for Hindus; Hindus do not own yoga. Yoga is Hinduism's gift to humanity to follow, practice and experience. No one will ever be asked to leave their own religion or reject their own theologies or convert to a pluralistic tradition such as Hinduism. Yoga, in its path of regaining mastery over the body, mind and intellect, does not offer ways to believe in God; it offer ways to know God.


Dr Aseem Shukla, a Minneapolis-based Pediatrician is co-founder of the Hindu American Foundation (HAF) and may be reached at shuk1011@umn.edu; Sheetal Shah is Director,Development,HAF

 

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THE PIONEER

OPED

A TIME TO RALLY

OUR COMPLACENCY OVER THE IMPREGNABILITY OF OUR ANCIENT HERITAGE HAS CLAIMED ITS GREATEST VICTIM -- YOGA. THE DISTORTION AND TRIVIALISATION OF THIS SCIENCE SHOULD BE A MATTER OF NATIONAL CONCERN. A SATURDAY SPECIAL FOCUS. A SATURDAY SPECIAL FOCUS

SUBHASH C SHARMA


The Washington Post this week brought out an article by an indefatigable campaigner for Hindu cultural rights in America, Dr Aseem Shukla, in which the abuse of Yoga before 20 million innocent Americans by a small but well-organised racket was highlighted.


It is possibly the first time that a leading media house of the West has reflected the deep anguish of not only the Indian American community but Hindus at large at the culture of denigrating one of the greatest scientific achievements of humankind which originated in India.


In April 2008, The New York Times published a highly shocking article on "Doga" in which dog owners were reported to be putting their pets through chaturanga asana. The helpless animals were made to sit with their front paws in the air while their human partners forced them to do "upward-paw pose", something NYT mindlessly described as "sun salutation". The paper went on to reveal that the human companions "…reclines, with legs slightly bent over the dog's torso, bolster-style, to relieve pressure on the spine."


At one level, this is an issue for animal rights activists. There are numerous websites describing how not only dogs, but cats and pigs are also being tortured by self-styled 'yogis.' What extreme damage must be inflicted on the poor creatures can easily be imagined. But that is but unavoidable in a land where anybody with half-knowledge of some yogic asanas and pranayams, but blessed with the gift of the gab, can go around separating foolish

Americans from their money. There are monstrosities called 'Disco Yoga', 'Nude Yoga' and Yoga named after quacks who have no idea about the science behind Yoga.


America abounds with operators who have become billionaires by running Yoga studios, designing "Yoga suits" and "Yoga accessories". One of those who have made it especially good not only goes around claiming to be 'founder' of some form of "Yoga", but is also reportedly lobbying for its inclusion as an Olympic sport. This has left me crestfallen and I am sure many people will object to the vilification of our heritage by reducing it to a 'sport'. This is against the basic tenets of Yoga.


From Dr Shukla's article we are also horrified to learn that there are things called 'Christian Yoga' and 'Muslim Yoga'. This is the straw to break the camel's back. I challenge the claimants to produce the theoretical basis of these so-called 'variants'. Not many people are aware that Yoga is nothing but the practical manifestation of something much higher called Shankhya. Tradition has it that Lord Shiva had gifted this highest form of wisdom to the Shankyis or Shankya sadhus. The Bhagawad Gita says Shankhya "loosens the bonds of karma", i.e. its possession through disciplined learning permits one to break free from the cycle of life.


How can a person get there? Here, Patanjali's Yoga Sutras become important. Actually, there are 18 types of practical Yoga, including Patanjali. But the root is always Shankhya. Does the so-called 'Christian Yoga' have such a reservoir of wisdom? Each of the 18 Yogas are designed for a particular kind of person. For instance, intellectually oriented people have Gyan Yoga. Soldiers have Karma Yoga. People into matters of State have Raj Yoga. For better sex, there is Kok Shastra Yoga. And so on.

In this context, it is impossible to imagine how western man, with his low spiritual quotient, materialism, individualism and fondness for meat and alcohol, can utilise Yoga in its true form. Shankhya was not designed for men and women with such tendencies. I am not making a value judgment on their way of life, but it is enough to state that it is impossible to live the American dream and be a Yogi. There is much dualism in the material way of life. Complete a-dualism or non-dualism must be achieved before attempting to learn meditation poses. Only after that will it be possible to learn the bandhas, or techniques to 'lock' the body. Therefore, mass 'meditation sessions' are nothing but a joke.


There is an exclusive side to Yoga as well as an inclusive one. There is a sutra which states that all yogic texts in the original began and ended with the words "ati gupta", or secret. The dissemination of knowledge was not those without a certain level of intellectual attainment. But now exactly that is happening in the United States.

But practical Yoga is accessible to all. In my own lifetime I have seen how widespread was the embrace of Yoga in daily life. Before western aspiration models swept people's minds, most people in India sat on the floor for taking their meals. Unconsciously, they folded their legs into padmasana posture, which is very good for digesting food. Then, people rose from their sleep just before the crack of dawn to perform their ablutions. There was a scientific basis to this habit. The atmospheric pressure is highest at this time and this facilitates the passing of bowels without external aids like tea, tobacco, etc. The richer we Indians get, the more we tend to abandon the yoga-prescribed way of life. Imitating western lifestyles is seen as upward mobility.


I hear that in America, some Indian-born quacks have become millionaires by teaching rich Americans "Hatha Yoga". Now, "Ha" means the Sun, and "Tha", the moon. Hatha Yoga means union of sun and moon, or opposites. Now, there is widespread misinformation about what this "Sun" or "Moon" stands for. Ask any American what they understand to be suryanamashkar and they are likely shoot "sun salutation", a concept reaffirmed by photographs of people performing asanas against the rising sun. Actually, 'surya' in the Yoga context means the navel, the centre of energy in the human body. Hatha Yoga was prescribed to correct nadi doshas. It focuses on postures and breath control to energise the subtle channels, or nadis.

It is time the learned people of India rose in unison to protest the gimmickry and hype over Yoga as exported by the West. We Hindus are the natural custodians of this ancient science which belongs to all humanity and it is our duty to preserve it.


The writer, a qualified doctor who is based in New Delhi, is learned in the metaphysics of Yoga and applies Yoga to cure complicated ailments

 

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THE PIONEER

OPED

THIS EXACERBATES THE CONFUSION OF THE DESI GENNEXT

THE MISREPRESENTATION OF YOGA IN THE WEST AS JUST ANOTHER WEIGHT LOSS, STRESS-BUSTING REGIME BURDENS THE YOUNG HINDU AMERICAN WITH MORE STEREOTYPES ABOUT INDIA AND FORCES HIM TO WANDER ROOTLESS THROUGH LIFE

SOMANJANA C. BHATTACHARYA


Last year, I conducted a session on religious studies, on perception of world religion to a group of budding sophomores at Meridien, Connecticut. While students from various religious affiliations participated in passionate discussions on rituals, symbols and ideology, there was this one Hindu boy of Indian origin-I knew he was Hindu from the student bio-sat quietly with utter disdain. Was it contempt of one's own creed? Or was it an overt act of agnosticism I do not know. But his pathos detachment from his faith by birth made me a little perplexed.

Hinduism is perhaps the most misunderstood way of life in the world, by both the contemplative practitioner and the speculative trailblazer. The myriad of customs or rituals encompassing the average 'believer' of today is a severe divergence from the core Hindu philosophy of the 'seeker' from the ancient time. In antithesis to the Abrahamic faiths (Judaism, Christianity and Islam) that exemplify monotheism, the polytheism of Indian philosophies comprising various schools of thoughts and denomination amalgamate to form Hinduism. The very intensity of the Hindu doctrines shaped through many centuries besides being overwhelming could be challenging to one's cognitive capacity. It takes a lifetime to be a Hindu, if at all.

The popular stab at Hinduism in recent times often involve propagation of Yoga centers and "meditation camps" to entice guileless audiences who would embrace Yogic practices as something en vogue and make it a contrived lifestyle issue rather than delving into the ethos of the Yogic penchant for the sublime. No wonder this massive lack of understanding the ancient Vedic dogmas personify a state of perpetual confusion to a novice. The misfortune is most acute among Hindu children growing up in the West.


The Graeco-Roman world caught a glimpse of indigenous Indian philosophies through the accounts of Alexander the Great and his associates that included little more than contemporary rhetoric on myths, black-magic and the esoteric knowledge of the Hindus. Due to lack of direct communication between India and the West till about the end of the 15th century, western scholars mostly subscribed to eastern legends. Though some of the journals of the Christian missionaries in the later periods provided a more realistic narrative of the Hindu way of life, the West mostly stuck to classical folklore. Hindu writers did little to alter that mindset. In fact, in the opinion of Nirad C. Chaudhuri, the Hindu writers catered to the demands of the western world in presenting Hinduism today. He writes in his book, Hinduism-- a religion to live by : " One ladles out Vedanta to the intellectually debilitated, another Yoga to the physically degenerate, and a third tantra to the erotomaniac who has not the courage of his lechery." Additionally, as Hindus hardly harbour an affinity to perpetuate their religion by 'conversion', Hindu people see no incentive in promoting their faith to the world.


At the same time one might think, of what good is self-resigning spiritual quest of the Hindus in the context of today's value-infringed materialistic society?


Yet, when we look at the world today, the Hindu way of life seem to be of utmost necessity to bring about harmonious coexistence. As stated by eminent scholar Samuel P. Huntington: "In this new world the most pervasive, important, and dangerous conflicts will not be between social classes, rich and poor, or other economically defined groups, but between peoples belonging to different cultural entities." Thus, the all-encompassing pluralistic approach of the Hindu pundits advocating tolerance, compassion and righteousness might be the key element in restoring social equilibrium and world peace. The mantra that resonates with peripheral chastity and inner bliss may ultimately cease the clash of civilizations that bruise the geo-political scenario today.


On a more personal note, can one truly achieve inner contentment by resigning one's roots? The quintessential aspects of our existence that bind us inherently like the family, society and cultural heritage play an important role in composing and cultivating our consciousness, influencing the very fabric of our character. Denouncing one's traditional framework and adopting extrinsic rational often results in a recurring loss of self-esteem, immersing one's self in an overwhelming state of confusion.


Hinduism has never demanded exclusivity. It rather adhered to simple acts of everyday living. It hardly nurtures the idea that incites quest for a transcendental world after death or salvation through meeting the Divine. The Vedantic philosophy essentially enforces the pursuit of power. Inner power: by the Way of Knowledge- the Jnana Marga and by the Way of Action - Karma Marga. Hindu spirituality is much more than the worldly notion of ascetic order or mystic charms. I vouched myself to make an ardent attempt in following the path of my forebearers. A very difficult path of austerity and philanthropy. But in the end the sojourn at self-realisation and retrospection might tantamount to a life worth living. I unleash the prying of my buoyant mind today as tomorrow my growing son would want to know some answers.


The writer is Social activist, Communication & Behavioral Trainer

 

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MAIL TODAY

COMMENT

DON'T READ TOO MUCH INTO INDO- PAK TALKS IN THIMPU

 

THE operative phrases on the outcome of the Thimpu talks note that the officials of the two sides will work out, " the modalities of restoring trust and confidence in the relationship, thus paving the way for a substantive dialogue on all issues of mutual concern." You do not have to parse this to any great extent to know that resumption of dialogue is a strictly conditional step— first restore trust and only then can a substantive dialogue be held.

 

In these circumstances to see the meetings between Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his Pakistani counterpart Yousaf Raza Gilani as " warm, cordial and engaging", as Pakistan foreign minister Makhdoom Shah Mehmood Qureshi described them, would be a bit over the top. Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao's description of the talks as being held in " a free and frank manner" probably characterises them better since that phrase is diplomatese for a blunt and forthright conversation.

 

By now it is clear to everyone, but the optimists in Islamabad, that we're still some distance from resuming dialogue on all issues, as suggested by Mr Qureshi. What has been achieved is the limited objective of keeping channels of dialogue between the two countries open, and the awareness that steps need to be taken to enlarge and intensify this dialogue.

 

Prime Minister Singh is, as is well known, a keen votary of resuming the dialogue process.

 

But as he learnt to his cost after the Sharm- el- Sheikh meeting, feelings in this country are still strong on the issue of Pakistani complicity in the Mumbai carnage. The outcome of the Thimpu meeting suggests that India is still waiting for some signal to show that Islamabad is indeed seriously committed to ensure that there will be no recurrence of Mumbai, ever.

 

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MAIL TODAY

COMMENT

MERE APOLOGY WON'T DO

 

SOMEONE needs to tell the scientist vicechancellor of Delhi University Deepak Pental that he can't just issue an apology over his institution contributing to a radioactive leak, order an inquiry and pretend as if the matter is over and done with. Considering that the negligence of the Delhi University's chemistry department in selling as scrap a gamma irradiator having cobalt- 60 inside has led to the death of one person and serious injuries to seven others and caused a radioactive scare in the city, criminal liability must be fixed on the university staff who breached norms pertaining to the disposal of radioactive waste.

 

As it is, the university did not have a radiological safety officer, as is a must for a facility in possession of radioactive sources. It did not keep the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board posted about the use of the equipment on its premises, again a breach of rules.

 

What is staggering is that all this happened in a university where even a first- year science student understands what radioactivity is and what it can do. Reportedly there are more skeletons in the institution's cupboard in the form of radioactive waste buried illegally within the campus, posing a hazard to its student community. This is serious enough for the vice- chancellor himself to tender his resignation, owning up moral responsibility for the episode.

 

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MAIL TODAY

COMMENT

NOTHING LIKE GURUJI

 

SHIBU Soren's ' mistake' is only the latest among a series of misadventures in Parliament.

 

Guruji's exploits began in 1993, when he was bribed to rescue the Narasimha Rao government from a no- confidence motion.

 

The first major bribery case relating to our Parliament became something of a farce when, Guruji promptly deposited the money in a Punjab National Bank branch.

 

Seventeen years later, as Guruji plays the saviour to yet another Congress government, innocence has given away to dementia, if his heir- apparent is to be believed. This seems credible as Guruji had voted against the Indo- US nuclear deal in spite of being in the UPA. His recent change of colour had his saffron friends frothing at the mouth, especially since it happened on the very evening which ended with his dining with the BJP President himself. The BJP is now playing the jilted spouse and using it to readjust the marital power equations in Jharkhand. BJP General Secretary Arun Jaitley insists he is a Trojan horse, but surely we can only find that out from the horse's mouth.

 

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MAIL TODAY

     COLUMN

A LOSER IN THE ZERO- SUM GAME

BY BHARAT BHUSHAN

 

PRIME Minister Manmohan Singh's foreign policy initiatives with Pakistan and America do not carry political credibility.

 

Pakistan's foreign minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi reportedly advised the Indian prime minister to get the Congress party's support for the peace dialogue with his country as he claimed, " Without the party's support, no progress is possible in Indo- Pak talks." If this is indeed correct, then Qureshi has hit the nail on the head. He could have as well have added that Manmohan Singh should also get the support of his cabinet colleagues and, if possible, also take the Opposition on board.

 

There is a perception that in these two crucial foreign policy thrust areas he tends to plough a lonely furrow. This has been true of both his tenures. In UPA- I, there was neither consensus on foreign policy, nor the possibility of one, because the views of the Left parties were diametrically opposed to those of the Prime Minister, and they were desperately needed for the political survival of the government. In UPA- II, there is no Left, yet the issue of internal consensus remains.

 

Writ

 

Manmohan Singh does not have the knack of reaching out to the political class and is far more comfortable with bureaucrats and their advice. Bureaucrats on their part make the kind of arguments they would put on files— without much political sensitivity.

 

A politician in touch with the masses is conditioned to look at the effect of his actions, how they will be perceived and to assess what will fly and what will not.

 

Had Manmohan Singh been a politician in this sense of the term, he could have avoided many of his mistakes— e. g. leaving the civilian nuclear co- operation deal with the US to bureaucrats or using a retired policeman like M K Narayanan to handle politicians. Those with credibility within his cabinet could not be fielded because they themselves were not committed to the deal. In UPA- II, he has fielded yet another bureaucrat, Shivshankar Menon, to deal with the Bharatiya Janata Party on Pakistan. He has used bureaucrats again and again to push policies with acute political aspects.

 

Given Manmohan Singh's temperament, of shying away from politics or political responsibility, he expects 10, Janpath, to handle the political fallout of his policies. When cornered in Parliament, his replies seldom go beyond defensive statements that the National Democratic Alliance, too, had never taken the Opposition on board on key foreign policy initiatives.

 

By his reluctance to work towards a political consensus within his own party or with the Opposition, Manmohan Singh becomes politically weak. His writ does not run when he adamantly runs a policy vis- a- vis the US or Pakistan that is ahead of the national consensus. His initiatives are taken as his personal obsession or the result of his personal political orientation.

 

Failure

 

It is no surprise that the Opposition accuses him of translating his personal predilections into national policy instead of conceding that the prime minister is pro- India and working in the country's best interests. This is also the general impression that exists in wide swathes of the political and opinion making classes.

 

Yet he and the coterie of bureaucrats around him are unable or unwilling to step back and change direction. When criticised for being too flexible towards Pakistan or the US they have not come forth with a frontal explanation of the policies they have been pursuing. Nor have they shared with the nation, in a transparent manner, the pitfalls of pursuing those policies. Instead, the attempt is to suppress inconvenient facts which take everyone by surprise when they eventually emerge. For example, when the 123 Agreement was signed it was not disclosed that India would have to sign the nuclear liability bill. This could easily have been done and consensus built around the necessity of doing this— especially after a disaster like Chernobyl. The question of a supplier's as well as an operator's liability is a legitimate question which need not have been swept under the carpet.

 

In the case of Pakistan, having taken three plunges to reopen dialogue after the 26/ 11 Mumbai terrorist attacks — in Yekatarinberg, in Sharm- el- Sheikh and in starting the foreign secretary level talks in New Delhi — Manmohan Singh found it difficult to step back despite the fact that each time he has been rebuffed by Pakistan. If he thought he would be fourth time lucky, he was mistaken. In Thimpu also he got no assurance from Pakistan on preventing terror against India or acting against Hafiz Saeed and Jamat- ud- Dawa.

 

Even if we concede the best of motives to him, Manmohan Singh has been unable to assess in advance what the Pakistani reaction to his outreach to them would be. But to make matters worse because of the perception that Manmohan Singh is susceptible to American pressure, his initiatives towards Pakistan in the face of rebuffs, are seen as emanating from that pressure.

 

The net result is that India, which is at the receiving end of terrorism emanating from Pakistani soil, is seen to be on the defensive on the issue of a bilateral dialogue.

 

On the other hand Pakistan, with whom lies the primary responsibility for normalisation of ties— as the active player in both terrorism and making territorial claims— is seen to be the one pursuing peace. By every standard that is a terrible policy failure.

 

Leverage

 

The perception has grown both in India and within the Pakistan establishment that he is working at the goading of the US. This has allowed Pakistan— especially because of their improved ties with the US— to work tactically keeping the Americans reasonably satisfied while egging them to push India for an India- Pakistan dialogue in the interest of regional stability. Pakistan has managed to thus avoid making any significant effort to deal with terrorism directed against India from its soil.

 

By repeatedly reaching out to Pakistan despite getting no commitment from it on the issue, the Prime Minister has also weakened diplomatic pressure on Islamabad to act on terrorism. Pakistan seems to have concluded that India can be brought to the dialogue table sooner or later, without their having to take any steps against terrorism directed against India.

 

In the process of engaging Pakistan without properly thought out strategic objectives, India has also lost leverage with the US to persuade it to step up pressure on Pakistan in this matter.

 

Although India's gesture to Pakistan is in tune with US strategy in the region, India ironically gets no benefit from it at all.

 

bharat.bhushan@mailtoday.in

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MAIL TODAY

     COLUMN

THIRD UMPIRE

QAISER MOHAMMAD ALI

 

MODI: THE ' ROYAL' OF RAJASTHAN CRICKET

L IKE a coin always has two sides, Lalit Modi too has done some good for cricket along with the seemingly bad deeds during his stint at the helm of the Indian Premier League ( IPL).

 

Though he had the habit of doing things unilaterally, he surely has left a legacy in Jaipur, the city that was his entry point to the Indian cricket board in 2005. Many people in the Rajasthan Cricket Association ( RCA) still remember him for the good work he did for the game in the state.

 

The plush RCA Academy is a prime example of the Modi legacy. Built inside the Sawai Man Singh Stadium and equipped with all modern facilities including an indoor practice facility and residential rooms resembling a fivestar hotel, it speaks volumes about what he did for cricket and cricketers during his four- year tenure as RCA president ( 2005- 2009).

 

Some of the officials who had been part of Modi's regime and that of his predecessor Kishore Rungta, say that what the former did for the game, has been unparalleled in the history of cricket in the state. " Modi had a vision and his contribution to the development of top class infrastructure at the RCA cannot be compared with anything done previously in Rajasthan. Modi used to say that Jaipur needed not just a cricket academy, but accompanying facilities like a sauna and a swimming pool were also needed -- and he made it possible," a ' neutral' official, who had worked with both dispensations, told Mail Today in Jaipur.

 

" When he constructed the academy he said that his aim was to open similar academies in all 32 RCA constituent districts of the state. Greg Chappell, who headed the academy then, used to say, ' trust me, this is one of the best cricket infrastructure in the world.' Modi did not get time to implement his plans as he was RCA president effectively for only three years, otherwise he would have surely developed the infrastructure further," says the official.

 

It seems that the present regime, headed by Union Minister CP Joshi and Sanjay Dixit, also acknowledges Modi's contribution to Rajasthan cricket.

 

Several large framed photos of Modi, still adorning the walls of the academy building, proves this. They could have been removed by the present dispensation, but they haven't done that. When one expressed surprise over the pictures, an RCA official said: " Modi's pictures deserve to be here; after all, he has made a big contribution to the game and this building is a proof of that." A state team coach averred that Modi always tried to provide the best of facilities to players.

 

According to him, once it was pointed out to Modi that the players' kit needed to be of better quality. At once, he ordered the best available clothing and equipment.

 

Even Kishore Rungta, who lost the RCA president's post to Modi in early- 2005, has good words for him. " He has always exhibited very good behaviour with me, by and large. He has always talked to me respectfully," he told Mail Today.

 

Interestingly, Kishore's uncle Kishan Rungta seems a Modi admirer as well. " Tell me what wrong has he done?" he said, referring to his role in IPL. When reminded that he had admiration for the person who had defeated his nephew, he said: " So what? I can have a different view from him."

 

BIG BUCKS FOR CRICKET CONTROL IN INDIA ( BCCI)

IT'S NOT just the Indian Premier League that involves big money. With the coffers of the BCCI overflowing, any person associated with the board can make a handsome amount of money – be it selectors, trainers, coaches, umpires, scorers, the team's support staff or others.

 

For instance, besides the Rs. 25 lakh that a senior national selector receives per annum, he gets Rs. 3,300 as daily allowance ( increased from Rs. 2,800) for simply watching matches while a woman national selector gets Rs. 2,800 as DA for the same job. In addition, a selector gets Rs. 10,000 per day for attending meetings and Rs. 10,000 as incidental charges per trip. Even working as a masseur of the national team brings decent money. At home, an ODI series comprising more than five matches, fetches a masseur Rs 1.50 lakh, for a four- or five- ODI series he is entitled to Rs. 1 lakh, and for a Test series the remuneration is Rs. 2 lakh. For an overseas tour, a masseur receives Rs. 1.50 lakh for an ODI series, Rs. 2 lakh for a Test series and Rs. 3.50 lakh for a Test- cum- ODI series.

 

Mind you, for both the selector and masseur, all this does not include the free five- star hospitality and the free publicity that they get by being seen in the company of Sachin Tendulkar, Mahendra Singh Dhoni, Virender Sehwag and the like. Even being a tax consultant of the BCCI is worth a monthly retainership of Rs. 35,000. So the big money associated with the IPL doesn't come as a surprise.

 

NO STADIUM HERE AS POLITICS OUTPLAYS CRICKET

MEMBERS of the Rungta family have been part of the Rajasthan Cricket Association for 56 years. The flamboyant Lalit Modi was at the helm for four tumultuous years and now Union Minister CP Joshi heads the RCA. But no regime has been able to build a stadium, something that the RCA desperately needs. Or, is it that no one has ever been interested in building one? Despite the BCCI having made it mandatory for all its affiliated units to build their own stadiums – after all, the board now gives Rs. 50 crore infrastructure subsidy to each association – in Rajasthan, it doesn't seem to be materialising any time in the near future.

 

The Rungtas say that they had no money; Modi ruled only for four years; and Joshi's main focus is running the rural development ministry. So who will build the stadium? The current dispensation fails to provide a convincing answer, at least going by RCA secretary Sanjay Dixit's response, though he spells out their grand plans. " We have applied for land with the Jaipur Development Authority.

 

We need 25- 30 hectares and the land is expected to be allotted in two years. It will be an ambitious project. Mehta & Associates of Indore, the architects, have prepared a modern blueprint. They have shown us some designs," Dixit told Mail Today.

 

" It'll be a green stadium. It will have integrated facilities, especially looking at high- tech security, modern parking etc. Our ultimate aim is that no spectator should stand in the queue ( to enter the stadium) for more than two minutes, including the security checks and e- ticketing." Why didn't Kishore Rungta as RCA president build a stadium? " We didn't have any money then," he says. Instead, he quickly deflects the blame on to Modi: " He made a major mistake by not building RCA's own stadium. Had he been slightly patient he could have built one," " Jaipur's population is about 45 lakh and we need a 70,000- capacity stadium." he says. Did someone say that if the Rungtas couldn't construct a stadium in 56 years, how could Modi in four years? For the record, a site was identified at Vidhya Dhar Nagar on the Jaipur- Ajmer highway. But the government approval for stadium never came and some locals are said to have objected to the project.

 

The story ends there.

 

Qaiser.ali@mailtoday.in

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THE TIMES OF INDIA

 COMMENT

LOCH, STOCK AND NESSIE'S BARREL

WHAT DENIZENS OF THE DEEP TELL US ABOUT OURSELVES


 "That there is some strange creature in Loch Ness now seems beyond doubt," a Scottish police chief wrote in the 1930s. In a letter now exhumed from Scotland's national archives, he lamented that a harpoon-wielding Londoner could kill the human-shy Loch Ness monster. In other words, Nessie had to exist in order to be endangered. Great. We don't have to be loony to believe the invisible yet tourist-drawing beast wasn't (isn't?) a myth. Why, in 1999, an adventurer planned an aborted submarine hunt, swearing he'd earlier accosted Nessie. And an expert on "mystery denizens of the deep" quizzed 38 'eyewitnesses' who claimed sightings. Yet some specialists say Nessie's famous swanlike neck was just an otter's tail. Bah!


Next they'll say even the humbler whale shark spied off Gujarat's coast – and dubbed 'India's own' – is an optical illusion brought on by a rush of patriotism. But killjoys can scarcely wreck our deep yearning for kindred spirits of the unknown. Else, Chinese hunters wouldn't baptise a curious furless and long-tailed creature trapped by them the "Oriental Yeti". Especially since no one's quite sure what it is. Is it a super-kangaroo? Is it, as local legends say, man-turned-bear? Is it a walking advertisement for a hair remover? The authority on mythical animals has a more prosaic take: Sichuan's hairless wonder could be a civet cat with mange!

That hardly alters the fact we've more in common with animal exotica than we admit. If the Sphinx mystifies, 10 Janpath's resident was as enigmatic before she answered the Congress's riddles. If the Abominable Snowman's a star recluse, so are scam-hit politicos in hospital or underground. If the phoenix rises from its ashes, so do crash-andburn netas. Fiery Maya, Mamata and Jayalalithaa bounce back so often, political obituary writers are putting out job ads.


Take, also, the multi-headed Hydra. For every VHP firebreather retiring, up sprout venom-spewing regional chauvinists in Maha-gear. Or pub-hopping Muthalik-brand moral police. At the other end of the fantastical spectrum, there's the Leviathan, a giant sea beast that swallows up ocean-farers. It's been likened to the State itself. And not just by political philosophers and taxpayers with a fair idea about its appetite. Everyone wants tentacular Big Government to stop running airlines (into the ground), managing hotels (going to seed) and awarding mining licences (to the now-proverbial brotherhood of Bellary). Finally, in the global order, go beyond your backyard and you enter the dragon's ever-expanding lair. Even Obama, posing deferentially before the Great Wall of China, knows that.


So, even if Puff the magic dragon is all puff, so what? Mystery buffs will still want to find the one-horned unicorn. Bigfoot buffs will still trail the legendary ape, North America's answer to the Himalayan yeti. And mermaid buffs, like poet T S Eliot's J Alfred Prufrock, will still prefer sirens' songs to cacophonous human voices. Let's then cheerlead the search for iconic Nessie even if all we're chasing is a giant slug. With monster quests, it's never time to say "Loch kiya jaye".

 

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THE TIMES OF INDIA

 EDITORIAL

NEW TRIANGLE OF POWER

IN AN EMERGING TRIPOLAR WORLD, STEWARDSHIP OF INDIA'S FOREIGN POLICY NEEDS FIRMER HANDS

MINHAZ MERCHANT


A Fulbright scholar, external affairs minister S M Krishna has doubtless read Niccolo Machiavelli's Art of War and Chanakya's Arthashastra. Together, the two treatises define the dark science of diplomacy. In today's fraught geostrategic environment, they also teach useful lessons in the conduct of foreign policy.
India's two defining international relationships are with the US and China. The US sees India as a natural counterweight to China. But America's realpolitik is Machiavellian. It wants India to play the role of a permanent junior partner – much as Britain has done from the 1950s to the present – while it pursues its own global objectives.


However, if it leverages its economic and demographic strengths with Chanakya's finesse, India can rapidly emerge as America's most important global partner instead of a perennially anxious supplicant. US GDP is $14.70 trillion. India's GDP (by purchasing power parity) is nearly $4 trillion. Assuming an average annual growth rate of 7.25 per cent between 2010 and 2040 (a reasonable trendline-based extrapolation), India's GDP will increase eightfold to $32 trillion within 30 years. Assuming, further, an average annual growth rate of 2.40 per cent (an equally reasonable trendline extrapolation given a low American savings rate of 4 per cent and a high budget deficit of over $1 trillion), US GDP will double to $29 trillion during the same period. Thus in 30 years, India's economy – using a mathematical model that factors in several economic and demographic variables – will be larger than America's.


This is not fiction but cold, hard fact. US think tanks have come to the same broad conclusion. So has the Obama administration. Few in South Block though recognise its far-reaching implications on the rapidly changing balance of global power. Chinese strategists, in contrast, fully recognise these implications. Similar extrapolations, assuming average annual Chinese GDP growth at a slower average annual trendline rate of 6 per cent, place China's GDP at $48 trillion in 2040 – 50 per cent larger than both the US and India. China is
clearly the elephant in the room and already behaves like one.


China's principal global objective is to regain its 16th -century Middle Kingdom status as the world's pre-eminent world power – an era in which the US did not even exist. From this broad aim flow several others. One, military parity with the US. Two, economic superiority over the US. Three, reintegration with Taiwan. Four, settlement of Tibet. And five, proving to the world that its alternative non-Anglo-Saxon political model can bring sustained economic prosperity to one-and-a-half billion people.


As the third angle in the isosceles triangle of Great Powers in 2040, India's foreign policy must be at once more sublime and more muscular. India, like China, represents the future, America the present, Europe the past.
America's history provides many clues to its current behaviour. It was founded by working class families escaping religious persecution from newly-Protestant England 425 years ago. These English settlers (Britain as a nation had not yet been formed) liquidated indigenous Indians, appropriated their land and shipped slave labour from Africa to work the fields.


As the US won independence and grew more powerful, it invaded Mexico and by 1848 had annexed what are today California, Texas, Arizona, Colorado, Nevada, Utah, Wyoming and New Mexico. By the 1890s, it had colonised the Philippines and built a "silent" empire arching from the Pacific to the Atlantic. After World War II it invaded Korea, Vietnam and Grenada and propped up dictators and puppet-monarchs in Latin America and the Middle East (including the early Saddam Hussein and the sybaritic Shah of Iran). It made a pact with the Sheikhs of the post-Ottoman Middle East to deny Arab citizens voting rights in return for US military protection ostensibly against Israel but in reality against popular democratic movements in their own countries.
    With such a colourful past, it is hardly surprising that the US continues to follow a ruthlessly self-interested foreign policy in South Asia to secure its geopolitical goals. But both the US and China have an Achilles heel. The US is a declining power. By 2040, it will not only be relegated to the status of the world's third largest economy (after China and India) but it will also for the first time in its history become a blackmajority country. African-Americans, Latinos and Asians comprise 34 per cent of America's population today. By 2040, that figure will rise to 51 per cent. The implications of this demographic shift will resonate across social, ethnic, economic and cultural boundaries.


As India's own demographic dividend kicks in, New Delhi's bargaining power with a declining US and a communist China sitting on a tinderbox of suppressed peoples' freedoms will grow – if South Block gets its strategy right. That strategy involves deepening India's economic and diplomatic engagement with Africa and (Brazil-led) Latin America, influencing the course of the Arab-Israeli dialogue over Palestine and using old military and economic ties with Russia to our advantage in tackling the post-US Af-Pak world with its scattered terrorist threats.


    All of this requires a ministry of external affairs with intellectual depth and strategic vision – and the ability to project both globally. Sadly, the current MEA falls short. In an emerging tripolar world, the stewardship of India's foreign policy needs firmer hands and clearer minds.

 

The writer is chairman of a media group.

 

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THE TIMES OF INDIA

ICC TWENTY20 WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP BEGINS SOON AFTER IPL FINALS

PLAYERS ARE NOT COMPLAINING


Afew cricket fans are worried that Indians play too much cricket. They fear that match fatigue could affect Team India's chances at the ICC World Twenty20 championship. Their concern has no basis. The just-concluded IPL extravaganza has created this impression that Indian cricketers are playing too frequently. Are they really? Since January this year, Team India has played just four Test matches and eight one-day internationals. The IPL was spread over six weeks, but the maximum number of matches a cricketer could have played is 16. Does that sound too hectic? In any case, as Team India captain M S Dhoni said, the players are professionals trained to take the workload.


The only Team India player who has dropped out of the T20 World Cup is Virender Sehwag. It would be an exaggeration to say that his plight is due to an excess of cricket. Cricketers do get injured, just as in other sports. Professional sport is demanding and players are compensated for the time they spend on the field and the risks they undertake. Support systems are provided to keep them fit and stave off injury. Moreover, a large pool of players is now available for selection, with plenty of competitive match practice as well, thanks to IPL. The challenge is to be innovative in team selection so that the same set of players is not repeated always.
That should help to reduce the pressure on players and keep them free of injuries.


There's a massive demand for cricket in the country. The business of the sport has expanded and holds immense potential to generate revenue and employment. There's no sign of audience fatigue if TRP ratings of IPL-3 are any indication. When players themselves are not complaining, why must ex-cricketers and fans play spoilsport?


Cut down on matches Ronojoy Sen

Indian skipper M S Dhoni has bravely said that India's frenetic schedule doesn't bother him, and that Team India is ready to take on the world. His blearyeyed teammates who took a 26-hour flight to the West Indies for the T20 World Cup – almost immediately after playing six weeks of IPL in the scorching Indian summer – have no option but to agree. But the effects of incessant cricket are showing. In the last T20 World Cup, which followed IPL-2, Team India looked a jaded lot. There is good reason to believe that it might not be too different this time around.

 

And then there are the injuries. India has already lost a match-winner in Virender Sehwag who is out of the tournament with a shoulder injury. There are others who might be carrying injuries. The situation is not going to get any better with the packed cricketing calendar. With three forms of the game being played by all countries, every available date in the calendar is being grabbed for matches. With the T20 World Cup having become an annual feature and an IPL that will go on even longer from next year, things will only get worse.
Injuries and player burnout are just some of the harmful aspects of an overdose of cricket. Excessive cricket could also lead to cricket fans switching off. As of now, TRP ratings for the IPL and for marquee contests such as India-Australia games are high. But viewers are gradually losing interest in Test matches and ODIs involving lesser teams. Cricket administrators, as we are well aware, have usually put profit before the good of the game. That is one of the reasons for excessive cricket. And players, besides rare exceptions such as Ricky Ponting and Rahul Dravid, have hardly ever spoken up. But if the amount of cricket is not cut down, we could well reach a tipping point soon.

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THE TIMES OF INDIA

R E B O OT I N G I N D I A

THE KASHMIR SOLUTION

KANTI BAJPAI


Can the Kashmir problem be solved? Many Indians and Pakistanis despair of a solution, yet there is evidence that India and Pakistan were close to an agreement in 2008 when President Pervez Musharraf was at the helm of affairs in Islamabad. Recently, a former foreign minister of Pakistan has claimed that the two countries had negotiated their way to a settlement. This is heartening news.


We do not know a great deal about the settlement, but let us attempt a thought experiment. Perhaps we can recreate the solution the two countries had in mind. The first part of the solution is to build on perhaps the most salient point of agreement: opposition to dividing the state. The Indian parliamentary resolution of the 1990s claims the entire state, Pakistan has never agreed to a partition, and Kashmiris above all have opposed a division. This implies that the Line of Control (LoC) should remain just that – and not be made into a formal international boundary.


A second, related point of agreement, at least between most Indians and Pakistanis, is that Kashmir cannot be independent. The Pakistani government has increasingly come round to accepting this. Given the mess that is Afghanistan, it should be clear even to Pakistanis that a sovereign, landlocked Kashmir, in a turbulent zone in the northwest of the subcontinent is to invite even more instability, especially in their country.
Third, Indians and Pakistanis are increasingly in agreement that the two halves of Kashmir should have an exceptional amount of autonomy from their respective capitals. This would require India to return to some form of the original deal with Srinagar and Pakistan to match that deal within its own constitutional structure. Kashmiris, we can assume, would endorse the highest degree of autonomy for themselves. The question of autonomy within the Kashmirs is a knottier issue, especially on the Indian side, but it is not an insurmountable one.

Fourth, India and Pakistan are also agreed that the LoC, if it remains that for the foreseeable future, should be "softened" to allow people and goods to cross virtually without hindrance so that the two sides of Kashmir can resume a degree of wholeness. Abolishing visas for residents of Kashmir would be a great symbolic act. There are those in India who argue that this will allow terrorists from Pakistan the freedom to operate. The answer to this is that illegal crossings occur every day, in fairly good numbers, and that terrorists don't need a porous LoC to enter the country – they are either homegrown or use illicit modes of ingress.


Fifth, there is a growing realisation on both sides of the border and LoC that fair and regular elections are vital. The Indian side has had some credible elections and quite a lot of controversial ones, to say the least. The Pakistanis have not even had that! Sixth, more can be done to integrate the two sides of Kashmir. Certain kinds of municipal functions might be run together, especially those relating to the environment. One can imagine a common tourist package that allows visitors to go to both parts of Kashmir without separate visas.


All of this can only happen if the violence on the Indian side continues to subside. Having said that, it is unfair and unrealistic to expect that complete peace and order are prerequisites to a Kashmir solution. Extremists on both sides will foment trouble. They will have to be managed. Once Pakistan is agreed to a solution along these lines, it will have to curtail militant organisations. As it does so, another part of the solution will become feasible – the demilitarisation of the state. This means the thinning out of military and paramilitary forces on both sides of the LoC, to be replaced by police and border forces.


 Why should Indians, Pakistanis and Kashmiris agree to this dispensation? Because it is each party's "second best" solution. Because it will allow everyone to claim some measure of "victory" and vindication. Because after 60 years no one has come up with anything better.


 As we look around for a Kashmir solution, let's make sure that the best doesn't become the enemy of the good.

 

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HINDUSTAN TIMES

EDITORIAL

LET'S GO (NO ONE MOVES)

 

It began with a whimper and ended with a whimper. The South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) meet in Thimphu was as usual less about the grouping and more about Indo-Pak relations. Here, the most mincing of steps forward were taken when Prime Minister Manmohan Singh met his Pakistani counterpart Yousuf Raza Gilani and agreed to resume the dialogue but not a composite one. The meet went along predictable lines, India wants more action against terror while Pakistan feels that India's evidence of Lashkar chief Hafiz Sayeed's involvement in the Mumbai carnage is more fiction than fact.

Mr Gilani has assured India that his country is serious about prosecuting the perpetrators of the Mumbai attacks. And then there was the usual gabfest about the need to resolve outstanding issues and normalise ties. Nothing new here, and not much is likely to come of it. But then again, apart from the fact that there were no overt hostilities between India and Pakistan, the meet did not seem to produce any trade pact or agreement. Very little seems to have been discussed about developments in the region despite the fact that Sri Lanka, for example, has gone through a tremendous upheaval. Or that Nepal is in the throes of a political crisis or that Bangladesh has seen political changes.

For Saarc, very few multilateral mechanisms have been effective, given that it has always been held hostage to India's and Pakistan's sensitivities. It is a pity that the Saarc forum has always been overshadowed by the bilaterals between the two countries, leaving the others out in the cold. It would have been understandable if anything positive had come of the Indo-Pak bilaterals, but so far it has always been one step forward and two backward. The latest one that comes after the long freeze post-Sharm el-Sheikh too yielded nothing though the spinmeisters on both sides have read much meaning into the tea leaves. The only positive outcome of the dialogue is that it lessens the scope for outsiders like the US to put their oar into the works. The agreement that the two foreign ministers must hold talks is indicative that we have slid right down the biggest snake on the snakes-and-ladders board and are starting from almost scratch.

As for what else happened at the Thimphu meet, no one seems to give a toss.

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HINDUSTAN TIMES

ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND

PRATIK KANJILAL

 

Do aliens exist? Of course they do. They are in constant contact with Netaji — who also exists, naturally — using the super-secret wide-aperture extra low frequency radio station on the Kamchatka Peninsula. Everyone knows this. And now, in his new Discovery serial, Stephen Hawking agrees that given the age and size of the universe, it would be outrageously inefficient if it had produced only one sentient species — us. But he believes that we should not try to contact aliens because they may not be nice to know. A visit from them could be as unhealthy for us as Columbus' was for the Native Americans.

Damn, we humans are so anthropomorphic that we cannot conceive of god, devil or alien as anything but humanoid. Every sentient being must be created in our own image. Hawking does not sin greatly, only imputing human motives and behaviour to aliens. He imagines them as futuristic conquistadors venturing out of an overexploited home planet in search of resources, much like the European explorers. But science fiction prefers to depict aliens as unmistakably humanoid. Two arms, two legs and preferably, two expressive eyes like ET's.

There is a practical reason for this. Film options are worth a lot of money to authors and James Cameron is not going to make a movie about an alien shaped like a hamburger on stilts, no matter how intelligent it is. He probably heaved a sigh of relief when Steven Soderbergh focused on human relationships rather than the sea in Solaris, which he produced in 2002. Andrei Tarkovsky, who directed the iconic 1972 version, also developed the human aspect. But a sentient sea is the central figure in Stanislaw Lem's novel of 1961, on which these films are based. Solaris broke new ground in speculative science and philosophy, but the bleak, incomprehensible alienness of its alien is hard on movie directors.

Solaris may be read as a remarkably early investigation of 'swarm intelligence', an idea which now obsesses network analysts, where a collective like an ants' nest exhibits intelligent behaviour though its constituent individuals are fairly dumb. But Lem's general point was that aliens may be so different as to be unrecognisable. They may be based on silicon, which behaves similarly to carbon, on which earth's life forms are built. They may even be based on thin air and exist only as logic states rather than in corporeal form. Their appearance must be conditioned by their home planet — its gravity, chemistry and temperature. Is that a squashed potato smouldering away in a beer stein? No, it's a hundred-eyed Aldebaran intelligence officer going to work in his personal teleporter.

This means that even if you believe, based on your experience of humans, that aliens are pathologically aggressive, you may not be able to see the threat coming. And aliens may not be threatening at all. They may be smooth operators who come to sell us cheap bathroom tiles and transistor radios. And anyway, why do we always perceive aliens as omnipotent species capable of overrunning us? Maybe we'll find them less fortunate than modern humans. Hunter-gatherers clad in grass loincloths, perhaps. There, anthropomorphism strikes! Let's try again: the underdeveloped aliens we find could be gringbrings clad in dzing-dzoos. Totally incomprehensible, but aliens are like that.

Pratik Kanjilal is publisher of The Little Magazine. The views expressed by the author are personal.

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HINDUSTAN TIMES

OPAQUE OPERATIONS

BARKHA DUTT

Have you noticed how quick we are to hang our politicians but how reluctant we tend to be when it comes to questioning our heroes of private enterprise? As we watched scandal after scandal strip off the dignity of the Indian Premier League (IPL) and leave it as exposed as the proverbial emperor without clothes, we raised many questions about whether cricket managers and the IPL's own governing council were in slumber all these years. But the question could be as easily redirected at us — the consumers. We were blinded by the razzmatazz — not just because of the potent blend of glamour, cricket and money — but because, in a globalising world we wanted to believe that this was our symbol of New India.

For post-liberalisation India — this has in fact been some sort of an obsession — to ensure that the image of India is captured in the sprawling acres of Infosys instead of the vast mess of Dharavi's slums. Perhaps — tired of being chronicled by the world only in picture postcards of poverty, we have begun to seek repeated escape in the shallow validation of international billionaire lists — and how much influence our corporate giants wield. It may explain why the whiff of impropriety never felled Lalit Modi before, even though scandals followed him like a tail.

Possibly, we all looked the other way because in the narrative of Modi's entrepreneurial magic, we saw grander possibilities for our own life stories to be different. Middle-class India has often sought its idols in the world of business because while politics seems to be about patronage, dynasty and institutionalised corruption, private enterprise holds out hope for innovativeness and equal opportunity for all. Thus — the combination or our wanting the world to look at India in a certain way and our own need to dream bigger than our middle-class lives sometimes permit — made the IPL a great fantasy and Modi its veritable hero.

If Modi got elevated to that status, despite the many whispers of sleaze funds and tax evasions, it has as much to do with us, as it does with the ineffectiveness of India's cricket bosses. But had Modi not posted that fateful tweet against Shashi Tharoor, would his own life have ever spun out of control in the way it has now? In other words, it was Modi who first scripted the IPL expose, not us. Left to ourselves, we may have just continued looking the other way and enjoyed the pomp and fuss of the fantasy.

But, since many of our aspirations are a by-product of an increasingly flat world, we may not be able to escape a new global trend. And thank God for that. Two years of global recession has brought corporate honchos everywhere in the world under a new kind of public scrutiny. Whether it's the Bernie Madoff scandal in America or the Satyam mess back home; whether it's the Goldman Sachs CEO being interrogated by a Congressional committee or Modi being made to answer for who financed his private jet — the protective veil that industrialists have always enjoyed is being torn off by a changing world.

Of course this does not in any way diminish the great success stories of Indian entrepreneurship or take away from the iconic following that so many genuine business leaders enjoy. All it means is that murkier underbelly of big money and its nexus with powerful politics is now something that could and should come under the microscope.

As a political journalist, I have to confess, that I am almost shock-proof when it comes to the entrenched corruption of many of our netas and the deals they strike to keep the wheels churning. Yet, our democracy and a free, vigilant media make it largely possible to expose political scams and force the establishment into accountability.

When it comes to corporate shadow-boxing, however, I find myself utterly stumped by the veneer and multiple layers it can all hide behind. Take the IPL scandal itself. Papers purportedly sourced to income-tax were leaked to every journalist in the country. These so-called documents listed allegations of match-fixing at great length and also listed individuals under probe for a betting and match-fixing syndicate. As television channels went ballistic with this new found "evidence", it quickly transpired that large portions of the documents were forged.

After an official clarification from the income-tax agencies, it turned out that the papers were a venal mix of fact and fiction, designed to confuse. So, where did these papers emerge from? The buzz in political circles was that they were the handiwork of a prominent business group. Of course, no one could prove this, so it hangs over the debate like a giant question mark.

Now, the headlines are dominated by another scandal that stands at the intersection of politics and business: the spectrum scam. From delays in the auction of 3G spectrum to big money lost on the previous auction, Telecom Minister A. Raja has been tainted by allegations for years. When Tharoor was forced to resign, many of us in the media commented on how ironic it was that Raja could get away, by contrast, with seeming impunity.

Whether it is coalition compulsions or aggressive corporate lobbying that has kept the telecom minister's scalp safe is for the government to explain. And explain it must. But once again, behind the façade of the overt debate, seems to lurk a shadowy corporate battle between some of India's biggest business names. As these business leaders and their henchmen fight it out behind an impenetrable veil of secrecy, it makes me wonder whether we will ever know the truth.

You have to say this much for our politicians. As fashionable as it is to damn them, the power of our vote means that they are still answerable to us. If only the Right to Information was something that extended to the opaque world of Big Money as well.

Barkha Dutt is Group Editor, English News, NDTV. The views expressed by the author are personal.

 

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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

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THE INDIAN EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

CONCESSION RAJ

 

Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee's Budgets, otherwise broadly reformist, have been fairly criticised for being stuffed with sector-specific exemptions and subsidies. Sector-specific measures of this sort have two major problematic consequences: they do not aid in the rationalisation and simplification of the tax code that is an essential first step in increasing voluntary compliance; and they are active inducements to rent-seeking of the worst sort, leading big business and industry confederations to conclude that profits will accrue from sitting patiently with begging bowls in the finance minister's ante-room rather than in searching for innovation, allowing markets to function, and cutting their own costs.

