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Monday, May 3, 2010

EDITORIAL 03.05.10

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Editorial

Month may 03, edition 000497, collected & managed by durgesh kumar mishra, published by – manish manjul

 

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

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THE PIONEER

  1. Realism in Thimphu
  2. Belgium's bold step
  3. Caution is the watchword - JOGINDER SINGH
  4. To Sachin, with love - SANJEEV SIROHI
  5. We are seen as weak - RAJIV DOGRA
  6. Manmohan capitulates - B RAMAN
  7. Foes today, allies tomorrow - SHIKHA MUKERJEE
  8. Watch out! The aliens may be coming

MAIL TODAY

  1. ENDING QUACKERY IS GOING TO REQUIRE A LOT OF EFFORT
  2. KILLERS IN UNIFORM
  3. SET UP JPC TO PROBE PHONE TAPS - BY RAJEEV DHAVAN
  4. POWER & POLITICS - PRABHU CHAWLA

THE TIMES OF INDIA

  1. CRIMINALLY CARELESS
  2. MORAL POLICING
  3. DON'T GIVE IT CURRENCY -
  4. 'I HAVE A LOT OF AFFINITY TOWARDS THE CONGRESS' -
  5. EARNER'S LICENCE -

HINDUSTAN TIMES

  1. HARD TO SWALLOW
  2. A GLOWING SENSE OF FEAR
  3. NOT A PIPE DREAM
  4. CUT MOTION: A SHORT-TERM VICTORY - PANKAJ VOHRA

THE INDIAN EXPRESS

  1. REGULATING REGULATORS
  2. THE TRUEST VOTE
  3. EVENT HORIZON
  4. SOON, THERE WILL BE ONE - ILA PATNAIK
  5. THE RADIOACTIVE RISK SOCIETY - NEHA SINHA
  6. FIFTY YEARS OF SEPARATION - INDER MALHOTRA
  7. FORESTS AND FIRES - VIKRAM S MEHTA
  8. HISTORY, 140 CHARACTERS AT A TIME
  9. THE GREAT UP HOPE - D K SINGH

FINANCIAL EXPRESS

  1. THE RABI EFFECT
  2. IT'S RADIOACTIVE
  3. WHAT GREECE HAS TO DO WITH OIL PRICES - TARUN RAMADORAI
  4. LOSING THE ASIAN ADVANTAGE - MITENDU PALIT
  5. CUTTING COSTS AND AUDIT STRATEGY - RAM SARVEPALLI

THE HINDU

  1. VINDICATED AT LAST
  2. MORE THAN LIP SERVICE
  3. A THREAT TO NUCLEAR DISARMAMENT - VLADIMIR RADYUHIN
  4. FROM THE REALM OF CULTURE TO THE DOMAIN OF COMMERCE
  5. I HAVE A RIGHT TO SPEAK' - PINKY ANAND
  6. BUFFETT SUPPORTS GOLDMAN
  7. IRAN AND NUCLEAR CONCERNS

THE ASIAN AGE

  1. JHARKHAND'S POLITICS OF GREED GETS BRAZEN
  2. SWEETNESS OF SALT
  3. NO RESPITE FOR TRIBALS
  4. OLD LEADERS & NEW WORK CULTURE

DNA

  1. MAHARASHTRA'S ROLE
  2. THE ARMS TRAIL
  3. CHASING CROOKED SHADOWS - N N SACHITANAND
  4. PHONE TAPPING ONLY FOR SECURITY REASONS - ANIL DHARKER

THE TRIBUNE

  1. POLICEMEN IN ARMS RACKET
  2. ILL-EQUIPPED SCHOOLS
  3. NEPAL ON THE BOIL AGAIN
  4. THE OTHER SAARC SUMMIT - BY KULDIP NAYAR
  5. MAKING SENSE OF SENSEX - BY TRILOCHAN SINGH TREWN
  6. CAUGHT SNOOPING - BY ASHWANI KUMAR
  7. PPSC ROW: SELECTIONS THEN AND NOW - BY J.B. GOYAL
  8. CHATTERATI  - BY DEVI CHERIAN

MUMBAI MERROR

  1. MUKTI FOR JHARKHAND?

BUSINESS STANDARD

  1. THE THIMPHU THAW
  2. NASSCOM'S MEDICINE
  3. EXCHANGE RATE POLICY – II - A V RAJWADE
  4. PR'S DAY OFF - SUNIL JAIN

THE ECONOMIC TIMES

  1. DECONTROL PETROLEUM PRICES
  2. HULLABALOO IN THE COMMONS
  3. TAX STRUCTURE GETS VITIATED FURTHER
  4. INDIA ERRS BY LENDING ITS VOICE TO CALLS FOR A STRONGER CHINESE YUAN
  5. JAGDISH BHAGWATI & ARVIND PANAGARIYA
  6. INDIA-SPECIFIC GROWTH MODEL NEEDED' - RAKHI MAZUMDAR
  7. HAVE A LOVE AFFAIR WITH YOURSELF - K VIJAYARAGHAVAN
  8. OFF THE BEATEN TRACK - MYTHILI BHUSNURMATH
  9. 4TH PILLAR SWINGS TO PARTY BEATS - SUDESHNA SEN
  10. LIC WILL GIVE US THE REACH IN OUR BANKING BUSINESS' - GAYATRI NAYAK
  11. TECH MAHINDRA WILL BE ABLE TO MAINTAIN BIZ FROM BT - NIRAJ SHAH
  12. WE ARE HERE TO BUILD INDIAN WALT DISNEY: WALT DISNEY INDIA MD - HEMAMALINI VENKATRAMAN
  13. NEED TO BETTER TARGET FOOD SUBSIDIES TO ERADICATE POVERTY: MONTEK - SUBHASH NARAYAN, AMITI SEN & VINAY PANDEY

DECCAN CHRONICAL

  1. JHARKHAND'S POLITICS OF GREED GETS BRAZEN
  2. TAPPING PRIVACY - BY ASHOK MALIK
  3. MAOISTS HAVE NO GROWTH MANTRA FOR TRIBALS - BY KANCHA ILAIAH
  4. OLD LEADERS & NEW WORK CULTURE
  5. NO RESPITE FOR TRIBALS - BY KANCHA ILAIAH
  6. SWEETNESS OF SALT - BY DOMINIC EMMANUEL

THE STATESMAN

  1. FUNDAMENTAL DUTIES
  2. CWG 'PREPARATION'
  3. ROOTS OF RESENTMENT
  4. 'TAKE PDS OUT OF CORRUPT HANDS'

THE TELEGRAPH

  1. SAYING SORRY
  2. HEAD PREFECTS
  3. FROST IN THE AIR - KANWAL SIBAL
  4. SIMILAR SCRUTINY - GWYNNE DYER

DECCAN HERALD

  1. SPY SERVICE
  2. CUTTING EDGE
  3. CUT IN DELHI, RUN IN RANCHI - M J AKBAR
  4. IRAQ'S HUMAN RIGHTS UNDER CRITICAL THREAT - BY MICHAEL JANSEN
  5. THE FOREIGN FRIEND - BY BHARATHI PRABHU

THE JERUSALEM POST

  1. ACTIONS WITHOUT REACTIONS - BY EPHRAIM ASCULAI
  2. THE REGION: BRIGHT SPOTS, ANYONE? - BY BARRY RUBIN
  3. FREE-MARKET JUDAISM
  4. WHO'S AFRAID OF 'SOUTH PARK'? - BY FRIDA GHITIS
    IT IS POSSIBLE TO LAUGH AT ADOLF HITLER - BY CORY FRANKLIN
  5. THE REVISIONIST ESCAPE - BY AVI BEKER

 HAARETZ

  1. A WELCOME JEWISH VOICE
  2. STOLEN JERUSALEM DAY - BY AKIVA ELDAR
  3. HOLYLAND AND THE STATUTE OF LIMITATIONS - BY ZE'EV SEGAL
  4. THE LATTER-DAY SABBATEANS - BY DAVID OHANA
  5. PEACE DEAL MEANS GETTING JEWISH STATE BACK FROM THE ARAB WORLD - BY SHAUL ARIELI

THE NEW YORK TIMES

  1. THE NEW HAVEN MODEL
  2. CALL THE FAT CATS FORTH
  3. END TO RESCISSION, AND MORE GOOD NEWS
  4. SUDAN'S OTHER CRISIS
  5. THE BORDERS WE DESERVE - BY ROSS DOUTHAT
  6. DRILLING, DISASTER, DENIAL - BY PAUL KRUGMAN
  7. FOUNDING AMATEURS? - BY GORDON S. WOOD

USA TODAY

  1. Opposing view: Manageable challenges - BY GERALD W. MCENTEE
  2. DEBATE ON THE OTHER DEBT CRISIS OUR VIEW: UGLY TRUTH ABOUT STATE PENSIONS BEGINS TO EMERGE
  3. BE LIKE LAICH
  4. Abortion's middle ground? Reducing them

TIMES FREE PRESS

  1. WILL THE MINORITY RULE?
  2. BEAUTIFUL CHATTANOOGA, BUT ...
  3. THE PERILS OF SALT
  4. BILLIONS MORE DOLLARS OF DEBT
  5. CROSS WILL REMAIN, AFTER ALL
  6. THE FRENCH FRY PATROL

HURRIYET DAILY NEWS

  1. REBEL WITH A CAUSE
  2. AFTER BRITAIN, IT IS NOW TURKEY'S TURN - JOOST LAGENDIJK
  3. THE PRISON OF EXPRESSION? - THORBJØRN JAGLAND
  4. GREEKS ARE IN SHOCK AND AWE - ARIANA FERENTINOU
  5. HUNGRY TO LEARN - ASHA-ROSE MIGIRO
  6. KEEPING THE CYPRUS TALKS ON TRACK - HUGH POPE
  7. FINALLY IN TAKSIM! - YUSUF KANLI

I.THE NEWS

  1. SCRAPING THE BARREL
  2. ANOTHER PRICE HIKE
  3. MORALITY SQUADS
  4. THIMPHU'S SIN OF STUPIDITY - ZAFAR HILALY
  5. S WAZIRISTAN AS I SAW IT - AYAZ WAZIR
  6. THE MUSHROOM CLOUD FEAR - TAJ M KHATTAK
  7. ON BANKRUPTCY - SHAKIR HUSAIN
  8. FOUNDING PRINCIPLES, NOT BASIC STRUCTURE - ASIF EZDI
  9. PRICKING THUMBS - CHRIS CORK

PAKISTAN OBSERVER

  1. GILANI'S FUTURISTIC LABOUR POLICY
  2. TALIBAN FLOURISHING DESPITE ASSAULTS
  3. PAKISTAN AND WORLD PRESS FREEDOM DAY
  4. SC JUDGEMENT ON IRREGULAR PROMOTIONS - DR SAMIULLAH KORESHI
  5. FOSSILS AND BEYOND! - KHALID SALEEM
  6. RUNNING AWAY FROM COMPOSITE DIALOGUE - DR RAJA MUHAMMAD KHAN
  7. THE NEXT 9/11:MADE IN ISRAEL? - MAIDHC O CATHAIL
  8. WORLD RETHINKS CLIMATE LEGISLATION - TOM SWITZER

THE INDEPENDENT

  1. EARLY INUNDATION
  2. DOMESTIC WORKERS
  3. HANDLING GUILT..!
  4. SUBSIDIES TO FARMERS FOR MECHANISATION SYSTEM - ANU MAHMUD
  5. SAARC SUMMIT 2010: AN OVERVIEW - LT COL WALIULLAH (RETD)

THE AUSTRALIAN

  1. A REALISTIC RESPONSE TO THE CHALLENGE OF REFORM
  2. THIS TAX REFORM IS PAINFUL STUFF
  3. SUPER IDEA, BUT HARDLY A REFORM
  4. THE CATASTROPHIC CLEVERNESS OF THE POLITICAL CLASS
  5. PERSPECTIVE IS MISSING IN COVERAGE OF CRIM'S MURDER
  6. TEST IS FINDING A COMMON VOICE
  7. THE TICK OF APPROVAL FROM THE OLD MASTER
  8. BATTLELINES DRAWN OVER CHINESE MINING BOUNTY
  9. INDUSTRY READY TO FIGHT OVER TAX THAT WILL THREATEN EXPANSION
  10. SUPER INDUSTRY HAPPY, BUT NOT WITH DELAY

THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD

  1. 138 SHOTS, ONLY 4 HITS – BUT TIME IS ON HENRY'S SIDE
  2. TAX REVOLUTION STALLED AGAIN, BUT THE SYSTEM GETS BETTER

THE GUARDIAN

  1. IN PRAISE OF … CARTOONISTS
  2. A TALE OF TWO COUNTRIES
  3. THE DEFAULT OPTION

DAILY EXPRESS

  1. WHY WOMEN SHOULD TELL MEN WHERE TO GO... - BY JAN ETHERINGTON
  2. OUR PM HAS LOST THE PLOT - AND THE AUTHORITY TO RULE  - BY LEO MCKINSTRY
  3. ROY HODGSON IS A DIAMOND GEEZER- ASK THE GERMANS - BY JIM HOLDEN

THE GAZETTE

  1. DON'T LEGISLATE SUPREME BILINGUALISM

THE KOREA TIMES

  1. KIM JONG-IL IN CHINA
  2. NEW LABOR RULES
  3. BRITAIN VOTES AND REALITY WAITS - BY CHRIS PATTEN
  4. MUCH IMITATED BEN FRANKLIN GETS A MAKEOVER - BY DALE MCFEATTERS
  5. BIGHEAD CARP BY ANY OTHER NAME
  6. OIL SPILLS REFRAME ENERGY DEBATE

THE JAPAN TIMES

  1. PLANS FOR 'SMALL' REACTORS NUDGE WASTE-DISPOSAL CONCERNS TO FORE - BY MICHAEL RICHARDSON
  2. RARE INDICTMENTS OF TRAIN OFFICIALS
  3. UNTOLD TIES OF FRIENDSHIP EXIST BETWEEN OKINAWA AND THE U.S. - BY HISAHIKO OKAZAKI

THE JAKARTA POST

  1. TEN MILLION NEW WATER CONNECTIONS
  2. NEW FACE OF PRESS FREEDOM
  3. THE ROLE OF INDONESIA IN THE REGION AND THE WORLD - JUWONO SUDARSONO

THE KOREA HERALD

  1. EXIT FROM GEUMGANG
  2. COMMANDERS' MEETING
  3. MEDIA FREEDOM IN THAILAND IS IN JEOPARDY
  4. OBAMA GOVERNS AMERICA FROM CENTER - J. BRADFORD DELONG
  5. ARE REPUBLICANS FOES OF IMMIGRATION REFORM?
  6. FORGOTTEN SICK IN DEVELOPING COUNTRIES - DAVID MOLYNEUX
  7. THE GEOGRAPHY OF CHINA'S POWER
  8. U.S. SUPREME COURT COULD USE AN OBOIST
  9. MEGHAN DAUM - SHAME ON ARIZONA

DAILY MIRROR

  1. POPULATION DECLINE – GLOBAL TRENDS
  2. AN OPPOSITION WAITING FOR DESTINY TO CHANGE ITSELF
  3. THE PLAYMAKERS
  4. TIMELY ATTEMPT AT REVAMPING THE POLICE SERVICE 

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THE PIONEER

EDITORIAL

Realism in Thimphu

SAARC NEEDS A SOCIO-ECONOMIC AGENDA


The South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation was founded 25 years ago and if one goes by the lofty aspirations that accompanied its birth, it has perhaps not lived up to expectations. In 1985, it was envisaged as a sort of European Community — or European Union as it was renamed in 1993 — and a collective that would put behind the region the distrust of history. This has not quite been the case. From border disputes to terrorism to a free-trade framework that exists only on paper, SAARC is still very much a work in progress — it has been so for all these years. Two of its eight members — Afghanistan and Pakistan — are among the most war-torn countries in the world. In terms of poverty, health access (or the lack of it) and hunger, SAARC matches sub-Saharan Africa and in some cases does worse. Nevertheless, as the recent SAARC Geads of Government Summit in Thimpu seemed to suggest, the region's leaders are finally coming to the conclusion that a bottom-up approach is the only feasible one. Rather than hope for the larger issues of diplomacy and international politics to be resolved and then begin the process of socio-economic cooperation, it makes sense to begin small, and wait for pressure from the ground to create conditions for settlement of big ticket disputes. For instance, the decision in Thimpu to focus on a SAARC approach to climate change and greening the South Asian land mass is commendable. It is also likely to be far more efficacious in the absence of contentious 'developed-developing', North-South arguments that seem to take over every global climate change conference. From industrialising India, rapidly losing forest cover, to Pakistan, so much of which is desert, to Bangladesh and the Maldives, both of which will bear the brunt of rising sea waters as global temperatures go up and snows melt, the SAARC community is among the most threatened by climate change and environmental degradation. This is a low-hanging fruit, it is not politically acrimonious. Related to this is the issue of developing river systems and sharing the waters of the region. India, Bangladesh and Nepal have to work together for this. The latter two have to shed their wariness about synergy with the larger neighbour. On its part, India should be willing to make symbolic sacrifices so that a third party — say the World Bank — can take the lead in this area. It is important to get over egotism and get down to the job if SAARC is to be seen as utilitarian and delivering benefits to the people of its member countries. The alternative is that New Delhi, Dhaka and Kathmandu keep looking through each other as their countries — particularly areas like north Bihar and east Uttar Pradesh — suffer devastating floods at regular intervals.


For India, making a success of SAARC is no longer an indulgence but an imperative, given the inroads China is making in more than one SAARC country. China was a strong supplier of military hardware to Sri Lanka during its recent war against the Tamil Tigers and is developing massive dual-use installations in that country. It is also the biggest economic investor in Afghanistan. It is pouring money into Nepal and its friendship with Pakistan is well known. India cannot address all these issues but, with judicious economic diplomacy and with strategic investments in SAARC partner countries, it can yet check China — and reclaim its backyard.