 

Both those faults are magnified when the finance minister does what he did on Thursday: announce modifications in the Finance Bill that are obviously in response to intense lobbying by individual sectors (and, disturbingly, their associated ministries). After all, if an industry is struggling, the best way to handle it is industry-specific rule changes, not fiscal tinkering through a favourable word in the Union Budget. Doing it this way discourages the only real way to energise struggling sectors and prepare them for greater openness — greater reform. And conceding industry demands weeks after the Budget was introduced is a fairly transparent message that petitioning the government works. Nor are the individual changes necessarily justified.

 

For instance, there is no real need to set a maximum level for service tax on air travel; not only does this militate against the theme of harmonisation of service taxes in the run-up to a uniform Goods and Services Tax, but it legitimises pushing of the sort that the civil aviation ministry did on behalf of airlines, another step on the road to Union ministries becoming little more than pressure groups for industries within the cabinet. In fact, the airline sector, like real estate, has recovered from the lows of the recession. Indeed, at this time we should be looking to exit stimulus measures.

 

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INDIAN EXPRESS

 

DATELINE HISAR

 

After a Jat mob set fire to a Dalit settlement in Mirchpur, in Hisar district, killing a polio-stricken girl and her father among others, Haryana's dysfunctional politics has drawn national attention. Rahul Gandhi's sudden visit to the victims' families, and his assurance that the Congress president would keep tabs on the state government's handling of the affair, is clear reproof to the Congress administration in the state. It is also an acknowledgment that such narrow caste exploiting politics can't coexist with the party's plans to draw Dalits under its social umbrella.

 

Haryana is among the states with a larger concentration of SC populations, at almost 20 per cent. In recent years, caste identities have become sharper and more aggressive, encouraged by a political class that feeds on these divisions. In the last few years, Dalit assertion has been accompanied by convulsions of inter-caste violence — in Gohana, in Mohamedpur, in Kila Jafargarh, now in Mirchpur. These old hatreds just need an excuse to burst into flame — and as in Mirchpur, there is no answer to the Dalit villagers' anguish, their fear at staying on in the same area. Let down by the police, they are insecure and disillusioned with the state.

 

And the Congress has been only too complicit in this arrangement. Its state government strains mightily to look

away from the social intimidation and rough justice practised by Haryana's khap panchayats. Its only real intervention, in fact, has been to claim that prosecuting khaps would be a rash and destabilising step. With a state government that can't square up to its responsibility towards Haryana's Dalits, the Congress's fine-sounding words about Dalit welfare seem empty. If the party's plans for a grand social coalition are to work out, it needs to reach out and reassure Haryana's vulnerable Dalits that these incidents will be met with swift punishment. If the Congress wants to reclaim the grand social coalition in north India, sustain its hold over Haryana, it must articulate a brave and inclusive alternative to the petty math of playing caste tensions against each other.

 

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THE INDIAN EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

BEYOND THIMPHU

 

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has chosen to start all over again with Pakistan. On the margins of the South Asia summit in Thimphu this week, he agreed to begin talks with Pakistan that were suspended after the Mumbai attack in November 2008. In return, he has got assurances from his counterpart, Yousaf Raza Gilani, that Islamabad will indeed act against the sources of anti-India terrorism on Pakistani soil. The questions that stare at us after the Thimphu talks are not about the technical details of the diplomatic finesse that helped revive the peace process. That we can leave to the textualists. The real question is a political one. Why is Dr Singh so persistent, when the odds seem so heavily stacked against him?

 

The conservatives in the PM's own party have had no stomach for a sustained peace process with all the attendant domestic political risks. The cynical commentariat says it has seen this Indo-Pak movie before. It expects the new edition of the peace process to simply disintegrate in the flames of the next terror attack on India. Like his two predecessors, Inder Kumar Gujral and Atal Bihari Vajpayee, the PM believes that a durable peace with Pakistan is critical for the realisation of India's aspirations of peace and prosperity at home, and a larger role in world affairs. It is therefore in Delhi's own interest, he has insisted so often, to overcome the bitter legacies of Partition. You might even say it is India's "karma" and "dharma" to strive for that structural change in Indo-Pak relations despite its apparent elusiveness.

 

Whether he succeeds or not, history will record that Dr Singh has gone farther than any Indian leader in exploring with Pakistan a framework for the resolution of the Kashmir dispute and the full normalisation of bilateral relations. More progress occurred in Indo-Pak relations under his watch during 2004-07, than in the previous four decades. Dr Singh knows having a vision is not enough to generate the peace; one also needs a credible interlocutor across the table and lots of political luck. Are Gilani and his backers in the Pakistan army capable and willing to deliver on the terms of the new peace process that Dr Singh has hammered out in Thimphu? The answer to this question won't be long in coming. As it waits, Delhi must send unmistakable signals of its own commitment to the peace process in the coming days. In rolling out what could be his last peace venture with Pakistan, Dr Singh has no time to lose nor is there room for complacence after Thimphu.

 

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THE INDIAN EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

RUNNING IN PLACE

SEEMA CHISHTI

 

In Parliament, on April 27, eggs, tomatoes and smoke grenades rained on the speaker and umbrellas had to be used by the speaker's aides, to enable the passage of a legislation. Parliamentarians scuffled and rioted in the aisles.

 

This, mercifully, is an account of what happened in the Parliament in Kiev, not the one on Sansad Marg. Back in Delhi, on the same day, there was tremendous dignity in the occasion, which Indians must feel very proud of, as "cut motions" were put to the vote in accordance with procedure, contested forcefully on all sides — but naturally, it was in the highest traditions of parliamentary democracy that walk-outs, repartee, and moral grand-standing were on display.

 

For all the value that a "cut motion", the first in independent India, may have held for those interested in the fine points of democratic practice, in substance, for all three political formations, it seemed like an anti-climax and a slump back into an older politics. The vote on the cut motion almost emphasised how each formation — led by the Congress, the BJP and the Left — was struggling to sound like it had "won" but was hemmed in by its own limitations.

 

Of course, the implications of the vote are being felt in two important states, Uttar Pradesh and Jharkhand, as the chief ministers there emphatically defended the UPA government, despite having been involved in politics of the opposition till just before the vote. But all in all, it is unlikely that the Congress, the BJP or the Left and other parties are feeling too thrilled with what the vote signified.

 

As far as the leading opposition party goes, despite the calculated chant of "it's the Emergency", "return to 1987" (or 1989 or 1977), the images conjured up by the BJP of overwhelming anti-Congressism as the single pole of Indian politics are just that, fanciful images. The vote underlined the fact that going along with the BJP for non-NDA parties still remains such an anathema, that they still have a long way to go to cross the post-Gujarat riots Rubicon.

 

As far as the Left goes, which was careful to avoid being seen "with" the BJP, harping on "price rise" as an issue after its heart, if the attempt was to showcase anything close to a "Third Front", the voting patterns of the Samajwadi Party, Rashtriya Janata Dal, Jharkhand Mukti Morcha and the Bahujan Samaj Party have served as reminders of the fact that the Third Front is a non-starter in the 15th Lok Sabha — and many would say, even as an idea with a future in the medium term.

 

As far as the "victors" (UPA) are concerned, the win must have come as a huge relief, as the threats by the opposition and the novelty of the device had caused much sleeplessness in the ranks of the ruling party — the win would therefore have been a vindication. However, the fact that without Behen Mayawati's 21, the numbers against the cut motion would have been less than 272 must have caused concern. The fact that it was necessary for the Yadavs to have stayed away from the vote to have given the UPA legroom would have left several in the UPA squirming.

 

So far, the pitch and mood had suggested that the leading party in the government has already got 300 seats, and so the attitude to other "smaller" players has been unsparing and patronising. The fact that they still need the support of smaller parties, especially those in the Hindi belt, would be a sobering thought.

 

Other than the fact that it meant no real victory to any formation, what was clear was that one year after the general election neither the treasury benches nor the opposition had been able to redraw their map, or re-imagine their political horizons.

 

But the fact that so early in the life of the 15th Lok Sabha such drastic measures had to be resorted to could of course be a signal that political players feel the situation warrants dramatic steps. But more than that, not one of the three formations has been able to emerge from the limitations of their old ideas and constraints.

 

With a Congress that is in power but does not have a majority on its own, a BJP which is the largest opposition but is still isolated amongst opposition ranks, struggling to fight off the stigma of 2002, a Left that prides itself on being the one that is "different" but is confronted with a historic low in terms of strength, worried about a further dip, and several smaller but aggressive constituents like the SP, BSP and RJD all mindful of shrinking numbers and prospects, one would have thought parties would feel the need to push the envelope in terms of ideas and politics. After all, there is the widely shared assumption that the 2009 general election verdict actually demonstrated a vindication of politics that sought to prioritise governance and redistributive justice, but also did not dish out a thundering endorsement to the winners.

 

But then, other than Bihar, there are no major elections this year. That might be a reason why it may be unfair to expect any major political shifts or new thinking, as "electioneering" has become the spur for political mobilisation, with little happening otherwise which attracts attention. This also means that most political parties, with possible exceptions of the Left and BSP which are about cadres and mobilisation, are becoming about candidates/ political entities and their immediate families "taking care" of the politics. That is perhaps why most parties do not feel the need to live out their politics in their daily interactions or "way of life", to use a cliché from a lost era.

 

Perhaps after Bihar, and in the run-up to elections in West Bengal, Kerala and Tamil Nadu, and of course Uttar Pradesh, political parties can be expected to be more imaginative.

 

seema.chishti@expressindia.com

 

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THE INDIAN EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

PRIVATE LIVES, PUBLIC USES

RAHUL MATTHAN

 

Much of the outrage around the phone-tapping furore appears to focus on the fact that our executive safeguards around personal privacy haven't been able to protect against passive interception technology. While there is certainly some merit in finding a band-aid to deal with this particular problem, we must ask ourselves whether, in doing so, we are merely plugging a leak when, in fact, we need to change the plumbing.

 

India does not currently have a data protection legislation. We do not have laws that dictate how much intrusion into personal privacy is permitted and under what circumstances. We, arguably, do not even recognise, legislatively, the concept of personal privacy and the many dimensions of that right that is available to citizens of many other countries of the world.

 

The judiciary has derived a "right of privacy" from the rights available under Articles 19(1)(a) (the fundamental right to freedom of speech and expression) and 21 (the right to life and personal liberty) of the Constitution of India. Through a series of decisions, the Supreme Court held that, the right to privacy though not expressly enumerated as a fundamental right, could certainly be inferred from the other fundamental rights.

 

However, the problem with a privacy jurisprudence that has developed on a case-by-case basis is that the moment a new technology comes along, our legal system finds itself out of its depth. Hence our lamentable inability to proscribe passive interception, even though we are well armed with both precedent and procedure in the context of wiretapping. Had we enacted a privacy legislation that articulated the four corners of an individual's right to personal privacy, we would have been able to deal with such challenges no matter what technology was used to abuse it.

 

Yet there are many who question the need for privacy legislation in India. We are, they argue, after all, not a private people. Culturally, we have no hesitation in freely sharing personal information with friends and strangers alike. More often than not, we do so without thinking twice and, for the most part, face no repercussions for having done so. Public life in India is organised without much thought to safeguarding personal data.

 

There are many examples of the very public way in which we deal with personal information that might leave visitors to our country aghast. Trains publish detailed personal information (name, age and sex) of all the passengers travelling on that route at every station. Examination results are available on websites and on publicly accessible notice boards with full details of the grades obtained by all students. Many service providers collect detailed personal information as a pre-requisite to registering customers and will deny you services if you do not disclose all the personal information that they request.

 

Some of the biggest culprits in this regard are government agencies. The NREGA currently publishes, with blatant disregard to privacy implications, complete details of job cards and money received by all who benefit from the scheme. The Election Commission lists its entire database online for all to see, with full information about all eligible citizens. Similarly, various other agencies and instrumentalities of the state collect and publish without regulation or restriction personal information of private citizens in a manner that is unheard of in many jurisdictions around the world. All these entities hold this personal data in huge and thinly protected databases that are open to public scrutiny in order to assure transparency.

 

So why should we be concerned about whether our personal information is in the public domain? Most of us think nothing of disclosing this information since, in our personal and collective experience, little harm has ever come of it. However, international experience indicates the contrary. As countries began to rely more and more on electronic records in their dealings with their citizens, the more those citizens were exposed to financial, reputational and other harm.

 

India has, relatively speaking, only just started down the road to digital dependence. Make no mistake, initial though these steps might be, they will lead, irrevocably, to the situation that the rest of the world currently finds itself in. It would, therefore, be short-sighted to assume that there is no need to protect data privacy based solely on India's cultural past.

 

In many ways, the phone-tapping scandal has broken at exactly the right time. It brings into focus the need for a legislative solution to the problem of privacy. If only we can rise above creating a quick-fix that deals with the immediate problem and instead work to finding a broader and more lasting solution we will be able to ensure that we have a technology-proof solution to future privacy violations.

 

The writer is a Bangalore-based lawyer express@expressindia.com

 

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THE INDIAN EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

EYEING IDS

USHARAMANATHAN

 

Three recent initiatives of the government need to be investigated before any decision about adopting them is taken.

 

In November 2009, newspapers reported Union Home Minister P. Chidambaram's statement that the government would soon be setting up a DNA data bank. In December 2009, he announced the setting up of the NATGRID. "Under NATGRID", he is reported to have said, "21 sets of databases will be networked to achieve quick seamless and secure access to desired information for intelligence and enforcement agencies." The project is expected to be completed in 18 to 24 months. In July 2009, with Nandan Nilekani taking charge, the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) started its work on creating a database that would give every resident a number which is intended to become a unique, ubiquitous and universal identity. While the stated purpose of the DNA bank and the NATGRID is to meet the threat posed by terrorism, the UID is given a gentler visage; it is to be promoted as a means of removing "one of the biggest barriers preventing the poor from accessing benefits and subsidies", which according to this understanding, is the "inability to prove identity".

 

Are these benign arrangements of data to enable efficient functioning? What is it that makes some of us unable to recognise innocence in these sweeping "identity" controls that are being remorselessly let loose in our midst? Why is it that some cabinet ministers have voiced concerns about the possibility of misuse of NATGRID, as reported on February 14?

 

The motivation for the DNA bank fundamentally alters the characterisation of citizens and residents. It is based on the perception that the state is at risk from its citizens and residents, and any person could emerge as a terrorist. It is the politics of suspicion, which dramatically erodes the ideas of citizenship, privacy, and minimum-invasion-and-only-when-there-is-reason-why. The state has to be preemptively readied to catch whichever of its 1.4 billion citizens may commit an act of terror. This is notching up the control that the state, and its agents and agencies, has over each individual. Also, that the DNA test is not foolproof is known but often not acknowledged. So, beyond the problem of every citizen and resident as suspect, there is the possibility of error. Recent experience in India with DNA debacles demonstrate the corruptibility of forensic methods — there's many a twist between the scene of the crime and the laboratory. Yet, the presumptions about the infallibility of science and technology — contrasted, often, with human imperfection — will shift the onus to a person accused on the basis of who the DNA bank suggests is suspect. There is danger of DNA and data theft; there is the fact and circumstance of corruption, inefficiency and failing systems which could make the data unreliable; there is, importantly, the irrelevance of this bank to those who enter the country uninvited and unnoticed, which leaves the bane of cross-border terror unaddressed.

 

The NATGRID converges data from a range of data-holders and places them in the hands of "intelligence" outfits. This is expected to enable them to detect patterns, trace sources for monies and support, track travellers, and identify those who should be watched, investigated, disabled and neutralised. David Headley is its target. And, to get him, all the discrete "silos" of information will be shared with the intelligence agencies. The problem is that the intelligence agencies are not open to question, and are outside even the Right to Information Act. So, while they will be fed information about us, we are not entitled to know who is saying what about us to them, how they are interpreting it, and, most significantly, what use they will make of this information. Place this kind of information in anybody's hands, and its abuse by those who have access to it is inevitable. Concerns about privacy are cast aside and invasion of privacy made a public virtue. The NATGRID is an unqualified statement that the state has a right to know every detail about each of our lives, but we are expressly excluded from knowing what the state and its agencies believe about us, and what they do with what they know. It places extraordinary power in the hands of those who already have access to a vast share of state power that is unaccountable.

 

There has been much myth creation around the UID: that enrolment will not be mandated but will be voluntary; that it is pro-poor; that only basic information will be gathered. Scratch the surface of these assertions. The creation of the National Population Register, with its element of compulsion, is one aspect of this exercise in creating the UID data base. And there is one fact about the UID that is incontrovertible: that it provides an easy route for the market and the security agencies to identify and profile any person. That is how the UID fits into the larger scheme of monitoring and control and that, as the current discourse reveals, will be its central purpose.

 

There are those who ask: why should we mind if we have done nothing wrong? But this is not about doing right or wrong. Among many other concerns, it is about letting some persons and agencies know, accurately or mistakenly, all manner of things about oneself. It is about being tracked and tailed. It is about acknowledging that those who may get access to the system may not always be fair, responsible and accountable. It is about recognising that too much power over individuals is a dangerous thing.

 

The relationship between the state and the people has to be carefully calibrated if absolute power is not to slip in and settle down, and these changes are too significant to happen without an informed debate.

 

The writer is an independent law researcher

 

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THE INDIAN EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

DIGITAL DEGREES

SANJAYGDHANDEU

 

Any middle-class family in India is involved, these days, in dealing with financial products like national saving certificates, fixed deposits, monthly income schemes, debentures, shares of companies and similar things. The phenomenon has increased after liberalisation. I have to bear patiently with my friends and relatives who talk feverishly about these matters — and then they fill out forms, chase financial companies and the postal service to get these documents, laminate them and preserve them with great effort. Of late, I find that the paperwork has vanished. When I enquired with a friend of mine, he was happy to educate me by saying: "Oh, all that has been dematerialised. I have a demat account and all my financial instruments are now in an electronic depository. Isn't that wonderful?" I was impressed with his savvy culture and I was also impressed with the financial world which has moved in this paperless era.

 

A look at the education sector shows that dealing with academic documents is a huge problem facing the country. With the number of students growing, the number of universities increasing and with an expected expansion, the problem of dealing with degree certificates, provisional certificates and marksheets of university examinations, board examinations, and several other bodies is a challenge. After discussions with this friend, an idea occurred to both of us. How about "dematerialising" academic documents along the lines of financial documents?

 

It is estimated that about 50 million academic documents get issued in India every year. All these documents, past and present, need to be produced — in original or in a true copy form — at the time of seeking admission or employment. So, several copies are required, and need to be authenticated. The "attested-true-copy" culture prospers at the cost of student suffering. The situation is so serious that certificates are fabricated. In short, an electronic depository will not only save students from running around, it will also prevent fraud.

 

What is an electronic depository of academic documents and how will it work? Let us consider a typical academic institution. At the end of the academic session, this institution has to declare the results, For all candidates, the institution has to print and distribute marksheets. For successful candidates, the institution has to issue passing certificates. All original documents can be lodged or uploaded in a registered electronic depository. Such a depository is a large database in which the data cannot be tampered with. The data has to be authenticated by the academic institution; it may require encryption, and should stored with multiple copies. This will ensure that loss of any one copy will not affect the overall security of the data. It is only with appropriate access that the academic institution will be able to upload the data.

 

Once the data is uploaded, it will then be possible to provide information or authentication through a network of data service centres. Obviously, these services will be at a nominal cost. The universities abroad, the prospective employers in India or overseas and even prospective "in-laws" can verify academic records of the candidates directly from the depository via these data service centres. The candidates must permit the depository to make such information available to a third party. The third party will be allowed access only after verifying the temporary access code. All this will avoid any paper transaction.

 

The idea was enthusiastically supported by Union Human Resource Development Minister Kapil Sibal. A task force got formed. This task force has has found it feasable to establish an electronic depository and the associated infrastructure for academic documents. Technically, when no paper document is issued, the information is considered to be dematerialised. However, when a paper document is issued and simultaneously an electronic version is maintained then the information is considered to be immobilised. In the academic world, the documents will be immobilised and not strictly dematerialised. All academic institutions will work both as data uploaders and data service providers. For uploading information, the academic institutions may charge a nominal one-time fee from the candidates.

 

In order to usher in the era of dematerialisation, the government will have to pass appropriate legislation. All academic institutions will have to take the appropriate decisions in their academic bodies and governing councils. The selection of a registered depository will have to be done carefully. The technology, fortunately, is available, though dry runs will be needed. A complete roll-out may need phase-wise implementation. Some Central institutions can take up the work first, followed by other universities, boards and institutions.

 

What is wonderful to note is that India will be the first nation to have such an electronic depository of academic records. The concept is not limited to academic records. Individual universities can create an electronic depository of student records and other information. Now, that will be real e-academic-governance!

 

The writer is director, IIT-Kanpur. The views expressed are personal

 

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THE INDIAN EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

EURO-TRASHED

 

Not that long ago, European economists used to mock their American counterparts for having questioned the wisdom of Europe's march to monetary union. "On the whole," declared an article published just this past January, "the euro has, thus far, gone much better than many US economists had predicted."

 

Oops. The article summarised the euro-skeptics' views as having been: "It can't happen, it's a bad idea, it won't last." Well, it did happen, but right now it does seem to have been a bad idea for exactly the reasons the skeptics cited. And as for whether it will last — suddenly, that's looking like an open question.

 

To understand the euro-mess — and its lessons for the rest of us — you need to see past the headlines. Right now everyone is focused on public debt, which can make it seem as if this is a simple story of governments that couldn't control their spending. But that's only part of the story for Greece, much less for Portugal, and not at all the story for Spain.

 

The fact is that three years ago none of the countries now in or near crisis seemed to be in deep fiscal trouble. Even Greece's 2007 budget deficit was no higher, as a share of GDP, than the deficits the United States ran in the mid-1980s, while Spain actually ran a surplus. And all of the countries were attracting large inflows of foreign capital, largely because markets believed that membership in the euro zone made Greek, Portuguese and Spanish bonds safe investments.

 

Then came the global financial crisis. Those inflows of capital dried up; revenues plunged and deficits soared; and membership in the euro, which had encouraged markets to love the crisis countries not wisely but too well, turned into a trap.

 

What's the nature of the trap? During the years of easy money, wages and prices in the crisis countries rose much faster than in the rest of Europe. Now that the money is no longer rolling in, those countries need to get costs back in line.

 

But that's a much harder thing to do now than it was when each European nation had its own currency. Back then, costs could be brought in line by adjusting exchange rates — e.g., Greece could cut its wages relative to German wages simply by reducing the value of the drachma in terms of Deutsche marks. Now that Greece and Germany share the same currency, however, the only way to reduce Greek relative costs is through some combination of German inflation and Greek deflation. And since Germany won't accept inflation, deflation it is.

 

The problem is that deflation — falling wages and prices — is always and everywhere a deeply painful process. It invariably involves a prolonged slump with high unemployment. And it also aggravates debt problems, both public and private, because incomes fall while the debt burden doesn't.

 

Hence the crisis. Greece's fiscal woes would be serious but probably manageable if the Greek economy's prospects for the next few years looked even moderately favourable. But they don't. Earlier this week, when it downgraded Greek debt, Standard & Poor's suggested that the euro value of Greek GDP may not return to its 2008 level until 2017, meaning that Greece has no hope of growing out of its troubles.

 

All this is exactly what the euro-skeptics feared. Giving up the ability to adjust exchange rates, they warned, would invite future crises. And it has.

 

So what will happen to the euro? Until recently, most analysts, myself included, considered a euro breakup basically impossible, since any government that even hinted that it was considering leaving the euro would be inviting a catastrophic run on its banks. But if the crisis countries are forced into default, they'll probably face severe bank runs anyway, forcing them into emergency measures like temporary restrictions on bank withdrawals. This would open the door to euro exit.

 

So is the euro itself in danger? In a word, yes. If European leaders don't start acting much more forcefully, providing Greece with enough help to avoid the worst, a chain reaction that starts with a Greek default and ends up wreaking much wider havoc looks all too possible.

 

Meanwhile, what are the lessons for the rest of us?

 

The deficit hawks are already trying to appropriate the European crisis, presenting it as an object lesson in the evils of government red ink. What the crisis really demonstrates, however, is the dangers of putting yourself in a policy straitjacket. When they joined the euro, the governments of Greece, Portugal and Spain denied themselves the ability to do some bad things, like printing too much money; but they also denied themselves the ability to respond flexibly to events.

 

And when crisis strikes, governments need to be able to act. That's what the architects of the euro forgot — and the rest of us need to remember.

 

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THE INDIAN EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

SHOANIA MANIA

RUCHIKA TALWAR

The hype around the marriage of Sania Mirza with Shoaib Malik entered its final phase this week — or did it? Referring to the Sialkot "valima", The News reported on April 26: "It was a unique event for the people of Sialkot, who had been waiting for the arrival of cricketer Shoaib and tennis sensation Sania for the past several days. Only people with special invitation were allowed to enter the venue amid tight security." Another report attempted to decode the "special invitation cards," on April 27: "Additional District and Sessions Judge Malik Muhammad Rafiq sought a reply by May 3, from the SHO Racecourse Police Station on a petition seeking registration of a case against cricketer Shoaib Malik for selling the invitation cards of his valima reception. The court passed the orders on a petition filed by a citizen Safdar Ali, levelling charges that the newly-wed couple had hurt the feelings of their fans by selling their marriage invitation cards from Rs10,000 to 15,000." However, Daily Times reported on April 28, the couple's adherence to the Punjab government's austerity guidelines: "In complete observance of government policy, the guests were treated only to a one-dish menu and the event ended on the scheduled time of 10 pm."

Interrogation begins

In a first-of-its-kind probe, a senior serving military officer has been pulled up for hosing down the site of Benazir Bhutto's assassination, reports Dawn on April 27. Maj Gen Nadeem Ejaz headed military intelligence (MI) when the former PM was murdered. On April 28, Dawn added: "The sources said the former MI chief's statement would be crucial because if it was proved that he was behind the episode, it would bring more people at the helm of affairs at that time into the fray." The officer refuted the charges leveled against him, reported Dawn on April 29: "Maj-Gen Nadeem Ejaz, a former director-general of MI, has rejected as baseless insinuations that he had ordered the hosing down of the site of Benazir Bhutto's assassination on December 27, 2007. According to sources, the ex-MI chief submitted a detailed statement... to the three-member committee investigating the washing down of the crime scene."

Soothing anxious nerves were senior PPP figures. An advisor to PM Yousaf Raza Gilani was quoted by Daily Times as saying on April 27: "the murderers of Benazir Bhutto cannot escape punishment, notwithstanding how powerful they may be. If the inquiry committee finds any evidence against ex-president Pervez Musharraf's involvement in it, he would be brought back through Interpol." Daily Times also added on April 28: "The report of the criminal investigation into Benazir Bhutto's assassination would be ready next month and the individuals identified in the report will be brought to justice, Information Minister Qamar Zaman Kaira said... 'The Pakistan People's Party-led coalition government does not believe in politics of victimisation, however it would not spare the criminals who deprived Pakistan of a great leader,' Kaira said." 

Jab They Met

The anxiety over a meeting between the PMs of India and Pakistan along the sidelines of the SAARC summit kept political commentators busy. Daily Times reported on April 28: "A familiar game of 'will they-won't they' centred on a possible meeting between the leaders of India and Pakistan looks set to overshadow a summit of South Asian nations in Bhutan... The summit is supposed to culminate in a joint declaration entitled 'Towards A Green and Happy South Asia', but with the region's bitterest rivals barely on speaking terms, there is unlikely to be much cheer to spread around." When the much anticipated meeting actually took place, Daily Times reported on April 29: "India and Pakistan agreed to revive dialogue...without any preconditions" Dawn carried a hitherto unknown piece of information: "The Indian PM said Gilani commanded respect because he had a number of spiritual followers in India. His forefathers... had laid the foundation of the Golden Temple in Amritsar and the Sikh people were

 

aware of the fact."

 

Promotion row

 

Chief justice of Pakistan, Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry continues his use of suo motu notices. Daily Times reported on April 29: "The Supreme Court declared the PM's promotion of 54 bureaucrats to Grade 22 'null and void', after suspending the notification on the changes in the bureaucracy last year. The changes in the bureaucracy were made in September last year." The executive appears to fight the judiciary, as Dawn reported: "Clear indications came from the government camp that it was determined to retain key officers on the positions to which they were promoted by the PM in September last year, but from which they were removed as a result of the court's decision." An analytical report in Dawn stated: "the landmark judgment will go a long way in discouraging the use of discretionary powers by governments to elevate their favourites to senior positions and will set guidelines for future promotions."

 

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THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

STOP THE SPAT

 

The Sebi-Irda spat over the regulation of Ulips erupted in a most curious fashion, given that Ulips has been a subject of dispute between the two regulators for some years now. Whatever the actual reason for the sudden escalation of the row, it just seems to be getting uglier. The finance minister had earlier intervened to call a truce and recommended that both regulators jointly seek the opinion of a court of law. Now, Sebi seems to have completely ruled out the idea of a joint petition with Irda, while asking for the transfer of two PILs on the subject to the Supreme Court—Sebi believes that only the Supreme Court can adjudicate on the dispute. The continued public spat between the two regulators doesn't say much for the quality (or even existence) of regulatory coordination. In the post-financial crisis world, the need for inter-regulatory coordination is more urgent than ever to ensure that a potential crisis doesn't sneak past regulatory cracks. In India, we have a body that already exists to perform this role. However, the High Level Coordination Committee, which is supposed to perform this role of coordination has clearly been rendered impotent in this dispute.

 

The ugliness of this spat will renew calls for setting up the Financial Stability and Development Council (FSDC) proposed in the Budget. But the finance minister seems reluctant to make the FSDC a super-regulator, hinting instead that it may be a non-statutory body. Such a body, if it has no teeth, isn't likely to be able to firmly adjudicate such disputes. The one office that does have the power to settle this dispute most amicably is that of the finance minister. The proponents of FSDC have long been arguing that for it to be effective the FM must chair it. But while the debate on FSDC continues, the FM does have the power to make both Sebi and Irda sit down and broker a compromise between them. In our view, Sebi has strong reason to want to regulate Ulips, given that they are virtually identical to mutual funds, barring a tiny insurance component. Irda will obviously disagree with this and argue that all insurance companies must be regulated by it. The finance minister is probably the best person who can broker a reasonable compromise quickly, rather than let this battle continue to play out in the courts. That will only damage the reputation of India's larger regulatory apparatus.

 

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THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

WHY MORE EXEMPTIONS?

 

The UPA government easily defeated the cut motion moved by the Opposition demanding a rollback in the hike in excise duties on petroleum products proposed in the Budget. There was never an economic rationale for a rollback, and the government did well to resist populist pressures on the issue. Unfortunately, the government hasn't done quite as well by announcing a number of sector-specific tax concessions in the finance minister's reply to the debate on the Finance Bill. The government has proposed to give a concession to the real estate and construction sector by announcing that service tax will now be levied on only 25% of the value of the property as against the prevailing 33% of the value of the property. Civil aviation also gets a sop with new caps on service tax—Rs 100 for domestic travel and Rs 500 for international travel. There are a number of other sector-specific tax concessions as well.

 

There are two immediate reasons to question sector-specific tax exemptions. For one, taxes should, as far as possible, not be levied separately for separate sectors. A uniform tax regime is more efficient and discourages rent-seeking and other distortions. In fact, GST and the new direct taxes code, due to be implemented next year, are moves in precisely the opposite direction from sector-specific concessions. The government can hardly afford to be seen to moving away from a rational tax regime to a distorted one, just months before GST and DTC are supposed to be implemented. The second question centres on the need for tax exemptions in the current context. Now is the time when the government should be winding down fiscal stimulus—the recovery is robust but the government's fiscal health is not. Now is the time to mop up revenue, rather than give it away in what are unnecessary tax concessions. In fact, fiscal stimulus ought to have been wound down before monetary stimulus—RBI has already started winding down the latter. But, in granting these concessions the government, it seems, has caved in to pressure from certain interest groups. Of course, the government may be able to justify certain exemptions, like the ones given to low-cost housing and hospitals, but to give exemptions to a booming construction sector and a fast recovering real estate sector seems unjustified. The government seems to have missed a trick in moving closer to a reformed tax regime in Finance Bill 2010.

 

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THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS

COLUMN

IDENTIFYING BPL ISN'T THE ONLY PROBLEM

JESSICA SEDDON WALLACK

 

The draft Food Security Bill has been winding its way through the policy maze for months now, shrinking as it goes. The main debate—at least the most public—is over who is eligible for the food it will provide. Just how many people will get subsidised grains? The Planning Commission appears to have settled on 74 million earlier this week, higher than its earlier estimate of 65 million but short of the Tendulkar Committee's 80 million and a fraction of the more than half billion individuals that the Saxena Committee identifies as below poverty line.

 

Media reports and blog commentary essentially equate the Bill's ability to provide security with the size of the population eligible for allocations. This is rhetorically convenient but misses the point that food security can be created by programmes that step in at the right time, not necessarily all of the time.

 

It is true that allocating food to people below a conservative poverty line does not provide 'security'. A tightly targeted system might provide steady calories to those lucky enough to have been classified as BPL, whenever or however the official counting is done, but does little to address the insecurity of those who fall below the line for a week, a month, a quarter or two. Nutrition is a daily activity, not a monthly average.

 

Incorporating a higher poverty line or universalising regular food entitlements, however, is an expensive way to provide food security. It limits the potential that those who are excluded fall far enough below the line to starve while waiting to be officially re-classified. But this comes at a steep price: the opportunity costs of spending scarce resources on food for many who could do without everyday subsidies. The gamble behind other universal-access programmes such as the NREG or the Right to Education Act is that the neediest will be the most likely to take up the benefits offered. People who have other options than manual labour for minimal wages are unlikely to request their 100 days of employment. Parents who can afford private schools are not going to take up classroom space in public schools.

 

It is harder to identify similar ways in which food could be channelled to the poor if government allocations were a universal right. One relatively common approach to directing subsidised food to the poor without explicit targeting is to offer nutritionally sound but less appealing goods, so that those who can afford better go elsewhere. Various studies have shown that the poor were more likely than the rich to collect rations of subsidised maize in Mexico, sorghum in Bangladesh, wheat flour in Pakistan, for example. The poor quality of much of the PDS stock probably has the same effect of self-targeting among the disparate group of BPL cardholders. But do we really want to institutionalise that difference? A second option is to screen for the needy by making it complicated to claim the food ration—people who can afford to go to a private store will not bother with the hassle. This strategy can actually have the perverse effect of burdening the beneficiaries, or worse yet, keeping them poor. If it takes so much time to claim one's ration, what is left for education, work and childcare?

 

It would make more sense to focus on universalising food security—the guarantee of food in emergencies—in the next iteration of the Bill. Some possible additions to the existing allocations for the very poor include: a programme for no-questions-asked limited-term allocations. In order to limit abuse, people could be restricted to collecting the allocation from one place (the place they first ask) and only a certain number of times a year. The UID could help authorities track uptake. Yes, enterprising people could make a business of collecting and selling their allocations, but at least the allocations are smaller than they would be under universal access all the time. The data on requests for emergency allocations could also be a useful leading indicator of economic trouble.

 

The Bill could also automatically supply food allocations for a period of time when a wage-earning member of any household is injured, seriously ill or dies. These events are relatively easy to identify and verify through existing administrative data collected by hospitals. The short-term food support could make an immediate difference while the family adjusts by finding new income or becoming eligible for regular food supply under the targeted part of the programme. Similarly, the Bill could offer automatic food entitlement in rural areas when there are abnormal temperatures or rainfalls that may affect agricultural households.

 

The next few months offer an opportunity to revise the draft Bill to meet the promise of food security. This can best be accomplished by expanding its target situations, not just people.

 

The author is director, Centre for Development Finance at the Institute for Financial and Management Research, Chennai

 

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THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS

COLUMN

SHOULD BANKS BE ALLOWED TO TEASE?

MADAN SABNAVIS

 

For those of us who enjoyed listening to Cliff Richard croon "I'll give it to you straight right now, please don't tease" in the 1970's may be tempted to say the same about the rates being charged by banks today on housing loans. The most recent monetary policy announcement of RBI is over a week old and while one would have expected banks to raise interest rates, they have actually not done so. They had already buffered in a 25 bps increase in rates and hence these policy enhancements do not matter. The concern of RBI today is on the teaser rates being offered by some banks, which means that instead of increasing rates some have actually lowered them on mortgages, albeit for the first year. Is this a serious issue, especially at a time when it appears that rates would be increasing, and not decreasing, in the next few years?

 

The concept of teaser rates became fashionable post financial crisis. In rudimentary language, when interest rates came down to historically low levels of 1% in 2003, driven primarily by Alan Greenspan, banks and other mortgage institutions disbursed housing loans at very low rates with little due diligence. People borrowed heavily and bought houses and contributed to the boom in the economy. Simultaneously, housing prices went up, but with prosperity everywhere it did not matter. Loans were given at low interest rates for the first year and then linked to the market rate at a subsequent date—the classic floating rate scheme.

 

But problems surfaced once rates hardened as the Fed rate climbed to 5.25% by June 2006. As demand fell, home prices came down and those who had taken loans at the teaser rates had to pay as much as 500 bps more on their loans as rates had virtually doubled leading to large-scale defaults. When they tried to sell their houses, the crisis was exacerbated. The original lenders had moved away from these assets through the securitisation business and the rest, as the cynics would say, is history.

 

Today housing prices have started moving upwards quite sharply. Teaser loans come at 8.25% in the first year, 9% in second and then at the market rate subsequently. Clearly we have an issue on hand. People may jump into the fray to buy houses before prices rise further. Rationality dictates that with low interest rates today and an increase of 100 bps in the second year and probably something higher subsequently, one should enter the fray today that will, in turn, drive up housing prices in urban areas.

 

RBI's concern is two-fold. First, banks may just be compromising quality in remaining ahead of competition and while India was quite insulated from the subprime crisis, that scenario remains a grim reminder of caution that should be exercised today. Second, there is a lingering question of 'what if there is failure'. The country is in a unique spot with inflation being quite resilient and growth on a high trajectory. In this high growth-inflation scenario, rates tend to harden, which needs to be understood by anyone who is attracted to a home loan.

 

Hence, it is not a coincidence that RBI has also come out with a report on securitisation where the ground rules are laid. There is a minimum holding period of one year by the originator as well as a clause that makes it mandatory to retain 10% of the loan on its own books. This is to eschew the possibility of such teaser loans being bundled and resold to other investors. While securitisation of home loans is not really popular and has been confined mostly to deviant assets of banks, this move is certainly welcome as it does make RBI appear more proactive with the process of prudential regulation. Alongside, RBI is also going to get in the base rate concept, which is good, so that there are certain limits placed on banks in fixing their lending rates without compromising on prudence.

 

There is a curious game that is unfolding in the banking arena. Banks are back to getting more competitive, with home loans coming to the forefront once again. Personal loans account for around 20% of non-food credit (as on Feb 2010), of which home loans constitute 50%. Corporate loans follow a set pattern with limited manoeuvrability for banks. However, for the retail segment, there would be a tendency for banks to push forth their chances by offering competitive rates.

 

This is where RBI has come in with cogent moves at regulation, thus ensuring that the growth in credit is in accordance with the global best norms that have come into play in the aftermath of the crisis. But, yes, these are signals of competitive action picking up in this sector after a lull of two years.

 

The author is chief economist, CARE ratings. These are his personal views

 

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THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS

COLUMN

NO POWER FOR INVESTORS IN KARNATAKA

JAISHANKAR JAYARAMIAH

 

One is surprised at the way Karnataka—India's IT state—is wooing industrial investments, just when the state is reeling under acute power shortage. The state has chalked out a plan to attract investments worth a whopping Rs 5 lakh crore during the much hyped-up Global Investors Meet (GIM), scheduled to be held in the first week of June. The government has already given its nod to big-ticket investors like ArcelorMittal, Posco and Lafarge to set up their projects for which the MoUs will be signed during the GIM.

 

All these moves may seem creditable but where is the power to drive new industries? Karnataka, which is the headquarters for IT behemoths like Wipro and Infosys, has been the pioneer in power generation since 1902 when Asia's first hydroelectric power station was commissioned in the state. The state was the first to embark on alternating current and had the longest transmission line in the world in 1902, from Sivasamudram to KGF, covering a distance of 147 km. But all these records are in the past. One cannot live in the past and the government today is a mute spectator to energy shortage. The state is facing a severe power shortage with the demand-supply gap widening to 22%. The daily energy consumption is around 150 mw with an annual load growth of 8-10%. The peak demand is about 7,877 mw but the availability is only 6,100 mw. Two units of Raichur Thermal Power Station, the major power generating source for the state, may collapse any time as they are not fit to operate.

 

The government promises investors that upcoming power projects will add 8,000 mw to the grid over the next five years. But how industries will survive until then is anyone's guess. Moreover, many of the government projects are coal-based, which are always opposed by the masses in rural Karnataka. Even in the past, the government could not take up a few thermal projects, including the 4,000 mw project in Tadadi, due to protests by the public. At this juncture, it is imperative for the state to clear the anxieties of prospective investors over power supply, which is a critical requirement to drive industrial growth.

 

jaishankar.jayaramiah@expressindia.com

 

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THE HINDU

EDITORIAL

ENDING THE IMPASSE

 

In choosing to find a way to resume the dialogue process with Pakistan, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has been bold as well as pragmatic. Bold because it is the job of a leader who says he believes in engagement with a difficult neighbour to actually lead from the front and not be swayed by populist sentiment. And pragmatic because even if there is no guarantee that dialogue will open a way forward, the absence of dialogue is no option at all. Unfortunately, some political parties and analysts in India have tended to equate dialogue with surrender. For the past decade, the Indian strategic community has seen the suspension of dialogue with Pakistan as a lever to pressure it to address India's concerns about terrorism. For hardliners across the border the absence of dialogue is a godsend because it ensures that the two neighbours remain on the precipice, ready to fall over each time there is a terrorist provocation. Powerful elements within the Pakistani military establishment have a stake in the persistence of tension and are not enthusiastic about engagement with India. On the other hand, the peace constituency within Pakistan has been growing. Obviously, the best Indian strategy is one that seeks to enlarge that constituency. This seems to be the crux of what the Prime Minister is attempting to do.

 

Under the process agreed upon in Thimphu, the two Foreign Secretaries and Foreign Ministers will meet to take stock of the bilateral relations with a view to mutually comprehending the reasons for the current stalemate. Simply put, each side feels its core concerns are not being taken seriously by the other. If Pakistan can address Indian concerns about the activities of terrorist groups like the Lashkar-e-Taiba and the rise in infiltration, it is likely to find New Delhi more than willing to discuss how disputes like Kashmir or Siachen can be resolved. If all goes well, the two countries can resume the kind of serious, result-oriented dialogue the subcontinent badly needs if it is to integrate and progress economically. But if Islamabad continues to take an opportunistic attitude towards the anti-India terrorist groups that operate on Pakistani soil, there is little chance that a dialogue will produce results. It is vital to concentrate on rebuilding trust, taking advantage of congenial political conditions in both countries. Punishment of the conspirators involved in the Mumbai 2008 terrorist attacks would be a major confidence-enhancing measure. But in the interim, long-pending humanitarian issues need to be addressed quickly, especially the repatriation of prisoners and those who inadvertently cross the land or sea borders.

 

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THE HINDU

EDITORIAL

PEOPLE FOR CLIMATE

 

Bolivia's attempt to win fresh support for the Kyoto Protocol is a step ahead in the efforts of the developing world to advance climate negotiations. Brazil, South Africa, India, and China have, as the BASIC countries, called for a legally binding, long-term cooperative agreement under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and the Kyoto Protocol. The failure at Copenhagen has underlined the importance of going all out for an agreement in the current year. To this end, the World People's Conference on Climate Change recently hosted by President Evo Morales in Cochabamba, Bolivia, deserves credit for drawing attention to the more contentious issues. The grassroots conference, which drew an estimated 30,000 people, has demanded that the affluent nations bear responsibility for the accumulation of greenhouse gases and prepare massively to compensate those who are most at risk from climate-linked environmental destruction. This has been the long-held position of the least developed and developing countries, but the Bolivia conference resolution goes much further. It asserts the deep sense of injustice nursed by the nations of the global South and wants a climate tribunal to be constituted on the lines of the International Court of Justice. This forum, it contends, should rule on the failure of developed countries to fully implement the Kyoto Protocol, and order reparations.

 

President Morales is unlikely to win many allies in today's world by calling for the end of capitalism, which he blames for the climate crisis. Bolivia is confronting its own economic dilemmas. It follows a policy of enabling the earth to regenerate its bio-capacity but finds it difficult to abandon the gains oil and gas bring. Another conundrum presents itself in the form of lithium, a 'green energy' source of which Bolivia has the majority reserves. How can mining of the metal be reconciled with the national policy of not causing harm to 'Mother Earth'? The Bolivian leader begs the question when he says it needs to be studied in depth. There are no dilemmas, however, when he speaks of the role of the biggest carbon polluters. The United States, he points out, is willing to spend staggering amounts of money on defence and the Iraq war, but not on paying compensation to poor nations. The Cochabamba conference also highlighted the conflict faced by indigenous people between their traditional rights and the U.N. scheme of carbon credits for forest preservation, called Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD). Forests are a big part of the solution, but the UNFCCC must convince these communities that their interests will be protected.

 

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THE HINDU

LEADER PAGE ARTICLES

FOR PROXIMATE AND SPEEDY JUSTICE

WHILE THE SUPREME COURT SHOULD BECOME A CONSTITUTIONAL COURT, THE SETTING UP OF COURTS OF APPEAL, EACH COMPRISING 15 JUDGES DIVIDED INTO FIVE BENCHES, FOR THE FOUR REGIONS OF THE COUNTRY WILL PROVE TO BE A REAL BOON TO LITIGANTS.

K.K. VENUGOPAL

 

Things had come to a pass in the Supreme Court of India, when Justice E.S. Venkataramiah in P.N. Kumar v. Municipal Corporation of Delhi, (1987) 4 SCC 609 relegated the writ petitioner under Article 32 to the High Court, without deciding whether any fundamental rights were violated or not, giving, among others, the following reason: "This Court has no time today even to dispose of cases which have to be decided by it alone and by no other authority. A large number of cases are pending from 10 to 15 years. Even if no new case is filed in this Court hereafter, with the present strength of Judges it may take more than 15 years to dispose of all the pending cases."

 

There was a huge hue and cry at the Bar, which alleged that the Judge was violating his oath of office in refusing to entertain petitions under Article 32, which itself was a sacrosanct fundamental right.

 

I should point out that the idea of having Courts of Appeal in India for relieving the Supreme Court of its huge burden is not new. Justice K.K. Mathew, whom I have cited earlier, had, in an article published in 1982 contemplated Courts of Appeal to relieve the huge backlog of cases in the Supreme Court.

 

Later, Justice P.N. Bhagwati, in Bihar Legal Support Authority v. Chief Justice of India and Anr., (1986) 4 SCC 767 had this to say: "The Supreme Court of India was never intended to be a regular court of appeal against orders made by the High Court or the sessions court of the magistrates. It was created for the purpose of laying down the law for the entire country and the extraordinary jurisdiction of granting special leave was conferred upon it under Article 136 of the Constitution so that it could interfere whenever it found that the law was not correctly enunciated by the lower courts or tribunals and it was necessary to pronounce the correct law on the subject."

 

The Constitution Bench had itself felt the need to set up a National Court of Appeal and observed in the very same judgment thus: "We think that it would be desirable to set up a National Court of Appeal which should be in a position to entertain appeals by special leave from the decisions of the high courts and tribunals in the country in civil, criminal, revenue and labour cases and so far as the present apex court is concerned, it should concern itself only with entertaining cases involving questions of constitutional law and public law."

 

It would therefore be seen that the idea of establishing Courts of Appeal to relieve the Supreme Court of its tremendous burden has been propounded quite some time back. As a matter of fact, the Law Commission of India in its 229th Report (2009) recommended the setting up of a Cour de Cassation in each of the four regions to act as a final court with regard to the matters entrusted to it. Recently, the Chief Justice of India, Justice K.G. Balakrishnan, expressed a similar view by suggesting that there could be Courts of Appeal in the different regions.

 

Statistically, it appears from a paper published by Nick Robinson, a Yale Law School Research Fellow, that 10 per cent of the cases filed in the Supreme Court emanate from Delhi, 6.2 per cent from Punjab and Haryana, and 6.2 per cent from Uttarakhand, with only 1.1 per cent and 2.4 per cent coming from large States like Tamil Nadu and Karnataka. This would imply that the distance of the Supreme Court from the southern States would, in fact, be an impediment to access to the Supreme Court in Delhi.

If Courts of Appeal were to be established in each region in the precincts or the vicinity of the High Courts of Bombay, Calcutta, Delhi and Madras, litigants in these and neighbouring States would be able to access these Courts of Appeal at far less expense than if they were to travel all the way to the Supreme Court. The proximity of the Courts of Appeal would be a real boon to the common man.

 

I would contemplate the Courts of Appeal as having 15 judges each. Judges would sit in divisions of three. This would mean that five benches would function at all times, with the total number of judges in all four courts together being 60. Therefore, instead of increasing the strength of the Supreme Court, one would, on the other hand, have established convenient and accessible courts in each region.