 

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THE PIONEER

EDITORIAL

Belgium's bold step

BURQA HAS NO PLACE IN MODERN WORLD


The Belgian Lower House of Parliament's vote banning women from wearing the burqa in public is a truly commendable step which deserves to be emulated. The vote was passed without any opposition. The lawmakers who voted to pass the Bill — which now goes to the Upper House or Senate for its approval — have said that their decision to support the legislation was in keeping with Belgian values and for security reasons. They have asserted that the burqa is a symbol of oppression and no less than a mobile prison, and that any man who forces a woman to cover herself from head to toe in so grotesque a manner is guilty of human rights violation of the highest order. There is considerable logic in this argument. For, the burqa is nothing but a manifestation of a perverse and primitive social order. It seeks to take away the identity of a woman or make it subservient to that of a man. The argument that the burqa is there to protect the modesty of women also holds no water. For, if that be the case, it can be questioned as to whether Islam believes that it is only necessary for women to be modest while men are free to indulge in licentious behaviour. What makes the Islamist argument even more ridiculous is the fact that the burqa has no theological validation just as there is no compulsion for Muslim men to sport a beard. Hence, the claim that wearing the burqa is fundamental to Islam is total bunkum. It is a practice that originated in the deserts of Arabia hundreds of years ago, possibly before the advent of Islam, and is rooted in tribal custom. Therefore, the Belgian lawmakers, as well as those in other European countries such as France who are considering a similar ban on this dark symbol of oppression, are totally justified in their stand.


There is also a larger point to be made here. The reason why we are witnessing European countries take a firm stand on issues such as the burqa is because European society has come to a point where the reluctance of its growing Muslim immigrant community to integrate with the mainstream and adopt local customs and traditions has become glaring. This was the driving force behind the Swiss legislation that banned the construction of new Islamic minarets in that country. The underlying factor here is that Islamic values as enunciated by fanatical mullahs are not just different from European secular values but also opposed to it. Thus, what we have is a clash of fundamental principles; a clash between modernity and medieval thinking. There is no reason to be 'tolerant' about an antediluvian worldview. The Left-liberal intelligentsia will no doubt cry foul and encourage Muslim fanatics to claim victimhood, but that will only underscore the need for such reform.

 

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THE PIONEER

EDITORIAL

Caution is the watchword

JOGINDER SINGH


Benazir Bhutto, daughter of India-baiter Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, who was hanged by Gen Zia-ul-Haq, was assassinated in a suicide attack following an election rally in Rawalpindi on December 27, 2007.


The Pakistani Government of the day, led by allies of Gen Pervez Musharraf, blamed Taliban leader and Al Qaeda ally Baitullah Mehsud for the murder. But a report by a UN commission of inquiry, set up at the insistence of Pakistan, has said in its report, released last month, that her assassination, carried out by a 15-year-old suicide bomber, could have been prevented if adequate security measures had been taken. The report has also called the ISI 'a state within a state'.


The UN commission has hinted at a possible link between Benazir Bhutto's 'independent' position on improved relations with India with that of her assassination. It has suggested the setting up of a truth commission to unravel the mystery of Benazir Bhutto's death. There is nothing unusual about one commission suggesting the setting up of another commission. And so the game goes on ad infinitum, not only in India but all over the world. What a UN report says about the killing of a Pakistani leader is its own outlook. But we in India can only treat the assertion that Benazir Bhutto was killed for seeking better ties with India as the joke of the century.

Indeed, right from the day Pakistan was carved out of India in deference to the demands of Muslim fundamentalists, its aim has been to cause problems for the latter. It has fought four wars with India in 1948, 1965, 1971 and 1998 — the last is also known as the Kargil war — but was defeated in all of them. It is a different story that Pakistan's history books portray that country as the victor in these wars.


Pakistan's foreign and domestic policy is solely aimed at destabilising India with the help of a microscopic section of the Indian Muslim community. It is hogwash to believe that any Pakistani President or Prime Minister, including the late Bhuttos, both father and daughter, were ever genuinely interested in friendly ties with India. 'A thousand-year-war against India' was a slogan that was coined by Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto and it was repeated by his daughter to which then Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi had replied that Pakistan would not be able to stand for 100 hours against India.


Pakistan wants to use terrorism as a protective shield and also to strike at India at will. First, Pakistan undertook a campaign of ethnic cleansing, driving out non-Muslims from that country. It achieved the same result in the Kashmir Valley by using proxies. Meanwhile, Pakistan-based terrorists are very clear about their intentions. They say that one Mumbai is not enough. They threaten India with dire consequences, saying that India would suffer the same fate over Kashmir as the Soviet Union did over Afghanistan.


But the Pakistani rulers' sins have now come to haunt the people of that country. They created the Frankenstein's monster of terrorism to torment India. The terrorists have now turned on their masters. Following are some major terror attacks in Pakistan.


October 18, 2007: 139 people were killed and more than 387 wounded in the southern Pakistani port city of Karachi in a suicide bombing near a motorcade carrying former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto. The latter escaped with her life.


December 27, 2007: Benazir Bhutto was shot at after a political rally at a park in the eastern Pakistani city of Rawalpindi and a suicide bomb was detonated immediately following the shooting. The Pakistani leader was killed in the attack.


January 10, 2008: 34 people, including 17 policemen, were killed and 80 others injured in a suicide bombing outside the Lahore High Court minutes before the arrival of an anti-Government lawyers' procession.


March 11, 2008: 40 people were killed and more than 200 sustained injuries in suicide bombings at the Federal Investigation Agency headquarters and an advertising agency in Lahore.


July 6, 2008: 30 people, including 15 policemen, were killed and more than 40 sustained injuries in a suicide attack near the Melody Market area of Islamabad.


August 21, 2008: Two suicide bombers blew themselves up at the gates of the Pakistan Ordnance Factories in the high security cantonment town of Wah, around 30 km from Islamabad, killing 80 people in what has been described as the deadliest attack on a military installation in the history of Pakistan.


September 20, 2008: A dump truck filled with explosives blew up in front of the Marriott Hotel in Islamabad, killing 64 people, including five foreigners, and injuring at least 266.


March 3, 2009: Seven people, including five policemen, were killed and six cricket players from Sri Lanka injured when unidentified gunmen opened fire on the players' bus and the policemen escorting them to a tadium in Lahore.


2009 has been the bloodiest year yet. Pakistan is already being viewed as an unstable country by the international community. Last year saw at least 11,585 terror-related fatalities — the actual numbers could be significantly higher since Pakistan denies the media and independent monitors access to most areas of conflict.


There is a saying that he who digs a well for others to drown has a better chance of falling in himself. Bhutto or no Bhutto, the truth is that Pakistan's rulers start talking in conciliatory tones only when they are out of power. We simply cannot afford to let our guard down. In its latest travel advisory, the US has warned of fresh terrorist attacks in Delhi. Therefore, let us talk peace and goodwill but also keep our powder dry in case those from across the border again think of stirring up trouble in our country.


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THE PIONEER

EDITORIAL

To Sachin, with love

SANJEEV SIROHI


Ever since Sachin Tendulkar scored an unbelievable 200 runs in a One-Day International against South Africa in February, a very serious debate has been initiated as to whether the little maestro should be conferred the Bharat Ratna. Irrespective of whether this award is given to him or not, Sachin Tendulkar is going to be remembered as one of the greats of cricket. Is it not a fact that he is considered a hero by millions of people not just in India but abroad as well? Is it not a fact that cricket has become more popular ever since the master blaster made his debut two decades ago? Is it not a fact that even his worst critics admire his humbleness?


What pleases me most about Sachin is his down-to-earth approach. When asked about the Bharat Ratna he responded by saying that it is the dream of every Indian to get this honour but that concentrating on his game was much more of an immediate priority for him. Many former cricketers like Kapil Dev have strongly advocated that Sachin be given the Bharat Ratna. His innumerable records, both in ODIs and Test cricket bear testimony to the huge talent which he possesses. And we all know that in the coming years he will certainly set many more records. Already he has the highest number of runs in both formats of the game. He also holds the record for the maximum number of centuries in the two versions.


I myself am an ardent fan of Sachin because I have grown up watching him excel over the last two decades. He does not have even an iota of haughtiness in his conduct. He remains modest even after reaching the milestone of scoring 200 runs in an ODI innings. This is what I like most about him. He never forgets to thank his fans for all that he has achieved. On being compared to legendary Australian cricketer Sir Donald Bradman, Sachin said : "I have never believed in comparisons and I respect all individuals, not just Sir Don. I feel happy playing for my country and feel particularly pleased when I do well and the team is victorious." Only a great human being like Sachin can speak with such humility. He fully deserves the praise he gets.


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THE PIONEER

OPED

We are seen as weak

MALDIVES AND BRITISH FOREIGN SECRETARY DAVID MILIBAND'S ADVICE TO INDIA TO SETTLE ITS AFFAIRS WITH PAKISTAN THROUGH DIALOGUE IS SYMPTOMATIC OF A LARGER MALAISE. PERHAPS OUR GOODNESS IS NOW BEING MISTAKEN FOR WEAKNESS. BUT WHO IS TO TELL THIS TO OUR PRIME MINISTER?

RAJIV DOGRA


Sometimes, in international affairs, a single gesture reveals far more than laborious statements and voluminous reports. There was one such moment in Thimpu when the Prime Ministers of India and Pakistan emerged from behind a diaphanous curtain to provide a photo opportunity.


Prime Minister Manmohan Singh took his place to stand on the right side facing the photographers. The Pakistani Prime Minister was about to step towards the left side. When Prime Ministers take their position, especially in the India-Pakistan context, woe betide anyone who dares prompt them differently. Yet this is exactly what happened.


A junior Pakistani official signalled suggesting that the Indian Prime Minister shifts to the left side. It was an awkward moment, one that may not have a precedent, but the Prime Minister of India shuffled over to the position indicated to him on the left. Now the Pakistani Prime Minister was on the right side; a position that is considered of psychological advantage in Summit level hand-shakes — as our friends the Americans would have told us.


This is a tested technique, one that gives advantage to the leader on the right side, yet our officials slipped up.


But it wasn't merely a question of disadvantage in the photo-op. The issue concerns the dignity and respect for our Prime Minister. Why must he be embarrassed into shuffling across to a new position on a cue given by some Pakistani official? Why wasn't the positioning at photo-op anticipated?


Mr Singh is a mild-mannered leader and he may not have taken offence. But can one imagine such a thing being dared with Mrs Indira Gandhi? Whatever may have happened to the Pakistani official can only be a subject of conjecture, but the Indian officials responsible for the slip up would have been roasted right and proper.


That act of cheekiness is also reflective of the new sense of confidence, verging on cockiness, on the part of the Pakistani establishment. It knows that India is powerless to put any significant pressure on it. The decision to approach the international interlocutors for help post-26/11 has yielded limited dividends. Perhaps, researchers at some future date might come to the conclusion that by going to the international chancelleries India has only succeeded in re-hyphenating itself with Pakistan.


Everyone, and everybody, now consider it their fair preoccupation to advice India to settle its affairs with Pakistan through a dialogue. Maldives pontificated thus from the pulpit of SAARC Summit in Thimpu; casting aside the SAARC principle of not introducing bilateral matters in that forum.


This is symptomatic of a larger malaise; perhaps even of the fact that our goodness risks being mistaken for weakness by our interlocutors. Even worse, it may be interpreted as an open invitation to busy bodies to proffer advice. There is a huge risk in letting that impression gain ground, because when such pressures multiply then some give somewhere eventually takes place, and you end up ceding something or the other. The mention by Maldives should, therefore, be treated as a warning shot. Much more could follow from others like it; especially from those who make interference in others' affairs their professional leitmotif.


If Maldives was brief in delivering its homily, states which habitually punch beyond their weight in international affairs feel it perfectly in order to go far beyond. British Foreign Secretary David Miliband did that recently.

Mr Miliband is a clever and ambitious man who uses his position to cajole people into seeing the world as he wishes them to view it. His article in the April issue of The New York Book of Reviews is quite in character. He has also given it a grand title; "How to end the war in Afghanistan."


There is no doubt that the Nato countries want to get out of Afghanistan as soon as possible. For Mr Miliband, and for them, only the future in Afghanistan seems to be real, the hardships of today are nightmarish.


The Nato countries have many reasons to leave Afghanistan. The economic meltdown in the West and the voter fatigue with an unwinnable war, have led to this desire to quit Afghanistan with as much grace as they can muster.

Thereafter, Mr Miliband wants the world to put all its eggs in the Pakistani basket. Thus, he maintains in his article; "Given the scale of the geopolitical challenges in this region — including the long-running tensions between India and Pakistan and the presence of Iran — it can seem that Afghanistan is fated to remain the victim of a zero-sum scramble for power among hostile neighbors. The logic of this position is that Afghanistan will never achieve peace until the region's most intractable problems are solved."


His message is clear; the most intractable problem in his eyes can be nothing else except the Kashmir issue. It is also a point that Pakistan has been constantly pressing in Washington and London. Having thus advocated Pakistan's case on Kashmir, Mr Miliband goes on to sing its praises;


"Pakistan" he informs us, "is a country of 170 million people. It is a nuclear power. Pakistan will act only according to its own sense of its national interest. That is natural. Its relationship with Afghanistan is close to the core of its national security interests. Pakistan fears the build-up of a non-Pashtun Afghan National Army on its doorstep, and it is perpetually worried about India's relationship with Afghanistan."


But he has not finished advancing Pakistan's case. He goes on to assert that "progress (in Afghanistan) cannot be achieved simply by a more serious, more equal US–Pakistan strategic security understanding... Alongside Pakistan's fears about its western border, fears about Pakistan's own involvement in Afghanistan need to be addressed."

Clearly, in Mr Miliband's scheme of things self-interest is of primary importance. He recognises that to secure early withdrawal and to have some semblance of order in Afghanistan they would need Pakistan's munificence. And for this they would have to appease and propitiate Pakistan.


In that process they need India to wiggle and accommodate Pakistan. A syndrome all over again of the price the world extracts from the good and the meek.


They would therefore welcome the large financial commitments that India might continue to make in Afghanistan. It is likely that $ 1.3 billion in aid that we have given to Afghanistan may have won us many friends there. But the point is at what cost?

We are a poor country and the money that we have committed there has been at the cost of development projects in India.


Second, does any aid recipient remain obliged forever? How many Europeans recall today the transformational role the Marshal plan had played in their lives? How many Pakistanis acknowledge the billions of dollars in aid that they receive annually from the US? How many Nepalese are grateful for the vast infrastructure projects that India has built there? And in Afghanistan itself we have built hospitals, industrial institutes and agricultural projects in the past too. But the Taliban wiped out all memories of that with a strike of dynamite. And they might do so all over again as soon as the US and UK forces withdraw from Afghanistan.


All this, the Maldivian homily and the British self-interest, only reinforce the point that we may have become the victims of our goodness and of our proclivity to rush to the world to seek their aid in preventing terror attacks from Pakistan.


We may be doing so out of a moral imagination; the idealistic conviction that truth and peaceful persuasion triumph ultimately. Sadly, however, we live in an imperfect world. Had it been otherwise, would there have been any need for the sermon of Bhagavad Gita?

 

 The writer is a former Ambassador.

 

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THE PIONEER

OPED

Manmohan capitulates

PAKISTAN HAS HAD ITS WAY IN FORCING INDIA TO TALK

B RAMAN


Both Prime Ministers recognised that dialogue is the only way forward. Action on terrorism should not be linked to the Composite Dialogue process and these should not be bracketed. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said that India was ready to discuss all issues with Pakistan, including all outstanding issues"— from the joint statement issued by Mr Manmohan SIngh and his Pakistani counterpart Yousuf Raza Gilani on July 16, 2009, at the end of their talks at Sharm el-Sheikh in Egypt.


"The two Prime Ministers decided to ask their Foreign Ministers and Foreign Secretaries to first discuss the modalities of restoring trust and confidence in bilateral ties. That would pave the way for talks on all issues of mutual concern. We don't have to be stuck with nomenclatures. This does the relationship no good. Dialogue is the only way forward to open channels of communications and restore trust and confidence... They agreed to assess the current state of affairs and then to start afresh on the way forward. The focus is on charting a course forward so that the searchlight is on the future and not on the past" — remarks made by Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao at the end of the talks between the two Prime Ministers at Thimpu in Bhutan on April 29.


From the above quotes relating to the meetings of Mr Manmohan Singh with Mr Yousuf Raza Gilani at Sharm el-Sheikh in July last and at Thimpu on April 29, it is evident that the Prime Minister has once again conceded at Thimpu, as he had done at Sharm el-Sheikh, Pakistan's point of view that India's dissatisfaction over the perceived lack of action by Pakistan against the 'terror machine' in Pakistan (as the Foreign Secretary put it) should not be allowed to stand in the way of a resumption of the dialogue on other issues of importance. The terrorist strike by the Lashkar-e-Tayyeba in Mumbai in November, 2008, should not be allowed to continue to cast its shadow over the future relations between the countries.


That is the meaning of the remark of the Foreign Secretary that the searchlight should be on the future and not on the past. While India will continue to press Pakistan for action against the LeT and the Pakistan-based conspirators now facing trial before a Pakistani anti-terrorism court for their involvement in the 26/11 terrorist strike, it will no longer link this to the question of the resumption of the dialogue on all issues of mutual concern.

Having succeeded in making Mr Singh de-link terrorism from the dialogue process, Pakistan is now trying to change the very nature of the approach on terrorism by projecting it as a global issue and not just a bilateral issue between India and Pakistan. During his interaction with the Pakistani media in Islamabad after returning from Thimpu, Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi has sought to downgrade the priority attached to terrorism. The Hindu of May 1 has reported as follows: "As for India's concern about terrorism, his counter was that it was a global concern and would be best addressed collectively."


Former Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee had made it clear during his meeting with Gen Pervez Musharraf in Islamabad in January, 2004, that Pakistan-sponsored terrorism was the core issue for India and that progress on other issues of interest to Pakistan would depend on the progress on terrorism emanating from Pakistani soil. At the NAAM summit in Havana in September, 2006, Gen Musharraf succeeded in removing this linkage by making Mr Singh agree that terrorism was of common concern to both India and Pakistan. It ceased to be a core issue of exclusive concern to India.


At Sharm el-Sheikh as well as Thimpu, Mr Gilani has succeeded in downgrading the primary importance of terrorism and now Mr Qureshi has proceeded a step further by projecting it as a global issue and not a bilateral issue. What, in fact, he has said is, let the bilateral dialogue focus on issues of concern to Pakistan and let issue of terrorism (emanating from Pakistan) be dealt with multilaterally in appropriate fora.


Mr Manmohan Singh has repeatedly failed to project Pakistan-sponsored terrorism as the core concern of India which has to be addressed first before there can be progress on other issues. His over-keenness for a dialogue with Pakistan and his repeated failure to counter the Pakistani strategy of playing down the importance of terrorism are not serving India's interests. They are strengthening the impression in the minds of the civilian and military leaders in Pakistan that it can sponsor any act of terrorism against Indian nationals and interests in Indian territory or in Afghanistan, and get away with it.


Unless the Pakistani leadership is disabused of this impression through appropriate political, diplomatic and covert actions, our nationals will continue to bleed at the hands of Pakistan-sponsored terrorists. No one is against the resumption of the comprehensive dialogue process with Pakistan, but the conditions under which the talks are to be resumed should protect our citizens, national interest and our core concerns. One does not get the impression this is being done.


 The writer, a former senior official with R&AW, is a noted security expert.

 

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THE PIONEER

OPED

Foes today, allies tomorrow

SHIKHA MUKERJEE


Congress and Trinamool Congress may have failed to reach an agreement on sharing seats in the coming West Bengal civic polls, but that does not mean good news for CPM


The inability of the Congress and the Trinamool Congress to arrive at a workable seat-sharing arrangement for the forthcoming elections to 81 municipalities in 16 districts and the Kolkata Municipal Corporation is not the end of the road for the association.


Contemporary politics is a matter of associations built around temporary convenience and the Congress-Trinamool Congress relationship is based on just such a calculation of mutual need and strengths. The association is based on a convergence: Anti-Communist Party of India(Marxist) politics.


It has nothing to do with the ideas of the CPI(M), its ideology or its principles, however contested that description of its politics as value based may be. It has everything to do with the fact of CPI(M)'s dominance in West Bengal for 35 years, its actions as an outside support of the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance from 2004 to 2008 and its weaknesses now.

 

The CPI(M)'s vulnerability — a product of the slack within its famed organisational machinery and the proliferation of micro centres of power and influence — has created an opportunity for the Congress and the Trinamool Congress that must be seized. Since neither on its own can challenge the vote-banks of the CPI(M), even in Nandigram —East Midnapore or Singur —Hooghly or Lalgarh-West Midnapore, a joining of forces is a compulsion, if the Congress-Trinamool Congress aspires to bid for power over West Bengal's destiny in the 2011 State Assembly elections.


What does it matter if the Trinamool Congress jumped the gun by declaring its nominees for 115 out of 141 seats for the Kolkata municipal elections? What does it matter that the Congress had a list of 88 nominees ready to file their papers? What does it matter that the Congress declared there would be no seat sharing in Murshidabad, even though Union Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee's constituency is located in the district? What does it matter that in Nadia there will be no seat-sharing and that the Congress has welcomed disgruntled Trinamool Congress supporters into its fold? What does it matter that annoyed over Trinamool Congress seat distribution, some have sought out the Congress?


These questions were relevant a long time ago, when political discourse was framed in the rhetoric of morality. However disconcerting it may be for a tiny fraction of the electorate to find that alliance does not come with the baggage of allegiance; that is how the chips are distributed.


There can be no embarrassment or apology, in this new era, for actions that are deemed profitable. By that same measure, the CPI(M) is not mortified that there are local satraps who have to be mollified in order to keep them working in its interest rather than against it and in their own interest which could include siding with the enemy. The very different form of decentralisation of power within contemporary CPI(M) may be a bit of shocker to some, but party leaders are well aware of the reality. Therefore, the CPI(M) is beginning to acquire the skills to walk on eggshells in order to limit the possible damage that can be unleashed by annoyed and sulking satraps.

Within the Congress and the Trinamool Congress there are no secrets and everything spills out in the open. The advantage the disgruntled in these two parties have is that they can switch sides without a hassle, because it is all part of the game!

 

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THE PIONEER

OPED

Watch out! The aliens may be coming

AND WE CANNOT ASSUME AN ALIEN CIVILISATION TO BE BENIGN, SAYS GWYNNE DYER


If aliens visit us, the outcome would be much as when Columbus landed in America, which didn't turn out well for the Native Americans," said the world's most famous theoretical physicist, Mr Stephen Hawking, late last month. He warned scientists not to try to communicate with extra-terrestrials, pointing out that "We only have to look at ourselves to see how intelligent life might develop into something we wouldn't want to meet."


Mr Hawking's concern is shared by others in the field. They don't object to passive SETI: It can't do any harm to 'Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence' by listening with radio telescopes for the radio emissions of civilisations around other stars. However, they think that active SETI — sending out messages saying "Here we are" — is just asking for trouble.


"Active SETI...is a deliberate attempt to provoke a response by an alien civilisation whose capabilities, intentions, and distance are not known to us," wrote Mr Michael Michaud, former Deputy Director of the Office of International Security Policy in the US State Department, in 2005. The recent discovery of at least 400 planets orbiting nearby stars makes the issue more urgent, for we now know that planets are very common in our galaxy.


In 2008, however, a high-powered message was sent to the Gliese 581 system, a five-planet system that is only 20 light years away and has two planets in the 'habitable zone' for life. The message will get there in 2029.

Several messages have been beamed to other nearby planetary systems since then, in the blithe assumption that anybody there will be friendly. Scientist and author Jared Diamond has said that "those astronomers now preparing again to beam radio signals out to hoped-for extraterrestrials are naive, even dangerous."


Mr Michael Michaud was equally concerned, warning that "an Active SETI signal...might call us to the attention of a technological civilisation that had not known of our existence. We cannot assume that such a civilisation would be benign, nor can we assume that interstellar flight is impossible for a species more technologically advanced than our own."


One assumption embedded in all these warnings is obvious: That life and even intelligence are probably quite common in the universe. But the other implicit assumption, made even by an outstanding theoretical physicist like Mr Hawking, is that light-speed or faster-than-light travel may be possible.


If it isn't, then there would be little reason to worry about hostile aliens. They would have no conceivable motive to engage in interstellar raids or conquest, or even interstellar trade, if travel between the stars takes hundreds or thousands of years. Our current knowledge of physics says that faster-than-light travel is impossible, but leading scientists in the field clearly believe that today's physics may not have the final answers.

We will have to leave that question open for a while, but there are two ways to test the assumption that life is common in the universe. It will be several decades before we can go to Mars and the moons of Jupiter and Saturn to see if life exists (or once existed) there, but if life really starts up almost anywhere that conditions are suitable, then it's unlikely that it would have emerged just once here on Earth.


All the familiar forms of life on Earth have the same biochemical make-up, which points to a single, common ancestor. But the vast majority of species on this planet are microbes, and we have scarcely begun to explore their diversity. Among them there may be species that have a different biochemical basis, perhaps living in isolated parts of the biosphere, or maybe even co-existing with mainstream life.


If we ever found microbes of a different biochemical lineage, we would know that life here has arisen more than once. If so, then it's probably as common as dirt all across the universe.


There is another way to test for extra-terrestrial life. As our ability to examine the atmospheres of planets circling other stars improves, we should eventually be able to detect the characteristic changes that abundant life of our kind causes in an atmosphere. Failing to find those changes would not be definitive proof that life is very rare in the universe, but it would be a very strong indication.


In the meantime, maybe it would be wiser not to go looking for trouble. As astronomer Zdenek Kopal said 20 years ago: "Should we ever hear the space-phone ringing, for god's sake let us not answer, but rather make ourselves as inconspicuous as possible to avoid attracting attention!"


The writer is an independent journalist based in London.

 

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MAIL TODAY

COMMENT

ENDING QUACKERY IS GOING TO REQUIRE A LOT OF EFFORT

 

THE menace of quackery is assuming alarming proportions in the Capital. It is no more restricted to slums, or peripheries of the city.

 

Quacks have invaded the Indian Medical Association, the professional body of doctors, and also top- notch

corporate hospitals and nursing homes, as exposed by MAIL TODAY . Even if the doctors are qualified, in many cases they may not possess duly recognised specialty or post- graduate degrees that they claim to have. It is also a common practice for doctors qualified in one system to practise in another. Yet another form of quackery is the promotion of hybrids such as hypnotherapy, astrotherapy, etc. through television and the internet.

 

According to conservative estimates, the number of quacks operating in Delhi is almost equal to the number of qualified doctors under the different systems of medicine. The Delhi Medical Council — the watchdog body of allopathic medicine in the Capital — deserves to be congratulated for its initiative to weed out quackery. However, for the council to be successful in its mission, the help of the police, judiciary and the local administration is necessary. In many instances, quacks have so much clout in a locality that they are allowed by the police to slip away or get protection from local politicians.

 

Regulatory authorities, police, governments and civil society need to work in tandem to end this menace. Above all, there is a need for the consumers of our healthcare system to become aware and vigilant. Medical councils have now placed databases of registered practitioners in the public domain. With just a click, you can check the legal status of your doctor, as well as claims about his specialties.

 

But many states still don't have functional medical councils or have weak registration systems. And quacks take advantage of this.

 

The problem of quackery is also intertwined with medical education and the present healthcare system. Despite huge expansion in this sector, we have not been able to adequately meet the health needs of rural areas as well as the urban poor, thus, creating space for quacks to operate. The only way to solve this problem would be to raise an army of trained community health workers and paramedics who can meet the basic health needs of people and act as a link between them and doctors in towns and cities. The use of modern techniques such as telemedicine or a simple application on mobile phones could also help.

 

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MAIL TODAY

COMMENT

KILLERS IN UNIFORM

 

THE plot in the Sohrabuddin fake encounter case keeps getting murkier. First it was D. G. Vanzara and 12 other Gujarat police officers who were arrested in 2007 for the murder of Sohrabuddin and his wife Kausar Bi in November 2005. Then on Wednesday, the Central Bureau of Investigation ( CBI), which took over the probe on the orders of the Supreme Court in January this year, arrested Ahmedabad's DCP ( crime branch) Abhay Chudasama on charges of abduction and murder. And on Friday, the agency summoned six top serving and retired Gujarat police officers for questioning in the case.

 

As far as Chudasama is concerned, the CBI thinks he was also into extortion business in partnership with Sohrabuddin, having got rid of his crony when he was no longer useful to him. This is as seedy as it can get. Chudasama is the fourth Indian Police Service officer to have been arrested in the Sohrabuddin case, a group that is led by the infamous Vanzara.

 

It has now become clear that a bunch of police officers were given or took unto themselves the right to kill people under the pretext of protecting Gujarat politicians.

 

And if these persons happen to be killers in uniform, there are several other police officers who thought nothing wrong with saving their colleagues' skin when the law tried to catch up with them. The police officers summoned by the CBI on Friday — with the exception of, Rajnish Rai who was shifted out by the Gujarat government for doing a good job — belong to this category.

 

The CBI is definitely on the right track in the case. But it must go the whole hog and expose and prosecute the people — senior police officers and politicians — without whose patronage the likes of Chudasama and Vanzara could not have run riot.

 

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MAIL TODAY

     COLUMN

SET UP JPC TO PROBE PHONE TAPS

BY RAJEEV DHAVAN

 

BEYOND " telephone tapping" lies the awesome world of surveillance, of which tapping is a part.

 

The excuse for all this is anti- terrorism. The principle put forward: " Trust the government". The revelations in April this year show Sharad Pawar, Digvijay Singh, Nitish Kumar and Prakash Karat's phones were tapped. This was political espionage. It did not have the remotest nexus with terrorism.

 

The targets of snooping were political competitors and the Opposition. Like Watergate. But Watergate brought down a President.

 

India's Manmohan Singh does not even want a Joint Parliamentary Committee ( JPC).

 

Way back when I was arguing the phone tapping case, I relied on L. K. Advani's dossier of 1988 which showed that the targets of tapping were Messrs A. B. Vajpayee, Charan Singh, Jagjivan Ram, Chandra Shekhar, G. K. Reddy, Arun Shourie, Kuldip Nayyar, Tavleen Singh, President Zail Singh and Y. V. Chandrachud, Chief Justice of India. This did not prevent the Supreme Court allowing the government a broad power to tap, while recognising the absence of legitimising procedure under the archaic and overbroad Telegraph Act of 1885.

 

Scrutiny

 

Confusion was created by lawyer Kapil Sibal conceding acceptance of a system " short of prior judicial scrutiny". Judicial permissions precede " search and seizure". Surveillance and tapping should be no different. In 1997, the Supreme Court was content with " guidelines" on who, what, how and oversight. A joint secretary could authorise specific taps, valid for two months and extendable ( destruction of materials if not required) and with an Oversight Committee consisting of government secretaries drawn from the ministries of home, law and telecommunications. Enmeshed in secrecy, the " guidelines" were a flop. The Supreme Court lost its chance to counter invasions of privacy while blessing an invasive surveillance.

 

Terrorism has provided some kind of false utilitarian justification for surveillance.

 

Post 9/ 11 in 2002, the President of the US authorised intercepting communication in what has come to be known as the " Terrorist Surveillance Programme". This was publicly acknowledged after revelations in The New York Times in 2005. Codename Pinwale of 2005 devised how a data base of electronic communications could be used and misused.

 

The original US law of 1978 was breached and went beyond orders given by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court — not just of phones but also email — in massive exercises of " over- collection". The Bush regime's practice was legitimised by a 2008 amendment which meant that much of spying would be authorised and undetected.

 

Misuse

 

In the Al Haramain's case ( 2010), Judge Walker declared that following Congressional Statutes was not optional. Though federal Judge Anna Taylor in 2006 declared unauthorised wire- tapping illegal, the case lost its adversorial charm by appellate reversal on the fact that tapping itself was not proved. Ironically, when the Bush changes were made in 2008, the then Senator ( now President) Obama voted for them! The present law now requires a warrant for eavesdropping on an American citizen or organisation in America, but not for the rest of the world — or for all of us.

 

After considerable fumbling when an internal Lord Diplock Committee looked at taps after the event, the UK's Interception of Communications Act, 1985, was superseded by a Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act, 2000, which along with the Police Act, 1997, permitted covert surveillance. These changes came because the House of Lords in Khan's case ( 1997) showed amazement at the lack of statutory regulation on snooping.

 

The present UK legislation has been called a " snooper's charter" and may be specifically " directed" or generally intrusive.

 

Covert and especially intrusive surveillance, even though authorised by authority ( eg. secretary of state), is too widely permitted for a broad spectrum of serious crime prevention, economic wellbeing and national security.

 

We concentrate on the US, England and Europe who have declared an unofficial war against terrorism to enable them to conquer countries through war in the name of peace; and maintain a global surveillance for the purposes of arrest, torture and rendition. The European Court in Khass ( 1978) and Koll ( 1998) frowns on unauthorised surveillance. But the world of " intelligence" has grown into an uncontrollable monster of which India is an inefficient but dangerous part.

 

It is now well- settled that the UK's war on Iraq was contrived. Surveillance of Muslims leading to their house arrest in the UK was set aside by the House of Lords in June 2009. What kind of place does India want in this ' global network'? We stoop to conquer, to try and get access to Headley; and are spurned, with arrogance, by a brazen US, who does not even pretend to be wily. Our location on this greatest of all global surveillance is that of a junior cadet — trusted when convenient.

 

But is a US- directed snooping over the whole world a good thing — an evil necessity? To be sure, intelligence is needed even if it has failed us in Mumbai or Dantewada.

 

To some extent, POTA admits to access phone records as part of investigation.

 

But questions of admissibility of evidence do arise where evidence is illegally obtained. India follows the rule that even if the evidence comes from an illegal poisoned tree, it may be admitted.

 

How far can all this go? Remedy It can be ruthlessly argued that our phone privacy is less important than national security. But that is not how it works. The recent revelations show that espionage, surveillance and tapping have little to do with security issues. A state machinery can and has been twisted to work for its own ends — including the personal, private, political, evil and selfish.

 

It is master- minded by those who have a sophisticated machinery of gigantic proportions in their hands. Can such a surveillance machinery, including phone tapping, be left without surveillance overseeing its processes? Unfortunately the Supreme Court of India's phone tapping decisions ( 1997), left the whole exercise to semi- senior bureaucrats who may not be ( and, often, are not) above corrupting political influences or personal vendetta. But even these " guidelines" have been breached. Who authorised the present taps? No one is spared — not even politicians. No less unfortunately, the Prime Minister does not even want a JPC. The reason is obvious. Beneath and behind every surveillance, there is a can of worms — which may, or may not lead to Race Course Road or even Janpath.

 

True, JPCs have been used rarely since Bofors ( 1987), stock market fraud ( 1992 and 2001) and pesticides ( 2003). But we need a JPC. Not a Liberhan- style Commission.