 

Were the proposal for four regional Courts of Appeal to be accepted, I would anticipate that the Supreme Court would be left with only 1,000 to 2,000 cases involving core constitutional and other issues of national importance. In such circumstances, I do not think the court would need more than 20 judges sitting in Benches of five dealing with both admissions and the final hearing of cases. Judges would then have the leisure to study briefs long before coming to court. The practice of the United States Supreme Court to obtain written briefs in advance from counsel would result in judges, who are thorough with the briefs, restricting counsel to the main issues in the case. Cases would be disposed of far more expeditiously than they are today. I have no doubt that a newly transformed Supreme Court dealing only with constitutional cases and cases of far-reaching national importance would thereafter be able to dispose of the cases filed during a year, in the year of filing itself.

 

Today the Supreme Court disposes of about 50,000 cases a year but falls short of the filings that year by about 3,000 to 4,000 cases. The U.S. Supreme Court with nine judges sitting en banc is able to dispose of only 80 to 100 cases a year. The erstwhile Judicial Committee of the House of Lords was able to dispose of only about 180 cases a year. In the case of the Supreme Court of India, I am certain that it will easily be able to deal with 1,000 to 2,000 cases a year without lawyers or clients feeling that they have not been given a full and complete hearing.

 

I believe that the time for complacency is long past. If one has to beg for a hearing date even after three or four years have elapsed after the filing of a case, and still cannot get a date within a month or two, it means the system has failed. No other viable solution has been found so far and it does not appear that expanding the Bench by five judges to 31 would miraculously make the arrears of 50,000 cases disappear. It is time to take bold decisions, and if we hesitate any more without finding a solution, we would have failed the nation and the litigant public.

 

I am encouraged by the fact that a significant change may soon be in the offing. Quoting extensively from the recent R.K. Jain Memorial Lecture delivered by me, in which I proposed the creation of regional Courts of Appeal, a Bench of the Supreme Court of India (comprising Justice Markandey Katju and Justice R.M. Lodha) has referred to a five-judge Constitution Bench the question whether guidelines should be issued for exercise by the Supreme Court of its appellate jurisdiction under Article 136 of the Constitution. Although the setting up of regional Courts of Appeal along the lines I have suggested will require a constitutional amendment, the Constitution Bench reference possibly marks a first, important step in transforming one of the most pivotal institutions in our polity today.

 

( K.K. Venugopal is a distinguished Senior Advocate, Supreme Court of India. This is the second and concluding part of his article.)

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THE HINDU

LESSONS FROM MAYAPURI

THE IMPORTANCE OF KEEPING TRACK OF THE GROWING NUMBER OF RADIOLOGICAL SOURCES DISTRIBUTED TO USERS ACROSS THE COUNTRY HAS BEEN UNDERLINED YET AGAIN.

R. RAMACHANDRAN

 

Replying to a calling attention notice on April 19 in the Rajya Sabha on the radiological accident at Mayapuri in Delhi, Minister of State for Atomic Energy Prithviraj Chavan claimed that India had strict rules and regulations to keep track of radiological sources registered with the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board (AERB), and that the radioactive sources found in Mayapuri had to be of foreign origin. The subsequent discovery by the Delhi Police that the source that caused severe radiation poisoning to seven persons came from the Chemistry Department of Delhi University did not really alter this fact because it was a device imported in 1968. Whether it had gone into the inventory of the AERB remains to be established. If it had, the obvious question is how it went off the radar.

 

The regulatory system of inspection and monitoring put in place by the AERB, though detailed and elaborate, is actually not fool-proof. There have been instances year after year of loss and theft of sources from installations, particularly industrial sites. Most of these incidents, however, are not due to the inadequacy of the AERB's regulatory system but due to non-compliance and laxity on the part of the end-users. The Delhi University example shows this.

 

It is ironic that shortly before the Mayapuri incident, the AERB had issued revised regulations pertaining to safety and security of sources and announced a special meeting on 'Regulatory Aspects of Safety and Security of Industrial Radiography Sources' on April 22. Interestingly, an AERB circular accompanying the announcement said: "In view of the recent incidents of theft of exposure devices from source storage pit, there is need to enhance the physical security of exposure devices at every radiography work site… Hence, all radiography companies are required to provide [an] additional chain in the pit for anchoring the exposure device… Also, it is necessary to provide adequate physical security arrangements to ensure safe and secure storage of industrial gamma radiography exposure devices… (emphasis added)"

 

Zero tolerance

There have been many cases of thefts and other unusual occurrences reported by the AERB over the years. The number of such incidents is not large considering that thousands of radiological sources have been distributed to users all over the country. But the seriousness of the radiological accidents demands that there should be zero-tolerance to such incidents. The periodic occurrences suggests that it is well within the realm of possibility that even domestic radioactive devices, supplied by the Board of Radiation and Isotope Technology and registered with the AERB, could end up in a scrap market. Such instances have occurred in the past and it is only luck that ensured that none of them resulted in Mayapuri-like havoc.

 

Fortunate recovery

In 2004, an industrial radiography source with a relatively high activity of 2.5 Curies (Ci) of Iridium-192 was stolen from the pit room of a radiography institute. AERB experts, with the help of the police, tracked it down to a scrap dealer and, fortunately, recovered it intact. A failure of the search could have resulted in a significant radiological accident. The same year, a nucleonic gauge (meant to measure thickness) containing about 190 mCi of Co-60 (a much weaker source) that was lying unattended for long was inadvertently sold to a scrap dealer in an auction. The dealer cut it open with a gas cutter, resulting in damage to the source capsule. This led to widespread radioactive contamination of the dealer's premises. Fortunately it was a weak source and did not cause serious harm to people or the environment. The Delhi University-Mayapuri case was a similar one, but the source was much stronger and the consequences were severe.

In August 2003, three spare level gauges, each containing a Co-60 source, though of mild activity, were stolen from the radioisotope storage room of the R&D department of Tata Steel in Jamshedpur. On investigation, the police concluded that they had been pilfered two months earlier by scrap thieves by boring the storage room wall. The stuff reached scrap dealers in Delhi via Kolkata. Search operations both in Delhi and Kolkata could not, however, recover the gauges with the sources. Other reported incidents have included the following, some which border on the hilarious:

 

— On the night of August 26, 2009, an industrial radiography device of a company fell from a vehicle during transportation from Pune to Mumbai by road at Pimpri. AERB officials, with the help of the police, found that it had been picked up by a group of youngsters and taken to a village. From there it was recovered the next evening, fortunately intact.

 

— On January 22, 2009, a Chennai-based firm reported the loss of an industrial source. The AERB found that an employee had stolen the device and thrown it out. The AERB located it.

 

— On September 9, 2008, a 2 Ci Ir-192 industrial radiography exposure device belonging to a Delhi-based company was apparently stolen from the Hazrat Nizamuddin railway station while the radiographer was boarding the train. Despite extensive efforts, it could not be located.

 

— In 2007, two instances of theft of radiography Ir-192 sources of fairly high strength from the source storage pit were reported: one from a fertilizer unit at Jagadishpur near Lucknow, and another from Tata Steel, Jamshedpur. Despite extensive search at many locations, including of scrap dealers, the devices could not be traced.

 

— In 2006, a fairly high activity Ir-192 radiography source was lost while being transported in an autorickshaw. Despite an extensive search operation the device could not be located. If it ended up in a scrap market, there is the danger of exposure to the environment.

 

— In May 2005, two Ir-192 sources of moderate activity were stolen from an industrial unit, but neither the AERB nor the police could locate them. In August 2005, an industrial radiography agency in Navi Mumbai reported a fairly strong Ir-192 source, along with the flexible 'pigtail' attached to manoeuvre the source, was stolen. The AERB, with police assistance, found that a person working for another agency had stolen the source and thrown it into the Vashi Creek. Search operations with the help of the Navy were carried out, but the source could not be located.

 

— In July 2002, a radiography camera with Ir-192 source of fairly high activity, kept in a locked briefcase, was lost in a public bus in which the radiography personnel of an agency were travelling. The AERB officials and the police searched the entire length of the highway they had travelled, in vain. The baggage was either stolen or had slipped out of the rear luggage hold, the AERB concluded.

 

Easily pilfered

Though these radiography devices are portable, they are relatively heavy (tens of kg on an average). Interestingly, however, individuals seem to manage to steal or pilfer these devices relatively easily.

More pertinently, transportation of these devices by public transport vehicles is explicitly prohibited under AERB regulations. But these incidents indicate that industrial and other users do not seem to be aware of the potential dangers their violation of the regulations pose to the public at large. The Mayapuri-Delhi University case is an example where even people who should be aware of the risks were callous.

 

                                                                ***************************************


THE HINDU

FROM THE COLD WAR ERA: 50 YEARS SINCE THE U-2 INCIDENT

 

Fifty years after his father was shot down by the Soviets in an incident that marked a turning point in the Cold War, Francis Gary Powers Jr. on Friday visited the wreckage of his dad's U-2 spy plane.

 

"It's a wonderful display," Mr. Powers Jr. said while standing in the hall of the Central Armed Forces Museum in Moscow which holds the wrecked plane and other material commemorating the so-called "U-2 incident" of May 1, 1960.

 

On that day, Francis Gary Powers, a U.S. pilot carrying out a secret mission for the CIA to photograph Soviet nuclear sites, was shot down near the Urals Mountains city of Sverdlovsk, now called Yekaterinburg.

 

Powers parachuted out and was captured by the Soviets, who later convicted him of espionage and threw him in prison. In 1962, Powers was released in a U.S.-Soviet spy swap at the border between East and West Germany, in exchange for America's release of Soviet spy Rudolf Abel. Powers died in 1997.

 

The incident was a major embarrassment for the United States, which had denied carrying out spy flights over the Soviet Union and it derailed efforts to make peace between the two Cold War superpowers. — AFP

 

***************************************


THE HINDU

BLAKE: LET IS A THREAT TO U.S., TO INDIA, AND POTENTIALLY TO PAKISTAN

WE WILL CONTINUE TO URGE OUR FRIENDS IN PAKISTAN TO DEAL WITH THIS.

NARAYAN LAKSHMAN

 

Robert Blake is the United States Assistant Secretary for South and Central Asian Affairs a position he has held since May 2009. A career Foreign Service Officer, Mr. Blake has served at the American Embassies in Tunisia, Algeria, Nigeria and Egypt and in senior roles at the State Department in Washington. Mr. Blake was also Deputy Chief of Mission in New Delhi between 2003-2006, and Ambassador to Sri Lanka and the Maldives from 2006 to mid-2009. He has a B.A. from Harvard College and an M.A. in international relations from Johns Hopkins. In a recent interview with The Hindu , Mr. Blake touched upon a number of current foreign policy issues. Excerpts:

 

On David Coleman Headley, it has been over one month since he struck a plea agreement with the Department of Justice. Could you explain why Indian authorities should not feel frustrated that this process is taking so long and what is the exact nature of the procedures that are stalling the process?

It is not so much a question of the U.S. putting [modalities in place for India's access to Mr. Headley]. It is more a question of getting agreement from Mr. Headley and his lawyers about this — what are going to be the parameters of that access, should it occur.

 

People at a very high level with very good intentions are working on this and we are in very close touch with Indian authorities on this.

 

We are well aware of India's interest but also India's equities as well. Obviously Mr. Headley was involved in reconnoitring sites for not only the Mumbai bombings but perhaps other ones. They have a very clear interest in knowing what further information he may have and we understand that.

 

You also recently mentioned that you had urged authorities in Pakistan to take action against Punjab-based groups, such as Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT). In what ways are they following your advice?

We really see [LeT as] an organisation of growing scope and ambition, as the Headley case itself illustrates; and a threat to the U.S. but also a threat to India and other countries, and potentially a threat to Pakistan too. So it is important for all countries to do what they can to circumscribe and control the activities of LeT.

 

We will be continuing to urge our friends in Pakistan to deal with this. As I said earlier, they have made a lot of progress in Swat and then in South Waziristan, in arresting senior members of the Taliban. There is good momentum. We will continue to urge for progress on that.

 

Yes but do you not think the lack of progress prevents bilateral dialogue between India and Pakistan?

Well it does, so again that underlines the importance of Pakistan fulfilling what it has always said it would do, which is to not allow its territory to be used as a platform against other countries. Pakistan has a sovereign government and they are a friend of the U.S. and we will continue to work with them on this. All I can say is we have identified this as a priority.

 

President Obama said recently the U.S. wanted to reduce nuclear tension in South Asia. Does the U.S. see Chinese nuclear weapons and the Chinese proliferation link with Pakistan as factors which have contributed to this tension?

We all know the historical ties between Pakistan and China. But I do not think I would want to make any statements about the current [situation]. I do not think that there are any significant proliferation issues right now with regard to China and Pakistan.

 

What is your view of India, Pakistan, and Iran joining the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation? How does the U.S. see the SCO in relation to U.S. involvement in Afghanistan?

7[The SCO] could be a very important vehicle for dialogue and also for economic development and economic integration. As long as the SCO sees those things as its goal, we certainly welcome that. I know India particularly has a great deal of interest in trying to expand relations into Central Asia, and many Central Asians tell me that they have interest in doing more business with India, and also Pakistan eventually. But the security situation in Pakistan sometimes constrains them right now.

 

You earlier expressed concern about India and Pakistan tying up with Iran, in the context of pipelines. Do you think that both at forums such as the SCO and on independent commercial projects the coming together of countries like India and Iran is a cause for concern for the U.S.?

You are well aware of what we are trying to accomplish with Iran right now. We are at a very sensitive stage in our diplomacy with them. At the moment we are tying to discourage all countries from pursuing projects that would put significant resources into the hands of, particularly groups like the Iranian Revolutionary Guard corps. It is in that context that we discourage India and Pakistan from pursuing, for example, energy projects and so forth.

 

***************************************


******************************************************************************************

THE ASIAN AGE

EDITORIAL

MANMOHAN'S STEPS FOR PEACE WITH PAK

 

At Thimphu, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has once again shown the capacity to take foreign policy risks. This tendency first came to light when he pushed full steam ahead on concluding the civil nuclear agreement with the US in spite of hesitations at the highest levels of the Congress party and determined opposition from the Left which then supported his government. There were good reasons to believe that Dr Singh was of the view that it was better for him to resign as Prime Minister if he didn't enjoy the complete backing of the Congress leadership on the nuclear issue. Looking at events since the beginning of UPA-2, it does appear Dr Singh holds a similar view on engaging Pakistan, unmindful of costs, although it is probable that he would not go so far as to want to quit if his party did not extend the fullest support to his approach on Pakistan. As it happens, while there was unease in the Congress after the signing of the joint statement with Pakistan at Sharm el-Sheikh that aimed to de-link the India-Pakistan dialogue process from terrorist strikes against India directed from Pakistan, Dr Singh's party has decided to back his engagement with the Pakistan Prime Minister on the sidelines of the recent Saarc Summit.


This would no doubt give the Prime Minister heart, and persuade him that he is on the right track at least on the normative plane if his sincere, consistent and determined efforts to transform relations with Pakistan come to bear only bitter fruit. However, it is not the satisfaction of individuals, no matter how exalted, that concerns us. What is important is the effect on the national spirit of the reconciliation bids with the leadership of a country whose actions over time amply show it entertaining no authentic vision of camaraderie and peace with India and which has done what it can to encourage professional India-haters to foment terrorism against this country. Indeed, this is why Dr Singh was constrained to be candid with Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani in the Bhutan capital and pointed out that there was "lack of mutual trust in the relationship". It should also be borne in mind that after 26/11, then external affairs minister Pranab Mukherjee took the country into confidence more than once and announced that much as India desires to take matters forward with Pakistan in a spirit of normalisation, it would find it impossible to go back to the suspended comprehensive dialogue process until Pakistan ensures that those responsible for the assault on Mumbai were meted out the judicial punishment they deserved. Needless to say, there has been nothing from Pakistan other than a cold, formal and grudging expression of regret in regard to the Mumbai attacks. In the event, it is painfully clear that Dr Singh's forward step in Thimphu — with no demand for it from any significant domestic constituency — undermines the credibility of the solemn promises publicly made by the former external affairs minister.


If we look at the time-line, we can't miss seeing that 26/11 followed not long after the Sharm el-Sheikh understanding which may have persuaded the Pakistani extremists that their execrable actions of terrorism against India would carry no costs for the formal processes between India and Pakistan. The Pakistan government was also likely to see the issue through a similar lens. If there is a likely net gain from the Thimphu stage of the India-Pakistan process, it is hard to see. Indeed, if Pakistan public opinion is not unduly enthused, for a formal resumption of the suspended composite dialogue was not announced although what came about may lead to that, UPA-2 would have fallen between two stools. True, history must not shackle us. But we must unshackle history only when the winds are favourable.

 

***************************************


THE ASIAN AGE

EDITORIAL

UNVEILING LIFE IN ISLOO

 

Oddly enough while Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his counterpart from Pakistan, Yousaf Raza Gilani were taking a "historic" stroll in Thimpu, I was watching a feature film , Slackistan, which conjures up life in Islamabad or Isloo, as it is known to the young and restless who live there. It is an unusual rite-of-passage film about Pakistan, funny and impertinent unveiling "a city which always sleeps" — as the publicity material describes Isloo. The story concerns three rich, upper middle-class boys from a feudal background who finish college —and find themselves adrift, because Isloo offers no answers or future. It is a carefully controlled society, with the highly Americanised youth up against a peculiar trinity of the Army, the mullahs and the Taliban. Slackistan tries to deal with these issues with irreverence — and a sense of humour. This has already worked successfully in literature with The Case of Exploding Mangoes, often called a Rushdie-lite moment in Pakistani literature. And now, thankfully, it seems the same insouciance is creeping into cinema as well.
After a series of films being made all over the world on Muslim terrorism, for me it was a relief to watch a film about "the most dangerous place in the world" which was devoid of bomb blasts and political rhetoric. Yet, nothing about Pakistan can ever be free of controversy.


Director Hammad Khan, who has just put a trailer of his debut film on YouTube is already feeling the heat. The film has generated both debate and arguments especially back home in Pakistan, a country quite unused to total disclosure. As he puts it, the film looks at real life in Isloo — featuring everything taboo: America, alcohol and the feudal elite. These are all dangerous and provocative issues — which is why even on YouTube the film is already creating a furore. Of course, this begs the question, why are Asian countries so worried about their "image" abroad? Do they really think that world has no idea that slums exist, alcohol is drunk ,people in South Asia have sex and would like to live in America?


Hammad is a Brit Asian who was born in Pakistan, and this is his first film, written in part with his wife, Shandana Ayub, who also grew up in Isloo. Still, for him it was a difficult film to make. The collapse of cinema production in Pakistan has been a huge problem for young directors in many ways, and even finding talent becomes a shot in the dark. Hammad had to resort to the Internet and particularly Facebook, to locate his cast in Pakistan. Given the government paranoia about bad publicity, the film had to be shot with great secrecy .Therefore, he kept the cast and crew to the minimal and shot it mostly at real locations. This is also known as guerrilla film-making. And he now thinks he has been lucky to be able to make it at all —  as he finds things becoming extremely difficult for ordinary people in Pakistan, everyday.


Slackistan makes a very strong comment on the difficulty of growing up in Isloo. The talented young ensemble cast gives a strong performance of kids adrift — wasting their lives, somehow trapped in the insecurity of living in Islamabad. Two of the main actors, Shahbaz Hamid Shigri who plays Hasan, and Shahana Khan Malik as Zara were particularly outstanding. I do hope the film does well, as we need to see more of this fresh and open approach .


MEANWHILE, THE leadership debates carry on — but this week they were completely overshadowed by a microphone slip-up by the Prime Minister Gordon Brown. He had to spend one complete day apologising over and over again because in an unguarded moment, he called a 66-year-old Labour supporter, Gillian Duffy, a "bigot", since she happened to question him on immigration. In a febrile and tense environment, whipped up into a frenzy by the media (as ever keeping a keen eye on their ratings) any mis-speaking is going to be leapt upon with glee, as it was. Of course, it is a mistake made by many: if you have a wireless microphone attached to you — and if you forget to switch it off in time, it simply airs your most private thoughts. However, given UK's disenchantment with politicians, this became yet another critical instance of the hypocrisy of politicians. The accusation is that they completely smarmy when faced with the electorate — but actually are totally disengaged from the common man or woman. However, Mr Brown went into an apology overdrive : he apologised to the woman on the phone, then visited her personally (when he apologised for 39 minutes) and then also came out and apologised to the world at large for another 10 minutes and THEN also wrote an email apologising to all Labour Party workers… But the real reason he got into trouble was, apparently, because his wife, the redoubtable Sarah Brown was not by his side. It seems she is the only one who can keep him calm and safe from trouble. So it is good to know that wives are more than arm candy.


And then there was the other Big Apology which arose out the question: how do you greet the Pope? He is supposed to come to the UK later in the year and so preparations are on. However, recently, the arrangements were in serious danger of becoming more adventurous than the normal formality the pontiff is used to. According to a memo sent out by the foreign office to 10 Downing Street — one suggestion was to get him to open an abortion clinic. Another was to get him to distribute "Benedict" condoms. Or maybe — and this is really a smart idea, sing a duet with the Queen to raise money for charity? If this sounds like an April Fool joke, sadly, it was not. It was part of a brainstorming session (also known as "blue skies thinking"!) at the foreign office presided over by some junior officials. It is a little worrying to think that a bunch of juvenile blokes may have taken over Whitehall, but it is a real possibility.


So it has been a season of abject grovelling. This note forced the government to apologise to the Pope Benedict XVI, admitting that the document which also thought the Pope could bless a "gay marriage", was foolish. Some Roman Catholics admitted that they have got used to mockery in the UK in recent times, but others did query that if a Muslim religious leader was similarly ridiculed, would the matter have been allowed to rest so easily?

Interesting thought.


The writer can be contacted at kishwardesai@yahoo.com This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

Kishwar Desai

***************************************


THE ASIAN AGE

EDITORIAL

UNVEILING LIFE IN ISLOO

 

Oddly enough while Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his counterpart from Pakistan, Yousaf Raza Gilani were taking a "historic" stroll in Thimpu, I was watching a feature film , Slackistan, which conjures up life in Islamabad or Isloo, as it is known to the young and restless who live there. It is an unusual rite-of-passage film about Pakistan, funny and impertinent unveiling "a city which always sleeps" — as the publicity material describes Isloo. The story concerns three rich, upper middle-class boys from a feudal background who finish college —and find themselves adrift, because Isloo offers no answers or future. It is a carefully controlled society, with the highly Americanised youth up against a peculiar trinity of the Army, the mullahs and the Taliban. Slackistan tries to deal with these issues with irreverence — and a sense of humour. This has already worked successfully in literature with The Case of Exploding Mangoes, often called a Rushdie-lite moment in Pakistani literature. And now, thankfully, it seems the same insouciance is creeping into cinema as well.
After a series of films being made all over the world on Muslim terrorism, for me it was a relief to watch a film about "the most dangerous place in the world" which was devoid of bomb blasts and political rhetoric. Yet, nothing about Pakistan can ever be free of controversy.


Director Hammad Khan, who has just put a trailer of his debut film on YouTube is already feeling the heat. The film has generated both debate and arguments especially back home in Pakistan, a country quite unused to total disclosure. As he puts it, the film looks at real life in Isloo — featuring everything taboo: America, alcohol and the feudal elite. These are all dangerous and provocative issues — which is why even on YouTube the film is already creating a furore. Of course, this begs the question, why are Asian countries so worried about their "image" abroad? Do they really think that world has no idea that slums exist, alcohol is drunk ,people in South Asia have sex and would like to live in America?


Hammad is a Brit Asian who was born in Pakistan, and this is his first film, written in part with his wife, Shandana Ayub, who also grew up in Isloo. Still, for him it was a difficult film to make. The collapse of cinema production in Pakistan has been a huge problem for young directors in many ways, and even finding talent becomes a shot in the dark. Hammad had to resort to the Internet and particularly Facebook, to locate his cast in Pakistan. Given the government paranoia about bad publicity, the film had to be shot with great secrecy .Therefore, he kept the cast and crew to the minimal and shot it mostly at real locations. This is also known as guerrilla film-making. And he now thinks he has been lucky to be able to make it at all —  as he finds things becoming extremely difficult for ordinary people in Pakistan, everyday.


Slackistan makes a very strong comment on the difficulty of growing up in Isloo. The talented young ensemble cast gives a strong performance of kids adrift — wasting their lives, somehow trapped in the insecurity of living in Islamabad. Two of the main actors, Shahbaz Hamid Shigri who plays Hasan, and Shahana Khan Malik as Zara were particularly outstanding. I do hope the film does well, as we need to see more of this fresh and open approach .


MEANWHILE, THE leadership debates carry on — but this week they were completely overshadowed by a microphone slip-up by the Prime Minister Gordon Brown. He had to spend one complete day apologising over and over again because in an unguarded moment, he called a 66-year-old Labour supporter, Gillian Duffy, a "bigot", since she happened to question him on immigration. In a febrile and tense environment, whipped up into a frenzy by the media (as ever keeping a keen eye on their ratings) any mis-speaking is going to be leapt upon with glee, as it was. Of course, it is a mistake made by many: if you have a wireless microphone attached to you — and if you forget to switch it off in time, it simply airs your most private thoughts. However, given UK's disenchantment with politicians, this became yet another critical instance of the hypocrisy of politicians. The accusation is that they completely smarmy when faced with the electorate — but actually are totally disengaged from the common man or woman. However, Mr Brown went into an apology overdrive : he apologised to the woman on the phone, then visited her personally (when he apologised for 39 minutes) and then also came out and apologised to the world at large for another 10 minutes and THEN also wrote an email apologising to all Labour Party workers… But the real reason he got into trouble was, apparently, because his wife, the redoubtable Sarah Brown was not by his side. It seems she is the only one who can keep him calm and safe from trouble. So it is good to know that wives are more than arm candy.


And then there was the other Big Apology which arose out the question: how do you greet the Pope? He is supposed to come to the UK later in the year and so preparations are on. However, recently, the arrangements were in serious danger of becoming more adventurous than the normal formality the pontiff is used to. According to a memo sent out by the foreign office to 10 Downing Street — one suggestion was to get him to open an abortion clinic. Another was to get him to distribute "Benedict" condoms. Or maybe — and this is really a smart idea, sing a duet with the Queen to raise money for charity? If this sounds like an April Fool joke, sadly, it was not. It was part of a brainstorming session (also known as "blue skies thinking"!) at the foreign office presided over by some junior officials. It is a little worrying to think that a bunch of juvenile blokes may have taken over Whitehall, but it is a real possibility.


So it has been a season of abject grovelling. This note forced the government to apologise to the Pope Benedict XVI, admitting that the document which also thought the Pope could bless a "gay marriage", was foolish. Some Roman Catholics admitted that they have got used to mockery in the UK in recent times, but others did query that if a Muslim religious leader was similarly ridiculed, would the matter have been allowed to rest so easily? Interesting thought.


The writer can be contacted at kishwardesai@yahoo.com This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

Kishwar Desai

 

***************************************


THE ASIAN AGE

EDITORIAL

THE CURIOUS CASE OF COBALT-60

 

"Bas bas bada bole/ ab kuch kariye/ ho koi to chal zidd phariye/ kariye ya mariye hai.../ Nowhere to run/ nowhere to hide/ this is the time/ just do or die!" The song from Chak De India goads you on with the right dose of dread. (I am never sure of Hindi lyrics but it's something like: okay, enough said, now do something, take up the challenge, do it now or perish…)


The curious case of Cobalt-60 in the capital should have the same effect on us. With every twist this tale of radioactive scrap was screaming: Clean up now or perish! At every step it reminded us of how vulnerable we are to catastrophes, how alarmingly callous we are even in dealing with radioactive material, how blissfully indifferent to the extensive damage to life we continue to cause through our criminal negligence. This was not behaviour fit for any responsible nation, certainly not a nuclear power.


First we jabbered on about the Cobalt-60 being thrust on us by evil external sources. Was it a "dirty bomb" in the making? It revealed how chillingly inadequate our import regulations were. We had no clue where the radioactive material had come from, who had sent it, or how it reached one of the busiest and most populated markets of the country.


As one of the world's largest importers of scrap metal, our disinterest in knowing what kind of hazardous material we are bringing into the country is alarming. We have more than a billion people. We have been the target of cross-border terrorism and internal extremism for decades. We are too cash-strapped to handle crises with much efficiency and fairness. We are too corrupt to stop a disaster in mid-flow. We claim to be a superpower. We love red tape and ridiculous formalities in triplicate. Then why on earth do we not screen the hazardous waste that we import? Why don't we need our imports to meet standards of safety?
Sadly, this self-proclaimed Asian giant is actually a gigantic garbage collector. We buy international trash from the developed countries, we lust after their e-waste, toxic waste, hazardous waste, their decrepit computer parts, their rubbish rich in asbestos, mercury, lead and other deadly stuff. We are the friendly neighbourhood kabadiwallah to the world. Then we sort through all that junk — however toxic, however radioactive — melt the contaminated metal and make new metal, and put it back into the supply chain.


Last year huge shipments of Indian steel were denied entry in Europe and the US because they were found to be contaminated by Cobalt-60. The year before, the French discovered that elevator buttons exported from India had unacceptable levels of Cobalt-60. India admitted that they were made from radioactive scrap. The everyday items we export, like steel bars or handlebars, have been rejected by the more responsible nations on account of their radioactive content. They protect their people. And what do we do? Apart from bringing in radioactive and other hazardous trash, that is?


We sell most of our goods made from recycled metal to our own people. We expose our underpaid, undernourished workers to the enormously high doses of radioactivity and toxicity as they eke out a living processing contaminated waste. The Cobalt-60 contamination in Delhi produced dramatic results this time — one worker died and several are in hospital — but usually it is not as spectacular. It is a continuous process of endemic exposure that kills them slowly, through various chronic ailments and diseases like cancer, where nobody takes the blame.


But this time the blame was fixed. Which brings me to the second absurdity — the radioactive material was traced to the prestigious Delhi University. The Cobalt-60 was in a Gamma Irradiator that was lying unused in their chemistry department for 25 years, locked in a room. Now they needed the room and decided to auction off the Gamma Irradiator as junk. As the scrap dealers dismantled the machine and sold off various parts, the radioactive metal spread through the congested market, contaminating unsuspecting workers, till several of them took seriously ill and were hospitalised. That's when the hunt for the source began, leading ultimately to Delhi University.


Fortunately, the university apologised. Unfortunately, it gave ridiculous explanations. The person who bought the machine back in 1968 had retired, they explained, and the current staff didn't really know much about the dangers. Besides, they had miscalculated this chunk of Cobalt-60's radioactive life, and had thought it was now safe. Calculating the radioactive life of Cobalt-60 is pretty easy — it depletes by 50 per cent every 5.27 years. If this is the state of knowledge and intellectual ability in one of the country's highest seats of education, one shudders to think of the scholarship we are now unleashing on the world.


Now for the third absurdity: apparently the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board (AERB) has no proper inventory of such radioactive sources in hundreds of machines lying all over the country. They have no interest in radioactive material that India got before 1983, the year the AERB was set up. That would be too exhausting. Anyway, it was the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre's (Barc) responsibility to dispose of radioactive material. Which they have been doing sporadically — we have all heard hair-raising stories of Barc recovering lost radioactive needles from scrap markets and hospital drains and even crematoriums.
The list of absurdities could be endless. What is the most absurd however is the total disregard we have for human life as we try shortcuts to development. Ragpickers and scrap dealers — the mainstay of our recycling industries — are routinely trashed by the country they keep clean and that depends on them substantially for industrial growth. We are unmoved by little ragpicker children digging through rubbish heaps, by them being blown up by grenades they pick up, by the exposure to toxic and radioactive material that kills them slowly. The radioactive terror in a congested West Delhi scrap market may not move us too much.


Also absurd is the belief that hazardous waste affects only the poor. The middle classes are exposed as well. Radioactive metal is very likely to be present in the steel we all use everyday. Toxic waste in water doesn't only affect our soft drinks, but contaminates all that grows in it. The fruits and vegetables we eat are full of heavy metal and pesticides. Our hospitals don't maintain proper disposal rules, thus exposing everyone to all kinds of contaminations. We can't look the other way anymore. Cleaning up is more than urgent. Bas bas bada bole/ ab kuch kariye.


Antara Dev Sen is editor of The Little Magazine. She can be contacted at: sen@littlemag.com This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

Antara Dev Sen

***************************************


THE ASIAN AGE

EDITORIAL

THE NEW ANTI PARTY

 

 "The memory of you lives on

— like the song of the Dodo Bird?"

From Fragments

By Bachchoo Comrades,


April.01 : In response to the millions of heartfelt entreaties I have received from the destitute, the desperate, the despairing and my own well-wishers and family, I have urgently consulted the family astrologers and have, with caution and reluctance, decided to throw my hat into the ring in the general elections for the British Parliament to be held on the May 6. Our party, the Post-Marxist Turpitudors (PMT) will be contesting all 600-and-something seats.


The electors of Great Britain and Northern Ireland should be aware that I refused all exhortations and invitations to join the final TV debate of the party leaders last Thursday, the shameful beauty contest between the ogre and Phantom of the Opera Gordon Brown for Labour, the snake oil and used toothbrush salesman David  Cameron for the Tories and the politician impersonator and hair-gel advertisement Nick Clegg for the so-called Liberal Democrats. My reasons for declining are self-evident: these gentlemen and the TV networks whom they are promoting have reduced British politics to the level of American Presidential elections and worse, to the frivolity of reality TV competitions in which the public vote for the the most pleasing performance.


It is no good the parties protesting that their intention was more serious, that these debates between the leaders of the parties were really opportunities to air the policies of each. The proletariat of Britain, whose hearts have been fed on fantasies, have grown brutal from the fare. Is it not true that on the reality shows in which hundreds of contestants, some of them struggling and deluded no-hopers, are encouraged to make noises and movements in cruel parody of song and dance in order to entertain the roaring crowds with the spectacle of unselfconscious failure? Haven't these reality shows, Comrades, from Bigg Brother to The X Factor and Britain's Got Talent, deliberately presented grotesque fools and half-wits so that the general public can feel superior to the monstrous parade of humanity and vanity that they represent?


Don't these shows owe their appeal to the instinct that the Roman emperors exploited when they threw Christians to the lions for public amusement or got hapless gladiators to fight till only one was left standing?  Should Britain really have to choose it's future Prime Minister through such a demeaning, humiliating and self-evidently flawed process?


No, Comrades, no! Reject this frivolity and demagoguery and vote for PMT, the party that refuses to engage in this travesty of the democratic process.


Think of what the travesty allows these so called leaders to do! The Institute for Fiscal Studies, a capitalistic, reactionary but statistically reliable organisation has, after watching the debates and reading the statements on economic policy published by all three parties, come to the firm conclusion that none of them are telling the electorate the truth. There is an elephant in the room and these parties are chasing the cockroaches, pretending that they are the only creatures we can see. The economic elephant is the massive national debt that Britain has incurred in bailing out the failed world banking system. The institute asks the question: "How is this debt to be repaid so the country is solvent again, at least to the extent it was before the world banking crisis?" Each party has attempted to deceive the British public by  professing to have answered the question without making clear to the voters what the increases in direct and indirect taxation and cuts in government spending and therefore cuts in services they would have to impose would be. The institute attempts to quantify the lies or obfuscation of each party in answering this question. All three parties have declared how they will save or account for "x" billion pounds of the deficit. Each of the answers falls short by at least 75 per cent of the requirement in order to deal with the said deficit.


Comrades, the PMT is the only party that has a solution which will not entail taking a penny out of the pockets of the honest proletarian man, woman or family. Consider the fact that the global economic banking crisis was brought about by bankers, capitalists and their political accomplices. They did the crime, they must do the time. As my fundamentalist friends say, judgment has come and mercy has gone!


The PMT's manifesto contends that there are in Britain a thousand individuals whose names the newspapers frequently announce, calling them the "rich list". Individuals have been known to fight to get onto this ladder of fame. Let them now fight to get off this ladder of greed, because PMT has calculated that all their wealth, capital and assets in Britain and abroad, amount to billions of pounds and can easily cover the national debt. When PMT is elected as the government of this country we will nationalise every penny of the wealth of the top 1,000 "rich list" and if all that doesn't cover the national debt that the billionaire bankers have got us into, we shall proceed to the second thousand on the "rich list" and so on down.


We are fully aware that most of these vultures have lodged their cash and ill-gotten gains in off-shore banks and enterprises. The PMT government will demand from these off-shore havens that the assets be declared and returned. Failing which the British armed forces, withdrawn from Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere will be strategically deployed to get from these sleazy off-shore-wallahs that which will now be  Britain's. As they used to say, no quarter shall be shown.


What will become of the dispossessed individuals, the bankers, the sharks, the landowners who have oppressed the prols for thousands of years or made a quick buck in the last few? They will be free to set up their own re-education camps in land supplied by our government in the vicinity of Slough with full NGO access. There will be no water-boarding or water-skiing.


The next point of our manifesto promises the dismissal and disbandment of all parking attendants and traffic wardens and the possible revenge imprisonment of all those who have issued a parking ticket and fine to a 1999 model black Mercedes whose registration cannot at present be disclosed for security reasons.

 

Forward etc.!


Comrade FD Chief of Politburo (PM designate)

Farrukh Dhondy

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THE TRIBUNE

EDITORIAL

A TOTTERING TRADING BLOC

SAARC HAS MUCH TO DO TO BE EFFECTIVE

 

It is a matter of deep regret that the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation lags behind all other regional trading blocs and has achieved little of note in the 25 years of its existence. The just-concluded meeting of the association in Thimphu started on a refreshingly candid note when the young Bhutanese Prime Minister Lyonchhen Jigmi Thinley said the bloc was "losing focus" because of prevailing tensions between the member states. His refrain that "fractious and quarrelsome neighbours do not make a prosperous community," should lead to some soul-searching especially among India and Pakistan whose baggage of mutual suspicion and acrimony has prevented SAARC from achieving meaningful cooperation.

 

That the forum has failed to better integrate the region's economies, policies and people was recognized even by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh at the summit. It is some relief that Dr Singh and his Pakistani counterpart Yousef Reza Gilani agreed on Foreign Ministers level contacts to be resumed between the two countries. Another positive to emerge from the summit has been an agreement among the eight member-states on trade in services that is slated to accelerate regional collaboration in diverse areas like health, hospitality, communications, computer and information services and air transport. It is also heartening that the Thimphu summit paid special emphasis on environment, signing a convention to boost exchange of best practices and knowledge, capacity building and transfer of eco-friendly technology in areas such as climate change, coastal zone management, wildlife conservation and environmental impact assessment studies.

 

Yet, these are marginal gains in the face of the challenges that the grouping, which represents virtually one-fourth the world's population, faces. The concept of a South Asia free trade zone remains unfulfilled and needs to be pursued with vigour. The SAARC member-states must also move towards better connectivity among themselves without any further loss of time. One can only hope against hope that while forging closer links on economic issues the group's two most important members India and Pakistan would move closer politically. Both on terrorism and on education (with India taking the initiative to set up a South Asian University), Pakistan would do well to demonstrate greater will to act. With the success of ASEAN as a regional grouping for South-East Asia, there is much for SAARC to strive for and achieve.

 

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THE TRIBUNE

EDITORIAL

UNCERTAINTY IN JHARKHAND

MORE IT CHANGES, THE MORE IT REMAINS THE SAME

 

The comedy of errors involving the BJP and the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha this week is a sad, though unintended, commentary on both. The BJP, amusingly enough, was quick to swallow its outrage over what it called an 'act of betrayal' by JMM leader, Chief Minister and a Member of the Lok Sabha, Shibu Soren. Salivating at the prospect of heading the state government in Jharkhand, where it has been a junior partner since December, the BJP put its own Parliamentary Board's decision to pull out of the alliance on hold. While the party explored the possibility of running the show in the mineral-rich state, the JMM offered an even more sorry spectacle. It publicly admitted that Soren was far too ill, was 'confused' and that he made a mistake by voting against the cut-motion sponsored by the opposition. It forced Soren to send three letters of apology and plead with the BJP to review its decision of withdrawing support. The party also indicated its readiness to sacrifice Soren as CM in favour of a BJP leader from the state, provided he is a tribal.

 

The politically cursed state, which has been witness to seven governments in less than ten years of its existence, is, however, unlikely to see an end to instability even if a BJP-led government takes over from Soren. The coalition would still be dependent on smaller parties like the All Jharkhand Students Union with five MLAs and the Jharkhand Janadhikar Manch with one. It is also doubtful if the JMM will be able to remain united once the senior Soren is out of the way. The JMM leader's son, still in his twenties, was foisted as the leader of the Legislature Party by overlooking far more senior and deserving claimants. But once Soren senior quits as CM, it remains to be seen if the son is able to command the support, respect and loyalty of the legislators.

 

Partisan politics, rampant corruption and poor governance have been the bane of the resource-rich state. The present uncertainty provides yet another opportunity to the BJP and the JMM to put it back on the rails. A common minimum programme is the least they need to work out in the interests of 'Jharkhand's poor'.

 

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THE TRIBUNE

EDITORIAL

STEALTH SHIP SHIVALIK

INDIA JOINS ELITE GROUP

The tag "Made in India" has a wonderful feel to it. And when it is on the country's first home-built stealth warship INS Shivalik, the sense of elation is further magnified. The induction of the Rs 2,300-crore frigate is a welcome step in keeping with the changes in warship technology. India is now in an exclusive club, considering that only the US, the UK, Russia, France, China, Japan and Italy have the capability to build such ships. Most of these countries may be far more advanced, but just keeping pace with them is a major achievement. It is heartening that the Navy has been in the forefront of the indigenisation drive. It will have greater bluewater warfare punch if its plan to induct seven advanced frigates by 2020 at a cost of Rs 65,000 crore remains on course.

Such acquisitions are very important considering that it has a yawning shortfall of ships. It suffered mainly in 1990s when hardly any orders were placed due to various reasons. Defence capabilities are built over a long period of time and it is necessary to make amends at the earliest possible. The most prestigious project the Navy has undertaken is the first indigenously designed aircraft carrier now under construction at Kochi. The pace will have to be stepped up even further.

In the 21st century, the Navy has become very important for safeguarding the country's strategic interests. It is today a vital instrument of diplomacy and capabilities. The country has been sending ships all over the world and has engaged in joint exercises with the US, the UK, Japan and ASEAN. Quick decisions are needed to augment not only its strength but also to make its fleet younger. Many ships like aircraft carrier INS Viraat, which was commissioned in 1959 in the Royal Navy as HMS Hermes, and was purchased by the Indian Navy in 1986, cry out for replacement. 

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THE TRIBUNE

COLUMN

US ARMS FOR PAKISTAN

INDIA MUST ENSURE CONVENTIONAL SUPERIORITY

BY GURMEET KANWAL

 

While in Washington DC for the Nuclear Security Summit in mid-April, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh remonstrated with President Barack Obama about the adverse implications of the proposed conventional arms sales by the United States to Pakistan.

 

In February, the American Ambassador in Islamabad had said that the US Defense Department was considering the sale of 12 unarmed drones to Pakistan to encourage it to cooperate in the war on terror. It is not beyond Pakistan's technological capability to arm these UAVs with air-to-ground missiles for use in conventional conflict. The US has also offered 1,000 Laser-guided bombs to Pakistan to attack Taliban terrorists from the air in the NWFP and FATA areas on Pakistan's western borders — the epicentre of international terrorism.

 

In October 2009, Air Chief Marshal Rao Quamar Suleman, Chief of Staff of the Pakistan Air Force (PAF), had accepted the first F-16 Block 52 aircraft on behalf of his nation at the Lockheed Martin facility at Fort Worth, Texas. The remaining aircraft was to be delivered in 2010. The total order, worth $5.1 billion, is for 12 F-16Cs and six F-16Ds. When this transfer is completed, it will raise the total number of F-16s in service with the PAF to 54. The Pakistan Air Force received its first F-16, in the Block 15 F-16A/B configuration, in 1982.

 

Earlier, the US Defense Security Cooperation Agency had notified Congress of a foreign military sale to Pakistan of 115 M109A5 155mm self-propelled howitzers as well as associated equipment and services. The total value, if all options are exercised by Pakistan, could be as high as $56 million.

 

This is not the first time that the US has offered major arms packages to Pakistan, nor will it be the last.

 

The US had co-opted Pakistan as a frontline state in its fight against communism during the Cold War and

armed it with Patton tanks, F-86 Sabre Jets and F-104 Starfighters, among other weapons and equipment. Despite strong US assurances, all of these were used against India. US-Pakistan cooperation was expanded further when the former Soviet Union occupied Afghanistan.

 

In the 1980s, the CIA gave Pakistan huge quantities of weapons for the Afghan Mujahideen. These included shoulder-fired Stinger surface-to-air missiles, some of which were recovered by the Indian Army from Pakistan's terrorist mercenaries in Kashmir. However, as soon as the last Soviet tank left Afghan soil, the US had dropped Pakistan like a hot potato and slapped sanctions on it.

 

Post-September 11, 2001, the US not only ignored Pakistan's nuclear proliferation but also its emergence as the new hub of Islamist fundamentalist terrorism. It also tolerated General Musharraf's dictatorial regime because it suited US national interests in the war against terrorism.

 

The US designation of Pakistan as a major non-NATO ally in March 2004 had irritated Indian policy planners because Indo-US relations had just begun to improve. The "next steps in strategic partnership" (NSSP) had been announced only in January 2004 and India was looking forward to a comprehensive engagement with the US.

 

The Indo-US strategic partnership is now on a firm footing, but developments such as the sale of major conventional arms to Pakistan run the risk of damaging the growing relationship.

 

The US justifies arms sales to Pakistan on several grounds. Besides the need to continue to retain Pakistan's support in the hunt for Al-Qaeda and Taliban terrorists, the US realises the fragility of the civilian regime in the face of Islamist hardliners in the Pakistan Army, the ISI and the country. It sees the Pakistan Army as a stabilising force in a country that is being gradually Islamised beyond redemption. It is also deeply concerned about Pakistan's nuclear weapons falling into jihadi hands if there is an Islamist coup. Therefore, the US feels inclined to offer some sops to satisfy Pakistan's corps commanders at regular intervals.

 

The sale of eight Orion maritime surveillance aircraft, the Phalanx gun systems and the 2000 TOW anti-tank-cum-bunker busting missiles falls in this category. Also, India and Pakistan are among the largest arms buyers in the world today and no US administration can neglect the military-industrial complex.

 

Though the sale of the Orion reconnaissance aircraft will make things relatively more difficult for the Indian Navy, the aircraft do not pose a direct new threat to India. The proposed sale indicates a US design to engage the Pakistan Navy in joint reconnaissance and patrolling of the sea-lanes in the Gulf region by bolstering its capability while a similar exercise is being undertaken with the Indian Navy in the southern Bay of Bengal and the Malacca Straits.

 

Clearly, the US is planning to cooperate with the Indian Navy through its Honolulu-based Pacific Command and with the Pakistan Navy through its Central Command. Such an arrangement will also keep the Indian and Pakistan navies from having to launch joint operations and undertake search, seizure and rescue operations together.

 

The supply of a new batch of F-16 aircraft to Pakistan will certainly enhance the strike capabilities of the Pakistan Air Force even though the Indian Air Force will continue to enjoy both qualitative and quantitative superiority. If India wishes to influence US arms sales decisions, it must develop adequate leverages to make the US reconsider the pros and cons very carefully. It was reported recently that India had "prevailed" on France to abstain from selling Mirage aircraft to Pakistan in return for a deal to upgrade Mirage 2000 aircraft in service with the IAF.

 

India is justified in seeing the move to go ahead with the sale of F-16s as a US attempt to balance its strategic partnership with India by once again propping up Pakistan as a regional challenger. India must do what is necessary to maintain its conventional superiority. The new F-16s must not be allowed to achieve anything more than to provide fresh targets to the IAF in a future India-Pakistan conflict.n

 

The writer is Director, Centre for Land Warfare Studies, New Delhi

 

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THE TRIBUNE

COLUMN

BACK TO SCHOOL

BY ASHOK KUMAR YADAV

 

WHEN I was heading the school education department, educational institutions from across the state used to compete with one another to invite me as chief guest. I would sometimes change my itinerary to oblige a few, while politely declining or defering the rest. But no invitation was forthcoming from a bucolic, rustic school of Bawal, where I was initiated into formal learning.

 

One early morning, the head of my alma mater approached my brother, for inviting the generic product for inaugurating a computer laboratory there and motivating budding Bawalians. I took no time to confirm, as I was myself longing to be there for long.

 

The thought of re-visiting my childhood school turned me nostalgic about the first day of my admittance, which I can vividly recall even today. My mother had given me a cold water bath and applied kaajal ka teeka on my forehead, obviously to save me from evil forces and ensure uninterrupted schooling. I was offered curd with gur as a good omen. May be, she had premonition about her youngest son shaping into a civil servant.

 

My mother had stitched a school bag with a sling, out of a discarded trouser, for keeping alphabet-kaayda, pahara-booklet, slate, kalam and dawaat filled with roshnai ink. Attired in khaki short and half-sleeve shirt with a hanky tucked in pocket, I set on the most eventful voyage of my life to vidya ka mandir, waving a wooden takhti, and amid recital of religious hymns. As I entered the classroom, I got scared seeing an errant student being caned. Sniffing my dilemma, I was comforted, made to sit on tappar on the floor, which I ritually carried ever thereafter.

 

I would make kagaj ki kishtis and float them in a small seasonal pond with friends, in a remote corner, after the classes were over. On Saturday afternoons, we used to jubilantly run for home at the sounding of ghanti, singing takhti pe takhti, takhti pe daana; kal ki chhuti, parson aana. Our evenings were filled with fun, playing kancha, pithu and gulli danda till dusk, coinciding with gau-dhuli when the cows unerringly returned home, as depicted by Munshi Prem Chand in his novel, Godan.

 

Finding me confident and generally acceptable, I was soon anointed as monitor, which I continued to be throughout my schooling, wherever I meandered with my father on his transfer.

 

No sooner did I reach the school on the appointed day, I spontaneously started humming woh kagaj ki kishti, woh baarish kaa paani. But, alas, the pond which was a witness to my childhood pranks was there no more. As I shared my school reminiscences with the youngsters, there was repeated applause. Tears rolled down my eyes when one boy revealed that he considered me as his role model. The re-union ended with euphoric ovation when I declared that I could no more call my alma mater as TCC (Tappar Chak Convent), since all jute tappars had been replaced by dual desks.?

 

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THE TRIBUNE

OPED

INVASION OF PRIVACY

ALL GOVTS RESORT TO PHONE TAPPING

BY RAJINDAR SACHAR

 

The recent divisive debate in Parliament about phone tapping of not only members of the Opposition but also of some Congress leaders has highlighted the danger of vesting such power in the security and intelligence agencies.

 

The government has naturally denied it authorised phone tapping. The denial by Chidambaram, an astute lawyer, may be technically correct but does not frontally deny the allegation that phone tapping of political leaders did take place. His reply is limited only to assuring the House that no phone tapping of political leaders was authorised by the government.

 

Regrettably, it has to be conceded that phone tapping has been going on under all governments of whatever political hue. There was a similar exposure by a news magazine in 1990-91 that persuaded the Peoples Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) to take up the matter with the Supreme Court. Then also wire-tapping of leaders of all parties, including Chandra Shekhar, a former Prime Minister, had taken place.

 

With the usual slowness of the wheel of justice, the matter was heard in 1996. It is significant that the authenticity of the news report was not questioned by the Union of India before the court. Rather the CBI in its reply was frank enough to admit that its enquiries had revealed unjustified interceptions of telephones of a large number of journalists, members of Parliament, Chief Ministers, and even some Central ministers.

 

In fact, the CBI had recommended that with regard to members of Parliament the proposal should have the approval of the Prime Minister, who may consult the Speaker and the Chairman of Rajya Sabha.

 

The Supreme Court held that, "Telephone tapping unless it comes within the grounds of restrictions under Article 19(2), would in fact violate Article 19(1) of the Constitution. It also agreed with the US Supreme Court that "The security of one's privacy against arbitrary intrusion by the police….is basic to a free society. It is, therefore, implicit in "the concept of ordered liberty" and as such enforceable against the State through the due process clause.

 

While holding so firmly on the right of citizens, the Court faltered when it came to indicate a remedy to stop this violation. It merely directed that an interception may be permitted by the Home Secretaries, whose orders will be subject to a review by a committee consisting of the Cabinet Secretary at the Centre, the Chief Secretary in a state along with some other secretaries — merely an illusory appeal from Caesar to Caesar, all within the intimate obliging circle of the bureaucracy. This touching, though misplaced, faith in the bureaucracy is a serious flaw in the judgement, especially in view of court's own finding that several lapses had occurred in the execution of the order passed under the Act.

 

While disposing of the matter the Supreme Court stated that it was laying down the procedure and hoped that the government would lay down a fair and reasonable procedure. But alas, in spite of several governments consisting of various political parties (including those who are in the forefront of condemning this practice) none of the governments thought it fit to even apply its mind to correct this deficiency in the law — not much of a tribute to the commitment to the fundamental rights of citizens. Sometimes I wonder whether we are still in the era of feudal lords (the political parties) and serfs (citizens like us). It is only when someone steps on the toes of political leaders that this shout of safeguarding individual rights is projected around.

 

Personally I feel that this issue can be defused by taking the Opposition into confidence and framing legislation that no phone tapping will be done without a prior judicial scrutiny — this safeguard is essential if the right to privacy, a fundamental right, is to be protected against the whimsical, ulterior misuse of this power. The lame excuse, put forward by governments that intricate security matters are too subtle and complex for judicial evaluation, was sarcastically rejected by the US Supreme Court thus: "There is no reason to believe that judges will be insensitive to or uncomprehending of the issues involved in domestic security cases. If the threat is too subtle or complex for our senior law enforcement officers to convey its significance to a court, one may question whether there is a probable cause for surveillance".

 

In the news magazine there is a disturbing mention that latest intelligence gathering is frequently deployed in the Muslim-dominated areas of cities like Delhi, Lucknow and Hyderabad. This horrendous, unwarranted targeting of citizens of India and especially of minorities, calls for the severest of condemnation. Unfortunately this aspect was not brought out in the debate. Even the Home Minister did not deny it. Such attitude in the intelligence community is totally impermissible.

 

Why this incursive intelligence gathering in Lucknow and not in Banares or Hardwar? I can understand if there is specific information about security danger in certain areas, in that case this may be permissible — but without hard evidence, to pick up areas of minority residence is abhorrent and impermissible. The government needs on its own to clarify this aspect — secular India cannot permit communal intelligence gathering machinery.

 

The writer is a retired Chief Justice of the Delhi High Court

 

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THE TRIBUNE

OPED

CRPF: ROOTLESS AND RESTLESS

BY USHA NARINDER SINGH

 

The April 6 massacre of 75 CRPF jawans close to Chiltanar village in the dense forest of Dantewada has sent a shockwave across the nation. It was an inhuman act committed by our own people against our own jawans. Though the force was raised during Queen Victoria's time and was known as the crown representative force, it has now become a nomad force having no permanent location. It keeps on moving. That is why some describe the CRPF as Chalte Raho Pyare Force.

 

Life in this force is so unsettled that you have to move from one place to another at a short notice. You are heading for Hydrabad and the train is ready to leave but all of a sudden you get the order to be back as you are required in Srinagar. Just think of the plight of the jawans and their families.

 

Their children's education suffers. At times the shifting is so sudden that at a new location, you really have to beg the principal for the admission of your children. From the start, new courses are to be studied, new uniforms bought and fees are to be paid the second time for admissions. It becomes so difficult to pay so much from your meager income.

 

On the family front problems are many. Because of frequent disturbances, jawans' leave gets cancelled. They fail to spend quality time with their partners. And have to leave their wives at the mercy of their relatives .

 

Their duty hours are tough. They are to assist the local police in states, where they are strangers, getting step-motherly treatment from the local people and authorities. They can't express their helplessness to anybody. Often they are posted in tough climatic conditions. They don't have proper arms and ammunition. Their vehicles often break down and jawans have to push them to start.

 

The force has no guardian. The DGs are usually from the armed forces, IAS officers or from the local force. They don't take much interest in the force and have no concern for the welfare of the jawans and officers or in the uplift of the force. "Open Darbars" are not held regularly. Any grouse of a jawan or an officer is not taken sportingly. As during British rule, you have to abide by the rules without letting anyone know your problems.

 

In the Army people are concerned about one another whether retired or in service. But once you retire from the CRPF, the families don't know where to go, how to get medical, personal or settlement help. There is no sense of togetherness because nobody at the top cares to connect with the persons who have retired or are serving.

 

CRPF personnel help in establishing peace but they themselves are a shattered lot. No psychologist, no counsellor in the battalion to help them to shed their mental load by analysing their problems. As a result, anger and distrust keep breeding in their minds. A few rude words from a colleague or the boss trigger the anger inside and the agony of suicide and killing their own people or the boss comes out in a very cruel form .

 

Promotions in the force are on such a snail's pace that jawans and officers get tired of waiting. Sometimes they are promised a promotion on Diwali or the New Year. Both Diwali and the New Year come and go, but their wait continues endlessly. 

 

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THE TRIBUNE

OPED

INSIDE PAKISTAN

DID AFGHANS KILL BENAZIR?

BY SYED NOORUZZAMAN

 

Strange are the ways of the leaders in Pakistan. After the UN committee's enquiry into the circumstances leading to the assassination of Benazir Bhutto, a probe has been instituted to find out who ordered the hosing down of the crime scene soon. This will help identify the people behind the killing of the PPP leader.

 

But her widower, President Asif Ali Zardari, perhaps, has no interest in the findings of the second enquiry committee. He told a tribal jirga on Tuesday at Governor's House in Peshawar: "Those (Afghan refugees) who were granted refugee status 30 years ago stabbed Pakistan in the back and killed Benazir Bhutto." He asked people to remain united for tracking down the elements involved in Benazir's killing.

 

President Zardari's latest statement amounts to "nothing short of throwing a spanner in the works", as the Business Recorder said. What is the real intention of Zardari? If Zardari is sure what he has declared is correct, then why certain ministers have issued statements, saying that General Musharraf (retd) can be extradited (he currently lives in London as an exile) and tried for the high-profile killing, as the UN probe report has held his government responsible for poor security arrangements for Benazir, resulting in her assassination.

 

Views of Zardari, Musharraf

Is there any deeper meaning in the commonality of views between President Zardari and General Musharraf (retd)? Does this indicate that Zardari and the former military dictator may be seen together at one platform in the near future? According to Pakistani media reports, the retired General is ready to take a plunge into politics to try his luck again for capturing power.

 

General Musharraf (retd) has been in the news for some time for his plan to launch a political party —- another Muslim League —- to contest elections. His party is believed to be in the process of being registered.

 

As things appear today, Zardari and the former Army Chief will both remain the target of attack for PML (N) leader Nawaz Sharif, who has started dreaming to be the Prime Minister of Pakistan again after the latest constitution amendment exercise. Zardari and Musharraf may find a common cause to come together in such a scenario unless the elements in the establishment gunning for the former military ruler succeed in launching criminal proceedings against him and give a new twist to the whole situation.

 

Washing of crime scene

Whatever Zardari says or some ministers believe, people remain intrigued about the manner in which hosing down of the crime scene was ordered after the suicide bomb attack leading to Benazir's death. In an article in Dawn (April 27) Kamran Shafi says, "It goes without saying that that let alone someone of the rank of a CPO, even an inspector-general of police would not by himself dare order the washing of a place where such an important person had been murdered."

Samson Simon Shraf points out in his article in The Nation (April 25), "The Bhutto legacy will endure treacherous times…At a time when the country (Pakistan) is struggling to fight its civil war in the backdrop of a sinking economy and growing parochialism, the Bhutto legacy provides the cohesion needed to offset threats."

All the post budget analysis and implications Sign up now.

 

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MUMBAI MERROR

EDITORIAL

MAHA ACHIEVEMENTS

THE PAST FIVE DECADES ARE FULL OF EXAMPLES OF THE CAN-DO AND INNOVATIVE SPIRIT OF THE STATE

 

 Maharashtra was born exactly 50 years ago. It is one of India's major states, contributing not just output, jobs, and taxes, but also ideas, talent and leadership. Here are a few examples of some very innovative and pioneering achievements of the state.


 (a) The first Chief Minister of Maharashtra is the only person who handled all the important portfolios as a Union minister. He was defence, home, finance and foreign minister of India. He also became deputy Prime Minister. Under his early leadership, Maharashtra was one of the first states to introduce decentralisation of power, by passing a law to democratically elect zilla (district) parishads and village panchayats. The nationwide law, called the constitutional amendment number 73 and 74 came much later in 1993.


(b) In 1965, a pilot project was done in Tasgao taluka of Sangli district. The idea was to create jobs for drought relief, so that farmers and landless labour could have some income. This led to the genesis of a statewide rural programme called Employment Guarantee Scheme (EGS) in 1972. EGS was funded fully by the state by taxing its own urban workers, with no support at all from the centre. EGS created massive employment during drought years and has been running for three decades. The nation realised its importance, and adopted it as national law in 2005 called the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act.


(c) The state was the first one to construct a limited access, toll charging, six lane national expressway connecting two cities. We call it as the Mumbai-Pune expressway, which has practically merged the two giant cities. It was a world class engineering feat since the road cut through steep mountains. That was almost 15 years ago, much before the golden quadrilateral program connected much of India.


(d) The first major autonomous corporation running railway services along Western Ghats was also an idea conceived in and by Maharashtrians. This is the Konkan Railway Corporation, whose 760 kilometres have 179 major bridges, the longest being 2 km long. The corporation is independent of Indian Railways, and has been a boon for travellers between Maharashtra and Kerala.


 (e) Many people are in jails, not convicted of any crime, awaiting a trial. An estimated 70 per cent of India's prison population were these under-trials, many of them innocent, languishing for years. One reason for the huge undertrials backlog was that there are insufficient police and vans to ferry them to court and back. Maharashtra was the first state to introduce video-conferencing, even from small jails, so that the backlog has been cut drastically. More than 700 police officers were released from their duty of just escorting undertrials. Today even the Supreme Court accepts video testimony of witnesses.


   (f) To ensure a fair income to farmers, and eliminate mischief of middlemen, Maharashtra was the only state that introduced the Monopoly Procurement law for cotton as well as jowar. This increased production of both. This was 40 years ago, at a time when the country was not self sufficient in food, and had to go with a begging bowl abroad.

 

 (g) The state pioneered and popularised the concept of clean village, and dispute free village. The former is better know by the name of Sant Gadge Maharaj Swacchata Abhiyaan.


(h) The state also was a pioneer in the computerisation of land records, of instant registration of any document and of automation in stamp duty process. (Of course this automation push may have been triggered by the stamp duty scam!). The state is also the first state in the country to automate e-payments of wages to contract workers. This reduces the risk of the contractor cheating his employees.


There are many such small and big innovations which kept Maharashtra numero uno. Happy golden jubilee, and may your future be as glorious as your past!

 

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

EDITORIAL

TRIBES, FORESTS AND MINES

GIVEN THE FRACTURED RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN FOREST DEPTS AND FOREST-DWELLERS, INVOLVING TRIBAL POPULATION IN PREPARATION OF WORKING PLANS IS CRITICAL

INDIRA RAJARAMAN

Given the badly fractured relationship between forest departments and forest-dwellers, involving the tribal population in the preparation of working plans is critical

Among the prominent depictions in Buddhist iconography is Buddha The Teacher, unravelling the knot of life with the thumb and forefinger of both hands. It will take quite some unravelling to undo the knot underlying the violence unleashed on Indian security forces in April.

 As is well known, the maps of tribal occupancy, forest cover and underground mineral wealth in India can be overlaid on one another with a good degree of concordance. Tribal populations live on the strength of renewable forest produce, and the forests, in turn, have rendered inaccessible the mineral wealth underneath them.

The first line of battle is between the imperative to protect forest cover in India, for preservation of our water resources, agricultural productivity and food security, and the fevered push by the mining lobby to get at the mineral wealth underneath it. Conversion of forested land to non-forest uses is actually permissible under the law, following a Supreme Court judgment in 2002. Such conversion is subject to compensatory payments calibrated to cover the expenditure required for equivalent afforestation, in addition to the net present value of forest land lost. The exact method by which these payments were arrived at need not detain us here, although the numbers do matter a great deal. The more serious issue is that the fund into which these payments were to flow was to be managed by a Compensatory Afforestation Fund Management and Planning Authority (Campa), which was never formally notified. The payments meant for afforestation and compensation accumulated with an ad hoc Campa at the national level. Following protests from states, a decision was taken recently to release Rs 100 crore annually to the respective states' Campa, over the next five years, in proportion to the area diverted in each state to non-forest uses.

What the states do with these funds will be the function of the monitoring system in place, and the penalties in place, if any, for diversion to other uses. In a bid to give states an incentive to direct Campa funding towards afforestation, among other compelling reasons, the Thirteenth Finance Commission (TFC) provides for a forest grant of Rs 5,000 crore to states for the period 2010-15. To quote the TFC report, the provision will provide states "with the wherewithal for preservation going forward, so as to halt and hopefully reverse past declines in the quantum and quality of area under forests". The formula for allocation of the grant between states is calibrated to the standing stock of forest cover and, therefore, rewards those states that have not in the past fallen victim to the lure of (promised, but not yet realised) compensating Campa payments. The conditionalities attached to the forest grant require that states draw up working plans for forest zones within their jurisdictions, within the first two years of the award period, i.e. 2010-12. Working plans carry a 10-year horizon, and prescribe the pattern and limits of sustainable forest harvesting. The baseline documentation provided by working plans serves as a valuable measurement benchmark on the basis of which progress over time, or the lack thereof, can be assessed. Ground-level surveys of this kind are the only possible basis on which biodiversity, the key dimension of conservation, can be reliably marked and measured.

Working plans clearly need funding. Accordingly, one-fourth of the forest grant prescribed by the TFC will flow over the first two years and is unconditional, designed to cover survey costs. For the following three years, the remaining three-fourths of the total grant entitlement will be disbursed, conditional on well-documented working plans. This provision for the three years is earmarked for state forest departments only to the extent of 25 per cent. The remainder may be used by states for any developmental purpose. The idea is to signal that forest cover will entitle states to generalised compensation for the economic disability posed by it.

None of this resolves the problems of tribals displaced by past diversion of forest land, unless they are actively involved in the afforestation programmes of state forest departments, which will now have funding from two streams, the statutory Finance Commission flow, as well as the much smaller flow from delayed Campa entitlements. Forest departments would be well advised to involve tribal populations in the preparatory work for putting together the working plans required as conditionality for release of the Finance Commission grants, and indeed to give them a measure of control over the process. The present relationship between state forest departments and forest-dwellers is badly fractured. Involving tribal populations in the preparation of working plans will provide immediate employment in a field where their expertise is unmatched, and can pave the way for mainstreaming and re-settlement in newly afforested areas, admittedly not their original homes which are lost forever, but in a milieu which will be familiar. The untied portion of the forest grant can be directed towards the welfare of displaced tribal populations.

Too much, however, cannot be expected from the forest grant. The inducement of Rs 5,000 crore over five years for all states may be a feeble counter to what mining lobbies can promise.

Before any new mining is sanctioned, the first imperative is to enforce pollution-control laws on pre-existing mines, and on downstream smelting and processing units. A visual sweep of mining areas in these states, even where the activity is legally sanctioned, exposes the ravages wrought on the land and water bodies. It does not have to be that way. There are states in the country, Goa being an example, where iron ore mining has been accompanied by successful ongoing restoration of the original density of vegetation. State Pollution Control Boards hold the key to environmental monitoring and enforcement. Until these bodies function in a manner protective of the public interest, we will not have begun to address one of the many factors that feed the insurgency.

The author is honorary visiting professor, Indian Statistical Institute

 

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BUSINESS STANDARD

EDITORIAL

GETTING IT WRONG

ARE THE GOVERNMENT AND THE RESERVE BANK OF INDIA CLUELESS ABOUT INFLATION?

T N NINAN

Are the government and the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) clueless about inflation? One way to judge is to look at what their leading lights have been saying. For instance, the RBI governor, D Subbarao, declared last November that inflation would be 6.5 per cent by March (earlier, RBI had put out a figure of 5 per cent). The Planning Commission deputy chairman, Montek Singh Ahluwalia, declared, also in November, at the India meeting of the World Economic Forum, that "we are on target for anything near 5-6 per cent inflation". The reality for March has proved both hopelessly wrong, since the figure is 9.9 per cent — an increase from the 8.9 per cent of early November, when the promises of falling inflation were made.

In November, Mr Ahluwalia had gone on to say that the real worry was food price inflation, which too he expected would come down by the end of the financial year. Wrong again, because the reality is that food price inflation has gone up, not come down — from 13.3 per cent in October to 16.6 per cent in April.

Others were closer to the mark. The prime minister said at a meeting of chief ministers in early February that "the worst is over… we will soon be able to stabilise food prices". He was right, in that food price inflation in February was 17.6 per cent. The Cabinet secretary went a step further at the end of March, declaring that sugar, edible oil and lentil prices were now falling, while grain and vegetables were stable. The problem is that the government's statistics don't catch this, because inflation numbers compare current prices with those of a year earlier; there is no indexed comparison of prices with the previous week or month. Nor is there any adjustment made for seasonal factors — you would expect post-harvest prices to be lower than pre-harvest, but that may not mean any real change in underlying inflation trends.

The question is: if the government underestimated the size of the inflation problem, did it go wrong on macro-economic policy? The answer is that it almost certainly did. If Pranab Mukherjee had known in the summer of 2009 that wholesale price inflation in March would be near double-digits, would he have budgeted for the huge fiscal deficit that he did, since deficits are usually inflationary? Indeed, should he have been more aggressive on fiscal tightening, in his Budget for the new year? Similarly, if RBI had estimated last November that inflation in March would be 9.9 per cent, and not 6.5 per cent, would it have tightened monetary policy faster and harder? It would seem that the answers to these questions are all in the affirmative.

On the evidence at hand, therefore, it is clear that both the government and RBI erred in their judgments on what was required of fiscal and monetary policy. The easy cop-out of blaming a bad harvest and international price movements is not convincing, since the forecasts of low inflation were made well after the monsoon season was over. The result is that the country now has a bigger inflation problem than it had been led to expect, and no one now knows when inflation will drop to the comfort zone of 5 per cent. Certainly, no one in the government is making confident forecasts of the kind we saw in November. This failure of basic short-term policy is surprising, given the star power that this government brings to its economic management. One can speculate on the reasons for this, but the important point is to not continue getting it wrong.

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BUSINESS STANDARD

EDITORIAL

MONEY, MINES AND MLAS

GREED IS THE ONLY MOTIVE FOR POLITICS IN JHARKHAND

ADITI PHADNIS

Unnoticed by the rest of the world, a bizarre drama was played out in Jharkhand over last weekend — that is, even more bizarre than the claims made by Jharkhand Chief Minister Shibu Soren's aides that Soren voted for the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) in the Lok Sabha because he is suffering from Alzheimer's disease, so he forgot that it was the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) which was supporting his government in Jharkhand.

On Sunday, Paulus Surin, an MLA from Soren's Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM), who represents the Torpa constituency, first offered to quit his seat and then decided to withdraw the offer from his luxuriously appointed quarters in Simdega prison where he is currently lodged on charges of murder and waging war against the state (he's a former Maoist). Torpa was the constituency Soren was eyeing to become a member of the Legislative Assembly — something he must do before June 30, when the six-month period to become an MLA to continue as chief minister ends.

 Soren thought of Torpa because both his son Hemant and daughter-in-law Geeta have refused to step down from their seats in the assembly. There is no other vacancy and the party can't get anyone to vacate a seat in Soren's stronghold Santhal Pargana.

The party is anxious to avoid the embarrassment of January 2009 Tamar by-election when Soren was defeated by a rookie in politics, Gopal Singh Patar alias Raja Peter. The party leadership thought that even though the JMM doesn't have a strong presence in Torpa, they could clinch the seat for Soren. However, the sitting MLA has now thrown a spanner in the party's works. Under the circumstances, it is hard to see how Soren can continue as chief minister.

Not that it makes much difference. Complex games are afoot in Jharkhand, endemically unstable, to form some sort of government. The Congress has an alliance with the Jharkhand Vikas Morcha-Prajatantrik (led by Babulal Marandi) with 25 seats, while the BJP-JDU alliance has 20 seats in the 81-member Assembly. The JMM holds 18 seats. Lalu Prasad's Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) has five seats, while other parties have 13. The Congress would not mind at all if President's Rule was imposed in Jharkhand, while Hemant Soren is pleading desperately with the BJP to forgive his father's mistake and let him (Hemant) become chief minister. Now on a moral high, the BJP says it will shore up the government only if the chief minister's post is given to it. Once again, Jharkhand is teetering on the brink of instability.

In the last 10 years, Jharkhand has not had any government which has managed to complete its term. This is because of the fundamental change that the tribal identity is undergoing. Earlier, the great unifying factor was the "foreigner" (diku), the non-tribal. Jharkhand tribals resisted efforts by the Mughal dynasty and the British to overcome their rich land and luxuriant forests. The tribals were marginalised when Hindu traders and Muslim farmers moved in and modern law and administration were established — primarily for them. The British authority and its accompanying array of devices hastened the pauperisation of the tribals. The administration was manned by dikus and the introduction of paper currency was alien to the tribals. Their villages went to principally Muslim landlords who wanted access to the forests and the communities that lived there as cheap labour. All this had one inevitable result: armed resistance.

Independent India offered little that was better. Missionaries stayed behind and the tribals continued to resist efforts to subvert their own variant of Hinduism and Gods — which were modelled on living tribal leaders. This led to the realisation that their lot would not improve until their identity was recognised as unique: for this they needed self-governance and their own province. The JMM was started in 1973 by a young man just out of his teens, Shibu Soren.

Till such time as there was a diku, the tribal identity was carved out in juxtaposition to it. But gradually, younger tribals realised that it was more profitable to side with the diku than to oppose him. One fallout from this process is Madhu Koda and the mining-lease scandal. And there is reason to believe that the same issues — who should be given mining licences — are at the bottom of the current political stalemate in Jharkhand as well.

Whether it is Hemant Soren who becomes chief minister with BJP support or anyone else, instability in the mineral-rich state is likely to continue. Nor is President's rule the answer (a past spell of President's rule saw, for the first time in India's history, a CBI case being lodged against the aides of the governor). India has to come to terms with the fact that greed is the only motive for politics in Jharkhand. The rest follows.

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BUSINESS STANDARD

EDITORIAL

THE GAMES POLITICIANS PLAY

IPL MADE THE NEWS, BUT MOST SPORTS BODIES ARE RUN LIKE CLIQUES

NEHA CHOL;\WDHRY

IPL made the news, but most sports bodies are run like cliques

Given thato-+*/ is the world's richest cricket board and its 3-year old baby IPL is already a $4.13 billion brand, it's not surprising the current scandals are receiving the kind of attention they are. What's true of BCCI, and IPL, minus the stunning financial success, is true of most sports bodies in the country — they're mostly run by cliques, have little or no transparency, and going by India's medal tally in almost any sport you can think of, they've done little for the game. And while the government is applying pressure to change BCCI now, the attempt to reform India's sports federations is a battle that's been fought right since 1975, and with little success. It is a battle that Sports Minister MS Gill is personally interested in.

 There's a BCCI connection to the other sports bodies as well. N Srinivasan, who raised eyebrows by holding the posts of Secretary of BCCI along with being the owner of the IPL franchise Chennai Super Kings is, interestingly, also the President of the All India Chess Federation, a position he has held for the last 9 years. This, as Gill has pointed out, is violation of the rules. Indeed, in 1975, the Ministry of Education and Social Welfare wrote to the Presidents and Secretaries of the Indian Olympic Association (IOA) and the National Sports Federations (NSF) stating that "no office bearer of a National Federation/Association shall be eligible to be the office bearer, simultaneously, of any other National Sports Federation /Association, excepting the Indian Olympic Association."

In a recent TV interview, Gill said the law would be enforced: "It has to be done and it will be done". He also told the Rajya Sabha that there was a need to regulate sports federation chiefs who had turned the bodies into their fiefs.

A majority of these men and women do not have the professional background in their designated sport that can guide their decision-making process. Viren Rasquinha, a former Indian hockey captain and Olympian, laments the lack of professionalism, transparency and accountability he encountered while playing for the country, and says, "It is high time that honorary posts became a thing of the past. Every post should be held by a paid professional who inherently understands hockey. Salaries should be set at the market value and the best people should be hired to run our NSFs."

The same 1975 letter says, "no such office bearer shall hold office consecutively for more than two terms or 8 years." Contrast this with the situation in the Archery Association of India where the BJP's Vijay Kumar Malhotra has been in power for 31 years, Suresh Kalmadi has headed the IOA for the last 15 years and J S Gehlot has headed the International Kabadi Federation for the last 24 years. The list goes on (see table).

A good way to see what these bodies have achieved is to take a quick look at India's sporting accomplishments — a nation of over a billion people managed to scrounge together exactly 3 medals at the 2008 Beijing Olympics. China won 100 medals at the same event, topping the medal table.

Unlike his predecessors, Gill is proactive. As a former Chief Election Commissioner, he has attached importance to the value of free and fair elections. "There has to be clean and clear voters' lists and independent Returning Officers and a secret ballot", he said,referring to how officials are elected to positions of power. Gill has also been quite adamant about bringing in various NSFs and the IOA under the purview of the Right to Information (RTI). When a court case came up before the Delhi High Court and the IOA didn't want to answer questions, Gill insisted IOA give a reply. Under Section 5 of the RTI Act, NSFs will now have to designate central public information officers and appellate authorities to continue to receive grants from the Government.

The case of the hockey federation is an interesting one. The Indian Hockey Federation (IHF) that was headed by K P S Gill was disaffiliated from the IOA in 2008, ostensibly because IHF had violated the Federation International de Hockey's directive to unify its male and female hockey bodies — insiders says IHF was in the process of doing this. In its place, Hockey India was set up as an ad hoc body by the IOA.
 

FREEZE FRAME

Name of President

Sports
Discipline

Profession

Approximate
Years in Office 

Suresh Kalmadi

Indian
Olympics
Association

Politician,
Congress

15

Professor V K Malhotra

Archery

Politician, BJP

31

Sukhdev Singh Dhindsa

Cycling

Politician, Akali Dal

14

Digvijay Singh

Shooting

Politician, Congress

10

Ajay Singh Chautala

Table Tennis

Politician, INLD

8

Yashwant Sinha

Tennis

Politician, BJP

9

V K Verma

Badminton

Bureaucrat

12

Abhay Singh Chautala

Boxing

Politician, INLD

8

Captain Satish K Sharma

Aero Club

Politician, Congress

24

Ashoke Ghose

Kho Kho

Businessman

9

Dr B S Adityan

Volleyball

Businessman

12

Brig K P Singh Deo

Rowing

Politician, Congress

9

K N Kapur

Swimming

Businessman

11

Source: Civil Writ Petition, Rahul Mehra versus Union of India and Ors, 2009

The IOA has the power to recognise NSFs, which allows them to compete in sporting events and, in turn, the NSFs have voting rights in the IOA and elect its President. In other words, it's a bit of a cosy club – and if the NSF doesn't play ball, the IOA can disaffiliate it and replace it temporarily with an "ad-hoc committee" made up of its own officials. So while the IOA derecognised the IHF on the grounds of poor performance, the Indian Weightlifting Federation which has been plagued by doping charges is still a part of the IOA family.

In an affidavit in a court case, on February 3, the Ministry of Youth and Sports Affairs said the government had recognised Hockey India on the following conditions — "early finalisation of an election schedule, putting in place comprehensive election guidelines, appointment of an election observer by the Government, ensuring a free, fair and transparent election process and setting up a dispute resolution and grievance hearing mechanism in connection with the grant of affiliation to state unions." Yet, "notwithstanding the above, Hockey India appointed G S Mandar, President Weightlifting Federation of India, who is also Vice President of the Indian Olympic Association as the returning officer." Gill's ministry has to file yet another affidavit, in a fortnight, on what it plans to do to ensure no NSF has a head for more than two terms, and that no two NSFs have the same head. Watch this space.

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BUSINESS STANDARD

EDITORIAL

LOVE, ECONOMICS AND THE IPL SAGA

K NATWAR SINGH

When I was 25, once I asked Harold Nicolson if the British employed spies. Nicolson kept a straight face and replied, "We don't run brothels." Now, I know better

This has been quite a week. The 16th Saarc Summit in Thimpu, Bhutan, failed to achieve "Gross National Happiness". As expected, the Summit was hijacked by India and Pakistan. The two prime ministers met and made some progress. I am glad the foreign ministers and foreign secretaries of the two countries will meet soon to reduce the "trust deficit". Even little progress is welcome. There is now talk in some quarters about China's keen desire to be a member of Saarc. Here, India should make it abundantly clear that no further expansion of Saarc is necessary. China does not qualify for Saarc membership.

 The next riveting distraction and obsession was the ex-chairman of the Indian Premier League (IPL). The media could not care a hoot about India having fewer toilets than mobile phones. Lalit Modi is a disturbingly energetic and ebullient individual. He has for all time altered the character of cricket, probably for the worse. Is Mr Modi a case of arrested adolescence? He, for too long, lived on the edge. The abyss was right there.

In a lighter vein, I have been mulling over a tantalising possibility. What a superb Bollywood film the IPL-Modi saga would make.

Producer and director: Lalit Modi; script writer: Shashi Tharoor; dialogue by Sardar "Sherry" Siddhu; lady stars: Madams Zinta, Shetty and S Pushkar; advisers: Sunil Gavaskar, Rudy Kirsten, Shane Warne and K Pollard; music by A Raheman; photography by Anil Kumble; umpires: former prime ministers of the UK and Australia, Messrs John Major and John Howard, both cricket buffs; commentators: three heavyweight India politicians. Authentic hero Shah Rukh Khan to play the role of Lalit Modi. Finally, the female cheerleaders. These are to be selected by the producer-director. All must wear bikinis. The IPL I, II and III girls were over-dressed!!

The current session of Parliament too has attracted attention. The UPA government trounced the Opposition by comfortable margins. The Opposition more often than not subscribes to the dictum: united we fall, divided we stand. The UPA survives because the Opposition never arrives. They are at sixes and sevens. A united Opposition could bring down the UPA government. It cannot, because not one MP wants a mid-term election. Rightly so. The UPA has not even completed one year.

So many of us condemn the conduct of our MPs in both Houses of Parliament. And why not? The flaunting of thousand-rupee notes was not an edifying sight. But look around and you will see Korean MPs having a free for all, with Taiwan, Japan and Ukraine following suit, all democracies of one hue or the other. Conclusion: We do not have to imitate them.

A word about the presiding officers of the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha. Both ex-IFS. Both are handling their respective Houses with adroitness, calm persuasion, patience and with firmness when necessary. Three cheers for the IFS. Vice-President Ansari should schedule Question Hour at 4 pm. It might just help.

Phone-tapping, bugging, electronic surveillance and hacking are now so easy to organise that non-state establishments and law-breaking agencies are privy to what is supposed to be secrets. Technology is advancing so rapidly that only a very few countries or terrorist groups can keep pace with it. No government will ever publicly say that it is tapping phones. Why do governments resort to tapping phones? Several reasons. Security is the most important one. This is not debatable.

The phones of mafia dons, assassins, plotters against the state and hackers must be tapped. One caveat. Intelligence agencies must always be under the PMO. The buck stops there and nowhere else.

While undergoing a course at the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office in 1954, I asked Harold Nicolson, the author of Diplomacy, if the British employed spies. I was not even 25 and was naïve. Nicolson kept a straight face and replied, "We don't run brothels." Now, I know better.

Tailpiece
P N Haksar (1913-1998) was an outstanding civil servant of post-1947 India. Jawaharlal Nehru selected him for the IFS in 1948. Haksar at the time was practising at the Allahabad High Court. He was the only civil servant who inspired his friends and chelas to publish a book of tributes on his 75th birthday in 1988.

Haksar was not only wise but unusually witty. When he was deputy chairman of the Planning Commission, he asked his well-known economist friend Sukhomoy Chakravarty if he loved his wife. Sukhomoy, was a bit startled but replied that he most certainly did so. Haksar then asked him "to express this love in economic or even econometric terms". He could not. Haksar's firm belief was that "love, compassion, equity, tolerance, morality etc are non-quantifiable".

The author is a diplomat, writer and former foreign minister

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BUSINESS STANDARD

EDITORIAL

IPL AND CAPITALISM

GURCHARAN DAS

The recently concluded IPL has been a non-stop party that lasted for six weeks, to which everyone was invited provided one wanted to have fun. It brought magical nights to millions, a respite from their drab, desperate lives. It was filled to the brim with desire — for cricket and Bollywood, for chatter and glamour, for tomfoolery and unrequited sensuality, and for high-rolling betting. (Last Saturday, the satta market put the odds of Lalit Modi surviving at Rs 5.5 for every rupee.)

IPL is a metaphor for a new India — crass, brash and razzmatazz — but it is in big trouble. What began as a spat between Shashi Tharoor and Modi ended in the resignation of the minister and Modi's suspension. Everyone has had a say by now and some good suggestions have emerged for the reform of BCCI and IPL. But in the chorus of remonstration, there was a definite anti-capitalist refrain. Coming as this does on the heels of the global financial crisis and the recent troubles of Goldman Sachs, the legitimacy of the market is once again in question in a country where capitalism is still trying to find a comfortable home.

 The most strident voices belonged to MPs who demanded a probe by a Joint Parliamentary Committee. Some called for nationalising IPL. Lalu Prasad (RJD), Mulayam Singh Yadav (SP) and Sharad Yadav (JDU) insisted on banning it. JDU MP Shivanand Tiwari demanded that funds of IPL and BCCI be confiscated. CPI leader Gurudas Dasgupta criticised the 20-20 game format, saying it was a "caricature" of cricket in which players were bought like "vegetables". The deputy leader of the Opposition, Gopinath Munde, asked that if bar girls in Mumbai had been barred from performing, why should cheerleading girls be allowed in IPL? Mulayam Singh called cricket a "foreign game" and wanted it replaced by a desi one.

How do you judge IPL? When it comes to public policy, it is best to follow the advice of Vidura, the royal adviser in the Mahabharata, who looks to the general good. If an act benefits the vast majority, then it is right. Cricket's two main stakeholders are the players and the fans. It has given a chance to many talented cricketers to showcase their talents. Going by TV ratings and packed stadiums, more Indians have been entertained by IPL than anything else. By Vidura's criterion, IPL has done brilliantly. Modi is undoubtedly a great entrepreneur who has also driven IPL's brand value to a staggering $4.13 billion in less than three years.

There are serious problems, however. Conclusive proof must be found for match-fixing, rigged auctions, tampering with roster selections and other allegations. We need full public disclosure of all the bids. Modi must be tried fairly based on evidence, not personal dislike. BCCI must also be overhauled. As the custodian of cricket, it runs like a cabal, exploiting its monopoly privileges. As to gambling, the best answer is to make sports betting legal. This will generate huge revenues for the government and cut the nexus with the underworld.

With regard to the competitive status of Indian cricket, our team has become world's No 1 in Tests; it is clawing to the top in the one-day version; and the Twenty20 team did win the inaugural world cup. BCCI seems to have delivered far better performance than other sports associations, where government plays a bigger role.

A Rajya Sabha MP complained that the evil in IPL was foreign and he traced it to the market. He did not realise that markets are natural to human beings. Banias and bazaars have been with us for thousand of years, ever since Indians first engaged in agriculture and there was a surplus. Our first towns in the Indus valley emerged as centres of exchange. But markets are not the same thing as the market system, which requires that moneymaking be regarded as respectable. Historically, commerce has had a bad odour in all societies. In India, the merchant was third in the caste hierarchy. Even though we have the wondrous spectacle of thousands of young Indians starting business ventures today, the idea that their struggle for personal gain might actually promote the common is too bizarre. This is behind the animus against the big sums in IPL. Even sophisticated Indians distrust the market, perhaps because no one is in charge. No wonder Samuel Johnson said, "There is nothing which requires more to be illustrated by philosophy than trade does."

Besides politicians, journalists and academics have been the most vociferous in criticising IPL's capitalist ideology. The philosopher Robert Nozick explained in a classic essay that intellectuals feel entitled to greater prestige, money and power, whereas the market rewards those who fulfil perceived demand in the marketplace. The wordsmith's expectation is created early in school. In the classroom the brightest are rewarded with the highest marks and teachers' smiles. Hence, they grow up expecting praise. When it does not come in later life, and when society values things other than verbal ability, they grow resentful and sullen, especially when they experience downward mobility.

Modi's entrepreneurship necessarily involved assuming risks and valuing novelty, characteristics that are not common in a stable society. He was a brash new kid around the block, and he will admit that entrepreneurial success does not lead to social acceptance. The economic historian, Jean Baechler, tells us that in 6th century BC, firms in Babylon took in money deposits, issued cheques, made loans at interest, and invested in agricultural and industrial enterprises. Yet they were looked down upon. All agrarian civilisations have looked down upon merchant capitalists and commercial activities have been universally held in low esteem.

It was only in the High Middle Ages that this changed, and capitalists were finally given social acceptance and protection from the predation of the state, as Deepak Lal argues in Unintended Consequences. It was due to a legal revolution in the 11th century when Pope Gregory VII in 1075 put the church above the state. The resulting church-state created the whole legal and administrative infrastructure required by a full-fledged market economy. This led to the rise of the West and its divergence from the rest of the world.

India after 1991 has joined in this capitalist adventure, and with vigour. Because India got democracy before capitalism, the critique of capitalism began in the 1950s even before full-blown capitalism arrived in 1990s. Hence, players in the capitalist game have a responsibility to behave with restraint until capitalism establishes a comfortable home. IPL's irregularities have not helped. But having said that, it is impressive that the critique of IPL has been constructive by and large, and shows we have come a long way in our attitudes. The challenge before regulators remains how to bring transparency in the market without killing the animal spirits of the likes of Lalit Modi.

Gurcharan Das is the author of The Difficulty of Being Good: On the Subtle Art of Dharma'

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BUSINESS STANDARD

EDITORIAL

THE WARP IN THE WEAVE

KEYA SARKAR

Even before reduce, reuse and recycle became the environmental watchwords, Birbhum, the district that Santiniketan falls under, had a tradition of recycled textiles. While Birbhum shares with many other areas of both West Bengal and Bangladesh the tradition of the "kantha" or the quilt made by layering old sarees, the tradition of "khesh" is quite unique to Birbhum and adjoining areas.

 The khesh technique is weaving with old sarees by tearing them into thin strips. The warp uses new thread and the weft uses these strips of sarees. Since the weavers, first tear the sarees and keep them in a heap next to the loom, the weaving is with whatever strip the weaver happens to pick up from the pile while weaving.

When I first started to work with weavers around Santiniketan I used to be simply fascinated by how the colours of the old sarees chosen completely at random blended beautifully to produce a fabric, each meter of which was completely unique. However, all that weavers traditionally used this weaving technique was to create single bed covers. I convinced a few to make yardage out of which I fashioned bags, cushion covers, jackets and much more to sell out of a retail store I run in Santiniketan.

Maybe because traditionally the weavers produced only bedcovers, khesh was always woven with thick or double yarn. I was keen to experiment with thin yarn to make sarees or dress fabric. But most weavers that I spoke to said it would not be possible because the warp would tear if woven with the thick strips for the weft.

Finally an experienced weaver, Adhirbabu, agreed and we made our first batch of sarees. The body was plain and the pallu had khesh weaving. Each saree had unique colours and we instantly had a "boutique" product. Its been three years since and we have sold these sarees in thousands aided by many small household boutiques which bought from us and resold.

We then moved on to making dress fabric, curtains, etc with this thin yarn, but sarees continued to remain our mainstay. But I was beginning to get a trifle bored with a product introduced three years ago. But everytime I thought of discontinuing the product, buyers would come into the shop asking for more. Not wanting to look a gift horse in the mouth we continued producing.

Last week I got a call from Adhirbabu sounding hugely agitated. "Everything is lost", he said "sarbanash hoye geche". "Our sarees have been duplicated," he said still agitated. "A shop in Bolpur (the town adjacent to Santiniketan) is selling them. I haven't seen them myself but I have reports from other weavers" he said.

What he thought was going to get me agitated as well, actually filled me with joy. If the sarees have indeed been duplicated and were indeed selling from mainstream saree shops, then maybe the khesh saree had found the status of a saree from this area. Instead of being sold from our shop to a niche clientele it could now join the ranks of traditional sarees. I explained this to the weaver and told him how he had brought me great news and how he should also celebrate as he would be remembered as a creator of a product which didn't exist.

There was silence on the other end as Adhir babu digested this. "You have a point," he said after some time, in a tone almost admonishing me for my stupidity. But what threw him was what came next. "Also Adhirbabau" I continued, "we have been milking one idea for a long time. Maybe this is God's idea of telling us to stop being lazy and do some thinking on new products. I take the duplicates as a blessing".

He said he would get back to me and disconnected.

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BUSINESS STANDARD

EDITORIAL

MAHARAJAS ON WHEELS

KISHORE SINGH

How much champagne can you drink? The answer to that, of course, depends on whether you're paying for it or somebody else is. I've rarely known people to get tiddly when they're swiping their own credit card for the bubbly — not by the bottle, naturally, but by the glass. But its consumption is much more in conspicuous evidence when there's no danger of a bill dangling before you after you've drained your ninth flute and are wondering whether you can manage the next, or whether it's wiser to quit because the ground seems to have become wobblier than it was an hour ago.

 It's the same with food. Rarely do we settle for both aperitif and soup for lunch, and if there's a selection of starters, you can bet that most people would prefer to share their main course to be able to spend some time debating whether or not to spring for dessert. Yet, logic deserts us when the promise of a good time at someone else's expense means you can have all your courses, and extras, and not feel guilty for it.

At least that's the only way to make sense of a mid-week invitation to board the Maharajas' Express, India's plushest train that was doing a special run from Delhi to Rewari and back for select guests — with champagne on tap. There's something deliciously decadent about sipping champagne before noon, when the temperature outside is hot enough to fry eggs on the sidewalk, of nibbling at satays and tikkas when, on the platforms whizzing past, you can see other passengers queueing up for their hoi-polloi fare. Marie Antoinette would have approved of the hedonism — if you can't have water, she might have added, drink Veuve-Clicquot instead.

"I could get used to this," said my wife on her fifth glass of Veuve-Clicquot, yet proof that she wasn't alone was manifest in the laughter and loud conversations — and not a few glasses smashing to the tinkle of crystal that, I'd read somewhere, the more maverick maharajas had grown fond of: hurling cases of their favourite glasses to the floor because the sound was delightful, and addictive. So, yes, we wanted the mousse and salmon and filo-pastry; the cold soup was a challenge to produce on the train's kitchen and consisted of tomatoes and peaches; the prawns we all seemed to settle for (over chicken roulade, understandably) could have put a Michelin-starred restaurant to shame. And there was even more champagne, or wine, to go with the courses — no wonder the tipsy guests who went off to view the suites on board seemed to sway more than the train warranted.

Proof that all good things come to an end, some earlier than anticipated, was the rude shock that returned us to the platform and heat outside. No more were there musicians serenading us; no more welcome arches of flowers; the red carpet had been rolled away — and we were actually expected to walk up the staircase to cross the railway lines and descend once more to more humdrum lives and the waiting cars outside.

Still, it was in the haze of the fabulous experience that we went out for dinner to my brother's home the same evening. He didn't offer us champagne, which was parsimonious of him, there were bland sausages for hors d'oeuvres, the service was a little tardy, the beer glass that broke didn't have a musical sound to it, and the meal wasn't served on 24-carat tableware. And if the atmosphere wasn't convivial, you could blame it on my wife. Did she want a cocktail, my brother had asked her, only to have her reply, "As long as it's free." Some of us, it appears, still have to get the Maharajas' Express experience out of our system.

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

HEIDI OUTED

 

Wars have been started for less than this, and this new incursion by Germany may even spur the Swiss to abandon their traditional neutrality. What could be more galling than to learn that a German researcher has come up with the assertion that the best-known Swiss — before Roger Federer, that is — was not Swiss at all but German?


Can the normally peaceful citizens at the heart of Europe be expected to calmly accept a German culture and literature expert's assertion that the sprightly blonde Heidi, who brought alive the joys of 19th century bucolic Alpine life for millions of readers, was merely the Swiss avatar of a little German girl with a similar tale? Johanna Spyri's timeless tale, according to the researcher, was 'inspired' by Adelaide, the Girl from the Alps', written 50 years earlier by a German named Adam von Kamp. It would be natural for the Swiss to protest that this supposed plagiarism was largely a matter of coincidence or, at best, a sincere form of flattery; besides dashing off copycat stories were a darned difficult process in those pre-internet times. Yet, it is difficult to deny that the marked resemblance between the two little flaxen-haired madchens does not stop at the fact that the German form of Adelaide is Adelheid, often shortened to Heidi.


If indeed there was but a telepathic connection between the authors and the two girls — both of whom lived in remarkably similar idyllic rusticity with their respective grandfathers and had significantly common adventures — that could be the subject of an exciting new genre of research too: literary kinesis. What else can explain how two writers separated by half a century and the absence of the usual man-made means of communication formulated characters with such similar trajectories? That could be the only way to mollify both these central European powers, and keep their self-esteem intact!

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

POLITICAL OPPORTUNISM

 

The juggling act that attended the government's cut motion triumph, and the deal-making shenanigans in Jharkhand underscore the rank opportunism that is accepted as the natural and normal way of conducting politics. It often becomes all too clear that notions like transparency and accountability are mere catchphrases in our political culture.


Uttar Pradesh chief minister Mayawati's critical support to the UPA on the cut motion, for instance, was passed off as a common attempt to keep 'communal forces' (read: BJP) at bay. It perhaps isn't even necessary to judge the piousness of that sentiment on the basis of allegations that it had more to do with the CBI easing off a bit on some cases against Mayawati in return. Rather, one can remember not just the declaration of support, but active campaigning the BSP supremo did for Gujarat CM Narendra Modi during the 2002 Gujarat assembly elections. Granted, the BSP has an unabashed and open policy of political opportunism, stemming from the political belief that Dalit politics can gain only by having no permanent allies or foes. But, clearly, the appellation 'communal forces' is as convenient a fig leaf for the political class as 'minority appeasement'.