 

A JPC would ( a) investigate the efficacy of the Supreme Court's guidelines; ( b) punish infractions ( for this is as bad as Watergate); and ( c) carefully consider a proper system of surveillance — an exercise that has never taken place in India since the nineteenth century.

 

The Opposition should stop playing games with " cut- motions" to embarrass the government and precipitate musical chairs to ward of confidence- motions. It should not just be concerned with dislodging the government, but with good governance itself. Today " good governance" requires a thorough investigation of those who snoop into our lives with possibly malevolent intent to misuse the information.

 

Only a JPC can form an effective probe.

 

Denying a JPC suggests there is something to hide. The world of " Big- Brother" is upon us — the Leviathan of our times. Someone has to watch " Big- Brother" before he gets bigger and ceases to be a brother.

 

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MAIL TODAY

     COLUMN

POWER & POLITICS

PRABHU CHAWLA

 

BUG BROTHER IS LISTENING

CELL phone recorders, voice loggers, off-the-air monitoring devices, intercepted emails — the latest James Bond blockbuster? No. It's just another day in the life of Indian intelligence agencies. The past week witnessed much handwringing, shock, anger and a sense of betrayal among the political class and the human rights lobby over the alleged tapping of phones of not only Opposition leaders but even some Congress bigwigs.

 

In this day and age, only a fool would believe that the government does not indulge in eavesdropping. In New Delhi, where the rich and the powerful live, you don't have to be an ace sleuth to know who is being tapped. Ministers, mandarins, business tycoons, Opposition leaders and even journalists are under surveillance 24X7 by some of the most sophisticated machinery installed in various parts of the national Capital.

 

All that the gadgets — which include the highly sophistciated Fox and Omega which not only recognises voices but even translates languages — need to be fed are your cellphone numbers or voice samples and every time you pick up the phone, big brother is listening. Thirty years ago, I did a story in India Today about Indira Gandhi ordering snooping on the mails (today's snailmail, mind you) of many Opposition leaders including Atal Bihari Vajpayee, L.K. Advani, George Fernandes and many others.

 

For days, Parliament was paralysed and the government left red-faced. Today, there is hardly an uproar as agencies routinely intercept emails of private citizens.

 

What is even more frightening is that such surveillance is now being outsourced. I have it on unimpeachable authority that over two dozen private intelligence agencies have been allowed to import highly sophisticated equipment which can monitor land and wireless phones and intercept emails.

 

What's more, they are not required to seek prior approval from the government. According to a senior intelligence officer, about 1,000 private citizens in Delhi alone, many of whom may think they are above the law, are under 24X7 surveillance.

 

The situation is no different in the states where rulers use agencies to keep a tab on their opponents. Shivraj Singh Chauhan knows that a tab on Digvijay Singh would yield him good dividends as does Ashok Chavan in Mumbai who will use all the resources at his command, including eavesdropping, to keep Sharad Pawar in check.

 

Mamata Banjerjee's plans to occupy Writers Building after next year's elections come could grind to a halt if Buddhadeb's spooks manage to dig up dirt on her. All rulers pick dependable, tested and pliant civil and police officials to head the agencies whose job, in turn, is to see that their bosses are kept abreast of what their opponents are up to.

 

We have indeed come a long way from the days of the lineman spy who would knock on the door and say your phone line needs to be checked and leave after installing a bug in your mouthpiece.

 

The Supreme Court guidelines say that only designated agencies like the IB, RAW, Revenue Intelligence, CBI,

NIA and the local police are authorised to intercept phones after seeking prior approval of the Union home secretary or his counterpart in the state. Now their number has risen to 12. Technology has also moved fast and with every other Indian carrying a mobile phone in his pocket, nobody is invulnerable.

 

The machinery has made it possible for the political leadership and the pliant bureaucracy to snoop without authorisation or record. My friends in the intelligence apparatus tell me that central agencies periodically target known individuals with criminal records or contacts who also have active associations with politicians and bureaucrats. By keeping a tab on one, they pick up muck on so many more. It may be a politician that you are after, but what you get is a bounty about all his friends, be they fellow politicians, corporate honchos, film and cricket stars and even the underworld.

 

We are living in dangerous times and the need for vigilance cannot be overstated. But to prevent the misuse of surveillance, the system has to be strengthened. Otherwise, in the name of security, the establishment could be doing nothing more than settling scores. I am sure the Union home secretary gets at least a dozen requests daily for surveillance. In many cases, such requests originate from someone looking to settle scores. Where sanctioned, the home ministry gives a threemonth review period. Nothing may come out of it in the end that strengthens national security, but somebody may have been able to settle private scores. Surveillance is needed; the danger lies its misuse.

 

ADDRESSING THE NEEDS OF QUESTION HOUR

BOTH houses of Parliament start the day's business with question hour. As the clock strikes 11, members troop into the House after marking attendance, take their seats for a brief while before plunging into 60 minutes of acrimonious debate. There are frayed tempers and even the occasional fisticuffs and much has happened in the recent past to raise questions about the question hour itself. Is it being misused? Is it being used to disrupt proceedings on flimsy grounds? Does it encourage MPs to scoot from Parliament once question hour is over.

For the first time ever, the presiding officers of both houses are former foreign service officers. If Hamid Ansari, chairman of Rajya Sabha, and Meira Kumar, Speaker, Lok Sabha, are allowed their way, question hour may see big ticket changes in the near future. One of the suggestions under consideration is to shift it to the afternoon from 3 to 4pm, which would allow the government to transact more business during the earlier part of the day when attendance is relatively high. Ansari has already initiated some reforms. For example, ministers can no more avoid answering inconvenient questions by entering into private treaties with MPs after Ansari ordered a few months ago that all starred questions will be answered even if the MP, who raised the question, is absent.

 

Now, both Kumar and Ansari may take reforms a few steps further.

 

Ministers may now have to answer all 20 listed questions since new rules of procedure are being introduced to enable any MP to take up a question if the person who originally asked it is missing. If both Ansari and Kumar can succeed in convincing the political parties to fall in line, they would have succeeded in halting the rapid erosion in the credibility of Parliament.

 

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THE TIMES OF INDIA

 COMMENT

CRIMINALLY CARELESS

 

If the radiation leak incident in the national capital had not tragically claimed a life and left seven others in critical condition, it would seem almost farcical. That Delhi University's chemistry department would auction off an irradiator knowing full well that it contained cobalt-60, a highly radioactive substance, beggars belief. And that it would then keep mum while people landed up in hospital because of radiation poisoning it would be a stretch to argue that they had no inkling of the truth of the situation given that the scrap dealer connection was reported early is a damning indictment of its criminal negligence and irresponsibility. But beyond the specifics of this case, several questions about safety protocols and enforcement measures in dealing with such material in the country at large have been raised.


Radioactive material in nuclear power institutions, whether civilian or military, is presumably under stricter safeguards. But that still leaves a whole host of institutions with access to it scattered across the country, primarily educational and research organisations, and hospitals. Neither is there a comprehensive list of such organisations and the material in their possession with regulatory bodies like the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board. Why it has taken the government so long and loss of life to wake up to the obvious dangers posed by unregulated handling of hazardous material is a question worth asking.


Even now, the reaction by Delhi University officials betrays a fundamentally flawed way of looking at the issue. According to its vice-chancellor Deepak Pental, the mistake made by the chemistry department personnel was in miscalculating the cobalt-60's radioactive time and not realising that it might still be active. He misses the point entirely. Whether still active or entirely inert, the mistake lies in disposing of radioactive material in such cavalier fashion instead of handing it over to institutions like the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre. Neither does the establishment of a three-member committee by the varsity to investigate the incident inspire much confidence. Any such process must be carried out by an external watchdog body.


Charges have been made about more radioactive material missing and buried on the university grounds. These must be looked into along with the auctioning of the irradiator and culpability decided. Given that the callousness of university personnel has cost a life and placed others in danger, strict punitive measures under the law are called for. And as importantly, the lessons drawn from this must be put to use to ensure that there are no repeats.

 

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THE TIMES OF INDIA

 COMMENT

MORAL POLICING

 

The Supreme Court got it absolutely right when it dismissed a slew of criminal cases against film star Khushboo for her remarks on pre-marital sex. It did so on the ground that everybody had the right to their personal opinion and that living together before marriage was not an offence. However, the court's ruling came with a caveat. The judgement said that while there was no problem with adults engaging in consensual sex, 'adultery' still remained an exception. The court based its ruling on Section 497 of the Indian Penal Code which makes it an offence for a man to have sex with a married woman. The woman, too, is liable to be punished as an abettor. It's time that the IPC is amended and provisions such as Section 497, which are loaded with moral overtones, are scrapped.

Indeed, the apex court has said in the Khushboo judgement that individuals and groups can differ on the views on the institution of marriage. That is precisely why pre-marital sex as well as adultery shouldn't be made a punishable offence. Punishing such acts gives legal sanction to one's morality or ethics. That shouldn't be the case in liberal democracies. Everybody should have the right to hold their own opinions and live their lives accordingly. There are some of us who might not agree with pre-marital sex or adultery, but that doesn't make it a crime. Not too long ago the Delhi high court had declared Section 377 of the IPC, which penalised gay sex, unconstitutional. The Supreme Court has refused to stay the ruling. Similarly, provisions in the IPC that are antiquated or seek to do moral policing should be done away with.

 

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THE TIMES OF INDIA

 EDITORIAL

DON'T GIVE IT CURRENCY

 

India has joined the US in "China bashing", calling upon the latter to revalue its currency. According to the Financial Times (April 22, 2010), India's Reserve Bank governor spoke ahead of a meeting of finance ministers and heads of central banks of the G20 in Washington, joining with Brazil, to make a forceful case for a stronger

renminbi (also called yuan). This is a mistake.


For some time now, the US Congress and some Washington think tanks have aggressively sought to turn the bilateral exchange rate issue between the US and China into a multilateral issue. They have done this by asserting that the undervaluation of the Chinese currency hurts not just the US but Asia and others as well.

The underlying argument is based on a syllogism. The first argument is that an undervalued renminbi is the root cause of the Chinese current account surpluses and the US current account deficits. The second argument is that the export expansion so achieved by China robs countries such as Brazil and India of their export markets. The RBI governor was explicit in accepting this second argument when he said: "If China revalues the yuan, it will have a positive impact on our external sector. If some countries manage their exchange rates and keep them artificially low, the burden of adjustment falls on some countries that do not manage their exchange rate so actively."

But neither argument is acceptable. Consider first the error in the second argument. Just because China fixes its exchange rate against the US dollar does not mean India cannot choose the value of its currency against the dollar or other currencies including the renminbi at the level it sees appropriate for itself. What happens to India's exports and imports depends on what it does to its own exchange rate, money supply and fiscal deficits and how its savings and investment are balanced.


China fixed the renminbi at 8.27 renminbi per dollar beginning in 1997 until July 21, 2005 and then shifted to a managed revaluation until April 10, 2008, when it reverted to a dollar peg at 6.99 renminbi per dollar. The shift in the exchange rate during 2005-08 represented a renminbi appreciation of approximately 18.2 per cent. India's own exchange rate moved from Rs 36.32 per dollar in 1997 to Rs 44.54 per dollar currently with many ups and downs in-between. The exports-to-GDP ratio grew from a low of 11 per cent in fiscal year 1997-98 to 23.6 per cent in 2008-09. This was a faster expansion of India's exports than during any other 11-year period in its history. If the Chinese dollar peg during 1997-2005 had any effect on India, the movement in the rupee's exchange rate more than neutralised it.


At the same time, leading scholars of the subject, including Nobel laureate Robert Mundell of Columbia, Ronald McKinnon of Stanford and W M Corden of Melbourne, Australia, have contested the first argument that the Chinese current account surplus and US current account deficit are to be explained primarily by an undervalued renminbi. Besides, the more than 18 per cent appreciation of the renminbi vis-a-vis the dollar between 2005 and 2008 made little dent in the US current account deficit. From $631.1 billion in 2004, it rose to $748.8 billion in 2005 and $803.5 billion in 2006 before declining slightly to $626.6 billion in 2007 and $706.1 billion in 2008. Going by these numbers, the exchange rate is surely at best one of many factors explaining the US current account deficits.


The US runs a current account deficit with more than 100 countries, including very large deficits with Germany and Japan. The combined current account surpluses of Germany, Japan, Switzerland and Norway far exceed the current account surplus of China. If one believes in the primacy of the exchange rate as the explanation of current account imbalances, one would have to call for these countries also to revalue their currencies!


The major explanation for the current imbalances between China and the US lies in the savings-investment gaps in the countries. China (as also Germany, Japan, Switzerland and Norway) saves more than it is able to invest domestically while the opposite holds for the US. The exchange rate may marginally impact these balances but not nearly enough. Until 1976, the US faced the opposite situation, saving more than it invested. It later learned to spend more and save less. As the living standards of the Chinese rise, you can be sure they too will learn to spend more, thereby self-destructing their current surpluses.


India also makes a major tactical error by lending its voice to the calls for the appreciation of the renminbi. With its savings rate high and rising, it too could run into the Chinese "problem" of a current account surplus. It is surely a mistake then to go down this road where short-sighted US politicians and their enablers would have us go. Politically also India makes an error by taking sides in what is essentially a China-US issue. We have enough problems with China not to want to add a gratuitous one. Will the prime minister take note?

Jagdish Bhagwati and Arvind Panagariya are respectively university professor and professor of economics at Columbia University.

 

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THE TIMES OF INDIA

'I HAVE A LOT OF AFFINITY TOWARDS THE CONGRESS'

 

Khushboo's popularity as an actress was unparalleled even in cinema-crazy Tamil Nadu. Fans in the state built a temple for her. But the last four-and-a-half years have been hellish as self-appointed protectors of Tamil womanhood hounded her with cases for her remarks on pre-marital sex. Last week, the Supreme Court ruled in her favour. Married to Tamil director Sundar C and mother of two girls, Khushboo, 39, feels that she now needs to be a heroine in real life and fight for less-empowered women. Khushboo spoke to Bhama Devi Ravi:


Why are you entering politics now? Is it because you have a national profile now?

I think i was popular and famous beyond the south even before 2005. However, despite my fighting spirit and family support, it was not an easy journey. All along i was asking myself what i could do for women not as strong as me. In the last five years a number of things have emerged as flashpoints in the society. Women going to pubs in Karnataka are targeted, unwed mothers abandon babies in trash bins and wives contracting HIV/AIDS after marriage are shunned by family, spurned by society. Many educated women fight shy of topics such as child sexual abuse, which is on the rise. Mothers still don't know how to deal with such issues. I think politics will be a strong platform to help women empower themselves. I am not looking at it as a personal rise in my career graph, please.


Do you think that joining a national party would help? You said you would like to join the Congress.

My entire family was pro-Congress. I grew up as a Congresswoman in Mumbai, have personally seen the work done by Sunil Dutt, and i am in touch with Priya Dutt. I always admired Indira Gandhi and still have posters of Rajiv Gandhi in my bedroom. So, there is a lot of affinity towards the Congress.


I am taking my first baby steps in politics. Even when my game show 'Jackpot' was on Jaya TV, i had a good rapport with Karunanidhi. Both Jayalalithaa and Kalaignar refrained from fanning the flames of the moral brigade. However, i do not want to be affiliated with a party just in name. I'll join the party, which gives me room to work hard for women's empowerment, especially in rural areas. Politics is not the only option for me. A number of NGOs have been in touch with me.


You speak your mind without fear of the consequences. Will you change now?

Never. I was not prepared for such a huge backlash, but i didn't want my daughters to suffer in the future. I didn't want anyone tell them that i caved in or lacked the conviction to stand by my words.


How did your family react?

A huge load is off Sundar's back. He empathised with me. My older daughter left a message on Facebook saying, "Am proud of you mom", while the younger stuck a temporary tattoo on my hand saying, "You are a rock star".


And your film career?

Oh, i am going to play Big B's wife! Can you imagine? At last, my dream's come true [laughs]. Hope Mr Bachchan will give dates by the year-end.

 

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THE TIMES OF INDIA

EARNER'S LICENCE

 

 

We live in interesting times. In recent weeks, i could barely pull myself away from the middle class's favourite sport of watching the very rich get caught trying to become even richer. Before that, the papers and TV channels were full of Mayawati's high denomination garlands. And even before that came reports about the huge pay scales with which India Inc was enticing young executives. All this has established beyond doubt that

he ghost of the slowdown has been well and truly exorcised.


So, while others are laughing all the way to their respective tax havens or hawala operators, i will get back to my innocent pastime: comparing income levels. I conduct a quick summing up of my own annual earnings minus taxes by making an educated guess about the wealth that my peers, former school chums, cousins and neighbours must be accumulating. This is not being crass. It's actually an important step forward in social interaction. If we are honest with ourselves, we will concede that wealth occupies a pivotal place in society, and we understand a person so much better after we have viewed him through the prism of his income. Of course, we value character, family reputation and purity of soul. But excellent as these things are, none of it does anything where it matters the bank account.


But getting a fix on your neighbour's income is becoming as tricky as finding out the true owners of an IPL franchisee. Unlike publicly auctioned cricketers and MBAs whose vertiginous starting salaries are common knowledge, you can never tell how much a young man who claims to be an independent financial consultant is actually earning. So i need to employ a clever line of interrogation to home in on the take-home. I begin by asking him how the family is doing, and proceed silkily to find out if they'd gone on a holiday last summer and if the son was taking tennis lessons. Mental arithmetic, at this stage, usually gives me the answer i am looking for, and i can accurately place my interlocutors (sorry to rub it in, Mr Tharoor!) on an appropriate rung on the social ladder.


Of course, people are becoming canny. They not only pretend to be either richer or poorer than they are (which is understandable), but sometimes (and this is infuriating) claim to be broke while suggesting that they are very rich. Their anguish is synthetic. Consider this: "The wife said La Mer, my three-month-old yacht needs a coat of paint. I told her, boss, i don't have a dime to paint the whole thing with." In my social jigsaw, these are the people who don't fit.