Events in Jharkhand could also be ascribed to the political churn, or rather the chronic instability the state has witnessed since its inception in 2000 — what with seven different governments (with one led by an independent MLA) since then. That has meant issues of governance being subservient to the scramble for power. It is true that Shibu Soren represents the current sorry state of the strong tribal movement for the creation of the state. The frantic attempt to maintain a toehold on power by the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha offering to let the BJP take the chief ministership, as well as the latter party's abrupt halting of its withdrawal of support move reflects the 'politics is self interest' paradigm. Not long ago, political parties were calling for accountability and transparency in the IPL. But those concepts seem markedly absent when it comes to practicing them politically. Capturing and retaining office is all that counts. And the larger problem is that our polity holds that truth to be self-evident.

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

REFORM THE IPO PROCESS

 

From May 1, all qualified institutional buyers (QIBs) will have to put up 100% margin money for the shares they bid for in an initial public offering (IPO) of shares. This is reform, but far from adequate. We need to overhaul the entire IPO process, in order to make it fair, efficient and effective in giving the issuer the best possible deal.


The public issue culture that has been built up over the years is such as to breed a flippant attitude towards investment among retail investors. IPOs are touted primarily as vehicles for listing gains — those who are allotted shares would sell them immediately after listing or 'flip' their shares. For this strategy to work, the issue price must be at a discount to what the market thinks the shares are worth — otherwise, there would be no listing gains. In other words, the issuer must be content to leave money on the table for the investor, instead of trying to get the best possible price for itself.


In the maturing Indian stock market, such stratagems have become obsolete. We need to move on. While the insistence that QIBs pay 100% margins will prevent low-cost oversubscription exercises designed to convince the retail investor of the issue's inherent worth, it would abort any true book-building: no QIB would submit a bid till the last moment, so as not to block large amounts of capital. Reform must go beyond this move. The short-sighted focus on retail investors in the entire IPO process must come to an end. The goal of the IPO process should be to obtain the best price for the issuer in a fair and transparent fashion. And the best way to get there is to have French auctions in IPOs.


Keep the book closed for the duration of the auction, which can be a maximum of 24 hours. Break the current limitation of accepting bids only through a syndicate approved by the lead manager. Arrange all bids, each for so many shares at a particular price, in the descending order for price. Keep allocating shares to the highest remaining bidder at the price bid, till all shares on offer are exhausted. Retail is welcome to take part either bidding a price directly or through a broker who would agglomerate the retail investor interest internally.

 

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

SAARC: EXPLODING TRADE MYTHS

RAM UPENDRA DAS

 

Ever since economic cooperation was brought on the agenda of the Saarc in the early 1990s, it has been clouded by scepticism. What's important is that apprehensions in the realm of economic integration within the south Asian region permeate into the non-economic domains of inter-country interactions, and vice versa. Often, the Saarc economic cooperation process is deemed slow and marred with limited economic complementarities, enough to render any Saarc economic cooperation initiative a non-starter.


The south Asian regional integration process has been criticised for its low and stagnant intra-regional trade as a proportion to its global trade, hovering at 4-5%. However, a country-wise disaggregated analysis conducted by RIS suggests that both the importance of the region as a market for exports of south Asian countries as well as a source of imports for them has increased for some countries tremendously.


For instance, in terms of attractiveness of the region for the exports of Nepal, it is as much an important destination as it is for a member of EU or Nafta for its respective regional grouping. For Maldives and Sri Lanka too, it is quite important. The low levels of share in the cases of India and Pakistan perhaps highlight the constraints in terms of the size of the partner country markets in the region. In the case of Bangladesh, it has more to do with less diversified export basket. However, the situation is changing as brought out by some studies.

The share of intra-regional trade as a proportion of total external trade is rising for Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. Lower share of imports by India and Pakistan suggest that the problem of limited export capabilities in the region needs to be addressed.


It is often argued that due to tariff liberalisation, the relatively bigger countries of Safta would gain more in terms of their exports and would be able to capture the markets of the smaller countries. Such an impression is a myth due to two reasons. Firstly, the bigger countries have already grabbed a large share of imports of the smaller countries. Thus, with Safta implemented in its entirety, the bigger countries would not be able to expand their exports due to limits on the size of the markets in the smaller countries.


Second, smaller and lesser developed economies such as Bangladesh, Nepal and Sri Lanka would gain more than relatively bigger economies like India and Pakistan due to enhanced market access for the former in the latter under Safta.


For the relatively bigger countries in the region, the advantage lies in accessing investment space and focusing on trade in services. In order to make intra-regional trade in the south Asian region help achieve developmental objectives like employment generation and income generation to address serious economic maladies of poverty and destitution, the imperatives of augmenting intra-regional investment flows need to be highlighted. In a scenario of strengthened trade-investment linkages, the possibilities of employment generation would expand. This can help addressing supply-side efficiencies and demand generation, jointly. Therefore, stronger trade-investment linkages can make trade truly a means of development in the region.

 


A major criticism of Safta has been its restricted scope that covers only trade in goods. However, trade in goods cannot be stepped up in absence of institutional mechanisms for facilitating trade in services.

On the other hand, trade in services in a sector like health is dependent on trade in goods pertaining to this sector such as medical equipment and medicines that the health service providers are confident of. So, unless the region recognises the two-way linkages in trade in goods and services, Safta's impact on trade in goods is likely to remain limited. Second, it is common knowledge that services have increased in importance in the developing world. This provides the conditions for strengthening the linkages between goods and services' trade. Third, the trade potential of the services sector cannot be tapped in adequate measure unless a sound institutional mechanism is set in place. These together provide the basic rationale for moving beyond the present scope of Safta.


In sum, Saarc has come a long way in giving effect to regional economic and development cooperation projects, that too against severe constraints. The ongoing implementation of various flagship regional cooperation projects like the implementation and operationalisation of the Safta Treaty, South Asian University, Saarc Development Fund and the Saarc Food Bank are but pointers to Saarc's emergence as a dynamic economic grouping.

Approached with a positive mindset, Saarc's experience to combat poverty and social underdevelopment could make this a successful overall peaceful development experience. However, challenges remain and are daunting, but the pace at which Saarc members are cooperating is nothing but exemplary, given the constraints.

(The author is senior fellow at Research and Information System for Developing Countries, New Delhi. Views are personal.)

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

'CONSUMERS TURNING TO FLEXIPACKS'

SANJEEV SINHA

 

Flexible packaging giant Uflex, manufacturer of a diverse range of products such as value-added flexible packaging material, packaging and converting machines and rotogravure cylinders, has come a long way over the past two decades. With presence in over 100 countries and manufacturing facilities in India, Dubai, Mexico and Egypt, the Rs 3,000-crore Uflex hopes to become a preferred supplier of packaging material across the globe. The company expects to become a $1-billion entity by the next financial year, says its CMD Ashok Chaturvedi.

Against the world average of 6-7%, India's flexible-packaging market is growing at 22-25% annually, making it one of the fastest-growing industries in the country. What has helped the industry? The increasing penetration of organised retail and the increasing preference for branded products are fuelling the demand for flexible-packaging solutions. The growing middle class with its changing lifestyle is also encouraging the consumption of convenience foods (such as packaged soups and pre-cooked dinners) that are conventionally packaged in flexible packages.


"Demand for packaging in India at present is skewed towards rigid packaging such as bottles and cans. However, the convenience and advantage of flexible packaging such as moisture resistance, grease resistance, aroma retention, sealability and printability is weaning consumers away from rigid packs. Also, retailers' drive to reach rural areas is increasing the demand for sachets offered at lower price points. All these things together give strategic advantage to organised players in the domain and also provide an ideal opportunity for investments," he says.


What are Uflex's plans for the global market? The company's key growth drivers include vertical integration to provide complete flexible packaging solutions, worldclass manufacturing facilities at strategic locations around the world with large capacities, reliable quality and assured timely delivery, technical competence and continued focus on innovation.


"Uflex started expanding overseas into different regions to get closer to its global customers. This enables us to serve our customers with better and quick deliveries as well as reduced shipping and freight cost. Today, we have presence in all major segments of the value chains that allows us to present ourselves as a one-stop shop for the customer's packaging needs. Also, retailers in the organised segment prefer comprehensive solutions at competitive price points, which the company is well placed to offer," says Mr Chaturvedi.


So, how does Uflex plan to take on competition from the global flexible packaging giants in the domestic market? Mr Chaturvedi explains that the company's strong position in the domestic market together with the massive expansion globally has helped the company outperform competitors. "Such growth is coming from new capacity additions, increased utilisation and higher net realisation of our product line. Also, overseas facilities in low-cost countries with trade pacts help us bypass anti-dumping duties and exploit low freight rates and favourable tax regimes, besides giving us access to large and profitable markets."


The company has manufacturing base in Mexico, a part of Nafta, which gives it access to North American markets. Egypt, on the other hand, caters to Gulf Cooperation Council nations, southern Europe and Africa, while Dubai allows access to west Asia and CIS countries.

 


With a strong domestic and international presence, Uflex is said to have seen 27% CAGR in revenue over the past five years compared to 12.3% and 4.8% reported by Indian and international peers, respectively. Contribution of overseas operations to Uflex's turnover increased 61% year-onyear in the third quarter of 2009-10, mostly due to the starting up of the Mexico facility, and 42.2% in the first nine months of 2009-10. Once the second phase of the Mexico project is completed by 2010, and the first and second phases of the Egyptian facility by June 2010 and June 2011, respectively, Uflex expects the share of revenue from global operations in 2012 to increase from the current 44% to 60%.

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

MUTTAR IN THE MATTRESS

VITHAL C NADKARNI

 

Sarah Jessica-Parker plays the thin-skinned princess in Once Upon a Mattress. Her mattress role may have morphed into Sex and the City, but in the musical she portrayed the life of privilege that comes from being pretty and pea-conscious (no pun intended). The original story, which came from Hans Christian Anderson in 1835, was also full of double entendres: There's this prince who can't seem to find a suitable partner. Something is always wrong with those he meets and he always seems to be in a tizzy about their pedigree.


Then one stormy night, the rain blows in a young woman, drenched to her bonnets, into his castle. Claiming royal descent, she demands a suitable room. Then the prince's mother decides to test their unknown guest by placing a pea in the bed she is given for the night, covered by 20 mattresses and 20 featherbeds.


In the morning in a highly ambiguous speech, the guest tells her hosts how she spent a sleepless night with something hard in the bed keeping her awake (which she was certain had bruised her). The prince rejoices. Only a real princess would have the sensitivity to feel a pea through such a quantity of bedding. The two are married, and the pea is placed in the royal museum.


Many reviews attacked the story upon its debut. Not only was it indelicate, wrote one critic, but it was indefensible "for propagating the false idea that great ladies must always be so terribly thin-skinned". Obviously they hadn't got Anderson's joke about the pea being ensconced in the royal museum in the happy' ending. Somadeva's 11th century Kashmir version in the Kathasaritasagara has a human hair instead of the pea, which leaves an angry welt on the prince's back. That makes for a bigger parody of life of privilege.


Psychologists have grown progressively sympathetic to the myth. Earlier, high sensitivity was conflated with numerous other traits, most of them negative. The highly sensitive person was therefore labelled as shy, fearful, or even 'neurotic'. The trait was also confused with anxiety and social phobia and equated with introversion. The pendulum has now swung to the other end: With 15% to 20% of the population displaying it, the trait is now believed to be too widespread to be dubbed 'abnormal'. High sensitivity supposedly conditions people to crave for contact with what Carl Jung called 'numinous' or inexpressibly sacred to touch.

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

WE WILL PROVIDE HEALTH COVER TO ALL AGE GROUPS: MAX CHIEF

PARAMITA CHATTERJEE

 

Max Bupa, the health insurance joint venture between UK's Bupa and the Max Group, will invest up to Rs 600 crore more in five years to capture a dominant market share in the nascent industry. In an interview with ET, Analjit Singh, founder & chairman of Max India, discusses emerging opportunities and policy requirements. Excerpts:

Why a separate health insurance company when your life insurance firm offers health insurance products?
The idea of launching a standalone health insurance venture was to focus on this segment alone and increase penetration in the country. India is grossly under penetrated with only about 3% of the billion-plus population possessing health insurance cover. Going forward, health insurance will become an important part of the social security system. Our aim is to provide social security to common people at a competitive price.


What exclusive products or services are you looking to launch, considering the three private insurers account for a mere 3% of the market?

The journey of standalone health insurers has just begun. Our main intention is to increase penetration and for that we have done some bit of innovation to the regular health insurance schemes such as providing covers to a new born baby from day one under our family floater health insurance policy. It is the first time in India that a new born baby will be covered by health insurance from birth along with vaccination expenses till the child turns one.


Besides, we have also decided to extend health insurance to all age groups, and not barring anyone. Health insurance is different from the typical life insurance policies and hence there is much more interaction required between insurers and customers. And to make products more cost effective, we have decided not to have any third-party administrators.


How much capital will be needed in the next 5 years?

The current capital base is Rs 151 crore. In our assessment, we need to invest up to Rs 600 crore more in the next 5 years. Now that we have launched our business in six cities, we will be hiring significantly this year. By the end of this calendar year, we plan to have 600 employees and another 3,000 agents on board. Besides, we would foray into three more cities — Surat, Jaipur and Ludhiana. We are expecting certain regulatory changes. Once the regulatory changes are made, the opportunities will only increase.


What are the regulatory changes?

We are awaiting the relaxation of foreign direct investment (FDI) limit of 26% in insurance. Once it goes up to the proposed 49%, many more global players will be tempted to enter the Indian market.

 

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                                                                                                               DECCAN CHRONICAL

EDITORIAL

MANMOHAN'S STEPS FOR PEACE WITH PAK

 

At Thimphu, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has once again shown the capacity to take foreign policy risks. This tendency first came to light when he pushed full steam ahead on concluding the civil nuclear agreement with the US in spite of hesitations at the highest levels of the Congress party and determined opposition from the Left which then supported his government. There were good reasons to believe that Dr Singh was of the view that it was better for him to resign as Prime Minister if he didn't enjoy the complete backing of the Congress leadership on the nuclear issue. Looking at events since the beginning of UPA-2, it does appear Dr Singh holds a similar view on engaging Pakistan, unmindful of costs, although it is probable that he would not go so far as to want to quit if his party did not extend the fullest support to his approach on Pakistan. As it happens, while there was unease in the Congress after the signing of the joint statement with Pakistan at Sharm el-Sheikh that aimed to de-link the India-Pakistan dialogue process from terrorist strikes against India directed from Pakistan, Dr Singh's party has decided to back his engagement with the Pakistan Prime Minister on the sidelines of the recent Saarc Summit.


This would no doubt give the Prime Minister heart, and persuade him that he is on the right track at least on the normative plane if his sincere, consistent and determined efforts to transform relations with Pakistan come to bear only bitter fruit. However, it is not the satisfaction of individuals, no matter how exalted,
that concerns us. What is important is the effect on the national spirit of the reconciliation bids with the leadership of a country whose actions over time amply show it entertaining no authentic vision of camaraderie and peace with India and which has done what it can to encourage professional India-haters to foment terrorism against this country. Indeed, this is why Dr Singh was constrained to be candid with Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani in the Bhutan capital and pointed out that there was "lack of mutual trust in the relationship". It should also be borne in mind that after 26/11, then external affairs minister Pranab Mukherjee took the country into confidence more than once and announced that much as India desires to take matters forward with Pakistan in a spirit of normalisation, it would find it impossible to go back to the suspended comprehensive dialogue process until Pakistan ensures that those responsible for the assault on Mumbai were meted out the judicial punishment they deserved. Needless to say, there has been nothing from Pakistan other than a cold, formal and grudging expression of regret in regard to the Mumbai attacks. If we look at the time-line, we can't miss seeing that 26/11 followed not long after the Sharm el-Sheikh understanding which may have persuaded the Pakistani extremists that their execrable actions of terrorism against India would carry no costs for the formal processes between India and Pakistan. The Pakistan government was also likely to see the issue through a similar lens.

 

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DECCAN CHRONICAL

EDITORIAL

THE NEW ANTI PARTY

BY FARRUKH DHONDY

 

 "The memory of you lives on

— like the song of the Dodo Bird?"

From Fragments

by Bachchoo

Comrades,

In response to the millions of heartfelt entreaties I have received from the destitute, the desperate, the despairing and my own well-wishers and family, I have urgently consulted the family astrologers and have, with caution and reluctance, decided to throw my hat into the ring in the general elections for the British Parliament to be held on the May 6. Our party, the Post-Marxist Turpitudors (PMT) will be contesting all 600-and-something seats.

The electors of Great Britain and Northern Ireland should be aware that I refused all exhortations and invitations to join the final TV debate of the party leaders last Thursday, the shameful beauty contest between the ogre and Phantom of the Opera Gordon Brown for Labour, the snake oil and used toothbrush salesman David Cameron for the Tories and the politician impersonator and hair-gel advertisement Nick Clegg for the so-called Liberal Democrats. My reasons for declining are self-evident: these gentlemen and the TV networks whom they are promoting have reduced British politics to the level of American Presidential elections and worse, to the frivolity of reality TV competitions in which the public vote for the the most pleasing performance.

It is no good the parties protesting that their intention was more serious, that these debates between the leaders of the parties were really opportunities to air the policies of each. The proletariat of Britain, whose hearts have been fed on fantasies, have grown brutal from the fare. Is it not true that on the reality shows in which hundreds of contestants, some of them struggling and deluded no-hopers, are encouraged to make noises and movements in cruel parody of song and dance in order to entertain the roaring crowds with the spectacle of unselfconscious failure? Haven't these reality shows, Comrades, from Bigg Brother to The X Factor and Britain's Got Talent, deliberately presented grotesque fools and half-wits so that the general public can feel superior to the monstrous parade of humanity and vanity that they represent?

Don't these shows owe their appeal to the instinct that the Roman emperors exploited when they threw Christians to the lions for public amusement or got hapless gladiators to fight till only one was left standing? Should Britain really have to choose its future Prime Minister through such a demeaning, humiliating and self-evidently flawed process?

No, Comrades, no! Reject this frivolity and demagoguery and vote for PMT, the party that refuses to engage in this travesty of the democratic process.

Think of what the travesty allows these so called leaders to do! The Institute for Fiscal Studies, a capitalistic, reactionary but statistically reliable organisation has, after watching the debates and reading the statements on economic policy published by all three parties, come to the firm conclusion that none of them are telling the electorate the truth. There is an elephant in the room and these parties are chasing the cockroaches, pretending that they are the only creatures we can see. The economic elephant is the massive national debt that Britain has incurred in bailing out the failed world banking system. The institute asks the question: "How is this debt to be repaid so the country is solvent again, at least to the extent it was before the world banking crisis?" Each party has attempted to deceive the British public by professing to have answered the question without making clear to the voters what the increases in direct and indirect taxation and cuts in government spending and therefore cuts in services they would have to impose would be. The institute attempts to quantify the lies or obfuscation of each party in answering this question. All three parties have declared how they will save or account for "x" billion pounds of the deficit. Each of the answers falls short by at least 75 per cent of the requirement in order to deal with the said deficit.

Comrades, the PMT is the only party that has a solution which will not entail taking a penny out of the pockets of the honest proletarian man, woman or family. Consider the fact that the global economic banking crisis was brought about by bankers, capitalists and their political accomplices. They did the crime, they must do the time. As my fundamentalist friends say, judgment has come and mercy has gone!

The PMT's manifesto contends that there are in Britain a thousand individuals whose names the newspapers frequently announce, calling them the "rich list". Individuals have been known to fight to get onto this ladder of fame. Let them now fight to get off this ladder of greed, because PMT has calculated that all their wealth, capital and assets in Britain and abroad, amount to billions of pounds and can easily cover the national debt. When PMT is elected as the government of this country we will nationalise every penny of the wealth of the top 1,000 "rich list" and if all that doesn't cover the national debt that the billionaire bankers have got us into, we shall proceed to the second thousand on the "rich list" and so on down.

We are fully aware that most of these vultures have lodged their cash and ill-gotten gains in off-shore banks and enterprises. The PMT government will demand from these off-shore havens that the assets be declared and returned. Failing which the British armed forces, withdrawn from Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere will be strategically deployed to get from these sleazy off-shore-wallahs that which will now be Britain's. As they used to say, no quarter shall be shown.

What will become of the dispossessed individuals, the bankers, the sharks, the landowners who have oppressed the prols for thousands of years or made a quick buck in the last few? They will be free to set up their own re-education camps in land supplied by our government in the vicinity of Slough with full NGO access. There will be no water-boarding or water-skiing.

The next point of our manifesto promises the dismissal and disbandment of all parking attendants and traffic wardens and the possible revenge imprisonment of all those who have issued a parking ticket and fine to a 1999 model black Mercedes whose registration cannot at present be disclosed for security reasons.

Forward etc.!Comrade FD Chief of Politburo (PM designate)

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DECCAN CHRONICAL

EDITORIAL

THE 'POWER' OF IAS

The All India Services may be a creation of the British, but that does not mean it should continue to follow the grand expansionary plans of its colonial creators. Year after year, top posts in the state's power utilities are occupied by IAS babus. The latest addition is Mr Ahmed Nadeem who took over as CMD of Eastern Power. APTransco, APGenco, Eastern and Central Discom, where 90 per cent of staff are engineers, are headed by IAS babus. The Babus are eyeing northern and southern discoms headed by officers with engineering experience.

WHOSE 'RULE' is GREATER?

When the Chief Minister, Mr K. Rosaiah, wants to get back at his rivals, he prefers to use a rapier rather than an axe. Fed up of hearing the Kadapa MP, Mr Y.S. Jagan Mohan Reddy promising to bring back the "golden rule" of his late father during his recent yatra, Mr Rosaiah hit back with a "rule" of his own. In every public meeting he attended during Praja Patham, the Chief Minister announced that the state has been witnessing the "Sonia mark rule" and that people will prosper because of her policies and guidance. Observers say that by invoking the goddess of the ruling Congress, the Chief Minister has effectively killed two birds with one stone: he has prevented Mr Reddy from boasting of his father's golden rule least it be seen as appearing to be better than Sonia's rule, and, second, by referring to Mrs Gandhi in his speeches, the CM is reminding Mr Reddy of the party high command, which he completely ignores in his speeches.

DIVINE HELP NEEDED TO END ROW IN TTD

Chief Minister Rosaiah and endowment minister, Mr Gade Venkata Reddy are breaking their heads trying to find a way to rein in the warring Trimurti of the Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanams (TTD) — chairman Adikesavulu Naidu, executive officer Krishna Rao and Tirumala special officer Dharma Reddy. Whatever Adikesavulu proposes, Krishna Rao disposes, and whatever Krishna Rao approves, Dharma Reddy disapproves. Though the EO is powerful, with the rules backing him, the other two have political clout. This has led to a situation where the affairs of the richest temple in the world are being fought over with no regard to its sanctity. On instructions from the Chief Minister, the endowment minister Mr Gade Venkata Reddy summoned all three and categorically told them to sort things out once and for all. But Adikesavulu, whose power is considerable since he enjoys the backing of the top Congress leadership in Delhi and has friends in all political parties, insists his writ should run. The other two aren't backing down either. All that the CM can do now is ask for some divine intervention.

SENIOR BUREAUCRAT JOINS 'RANKS' WITH MINISTERS, JUDGES AND TOP COPS

Senior bureaucrat Ms D. Lakshmi Parthasarathy has held important positions throughout her career. After serving in Huda for a record period of more than five years, she refused to take the insignificant posting at MCRHRD institute and came back to the mainstream within no time. Mr Rosaiah accommodated her in the prime roads and buildings department. She now has plush quarters in Kundan Bagh, usually allotted to ministers, judges, and city police chiefs. While several of her colleagues and seniors languish in old and dingy quarters in Panjagutta and other places, Ms Lakshmi Parthasarathy, now in-charge of government buildings, will be moving into an independent bungalow.

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DECCAN CHRONICAL

EDITORIAL

THE CURIOUS CASE OF COBALT-60

BY ANTARA DEV SEN

 "Bas bas bada bole/ ab kuch kariye/ ho koi to chal zidd phariye/ kariye ya mariye hai.../ Nowhere to run/ nowhere to hide/ this is the time/ just do or die!" The song from Chak De India goads you on with the right dose of dread. (I am never sure of Hindi lyrics but it's something like: okay, enough said, now do something, take up the challenge, do it now or perish…)

The curious case of Cobalt-60 in the capital should have the same effect on us. With every twist this tale of radioactive scrap was screaming: Clean up now or perish! At every step it reminded us of how vulnerable we are to catastrophes, how alarmingly callous we are even in dealing with radioactive material, how blissfully indifferent to the extensive damage to life we continue to cause through our criminal negligence. This was not behaviour fit for any responsible nation, certainly not a nuclear power.

First we jabbered on about the Cobalt-60 being thrust on us by evil external sources. Was it a "dirty bomb" in the making? It revealed how chillingly inadequate our import regulations were. We had no clue where the radioactive material had come from, who had sent it, or how it reached one of the busiest and most populated markets of the country.

As one of the world's largest importers of scrap metal, our disinterest in knowing what kind of hazardous material we are bringing into the country is alarming. We have more than a billion people. We have been the target of cross-border terrorism and internal extremism for decades. We are too cash-strapped to handle crises with much efficiency and fairness. We are too corrupt to stop a disaster in mid-flow. We claim to be a superpower. We love red tape and ridiculous formalities in triplicate. Then why on earth do we not screen the hazardous waste that we import? Why don't we need our imports to meet standards of safety?

Sadly, this self-proclaimed Asian giant is actually a gigantic garbage collector. We buy international trash from the developed countries, we lust after their e-waste, toxic waste, hazardous waste, their decrepit computer parts, their rubbish rich in asbestos, mercury, lead and other deadly stuff. We are the friendly neighbourhood kabadiwallah to the world. Then we sort through all that junk — however toxic, however radioactive — melt the contaminated metal and make new metal, and put it back into the supply chain.

The Cobalt-60 contamination in Delhi produced dramatic results this time — one worker died and several are in hospital — but usually it is not as spectacular. It is a continuous process of endemic exposure that kills them slowly, through various chronic ailments and diseases like cancer, where nobody takes the blame.

But this time the blame was fixed. Which brings me to the second absurdity — the radioactive material was traced to the prestigious Delhi University. The Cobalt-60 was in a Gamma Irradiator that was lying unused in their chemistry department for 25 years, locked in a room. Now they needed the room and decided to auction off the Gamma Irradiator as junk. As the scrap dealers dismantled the machine and sold off various parts, the radioactive metal spread through the congested market, contaminating unsuspecting workers, till several of them took seriously ill and were hospitalised. That's when the hunt for the source began, leading ultimately to Delhi University.

Fortunately, the university apologised. Unfortunately, it gave ridiculous explanations. The person who bought the machine back in 1968 had retired, they explained, and the current staff didn't really know much about the dangers. Besides, they had miscalculated this chunk of Cobalt-60's radioactive life, and had thought it was now safe. Calculating the radioactive life of Cobalt-60 is pretty easy — it depletes by 50 per cent every 5.27 years. If this is the state of knowledge and intellectual ability in one of the country's highest seats of education, one shudders to think of the scholarship we are now unleashing on the world.

Now for the third absurdity: apparently the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board (AERB) has no proper inventory of such radioactive sources in hundreds of machines lying all over the country. They have no interest in radioactive material that India got before 1983, the year the AERB was set up. That would be too exhausting. Anyway, it was the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre's (Barc) responsibility to dispose of radioactive material. Which they have been doing sporadically — we have all heard hair-raising stories of Barc recovering lost radioactive needles from scrap markets and hospital drains and even crematoriums.

Also absurd is the belief that hazardous waste affects only the poor. The middle classes are exposed as well. Radioactive metal is very likely to be present in the steel we all use everyday. Toxic waste in water doesn't only affect our soft drinks, but contaminates all that grows in it. The fruits and vegetables we eat are full of heavy metal and pesticides. Our hospitals don't maintain proper disposal rules, thus exposing everyone to all kinds of contaminations. We can't look the other way anymore. Cleaning up is more than urgent. Bas bas bada bole/ ab kuch kariye.

 Antara Dev Sen is editor of The Little Magazine. She can be contacted at: sen@littlemag.com [1]

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DECCAN CHRONICAL

EDITORIAL

UNVEILING LIFE IN ISLOO

BY KISHWAR DESAI

Oddly enough while Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his counterpart from Pakistan, Yousaf Raza Gilani were taking a "historic" stroll in Thimpu, I was watching a feature film , Slackistan, which conjures up life in Islamabad or Isloo, as it is known to the young and restless who live there. It is an unusual rite-of-passage film about Pakistan, funny and impertinent unveiling "a city which always sleeps" — as the publicity material describes Isloo. The story concerns three rich, upper middle-class boys from a feudal background who finish college —and find themselves adrift, because Isloo offers no answers or future. It is a carefully controlled society, with the highly Americanised youth up against a peculiar trinity of the Army, the mullahs and the Taliban. Slackistan tries to deal with these issues with irreverence — and a sense of humour. This has already worked successfully in literature with The Case of Exploding Mangoes, often called a Rushdie-lite moment in Pakistani literature. And now, thankfully, it seems the same insouciance is creeping into cinema as well.

After a series of films being made all over the world on Muslim terrorism, for me it was a relief to watch a film about "the most dangerous place in the world" which was devoid of bomb blasts and political rhetoric. Yet, nothing about Pakistan can ever be free of controversy.

Director Hammad Khan, who has just put a trailer of his debut film on YouTube is already feeling the heat. The film has generated both debate and arguments especially back home in Pakistan, a country quite unused to total disclosure. As he puts it, the film looks at real life in Isloo — featuring everything taboo: America, alcohol and the feudal elite. These are all dangerous and provocative issues — which is why even on YouTube the film is already creating a furore. Of course, this begs the question, why are Asian countries so worried about their "image" abroad? Do they really think that world has no idea that slums exist, alcohol is drunk ,people in South Asia have sex and would like to live in America?

Hammad is a Brit Asian who was born in Pakistan, and this is his first film, written in part with his wife, Shandana Ayub, who also grew up in Isloo. Still, for him it was a difficult film to make. The collapse of cinema production in Pakistan has been a huge problem for young directors in many ways, and even finding talent becomes a shot in the dark. Hammad had to resort to the Internet and particularly Facebook, to locate his cast in Pakistan. Given the government paranoia about bad publicity, the film had to be shot with great secrecy .Therefore, he kept the cast and crew to the minimal and shot it mostly at real locations. This is also known as guerrilla film-making. And he now thinks he has been lucky to be able to make it at all — as he finds things becoming extremely difficult for ordinary people in Pakistan, everyday.

Slackistan makes a very strong comment on the difficulty of growing up in Isloo. The talented young ensemble cast gives a strong performance of kids adrift — wasting their lives, somehow trapped in the insecurity of living in Islamabad. Two of the main actors, Shahbaz Hamid Shigri who plays Hasan, and Shahana Khan Malik as Zara were particularly outstanding. I do hope the film does well, as we need to see more of this fresh and open approach .

MEANWHILE, THE leadership debates carry on — but this week they were completely overshadowed by a microphone slip-up by the Prime Minister Gordon Brown. He had to spend one complete day apologising over and over again because in an unguarded moment, he called a 66-year-old Labour supporter, Gillian Duffy, a "bigot", since she happened to question him on immigration. In a febrile and tense environment, whipped up into a frenzy by the media (as ever keeping a keen eye on their ratings) any mis-speaking is going to be leapt upon with glee, as it was. Of course, it is a mistake made by many: if you have a wireless microphone attached to you — and if you forget to switch it off in time, it simply airs your most private thoughts. However, given UK's disenchantment with politicians, this became yet another critical instance of the hypocrisy of politicians. The accusation is that they completely smarmy when faced with the electorate — but actually are totally disengaged from the common man or woman. However, Mr Brown went into an apology overdrive : he apologised to the woman on the phone, then visited her personally (when he apologised for 39 minutes) and then also came out and apologised to the world at large for another 10 minutes and THEN also wrote an email apologising to all Labour Party workers… But the real reason he got into trouble was, apparently, because his wife, the redoubtable Sarah Brown was not by his side. It seems she is the only one who can keep him calm and safe from trouble. So it is good to know that wives are more than arm candy.

And then there was the other Big Apology which arose out the question: how do you greet the Pope? He is supposed to come to the UK later in the year and so preparations are on. However, recently, the arrangements were in serious danger of becoming more adventurous than the normal formality the pontiff is used to. According to a memo sent out by the foreign office to 10 Downing Street — one suggestion was to get him to open an abortion clinic. Another was to get him to distribute "Benedict" condoms. Or maybe — and this is really a smart idea, sing a duet with the Queen to raise money for charity? If this sounds like an April Fool joke, sadly, it was not. It was part of a brainstorming session (also known as "blue skies thinking"!) at the foreign office presided over by some junior officials. It is a little worrying to think that a bunch of juvenile blokes may have taken over Whitehall, but it is a real possibility. So it has been a season of abject grovelling. This note forced the government to apologise to the Pope Benedict XVI, admitting that the document which also thought the Pope could bless a "gay marriage", was foolish. Some Roman Catholics admitted that they have got used to mockery in the UK in recent times, but others did query that if a Muslim religious leader was similarly ridiculed, would the matter have been allowed to rest so easily? Interesting thought.

- The writer can be contacted at kishwardesai@yahoo.com [1]

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DECCAN CHRONICAL

EDITORIAL

FAYYAD'S ROAD TO PALESTINE

BY ROGER COHEN

RAMALLAH, WEST BANK

I spoke to the Palestinian Prime Minister, Salam Fayyad, for 90 minutes, and the word he uttered most often, by far, was "security". As in, "The absence of security has been our undoing".

When Palestinian leaders are talking about their self-inflicted undoing, as well as the undoing inflicted on them by Israel, things may be starting to move.

His aim, Fayyad told me, was an end to the "security pluralism" that produced a "state of chaos and militias". It was this chaos, he said, that fuelled the violent schism between Fatah in the West Bank and Hamas in Gaza, undermining past Palestinian attempts to build the rudiments of statehood.

Fayyad, 58, is a small, precise, US-educated man with a very ordered mind. He builds long, intricate sentences with an academic bent and is given to words like "axiomatic" or "purview". For almost a decade his home was the World Bank; he's hardly a political firebrand. Armed struggle has never been his thing. But right now he is a man with a mission.

That mission is a two-year programme, begun last August, to ready Palestine for statehood by the second half of 2011. It represents a break with past Palestinian failure in that it espouses non-violence — "an ironclad commitment, not a seasonal thing", he said — and is focused on prosaic stuff like building institutions (police, schools, a justice system, roads and an economy) rather than exalted proclamations.

The programme has secured explicit backing from the "Quartet" of the United States, Russia, the European Union and the United Nations, the group that last month called for "a settlement, negotiated between the parties within 24 months, that ends the occupation which began in 1967 and results in the emergence of an independent, democratic and viable Palestinian state living side by side in peace and security with Israel".

The world's 24 months and Fayyad's timetable do no exactly overlap, but they are close enough for the intent to be clear. Fayyad has strong backing from US President Barack Obama.

Next year, before the US presidential campaign kicks in, will be crunch time. Can Fayyad's programme, which is advancing, and political negotiations, which are not, be made to coincide?

I don't know, but I'm sure Fayyad is the best hope for Palestine in a very long time. He's building it rather than ballyhooing it.

The easy argument against him is that he's isolated politically — opposed by Hamas in Gaza and regarded with suspicion by the Fatah old guard in the West Bank. The argument for him is that he's getting things done, improving people's lives, and Palestinians are tired of going nowhere.

"This is about our right to life as a free people with dignity on this land — meaning, so that I'm not misunderstood, the land occupied by Israel in 1967", Fayyad told me. "Every day we do work consistent with that to create the sense of a state growing. Bad things happen every day but you're bound to have a lucky bounce and we have to be ready for it".

Outside his office in Ramallah, and elsewhere in the West Bank, the fruits of that work are apparent. Stores and restaurants are full, Palestinian Authority police are everywhere in their crisp uniforms, tension is low and the economy, fuelled by massive injections of aid, grew seven per cent last year. Israel's presence remains overwhelming — the checkpoints, the snaking wall-fence, the settler-only highways — but Fayyad's state-building is pushing into whatever space is available.

Would Palestinians, if talks fail, unilaterally declare independence in 2011 — an idea Fayyad has on occasion seemed to intimate?

"This is not about declarations of statehood", he said. "This is not about proclamations of a state. It is about getting ready for one. Ours is a healthy unilateralism. Contrast that, if you will, with Israeli settlement activity".

He continued: "This is not about going it alone; this is about going together holding hands with everybody, including Israelis".

Fayyad is tired of the paralysing claims of the past. "Let us not allow ourselves the luxury of acting as victims forever", he said. "This is a case of two opposed historical narratives. And if this is going to direct traffic in the future, we are not going too far. It's time to get on with it and end this conflict. Let's move on. Let's really look forward".

But what about Hamas, representing some 40 per cent of Palestinians, those in Gaza, whose charter calls for Israel's destruction and whose opposition to Fayyad is fierce? A "major problem," an "Achilles' heel", the Prime Minister conceded, but insisted that statehood, as it took form, could prove a unifying theme.

"Is it possible", he told me, "given past experience, that we may find ourselves in spring of next year without progress being made?"

"It is possible. But I believe, instead of sitting on our hands and waiting to get a perfect alignment of the stars, if we get busy helping ourselves, in realising our dream of having strong and effective institutions of state, we make this outcome less likely. That's a good enough bet for me".

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THE STATESMAN

EDITORIAL

BILATERAL THAWS

FREEZE OVER PRETTY QUICKLY 

 

GIVEN the complex and vexatious nature of Indo-Pak relations, an agreement to keep talking is itself something of an achievement. Hence prudence suggests that stray hope, rather than reasoned expectation, be the watchword after presumed progress in Bhutan. Essentially because the political equation on the subcontinent remains unaffected by "global warming" and it takes so little for the ice to set in again ~ as we saw after a strident press briefing by the Pakistanis following the meeting between the foreign secretaries in New Delhi not so long ago. The positive side of what transpired at Thimpu, therefore, is that no tall claims are being made, and that it would make sense to discount the flowery language that diplomats and politicians tend to use: "searchlight on future", "climate change" etc. Similarly, it would be puerile to swallow the "spin" about a breakthrough being attained when the Pakistani and Indian prime ministers took a stroll through the SAARC village, comparing it to Indira and Bhutto taking the air at Shimla ~ both sides then had highly accomplished officials at work. Perhaps the critical factor is how Thimpu will be presented to domestic audiences: the Pakistani foreign minister (as does the minister for interior) runs riot before a domestic TV camera. The MEA here will also have a hard time explaining its change of heart in the absence of any credible crackdown on anti-India terrorism by Islamabad, and continuing militant activity in J&K. Opinion will remain divided on how soon the dialogue should be raised to a political level. Some feel that unless the groundwork has been adequate to ensure a "result" ministers should stay apart, others would contend that officials do not have the leeway to manoeuvre. Yet any stumbling has the potential for more negatives than the positives that might accrue from the only limited progress presently possible. 


Even at the risk of being charged with excessive reading between the lines, due note must be taken of the Indian foreign secretary's description of the Bhutan bilateral as an "exercise in mutual compulsion". What was the compelling factor? A realisation (oft-stated) that peace via dialogue is critical to the well-being of a once undivided people; the disgust of other SAARC members that the forum remains crippled by Indo-Pak squabbling; or, as our comrades would suspect, pressure from Uncle Sam? Never mind: all that sane folk on both sides of the Radcliffe Line would demand is an end to flip-flops. 

 

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THE STATESMAN

EDITORIAL

POINTERS IN ALBION 

THE RIGHT TO 'SQUAT' IN NUMBER TEN 

 

Britain appears to be on course towards a swingback to 1974. The recent live debate, hosted by The Independent at the Oxford Natural History Museum, fully bears out the general perception of the elections on 6 May. The overwhelming view of a cross-section of candidates, readers and the paper's columnists has reaffirmed the recent caveat of the Conservatives. Though still the front-runner in opinion polls, the Tories are fairly certain that a hung parliament is the most likely outcome of the general election. At least three factors will account for the widely expected fractured verdict after 36 years. Pre-eminently, they could be listed as the growing disenchantment with New Labour, the recent surge in support for the Liberal Democrats and the corresponding decline in the influence of the Conservatives. At 32 per cent, the Tories are still ahead in the opinion polls, if only marginally compared to the LibDems at 30 and convincingly so against Labour at 27.
It is a measure of the faith that the political class pins on opinion polls that the latest ratings have clearly caused a flutter, if not a crack, in the Labour roost. A week ahead of the elections, Alan Johnson, the home secretary, seems desperately anxious to dispel Labour's traditional abhorrence towards a coalition: "It is nonsense to lecture the public about this spectre of a coalition government." Still more crucially, he has called for sweeping electoral reforms while appealing to the party not to be "frightened" about sharing power with the LibDems. His presentation flies against conventional Labour wisdom. Should such a coalition fructify, Mr Gordon Brown will almost certainly have to step out of 10 Downing Street with Mr Johnson, David Miliband and Ed Balls waiting in the wings. Though Labour ranks third in the ratings, Britain's electoral system may yet enable the party to secure the largest number of MPs. And this has lent a critical edge to Mr Johnson's call for reforms and his support for proportional representation. He appears to be on the same platform as the LibDem leader, Nick Clegg ~ "It is just preposterous that if a party comes third in the number of votes, it still has the right to carry on squatting in Number 10". The rough edges of the system have hobbled the calculations across the spectrum ~ Labour, Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats. Psephologically, contemporary British history is in a flux. Which itself is testament to the resilience of its democracy.

 

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THE STATESMAN

EDITORIAL

BLOOMIN' NONSENSE

TOO OLD FOR PHOTOGRAPHY? 

 

THERE are limits to bureaucratic buffoonery, and the "LOC" appears to have been crossed in the blossom-rich Mughal Gardens in Srinagar. Ever since anyone can care to remember tourism and photography have been so closely intertwined that no holiday is complete without a visual record of the delights savoured. There are time-tested photo-spots in major tourist attractions, and professionals are available to "click" the magic moments, particularly the romantic ones. Take the Taj Mahal: every "couple" wants to pose on the small marble seat on the podium at the intersection of the cruciform water channels that mark gardens of Mughal origin, or design ~ the monument to love serving as the perfect backdrop. And that includes a surly Diana, Princess of Wales, with her soon-to-be estranged Charlie, and military dictator Pervez Musharraf and his movie-mad Begum Sheheba. So too is a photograph among the blossoms in the Srinagar garden to be treasured, "them were the days …" Alas, while such photographs are still possible, unthinking officials have pulled the shutters down on some 60 cameramen who for decades have earned their living serving tourism's cause. In what is possibly an unprecedented age-related instruction they have been told they are too old to pursue the profession that has long sustained them. Some desk-bound babu has "diagnosed" that an equivalent of writer's cramp afflicts the shutter-pressing finger of a photographer.


The "explanation" from the Directorate of Horticulture is that it decided to provide employment opportunities to younger persons, hence it ruled that licences would not be issued to people more than 37 years of age. Why that cut-off age is anybody's guess. It certainly seems discriminatory, denying people the right to earn a living. If this has anything to do with a youthful chief minister it doesn't add up: would the senior Abdullah accept a ban on his entry to a golf course because age has impacted on his swing? The quicker the absurdity is rectified the better, let seasoned shutterbugs capture the "electricity" in the eyes of a courting couple in a setting  most amorous. Srinagar has ever been a sweethearts' haunt.

 

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THE STATESMAN

EDITORIAL

LAST RESORT OF THE AGGRIEVED

SUPREME COURT MUST BE EASILY ACCESSIBLE TO AAM AADMI

BY BIMAL KUMAR CHATTERJEE


ONE of the cardinal socio-legal principles of any civil society is that one must not take the law in his own hands to settle grievances against others. Law means a code of conduct established and enforced by the sovereign authority of the country. It applies to all. The citizen is thus expected to be obedient to the 'judicial process'. And this must include a legal process through which the aggrieved can seek redress. The existence, availability and accessibility to the judicial process is a prerequisite for a truly democratic political set-up. 
The Constitution envisages that the judicial process will be accessible to "each and all" easily. The expression 'easily' must also imply the least effort and expense.  It is with that objective that the Constitution has provided for the Supreme Court as the Union judiciary and High Courts and subordinate courts as the state judiciary. Besides, there are tribunals that are assigned to deal with specific disputes and the gram nayaloy to settle petty disputes in villages. All these courts and tribunals can be categorised as 'adjudicating authorities'. The Supreme Court  is the last resort of the aggrieved. 


The Constitution has made the Supreme Court the last judicial appellate authority. However, it also has certain spheres of original jurisdiction, meaning that there are certain proceedings which can be first initiated before the Supreme Court (Article 131). Proceedings either in its appellate jurisdiction or in its original jurisdiction can be divided into two categories: (a) Constitutional matters involving issues of constitutional provisions and their interpretation to decide the conflicting rights and obligations; and (b) non-constitutional matters involving mostly disputes arising between two or more private parties without involving or involving considerably less interpretations of constitutional provisions.


Time, distance and cost

ACCESSIBILITY to the judicial process must necessarily include accessibility to the Supreme Court as well. True, no one is denied such accessibility; but the problem is easy accessibility. It is located in Delhi. Time, the distance and the cost may deter a litigant in Thiruvananthapuram, for instance, from seeking redress in the apex court. To that is added the lawyer's fees. Circumstances, therefore, might prevent a litigant from moving the Supreme Court as a court of last resort. In the event, there is an unintended classification of litigants ~ those who can afford to approach the Supreme Court and those who cannot. For aam aadmi, the Supreme Court has for all practical purposes remained inaccessible.


In 1950 only 1215 cases were instituted in the Supreme Court, of which 1037 were admission matters and 178 regular matters.  In the same year only 525 (491 admission matters and 30 regular) matters were disposed of leaving 690 matters pending.  In 1989, 1990 and 1991 the pending cases crossed over one lakh. Between January and April 2008, as many as 28,007 cases were instituted. Despite the disposal of 28,559 matters (more than those instituted), 46,374 cases were pending in the Supreme Court. On 1 March 2007, the Chief Justice of India stated there were 41,078 pending cases. The backlog exists despite the increase in the number of judges from merely seven in 1970 to 31 in 2009


Not that the country's justice administration has been impervious to the problem. It has been addressed both by the Law Commission and the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Law and Justice.
Law Commissions are periodically constituted by the Government of India to make recommendations on streamlining the justice administration system. In 1984, the  Tenth Law Commission in its 95th Report recommended that the Supreme Court should consist of two divisions ~  the Constitutional Division entrusted with matters of constitutional law and the Legal Division entrusted with other matters. It was  also suggested that the judges be appointed to a particular division.


The Eleventh Law Commission in its 125th Report (1988) recorded that the Government of India had on occasion sought the opinion of the Supreme Court for setting up a Bench in the South. But the proposal did not find favour with the Supreme Court.  The Commission suggested that if the Supreme Court is split into a Constitutional Court and a Court of Appeal or Federal Court of Appeal, no serious exception could be taken to the Federal Court of Appeal sitting in Benches located in North, South, East, West and Central India. This will reduce costs considerably. 


The Parliamentary Standing Committee on Law and Justice has also suggested that in order to ensure speedy justice to the common man, Benches ought to be set up in southern, western and the north-eastern parts of the country. It has also expressed its dissatisfaction with the persistent opposition to such Benches. The committee's recommendation is based on the fact that it is not possible for the people living in remote areas to come to Delhi for seeking justice. 


The Eighteenth Law Commission was constituted in 2006 with Justice AP Lakshmanan as its chairman. In its report on 5 August 2009 it recommended that:


(1)  A Constitution Bench be set up in Delhi to deal with constitutional and other allied issues;


(2) Four Cassation Benches be set up in the northern region/zone in Delhi, the southern region/zone in Chennai/Hyderabad, the eastern region/zone in Kolkata and the western region/zone in Mumbai to deal with all appellate work arising out of the orders/judgments of the High Courts of the particular region.
Constitutional amendment


THE Tenth Law Commission in its 95th report observed that an amendment of the Constitution would be necessary to give effect to its recommendations.  The Eighteenth Law Commission observed that if Article 130 of the Constitution cannot be stretched to implement its recommendation, then Parliament should enact suitable legislation/constitutional amendment.


The implementation of the recommendations of the Eighteenth Law Commission has been opposed by the country's highest law officer, Attorney-General Vahanvati, and also by the Chief Justice of India for reasons best known to them. The suggestion has also been opposed by a vested interest group, namely the Supreme Court lawyers.  The Ministry of Law and Justice is yet to express its views, far less take any step to implement the recommendations.  Both the Prime Minister  and the chairperson of the UPA have expressed their anxiety for speedy justice. However, till date neither has come forward to impress upon the concerned the need to implement the recommendations for serving aam aadmi better and more effectively. It is not too late in the day to take concerted action and remove the impediments towards implementing the recommendations. Action has been pending for decades and it is the poor who are suffering. If the recommendations are implemented, the great disparity between 'India' and 'Bharat' will be redressed in terms of justice administration. It may not bring the judicial process to the doorstep of aam aadmi,  but it will be made available in their neighbourhood.
The writer, a Senior Advocate and Barrister, is chairman, Bar Council of West Bengal

 

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THE STATESMAN

EDITORIAL

'TAKE PDS OUT OF CORRUPT HANDS'

 

Mani Shankar Aiyar, 69, nominated to the Rajya Sabha recently, has been minister of petroleum and natural gas; panchayati raj, and youth affairs and sports in the central government. A former diplomat, he travelled through rural India to oversee the implementation of pachayati raj laws during the first Manmohan Singh government. In this interview to DEEPAK RAZDAN, he spoke on the food security Bill being drafted by the government amidst a debate on how many poor people there are in India, and how much subsidised food they should get:


The food security Bill concept is under debate? How can it be improved?

I think you are asking the question when the answer is being prepared. I am delighted that at long last there is widespread recognition that malnutrition is the single most serious dimension of poverty confronting the country and that improving nutritional standards is at least as important as promoting higher rates of growth. Indeed, the higher government revenues being generated through higher growth should be earmarked first for universal and assured food security, before being deployed for any other purpose.
The question of number of kilograms ~ 25 or 35 per family ~ is a highly technical one, and I would like it to go to experts to determine what level of affordable per capita food supplies will meet the basic nutritional requirements of every man, woman and child ~ specially children ~ and the just objective of economic and social policy.

 

If it's 35 kg, and for 37.2 per cent of the population, as per the Tendulkar panel, would the Rs 90,000 crore food bill be easy to bear?

I do not think we should be restricted by the question of resources because the first call of an individual or family is food requirement, and this should also be the case for the nation. If tax resources are not available, why not a food cess? Moreover, some savings can be effected and millions of farmers in non-irrigated lands can benefit if, in addition to wheat and rice supplies, the scheme were to include coarse cereals like jowar, bajra and ragi, to universally meet our nutritional requirements.


It is an insult to the memory of Mahatma Gandhi if we allow the fact of India having the second highest growth rate in the world to blind us to the other fact of India adding every month more hungry millions to the world's population than the rest of the world put together. As many as 47 per cent of our children under five suffer from severe to moderate malnutrition.


The public distribution system (PDS) through which the subsidised food is provided at present is known for leakages.
There are of course leakages, and sometimes heavy leakages from the PDS. But please remember there is no country in the world which has as widespread a PDS network as India has. To my mind, the systemic solution to PDS leakages is to take the entire PDS out of the corrupt hands of the civil supplies department and their comprador contractors, and to put it under the supervision and control of gram panchayats reporting to gram sabhas. Only PDS run by the panchayati raj system can succeed in so vast a country as ours. Leaving it to bureaucrats and technocrats who are not responsible to the people is the bane of the present system and must be done away with.


Inclusion of pulses and edible oils has been demanded in the food "security" basket.
The fundamental problem is not including these items in the food security Bill but finding adequate supplies to meet the people's critical nutritional requirement. In short, we must back food security legislation with a total alteration of our economic priorities to favour agriculture over manufacturing. Jawaharlal Nehru's slogan was "everything can wait but not agriculture". Now we seem to be saying "nothing will wait, except agriculture". That is the tragedy of our current development model which calls for urgent course correction. The food security Bill is the single most important step after the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act.


ndia's six lakh villages produce food for India. Still, the food Bill will mainly feed the rural population. Why this paradox?


Before launching ourselves on a whole-hearted attack on our deficiencies, please remember that whereas India was synonymous with famine during the colonial period, there has not been a single widespread famine in India since Independence, unlike China where millions died of hunger. Nevertheless, if India before Independence was synonymous with famine, India after Independence has been synonymous with malnutrition.
Instead of arguing endlessly about BPL, APL and cheating the poor as the NDA government did when by sleight of hand, it slashed the poverty ratio from 35 per cent to 26 per cent, now restored by the Tendulkar panel to 37 per cent, I would commend the approach taken by the Arjun Sengupta Committee which categorised the poor of India in four categories ~ "extremely poor", "poor", "marginally poor" and "vulnerable" ~ and then defined the poor and vulnerable as those whose per capita expenditure is less than Rs 20 a day, thus demonstrating a far better understanding of India's multi-dimensional poverty. Many of the allegations of leakage from the PDS relate to those who are genuinely "poor and vulnerable" although their daily per capita expenditure averages Rs 20.


Please understand the significance of Arjun Sengupta's cut-off line of Rs 20 per day expenditure. Under the recently issued guidelines of the central government for the Mahatma Gandhi NREGS, the minimum wage to be paid is Rs 100 but only one member of any given family can become an MGNREGA employee on any given day. So if the family has five members (a very modest number for a rural Indian family) the per capita wage comes to Rs 20 per day. That means about 900 million Indians are living on less than the minimum recommended wage under the MGNREGA. Is this not a national shame for a country that claims to be aspiring to global economic superpower status by mid-century.


Mahatma Gandhi gave us the "talisman" that when in doubt we should remember the weakest and the poorest man. That is the person the food Bill should take care of. If we succeed, we will be fulfilling the ambition of the Father of the Nation to wipe every tear from every eye. But if we fail, it will amount to a betrayal of the whole purpose of the freedom movement

 

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THE STATESMAN

EDITORIAL

WHY THE RUSH?

 

After a spate of reports that Posco was tying up with Sail to set up a steel plant in Jharkhand, coinciding with news that its Orissa project was running into too many shoals and sandbanks, it appears Sail is, with undue haste and unnecessary generosity, toying with the idea of giving the South Korean giant 74 per cent equity. The proposed steel plant will be set up on land belonging to Sail's Bokaro Steel Plant.


But this rush has led to a spate of dissent within Ispat Bhawan and Udyog Bhawan particularly when the Sail chief, who has been in the eye of many a storm, is retiring in a month's time. He has reportedly told the flummoxed government nominees on the Sail Board that the "highest authorities" in the land have been keen on hastening the Posco deal. Sail insiders ask if something supposedly conveyed by word of mouth should place the proposal on a fast track ?


The questions that are lingering are why there was no debate on the pros and cons of the tie-up. As well as on the impact it would have on the ongoing update at a cost of Rs 70,000 crores (or is it much more ?). Who will clean the augean stables ?


Tip of the iceberg

Corporate fraud seems to be on the rise. This is reflected in the increase in Economic Case Information Reports from 16 in 2008-9 to 338 in 2009-10, which confirms that money laundering activities are growing substantially. According to a 2010 survey, three out of four companies believe there is a steep rise in the incidence of fraud in India.

Notwithstanding the RTI, the system of goverance has not gained transparency. In fact, between 2007 and 2009, the country's key investigative agency, CBI, registered 2,439 cases under the Prevention of Corruption Act against public servants, including senior officers. Despite the focus of the righteous PM on stemming the rot, the number has increased from 688 in 2007 to 795 in 2009. With the recent arrest of Home Ministry officials, it looks as if this country is a long way off from achieving even a semblance of transparency!
Corruption is no longer an electoral issue. Given what is happening, it is time that the Prevention of Corruption Act is changed to Promotion of Corruption Act, truly reflecting the times.


Shadow boxing

If you cannot fight the defaulters, set up a commission which can contemplate action till kindgom comes against errant companies. This is precisely what will be achieved by the recent decision of RBI to replace the management of defaulter-companies. But there is a catch -- this will be possible only after a 60-day notice and after acquiring consent from creditors who have a 75 per cent stake in bad loans.
Two months is enough time for the defaulters to make the world go round several times, given the culture of give-and-take. And then there are so many riders that will prevent any harsh decision against the "hapless" defaulters. The acid test of RBI's intention would be a steel major which has defaulted twice and is further milking the system. Can the government outsmart the barons who have made it their business in life not to be outsmarted ?


IPL jigsaw

The operation was successful but the patient is bleeding to near death. The IPL has been hailed as a roaring success, but the team owners are groaning over less than robust balance sheets. They have either posted losses or barely broken even. This is despite the growth in total IPL revenues from Rs 662 crores in 2008 to Rs 774 crores in 2009. The IT sleuths are finding it difficult to put together the jigsaw puzzle with missing documents and hazy details. Worse than what appeared as sensational, some books reveal outgo of several crores under the head "other expenditure". There seems to be other ambiguities on the expenses front.
So why this noise about IPL? It is just sexed-up cricket with scantily clad cheerleaders and post-match scintillating parties ?


Will it help?

That the dhoti-clad Union home minister spoke in Hindi at the inauguration of a civic centre in the capital may have been ignored by the media but it raised eyebrows in the right quarters. Whether it will help him in realising his ambition is not very clear, but what is clear is that he certainly has the proverbial cat's nine lives. At a time when not just the Opposition but his own party leaders were sharpening knives against him came the bolt of Shashi Tharoor's Pushkar mela which diverted the attention of one and all.


Then came the IPL fracas where the focus was on Sharad Pawar and his Don Quixote Praful Patel. The phone tapping foxed Chidambaram for a while but soon it was deflected to his former bete-noire who is now cooling his heels in a palatial colonial mansion. The detractors of this "intellectually arrogant" but stimulating southern overlord should sit up and make note. This includes a very senior minister who did not conceal his anger when his attention was drawn to a report that his articulate colleague would "oversee the IPL probe". One can understand his outburst after having been slighted by the family many times over. Alas, the report turned out to be baseless.


Heard on the street

A babu who is known in his own circles as a career-climber and ended up as a high-profile regulator shifted from Gurgaon to a posh home in New Delhi's Vasant Vihar. But that was not all. Whoever he encountered in his new abode, he would go to great lengths to explain how he sold everything to buy his present dwelling. Why is he protesting so much?

 

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THE STATESMAN

EDITORIAL

WILL SAARC SAIL OR SINK?

RAJINDER PURI   


SAARC took birth 25 years ago. That's a long time. There is little to show for it. The main reason for Saarc's paralysis arose from the continuing differences between its two nuclear members, India and Pakistan. At the latest meeting in Thimpu, Bhutan, the focus remained on the bilateral exchange between Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Prime Minister Gilani. At the end of it, what emerged? The dialogue will resume through a future meeting of foreign ministers. And there was mutual acknowledgment that a serious trust deficit existed between both governments. The resumption of dialogue and the candour regarding trust deficit were projected as positive signs. In fact, the outcome was negative. It was tiresomely repetitive. A dispassionate reappraisal of our continuance in Saarc is called for.


India has lost precious time while pursuing Saarc. There are alternative strategies to promote national interest. It is time to consider them. But first reflect on Indo-Pak relations. Both governments agree that progress is stuck because of a serious trust deficit. How can distrust be removed? It will not be removed by people-to-people contacts, by trade, or by cultural exchanges. These require time to create meaningful trust. And time is what India does not have. India stands poised between the prospects to peak or to plunge.


Trust can be achieved before all differences are removed between both nations. Differences persist even between friends. But trust ensures that no difference can spark hostility. Trust, therefore, depends upon a commitment that is fundamental, transparent and credible. That commitment will not come through social or commercial interaction. It will come through measures that preclude armed conflict and war. Both India and Pakistan claim to be victims of terrorism. Both agree that joint effort to fight terrorism is highly desirable. Yet this cannot be realised because there is lack of trust.


 To achieve trust, the governments of India and Pakistan approach their goal from the wrong end. They start from the bottom. They start with people-to-people contacts. Before lasting results can be achieved, enemies of Indo-Pak friendship stage a terrorist incident to derail the process. Invariably they succeed. Inevitably, mutual distrust between New Delhi and Islamabad flares. The trick should be to reverse strategy. The governments must start from the top.


The biggest threat to South Asia attracting global attention is that two nuclear neighbours fail to resolve serious disputes. If the nuclear danger is removed, basic trust can be achieved. Nuclear danger can be removed by creating a joint nuclear defence arrangement. Other issues can be resolved over time in the knowledge that the nuclear threat is defused. Inevitably, joint nuclear defence will lead to joint defence between the two conventional forces. President Ayub Khan had proposed joint defence in 1959. Other Saarc members can be co-opted in this joint defence arrangement.


Instead of wasting more time India should bluntly put forward the proposal to Pakistan. If Islamabad agrees, it will be great. If it demurs New Delhi should seriously reconsider its membership of Saarc. India is the only sub-continental nation that has geographical contiguity with all other sub-continental nations. No other sub-continental nation has geographical contiguity with another sub-continental nation excepting India. New Delhi should bilaterally offer common tariffs, free trade and joint security on generous terms singly to each South Asian nation. If some nations such as Pakistan and Nepal prefer to throw their lot with China, good luck to them. India should stand firm. It should focus on building its own economic and military strength. The advantages that could accrue to each South Asian nation from generous terms offered on free trade would sooner or later facilitate joint agreements. India is like the palm of a hand. Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Bhutan are like its thumb and four fingers. Together they comprise South Asia. Together they form a whole hand. Whenever required it can be extended for a handshake. If necessary that hand could be clenched into a fist to keep the rest of the world in its place. Will the leaders of Pakistan ever start appreciating that?

 

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THE TELEGRAPH

THE PROMISE OF PEACE

 

It was a fairy-tale setting. Not because the location was Thimphu, the picturesque capital of Bhutan, but because it marked the meeting of two prime ministers — one eager to walk the extra mile for peace and another for whom peace is fast becoming an imperative. Location and priorities made it perfect. The meeting on Thursday between Manmohan Singh and Yousaf Raza Gilani, the prime minister of Pakistan, could well turn out to be a landmark date for the history of the region. It would be no exaggeration to suggest that never in the fraught history of India and Pakistan have the prime ministers of the two countries met with greater goodwill towards each other and a greater desire to establish peace. The most apparent expression of the new bonhomie and trust is the unqualified decision to go ahead with talks irrespective of other noises and past grievances. To talk, both the leaders felt, was better than to sulk.

 

The Indian prime minister's intentions so far as Pakistan is concerned have been clear since he spoke in Sharm el-Sheikh. What he said there had not made him very popular with either the foreign office establishment or self-styled pundits of India's foreign policy. In Thimphu, Mr Singh demonstrated that he has not moved an inch from his declared position. He wants to establish peace and normalcy with Pakistan. This desire is informed by a vision; it is also influenced by the demands of practical politics. Mr Singh wants India, as the largest and most powerful country in South Asia and the only country from the region that has been invited to sit at the global high table, to take the lead to establish peace. He sees this as India's historic destiny, which India should not deny because of petty considerations. This is his vision of India and its role in world affairs. Mr Singh is the only Indian prime minister after Jawaharlal Nehru to think on this scale and at this philosophical level. This vision is, however, grounded in reality. India's progress and prosperity are tied to peace in the region. Mr Singh knows that even the short-term goals of a higher level of economic growth and incremental social and administrative reforms are unattainable if his and his government's attention is every so often diverted by the threat of violence originating in Pakistan.

 

Pakistan is a country torn asunder by violence. There is no absence of goodwill towards India within Pakistan society. Mr Gilani's gestures can only be interpreted as attempts to bring the Pakistan State in line with the priorities of its society. The State in Pakistan cannot be driven or held at ransom by some rogue elements within and without it. Mr Gilani has his own internal battles. He can be helped in those battles if he can improve Pakistan's relationship with India. Through different and circuitous routes the aims of the two prime ministers converge. The beginning is fairy-tale like and in the beginning may lie the end.

 

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THE TELEGRAPH

EDITORIAL

IPL AND THE JUSTICE SYSTEM

 A STRONG AND IMPARTIAL JUDICIARY IS THE NATION'S BACKBONE

SUNANDA K. DATTA-RAY

 

A district judge in West Bengal recently sentenced 20 men to life imprisonment for murders committed 29 years ago. Accused and victims were humble folk; but the appeal hearings can drag on for another 20 years. As that sympathetic civil servant, Penderel Moon, observed, far from being protected by English law, Indians "had perverted it and been perverted by it."

 

Thanks to this double perversion, justice is never swift and seldom effective, which largely explains the scandals in which the Indian Premier League and Board of Control for Cricket in India (each being responsible for the other's actions) are enmeshed. However idealistic a view one takes of human nature, no society keeps to the straight and narrow without the compulsion of a deterrent. But India's "network of the rich, famous and influential" (to borrow Lalit Modi's father's admiring term for his son's cronies) hold the judicial process and its supposedly awesome paraphernalia of police, courtroom, lawyers, witnesses, judges and penalties in contempt.

 

This is not to criticize the T20 series as such. Or to belittle the importance of generating wealth. If sharp operators are making money in their name, cricketers, too, are earning as never before. New sports facilities are sprouting up. The media is in a frenzy. It's a bonanza for the entertainment, hospitality and advertising industries. Millions of people are entranced by the razzmatazz of the greatest show on earth. The government rakes in enough revenue to finance its social welfare programmes. The partying and dancing girls may outrage prudes but are no more vulgar than Bollywood's suggestive cavorting that audiences lap up. Revealingly, this tamasha started with a Twitter tweet, signifying the elite's hi-tech cosmopolitanism.

 

It must also be admitted that much that is talked about censoriously is not strictly illegal. No law forbids a franchise holder's friends and relatives from acquiring shares. Mauritius is a legitimate tax haven and respectable investments, like the abortive $846-million Tata-Singapore International Airlines bid for a domestic airline, also choose that route. All fliers know that a ticket's face value rarely matches the price paid. The BCCI is entitled to suspend its own rules to benefit its own executives. Sweat equity does exist, though it doesn't quite mean a cut or bribe.

 

Why then grumble about the IPL tournament? Because this titillating mix of money, politics, sleaze and sex in the name of sport is all that globalization means for the New Class that has emerged from the swathes of socialist cotton wool that suppressed our true instincts all these years. Because cutting corners, making a fast buck (as the Americans say), is transforming India into another banana republic sucked into the international underworld whose governance will be up for grabs unless the rot is arrested. The licence-permit raj was blamed on shortages created by socialism. But the distribution of contracts, mining rights and spectrum licences demonstrates that the problems of scarcity are also the problems of plenty.

 

Recalling Tehelka's revelations and American complaints that the officials sent to collect Rajiv Gandhi's Cray computer demanded a cut, one wonders about the biggest-ever Indo-US defence deal now being finalized. Or the Commonwealth Games. For every jailed Madhu Koda, hundreds must be lording it over you and me. All this is of a piece with usual business and political practice. Salman Khurshid's claim that no sweat equity was paid by squeaky clean franchise holders is like a Bollywood star stumbling over the word 'benami' in a television programme because, unbelievably, she didn't know the pronunciation or meaning.

 

Transparency International's 2006 global corruption report calculated that it would take India's 670 judges 350 years to clear a monumental backlog of more than 30,000 cases in the Supreme Court and over three million lower down. P.D. Dinakaran's defiance hasn't enhanced the judiciary's reputation. Transparency International's report probably erred on the side of conservatism when claiming that one out of three Indians who go to court have to resort to bribery. The figure might even be three out of three if built-in gratification or lawyers' insistence on cash payment are included. "The pleaders have no regard for truth" was Charles Metcalfe's harsh summing up. With extensive administrative experience behind him before acting as governor-general (1835-36), he saw the courts as "scenes of great corruption" with the judge sitting "in the midst of a general conspiracy". "Everyone is labouring to deceive him and to thwart his desire for justice."

 

Like Warren Hastings and Macaulay, Metcalfe was convinced that the English system's formal courts, Bar, codes of law and rules of evidence had proved disastrous here. "All the injustice of former oppressors, Asiatic and European, appeared as a blessing when compared with the justice of the Supreme Court" was Macaulay's devastating indictment. For Moon, courts were "a sham and a mockery in which police, witnesses, lawyers and judges all played their part in producing or using evidence which they knew to be quite false". Courts had become the means of "harassing, imprisoning and even hanging one's enemies". Echoing their scepticism, Jaipal Reddy says the Supreme Court's collegium system is riddled with nepotism and corruption. But it's the best we have until the rural courts and fast-track tribunals planned under the Gram Nyayalaya Act make at least the lower judiciary less of an obstruction to justice.

 

A parliamentary investigation reeks of political opportunism. Commissions of inquiry only shelve problems. Institutional innovations like an independent investigation arm, tax return checks and proper audit would be at the mercy of the same flawed human agencies unless backed meaningfully by the law. Looking for an expert's prescription, I turned to the Cricinfo cricket website and found its executive editor, Jayaditya Gupta, invoking a vision paper ("The cricket board in the 21st century") that the BCCI circulated in December 2005 in its quest for "a transparent method" of selling television rights. The board is no nearer finding it five years later. Nor will it ever, unless the law forces it to under pain of punishment.

 

Outbursts of political indignation and visibly frantic activity by the tax enforcement agencies will not disclose more than we know about, say, the mystery of Rustom Sohrab Nagarwala, the former army captain who impersonated the prime minister on the telephone to extract Rs 60 lakhs from the State Bank of India. Nagarwala took his secret to the grave or, rather, the vultures; the police officer investigating the case was run over by a police car and killed. One head will surely roll this time, but the galaxy of politicians, tycoons, operators, stars and cricketers cannot all be polished off.

 

An aside: the affair should have bowled out the Tebbit test. Readers will recall the gnashing of immigrant teeth in Britain when Norman Tebbit, one of Margaret Thatcher's ministers, decreed that loyalty was evident from which team people cheered. What loyalty can teams that belong to Preity Zinta or Mukesh Ambani command? Or expensively-bought global players advertising Indian Cement or the Deccan Chronicle? Loyalty in this context recalls a diehard Protestant saying during the communal-political disturbances in Belfast that Catholics were not loyal to the Crown but the half-crown, as the two-and-a-half shilling coin was called in those days. Bookies will say the incentive remains the same. Off-field antics probably add to the excitement. People are impressed by an individual's ability to flout the law and get away with it.Even if the IPL introduces a "fit and proper person test" like the English Premier League on which it was modelled, it will command little respect without the ultimate sanction of the law. As the reversal of the Jessica Lal murder verdict showed, that is not beyond India's competence. A strong and impartial judiciary is a nation's backbone. Nothing composes the mind of the "network of the rich, famous and influential" so much as the prospect of prison.

sunandadr@yahoo.co.in

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

EDITORIAL

STILL TENTATIVE

''THE ROAD TO RECONCILIATION IS NOT YET CLEAR.''

 

 

Unpredictability has become a defining feature of Indo-Pak diplomacy. Just a fortnight ago, when Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his Pakistani counterpart Yousuf Raza Gilani had crossed each other's path in Washington, they had given the impression that the time was not ripe yet for substantive bilateral engagement. There was just the customary handshake and nothing more. Prior to that, a meeting of the Indian and Pakistani foreign secretaries in Delhi too had ended without any indication of their readiness to return to the dialogue table. Ever since, each side has continued to harp on issues that do not help create a sober atmosphere needed for purposeful diplomatic engagement.


However, on Thursday, Singh and Gilani threw up some surprises when they met in the Bhutanese capital of Thimphu. Until early this week, Delhi and Islamabad were not even sure if the two prime ministers would meet on the sidelines of the Thimphu SAARC summit. The two leaders ended up with a meeting that lasted for almost 90 minutes — a proper 'bilateral' meeting, according to officials from the two sides. The element of surprise was not just confined to the meeting, but what transpired during the talks was equally unexpected. It was as if the two leaders were not familiar with the reasons that have impeded 'normal' bilateral relations between the two countries. So, in the words of the Indian foreign secretary, the meeting was an exercise in understanding why there exists a lack of mutual trust. It was also meant to assess the reasons underlying the current state of relations. These, they believe, would help them think afresh and show the way forward.

What it all means for the relationship in the coming days are far from clear. But what is unambiguously clear is that both Delhi and Islamabad have their respective long lists of issues of 'concern' with each other — issues such as terrorism, Kashmir, water-sharing, etc. The gap that separates them remains as wide as they have always been in the past. An elaborate Composite Dialogue (CD) process was launched a few years ago to address and resolve some of the specific problem areas in the relationship. But that process was suspended in the aftermath of the 26/11 Mumbai terror attacks. Its fate remains uncertain. Though the two prime ministers mandated their foreign ministers and foreign secretaries to meet in the near future, the agenda for such meetings was hardly clear in Thimphu.

 

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DECCAN HERALD

EDITORIAL

COMMENT IS FREE

''THE ACTRESS DIDN'T VIOLATE ANY SECTION OF LAW.''

 

 

The supreme court's dismissal of a number of cases which were filed against Tamil actress Khushboo for her comments on pre-marital sex addresses some issues which are important for our social life and judicial system. The first relates to the substance of the charge that she was encouraging immorality by drawing attention to the increasing cases of pre-marital sex and live-in relationships. In the first place her remarks, made about five years ago, in an interview were distorted. While she had said that those who are involved in pre-martial sex should safeguard themselves, it was twisted to mean that she advocated permissive conduct. The court in any case made the legal point clear that no section of the Indian law is violated when two consenting adults live together without marrying or decide to have a relationship. Social attitudes and individual conduct keep changing and nobody can be hauled up for his or her personal life, as long as it is within the limits of legal correctness.

The second issue the court has addressed is freedom of expression. It upheld the right to free speech of a citizen, however unorthodox the views are and unpleasant they are to some sections of the people. Khushboo's remarks reflected her observation of society and were a fair comment on it. They neither disturbed the peace nor were meant to hurt sentiments. The policing sought to be done by self-appointed guardians of morality and tradition over the unconventional words and deeds of individuals has been seen before also. Khushboo's opinion that it was hypocritical to say that there is no pre-marital sex in the society was dubbed as denigration of women. Do men have the right to pre-marital sex, and would the licence work without partnership with women?


Another issue is the flooding of the judiciary with frivolous cases. There were 22 criminal cases against Khushboo filed in lower courts, and the Madras high court, instead of dismissing them, consolidated them and ordered a joint trial. It should have been clear to the court that the cases were meant for harassment of the actress, which she has suffered for five years. The courts are also responsible for encouraging the flood of such flippancy and burdening themselves, thus resulting in judicial delays.

 

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DECCAN HERALD

EDITORIAL

THE POWER MESS

BY S L RAO


Successive governments did not help private investors with necessary clearances and many of them abandoned the state.

 

 

For a long time, Karnataka had one of the more efficient power systems in the country. The state separated generation of electricity from transmission and distribution before most others did.


Karnataka has depended mostly on hydro and nuclear power. Raichur thermal generation plants were a courageous attempt to transport coal from Andhra Pradesh and elsewhere, traversing long distances. And it did work. But environmental clearances did not follow a transparent system and environmental opposition, and arguments against coal-based power stalled most of the new projects. Besides, poor follow-up with the Centre has meant that the state hardly has been able to increase power generation.


In the last one decade, Karnataka failed to take advantage of the ultra mega power projects policy of the Centre. The political leaderships (especially, of the Congress and the JD(S) governments) did not focus single-mindedly on new power generation capacity by any means.


Unreliable environmental clearances made the citizens doubt the government's assurances regarding pollution potential of new projects. The present government is pursuing the LNG fuel option through the GAIL pipeline and seems to have got the NTPC to set up a 4000 mw plant at Kudigi.


The bold initiative to set up a generation plant in Chhattisgarh will soon bring some quantity of power to Karnataka. But a similar attempt to import electricity from Gujarat was a non-starter because of lack of transmission capacity. There is no news of any urgent attempt to build transmission capacities to import power. Karnataka must have a coordinated programme for efficient distribution and demand side management.
Successive governments in the state have not helped the private investors with environmental and other necessary clearances. More than one private investor has abandoned the state after waiting for years.


The KERC, like the state government, is always waiting for a good monsoon to avoid buying power from outside. Despite trading and power exchanges being a key part of electricity reforms, both have shunned it as much as possible. KERC in its anxiety to keep tariffs down, has discouraged distribution companies from buying power from other parts of the country on a long-term basis.


The KERC's unreasonable cap on power purchase prices has restricted trading to last minute spot purchases in times of high demand and poor supply, and inadequate purchases, at very high prices. The state government has shown its anti-trading stance by stopping local private generating companies from fulfiling their contracts. It has stopped open access to other states. Nor has it offered competitive prices to local generators. A state which is short of capacity and depends on uncertain hydro power, should in fact foster electricity trading and import from other states.


Failures galore

Karnataka governments and the KERC have not recognised the disadvantages of the state. They have not realistically forecast the demand and supply position, nor entered into long-term supply contracts with outside suppliers when tariffs are low. Karnataka must offer competitive prices to get whatever power is available in the state and the country.

The state needs a politically powerful and aggressive power minister and a supporting bureaucracy to attract new generation plants in the Central and private sectors. We must lobby for a spur of the K-G gas pipeline to Karnataka for gas-based generation.


The new renewable energy policy must be politically supported and pushed. We must incentivise co-generation, solar, wind, bio-gas, etc in the state and use them for distributed power so that rural communities can be self-sufficient in power.


We must pay remunerative tariffs for renewable energy, not penny pinch as we have done so far. We must build transmission lines to the state so that surplus states like Gujarat may supply us. Vigorous anti-theft measures have at last been initiated and must be enforced so that available power is sold, and not stolen.


Legislation and penalties must enforce savings in power through rainwater harvesting and higher water rates so that less power is used to get water to cities like Bangalore. Government must direct the KERC that electricity tariffs must cover the higher cost of importing power and to incentivise energy efficient users.


All new buildings must compulsorily follow green specifications to save on power usage. Rooftop solar panels must be made compulsory for all.


The present government was extremely unwise in giving free power to farmers. Having done so, the government has not limited free power to poor farmers, to single pump sets and meter ground water. It must do so at least now.


Karnataka will be short of power and have erratic supply for many years to come. Trading is our way out. We must enter into long and medium term contracts for the supply of power. Political leadership must accept that power is expensive and must be paid for. The KERC must understand this as also must consumer activists and organisations.

Sadly, Karnataka has for years indulged in mere talk, not concrete actions. There is no systematic follow-up and implementation of plans, strong lobbying in Delhi, clear and well thought out legislation, with penalties and enforcement mechanisms. Despite many outstanding scientists, engineers, managers and other experts available, Karnataka has not ensured that the state has adequate power.

 

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DECCAN HERALD

EDITORIAL

THIS ABOVE ALL... A CIVIL WAR? NEVER!

KHUSHWANT SINGH


The killings of 74 CRPF Jawans have shaken us out of our stupor; we were dragged by the belief that all was well with nation and could indulge in happy day-dreaming.

 

 

Everything seems to have gone wrong in Dantewada; the chief minister of Chhattisgarh and his administrators have much to answer for. Thousands of villagers were receiving lethal weapons, being drilled like soldiers and yet the police of the district was caught napping.  Surely, they must have known what was going on. Then why did it allow unlicensed arms go unchecked? A vast tract of forest land had been converted into a mine field and yet no warning was issued to the CRPF that its personnel were walking into a death trap.

I have little doubt that if the Central government wants to crush the Maoist rebellion, it could do it within a matter of few days by deploying its Army and the Air Force. That would be very unwise and only bring us peace for a few years. The malaise has gone much deeper because we have allowed exploiters to deprive tribals who rely on forests to provide their livelihood. We must not let confrontation with their arms gangs to escalate into a mini civil war. After we have deprived them of their guns, we must talk to their leaders, restore their forest lands to them and bring them in the mainstream of Indian life. The word 'adibasi' has to be made an anachronism.

Murakami

Ever since Jyotsna Varma moved to Manila to take up her job with Asian Bank, she has been besotted by the writings of Haruki Murakami. She told me about him when she was in Delhi for a couple of days. On her way back she picked up a collection of his short stories and sent them to me. I was fascinated but felt that they had very little story content in the conventional sense, but still managed to hold the readers' attention.  Last month Jyotsna was back in Delhi for the release of her father Ram Varma's 'Before He was god: Ramayana Reconsidered Recreated'. She was still bubbling with praise of Murakami. And once again on her way back she sent me a copy of Murakami's first novel 'Norwegian Wood' published in 1984. The title did not seem to make any sense. I was half-way through the novel before I discovered it was the name of Beatles song.


Murakami started  his working life setting up a Jazz Club in Tokyo which also sold cassettes of classical and modern western music. The enormous success of 'Norwegian Wood' pitch forked him into the world of literature as a first novel celebrity. Then for reasons I can only guess he fled Japan and stayed abroad for eight years before returning home; Jap fundoos could not stomach his portrayal of Japanese youth.
As it happened, I spent a few month in Japan and visited many places Murakami writes about: Kyoto (where he was born in 1949), Tokyo, Nara, Kobe, Nagasaki and Hiroshima. I spent all my times with students. I found them very proper, overpolite and straight-laced. Murakami's students are hard drinkers taking beer, whiskey and sake by the gallon.  They watch porn movies and have girl friends eager to lose their virginity. Murakami describes their exploits in minute detail and a lot of relish, omitting no form of sex relationship, sex in different postures, lesbian, onanist.


Compared to the novel, our Kama Sutra reads like a child's primer. I confess I was totally engrossed by it. At the end I was not sure if the week I had spent reading it, had been worthwhile. I came to the conclusion that it had been an enjoyable waste of time.

Bank robbery

An armed hold-up man bursts into the bank of Ireland and forces the tellers to load a sack full of cash. On his way out the door with the loot, one brave Irish customer grabs the hood and pulls it off, revealing the robber's face.

The robber shoots the guy without hesitation! He then looks around to see if anyone else has seen him. One of the tellers is looking straight at him and the robber shoots him also. Everyone by now is very scared and looking down the door.


"Did anyone else see my face?" calls the robber. There are a few moments of silence, then one elderly Irish gent tentatively raises his hand and says: "I think my wife may have caught a glimpse."


Funny ads

In hospital waiting room: Smoking helps you lose weight... One lung at a time!

Seen on a bulletin board: Success is relative.

The more the success, the more the relatives.

My grand father is eighty and still doesn't need glasses.

He drinks straight out of the bottle.

You know your kids have grown up when:

Your daughter begins to put on lipstick... or

Your son starts to wipe it off.

Sign in a bar: "Those of you who a1re drinking to forget, please pay in advance"Sign in driving school: If your wife wants to learn to drive, don't stand in her way.

(Contributed by Vipin Buckshey, New Delhi)

 

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DECCAN HERALD

EDITORIAL

BE AN ASSAMESE...

By D V Guruprasad


My father-in-law said he had never started his day without coffee.

 

With my extended family, which included my parents-in-law, I had reached Guwahati in the night and had checked into a lovely guest house. Getting up early from bed, we were sitting on the sprawling lush lawns and enjoying the invigorating morning air looking at the mighty Brahmaputra. Pots of freshly brewed Assamese tea were placed for our consumption. Three varieties of tea were available and I was quite excited to taste the exquisite teas of Assam.


When the bearer started pouring tea into my father-in-law's cup, he refused point blank and asked for coffee. My wife said, "Dad, we are in Assam which is famous for tea.  You won't get coffee here." He said firmly, "Dear, in the past 65 years or so never have I started my day without coffee. I just don't like tea, however good it might be. I want coffee and nothing else." I butted in to say that it is virtually impossible to get coffee in Guwahati. He said he would rather go without coffee than drink the light tea which I was so much enjoying. We were to stay in the North East for at least five days and how could we allow the old man to miss his daily doses of coffee seemed to be the thought my wife was having. She looked at me pleadingly.


I finished my tea and went out in search of coffee with a thermos slung around my shoulder. At that part of the day not a single cafe was open. Wayside dhabas had not heard of coffee. I went round and round the town and my driver kept pointing out at all the famous landmarks of Guwahati. After two hours of search, I located a departmental store which had instant coffee. I bought a big jar and returned to the guest house.
When I reached back, it was breakfast time and the family was around the dining table. I joined them triumphantly producing the jar of instant coffee. My father-in-law said, "Son, you have missed noticing something." I gave a quizzical look. He pointed at his cup. He was drinking Assamese tea! I was stunned.


He said: "Your wife gave me a big lecture and asked me to be a Roman while at Rome. So I thought I will give Assam tea a try. It really tastes good." Pointing at the coffee jar I looked at my wife. She said, "We will keep it, I don't know when the old man will change his mind." I muttered a curse and sat for breakfast.

 

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******************************************************************************************THE NEW YORK TIMES

EDITORIAL

THE BIG FIX

 

In Albany, as the saying goes, politicians pick their voters, not the other way around. Politically driven redistricting — or gerrymandering — is one of the main reasons why despite the corruption, laziness and incompetence that are rife in the New York Senate and Assembly, the corrupt, lazy and incompetent keep getting re-elected.

 

The time to fix this is now. The 2010 census is well under way, and the new electoral maps will be drawn up before the 2012 elections. Long before that, the Legislature needs to pass a law creating a nonpartisan, independent redistricting commission — one that will finally wring out the narrow party politics and self-interest.

 

You will not be surprised to hear that resistance to the idea among Albany's incumbents is fierce. Still there are small signs of progress.

 

A group led by former Mayor Ed Koch has already gotten all of the top declared candidates for governor to pledge to veto any redistricting plan that isn't drawn up fairly by an independent commission. Attorney General Andrew Cuomo — whose ambitions for the governorship are no secret — also wrote a letter to Mr. Koch promising that "should I become a candidate," he would veto any gerrymandered maps.

 

Assemblyman Michael Gianaris, a Queens Democrat, has long been pushing for a nonpartisan redistricting commission. He finally has a partner in Senator David Valesky, a Democrat of Syracuse. Mr. Valesky appears to be getting support from other Senate Democrats.

 

The Gianaris bill, now moving too slowly through the Assembly, would preclude legislators or politicians or their spouses or lobbyists from serving on the redistricting commission. Members would be selected indirectly. Officials and political leaders would choose a nominating committee that would then create a list of 40 potential commissioners. Then, elected state leaders would be expected to pick a qualified, nonpartisan commission of 11 members.

 

The bill would explicitly charge the commission with creating fair, legal and pass-the-smell-test Congressional and legislative districts.

 

That means that all districts should have equal numbers of people. The areas should be compact and contiguous (none of the current teapot shapes or coffee blots). Communities of interest and pre-existing boundaries like county lines should be recognized, and minority representation is crucial. The districts should be drawn to encourage, not stifle, political competition.

 

The Legislature would still have to approve the maps. But with a transparent redistricting process and fairly drawn districts, politicians will have a much harder time hijacking the effort.

 

The New York Public Interest Research Group reports that in 2008 more than half of the state's 212 legislators were re-elected with more than 80 percent of their district's votes. In 57 districts, the incumbents ran unopposed. That may be good news for the Albany crowd. It is a disaster for New York's voters. The old corrupt redistricting system needs to go.

 

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

UNANSWERED QUESTIONS ON THE SPILL

 

President Obama has ordered a freeze on new offshore drilling leases as well as a "thorough review" into what is almost sure to be the worst oil spill in this country's history — exceeding in size and environmental damage the calamitous Exxon Valdez disaster in 1989.

 

There are many avenues to pursue. Here are two: the oil company's response, and Mr. Obama's. The company, BP, seems to have been slow to ask for help, and, on Friday, both federal and state officials accused it of not moving aggressively or swiftly enough. Yet the administration should not have waited, and should have intervened much more quickly on its own initiative.

 

A White House as politically attuned as this one should have been conscious of two obvious historical lessons. One was the Exxon Valdez, where a late and lame response by both industry and the federal government all but destroyed one of the country's richest fishing grounds and ended up costing billions of dollars. The other was President George W. Bush's hapless response to Hurricane Katrina.

 

Now we have another disaster in more or less the same neck of the woods, and it takes the administration more than a week to really get moving.

 

The timetable is damning. The blowout occurred on April 20. In short order, fire broke out on the rig, taking 11 lives, the rig collapsed and oil began leaking at a rate of 40,000 gallons a day. BP tried but failed to plug the well. Even so, BP appears to have remained confident that it could handle the situation with private resources (as did the administration) until Wednesday night, when, at a hastily called news conference, the Coast Guard quintupled its estimate of the leak to 5,000 barrels, or more than 200,000 gallons a day.

 

Only then did the administration move into high gear.

 

In addition to a series of media events designed to convey urgency — including a Rose Garden appearance by the president — the administration ordered the Air Force to help with chemical spraying of the oil slick and the Navy to help lay down oil-resistant booms. It dispatched every cabinet officer with the remotest interest in the disaster to a command center in Louisiana and set up a second command post to manage potential coastal damage in Alabama, Mississippi and Florida.

 

There are, of course, other questions to be asked. We do not know what caused the blowout or the fire, or why the valves that are supposed to shut off the oil flow in an emergency did not work.

 

We do not know whether there were other steps BP — and Transocean, the rig's owner and operator — could have taken to prevent the blowout, and what steps, including new technologies, that can be taken to prevent such accidents in the future.

 

What we do know is that we now face a huge disaster whose consequences might have been minimized with swifter action.

 

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

CLEANING UP MEDICAL ADVICE

 

Professional medical societies play an enormously influential role in determining how medicine is practiced, but their activities and financing are a mystery. Outsiders can't tell how independent the societies are from the companies that supply much of their financing.

 

So it was welcome news that the umbrella organization for specialty groups has adopted a new code of conduct that seeks to limit industry's ability to influence professional judgments. But it was disappointing that it does not make a clean break from industry money.

 

The new code was adopted by the Council of Medical Specialty Societies, representing more than 30 specialty groups, on April 17. More than a dozen members, including the American College of Cardiology and the American Academy of Pediatrics, have adopted it, but a majority have yet to respond.

 

The code's main weakness is the lack of any effort to wean the societies from their dependence on money from the makers of drugs, biological medicines and medical devices. There have been complaints in recent years that some societies conduct educational programs that feel more like marketing sessions for products or issue practice guidelines that push their members to use treatments favored by their industrial benefactors.

 

Last year, a group of experts proposed that such societies should quickly restrict industry support to no more than 25 percent of their operating budgets and work toward a virtually complete ban on industry money. The new code does not make even a nod to a ban.

 

Instead, it tries to prevent the industry support from biasing a society's professional activities and judgments. The code seems strong in decreeing that the top leaders of medical societies and the top editors of their journals have no direct financial relationships with companies during their time in office.

 

But it goes only part way in protecting the integrity of medical practice guidelines that help doctors decide what treatments or tests to use. Industry could no longer help pay for developing the guidelines or their initial dissemination, but it could pay for further distribution. The chairpersons and most members of panels developing such guidelines would have to be free of conflicts of interest. Why not require that of all panel members?

 

The code also allows companies to help finance "continuing medical education" programs that most doctors must take to retain their licenses — provided the societies, not the companies, pick the topics, speakers and content. The code should have completely eliminated industry financing and found other resources or required doctors to pay the full cost of their continuing education

 

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

COURAGE OF THE SISTERS

 

In the fierce closing debate over health care reform, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops charged that the legislation didn't do enough to restrict insurance coverage of abortions. Many Catholic nuns and the Catholic Health Association of the United States, which represents hundreds of Catholic hospitals, looked at the same bill and concluded that it would have no effect on abortion financing. They signed a letter urging its passage, saying the reform was "life-affirming" and consistent with Catholic values.

 

Now one bishop is punishing the nuns who supported reform. Bishop Lawrence E. Brandt of Greensburg, Pa., has decreed that "any religious community" that signed the letter would be forbidden to use the diocese's offices, parishes or newspaper to promote programs that encourage young people to consider the religious life.

 

That was precisely what the Sisters of St. Joseph of Baden, Pa., whose leadership team signed the letter, were asking Bishop Brandt's parishes to help promote. Many of the sisters — who specialize in health care, social services and education — work in hospitals, hospices and nursing homes as administrators, nurses and therapists. In an age of declining vocations, they are trying to encourage young women to join their ranks.

 

Bishop Brandt accuses the nuns of taking "a public stance in opposition to the church's teaching on human life." The nuns did not challenge the church's doctrine of life from conception to natural death. They saw the bill as a powerfully positive step, because it provided health insurance to millions of people without it, and hundreds of millions of dollars for the care of pregnant women.

 

The Sisters of St. Joseph of Baden showed courage and compassion when they spoke out for reform. It makes no sense at all to try to punish them or thwart their efforts to find new sisters who would care for the sick and dying and lead exemplary Catholic lives.

 

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

WHO LIVES IN SHEIK JARRAH?

BY KAI BIRD

 

AS a boy, I lived in Sheik Jarrah, a wealthy Arab neighborhood in East Jerusalem. Annexed by Israel in 1967 and now the subject of a conflict over property claims, my former home has come to symbolize everything that has gone wrong between the Israelis and Palestinians over the last six decades.

 

Despite talk of a slowdown in Israeli construction in East Jerusalem, Nir Barkat, Jerusalem's mayor, toured Washington earlier this week and told officials that the expansion into Arab neighborhoods is going ahead at full speed.

 

As a result, "The battle line in Israel's war of survival as a Jewish and democratic state now runs through the Arab neighborhoods of Jerusalem," writes David Landau, the former editor of the Israeli daily Haaretz. "Is that the line, at last, where Israel's decline will be halted?" I hope so.

 

My family lived in Israel from 1956 to 1958, when my father, an American diplomat, was stationed in East Jerusalem. We lived in the Palestinian sector, but every day I crossed through Mandelbaum Gate, the one checkpoint in the divided city, to attend school in an Israeli neighborhood. I thus had the rare privilege of seeing both sides.

 

At the time Sheik Jarrah was a sleepy suburb, a half-mile north of Damascus Gate. One of my playmates was Dani Bahar, the son of a Muslim Palestinian and a Jewish-German refugee from Nazi Europe. Before the establishment of Israel in 1948, such interfaith marriages were uncommon, but accepted. Another neighbor was Katy Antonius, the widow of George Antonius, an Arab historian who argued that Palestine should become a binational, secular state.

 

The Sheik Jarrah of my youth is gone; Mandelbaum Gate was razed by Israeli bulldozers right after the Six-Day War in 1967 that united Jerusalem. But the city remains virtually divided. Few Jewish Israelis venture into Sheik Jarrah and the other largely Arab neighborhoods of East Jerusalem, and few Palestinians go to the "New City."

 

Today East Jerusalem exudes the palpable feel of a city occupied by a foreign power. And it is, to an extent — although much of the world doesn't recognize Israel's annexation of East Jerusalem, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu refuses to halt the construction of new housing units for Jewish Israelis in the Arab neighborhoods. "Jerusalem is not a settlement," he recently told an audience in Washington.

 

Not all Israelis agree with this policy. For over a year, hundreds, sometimes thousands, of Israelis and Palestinians have been gathering in Sheik Jarrah on Fridays to protest the expulsion of Palestinians from their homes. Israeli courts have deemed these nonviolent demonstrations to be legal, but this has not stopped the police from arresting protesters.

 

In a cruel historical twist, nearly all of the Palestinians evicted from their homes in Sheik Jarrah in the last year-and-a-half were originally expelled in 1948 from their homes in the West Jerusalem neighborhood of Talbieh. In the wake of the Six-Day War, Israeli courts ruled that some of the houses these Palestinian refugees have lived in since 1948 are actually legally owned by Jewish Israelis, who have claims dating from before Israel's founding.

 

The Palestinians have stubbornly refused to pay any rent to these "absentee" Israeli landlords for nearly 43 years; until recently, their presence was nevertheless tolerated. But under Mr. Netanyahu, a concerted effort has been made to evict these Palestinians and replace them with Israelis.

 

This poses an interesting question. If Jewish Israelis can claim property in East Jerusalem based on land deeds that predate 1948, why can't Palestinians with similar deeds reclaim their homes in West Jerusalem?

 

I have in mind the Kalbians, our neighbors in Sheik Jarrah. Until 1948, Dr. Vicken Kalbian and his family lived in a handsome Jerusalem-stone house on Balfour Street in Talbieh. In the spring, the Haganah, the Zionist militia, sent trucks mounted with loudspeakers through the streets of Talbieh, demanding that all Arab residents leave. The Kalbians decided it might be prudent to comply, but they thought they'd be back in a few weeks.

 

Nineteen years later, after the Six-Day war, the Kalbians returned to 4 Balfour Street and knocked on the door. A stranger answered. "He was a Jewish Turk," Dr. Kalbian said, "who had come to Israel in 1948." The man claimed he had bought the house from the "authorities."

 

That year the Kalbians took their property deed to a lawyer who determined that their house was indeed registered with the Israeli Department of Absentee Property. Under Israeli law, they learned, due compensation could have been paid to them — but only if they had not fled to countries then considered "hostile," like Jordan. Because in 1948 they had ended up in Jordanian-controlled Sheik Jarrah, the Kalbians could neither reclaim their home nor be compensated for their loss.

 

The Kalbians eventually emigrated to America, but their moral claim to the house on Balfour Street is as strong as any of the deeds held by Israelis to property in Sheik Jarrah.

 

If Israel wishes to remain largely Jewish and democratic, then it must soon withdraw from all of the occupied territories and negotiate the creation of a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza with East Jerusalem as its capital. And if not, it should at least let the Kalbians go home again.

 

Kai Bird is the author of "Crossing Mandelbaum Gate: Coming of Age Between the Arabs and Israelis, 1956-1978."

 

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

TEACHERS ALWAYS SHOW UP

BY GAIL COLLINS

 

Sometimes, in election season, I have the feeling that the entire audience at political events is made up of teachers.

 

O.K., maybe an exaggeration. Democratic political events. And you do see people from other unions, although, unlike the teachers, they tend to come in large buses and wear identical T-shirts. And there will be students, as long as the event in question takes place in a university gymnasium.

 

But the teachers — good citizens who are always worried about what the government will do to them next — win the political participation prize. During the presidential race, the line in Barack Obama's speech about how standardized tests should not "come at the expense of music or art or physical education or science" often got more applause than getting out of Iraq.

 

All of this takes us to Florida, where Gov. Charlie Crist announced Thursday that he was going to leave the Republican Party and run for the United States Senate as an independent. This happened at a rally where most of the attendees appeared to be teachers.