In the good old days (well, good for me at least), life was simpler because every schoolboy knew how much daddy and daddy's friends were earning. I had the pay scales of different professions mapped out, in a pecking order stretching from senior managers in private sector companies to the lower division clerk in a ward office. Then the foreign hand in the shape of fund managers, management consultancies and IT firms entered our well-arranged paradise. Suddenly, pay scales got on steroids, young striplings began to earn more in their first month than their dads, and new jobs with unfamiliar names and incalculable emoluments became commonplace. People began to talk of income in terms of stock options, bonds and deferred bonuses. Whatever happened to the honest-to-goodness monthly pay slip?


All this has upset my calculations and played havoc with my sleep patterns. I can't tell where i stand vis-a-vis my new fangled competitors. Now, will someone please tell me how much my neighbour's son a sports marketing debutant and his cousin a stock analyst actually earn so that i can get a good night's rest again?

 

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HINDUSTAN TIMES

EDITORIAL

HARD TO SWALLOW

Ah, the perils of being in high office, in fact, the highest office. One has to drink from the poisoned chalice, or so says former first spouse Laura Bush. The then prez and the dear lady were on a visit to Germany when they seem to have been felled by what she feels may have been some sort of poison but others feel may have been just a humdrum virus. Now imagine Chancellor Angela Merkel, in MacBethian fashion, ordering her intelligence agencies to throw the equivalent of eye of newt and tongue of frog into the Bushes' soup. Could it be that she wanted revenge for Bush massaging her shoulders in a spontaneous gesture at a G-8 summit?

But perfect wife that she is, Laura kept a lid on this as she did with many other things, including the fact that old Bush was fond of a drop or two before he was born again. It couldn't be anything to do with the fact that her memoirs Spoken from Heart has hit the shelves? Nah, what an ungenerous thought about so gracious a lady. It could well have been that the notoriously insular Bush and his lady could not stomach the bratwurst and sauerkraut, or perhaps had a bit too much of Germany's famous beers. But, we are shocked that if Laura thought that Arsenic and Old Lace was being re-enacted, her trigger-happy husband didn't immediately go to war with Germany.

A far more charismatic President John F. Kennedy, in order to impress the Germans, went across there and declared Ich bin ein Berliner which was meant to mean I am a Berliner. The crowds were amused because what Kennedy said also meant I am a jelly doughnut. In the case of Bush, while we would not have wanted him to move to the great ranch in the sky from a room in Hotel Heiligendamn, we do wish he had not made us drink of the hemlock of his wonky policies.

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HINDUSTAN TIMES

A GLOWING SENSE OF FEAR

That Delhi University's laboratories were the source of the cobalt-60 that led to the recent radioactivity poisoning cases in Mayapuri, a scrap market in the Capital, show how ramshackle the regulation of civilian nuclear use in India is. While there can be no excuses for the university's negligence, the truth is that this could have happened at any of the country's 200-300 hospitals and universities that use low-level radioactive devices. Monitoring the use and disposal of civilian radioactive substances is non-existent. After the initial purchase, which requires the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board's (AERB) nod, the fate of such potentially dangerous material is left to the gods. Combine this with the less than optimal administration of most universities and hospitals, and it's a surprise that more such radiation poisoning cases haven't taken place.

India likes to talk about being a responsible nuclear power. It can make a reasonable case for this when it comes to its atomic arsenal. However, equally important is it having in place a tightly-run system of handling civilian nuclear material. As Mayapuri has shown, such material endangers the health of the average Indian and can also be secured by terrorists. So-called 'dirty bombs' — where nuclear material is mixed with conventional explosives to spread radioactivity — require almost no technology or serious planning. India will experience a rapid increase in the use of such nuclear equipment. There is a natural increase in the number of high-end hospitals and universities. One can expect a rapid expansion in the sort of industries, like chemicals and precision manufacturing, where nuclear equipment is widely used.

The AERB is busy issuing showcause notices to the university today. But it should spend more time working out how to prevent a repetition of Mayapuri. The Indian atomic energy establishment seems to be hazy about the fate of almost all the nuclear equipment imported over a four-decade period. It needs to start putting such a record together. There is confusion among users about the procedure to dispose of nuclear material, even among university boffins. The policies regarding this should be laid out, publicised and designed to accommodate a future surge in the use of such materials. Allowing universities and hospitals to self-regulate their usage of these devices is common across the world. But frequent inspections by the AERB and insistence on the hiring of radiation safety personnel would be a sensible precaution. India likes to talk nuclear. It now needs to walk the same way.

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HINDUSTAN TIMES

NOT A PIPE DREAM

For a man who's been in the pharmaceutical business all his working life, advocating clean drinking water across the country might seem like a bad business idea. In fact, its health fallout could put me out of business. But there are times when one has to think beyond the balance sheets. Water is one issue that excites passion, yet we give very little thought to it. Those who have seen long queues at community pumps in villages and towns and travelled around this thirsty land will have no doubt that India is on the brink of water scarcity, not water stress, mind you.

Not too many seem to have understood the connection between clean drinking water and productivity, mortality and, eventually economic growth. But there is no getting away from this. As Hindustan Times reported recently, Indian towns are going to face such a severe water scarcity that they will become virtually unlivable.

Neither the State itself, nor in partnership with private players has made it a priority to deliver safe drinking water to the country's 700 million rural population.

If waterborne diseases are eliminated, the sale of antibiotics will come down and pharmaceutical companies will lose revenue. But the flipside, to be ruthlessly businesslike, is that in the long run, a healthier population will fuel economic growth and with it their purchasing power.

Is it very difficult to provide safe drinking water to all Indians? No. Today, 37.7 million Indians are affected by waterborne diseases annually, 1.5 million children are estimated to die of diarrhoea alone. Until the 10th Five Year Plan,
Rs 1,105 billion was spent on providing safe drinking water. But even today, most Indian villages suffer from one of two problems — no access to water or access to water that is contaminated with harmful pathogens (caused due to open defecation and poor and non-existent sewerage systems) and chemical contaminants (fluoride, arsenic and iron). In urban areas, we hear horror stories of worm-infested brackish water coming out of the taps.

I will give the example of a private-public-panchayat (PPP) partnership that I have been involved with over the last couple of years. Naandi Foundation, an NGO of which I am the chairman, has successfully worked on a model that makes use of existing technologies. In conjunction with the government and panchayats, we have perfected an innovative water service delivery model that is sustainable, affordable and replicable.

Started in 2005 at Bomminampadu village in Krishna district of Andhra Pradesh, infamous for the high pathogen content in drinking water sources due to open defecation, the experiment has passed the tests of time and scale. The new approach has now been implemented across 404 villages in Andhra Pradesh, Punjab, Haryana and Rajasthan and is providing safe drinking water to 3 million people every day.

This is how it works: raw water sourced either from the community's underground or surface water resources (through an MoU with the panchayat) is treated at a community water treatment plant (using a reverse osmosis or ultraviolet technology) installed by the NGO. The treated water is of prescribed potable standards of the World Health Organisation (WHO). Residents of the village access this water at a nominal treatment-user fee of 10-20 paisa per litre. The newly-created village asset is managed by two unemployed youths from the local community. One operates and maintains the plant while the other conducts door-to-door awareness campaigns to promote the consumption of safe drinking water.

People don't want promises of free water — they want safe water and are quite willing to pay nominal amounts for it. The state governments pitch in with the installation costs of the water-treatment plant — in keeping with Article 47 of the Constitution, which confers on the State the duty of providing clean drinking water and improving public health standards in the country. Our organisation sources the technology and brings professional management to the village facility. The small fee contributed by water users meets the other costs.

This model has yielded two social dividends: one, the task of fetching water for the family has now become a man's prerogative (thanks to the shape of the water can that makes it easy for it to be ferried on the carrier of a bicycle or motorcycle) and two, the poorest Dalit family in the village as well as the rich landowner are all using the same drinking water. This model ensures the capacity to provide 40 litres of treated water to every individual and for cooking needs in the village, for all 12 months in a year, as stipulated by the government's Accelerated Rural Water Supply Programme.

K. Anji Reddy is Founder Chairman of Dr Reddy's Laboratories and Member, PM's Council on Trade and Industry

 

The views expressed by the author are personal

 

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HINDUSTAN TIMES

CUT MOTION: A SHORT-TERM VICTORY

PANKAJ VOHRA

 

The common perception after the UPA government defeated the cut motion by an overwhelming support of 289 members against 201 secured by the NDA and some other parties is that deft handling and appropriate strategy led to the outcome. The result also showed that those opposing the UPA were in a minority and the Opposition parties as a whole were not only divided but willing to help the UPA in the voting.

The perception perhaps does not reflect the ramifications of the voting pattern and how it may have impacted the Congress. In defeating the NDA and some others, the Congress obviously brought on board parties like the BSP against whom its cadres led by its general secretary Rahul Gandhi are waging a war in Uttar Pradesh.

Securing a majority on its own in Uttar Pradesh has been the party's objective. In its aggressive campaign, Rahul Gandhi has been exposing the alleged corrupt practices of the state government. He has also been at loggerheads with Uttar Pradesh CM Mayawati whose support was sought and received by the Congress to save its government last week.

The question that will torment many who have been in this battle with Rahul Gandhi is whether it was worth taking the BSP support when it is one party that the Congress leadership perceives as the biggest hurdle to its getting a majority on its own both in the state as well as in the Lok Sabha later.

The Yadav duo — Lalu Prasad and Mulayam — had made it known that they would abstain from the voting in Parliament. Under no circumstances would they want to be seen supporting the cut motion sponsored by the BJP. This clearly meant that even without Mayawati, the government could have been saved. Naturally, the margin of victory would have been slender but victory was assured.

But since Mayawati has supported the government, she is bound to demand her pound of flesh. Politically, she has scored a victory over the Congress, which will be seen as a party seeking its rival's support even though its leadership and cadres have been attacking it on issues of corruption and misgovernance. She can easily say that the Congress was dependent on her and, therefore, could not be her replacement in the state.

The argument against this may be that in politics one has to take the support of even enemies and this was a one-off case. It could be said that the battle for UP will begin in the months to follow. But no one can contest the fact that this battle will not be as strong as Rahul Gandhi had perceived it.

The second question which could arise is whether by seeking her assistance, the Congress has virtually given up on UP and may, henceforth, look at the state in terms of contesting the polls along with an ally. Its challenge of emerging as an alternative stands diluted. Unless subsequent events dispel this impression, it will find it hard to become a major stakeholder in the state's politics.

Another way of looking at it is that the cut motion has been used by elements within the Congress to curb the rising influence of Rahul Gandhi who has been taking all opponents of the party head-on. Many believe that though he could have acquired the highest office in the country had he so desired, his supporters would have wanted him to do so as and when their party had a majority on its own. The majority objective can be achieved only by capturing the most seats in UP. That is unlikely now.

Therefore, the cut motion may have saved the government but in the process may have shattered Rahul Gandhi's dream of capturing UP. This impression has to be erased since this is one factor that could determine the future course of the Congress. Between us.

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THE INDIAN EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

REGULATING REGULATORS

 

One of the central lessons from the financial crisis of 2008 was that the more regulators, the worse for regulation. On Wall Street, they even had a phrase for it: "regulatory arbitrage", in which a financial product was redefined ever so slightly so it would be regulated by a slightly more relaxed regulator than otherwise. We in India, as we move forward on financial liberalisation, need to understand these lessons. But, as the spat between SEBI, the securities regulator, and IRDA, which regulates insurance companies, shows, the correct lessons haven't been drawn. The spat is essentially this: are unit linked insurance plans, or ULIPs, fit for regulation by the securities regulator, or the insurance regulator?

 

This is not as knotty a question as it may seem. Certainly, the practice in many countries is that any financial scheme with an insurance component tends to be regulated by the insurance regulator. On the other hand, the truth is that ULIPs basically act as mutual funds, which are subject to the securities regulator. When SEBI, in response to this incontrovertible fact as well as the observation that IRDA wasn't doing very much regulation of ULIPs, moved in, the two regulators got into a public spat. This dispute was bumped up to the finance ministry. The ministry has left it to the judiciary to decide.

 

For many reasons, that may have been an error. Indeed, the Supreme Court seems to have indicated as much. Aside from the atmosphere created by having two regulatory arms of the state wrangling in the courts, the judicial process could take a long time to sort out the issue — and in the interim, consumers receive subpar protection. And, as a bench of the Supreme Court pointed out on Friday, did this unseemly disagreement not make the argument for a "super-regulator" even more obvious? There might be bureaucratic reasons that slow the government in rationalising regulation in this country. But those cannot be allowed to slow down the process. A single regulator will require parliamentary intervention, and that must come sooner rather than later, with a clear system of checks and balances and of accountability to Parliament — a point that the comptroller and auditor general has also made recently. A judicial solution can be little more than a stop-gap arrangement.

 

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INDIAN EXPRESS

 

THE TRUEST VOTE

 

Union Law Minister Veerappa Moily was perhaps being rather too nuanced when he said in Parliament: "It's an ideal situation to have compulsory voting." He was reacting to the introduction by the Congress's Jai Prakash Agarwal of a private member's bill on compulsory voting. The idea got support, though some of it was qualified on provisions for punitive action against non-voters, from MPs drawn from different political parties.

 

Just days after the Gujarat governor returned a bill seeking to make voting in local body elections compulsory in the state, an echo of the demand in Parliament may appear intriguing. But the idea that urgent electoral reform is needed to make democracy more meaningful is sweeping through vast legislative landscapes these days. On May 6, Britain votes in its most interesting general election in decades and the three leading political parties are combating a popular disenchantment with politicians by promising to reconfigure the House of Commons' representativeness.

 

Indeed, in this suddenly triangular contest, an expected fallout of the Liberal Democrats' potential to render the next Parliament hung is movement on some form of proportional representation — that is, a break from Westminster's first-past-the-post template, possibly through a single transferable vote. The idea that underpins proportional representation is not too different from compulsory voting: that the true essence of the mandate is best distilled by mathematically determining the will of the entire electorate. Therefore, goes the reasoning, anything short of a full turnout (with compulsory voting) is far from perfect — as is victory in a constituency with less than half the votes cast.

 

Yet, while it is healthy to have high turnouts and to narrow the difference between votes percentages secured and seats in the legislature, the challenge is to attain the ideal by democratic means, means that are neither coercive, nor so formulaic as to unbundle the wisdom of the crowds into pressure groups. This is why optimal turnouts are instead better sought through enabling provisions like mandatory time off to vote, and by giving incentives to candidates to reach out to the undecided and swing voters by broadbasing the campaign.

 

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THE INDIAN EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

EVENT HORIZON

 

Hosting a universal exhibition is a competitive affair — countries jostle each other to host the event, much like with hosting the Olympics. Whether it was the Paris Exposition Universelle at the height of the belle époque or London in 1851, great world exhibitions have been linked with national glory.

 

In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, European opulence was displayed, and the display of exotic goods (and people) and the products of a flourishing manufacturing industry served to enlist support for the colonial project. In the 20th century, the US hosted a series of staggering expos, which showed off its cultural and technological prowess. Now, it's China's turn to claim the spotlight, in the largest ever expo in history — it expects some 70 million people to attend, and marvel at the nation's success. An overzealous host, it has been prepping for years, relocating businesses (and slums), doubling subway lines, improving infrastructure. It has even set up a $100 million fund to cover the costs for developing countries, including many from Africa. And its guests have reciprocated with an even greater eagerness to please. Over 200 countries and their heads of state have showed up, with extravagant, inventive pavilions that showcase the world's diversity and celebrate the ties between them.

 

But what is the point of all this theatre in a wired world where both commercial and cultural exchange has been speeded up beyond imagination? The Shanghai Expo, above everything, is a tribute to the tangible — from the Danes generously transporting their pride and joy, the Little Mermaid, to faraway China, to splendid old artworks from France's Musée d'Orsay. The UK pavilion is a witty reminder of the iconic Crystal Palace in Hyde Park that housed the 1851 World Fair — a waving, wondrous structure made of 60,000 transparent acrylic rods with seeds collected in a biodiversity project. And high above them all, rises the $220 million "Oriental Crown", China's own majestic pavilion.

 

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THE INDIAN EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

SOON, THERE WILL BE ONE

ILA PATNAIK

 

On the issue of unit linked insurance plans (ULIPs) and their regulation by SEBI (Securities and Exchange Board of India) or IRDA (Insurance Regulatory and Development Authority), the Supreme Court has remarked, "Why not appoint a super-regulator?" This is a crucial point and in the long run India needs to move towards unification of all financial regulation into one agency. But there are reasons for not undertaking this integration right now. However, it is necessary to have better coordination among regulators, reduce the number of agencies, and streamline the role and function of regulators.

 

The tasks of financial regulation in India are spread across an alphabet soup of agencies: SEBI, IRDA, FMC, PFRDA, RBI, DCA, etc. In many cases (Forward Markets Commission, Reserve Bank of India, Department of Company Affairs), these functions are defined by legislation drafted many decades ago, when financial markets were unrecognisably different. Bureaucrats have shied away from "treading on turf", so even reform proposals have avoided taking functions away from an existing regulator.

 

But the world of finance is changing fast. Technological and financial innovation involves combining ideas from across the financial landscape, and combining them in innovative ways. While the old system appears to have worked well in its time, it is coming under increasing stress.

 

Banks used to be regulated by RBI, but banks now perform depository participant services and trade on securities markets, which are regulated by SEBI, and sell insurance products that should be regulated by IRDA. There are complexities when faced with supervisory problems of banks performing depository services: would these be dealt with by RBI or by SEBI?