 

It was, by the way, a terrible rally. It was smallish and disorganized, as befits a candidate whose Republican staff members were in the process of quitting. Crist's speech was brief, yet there was plenty of room for lines like "I love my country. I love the fact that we are the land of the free and the home of the brave." He made it clear that he was running as an outsider, which would make him one of the rare breed of governor-outsiders. This seems only fair since his opponents — a former speaker of the State House and a four-term congressman whose district was previously held by his mother — are running as outsiders, too.

 

As the whole world now knows, Crist expected he would become the Republican Senate nominee until Marco Rubio, a youthful conservative with Tea Party ties, ran rings around him in the primary race. So there he was in a park in St. Petersburg, a brand-new independent, talking about the home of the brave and introducing his family. Crist seems to have a lot of relatives, who should come in handy now that there's no campaign staff.

 

And there were the teachers, waving signs and attempting to follow one of the governor's sisters in a cheer, despite the extreme lameness of "Crist! Crist! Crist!" as a political war cry. They are exceedingly, intensely, grateful to the governor for vetoing a bill that would have tied their pay, employment and even certification to the performance of their students on standardized tests.

 

"Governor Crist has earned a whole lot of friends within the teaching profession," said Andy Ford, the president of the Florida Education Association.

 

Can I digress, people, and say that while it's important to make teachers accountable, telling them their jobs could hinge on their students' grades on one test is a terrible idea? The women and men who go into teaching tend, as a group, to be both extremely dedicated and extremely risk-averse. The stability of their profession is a very important part of its draw. You do not want to make this an anything-can-happen occupation, unless you are prepared to compensate them like hedge fund traders.

 

It's a terrible time for American teachers — almost every school district is facing monster budget cuts, and a number of politicians have tried to make them the villain in the story. (New Jersey's governor, Chris Christie, recently accused them of using their students as "drug mules" to convey information on school budget votes.) If Crist defeats Rubio with the teachers' support, it will certainly help them push back.

 

But nothing is simple in Florida. If the teachers decide to endorse Crist, it will hurt Democrat Kendrick Meek, a longtime ally who hopes to be the first African-American elected to statewide office in Florida.

 

Meek, who took over his district the year his mother, Representative Carrie Meek, retired, has enough problems already. For one thing, no one outside Miami seems to know who he is. For another, a billionaire named Jeff Greene has just announced he is prepared to "spend whatever it takes" to grab the Democratic nomination for himself. It does not seem terribly likely that Florida voters are yearning for a man who made his maxi-fortune betting that real estate prices would drop. But, still, no candidate likes being stuck with a rogue billionaire.

 

Every election season, Florida seems to find a new way to be the center of attention, and the education angle makes this race more important than its effect on the Senate vote count.

 

Meanwhile, all this anxiety cannot possibly be good for classroom performance. Keep an eye on Florida. And give the next teacher you see a smile, or an apple.

 

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

ABORTION'S NEW BATTLE LINES

BY CHARLES M. BLOW

 

While we've been distracted by Tea Party antics, the government's efforts to sack Goldman Sachs and the tawdry drama of John Edwards and his baby's mama, a rash of states has rushed to restrict access to abortion.

 

Two weeks ago, the governor of Nebraska signed a law that banned most abortions after 20 weeks on the theory that that's when the fetus can feel pain. But as Caitlin Borgmann, a City University of New York law professor, wrote in The Los Angeles Times, "There is nothing approaching a scientific consensus on fetal pain at 20 weeks' gestation."

 

On Wednesday, Mississippi's Legislature sent a bill to the governor that forbids public financing of abortions. The prohibition stands even in cases of severe birth defects.

 

Tuesday, the Oklahoma Legislature overrode a gubernatorial veto to pass two abortion laws. One requires women, even those seeking to end a pregnancy resulting from rape or incest, to have an ultrasound and have the fetus described to them. The other prevents mothers from suing doctors who withhold information about fetal birth defects.

 

And on Friday, the Florida Legislature passed a bill also requiring all women seeking an abortion to undergo an ultrasound. Even if the women don't want to see the image, the doctor must still describe it to them.

 

It is a striking series of laws, enacted mostly by men, that seek legal control over women's bodies. I happen to agree with Representative Janet Long of Florida, who said on Friday that you should "stand down if you don't have ovaries."

 

Proponents hope that some of these measures will force the Supreme Court to reconsider Roe v. Wade. Unfortunately, public opinion is inching in their direction. A Washington Post/ABC News poll released on Friday found that the percentage of people who think that the Supreme Court is too liberal is at its highest since they began asking the question, as is the percentage of people who say that if Roe v. Wade were to come before the court again, the next justice should vote to overturn it. They're not the majority, but it's still not good.

 

It might be tempting to think of this as a temporary blip — a conservative swing during tough times, but that would be shortsighted. There is a long-range trend of public opposition coming from unexpected quarters.

 

According to a Gallup report released on Wednesday, the percentage of college-educated people who favor legal abortion under any circumstances has been dropping since the early 1990s and has now reached a new low. And while the largest overall drop was among men over 65, it was closely followed by a drop among women under 30.

 

This shifting landscape is ripe for a row over Roe. It's coming. With luck, President Obama will nominate a warrior to the court. Preferably one who also agrees with Representative Long.

 

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TIMES FREE PRESS

EDITORIAL

AN OIL SPILL BECOMES A CRISIS

 

The vast and growing oil slick from the ruptured BP oil well in the Gulf Coast neared shores and estuaries from Louisiana to Alabama Friday, confirming the hazard of off-shore drilling that coastal states have long feared. The armada of seagoing craft now assembled by British Petroleum, the Coast Guard, the Navy, scores of federal contractors, coastal state governments and volunteer organizations may be able to skim and contain a portion of the oil. But the unfolding ecological disaster now threatens to be worse than the record 10.8 million gallons of crude that the Exxon Valdez spilled into Alaska's pristine Prince William Sound 21 years ago.

 

Coastal states have good reason to fear the consequences: Fisheries and shores may be swamped with oil and their aquatic environment and economies seriously damaged.

 

BP, which put out a call for help to other oil companies and to the Navy earlier this week, has been unable to cap the runaway oil from a broken pipe some 5,000 feet below the water's surface. The pipe broke in the explosion and fire that sank the oil rig and killed 11 workers nine days ago. Until BP or some other entity can manage to cap the well, it will continue to spill oil into the ocean at an estimated daily rate of 5,000 barrels, or 210,000 gallons.

 

The fear now is that capping the well, or defusing its pressure by drilling adjacent wells, may take weeks. Surface oil may be partially contained by booms and skimmers, but surface clean-up won't spare the fragile estuaries from the oil-fouled water.

 

In any case, the long-term consequences of environmental damage are daunting. Studies of Prince William Sound in recent years have found significant amounts of oil and related toxicity remaining intact and undispersed in the fisheries. Lasting harm to the threatened estuaries along the Gulf Coast states could be dreadful.

 

State governments reasonably fear the economic damage could spread well beyond the fishing industry and its related jobs to tourism, the lifeblood of many coastal communities and the gulf states' treasuries.

 

The Obama administration, well aware of the fallout to President Bush for dallying in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, has responded promptly to the growing crisis in the gulf. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano has opened two command posts, one in New Orleans and the other in Mobile, Ala., to coordinate damage control in Louisiana, Mississippi and Florida.

 

Secretary Ken Salazar has ordered an immediate review and on-site inspections of 30 offshore drilling rigs and 47 production platforms in the deep waters of the Gulf. President Obama, moreover, has frozen leasing of any new drilling sites pending a study of how the spill occurred, and what new precautions may be necessary.

 

The Wall Street Journal reported Thursday that the BP rig, the Deepwater Horizon, was not equipped with a well safeguard device — a remote-control shutoff switch — that is used in at least two other countries. Crews can use such devices to attempt to close an underwater shutoff valve in an emergency.

 

The government has other issues to consider in the wake of the spill. Oil and natural gas wells in the Gulf can hardly be shut down. The 90 oil rigs and 3,500 producing platforms in the Gulf supply a third of the nation's domestically produced oil, and a fourth of our natural gas.

 

This is the first major spill (of 1,000 barrels or more) in 15 years, but it is also the worst. And while it may be anomaly, it serves notice that the risk of a spill is always enormous. The United States can best mitigate that risk by tough scrutiny of safety mechanisms and safe locations for wells, and by focusing more intensely on clean alternative energy. The nation needs oil, but there is no room for complacency with risks this great.

 

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TIMES FREE PRESS

EDITORIAL

HORRENDOUS OIL SPILL!

 

We are a society that depends heavily upon oil. We need oil -- and the gasoline that is produced from it -- in huge quantities. Our way of life runs on oil, which has countless manufacturing and other uses. But oil "out of control" can create terrible and costly problems.

 

An oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico off Louisiana has blown up and sunk, releasing oil from the gulf floor, with the gooey stuff spreading for miles over the water and beginning to touch land. In addition to huge economic concerns, there are big environmental ones, as birds, fish and shores are threatened.

 

How can the spill be dealt with? Those in the oil business are applying available options to limit the scope of the disaster. But there will be no quick solution. The many expensive and environmental ramifications of the spill will affect us, directly and indirectly, in many ways for a long time to come.

 

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TIMES FREE PRESS

EDITORIAL

RED-LIGHT CAMERAS AND SAFETY

 

Obeying the speed limit, obeying traffic lights and otherwise driving cautiously should be encouraged to prevent injuries and property damage caused by automobile crashes.

 

Many cities, including Chattanooga, have installed cameras to catch those who run red lights, arguing that the cameras encourage safer driving by making motorists realize they could be ticketed even if a police officer does not directly witness their illegal acts.

 

But it's not certain that theory translates into safer driving.

 

The Washington Post looked at crash statistics in the six years after Washington, D.C., started installing red-light cameras. As it turned out, there were actually more crashes at intersections where the cameras had been installed. While intersections without cameras also saw a higher number of accidents over those years, the increase was often worse in areas with cameras than in areas without them.

 

Research in Florida produced similar findings. Professors at the University of South Florida compiled data on crash statistics in areas that had installed red-light cameras. They found that crashes actually rose after cameras were installed.

 

"Increased rear-end crashes were a particular problem and may occur as drivers attempt to stop abruptly in order to avoid a ticket," the researchers concluded.

 

We support legitimate law enforcement efforts to ensure safer driving, but the "Big Brother" aspect of red-light cameras is troubling. And if in fact red-light cameras increase rather than reduce traffic accidents, then it would seem the cameras may be more about raising revenue through fines than about promoting public safety.

 

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TIMES FREE PRESS

EDITORIAL

'GUNS-IN-BARS' PROPOSAL IS FOOLISH

 

With all of the really serious issues of taxing and spending and other major matters that our Tennessee General Assembly has to deal with, it is amazing that our legislators take time to consider such an issue as "guns in bars."

 

We already have more than enough big issues involving liquor sales, public consumption of intoxicating liquor, driving-drunk traffic dangers and alcohol-related crimes without inviting additional problems.

 

And we have more than enough problems with people criminally -- and even legally -- carrying and using guns

without inviting more.

 

So why would legislators think, even for a moment, that it would be a "good idea" for people with gun-carry permits to have guns in places that serve liquor?

 

Isn't that a kind of issue that should be a "non-starter," one that should never even come up?

 

There surely is no public "need" or "good purpose" to be served by legalizing the mixing of guns and bars. But there are lots of obviously bad things about the idea.

 

Legislators should get on with their big tax-and-spend and other pressing public-welfare issues, and not unnecessarily and unwisely invite any liquor-and-guns problems.

 

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TIMES FREE PRESS

EDITORIAL

UGLY REALITY SETS IN ON OBAMACARE

 

Shortly after ObamaCare became law, several major companies filed reports with the Securities and Exchange Commission stating that the law's tax provisions would force them each to take accounting charges of up to $1 billion.

 

Congressional Democrats, who claim that ObamaCare will be economically beneficial, reacted swiftly and angrily. They demanded proof that the companies' earnings would indeed be hit hard by ObamaCare. They called for the companies' executives to appear at congressional hearings. The Obama administration accused the businesses of exaggerating, and Commerce Secretary Gary Locke called their concerns "premature and irresponsible."

 

But now, quietly, Democrats in the House of Representatives admit the companies acted properly and honestly in stating their likely losses. Documents the companies handed over to Congress "include large amounts of data that substantiate the companies' concerns," The New York Times reported.

 

Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas, voiced one of the chief concerns -- that ObamaCare will make businesses apt to drop health care benefits for employees altogether: "From a financial standpoint, from a purely economic standpoint, many companies would be better off discontinuing health care as a fringe benefit, paying the penalty (for not offering coverage) and pocketing the savings."

 

In fact, AT&T, one of the businesses in question, is already looking at overhauling the benefits it offers workers and retired workers.

 

Fear of bringing those serious issues before the public may be why House Democrats have now canceled the hearings at which they had planned to grill the companies' executives. But the negative effects of ObamaCare will remain whether or not lawmakers want to shine a spotlight on them.

 

o your teens about pregnancy

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TIMES FREE PRESS

EDITORIAL

BENEFITS AREN'T 'FREE'

 

Suppose Congress enacted a "Spare Car Law." Let's say that under this law, even very small businesses had to keep an extra car on hand so that if an employee's car broke down, he could use the spare to get to work.

 

That might seem like a "nice thing to do," but most people probably wouldn't think it's reasonable. After all, it would impose a big expense on small businesses, and that could force them to lay off workers.

 

Fortunately, no one is proposing a "Spare Car Law."

 

But Congress thinks it can impose other workplace rules without harming businesses or their workers.

 

Democrats in the House and Senate have proposed a bill saying employers with as few as 15 workers should have to provide each full-time worker seven days of paid sick leave per year. Of course, many companies commendably provide sick leave already, out of concern for their employees, and it is a desirable benefit.

 

But neither that nor any other benefit is "free." Money used for sick leave cannot be used for pay raises or for investments that might let a company expand and hire new workers.

 

Companies might not provide sick leave for the very reason that offering that benefit would force them to cut positions. What good is government-imposed, paid sick leave for a person who has no job at all? That concern is even greater in the midst of a serious recession, with unemployment already near 10 percent.

 

Questions such as wages, vacation time, sick leave and health benefits ought to be worked out by mutual agreement between employers and employees, not be dictated by government as unfunded mandates.

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TEHRAN TIMES

EDITORIAL

POOR MEXICO AND THE WICKED AMERICANS

BY GWYNNE DYER

 

The president of Mexico was furious. "Criminalizing immigration, which is a social and economic phenomena, opens the door to intolerance, hate, and discrimination," Felipe Calderon told a meeting of Mexican immigrant groups. The state of Arizona had gone too far.

 

Jose Miguel Insulza, the head of the Organization of American States, was equally angry. "We consider the bill clearly discriminatory against immigrants, and especially against immigrants from Latin America," he told the Associated Press news agency. His point seemed to be that by treating illegal Mexican immigrants as a police matter, the new Arizona law is attacking their human rights.


The new law that is causing such outrage requires Arizona police to question people about their immigration status if they suspect they are there illegally. Day laborers face arrest for soliciting work if they are in the U.S. illegally, and police departments can be sued if they fail to enforce the law. Illegal immigrants will face jail sentences of up to six months and fines of up to $2,500 before being expelled from the United States.


Harsh measures, certainly, but suppose I went to Mexico as a tourist and then stayed there illegally, taking work that might otherwise have gone to some deserving Mexican citizen. That does not figure prominently in my current plans, but if I did it, I would not be treated more gently by the Mexican authorities. Why does Mexico believe that its own citizens who are illegally in the United States deserve better treatment?


The flow of illegal migrants to the United States is important for Mexico. It provides a vital safety valve for the Mexican state, which would otherwise face the discontent of millions of Mexicans who cannot find decent jobs at home, and their remittances are a great help to the Mexican balance of payments. But the widely held Mexican belief that illegal immigrants have RIGHTS in the United States is most peculiar.


It arises from the fact that for a long time the United States has deliberately kept the border with Mexico porous, so that large numbers of Mexican illegals can enter the United States to provide cheap stoop labor for American agribusiness. In the cities along the American side of the frontier the border defenses are quite impressive, but out in the desert they are frequently no more than three strands of barbed wire and a dirt patrol track.

Out in the desert, of course, some hundreds of the Mexican border-crossers get lost and die of thirst each year, but that is necessary in order to maintain the fiction that the United States is doing all it can to stop the flow. It is also assumed that most of the illegals will go home again after the harvest, but of course each year some choose to stay permanently.


Each year the number of permanently resident illegal immigrants grows: Even in Arizona, where there is not a huge demand for agricultural labor, there are now an estimated 460,000 illegal Mexican immigrants. That is about 7 percent of Arizona's total population. Some argue that they are doing jobs nobody else wants, but that is only a possible reason for letting them stay. It certainly does not give them the right to stay.


Yet the Mexican government reacts with outraged indignation whenever the U.S. government, or in this case an American state, talks about enforcing the law against illegal immigrants. It has come to think of the nod-and-a-wink arrangement that allows large numbers of illegal immigrants to cross the border each year as the natural state of things.


Arizona is calling time on that system, and actually intends to seek out and send home people who are in the state illegally. In most parts of the world, that would not be regarded as unreasonable. What is different in Arizona's case?


The implicit charge is racism. The assumption is that American citizens of Mexican origin, and legitimate Mexican visitors, will also be stopped and asked to prove that they are legally in the United States — and that they will be chosen for questioning on the grounds that they simply look "Mexican".


President Calderon himself would never be inconvenienced by such a policy, because he does not look "Mexican". He looks like your average white American, as does a large majority of the Mexican upper class. But it is true that most poorer Mexicans, including both legal and illegal Mexican immigrants in the United States, are mestizos of mixed white and Indian ancestry.


They look "Mexican", in other words, and the concern is that they will face constant demands from the police to prove they are legally in the United States. But the solution for this is simple. Simply enforce the same rules that apply in airport security queues to ensure that nobody feels they are being "profiled" because of their ethnicity.

In the airports, they make sure that heavily bearded young men who look "Middle Eastern" face no greater risk of being selected for special examination than paraplegic grandmothers. The Arizona police should be instructed to stop 13 white, black and Asian people and check that they are legally in the state for every person they stop who looks "Mexican".


Then nobody will have anything to complain about.

 

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TEHRAN TIMES

EDITORIAL

 

HYPOCRISY OF THE NUCLEAR GAME

BY PATRICK SEALE

 

The Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), the world's major arms control agreement -- now 40 years old and signed by 189 states -- is in a deep crisis. Can it be rescued and, indeed, can it be reinforced to meet the challenges to international security in the coming decades?

 

This will be the task of the NPT review conference, due to be held in New York from May 3-28 -- one of the most important dates in the nuclear calendar.


There are, unfortunately, no great expectations that the conference will make the world a safer place. There is simply too much mistrust surrounding everything to do with nuclear weapons -- mistrust between nuclear weapon states and non-nuclear weapon states, between those who abide by the rules and those who are suspected of breaking them. The truth is that secrecy, double-dealing and hypocrisy have long characterized the nuclear game.


The NPT was created on the basis of a three-sided bargain:


Five nuclear weapon states -- the U.S., Russia, the UK, France and China -- committed themselves to getting rid of their nuclear weapons. This disarmament remained, however, a vague aspiration rather than a concrete pledge. When it was supposed to happen was never spelled out.


In turn, non-nuclear weapon states who signed the NPT pledged not to acquire nuclear weapons -- although some of them then sought to do so clandestinely, under the cover of the treaty. As a reward for their pledge to foreswear nuclear weapons, they were promised access to nuclear fuel and technology for peaceful civilian purposes. But such access has, all too often, been denied. In a word, the grand bargain on which the NPT rested was more often breached than observed. Today, it seems in danger of collapsing altogether -- and nowhere more so than in the Middle East.


The situation at present is that the first five nuclear weapon states have not really disarmed at all, and show no serious intention to do so. U.S. President Barack Obama's speech at Prague in April 2009, in which he promised "America's commitment to seek the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons" --what has come to be known as his call for "global zero" -- has not yet been reflected in practical politics.


Admittedly, the U.S. and Russia have agreed to some cuts -- and put their signatures to a new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) earlier this month -- but their nuclear arsenals remain vast. This is not disarmament as it was meant to be.


Another blow to the NPT has been the behavior of North Korea. It signed the treaty but then proceeded to acquire nuclear weapons clandestinely -- and to test them. Faced with international outrage, North Korea withdrew from the NPT, and has since been treated as a pariah.


Three other countries have dealt a still more serious blow to the dream of disarmament, non-proliferation and access to nuclear technology for peaceful purposes. Israel, India and Pakistan have all built nuclear weapons and have refused to join the NPT. Evidently, the existence of the treaty did not prove an obstacle to their accession to nuclear status. They have suffered no unwelcome consequences as a result of their proliferation, not even a word of reproof.


Playing favorites

Quite the contrary: although Israel went 'nuclear' in the 1960s, it has benefited ever since from lavish American financial and military aid, as well as unstinting political support. The U.S. has steadfastly refused even to raise publicly the question of Israel's nuclear arsenal. As a result, Israel has been able to maintain a nuclear monopoly in the Middle East, which it no doubt considers a key element in securing its regional military hegemony. It has repeatedly used force to prevent other states in the region from acquiring nuclear weapons.


India and Pakistan have also escaped censure or sanctions on account of their nuclear activities. Instead, India has recently been granted privileged access to American nuclear fuel and technology, while Pakistan, a close American ally in the struggle against the Taliban, has been a recipient of substantial U.S. financial aid.


Such preferential treatment has by no means been extended to Iran…


Iran is a signatory of the NPT and has allowed its facilities to be inspected regularly by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). Its leaders have repeatedly denied that they are seeking nuclear weapons. Nevertheless, they claim the 'inalienable right' to use nuclear energy for civilian purposes -- a right which is indeed afforded them by the treaty.


But this has not protected Iran from the threat of more sanctions… U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has been working hard to mobilize international support for a UN Security Council resolution imposing tough sanctions on Iran. These sanctions are intended, she says, to convince Iran to begin genuine "good faith" negotiations on its nuclear program.

 

Someone should perhaps suggest a new approach to Clinton, one which might offer Iran incentives rather than threats. Iran might, for example, be more conciliatory if it were offered security guarantees…


It might respond favorably on the nuclear issue if the U.S. were to encourage the Persian Gulf states to include Iran in a regional security pact. Iran's anti-American and anti-Israel rhetoric would certainly be softened if Washington were able to persuade its Israeli ally to allow the emergence of an independent and viable Palestinian state.


The Middle East is widely seen as a crucial area for global security. Obama should persist in his efforts at conciliation with Iran -- and with the world of Islam in general -- and not allow himself to be pushed off course by hawks in Israel and Washington.


Patrick Seale is a commentator and author of several books on Middle East affairs.

(Source: Gulf News)

 

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HURRIYET DAILY NEWS

EDITORIAL

A BIRD'S EYE VIEW - WHY DO YOU BELIEVE?

ADVENA AVIS

 

The Greek Prime Minister announced last week his decision to activate the Eurozone rescue package of 30 billion euros with another 10 billion to 15 billion from the International Monetary Fund.

 

But the EU is still bickering over details while Angela Merkel is still trying to delay the decision for Greece until after an important election that will be held in Germany at the beginning of May.

 

In the meantime social unrest continues and intensifies in Greece with worsening daily strikes. Interest rates are increasing for Greek loans as speculators continue to play with Greek bonds while the rating agencies continue to downgrade the country.

 

Greece has its share of blame for the mess that it has put itself in. But the bigger mess is a result of human stupidity on a global basis as well as human greed.

 

One thing we birds cannot understand is why do you humans believe in what the self-appointed rating agencies say. Take for example Moody's. Its CEO admitted to a Senate Panel on April 23 that it had failed to fully anticipate the severity of the deterioration in the US housing crisis that led to the financial crisis. This proves that these rating agencies are totally unreliable, so why don't you do away with them?

 

And the EU? It only agreed to give a 30 billion-euro lifeline more to protect the euro rather than Greece. And the German government that urgently needs popular support for the May 9 election in North Rhine-Westphalia is delaying giving its final agreement until then. At the same time the whole issue has become an internal political problem there. The Free Democratic Party, a coalition partner, is even more critical of the Greek request than Merkel is. Its deputy leader recently said it would be a slap in the face of German employees for the government to give billions of euros to Athens and then tell Germans there is no money left to ease their tax burden. As if the 8 billion euros that Germany would contribute would make any difference to the German taxpayers, whose country has a deficit of 1.8 trillion. The Bavarian-based CSU party prefers that Greece leaves the Eurozone. But the Germans might also consider the small contribution of Greece to their economy. They easily forget that Greece has been employing 5 percent of the Germans working in the arms industry for the past 25 years. Greece paid Germany about 2.6 billion euros in arms purchases from 2005 to 2009 and about 300 million euros each year from 1974. And in spite of that Germany is still insisting that Greece purchases Eurofighters! Not to mention that German companies built the Athens airport and profited also from other investments made in Greece. And what about all those Mercedes, BMW, Audi and Volkswagen cars that are cruising around Greece? Merkel should also know that Germany will profit from the loan that will be given to Greece with a 5 percent interest rate. Perhaps she would win the election of May 9 more easily were she to disclose these truths. But she shows that she is only a politician like all the others.

 

Anyhow with such handling the future does not seem bright for the eurozone. But it would be a wonderful display of EU solidarity if the German government were to collapse because of the Greek economy. Maybe Turkey can learn a lesson on how EU solidarity works.

 

Ponder our thoughts dear humans this first day of May as you celebrate the rights of the workers, for your benefit

 

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HURRIYET DAILY NEWS

EDITORIAL

SIIRT AND THE GENDER GAP REPORT

GİLA BENMAYOR

 

Is it possible to separate the developments we've been following in the southeastern province of Siirt and the town of Pervari from the women's situation in Turkey which has been pushed down over the past few years on the list of the official Gender Gap Report published by the World Economic Forum, or WEF?

 

Turkey is ranked the 129th in a total of 134 countries in 2009.

 

Since the report's first publication in 2006, Turkey has had terrible scores, including many African and Middle Eastern countries.

 

It is always ranked at the lowest levels.

 

Although we have an institution called Women's Status under the Prime Ministry and a minister for women and family, none of these has an urge to question why Turkey is doing poorly on the subject matter.

 

The WEF report which is taken seriously in almost every country doesn't ring a bell in Turkey.

 

But everyone knows how bad women's situation in Turkey.

 

For instance, I visited Vienna for an award ceremony in which businesswoman Güler Sabancı was honored with a medal by the Austrian government last week. Some of the questions reporters asked Sabancı about women in Turkey.

 

Resemblance with the Liverpool incident

If we go back to the latest developments in Siirt and Pervari, four girl students were allegedly raped for one-and-a-half years, according to news reports though some media groups do not even bother to highlight the incident.

 

Among the rapists are friends of the victims, civil servants, even relatives of several parliamentary deputies as well as craftsmen.

 

The girls, who belong to poor families, were too scared to speak up.

 

They surrendered to the rapists for a few Turkish Liras or candies or chocolate bars at times.

 

Another sexual assault case took place in Pervari last year but was revealed with last week's incident in Siirt.

 

In Pervari, two children, 2- and 3-years-old, were raped.

 

Eight boys in a regional boarding school, or YİBO, blackmailed a girl student to bring them a few children. After the rape, boys injured one of the two children and killed the other.

 

Both cases give a shiver to any human being. There were attempts in both to push the matter under the rug.

 

As some of our colleagues remind us, the second incident in Pervari resembles the one that took place in 1993 in Liverpool, Britain, in which a toddler was kidnapped and raped.

 

The Pervari mayor, however, said: "We're all relatives. We, as families, have a truce among ourselves and the case is closed." But the baby in Liverpool, James Bulger, was tortured and killed. The incident caused an uproar.

 

Playing the three monkeys

 

During the murder case, the 10-year-old torturers were sentenced and released eight years later on probation.

 

Though years passed, the James Bulger incident is still being talked about in Britain.

 

If it had not been pursued by the media, the play of "three monkeys" in Siirt and Pervari could've continued.

 

Thank God that they were brought to daylight and discussions have emerged since then.

 

Now we are talking about education on children's rights and new courses in schools for sex instruction for children and youth.

 

UNICEF-Turkey demands a "national strategy" against child abuse.

 

In the regions heavily under tribal influence, women are treated like second-class citizens, victimized in honor killings; they are raped but incidents are not punished. In a country where no one questions why we are ranked at the bottom in the Gender Gap Report, how could we make progress in the absence of political determination?

 

As the two incidents were uncovered in Siirt and Pervari, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his wife Emine Erdoğan, along with a full entourage, were visiting the European Parliament. Ironically, he delivered a speech on the situation of women in Turkey.

 

A twist of fate

 

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HURRIYET DAILY NEWS

EDITORIAL

THE OBAMA VISION MAKES TURKEY ESSENTIAL

İLHAN TANIR

 

U.S. President Barack Obama gathered yet another unprecedented summit in Washington, D.C., this past week, following the International Nuclear Security Summit held a couple of weeks ago. More than 300 delegates from 56 Muslim countries participated in the Presidential Summit on Entrepreneurship.

 

Turkey sent several exciting delegates, most of whom I was able to have long conversations with on the sidelines of the summit.

 

Obama convened this summit, in which the participants were mostly small-business owners, innovators and businessmen, to further forge ties with Muslim countries. He made sure his intentions would be well understood by sending Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, his treasury and education secretaries and many other high-level officials to the summit to give talks and mingle with the guests. Some other White House officials also made themselves ready for open-ended interviews to talk about the importance of the summit, which is a rare occurrence at any rate.

 

The biggest surprise of the summit for us was that Turkey was selected to organize the second summit in 2011.

 

Mike Hammer, a spokesman for the White House National Security Council, said in an e-mail message that as "President [Obama] outlined in his Cairo speech nearly a year ago, the United States is keen to deepen our engagement with Muslim communities around the world and also develop new partnerships based on mutual respect and mutual interests... entrepreneurship can unlock tremendous potential, promote education, foster innovation and create jobs. We deeply appreciate Prime Minister [Recep Tayyip] Erdoğan's leadership on this issue; it is yet another tangible example of the depth and breadth of the U.S.-Turkey strategic partnership."

 

Another White House official told me last week during the summit that it was confirmed only one day before the event started that Turkey would host the second one. It is noteworthy that this confirmation came right after April 24, when Obama released his statement on the Armenian day of remembrance.

 

Though Muslim countries sent delegations to Washington, the gap between the two has not shrunk. There are a number of obstacles that keep stirring up anti-American sentiment in Muslim countries. For example, the never-ending attacks by Afghanistan-based U.S. forces, which have repeatedly caused the killing of innocent people, are one of the biggest factors injecting more strain. Raising tension with Iran also sends mixed signals to the Muslim world as the situation appears to be that the U.S. wants to take on another Muslim country, after Iraq and Afghanistan, whatever the reason. And finally, in addition to many other issues, the lack of progress on the Palestine-Israel peace process continues to weaken Obama's standing in the Muslim world.

 

There are Middle East experts in Washington who have already announced the death of the two-state solution for the Israel-Palestine conflict, a big source of anti-American sentiments in the region. One of those experts is Dr. Reza Aslan, the author of "Beyond Fundamentalism," who visited the region very recently and gave a talk at the Rumi Forum last week. According to Aslan, the two-state solution is already dead and buried because neither party is ready and willing to reach that solution. The Palestinian leadership, Aslan argued, lost the trust of Palestinian people with its ineptitude and corruption.

 

The ideological settlers group has a bigger sway in the current Israeli government; Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu himself considers Jerusalem the capital of the Jewish state and does not shrink from building in any part of the city, which fuels Palestinians' anger.

 

Therefore, even though inviting representatives from more than 50 Muslim countries to Washington seemed like a wonderful idea to show Obama is committed and has taken another step toward the Muslim world, it falls flat in comparison to the colossal issues just discussed.

 

Turkey-Iran-US

 

Dozens of analyses and opinion pieces on the Iranian conundrum appear every day; for the approximately half-dozen experts I talked to this week, the confusion and speculation over the issue is visible.

 

Svante Cornell, the research director at the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute Silk Road Studies Program, said Turkey has had a two-fold foreign-affairs policy outlook for some years now. While trying to warm its relationships with countries that are condemned by the West one way or another, such as Iran, Syria and Sudan, Turkey also strives to maintain good relations with the West.

 

Cornell calls this policy a "balancing game" and claims Turkey wants to walk this thin line without damaging its relations with either side.

 

The worst scenario for the Turkish balancing game, Cornell predicted, would be a military confrontation in the region. The second-worst scenario would be a clash over sanctions at the United Nations Security Council, which is expected this spring.

 

In recent weeks and days, French President Nicolas Sarkozy, along with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, has also been intensely pushing for strong sanctions against Iran. Sarkozy made his first visit to China this past week since the relations between France and China went sour following a previous episode over Tibet. However, the president of China did not comment publicly on the sanctions issue after the meetings.

 

Cornell says it appears as if the Obama administration just wants to pass "a package" but does not care much what will be in it. That's why the Obama administration is watering down the package and getting ready to live with a nuclear Iran.

 

Turkey has made clear its views on the sanctions package. In a speech a couple of weeks ago in Washington, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu reminded first about the past sanctions experience with Iraq, and how Turkey lost economically during this time. Davutoğlu seemed unwavering about another sanctions package this time. Turkey plainly lauds its disbelief on the utility of the sanctions by repeating a "sanctions don't work" slogan.

 

Today's Turkish administration, which has been promoting proactive and friendly policies in its region close to

a decade now, views applying sanctions on Iran as being against its economic interests and friendlier Middle East policies.

 

On the other side, the Obama administration will likely not seek retribution against Turkey for such opposition at the U.N. Security Council, according to another Washington-based Iranian-American security analyst.

 

For President Obama, who has many hurdles to tackle before mending ties with the Muslim and Arab world, Turkey occupies a significant post; it is a country that cannot be overlooked or risk being lost, even if it ends up opposing sanctions.

 

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HURRIYET DAILY NEWS

EDITORIAL

EROSPOLIS - SIMPLY SIIRT

NAZLAN ERTAN

 

Erospolis is in no laughing mood.

 

Your cheeky columnist has been struggling for the whole week with stories of the lewd, the obscene and the unorthodox, racking her brains for something witty and ironic to say about anything that goes on in Turkey. Normally, this should be a piece of cake.

 

There is, after all, the case of the İzmir serial killer who killed women randomly when he liked the way they smelled. (No journalist has asked him whether he has read Suskind's "Parfume" or watched the movie based on it.) There is the issue of the never-ending soap operas, or how a fortuneteller got Ms. Saba Tümer, Turkey's "Little Miss Sunshine" among television's hottest, sorry, hostesses, to stop reading the news. And, if everything else fails, there is the story of Mrs. Erdoğan in Brussels, where she declared that women were the engine of change.

 

But no, Erospolis is simply not in a jesting mood.

 

This is simply due to Siirt, where seven school girls were repeatedly harassed and raped by locals of the town and a considerable portion of the residents had kept a vow of silence until a journalist from Istanbul went there and broke the story.

 

It is due to the fact that the girls were allegedly seduced by the deputy principal of the school, a man who has disappeared.

 

It is due to the fact that two of the girls were sisters and the very same people who raped the elder sister felt themselves entitled to do the same to the younger one, because "if there is one slut in the family, there is no reason that the rest of the women would not be sluts either."

 

It is due to the fact that if a girl loses her virginity before marriage in a conservative town, she is open game to all.

 

It is due to the fact that once the news came out, the people of Siirt, rather than feeling ashamed of those who carried this out and those who kept silent, got angry at the press and said they were just using the story to "blacken the good name of Siirt."

 

It is due to the fact that there is now a blackout on Siirt stories in the media.

 

It is due to the fact that the prime minister himself said the event was "one year old" and that writing about it would hardly be considered news.

 

It is due to the acknowledgement that what the Turks often boast of as the "societal solidarity" and "public conscience" that apply to anything from paid military service to the representation of Atatürk simply do not apply to schoolgirls with no money, family and education.

 

It is the knowledge that this sort of collective rape happens often but it is only every few years that we hear about it through the media and when we do, rather than congratulate members of the press for bringing it to light, we blame them.

 

Please Mrs. Erdoğan, go to Siirt, your town of origin, rather than Brussels.

 

It is only if you do this that your claims about women bringing change will gain meaning

 

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HURRIYET DAILY NEWS

EDITORIAL

TURKEY'S SOFT POWER IN THE ARAB WORLD

MUSTAFA AKYOL

 

About a month ago, I spent half a day with a group of journalists from Syria, who were visiting Istanbul for meetings with their Turkish colleagues. We contemplated on the historical ties between our countries, and spoke positively about our growing relations. During the lunch, one of the Syrian guests kindly posed me a personal question: "Which party are you from sir?"

 

"Party?" I replied with another question, "You mean a political party?"

 

"Yes, of course," he explained. "For example I am a member of the Baath party."

 

Then I responded by telling him that I am not a member of any political party, and neither are other Turkish journalists. "In Turkey," I explained, "we journalists might sympathize with parties, but we don't become their members."

 

Mehmet turns Müennes

I think that was a revealing moment for both of us. My Syrian colleague realized that political power and the media are (at least formally) separate from each other in Turkey. I, in return, realized that not only the two are combined in Syria, but that this combination is seen as something totally normal.

 

And, as you might guess, this discovery did not make me envious of the media's nature on the other side of the Turkish-Syrian border. But I slightly felt that it had that very effect on my Syrian colleague.

 

Now let me move from that little experience to the broader issue of the ever-growing rapprochement between Turkey and the Arab world. This 21st century phenomenon, which is a clean break from the mood in the 20th, is worrying for the secularist (and especially Kemalist) Turks, who have little, if any, sympathy for anything that is Arab. They rather complain that Turkey is becoming "Arabized" as it opens its borders to Arab countries, engages more deeply in the affairs of the Middle East, and rediscovers its Ottoman past.

 

I, on the other hand, am quite happy with this Turko-Arab rapprochement. It is not just because that I don't share the Arabophobia of the Turks that I mentioned. It is also because that I see that the values that will be transmitted in the course of this relation will be mostly from the Turkish side to the Arabs, and not the other way around.

 

This is not because that we Turks inherently know anything better. It is simply because that "we Turks had a better socio-political experience" since the 19th century, as I wrote before in these pages. We, as I explained, benefited from "a chance to experiment with democracy… proximity to the West, a relatively free economy, and currently an EU accession process."

 

One thing which seems to prove this argument true is the "invasion" on Arab TVs by Turkish soap operas. Personally speaking, I have neither the time nor the interest in these overly sentimental series, which often revolve around blatantly cheesy love stories, but they seem to be amazingly popular in the Arab world.

 

The most popular of these is the series called "Gümüş" (Silver) in Turkish, which is an Istanbul-based romantic melancholy. It proved to be popular in Turkey as well, but its Arabized version has become an all-time hit. Polls have shown that 74 percent of Saudi women have watched Gümüş, which was renamed there as "Nur." Some even platonically fell in love with its main character, a handsome fellow named Mehmet in the Turkish version, and renamed "Müennes" in the Arabized one.

 

What is important is that in the series, Saudi women see a Muslim society in which young men and women, if they like each other, can go out on a date, sit on a bench near the sea, and hug each other while watching seagulls. These are unthinkable acts in the Saudi Kingdom, but their presence on the screen makes them thinkable dreams. Hence the cultural impact of the series, according to a poll by Ka Research Limited company, has been to "promote the idea of individual freedom and independence among Saudi women."

 

Suheyr Farac, a Palestinian director, agrees by saying that Nur, the charming main actress of the series, "represent the young and free Muslims, and those who watch it like that."

 

No wonder that a few conservative clerics issued negative fatwas (religious opinions) against Turkish soap operas, complaining from the "moral laxity" they promote.

 

Between East and West

Turkish scholar Nurçin Yıldız, who wrote a detailed evaluation of the impact of Turkish soap operas in the Arab world, argues that their success comes from a combination of modern life with traditional Muslim themes. "On the one hand, there is the Western lifestyle in these series," she notes. "But on the other hand, there are common Islamic cultural values such as big families where grandfathers live with in the same house with the grandsons, people fast during the month of Ramadan, and arranged marriages take place."

 

Even the soundtracks of Turkish soap operas, Yıldız notes, are perfect for Arab audiences, with their oriental tunes.

 

These series also show, she adds, "that Arabs are open to a sort of Westernization that is found in Turkey," which is a synthesis of the East and West, rather then the latter's total imitation.

 

That very synthesis seems to be Turkey's biggest soft power. And it is only good news that others are noticing it

 

***************************************


HURRIYET DAILY NEWS

EDITORIAL

THE CORRIDOR - COULD ANY AMENDMENTS DROP OUT OF THE PACKAGE?

GÖKSEL BOZKURT

 

The first round of discussions over the constitutional amendment package is now complete and the 30-article package has managed to survive into the second round of talks as expected. According to the Constitution, articles receiving between 330 and 367 votes automatically create an opportunity for a referendum. The lowest number of votes in the first round was 331 and the highest was 340. The first round was a test for the governing Justice and Development Party, or the AKP. So, the AKP's calculation has worked!

 

What will happen in the second round? Do we see a hole in the package? Main opposition Republican People's Party, or CHP, leader Deniz Baykal said he had a gut feeling something could happen in the second round. What does this mean? Several articles were adopted by a razor-thin count; for instance, could the article on a structural regulation in the Constitutional Court and the article to change the structure of the Supreme Board of Judges and Prosecutors, or HSYK, be dropped from the package?

 

I asked this to CHP Parliamentary Group Acting Chair Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu this week, but he doesn't have such a feeling. Kılıçdaroğlu, rather, said: "I think dropping an article is very difficult because the AKP is controlling its deputies very tightly. They are working in a man-on-man fashion. And that prevents any losses. So, it seems quite difficult to have a hole in the package…"

 

But some CHP deputies say "this is not impossible" – just like how Baykal believes. The CHP is pressuring Parliament Speaker Mehmet Ali Şahin to stop forcing deputies to vote. According to the CHP, some figures are under pressure – but if there were no pressure, they could act freely and vote against the package. Therefore, the CHP claims, we could have different results on at least a few articles, while several articles could even be dropped.

 

The CHP acting chairman has suggested the speaker of Parliament have secret voting in the second round. That means a deputy will grab the envelop and the ballot, go to the voting cubical, cast his/her vote, come back and put it in the box. Then the next in line will do the same. In this case, deputies will not see how others vote and there will be no pressure. Şahin has already promised the CHP that he would try for that.

 

The AKP group has raised objections to that. AKP Parliamentary Group Acting Chair Mustafa Elitaş said: "According to the Constitution, closed-envelope voting is going on. The second round will be continuation of the first."

 

The AKP used strange methods to avoid losing votes in the first round, with several figures checking cubicles to ensure all deputies voted properly. A few checked who voted and who did note vote, with even photographs being taken to secure solid proof of the matter.

 

For every 19 AKP deputies, there was one monitoring deputy. This, however, was not the first time such tight measures have been taken by a political party during a critical parliamentary voting. I think it was 2000 and the late Prime Minister Bülent Ecevit was in office then; during a voting session for an amendment to regulate the presidential period at 5+5, the Democratic Left Party, or DSP, the Motherland Party, or ANAP, and the Nationalist Movement Party, or MHP, decided to show their ballots. However, the motion failed due to a lack of the required number of votes. On the very same day, an official in charge of the session said: "A minister from DSP pressured another DSP minister asking why he didn't show the ballot. I've never seen such pressure…"

 

Similar voting sessions in the history of Turkish democracy are remembered vividly. With this in mind, the CHP is now pressuring Şahin, with the main opposition party sure to continue such a tack in the second round of voting.

 

Ultimately, the CHP's purpose is to drop three articles from the package, notably, the ones making political party closures more difficult and the ones relating to structural changes in the Constitutional Court and the Supreme Board of Judges and Prosecutors, or HSYK.

 

Could the articles about structural changes in the Constitutional Court and the HSYK really be dropped from the package? In highlighting the March 1 deployment motion, Baykal and his friends are trying to create a hole in the package. If this is not accomplished in the General Assembly, the CHP will resort to the Constitutional Court.

 

Could the main opposition manage this in the council? They only have a slight chance, but it is still in the range of possibility.

 

'My vote is very secret, even I cannot see it'

 

The only deputy with a physical disability in Parliament is the AKP's Lokman Ayva, so it was a question about how Ayva, who is blind, would cast his vote. As such, the Parliament's presidency asked official personnel to company Ayva while voting. Asked by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan how he had voted, Ayva jokingly told the PM, "Mr. Prime Minister my vote is so secret that even I cannot see it."

 

Erol Taş of Parliament

 

Tension, bad language, brawls and threats are heard a lot of the time in the General Assembly, but there is also laughter, too. The AKP's Elitaş accused independent deputy Kamer Genç of being the lead actor in creating tension in the room. "He is the lead actor playing the bad guy all the time. He is just like the bad guy of Turkish Hollywood, Erol Taş," Elitaş said, eliciting laughter at the comment. Genç accompanied them in the mirth, but then invited Elitaş to discuss the matter on a televised program.

 

Taş was a lead actor who often played character actors in Turkish films. He was once even beaten by an ordinary man in the street for always playing the bad guy in films

 

***************************************


HURRIYET DAILY NEWS

EDITORIAL

RIDING THE CULTURAL WAVES - 'VERBAL COMMUNICATION'

ZAFER PARLAR

 

We talk day in, day out, usually focusing on what we say rather than how we say things. Some of us are more

talkative than others. Some people can be loud, some soft in any other country or culture. However there are patterns in our communication styles that do differ from one culture to the other.

 

In Anglo-Saxon societies as an example when A talks B waits and talks when A finishes then B talks and A waits. It goes on like this;

 

A------------- A--------------- A--------------- A---------------

 

B--------------- B------------- B--------------- B----------------

 

It is considered very impolite to cut off someone's words and start talking before he or she finishes. It is a matter of respect to wait.

 

Whereas in Southern cultures, it is very normal for B to start talking when A is still talking and A again while B is talking. This takes even better shape (like a symphony orchestra without a conductor) when C and D take also stage!! If we stick to our A and B model, it goes like this;

 

A------------- A--------------- A--------------- A--------------- A---------------

 

B--------------- B------------- B-------------- B---------------- B----------------

 

It is not considered impolite to interrupt someone. That's the way people talk in Italy, Turkey, Spain and other Latin countries.

 

In Asian countries this rule changes completely. When A talks B listens and waits for awhile after A finishes. Then B talks and finishes. A pauses for a while before he starts talking. If we draw, it goes like this;

 

A------------- A--------------- A---------------

 

B--------------- B-------------

 

I know it takes more time to talk, but patience is everything in Asian culture. The pauses in between mean respect; I listened and heard you, digesting what you have said and preparing a good answer. It is considered impolite if you do not give the other party time to pause.

 

Now if these three people are in the same meeting trying to talk to each other, they can drive each other mad. The Anglo-Saxons usually believe that they don't get it when Asians pause and start explaining the whole thing again. Asians will think they are not given a chance to talk. The Anglo-Saxons will raise their eyebrows each time a southern person interrupts their words and say something while they are talking. Southern interaction with an Asian…You cannot even imagine, right!?! Well I will help you.

 

My master's thesis of my International Business Relations graduate study was "A comparative Analysis of Turkish Business Culture." Of course I will not tell you when this was!! Any way I worked on it almost for a year. Came to Turkey and worked with companies in five different sectors, interviewed several locals and foreign executives from different countries.

 

One of the executives was from Japan, based in Ankara. He welcomed me to his office and offered me drinks and then it was show time. I started with my first question (and first irritation) then he paused. I thought he did not really understand what I just said and repeated the question once more. He waited. I got annoyed and started once more by saying what I mean is actually… He could not wait any longer. He interrupted me and said I understand very well what you have just said if you allow me to talk I will give you my answer. I was all red like the miniature Turkish carpet on his desk with his name on it (it is a common gift given to almost all the foreigners by the Turks).

 

Usually Anglo-Saxon executives complain to me why Turks cannot wait until they finish their sentences. The reason is simple; it is the way we talk especially if we get nervous, emotional or energetic about a topic. The positive side of this is that it is less time consuming to carry on a conversation. Negative side is the listening part. It takes ages to become a good listener in any culture whether you wait until the party finishes or pauses.

 

Zafer Parlar - Istanbul

 

www.istventures.com

 

zafer.parlar@istventures.com

 

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HURRIYET DAILY NEWS

EDITORIAL

PRESIDENTIAL SYSTEM: LOOKING FOR ABSOLUTE POWER

CENGİZ AKTAR

 

April 23 was the anniversary of the political resolve that established the parliamentarian system in Turkey and yet is now a critical date for another reason. The debate that Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan started over whether or not to choose a presidential system coincided with such an important anniversary.

 

This is nothing but simple misfortune to say the least. Inhabitants of these lands suffered a lot from a single man ruling the Ottoman Empire or Republican Turkey. The Orient's destiny was and still is to struggle with such dreadful regimes. In opposition, Turkey has been trying to exercise a pluralist system since 1946. It has tackled coups d'état but keeps coming back to parliamentarian democracy. And each time it fights with tutelages as the remnants of the military mindset. This is what is happening right now.

 

Turkey is discussing how to build a new social contract for the first time in its stumpy history of democracy. Without having such discussions, social peace and order will suffer a lack of legitimacy as it was the case with the constitutions of 1924, 1961 and 1982. Debates will get deeper as the new Constitution will be brought to the agenda. And right there, Erdoğan comes forward and distorts this healthy discussion. As society, for the first time, reaches a level of being able to strike a social contract, we see that it will face another obstacle: The debate on the presidential system.