 

The ULIPs question amounts to asking: when a product is a combination of insurance and fund management, how should it be dealt with? Similarly, NSE and BSE will soon have trading in futures on gold units, while FMC regulates futures on gold. Who should regulate these?

 

In recent years, there have been many instances of a breakdown of consumer protection, with high pressure salesmen selling mutual fund and insurance products. This has resulted from the lack of coordination between IRDA and SEBI: when SEBI has moved forward on improving consumer protection, IRDA has been concerned about the market share of insurance companies and held back on replicating similar moves. The regulatory structure has failed to provide desired levels of consumer protection.

 

Many times, the natural progress of the Indian economy is held back by regulatory conflicts, as has happened with FMC trying to block NSE/ BSE trading of futures on gold units, or RBI holding back the emergence of the Bond-Currency-Derivatives Nexus since it would largely happen on SEBI-regulated exchanges. This had led to delays in introduction of financial instruments. A good regulatory structure should have combined the objective of consumer protection along with providing an environment that encourages finance to witness healthy growth. The multiple regulatory framework has not been able to provide this. India is paying a price for this lack of reform.

 

The solution for the long run is the unification of all financial supervision into one single agency. The government would set up an Indian Financial Authority and all activities of all financial firms would be supervised by this one agency. This would ensure internal resolution of questions such as insurance versus mutual funds or currency futures traded on exchanges.

 

It is not hard for Parliament to achieve this unification, given the lack of political economy complexity in finance. While bureaucrats might think that merging FMC into SEBI or moving debt management out of RBI are big events, they are actually minor problems in the eyes of politicians, given that no voter cares about how these things are done. Indeed, if the framework is able to provide better consumer protection and a lower probability of scams, most politicians would support such a regulatory structure.

 

Yet, there is good reason to tread softly in this direction. A single regulator would result in concentration of power. India needs to first make progress on establishing an elaborate system of checks and balances to keep these agencies on track. This involves rule of law, transparency, appeals procedures, reasoned orders on websites, development of case law, vigorous criticism from the press and from capable think tanks. It needs regulated entities and practitioners who are confident enough to criticise regulators. India has begun one interesting experiment, of SEBI, where a system of checks and balances is being constructed. Until we have the confidence that these checks and balances are working well, concentration of power should be avoided.

 

The second problem lies in the appointments process. The UPA has done a fairly good job of many critical

appointments in finance. But in general, the appointment process is still non-transparent. If one incompetent

individual was to get the job of leading the Indian Financial Authority, this would have disastrous consequences. At present, while individual agencies experience bad periods from time to time, progress in finance continues owing to the balancing factor provided by other agencies.

 

While this is not the time to build a super-regulator, there is a lot to be done on simplification and rationalisation of the structure of agencies — the unification of regulation of all organised financial trading into SEBI, the separation of debt management functions which are presently at RBI into the National Treasury Management Agency and the separation of banking regulation from within RBI into a Banking Regulatory and Development Agency. The creation of the Financial Development and Stability Council will improve inter-regulatory coordination, and bring greater unification for the critical function of monitoring Large Complex Financial Institutions (LCFIs). These reforms will yield immediate gains. Over time, once all these things have fallen into place backed by a new set of laws, and the policy community feels confident about checks and balances and the appointments process, India can and should move on to setting up a single super-regulator for all finance.

 

In the Union Budget speech, Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee announced setting up of the Financial Sector

Legislative Reforms Commission. This body would look into outdated laws in the financial sector and propose amendments in keeping with the Indian financial sector of today. It clearly has a challenging job ahead.

 

The writer is professor at the National Institute of Public Finance and Policy, Delhi

express@expressindia.com

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THE INDIAN EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

THE RADIOACTIVE RISK SOCIETY

NEHA SINHA

 

On April 10, 2007, a uranium pipeline burst in Jaduguda, causing a spill of the fuel that keeps our nuclear energy schemes running. Further, adds Half Life, a report on radioactivity in India by environmental group Toxic Links, on August 16, 2008, another uranium pipe burst, spewing houses near the village of Dungridih in Jaduguda with uranium waste. The deadly waste circled and flowed into five houses. Impacts on human life are unknown.

 

But while Jaduguda is sadly punished for its proximity to uranium mining and transportation, it is now clear that it is not just places that surround (and feed) our nuclear energy production that are at risk from exposure to radioactive material. Last month, a group of scrap dealers, in an unorganised scrap market in the national capital, cracked open a machine that looked like it could be valuable. They were only doing what they do every day; police said that when they chanced upon "bright, shining" material — radioactive cobalt 60 from a lab machine — they may have tried harder to extract it.

 

Exposed to lethal doses of the substance, their hair fell out, and their skin darkened to nearly black, and one worker died days later. They may perhaps fit in the terminology of the Radiation Protection Rules of 2008, as an "off-site emergency".

 

It is now revealed that the machine was auctioned off by one of the most reputed Indian centres of learning: Delhi University. From a lazy auction by the university, the machine found its way to Mayapuri, where every day, workers and scrap dealers search for the metaphoric diamond in the carbon. But what is it that shocks us the most? It is shocking that a centre of learning would publicly auction a machine that can legally only be disposed of by agencies approved by the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board (AERB). But what should shock us more is that there are no provisions at the municipal level to check this kind of pilferage, even as numbers of equipment with radioactive material grow.

 

Following the incident, the Delhi Pollution Control Committee did what any state pollution control board would do: absolutely nothing. This is because while the boards check for contamination and spills of all kinds of hazardous waste in the country, India's Atomic Energy Act, 1962 prevents them from including radioactive waste in that purview. But this is exactly the point. Radioactive waste and material is not about uranium mines, sealed nuclear energy production facilities, and national lab armours. It is also about laboratory equipment, which a university the size of Delhi University can easily procure, and cancer treatment units in hospitals. One of the most valuable lessons the Mayapuri incident has taught us then is that radioactive material is a part of our lives: our clinics, industries and our colleges. How then, can solutions not be a part of the same systems?

 

While the AERB certifies radioactive equipment, the ground monitoring of the same is nearly nonexistent. The Ministry of Environment and Forests, the custodian of checks against contamination of such horrors like lead and mercury, handles the Hazardous Waste (management, handling and transboundary movement) Rules. It also monitors the Biomedical Rules, and the Water and Air Act, the latter promising healthy environments for communities. But uncannily, it is as if radioactive waste does not exist in our lives: there is no mention of it anywhere in these rules.

 

While scrap workers, victims only because of their occupational compulsions, fight for their lives, radioactive waste needs to find mention and redress at more accessible levels. Though handling and decommissioning of the waste should only be done by atomic energy experts, our pollution board officials, at the very least, should be trained to identify and screen this material, just like customs personnel at ports. Biomedical waste rules need to describe and make public the disposal chains for radioactive equipment from hospitals.

 

Rosters of all civil radioactive equipment, and the lives and half-lives of the radioactive substances, should be made publicly accessible, especially in the place they are used. And perhaps for this reason, we have to let go of our blinkered view of radioactive material, and the services of other ministries, most logically that of environment and forests, need be brought in.

 

Garbage is a tough issue. Scrap markets exist at the fringes of our society — and just this summer, Mundka, another scrap market in Delhi, was set ablaze twice, with the police claiming sabotage by residents who didn't want refuse near their homes. But the death of a single person, through disparate chains of official negligence, serves to show that he was not safe. And neither are we. The rules that govern our lives and the way authorities respond to radioactive waste need to include information, transparency and inter-governmental cooperation, as a very first step.  

 

neha.sinha@expressindia.com

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THE INDIAN EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

FIFTY YEARS OF SEPARATION

INDER MALHOTRA

 

On Saturday, Maharashtra and Gujarat celebrated their 50th birthday. Though there was much greater gusto in Ahmedabad than in Mumbai, both states are undoubtedly happy to be on their own. The question, therefore, is why did they come into existence only on May 1, 1960, and not four years earlier on November 1, 1956 when the bulk of the states were reorganised strictly on linguistic lines? This chapter of modern Indian history is complex, highly emotive and even more painful because of violence on a mass scale that led to frequent police firing and bloodshed. The story is also long and complicated, but let me try to sum it up briefly.

 

In spite of having had to concede in 1953 to Andhra's separation from what was then the state of Madras (now Tamil Nadu) after Potti Sriramulu's celebrated fast unto death for this cause, Nehru was most reluctant to accept proliferating demands for other changes in provincial boundaries on the basis of language. But few listened to his repeated and impassioned plea to "freeze" the issue for 10 years because it was "trivial and tedious" compared with the more urgent task of building up a "united, secure and stable" India. He therefore appointed the States Reorganisation Commission to buy time, hoping that that intense "parochial" feelings would subside. Precisely the opposite happened. During the two years when the SRC gathered evidence, the country bristled with bitter sentiment. There were hunger strikes and agitations for linguistic states. At one stage, the prime minister, in a widely circulated letter, had to rebuke several chief ministers, all Congressmen, "who were spending the secret funds at their disposal to further (their) territorial claims".

 

Even this paled in comparison with the enraged reaction to the publication of the commission's report in October 1955. So inflammatory were the speeches of linguistic chauvinists that a few days later, Nehru wrote to Mountbatten: "One might almost think that we were on the verge of a civil war in some parts of India." This, incidentally, was said well before the situation took a far more alarming turn. For, the SRC's decision, while accepting the linguistic principle as a basis for redrawing the country's political map, had made two glaring exceptions. The one that caused immediate explosion was the recommendation that Bombay should continue to be a bilingual state but, for the sake of a better balance between the Gujarati-speaking and Marathi-speaking populations, the Marathi-speaking Vidharba area be formed into a separate state. (The other exception was in relation to Punjab. Rejecting the largely Sikh demand for a Punjabi suba or Punjabi-speaking state, the commission opted for a trilingual state that included present-day Punjab, Haryana and Himachal Pradesh. As subsequent events showed, the dangerous potential of this decision, that remained in force until 1966, was far greater, but that would have to be discussed separately.)

 

As for bilingual Bombay, both its Gujarati and Maharashtrian components rejected the idea of its continuance with equal vehemence. Both wanted language-based states. But there was a virtually insurmountable obstacle to an agreement between them: the economically booming and cosmopolitan city of Bombay. The Gujaratis were not alone in being totally opposed to the metropolis going to Maharashtra. The Maharashtrians were incensed that anyone should dare question the great city's inclusion in their state.

 

Unfortunately, it was at this juncture in June 1956 that the Nehru government decided to form three states out of bilingual Bombay: Maharashtra, Gujarat and the Centrally-governed city-state of Bombay. Though Nehru said that the future of the city could be reviewed five years later, all hell broke loose. His normally apolitical finance minister, C.D. Deshmukh, resigned and, in an angry resignation statement, accused the government of "surrendering to the moneybags of Bombay". Nehru hit back: "We are the children of revolution. Let no one talk about moneybags to us".

 

Violence, far more vicious and widespread than before, in which students, workers, farmers and even businessmen joined, erupted in Bombay and Marathi-speaking districts. Nehru was dismayed that no leader of society was prepared to condemn mindless rioting. Apparently he overlooked the fact that the silent majority shared the sentiment of the rampaging mob. The problem worsened because Morarji Desai, Bombay's chief minister and Gujarat's supreme leader after Sardar Patel, acted firmly against the rioters. Close to 100 people were killed in police firing. For once, Nehru backed Desai's refusal to have any inquiry into the "excessive use of force" by the police.

 

Soon enough virulent violence spread to Gujarat and forced Morarjibhai to go on a weeklong fast.

 

The official bill for carving three states out of bilingual Bombay was ready for introduction when, almost miraculously, there was a sea change in the situation. 180 MPs, belonging to various parties, joined together to suggest a return to the original idea of retaining bilingual Bombay. The only thing that changed was that Desai moved to Delhi and Y.B. Chavan became the state's chief minister.

 

However, the much-applauded experiment did not succeed. Tension between the Gujarati and Maharashtrian partners in the composite state never abated. By 1958 riots began in the Gujarat region once again, leading to immediate retaliatory violence in Marathi-speaking areas. More importantly, as Gujarat's yearning for separation from Maharashtra became stronger, its objection to Bombay city's inclusion in Maharashtra weakened.  At an informal meeting of Congress and opposition leaders of Bombay state, S.K. Patil, then known as the "uncrowned king" of Bombay city, used erotic imagery to spread the word that the two partners in Bombay were "no longer in a cohabitation mood". 

 

As Congress president in 1959, Indira Gandhi was among the first national leaders to perceive the change. Two

others who also felt which way the wind was blowing were President Rajendra Prasad and Vice-President Radhakrishnan. Partly as a result of persuasion by these three, and partly out of respect for the people's feelings even when he did not like them, Nehru eventually agreed. On May 1, 1960 when Maharashtra and Gujarat were formally inaugurated, the highest tributes were paid to Indira Gandhi — even though she was no longer Congress president.

 

The writer is a Delhi-based political commentator

 

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THE INDIAN EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

FORESTS AND FIRES

VIKRAM S MEHTA

 

Binsar is a wildlife and forest sanctuary in Uttarakhand. It was declared a sanctuary decades ago, and as a result it is unscarred by development today. There are only five houses inside, each of which was built by the British more than a century ago. There is no electricity; water has to be carefully "harvested" and three of the five homes are inaccessible by road. I am writing this article sitting on the lawns of one of these homes. I hear the chirp of the Himalayan magpie; the occasional screech of the barking deer and the rustle of the leaves. But other than that I am surrounded by silence. My nearest neighbour is a 30-minute walk away.

 

I am not writing this article to extol the beauty of nature or the pleasures of solitude. Although the thought has crossed my mind that leaders faced with the din of our democracy might find it therapeutic to retreat to a place like Binsar: certainly, the immensity of its natural surroundings — the towering deodar and oak forests and the majesty of Nanda Devi in the foreground — will be humbling. Alexander Solzhenitsyn's comment "Man is but an insignificant creature of creation" resonates; who knows, the combined impact of beauty and silence might compel an introspection of priorities. But I am writing rather to share a concern — a dilemma which I present as a clichéd question "what is the optimum balance between development and nature"? The past few days that I have been here have pushed me to reflect on this question.

 

I have already indicated that Binsar is an outpost of unremitting natural beauty. The contrast between its dense foliage and the haphazard detritus of materialism that marks places like Mussorie, Shimla and Nainital is a powerful affirmation of the virtues of legislating environmental protection. Binsar retains its pristine natural splendour because it is a declared sanctuary. Nothing can be built inside it except through special sanction. The problem is that the villagers who have lived in the sanctuary for generations are not happy. They feel that development has passed them by and that the government is unconcerned about their plight. They are angry and their anger is now manifesting itself in dangerous and counter productive behaviour.

 

I can see the valley below from the perch of my lawn. Every night I have watched forest fires light up the horizon. The flames are doused in one corner; fresh ones flare up elsewhere. I have wondered why this spate of fires. Is it the scorching heat and the absence of rain? (It has not rained since September and "global warming" is now part of every villager's lexicon.) Is it accident — the casual flicker of a cigarette butt on a bed of combustible dry leaves? Or is it deliberate arson? I have asked people for an explanation and alarmingly most have conceded that the bulk of the fires are caused by the villagers themselves. They are "lighting" up their own habitat to express frustration at the fact of their relative poverty. They concentrate their ire on nature because it is there. But as someone said they might well focus on a different target — if, for instance, they were handed guns.

 

Why this deepening frustration?

 

I know there is no simple answer but if the views of the villagers are accepted the explanation has to do with the unintended consequences of living inside a sanctuary and the non-delivery of promises.

 

The villagers maintain that their area has not been "developed" because the local authorities do not have an incentive to do so. They say that officials are only interested in pushing projects from which they can secure quick "under the table"pay-offs. The projects for the sanctuary have a long gestation as they require approvals from bodies like the Supreme Court. Thus even though money is allocated, the file is not actively progressed. A compounding gripe is the mismatch between promise and delivery. The villagers know they are entitled to subsidised kerosene. But they never get any. This is because the product is sequestered by the relatively rich for fuel adulteration and personal use. Similarly they are promised compensation for livestock killed by wild animals. But payments are always delayed. The larger point being made is that the sanctuary is a millstone around their neck. Development is tangibly evident outside the sanctuary but its benefits are notably absent within it. The fires are being lit to force the government to remove this millstone.

 

Nature abhors a vacuum — no pun intended — and clearly a vacuum has been created in Binsar just as, perhaps, might be the case in other parts of India where the local population have found their interests smothered by the drumbeat of "development"; for example, the tribals of Chhattisgarh. The question is how and by whom will this vacuum be filled.

 

The necessary answer for Binsar is clear. The government must deliver on its promises. Subsidised kerosene should reach the intended beneficiaries; solar lighting should be introduced in lieu of grid power; roads must be built; and compensation must be paid without delay.

 

But is this a sufficiently robust answer? Will material progress alone mitigate the alienation that people feel towards authority? Will it restore the balance between the villagers and their surrounding? Will it bring them back into the fold of civic society? I do not know but my sense based on somewhat cursory conversations is that a lot more than economic progress will be required to restore the loss of self-confidence that the current sense of relative deprivation has engendered. The challenge ahead will be to not simply generate employment but to create jobs that revitalise self-respect and dignity. This will not be an easy challenge. But if the forest officials of Binsar want the villagers to help them douse fires caused by natural circumstances rather than create new ones, it is one that will have to be immediately addressed.

 

The writer is chairman of Shell Group in India. Views are personal

 

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THE INDIAN EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

HISTORY, 140 CHARACTERS AT A TIME

 

Twitter users now broadcast about 55 million Tweets a day. In just four years, about 10 billion of these brief messages have accumulated.

 

Not a few are pure drivel. But, taken together, they are likely to be of considerable value to future historians. They contain more observations, recorded at the same times by more people, than ever preserved in any medium before.