 

The debate, however, is about the fundamentals of the new social contract. What will be the definition of citizenship? How will the separation of powers and/or alliance of powers take place? How will we free our democracy from all sorts of tutelage? Today, all these basic questions are being reduced to a simple discussion on power through the argument on the presidential system. On top of that, this provides an incredible argument against the government's constitutional amendment package, coming as they do as part of these strange accusations of a "civilian coup."

 

Indeed, the ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP, has made no noteworthy effort to develop the parliamentarian system in Turkey. Not even a single step has been taken in the representational equity and reinforcement of political parties, as the two milestones of the parliamentary system. The highest and most unfair national election threshold in the world exists in Turkey. In relation, the single round election system helps big political parties turn bigger and grants no right of speech for smaller ones. Political parties are being closed one after the other. No intra-party democracy exists. Legislation in this one-man system consists of backbenchers who do nothing but raise or not raise their hands.

 

And now we are talking about another system which will obviously make the current one more problematic. What is this for? It is said that it is for stability, but seeking political stability has paradoxically become one of the obstacles before democracy.

 

Most presidents are dictators

 

The presidential system or semi-presidential system is applied in many countries. As a matter of fact, there is an unnamed quartile presidential system in Turkey. President Abdullah Gül used to say that he has too much power for a parliamentarian system. Indeed, thanks to the 1982 Constitution, the presidential office has a powerful voice in appointments to the very critical public institutions such as the Higher Education Council, or YÖK, and the Supreme Board of Radio and Television, or RTÜK, as well as both the high judiciary and academia. The presidential office is a kind of fine tuning instrument. During the former President Ahmet Necdet Sezer, this fine-tuning power was exercised many times.

 

Although it is a widespread style of administration, the presidential system works democratically well only in the United States, maybe in Brazil now and perhaps in Mexico in the future. Most countries governed by a presidential system are dictatorships. A few familiar names are Azerbaijan, Syria, Egypt, Tunisia, Algeria, Armenia and Sudan… But before we discuss this model, we should look at the discrepancies of the system at work. For the problem is not the lack of more power but of a social contract to keep this power at check through legislature, law and regional structures; or in other words, it is about the lack of a democratic constitution.

 

Since everyone in Turkey believes that only top positions can change things in the country, everyone wants to become prime minister. Apparently, the prime minister is unsatisfied with having such power, so he wants to have some more by becoming the president of the country.

 

So, let me wrap this up with a famous quote by Lord Acton: "Power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely.

 

***************************************


HURRIYET DAILY NEWS

EDITORIAL

TURKISH-ARMENIAN PROTOCOLS: ANY HOPE LEFT?

GÜNER ÖZKAN

 

Since the very beginning of its announcement at the end of August 2009, the reconciliation protocols between Turkey and Armenia have caused an unending fury among many Armenians and Turks. Some Armenians, like the Armenian diaspora and ultranationalist political parties, described them as betrayal for the "Armenian cause." In Turkey, main opposition political parties and experts spreading similar line of words saw the protocols as one of the worst foreign policy initiatives that Turkey has initiated in recent time. Neither were the external views and policies helpful enough to realize the protocols. They all have overtly or covertly promoted their own interests in the reconciliation process between Ankara and Yerevan. No party seems to be retreat from what they have seen fit for their own interests. Then, what hope, if any, left for the protocols now?

 

Hazy Initial Atmosphere

 

The cloudy atmosphere was telling all in the evening of the Oct. 10, 2009, when the Turkish-Armenian protocols were signed. Nalbandian was so sullen with what he was signing that his dislike was almost written on his face. He was said to be against about what Davutoğlu had to utter about the resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh (NK) dispute in his speech following the signing ceremony. So the compromise with the push of Lavrov was reached between Nalbandian and Davutoglu, no speech was made but just handshakes.

 

As every international agreement requires, at least, first the show of their good intention from all participating states for the application of that document, the Turkish-Armenian protocols were actually born disabled. Rather, it was a kind of document which was outcast from the very beginning. There is possible few, if any, such an agreement like the Protocols in international level that doubt of one party was so vividly displayed just, even seconds, before putting his stamps on it. It was as if the Protocols were signed for the sake of the presence of high level international dignitaries- Clinton, Lavrov, Kouchner and so on, but not for the true conscious of the parties to make it real on the ground.

 

This gloomy disposition of the sides towards the Protocols have never disappeared no matter how many times foreign ministers, prime minister or the presidents between Turkey and Armenia have met in various occasions since last October. Respective domestic and international initiatives and developments have fed the hazy atmosphere on the Protocols in a way that legalization and then application of them have left to miracle. But, as everyone knows well, there is no room for miracle in international relations able to shape inter-state relations.

 

Remembering Objectives of the Protocols

 

The protocols on paper aimed at initiating relationship between Turkey and Armenia by establishing diplomatic relationships and opening the long-closed borders between the two countries. Beyond that, however, the main sprit behind starting political and economic rapprochement was to remove the emotional burdens over Turkey's and Armenia's shoulders caused by the so-called Armenian genocide in 1915 and the Nagorno-Karabakh dispute between Azerbaijan and Armenia.

 

However, there was no consensus between Turkish and Armenian governments on how to address these problems in the Protocols. The way one party understands the problems in the Protocols has occurred to be totally conflicted with that of the other side's. The Protocols did not make any specific references about what really the "History Commission" would discuss- whether or how the so called Armenian genocide crime was committed. Nor did the Protocols include any words on the Nagorno-Karabakh issue, apart from the joint wish that they would respect international law and work for the establishment of peace and stability in the region. Turkey relying on these did insist that there must be a parallel reconciliation on the Nagorno-Karabakh problem while it was getting ready to opening its border with Armenia. Yerevan interpreted this Turkish position as a precondition and so found unacceptable.

 

The protocols were also supposed to help reduce the economic misery Armenia has since independence faced, and give to it more trade and political opportunities in regional and international levels. Conventional logic suggested that Armenia, destined to be heavily dependent on economic and political wishes of Russia and Iran, could easily reach out Turkish and European economic and social markets. Interdependent relations through strong economic cooperation between Turkey and Armenia were thought then to lead to the development of much healthier relations between them and in the region. Even it was once again stressed more often after the war between Georgia and Russia over South Ossetia in August 2008 that Armenia could finally be part of energy development projects and railway and land road connections from the Caspian to Europe via Turkey. This vision advocated by Turkey would work only if Azerbaijan became another partner, but the Nagorno-Karabakh dispute has prevented such a development.

 

Fate of the protocols: Agreeing on disagreement

 

It is true that both sides have still kept the Protocols on the agendas of their respective parliaments and refrained from abandoning them totally. Rather, they have frozen the ratification processes of the documents until an unknown moment in which they felt ready to re-start all over again. But there seems to be no hope in an immediate future that they can unfreeze the Protocols so long as they continue displaying a zero-some-game behavior.

 

Turkey has been adamant on the Armenian withdrawal of some occupied Azerbaijani territories. Any deviation from this policy as shown during the discussions of the protocols would harm Ankara-Baku relationship and seriously disrupt Turkey's long effort to deepen its political, economic and cultural links with Central Asian states. Nowadays having been more aware of this fact, the Turkish government seems to have increased its call for the resolution of the NK issue in return for legalization of the protocols in the Turkish parliament. As the general election in mid-2011 is nearing, it is highly unlikely that the Turkish government will put the protocols on the agenda of the Parliament if there is not an unexpected breakthrough on the Nagorno-Karabakh issue between Azerbaijan and Armenia during their bilateral talks or within the framework of the Minsk Group.

 

Armenian government has on the other hand tied its hands so tight that it has not only left no room for its own maneuver but also provoked Turkey to take a hasher stance on the legalization of the Protocols. Though it could easily leave the so called Armenia genocide issue to the Armenian Diaspora, Sarkisian did choose to be part of their argument by taking the Protocols to the Constitutional Court. It ruled out any effort to make the Nagorno-Karabakh issue on the part of the interpretation and application of the protocols. It further decided that the protocols could no form or shape contradict Armenian state's official policy of, and long struggle for, the international recognition of the so called Armenian genocide by international community.

 

Sarkisian's announcement of halting the protocols in the Parliament on April 22 is not coincidence just two days before the U.S. president delivered his annual speech on the Armenian issue. Sarkisian blaming Turkey on their decision aimed to send a message to Obama that he should not hesitate to use word "genocide" for the sake of a frozen, if not yet dead, reconciliation document. Thus the timing of, and reasoning for, Armenia's halt of the protocols suggests strongly that Armenian government is and still will act the same way as the Armenian diaspora has long been acting and wishing for. Then this means that, in short and medium terms, the Armenian government will likely make no compromise at all on what job the history commission in the protocols is going to do.

 

It is true that there still exists a document called the protocols between the two sides, and they have not withdrawn from their parliaments. For developments have shown for last seven months, these protocols can no longer be counted as the documents that both parties agreed on, but rather something over which they bitterly contravened. From this moment on, if they ever come to a point where they start talking about how to utilize terms of the protocols is a question that its answer will be very much provided by the level of will that respectively Turkish and Armenian governments are able to raise in their discussions and/or negotiations with Azerbaijan over the Nagorno-Karabakh issue and Armenian diaspora over the so-called Armenian genocide.

 

* Dr. Guner Ozkan is an expert on the Caucasus Region at the Ankara-based International Strategic Research Organization, or USAK gunerozkan005@yahoo.com

 

***************************************


HURRIYET DAILY NEWS

EDITORIAL

A PICTURE OF 'SHAME' AND 'COURAGE'

EYÜP CAN

 

There are 20 of them. Only one is a woman. The men are either embarrassed or shamefaced. Only she stands upright.

 

Holding a text she has written by herself, she is speaking on behalf of 20 village headmen.

 

It is not about only one neighborhood, one district, one province or one region, nor is it about only one country.

 

Yesterday morning, in front of the Siirt governor's office, Hacer Çıtak singled herself out among 19 men with her stance and speech and courageously talked on behalf of all women.

 

* * *

 

She opens her speech by saying, "We are embarrassed. We are deeply embarrassed and aggrieved to be brought to [Turkey's] agenda with such infamy."

 

She is wearing a thin scarf on her head and a greenish, flower-patterned pinafore dress over her black jumper.

 

She hesitates to make any comments because of the fragile nature of the topic at hand.

 

"Those who are responsible for this despicable event will eventually get the punishment they deserve," she cries out.

 

She reprobates the rape and murder.

 

She asks for one thing.

 

She asks only for one thing:

 

"Please don't tar all the people of Siirt with the same brush. Let's try to reveal the criminals all at once, never minding the rumors. Whomever the investigation touches on in the end, they all must give account at court."

 

* * *

 

Sure they must, but while some people are trying to cover it up...

 

While even Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who is well known to be very sensitive to these issues, is scolding the press for "bringing the issue up after a year," rather than calling the actors to account for their crime...

 

While Siirt is covered in dead silence...

 

Who is this brave woman marching to the governor's office along with 19 village headmen and crying out "we are embarrassed?"

 

* * *

 

Due to my journalistic curiosity and because of her courage I called Hacer Çıtak.

 

To my surprise, she was reading my latest article on the most violent child murder in England.

 

She was so full of anger that she started talking before I asked her anything...

 

"You have told it pretty well, unfortunately there are psychopaths like this around the world. I am not saying this as an excuse because there are no excuses for what has been done. That's why we stood out there with all those headmen and said that we are ashamed," she said. "But the problems encountered should not be a smear campaign and should not be attributed to the city. Criminals should be brought to justice, but we should also question our role, as mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, uncles, aunts, teachers, soldiers, policemen and politicians, in raising children like this..."

 

* * *

 

What she said made me think a lot about this country...

 

What made me think the most was her story...

 

Hacer Çıtak, who came forward with courage while the whole city kept silent, is not even from Siirt. She moved to the city with her husband, a police officer, after he was appointed to Siirt.

 

She was not wearing a headscarf in her hometown of Konya. She decided of her own free will to cover her head in Siirt.

 

But she prefers a way of covering it that is not forbidden even in military establishments rather than covering it in the classical way.

 

* * *

 

A 36-year-old, "modern-religious" village headwoman from Konya...

 

I asked her, "Didn't you have any difficulties?"

 

"When we were moving to this city, I was so biased, but as I lived here, my belief in this region and my country grew..." she said.

 

She competed against a male candidate originally from Siirt, from the Veysel Karani neighborhood.

 

She outscored him in the elections because this brave and frank woman was loved by the locals.

 

She is Siirt's first and only headwoman...

 

A role model for Siirt women...

 

The incidents have affected her as badly as they did everyone else.

 

She gathered her colleagues and agreed to stand out there to read the text she had prepared...

 

* * *

 

As she was preparing to read the text about the rapes in Siirt, she was shocked by the news of murder and abuse in Pervari.

 

That was when, while all the headmen stood bowed, she stood still with all her bravery and shouted, "We are ashamed."

 

Though those who should be ashamed are neither all the locals of Siirt nor Hacer...

 

It doesn't matter if it's Siirt, Liverpool, Edirne or Konya...

 

Those who should be ashamed are the ones trying to cover up the murder in Pervari...

 

Those who are, instead of carrying out a lawsuit, trying to deal with it "within the family"...

 

Those who are still not able to send the forensic report although it's been a year...

 

Those who lost their feeling of abashment in order to protect the city's image....

 

* * *

 

Hacer, the sister of Siirt locals, has one last wish...

 

Visiting the children who were sexually abused with Siirt locals' "real sister" Emine Erdoğan and Education Minister Nimet Çubukçu.

 

Telling the ashamed and abused children who can't talk aloud that the real people who should be ashamed are the harassers...

 

Telling them, "Don't be scared, child, talk; talk so all those harassers should be ashamed."

 

 

 


 

******************************************************************************************

 I. THE NEWS

EDITORIAL

HOPE ON THE HORIZON

 

The year and a half of bitter acrimony that we saw between New Delhi and Islamabad, following the Mumbai bombings of November 2008, is finally over. The prime ministers of both nations, meeting on the sidelines of the SAARC Summit in Bhutan, have agreed to resume the stalled peace process. They have also agreed that they will not permit agents and elements in their countries to act against the interests of both.


This expression of goodwill is of course welcome. Our region and its people desperately need peace. It can be created only if India and Pakistan can work towards the creation of a relationship that allows economic and social benefits to reach people. There is of course vast potential for cooperation between the two nations in various spheres. It is also true that in many areas they face similar problems: the lack of socio-economic development, communal violence and surging rates of crime are just some of these. Perhaps suggestions on how to tackle them can be discussed and solutions worked out between experts on both sides of the border.


But the biggest issue of all is that of terrorism. It is all very well for India to point fingers at Pakistan and blame it for what happened at Mumbai. But things are not quite as simple as that. The hearings in the Ajmal Kasab case have exposed some of the complexities. There can be no doubt that the terrorist threat is one that arises as much from India's realities as from those of Pakistan. Both need to be tackled if the bomb blasts and killings are ever to stop. There is in this great potential for the two countries to work together. But this can happen effectively only if India shows a readiness to accept that it too has problems that lead to violence and have over the years contributed to the rise of terrorist groups that operate from within its borders.


We have said before, and stress again, that the core issue of Kashmir is a factor in this. The failure over 63 years to resolve the dispute has contributed immensely to persisting tensions and hostility. Formulas such as that put forward recently by former foreign minister Khurshid Mehmood Kasuri do indeed need to be debated and placed at the centre of discussion. But there is also a need to build trust and understanding on other issues. The ongoing 'Aman ki Asha' initiative suggests how important it is to establish contact between the two peoples at all levels. Now that the peace process is back on track there is an urgent need to speed up such efforts and work towards a lasting settlement that cannot be disrupted even when bombers strike or other adverse events take place.

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I. THE NEWS

EDITORIAL

POLICE STATE?

 

Having tried straightforward military dictatorship, dictatorship-lite and the autocracy diluted with a thin gruel of democracy which is currently in place, we now seem to be preparing for a period as a police state. There may shortly be a state funeral for NAB, the National Accountability Bureau that has of late found itself an identity and an effective set of teeth, and it is to be buried under a new law which has ever-so-quietly been drafted by the National Assembly Committee on Law and Justice. Something was going to have to replace NAB, and what is on offer is a Trojan horse within which lies something that looks and smells suspiciously like the Federal Security Force of the time of Z A Bhutto. As if we did not have enough police and paramilitary forces busy maintaining their lucrative black economy under the guise of crime-fighting, here comes yet another to be called the National Investigation Agency. It is to be a national force headed by an inspector general and it is going to have some sweeping powers.


The new force is going to be under the control of the chairman of the accountability commission – who will be appointed by the prime minister in consultation with the leader of the opposition and the chief justice of Pakistan as well if the proposed chairperson is a sitting judge of the apex court. True to form, the government has placed the draft bill in the secretariat without consulting (so it is alleged) with the PML-N. Not only do we get a brand new police force, we get an accountability entity that has limited powers compared to its predecessor. Investigators will only be able to seek evidence from foreign countries, they will not have the power to sequester or seek the return of any stolen money or assets from abroad. One might innocently wonder who instigated the insertion of that particular clause in the new legislation. Safe passage is afforded to loan-defaulters who are able to do a deal with the State Bank – an arrangement not a million miles from that cobbled together for the wife of a certain prime minister. The police working under the aegis of the accountability commission are going to have the power to search, arrest, and seize the property of any citizen -- and it is not difficult to see those powers being abused within minutes of the promulgation of the bill into law. All in all, we have nothing more or less than an enfeebled accountability body whose scope has been deliberately limited by those who might hear a knock at their door; and another layer of policing that is ripe for all manner of corruption and accountable to no entity other than its master. Our political masters doubtless regard this as an excellent result. The rest of us will just have to wait and see.

 

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I. THE NEWS

EDITORIAL

FINALLY, A THAW

ARIF NIZAMI


In the aftermath of the Washington nuclear summit earlier this month, hopes were raised that when the prime ministers of India and Pakistan meet on the sidelines of the 16th SAARC Summit in Bhutan some kind of a thaw will emerge, resulting in resumption of dialogue between the two adversaries. When Prime Minister Gilani and his Indian counterpart, Manmohan Singh, met at Thimphu, the atmospherics were excellent. Although Indian foreign secretary Nirupama Rao, briefing the media after the meeting, avoided using the word "composite," for all practical purposes the composite dialogue has been resumed.


The Indian prime minister has declared that dialogue is the only way forward while Pakistan's foreign minister, Shah Mehmood Qureshi, told the media that all outstanding issues, including Jammu and Kashmir, would be discussed. No date for future dialogue has been set as the modalities are still being worked out between the two sides. Although no joint statement has been issued, it is certain that the impasse has been broken.


For India terrorism still remains the biggest issue to be discussed with Pakistan. Prime Minster Gilani's assurances that Pakistan's soil will not be allowed to be used for terrorism will not mollify New Delhi, which wants the LeT and Hafiz Saeed to be nabbed. Nor will Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's assurance that India has no desire to destabilise its neighbour reduce the trust deficit acknowledged by both sides.


SAARC is a club representing one-sixth of humanity, but has failed to achieve its potential. Its charter forbids bringing bilateral disputes on the agenda. No regional group has been able to make economic progress if its members were politically not on the same page. And SAARC is no exception to the rule. India and Pakistan between them represent 1.2 billion of humanity, most of them living in abject poverty. Their adversarial relations have marred progress in the regional body beyond passing toothless resolutions and espousing lofty ideals.

The Thimphu declaration has evolved a common position on climate change and environmental issues as a prelude to the UN's Climate Change Summit scheduled later this year. It is another matter that New Delhi, even before the UN Climate Summit in Copenhagen last year, flatly refused to accept binding carbon emission targets. Thus, it single-handedly sabotaged the objectives of the summit.


Trade is another area where, despite signing the South Asia Fee Trade Agreement (SAFTA), SAARC members have hardly been successful in promoting intraregional trade. India and Pakistan, the two biggest economies of the region, could have gone a long way in this direction, creating a win-win situation not only for themselves, but for the region as well. India alone represents 80 per cent of the GDP of South Asia. Hence, it has the primary responsibility for promoting economic stability in the region through trade and foreign direct investment.

Trade between India and Pakistan amounted to 2 billion dollars in 2008, with Pakistan accounting for 0.5 per cent of India's trade and India accounting for 1 per cent of Pakistan's trade. According to a study conducted by the Paterson Institute for International Economics (PIIE), a Washington-based think tank, potential of formal trade between India and Pakistan is twenty times greater than recorded trade. This means that at 2008 trade levels total trade between India and Pakistan could expand from its current level of 2.1 billion US dollars to 42 billion dollars.


However, there are major political and policy impediments in achieving this potential. Despite being a much bigger economy New Delhi has imposed tariff and non-tariff barriers, with exceptionally high tariff rates for those goods that are of interest to Islamabad. On the other hand, Pakistan has not reciprocated by granting the most-favoured-nation (MFN) status to India. As a result, there is a narrow positive list of 1,400 items that India can export to Pakistan.


There is a prevalent view that trade, removal of visa restrictions, better communications links, cultural and media exchanges and economic ties in the form of foreign direct investment (FDI), and opening up the banking sector would not only help in achieving the vast economic potential of India and Pakistan but would also give a quantum peace dividend. However, the flip side of the argument is that unless there is a settlement on the core issue of Kashmir which has poisoned relations between the two countries in the past 62 years, establishing better economic ties would remain an elusive dream.


Pakistan and India, apart from fighting four wars, have tried everything from the so-called confidence-building measures, backchannel secret diplomacy, people-to-people contacts and non-structured and structured dialogue, but nothing has worked in bringing the two adversaries closer to settlement. In the immediate aftermath of the Lahore process initiated by then-prime ministers Nawaz Sharif and Atal Behari Vajpayee Musharraf's Kargil misadventure as army chief inexorably damaged the Kashmir cause. Later, as president, he ostensibly became a peacenik, but the currents and crosscurrents he generated still haunt India-Pakistan relations.

After Kargil, India in international forums has very successfully painted the Kashmir Issue not as a question of right of self-determination but a terrorism issue. Especially after the Mumbai carnage in November 2008, it consistently refused to enter into a dialogue with Islamabad unless Pakistan nabs the perpetrators, especially members of the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) and hand them over to New Delhi. So far as the Kashmir Issue is concerned, the composite dialogue has suited New Delhi more than Islamabad.


The Kashmir issue in recent years has been relegated to backchannel diplomacy. Former foreign minister Khurshid Kasuri has gone to town claiming that the Kashmir issue was all wrapped up primarily through the backchannel established by the Musharraf regime. According to Mr Kasuri, a joint mechanism for Kashmiris on the two sides of the divide to get independence in economic, social and political affairs and water management to be reviewed after 15 years was settled and ready to be signed. However, owing to the political instability in Pakistan generated as a result of the lawyers' movement for restoration of the chief justice, the whole process was scuttled.


Notwithstanding Mr Kasuri's optimism, a lot of water has flown under the bridge since he left the government. For starters, Pakistan is no longer a one-window operation as under general Musharraf. Although parliamentary system has been strengthened as a result of the 18th Amendment, and there is, by and large, consensus on improving relations with India amongst major political parties, the Pakistani army has its own worldview about relations with India that no civilian regime can afford to ignore.


From the Indian side, addressing the issue of terrorism has become a sine qua non for better relations with Pakistan. It does not matter that Islamabad itself is grappling with the scourge of terrorism as no other country in the world. New Delhi blames the so-called Pakistan backed non-state actors for its troubles in Kashmir and elsewhere. In fact, its threat that if there is another Mumbai, it means war with Pakistan is a potential incentive for terrorists and their backers to do precisely that.


Another highly emotive and contentious issue, which has of late been infused into Indo-Pak relations is the contentious issue of water-sharing. Islamabad accuses New Delhi of usurping its water by illegally damming its share in contravention of the Indus Water Treaty. What is surprising however is that Pakistan has not yet to formally lodged a complaint against India nor it has sought arbitration as stipulated under the treaty. Is it because Islamabad does not have a case and the whole hullabaloo about water is to deflect attention from more contentious issues including Kashmir, or is it another case of poor governance?


Only a mad man would consider war as a realistic option between the two nuclear-armed neighbours. But in the end analysis there is little pressure or sense of urgency for India to find an out-of-the-box settlement of the Kashmir issue. Neither does the civilian government in Islamabad, too much embroiled in its domestic political security and economic issues, seem to be in a hurry.


The writer is a former newspaper editor. Email: arifn51@hotmail.com

 

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I. THE NEWS

MAY DAY UNDER THE PPP

FAROOQ SULEHRIA


Workers in Pakistan face great challenges as they greet May Day today, even as a party born of mass struggle is in power for the fourth time. May Day had been declared a public holiday by the first PPP government in 1972 when it introduced working-class reforms. The other two PPP governments proved distinctly anti-working class, but the present leadership of the party does not even bother to pay lip service to trade unions and workers' concerns.

Two years ago, Prime Minister Gilani announced a minimum wage of Rs6,000, but nothing has been done yet to ensure this legal minimum wage is paid. Roughly, over 70 per cent of industrial units refuse to do this.


On Dec 14, 2008, the government replaced Musharraf's Industrial Relations Ordinance (IRO), 2002, with an even more anti-workers Industrial Relations Act (IRA). There are almost two dozen sections in the IRA (soon to be replaced by IRA 2010 after its expiry on April 20) that are criticised by leaders of the trade unions.


In a country where only five-to-seven per cent of workers are unionised (or almost 2.2 million, in a workforce of 45 million), IRA 2008 provided legal cover to cancellation of the registration of a trade union and dismiss its leadership in case of "illegal strikes" by the union.


Back in 2004, the same PPP had proclaimed that "all workers shall have the right to participate in elections to reserved seats for workers and peasants and to carry out duties as elected representatives on all such seats, at the district, provincial and federal levels, without penalty, hindrance or discouragement by employers."

IRA 2008 was a clear regression from IRO 2002.


Unlike in Britain, or Sweden, the trade union movement in Pakistan has not been able to unite under one umbrella. The Pakistan Workers' Confederation (PWC) had been a step in that direction, but it failed to become an organisation like the British Trade Union Congress, or Sweden's LO. It had therefore been a welcome development when the IRO required that every union affiliate with a federation. At the same time, at least ten unions--one from every province--were required to form a federation. Now, even two unions can join hands to form a "federation." At the same time, unions' registration process has been made more complicated.

Under the Industrial Relations Ordinance of 1969, an employer could be fined as well as imprisoned for violating labour laws. In IRA 2008, the imprisonment provision has been quashed.


Another controversial clause in IRA 2008 is the reduction of the term of the collective bargaining agent (CBA). It has been reduced from three years to two. The Karachi Shipyard workers, denied trade union rights under Musharraf's dictatorship, still await the restoration of their constitutional rights.
As for the PML-N, while the Sharif brothers keep cursing the Musharraf regime, they are not ready to lift the ban on labour inspections imposed in Punjab. In March 2009, workers at Hamza Board Mills in Toba Tek Singh owned by the Sharif family had to go on strike when their demand for a minimum wage were not met.

Already, workers in government service (such as clerks, teachers, paramedical staff), the agriculture sector, and in charitable institutions (including NGOs and religious organisations) are forbidden to form unions, just as are those in the armed forces.


Although an elected government should not be compared with a military regime in any way, it is hard to ignore the continuity in the economic policies of the governments of the PPP and Musharraf. Privatisation is the hallmark of the neo-liberal policies followed both by Shaukat Aziz and Gilani.


The PPP government plans to privatise eight major public-sector establishments. What is seen as the first step towards this, the federal government recently announced to bring people from the private sector as members of the boards of directors in eight major publics-sector organisations, which include PIA, Pakistan Steel, PASSCO, Pakistan Railways, the Utility Stores Corporation and the National Highways Authority.


Privatisation leaves a direct and negative impact on the working class. At least 600,000 workers have lost their jobs due to privatisation in the last 15 years. Most of the privatised factories practice the contract system, with no respect for labour laws.


Nevertheless, while the privatisation process has come to a halt, there is an upsurge in the labour movement.

The PPP government had to withdraw its announced decision to privatise the Qadirpur gas fields in view of workers' protests. More and more workers are coming together to form unions. Peasants at the Okara military farms remain defiant. Textile workers in Faisalabad, organised by the Labour Qaumi Movement (LQM), have re-established militant traditions once witnessed in the city (then called Lyallpur) in the 1970s. The LQM has gone a step further, with its chairman, Mian Qayyum, contesting the upcoming by-elections in Faisalabad's constituency PP-63.


Demonstrations against contract labour, privatisation and manifestations for winning shorter working hours, better wages, social security and, above all, dignity of labour, have become a daily occurrence across Pakistan at factory floors.


Elsewhere in the world, Greece, Turkey and Portugal have recently seen mass strikes. The Red Shirts in Thailand have made front-page headlines. Even workers in Iran have begun to assert themselves. In Bolivia, neo-liberal myths have been successfully challenged by the nationalisation drive in the South American country. In Venezuela, President Hugo Chavez, whose "Socialism for the 21st Century" has inspired an entire continent, has called for a Fifth International. In Africa, workers from Cairo to Cape Town are back on the streets.

Despite the difficulties, therefore, Pakistani workers have good reason to celebrate May Day.


The writer is a freelance contributor. Email: mfsulehria@hotmail.com

 

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I. THE NEWS

EDITORIAL

NO 'GOOD' TALIBAN

ZAFAR HILALY


The regularity with which the military claims to be killing as many as 30-40 militants in a day may be gratifying, but the frequency with which the Taliban are bombing schools and police stations and killing friendly tribals, police, political workers and innocent civilians is alarming.


As the military is spreading out the Taliban are re-infiltrating. Those who surrendered are being released by the military along with "surrender letters" allowing them to return home unmolested, which they do gladly, and then rejoin the fray. Others are released for "want of evidence," or freed on bail. The kind of evidence required by the law suggests that unless the enemy is found with the head of his victim in his hands, he is let off. As for those on bail, the next time anyone them is on the battlefield, on the opposing side.


This war is going nowhere; much is amiss that had better be rectified quickly because affection for the state is diminishing by the day. Just winning battles will not suffice. We can win every battle and lose the war. It is strategy, both military and political, as much as pre- and post-battle, which will eventually determine the outcome. What, then, are the flaws of our present strategy?


To begin with, we have no clear notion of who is the "enemy." We have divided the Taliban into "good" Taliban and "bad" Taliban. And say that it is the "bad" Taliban whom we oppose because they kill our soldiers. Frankly, that's Greek to the populace. Besides, no one can keep abreast when the "good" one day become the "bad" the next. Of that Swat was living proof. To persevere with a failed approach would be a foolish way of dealing with fanatics like the Taliban.


The second is to believe that all we need to do is assert control over the areas where the Taliban are strong, and eventually they will see reason, lay down their arms and cease to fight. Not so. That has never happened. War is their favourite pastime. For the Taliban it is either victory or death. We cannot, therefore, afford to sheathe the sword until the Taliban are destroyed.


Third, it is absurd to brand as "good" those Taliban who attack the US, but not Pakistan. It is intellectually dishonest and self-defeating. Because, we know that the moment they are victorious in Afghanistan they will turn on Pakistan. The TTP is living proof of their intention to do so. Any peace concluded with the Afghan Taliban by the Americans must extend to the activities of their surrogates, the TTP.


Four, the preoccupation with FATA leaves the Punjabi Taliban free to spread their poison. They are the more dangerous and determined foe. Already, their actions in bringing India and Pakistan to the verge of war have hobbled the peace process. And their hold on the minds of the populace is growing.


Five, our resettlement strategy is all akimbo. The left hand does not know what the right hand is doing. Thousands have received nothing; thousands more too little. Government officials entrusted with implementing the programme are too scared to visit. Eventually we may have to consider voluntary relocation of the population, if that is what is required to drain the swamp of the enemy who seek refuge within them.

For any strategy to succeed, the public must be convinced that both the TTP and the Afghan Taliban have common origins, a common cause and work in tandem. At the moment, while the former have been recognised by the populace for the criminals and monsters that they have proved to be in Swat and elsewhere, the Afghan Taliban remain well regarded.

The five-year record of Taliban rule in Afghanistan, like that of America under Bush, was an abject failure. It had to be because both sought to change the world without bothering to understand it. About the only thing the Taliban brought to Afghanistan was peace, the peace of the grave. The Americans did not even bring that.

For those who believe that the Afghan Taliban are a distinct entity, it is worth recalling, thanks to fresh research on the subject, what Faqir Mohammad and Maulvi Omar, Naib Amir and official spokesman of the TTP, respectively, said when asked if the TTP maintained relations with their counterpart across the border. Faqir Mohammed replied:


"No questions about it. They are the true Muslims and everybody has acknowledged them as such. We still support the Afghan Taliban, as they are the only ones who implemented the Shariah in Afghanistan. We are their staunch supporters and there is no difference in our beliefs."


As for Al Qaeda being the international face of the Taliban ideology, this is what Maulvi Omar (of the TTP) had to say:


"There is no difference between Al Qaeda and the Taliban. The formation of Taliban and al Qaeda was based on ideology. Whoever works for these organisations fights against kafirs. However, those fighting in foreign countries are called al Qaeda and those fighting in Pakistan and Afghanistan are called Taliban. In fact both are the name of one ideology. The aims and objectives of both organisations are the same."


The extent of cooperation between the TTP and the Afghan Taliban is intense, on going and growing. For example, Ziaur Rahman of the TTP launched his bid for the leadership of the TTP in Bajaur in late 2007 on his proximity to Arab Al Qaeda commanders linked to the Afghan Taliban. He even married his daughter to an Al Qaeda commander and bandied it about as a badge of honour.


Baitullah Mahsud's links with the leadership of the Afghan Taliban were profound. His "Mahsud boys," aged 16-20, the future suicide bombers, were trained by a team of Afghan Taliban, led by Mullah Dadullah, who had sent them to Iraq to learn the trade from his friend Al Zarqawi. The first recruits were trained in Waziristan because the Afghan Taliban needed a safe training ground which Mahsud was happy to offer.


Mullah Omar often communicated with Baitullah. In fact, the Afghan Taliban direct the TTP as if they were another of their wilayats, or governorates. Policy is dictated by Mullah Omar's circle but the central leadership does not, as a rule, interfere in local matters.


Of course it suited Mullah Omar to deny any association with Baitullah when the latter was inflicting causalities on Pakistan. That was typical of the Taliban. Double-dealing is their forte. As someone remarked, "It merely means that it will be spun in Pakistan as being out of control. After all, the TTP is Mullah Omar's knife held at Islamabad's throat and much too precious an asset to be eliminated."

The military is currently attempting to divide the TTP by pitting the Waziris against the Mahouts. It hopes to weaken the TTP and cut off Omar's fount of recruits and suicide bombers. Needless to say, Omar will react and try to unite the Waziris and Mahsuds. He wants control of all, not only some, of the Pukhtun tribes of Pakistan. Ultimately, it is the Pakistani Pukhtuns who are the great prize of the ongoing conflict. Whoever wins their favour will eventually prevail.


Peace, therefore, is nowhere near at hand. While the Americans can slink away, we cannot. The US departure will only intensify the struggle and a new phase will begin. We had better steel ourselves to confront with iron, blood, wile and wits the current and forthcoming challenge. The question we must ask ourselves is, are we ready with a good-enough strategy?


The writer is a former ambassador. Email: charles123it@hotmail.com

 

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I. THE NEWS

EDITORIAL

A GRAND POLITICAL CLEAN-UP

DR MUZAFFAR IQBAL


The state of Pakistan now has a Constitution restored to its pristine state by the two highest political entities: the parliament and the Senate. But the national parliament does not represent the changed political realities of the country; it is the product of an election which has little relevance to the current state of affairs in the country. Pakistan has a Senate, but that august house is also not representative of the changed judicial and political environment.

Thus, the passage of the 18th Amendment and the so-called restoration of the Constitution would only have meaning when these changes are accompanied by the emergence of a new political culture in which thinking individuals, and not political godfathers, have a voice. Pakistani society has been subjected to ruptures and violence of a kind that could have easily turned the country into another Rwanda, had it not been for the resilience of its people that comes from their deep relationship to their religion.


That Islam is the saving grace of this country is not obvious to most liberals and neo-liberals. They do not see how deep spiritual forces are at work, even now, when two decades of rapid secularisation have uprooted the youth from the fountain of strength.


In the short run, no change is on the horizon. The restoration of the Constitution may have healed certain ruptures and may have theoretically restored balance of power. However, the current leadership is like a spent force, clinging to the last morsels of a rotten pie they have all cooked together. The same old tiring faces, repeating the same old story ad nauseam.


Problems increase because no one is finding solutions. They multiply because no one is planning ahead of time. They become complex because new factors are added to them. Each new day that rises on the Land of the Pure adds to the draw from the same old national grid, because somewhere someone has just bought one more gadget to plug into the electrical outlet. Each day brings new burden on the old and ailing roads because there is always a new vehicle that has been granted license to go on the road. Each new day adds to the load of the old and tired engine moving across the length of the country on its old and lonely track, because no one is planning a new fast track.


Thus, since the same old, tired and tiring political leadership cannot find solutions to the myriad problems faced by the country, the restoration of the Constitution does little to change ground realities: the restored constitution can do little to correct lack of water, power, gas, education, hospitals, roads, communication networks, medicine, and all the other basic necessities of life. It cannot even generate a new mechanism for the emergence of a creative and dedicated young leadership which can understand and correct these problems.


What is needed is a grand political cleanup, which will send into retirement all the old faces which have misruled too long for a whole generation to become sick and tired of their rhetoric. Politicians should have a mandatory retirement date and a new city should be built for them so that they can continue to play their little political games within the confines of that city after retirement. This geriatric city can be built at state expense; it will pay off rapidly. Just imagine all those who waste tremendous amounts of paper and ink on a daily basis in the form of their statements filling newspaper column, living together in close proximity, in a city specially built for them where they have a city council where they can go every day and debate about who is going to be their next mayor!

Admittedly, a political cleanup of this kind is utopian, utterly unrealistic, but it does not hurt to dream once in a while to rub off the dark inertia, especially when even the prospect of a new general election under the restored Constitution and under the supervision of the judiciary does not hold any ray of hope for the emergence of a new leadership.


The recent eruption of violence in Hazara is a case in point to understand the nature of Pakistan's future. Violence of this kind does not erupt spontaneously; it is fanned, sponsored, orchestrated, paid for. It may be true that the people of Hazara feel a bit disturbed over the renaming of their province--a renaming that ignores them--but does this justify what erupted in a small area, where certain political elements have a stronghold? The argument that the new name is a prelude to dismemberment of Pakistan is simply vacuous; renaming of a province cannot lead to the emergence of a new country, especially when the territory is contiguous with the rest of the country. Hazara is no East Pakistan separated from the rest of the country because of a historic blunder made by the political leadership of that time. But violence in Hazara does indicate the need for a grand political cleanup.


The writer is a freelance columnist. Email: quantumnotes@gmail.com

 

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I. THE NEWS

EDITORIAL

OUR SPOILS SYSTEM

BABAR SATTAR


The writer is a lawyer based in Islamabad.

 

The Supreme Court's decision declaring the mass promotion of civil servants by the PPP government as illegal and invalid is welcome. The court has reiterated that while discretion for promoting senior bureaucrats lies with the prime minister, the rule of law requires that exercise of discretion must never be arbitrary. In one case, for example, an individual working for the NLC was inducted into the secretariat service as a grade-21 officer on the same day that he was found fit to be promoted to grade-22. The court has rightly pointed out that such instances establish that the prime minister did not fairly and independently apply his mind while exercising discretion vested in him.


This decision is an indictment of the prevailing political mindset that perceives whimsical exercise of authority and circumvention of due process as legitimate fruits of power. When the mass promotions were made last year the buzz in Islamabad was that the government had followed the 70-30 rule: 70 per cent of the promotions were on merit, while 30 per cent were inspired by cronyism and nepotism. Amongst those promoted were individuals of exceptional service record and integrity (such as the brothers Nasir Khosa and Tariq Khosa), who are the reason for whatever service delivery the state can be accredited with. There were others such as Kamran Lashari and Imtiaz Inayat Elahi who might not have been at the top of the seniority list but their outstanding performance while in service leaves no doubt regarding their merit.


Promoting such officers of distinction is an imperative for every government merely to keep the ship afloat and get some work done in the otherwise vast and slumberous baboo-land. It is others whose only qualification is their personal ties with the ruling political masters that feel a sense of urgency to get ahead by any means fair or foul while the tide lasts. Given that they owe their office and stature to their benefactors and not their own skills and virtues, they end up exhibiting prime allegiance to the rule of certain men and not the rule of law. In a mature and accountable democracy, it makes logical sense for the executive to handpick top bureaucrats. At the end of the day these public representatives are responsible to the electorate, and if their chosen civil servants prove incompetent or corrupt the buck would stop with them.


But our political culture and mindset, and the nascent understanding and acceptance of the rule of law militate against vesting such wide discretion in the executive. The problem with the political culture and mindset is twofold: one, our political parties and individual politicians do not view access to power as a means to devise and implement policies to serve citizens, but as access to resources of the state and control over a depraved system of personal patronage. And two, there is no sense that in a first-past-the-post electoral system almost half the people vote for candidates who lose in most constituencies, but that doesn't mean that the winning candidate and the party in government is only meant to represent and address the needs of those who vote for them. Adherence to this spoil system undermines the rule of law as well as the state's capacity to deliver services.

The rule of law after all is not simply adherence to the black letter of some written text. It is meant to entrench due process and promote equity and fairness. But it can be undermined by either defying the law and its principles, or by corrupting the law itself in a manner that it loses the ability to promote justice. The NRO was an example of the latter, and the cases of Jamshed Dasti and Ahmed Riaz Sheikh exemplify the former. Jamshed Dasti provided a fake degree to qualify as an electoral candidate. It does not matter that the graduation requirement should never have been introduced in the first place as it disempowered an overwhelming majority of this country's citizens who have not had the fortune to make it to a university. While being a graduate is no longer a prequalification for a parliamentarian, it was the law at the time Dasti filed his papers and consequently


When the Supreme Court caught him, he resigned his seat. But to compensate him for the misfortune that had befallen him Yousuf Raza Gilani immediately elevated such malefactor to the position of adviser to the prime minister. Worse still, he was re-awarded the party ticket by Asif Zardari to contest election on the same seat that had fallen vacant after his resignation. Can the heads of the state, the government, and the ruling political party find another way to express greater contempt for fair play, righteousness and public morality?


A spirit of tribal loyalty coupled with cronyism pervades the political culture of our ruling party whereby you stand by those who stand by you notwithstanding how ill and rotten their acts and deeds. It is in this backdrop that amendment to Article 63 of the Constitution through the 18th Amendment, that would allow convicts to return to the assembly five years after the completion of their jail term, becomes troubling. Given that the head of the country as well as the ruling political party feels no qualms about nominating a fraud to represent the party, will public censure ever impact the decisions reached by party heads?


Or will our collective standards of public morality simply deteriorate to a point where such events become routine? The case of Asif Zardari exercising his special power to award pardon under Article 45 of the Constitution to remit the sentence of his buddy Ahmed Riaz Sheikh – a felon convicted on charges of corruption and awarded 14-year rigorous imprisonment – in order to get him out of jail is no less egregious. This is another manifestation of the same mindset that produces unflinching support for Dasti or flagrant disregard for the Supreme Court ruling and directions in the NRO case.


Is it not astounding that wrongdoing in itself doesn't figure as a vice in the prevailing PPP ethic? Does loyalty mean that all wrongs committed by clan members are to be vociferously justified and defended?


There seems to be no recognition within the ruling coterie that the authority vested in public officials is a trust to be exercised in the collective interest of all citizens and not a personal privilege meant to be abused in order to enable friends and cronies to make hay while the sun shines. The Supreme Court decision in the promotion case drives home this point. And it wouldn't be a bad idea for the PPP to listen for a change. Not with a view to mend rules and find ways to do indirectly what it cannot do directly. But to try and comprehend that in a country with a plethora of challenges and growing awareness amongst the masses business as usual will not work anymore.


And while the court is focused on evolving and enforcing the doctrine of fiduciary responsibility, it might wish to look more comprehensively into the practice of doling out state land – a shared asset collectively owned by the people of Pakistan – to public officials. Why should a non-fungible public asset be liquidated and squandered through various plot schemes? Why should generals, secretaries, politicians and judges benefit from such blatant transfer of wealth at the expense of ordinary citizens? Maybe the Supreme Court judges under the leadership of the chief justice can voluntarily give up their own plots before considering the constitutionality of our abusive plot schemes.


Email: sattar@post.harvard.edu

 

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I. THE NEWS

EDITORIAL

WHAT PREVENTS IT?

ROEDAD KHAN


The assassination of Benazir Bhutto, the former prime minister of Pakistan, shocked and saddened the people of Pakistan and of the world. The chain of events beginning with BB's decision to return to Pakistan to participate in the election campaign, the unsuccessful attempt to kill her in Karachi, and her assassination on December 27, 2007 in Rawalpindi, evoked the demand, at home and abroad, for an explanation.


The intense public demand for facts was met by the establishment, and, on the request of the Pakistan government, a three-member UN commission of inquiry was formed. It was agreed that the international commission should be fact-finding in nature and that its mandate would be to determine the facts and circumstances of the assassination of Benazir Bhutto. The commission conducted more than 250 interviews - both inside and outside Pakistan. It is worth noting that the report does not include either a list of those interviewed or their statements.


The commission, though, mystified by the efforts of certain high-ranking officials to obstruct access to Pakistan's military and intelligence sources, submitted its 65-page report to the secretary general of the UN in April. It made it quite clear that the duty of carrying out a serious credible, criminal investigation to determine who conceived, ordered, and executed this heinous crime remains with the government of Pakistan. Tragically, no such investigation has been ordered so far. Instead, to add insult to injury, Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani has set up another fact-finding committee composed of two civil servants and a major general of the Pakistan Army.


Flash back to November 22, 1963, the day John Fitzgerald Kennedy, the 35th president of the United States was assassinated. On November 29, 1963, a week after the assassination, President Johnson, by Executive Order 11130, created a commission, with the chief justice of the United States as its chairman, to investigate the assassination. The commission functioned neither as a court presiding over an adversary proceeding nor as a prosecutor determined to prove a case but as a fact-finding body committed to the ascertainment of the truth.


The commission directed major departments of the federal government and intelligence agencies to submit all relevant information available with them. The Federal Bureau of Investigation conducted approximately 25,000 interviews of persons having information of possible relevance to the investigation. By September 1964, it submitted over 2,300 reports totaling approximately 25,400 pages to the commission. During the same period, the secret services conducted approximated 1,550 interviews and submitted 800 reports totaling some 4,600 pages. The commission reviewed in detail the reports and actions of these agencies and called their highest officials to testify under oath. The commission itself examined 552 witnesses having information of relevance to the investigation.


In sharp contrast, the lackadaisical manner in which the PPP government is conducting the inquiry into the assassination of its leader, without any sense of urgency, purpose or direction, clearly shows that it is not interested in ascertaining the truth and unmasking the killer. Isn't it a great tragedy that after 28 months of Benazir's assassination, the government has yet to carry out a serious, credible investigation to determine who conceived, ordered, and executed this heinous crime?


What is preventing this government from appointing a high-level judicial commission, with the chief justice as its chairman to ascertain the truth? Why this reluctance to face the truth? Who is protecting the perpetrators of this dastardly crime against a courageous woman full of promise, this crime against a family, a nation and all mankind.

The writer is a former federal secretary. Email: roedad@comsats.net.pk, www.roedadkhan. Com

 

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PAKISTAN OBSERVER

EDITORIAL

JUBILATION OVER DIALOGUE WITH INDIA

 

SOUTH Asian leaders wound up their Summit in Thimphu, capital of Bhutan, on Thursday with an accord to tackle climate change and promises to pursue a new era of development for their under-performing region. The SAARC is in existence for 25 years but it has hardly made any meaningful progress in any of the fields despite the fact that the sphere of influence of this political and economic organization is the largest of any regional body constituting 1.5 billion population. One hopes that the decisions taken in Bhutan would be backed up by practical steps for the common good of the people of the region, who share similar socio-economic problems.

Apart from the strictly SAARC related issues, one of the outcome of the summit is the much-talked-about meeting between Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani and his Indian counterpart Dr Manmohan Singh on the sidelines of the main event, which has led to an agreement for resumption of talks between the two countries. The news appeared to have caused some sort of jubilation in Pakistani corridors of power and some sections of media have highlighted it as a major achievement. But the fact remains that this is nothing new or extraordinary and one may say Pakistan has fallen in the trap of Indian diplomacy. This is because India has been opposing, for untenable reasons, resumption of the composite dialogue, stalled in the wake of Mumbai incident. In July last year, the two Prime Ministers, during their meeting at the Egyptian resort of Sharma el-Sheikh agreed to delink terrorism from resumption of talks but the Indian leader backtracked from the understanding within hours on return to his country. Since then, Foreign Secretaries of the two countries have also met but their talks were not under the ambit of the composite dialogue process, which Pakistan has been insisting all along. Now, the composite dialogue seems to have been abandoned for all practical purposes and the two countries would be initiating the process of talks somewhat afresh. This serves the Indian objective of buying time and giving a false impression of engagement wi