 

"Twitter is tens of millions of active users. There is no archive with tens of millions of diaries," said historian Daniel J. Cohen. "Twitter is of the moment; it's where people are the most honest."

 

Last month, Twitter announced that it would donate its archive of public messages to the Library of Congress, and supply it with continuous updates.

 

The Twitter archive, which was "born digital," as archivists say, will be easily searchable by machine — unlike family letters and diaries gathering dust in attics.

 

As a written record, Tweets are very close to the originating thoughts. "Most of our sources are written after the fact, mediated by memory — sometimes false memory," Ms [Amy Murrell] Taylor said. "And newspapers are mediated by editors. Tweets take you right into the moment in a way that no other sources do. That's what is so exciting." Twitter messages preserve witness accounts of an extraordinary variety of events all over the planet.

 

Ten billion Twitter messages take up little storage space: about five terabytes of data. (A two-terabyte hard drive can be found for less than $150.) And Twitter says the archive will be a bit smaller when it is sent to the library. Before transferring it, the company will remove the messages of users who opted to designate their account "protected," so that only people who obtain their explicit permission can follow them. A Twitter user can also elect to use a pseudonym and not share any personally identifying information.

 

Each message is accompanied by some tidbits of supplemental information, like the number of followers that the author had at the time and how many users the author was following. While Mr Cohen said it would be useful for a historian to know who the followers and the followed are, this information is not included in the Tweet itself.

 

But there's nothing private about who follows whom among users of Twitter's unprotected, public accounts. This information is displayed both at Twitter's own site and in applications developed by third parties whom Twitter welcomes to tap its database.

 

Alexander Macgillivray, Twitter's general counsel, said, "From the beginning, Twitter has been a public and open service." Twitter's privacy policy states: "Our services are primarily designed to help you share information with the world. Most of the information you provide to us is information you are asking us to make public."

 

Mr Macgillivray at Twitter said his company would be turning over copies of its public archive to Google, Yahoo and Microsoft, too. These companies already receive instantaneously the stream of current Twitter messages. When the archive of older Tweets is added to their data storehouses, they will have a complete, constantly updated, set, and users won't encounter a six-month embargo.

 

Google already offers its users Replay, the option of restricting a keyword search only to Tweets and to particular periods. It's quickly reached from a search results page. (Click on "Show options," then "Updates," then a particular place on the timeline.)

 

A tool like Google Replay is helpful in focusing on one topic. But it displays only 10 Tweets at a time. To browse 10 billion — let's see, figuring six seconds for a quick scan of each screen — would require about 190 sleepless years.

 

Mr Cohen encourages historians to find new tools and methods for mining the "staggeringly large historical record" of Tweets. This will require a different approach, he said, one that lets go of straightforward "anecdotal history."

 

In the end, perhaps quality will emerge from sheer quantity.

 

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

 

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THE INDIAN EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

THE GREAT UP HOPE

D K SINGH

 

Discussing the future of the Indian Youth Congress (IYC) on a sultry afternoon in summer 2008, Rahul Gandhi suddenly asked IYC leaders: "Have you read Barack Obama's Audacity of Hope?" The book was a rage in the US, then witnessing a historic duel between Obama and Hillary Clinton in the Democratic primaries. "You must," Rahul advised them. In the weeks and months that followed, they talked about his recommendation — without many following it. The scion of the Nehru-Gandhi family, however, does seem to have audacious hopes: to reclaim the party's traditional support among the Dalit votebank.

 

On Thursday, in Congress-ruled Haryana he paid an unscheduled visit to the Dalit victims of caste violence in a village in Hisar district. It did not matter, clearly, how his visit would reflect on Bhupinder Singh Hooda's government as long as the message reached Lucknow. Barely 48 hours earlier, the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) had voted for the UPA government in the Lok Sabha, sparking off speculation about new possibilities in Uttar Pradesh's political theatre. Rahul's visit to Mirchpur village in Haryana set the record straight: he will continue to challenge Mayawati in his endeavour to win over Dalits.

 

Rahul was audacious too at Ambedkarnagar in UP on April 14, when he used a single garland to cover the portraits of both Mahatma Gandhi and B.R. Ambedkar on the latter's birth anniversary. Rahul was not just laying out the Congress's claims on Ambedkar — he said it was the Congress that made him chairman of the Constituent Assembly and the country's law minister — and challenging Mayawati's politics of identity and symbolism, he was also rejecting the BSP's re-casting of the father of the nation.

 

Right from his DS-4 days in the early '80s, Kanshi Ram had sought to undermine Gandhi, criticising his use of the word "Harijan" as condescending and replacing it with "Dalit". "If Dalits are 'children of god' then was he (Gandhi) son of shaitan?" Mayawati was to ask later in 1997.

 

On April 14, therefore, Rahul was attacking the BSP's ideological moorings as he sought to put Ambedkar and Gandhi on the same page in the history of Dalit uplift and emancipation. The BSP eulogises Periyar from Tamil Nadu and Chhatrapati Shahu Maharaj from Kolhapur, but it has no place left in its pantheon of social reformers.

 

Mayawati has been vehement in attacking the Amethi MP. Not only did the BSP hold a parallel rally in Ambedkarnagar the same day as Rahul's, but the district administration also did not allow the young Congress leader to garland Ambedkar's statue at the venue. What is it in Rahul that brings out the worst in Mayawati? Famously, she went to the extent of saying that he took a bath with special soaps and purified himself with incense after spending nights at Dalits' houses.

 

His visits to Dalit houses are, of course, creating a buzz. Besides, the Congress did show signs of revival in the state in the last general election, securing 22 seats. But subsequently, the Congress was back on the political margins in the assembly bypolls. Does Mayawati share the popular belief that her Dalit-Brahmin social engineering formula, that had worked in the 2007 assembly elections, failed in the 2009 Lok Sabha elections? Is there any substance to Congress leaders' claims that non-Jatav Dalits are disenchanted with the BSP? The answer to these questions could be deduced from her recent decision to sideline her confidante Satish Mishra.

 

But these questions give rise to another: what does the Congress offer Dalits? The AICC general secretary in charge of the party in UP is a Thakur, Digvijay Singh. The state PCC chief Rita Bahuguna Joshi and CLP leader Pramod Tiwari are Brahmins. Can you think of a senior Dalit in the UP Congress? Party leaders would name Barabanki MP P.L. Punia, former principal secretary to Mayawati in her previous stints as chief minister. As for the Congress's attempt to woo the Dalits, the best that one can remember is Joshi's derogatory remark about the CM that landed her behind bars — and the more recent one about the "colour" of Mayawati's statues.

 

The question here is: how does Rahul then take on Mayawati, who has mastered the politics of identity and symbolism? In the idiom that Dalits are seen to understand, Mayawati has been so adept that even her cash-studded garland was projected as a matter of pride simply because a Dalit ki beti wore it. So are the wasteful expenditures on memorials and statues. Can Rahul outmatch Mayawati in evoking Dalit pride the way she does?

The young Amethi MP has asserted that he does not believe in identity politics. "I go to a human being's house, not to a Dalit's house," he had said in Thiruvananthapuram last October. "The days of the politics of caste and religion are over. It is time for the politics of the youth and the future," he said again, in Ambedkarnagar.

 

If Congressmen are to be believed, Dalits in UP have already started seeing how their political empowerment has failed to translate into social and economic empowerment. Thanks to the communication revolution, people living even in remote villages have growing aspirations for a better life. It is these which Rahul Gandhi is seeking to voice. But have such Dalit aspirations grown strong enough to override all the other concerns arising out of centuries of oppression at the hands of dominant castes?

 

The answer lies somewhere in Mawayati's strong reactions to Rahul's moves, betraying insecurity on her part. And this is what has given Congressmen the auda-city to hope in UP — because the BSP supremo is a master in reading people's pulse.

 

dk.singh@expressindia.com

 

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THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

THE RABI EFFECT


Food inflation, which was hovering around the 20% level in late 2009, has now weakened to around 16%, driven largely by falling prices of fruits, vegetables—mainly potato and onions—cereals and pulses. In the coming days, if the southwest monsoon follows the steady path predicted by India Meteorological Department (IMD) and if the rabi harvest flows unhindered into the markets, there is every chance that food inflation would drop even further. IMD's prediction of normal June-September monsoon rains should help in reining in adverse speculation in the markets, even though IMD's first prediction was way off the mark last year, when actual rains were almost 13% less than the initial estimates. More encouraging for the immediate future are the positive indications coming from the rabi harvest. Production of all major rabi crops like wheat, pulses, mustard and coarse cereals are expected to be better than (or at the least match) last year's harvest. The government's second advanced estimate of farm production, which is due for revision soon, had estimated wheat output to be around 80.28 million tonnes and with state agencies procuring more than 18 million tonnes just a month into the new season that started in April, there is a good chance that foodgrain prices won't show any upward movement in the next few months—the only proviso being effective distribution of the foodgrains. Rabi pulses harvest is estimated to be around 10.53 million tonnes, up from last year's production of 9.88 million tonnes, mainly because of an impressive rise in gram production. Similarly, the official estimates also show that mustard production is projected to rise this year, which coupled with fall in international rates, should keep the edible oil prices under check.

 

But serious questions remain over the lack of fundamental reforms in food and agriculture—in production, distribution and retail. Production is still over-dependent on a regular monsoon. There have been no concrete steps taken to boost warehousing and storage facilities in the country. In a situation where farmers are often forced to sell their potato and onions below the cost of production because of bumper harvest, a robust cold storage and warehousing facility would have not only have saved them from distress sale, but also protected consumers against price spikes. The same applies to foodgrains. And we still await the government to open up the retail sector, which will help eliminate intermediaries and bring benefit to both the farmers and consumers. Needless to say, such reform will also spare the government's worries about food inflation.

 

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THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

 IT'S RADIOACTIVE

 

As a historic accord between India and the US takes our country forward on its path to nuclear commerce, the ability to effect safeguards is going to be critical. Against this backdrop, the first radiation-related death of a common man provides a wakeup-call that must be taken very seriously. The alarms went up when some people were hospitalised with what was diagnosed and was subsequently revealed to be exposure to radioactive material in the Delhi scrap market of Mayapuri. A team of radiation safety experts from the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC) Mumbai, the Narora Atomic Power Station (NAPS) and Atomic Energy Regulatory Board (AERB) investigated the incident. The radiation was tracked back to an unlikely source—the Delhi University. It appears that the university's chemistry department had purchased an irradiator for conducting experiments involving the effect of gamma rays on chemicals from Atomic Energy Canada Limited in 1968. The idea was that the equipment would be used by students in the department, but it had reportedly been lying idle for around 25 years. University authorities auctioned it in February, obviously without taking proper precautions or putting out appropriate warnings. One university source has gone public with even more chilling information, pertaining to how the chemistry department has actually been burying radioactive waste. While both AERB and the Delhi University vice-chancellor deny this claim, obviously something is very rotten in the state of this institution.

 

What must be emphasised is that there is a plethora of institutions in possession of radioactive material. Medical institutions and other universities are the obvious suspects. And the obvious question that comes to mind is whether all these institutions are following proper regulatory procedures when it comes to operation or disposal of such material. Actually, it now appears that there are no guidelines in place for how higher educational institutions use hazardous materials in their laboratories. Human resource development minister Kapil Sibal has now asked the University Grants Commission to frame such guidelines for the procurement, use and disposal of hazardous substances. Universities and colleges will also be directed to follow the existing safety guidelines issued by agencies such as AERB. All these plans should hopefully achieve fruition. But one wonders how Delhi University has hitherto been running programmes like an MSc in physics with specialisation in nuclear science or an MTech in nuclear science and technology in the absence of such guidelines.

 

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THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS

COLUMN

 WHAT GREECE HAS TO DO WITH OIL PRICES

TARUN RAMADORAI

 

We're all enthralled by the Greek drama that is slowly unfolding before our eyes, fervently hoping that tragedy will be averted. Oddly, electoral politics in the German state of North-Rhine Westphalia is affecting Greece, providing evidence of our increasingly interconnected world. But there's another big issue that is not getting as much media coverage at the moment, despite the possibility that it could prove to be just as important. The oil price is beginning to creep up again: data from the Energy Information Administration (EIA) shows that just in the past month, world crude prices have risen by around 6%, to $82. This is well off the zenith of $137 in July 2008, but still significantly higher than the nadir of $35 in January 2009. Is this trend in oil prices likely to continue? Are we likely to see significant increases in oil prices accompanying significant reductions in global output? Is there a chance of that worst of scenarios, namely, high unemployment accompanied by high inflation?

 

Around the time of the zenith in oil prices, there were significant concerns about the role of speculators in the rise of oil prices. The rise and rise of oil prices in the preceding five-year period was attributed by several commentators, including George Soros, to the fact that there were large increases in the amount of capital allocated by speculators to commodity futures. Others argued that this increase in speculative activity in the futures market had no direct bearing on the rise in spot prices. Rather, increases in the demand for oil from India and China (and other energy-hungry emerging markets) were responsible for the rise in commodity prices. Which view is correct? This is important if we are to predict the future direction of oil prices. Holding the demand for oil constant, if speculators' desire for oil futures drives prices, then we should think hard about the magnitude of speculative capital that will be committed to oil futures. If not, we should probably just look at global 'real' demand for oil.

 

So which view is correct? Recent academic work suggests that Soros's view might be right. When the amount of speculative capital committed to commodity futures increases, there are subsequent increases in futures and spot prices. This continues to be true even after controlling for other sources of information (such as increases in real economic activity) that should affect these prices. For example, research done at the New York Fed shows that when financial institutions have a greater appetite for risk, commodity futures and spot prices increase. Researchers at Princeton and Wharton have shown that when open interest in futures markets grows, future commodity returns are high. Concurrently, together with researchers at Columbia and NYU, I have discovered evidence that measures of commodity producers' hedging demands predict commodity futures and spot prices. We believe this is because increased speculative activity creates the space for hedgers' demands to be satisfied at a lower cost.

 

The reference to Greece at the beginning of this article was not accidental. Consider what would happen if Greece defaults. Financial institutions' appetite for risk will inevitably fall, leading to reductions in the capital they invest in all risky assets, including commodities. Using the logic above, this means there will be decline in commodity prices. Of course, the reduction in growth would directly affect commodity prices; the point here is that the speculative channel reinforces and amplifies the impacts on these prices over and above any information about global growth. On the other hand, if Greece manages to stave off default, commodity prices will likely face less downward pressure. This is like a natural hedge, and is reassuring—the nightmarish scenario of low growth and high commodity prices (and hence inflation) seems unlikely by this logic. In order to get that nasty scenario, the risk appetites of global investment managers and hedge funds would have to move in the opposite direction to global economic growth rates. That is a hard story to tell.

 

There are, of course, other factors at work that could raise oil prices even if Greece defaults. Ominously, a damaged British Petroleum oil well in the Gulf of Mexico is currently leaking around 5,000 barrels of crude a day, according to the US Coast Guard's most recent estimates. While this is a tiny reduction in the supply of crude oil (estimated world production is 80 million barrels a day), it presages the need for more stringent safety and environmental safeguards on oil production, especially deep-sea drilling of the sort envisioned in Brazil and the Bay of Bengal. These safeguards, if implemented (as they should be), will raise oil production costs. But as far as the speculative channel is concerned, there's more than one reason to watch Greece.

 

The author is a financial economist at Saïd Business School, University of Oxford

 

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THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS

COLUMN

LOSING THE ASIAN ADVANTAGE

MITENDU PALIT

 

Asia's dense web of trade networks has intensified further in this year. Two major regional trade agreements came into force from January 1, 2010. The first of these was the China-Asean Free Trade Area (CAFTA). The second, also an FTA, but implying a free trade agreement rather than a free trade area, took off between India and Asean (IAFTA).

 

Both agreements indicate China's and India's intentions to access the Southeast Asian market by formalising trade relations with Asean. Both deals, however, have irked certain domestic constituencies and might generate more protests down the line. India's plantation and oilseed farming lobbies have been opposed to the IAFTA on concerns over cheap Asean imports of spices and palm oil. On the other hand, Indonesia has expressed concerns over the CAFTA leading to flooding of cheap Chinese imports in its domestic market.

 

The scale and scope of the two deals are different. The CAFTA is larger than the IAFTA. CAFTA covers a total population of 1.9 billion, while the IAFTA covers 1.7 billion. Both, in terms of their coverage of people, are among the largest trade zones in the world. In terms of combined GDP at current market prices and total trade, CAFTA amounts to $6 trillion and $4.3 trillion, respectively. The IAFTA, on the other hand, has combined GDP and trade of $2.6 trillion and $45.8 billion, respectively. While the difference between CAFTA and IAFTA in population and GDP has much to do with China's greater geographic and economic size, the difference in trade levels is conspicuous. The latter indicates the extent to which China and Asean have integrated into each other's networks. Similar integration between India and Asean, till now, has been much limited.

 

There are no surprises in China-Asean trade flourishing more comprehensively than India-Asean trade. The CAFTA is the culmination of a five-year phased reduction in tariffs by both sides. Such calibrated reductions have led to around 7,000 items between China and Asean being currently traded at a zero tariff rate. Thus, Chinese and Asean products had begun obtaining greater access in each other's markets from as early as 2005. Such access helped production networks from both sides to trade deeper with each other and strengthen the intra-industry trade linkages.

 

In contrast, after signing a framework economic cooperation agreement with Asean in 2003, India's negotiations with Asean on a goods FTA lasted for more than five years. It is only from January 1, 2010, that exports from either side have begun getting greater access in each other's markets, in a phased manner. Thus, while China-Asean trade linkages were being helped by falling tariffs for five years, India-Asean trade did not benefit from any such facilitating measures. Indeed, while a large chunk of goods are being currently traded at a zero tariff rate between China and Asean, a similar process has just begun between India and Asean.

 

India's market access gains from the IAFTA will certainly be partly neutralised, given the CAFTA. As it is, Indian exports will make limited market access gains in the Asean market compared to Asean exports in the Indian market. This is because at the time of commencement of the IAFTA, average Indian tariffs were much higher than comparable Asean tariffs. As the IAFTA rolls out, Indian tariffs will be cut far deeper than Asean tariffs, giving the latter's exports relatively greater access in India's domestic market.

 

What are India's options for securing greater economic gains? From the IAFTA perspective, India's biggest gains are expected from services. The talks are currently on and need to be pursued vigorously for reaching a quick conclusion. Difficulties are expected to arise from domestic labour market concerns regarding cross-border movements of professionals.

 

The other option is to look at closer trade ties with China. Ground realities indicate that it makes eminent sense for India to build a closer trade link with China. Indo-China trade at $41.8 billion is not too far behind the India-Asean trade of $45.8 billion. Both these figures are minuscule compared to the China-Asean trade. The latter is expected to increase at a faster rate than India-Asean trade since CAFTA ensures deeper and quicker market access than the IAFTA. Moreover, most of India's current exports to China suffer from lack of relative comparative advantage vis-à-vis similar exports from Asean. The relative disadvantages of Indian exports in both Asean and Chinese markets can be significantly overcome if India can work out a formal trade agreement with China.

 

The author is a visiting senior research fellow at the Institute of South Asian Studies in the National University of Singapore. These are his personal views

 

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THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS

COLUMN

CUTTING COSTS AND AUDIT STRATEGY

RAM SARVEPALLI

 

The impact of the global financial crisis has prompted many organisations to reevaluate their focus on cost reduction. However, many focus their efforts only around numbers. A cost-cutting programme is often reduced to a review of the budget per line item. If short-term cuts are being sought, there is no problem with this approach. It is easy to reduce costs by delaying expenditure. However, these are

 

not real savings resulting in the lost opportunity to review underlying business practices that may potentially create sustainable cost savings.

 

Cost reduction efforts in a strategic manner give approaching organisations the opportunity to strengthen their competitive positioning from a cost perspective. The focus shifts from the individual line items on the income statement to the underlying activities that drive the expenditure. The biggest risk of such initiatives is the ability of the firm to sustain benefits. This is largely due to the fact that the changes introduced are not continuously reinforced. Here, the internal audit function can play a significant role in adding value to the organisation by supporting, monitoring and reporting on cost reduction, both from a financial performance and risk perspective.

 

Activities that could create sustainable success in cost reduction initiatives are: a CEO-driven effort, appointment of an inclusive steering committee to oversee implementation, identification of targets for short, medium and long term and the inclusion of cost reduction reviews as part of an internal audit plan.

 

Cost cutting is a strategic adjustment that may have a material impact on how an organisation does business. Those that view cost reduction initiatives as a strategic imperative resulting in a competitive advantage and approach the effort in an inclusive and methodical manner will be much stronger when the economic cycle turns, compared to those who simply tamper on the periphery. Unfortunately, many organisations leave cost reduction to the financial community. This results in a number of quick wins and short-term benefits, but often fails to achieve the longer-term sustainable impact that could make a strategic difference to the entity.

 

The author is partner & national director, Risk Advisory Services, Ernst & Young

 

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THE HINDU

EDITORIAL

VINDICATED AT LAST

 

While quashing criminal proceedings arising from 23 complaints against actor Kushboo, the Supreme Court has sent a strong signal that freedom of expression will not be allowed to be held hostage by those who indulge in smear campaigns or exploit the legal process to gain political or personal mileage. The slew of criminal complaints, filed mainly in Tamil Nadu in several places, relate to her comments published in a magazine in 2005. Noting the increasing incidence of pre-marital sex, Ms Kushboo sensibly cautioned girls to take adequate precautions to avoid unwanted pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases. Her remarks were perversely interpreted by bigots as a licence for promiscuity and, believe it or not, as an affront to the dignity of Tamil women. The offences the actor was charged with included criminal defamation and indecent representation of women. The cases clearly had no legal merit, and the three-member Supreme Court bench did a real service to freedom of expression by addressing in some detail the issues raised by the petitioners before showing how hollow they were.

 

With respect to the charge of criminal defamation, the Court held that Ms Kushboo's remarks did not reflect any intent to harm and did not cause actual harm (neither mens rea nor actus reus). Further, the complainants were not 'aggrieved persons' under Section 199 of the Code of Criminal Procedure. As for the charges under the Indecent Representation of Women (Prohibition) Act 1986, the Court concluded that it would "defy logic" to use against Ms Kushboo a statute "enacted to punish publishers and advertisers who knowingly disseminate materials that portray women in an indecent manner." Notions of morality, it pointed out, are inherently subjective and the criminal law cannot be used to interfere with the domain of personal autonomy. The Court extensively cited its own landmark judgment in S. Rangarajan v. P. Jagjivan Ram & Ors — which underlined the importance of protecting freedom of expression in the face of intolerance. Coincidentally, in a double blow to the bigots, the Madras High Court threw out on the same day all criminal proceedings against actor and director Suhasini Manirathnam, who was targeted for apologising, on behalf of Tamils, to Ms Kushboo for the treatment meted out to her. While two upstanding actors have been vindicated, it is shocking that the cases against them have dragged on for half a decade — making the very process the punishment. Judges, particularly those in the lower courts, must apply their mind to the alleged offences rather than take summary cognisance of them. Vexatious litigation is an abuse of the judicial process and the higher judiciary needs to come down severely on it.

 

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THE HINDU

EDITORIAL

MORE THAN LIP SERVICE

 

The low level of participation in the capital market by small investors, despite the official espousal of their cause, has worried policy makers and regulators for long. While nearly half the population in developed countries has a direct or indirect interest in the capital market, hardly one per cent of the population in India invests in the equity markets, by far the biggest segment of the capital market. Even more striking is the fact that less than three per cent of household savings find their way to the capital market. One important reason is the apparent lack of faith in the integrity of the markets. This is unfortunate. The market regulator, Securities and Exchange Board of India — set up in 1992 in the wake of widespread stock markets shenanigans — has done a commendable job of building an impressive market edifice which is the envy of many others. All the market intermediaries — merchant banks, underwriters, brokers, and so on — were brought under regulation and the surveillance and monitoring of equity trading, which grew exponentially, were stepped up. The two other initiatives that have had a bearing on market integrity were the capitalisation of intermediaries and the induction of technology.

 

All these moves should have made Indian stock exchanges a safer and friendlier place to park individual savings. Yet in what should be seen as an unintended consequence, some of those very steps have made stock market investing more complicated for the retail investors. For instance, the technology-enabled compulsory dematerialisation of stocks is without doubt a major reform that greatly facilitated the buying and selling of shares at exceptionally low cost. However, for many retail investors the process of opening and operating a demat account is proving to be cumbersome. Again, the more recent requirement of complying with the KYC (Know Your Customer) norms has proved daunting to many small investors. Thus, in certain respects the use of high technology, the enhancement of capital requirements for brokers, and several other regulations have led to the alienation of the small investor and reinforced the inherent wholesale character of the stock exchanges. Official exhortation to retail investors to access the markets through mutual funds has merit. However, many mutual funds have fallen short of expectations. The intermediation charges are high and after-sales service is not up to the mark. Urgent steps are required to entice retail investors to debt instruments such as corporate bonds.

 

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THE HINDU

LEADER PAGE ARTICLES

A THREAT TO NUCLEAR DISARMAMENT

EXPERTS SAY THAT U.S. MISSILE DEFENCES AND PROMPT GLOBAL STRIKE WEAPONS, FAR FROM PROMOTING NUCLEAR DISARMAMENT, MAY TRIGGER A NEW ARMS RACE.

VLADIMIR RADYUHIN

 

Hardly had Russia and the United States signed a nuclear arms reduction treaty, New START, the U.S. pushed ahead with the development of new conventional weapon systems that threaten to stall nuclear disarmament and discredit U.S. non-proliferation efforts at the NPT Review Conference opening in New York on Monday.

 

Testifying before the House Armed Services Committee Strategic Forces Subcommittee on April 15 Lieutenant General Patrick J. O'Reilly, U.S. Missile Defence Agency Director, said that his agency was going full steam with development of "advanced capability" anti-missile systems.

 

It is precisely this type of capability in missile defence that Russia said would force it to walk away from the New START treaty.

 

"The treaty… can operate and be viable only if the United States of America refrains from developing its missile defence capabilities quantitatively or qualitatively," Russia said in a statement issued at the signing of the New START treaty in Prague on April 8.

 

According to Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, reference to "the interrelationship between strategic offensive arms and strategic defensive arms" included in the preamble of the treaty gives Russia a legal basis for pulling out from the START-2 treaty if the U.S. decides to upgrade regional missile defences it is currently deploying against Iran and North Korea to a strategic anti-missile system that could threaten Russia's long-range missile capabilities.

 

Russia's new military doctrine, adopted earlier this year, states that strategic missile defence will "undermine global stability and destroy the balance of power in the nuclear missile sphere." A nuclear war between the U.S. and Russia may no longer be an option, but Russia says the U.S. national missile defence could become an instrument for political blackmail. As Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin put it recently, the anti-missile umbrella would make the U.S. feel so secure that it could "act with impunity" towards Russia.

 

U.S. President George W. Bush's national security strategy signed in 2002, which argues the need for U.S. global military superiority, is still in effect. Mr. Obama's new nuclear strategy document, the Nuclear Posture Review, released two days before the New START was signed, assigned critical role to missile defence as the U.S. shifts away from reliance on nuclear weapons.

 

After the New START was signed U.S. Secretary of Defence Robert Gates said, "Missile defence is not constrained by this treaty."

 

In his testimony at the Congress hearings Lt. General O'Reilly said that by 2020 the U.S. will have the capability in Europe to shoot down, not only medium-range, but also long-range missiles, and not just single-missile attacks, but "large raids" of missiles "early in flight." This would effectively mean upgrading a regional missile defence to a strategic one that would threaten Russia's strategic missiles.

 

U.S. officials insist that the planned missile defences do not target Russia or China, but are only designed to give the U.S. and its allies protection against possible missile attacks by countries like Iran and North Korea.

 

"The United States made a unilateral statement [at the signing of the New START] to clarify that our missile defence systems are not intended to affect the strategic balance with Russia," U.S. Under Secretary for Arms Control and Security Ellen Tauscher said a week ago. Russia is unconvinced.

 

"In military affairs, you have to judge not intentions but capabilities," Mr. Lavrov once said quoting the 19th century German statesman Otto von Bismarck.

 

Russia has come up with a simple test of U.S. intentions: if your missile defence shield is not directed against us, Moscow told Washington, let's build it together. Mr. Putin first made the proposal to Mr. Bush in 2007. Nothing has come out of it, because, as Mr. Putin revealed in an interview, the American response had boiled down to a request that "we should give them our missiles as targets" for U.S. missile interceptors.

 

President Dmitry Medvedev made the same proposal to Mr. Obama when the U.S. President visited Moscow a year ago and repeated it again when they were signing the New START in Prague on April 8. Mr. Obama responded by saying that he was looking forward to "launching a serious dialogue about Russian-American cooperation on missile defence."

 

However, at U.S. Congress hearings on missile defence a week later Russia was not mentioned as a possible partner, not even hypothetically. At the same time, it was stated that the U.S. planned to deploy missile interceptors in Romania by 2015 and in Poland by 2018 (Patriot missiles are to be set up in Poland as early as this May). Russia has vehemently objected to these plans seeing them as steps towards building a destabilising strategic missile shield.

 

A few days ago U.S. media reported that the Pentagon had won Mr. Obama's support for a new generation of conventional strategic weapons that may further upset strategic stability. The Pentagon last week tested a new hypersonic winged missile system, the Falcon Hypersonic Test Vehicle-2, developed under the Prompt Global Strike project. Launched into the upper atmosphere by a long-range ballistic missile Falcon glides down to its target with pinpoint accuracy. It is the first weapon system since the creation of ballistic missiles that will be capable of hitting a target anywhere around the globe within less than an hour.

 

Speaking in Congress Lt. General O'Reilly confirmed that the future U.S. missile shield would include a strong space component. Last Thursday the U.S. took a major step towards weaponisation of space with a test launch of the X-37B orbital space plane. Former Russian Air Force chief General Anatoly Kornukov said the test showed that "the U.S. plans to deploy weapons in space to target Russia."

 

Mr. Lavrov warned last month that "states will hardly accept a situation in which nuclear weapons disappear, but weapons that are no less destabilising emerge in the hands of certain members of the international community".

 

The U.S. has consistently rejected a joint Russia-China proposal to sign an international agreement banning

space weapons.

 

Experts say that U.S. missile defences and Prompt Global Strike weapons, far from promoting nuclear disarmament, may trigger a new arms race. In its new report on China's nuclear strategy published on April 20 the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) comes to the conclusion that "the advent of more advanced conventional weapons, including missile defences and space-based weapons, places further pressures on China to revisit its policies and practices on the role of nuclear weapons," and upgrade and expand its nuclear deterrent potential.

Russia also pursues modernisation of its nuclear arsenals. In recent years it has developed new long-range nuclear missiles armed with multiple warheads that are said to be capable of piercing U.S. missile defences. The land-based RS-24 missile is due to be deployed next year, and the submarine-launched Bulava missile is still undergoing tests. By 2016 Russia plans to build a heavier land-based missile.

 

The U.S. emphasis on missile defence and other high precision conventional weapon systems – an area where it has overwhelming superiority — casts in a new light Mr. Obama's declared goal of achieving "a world free of nuclear weapons." It is seen as a way for the U.S. to consolidate its military supremacy.

 

"Obama's nuclear disarmament initiative will effectively allow the U.S. to assert its global military hegemony at a qualitatively higher level," says Prof. Alexander Radchuk, adviser to the Chief of the General Staff of the Russian Armed Forces.

 

At the NPT Review Conference this week the U.S. is expected to push for all non-NPT states including India and Pakistan to join the nuclear accord. However, Washington's policy of global domination through supremacy in non-nuclear weapons may push more states to seek the n-bomb.

 

"Whereas in the 20th century nuclear weapons were a privilege of the powerful and technologically advanced nations, in the 21st century the opposite tendency is emerging: nuclear weapons attract countries that want to compensate for their technological weaknesses," Prof. Radchuk opines.

 

Despite worrying signals from Washington, Moscow is in no hurry to give up on Mr. Obama. The Kremlin sees the New START as evidence of a significant shift in the U.S. policy from Mr. Bush's refusal to sign any legally binding disarmament pacts with Russia to a revival of the system of maintaining strategic stability through verifiable arms control and reduction treaties. Mr. Medvedev, who met Mr. Obama 12 times over the past year, has a very high opinion of his U.S. counterpart. Comparing Mr. Obama with his predecessor in a recent interview Mr. Medvedev said Mr. Obama was a "thinker" who "tries to listen to his partner," has "in-depth" knowledge of issues discussed, and overall, is "a great personality to deal with." Moscow is well aware of the challenges the Obama administration faces in getting the New START treaty through the Republican-controlled Senate. The Kremlin hopes that once the ratification hurdle is cleared and the two sides embark on strategic dialogue proposed by the White House, they will be able to carry forward the disarmament agenda on the basis of equal security and credibly "reset" bilateral relations.

 

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THE HINDU

FROM THE REALM OF CULTURE TO THE DOMAIN OF COMMERCE



Can a high level of literacy, excellent human development indicators, a reputation for being a developed region, and the presence of a good many institutions of higher learning ensure a significant advance in respect of access to and performance in higher education? No, not necessarily. This has been established by a study in the case of Dakshina Kannada and Udupi districts, which are considered the most developed regions of Karnataka. The two districts have long been popularly known as buddhivanthara naduor "land of the intelligent people."

 

Revealing this in a news report ( The Hindu, Mangalore edition, April 21), Senior Reporter Sudipto Mondal pointed out that the study revealed that in the districts where the literacy percentage hovered around 90, "an astounding number of people" did not go beyond middle school. The study, conducted by the Mumbai-based Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS) in 2007, also found that only nine out of a 100 persons in these districts were graduates. Further, 31 per cent in Dakshina Kannada and 33 per cent in Udupi dropped out after middle school (classes 5, 6 and 7). A graph showed a steep fall in the number of persons who expressed their wish to study beyond middle school. Twenty-six per cent of high school (classes 8, 9 and 10) students in Udupi district and 17 per cent of students of the same category in Dakshina Kannada district discontinued their studies after the high school stage. The gradual withdrawal of the government from higher education since the 1980s is generally cited as the reason for the fall in the number of students aspiring for higher learning after completing school education.

 

A look at higher education

 

Added to this is the indiscriminate privatisation of higher education. Of the 157 arts and science colleges in the two districts, only 30 are government-owned. In the case of professional colleges, the position is worse: only the government runs only one of the 30-plus engineering and medical colleges. On the other hand, of the 1,400 primary schools in Dakshina Kannada district, 1,000 are under the government control. As for post-graduate medical studies, the report says, the aspirants have to pay huge sums ranging from Rs, 45 lakh for anaesthesia to Rs. 1.3 crore for radiology. What is true of Dakshina Kannada and Udupi districts may be true of several other places in India as well: not even the moderately rich among the upper middle classes can dream of accessing post-graduate medical education. The country has been brought to such a pass three decades after the government began abandoning its responsibilities in areas such as education and healthcare as part of its policy of liberalisation. Even in respect of non-professional colleges, access is a serious problem for the majority of the people.

 

The research has thrown up several important issues. Imagine in this situation the impact of the government's fresh attempts to open up the country to foreign educational institutions. Six weeks ago the Union Cabinet approved a bill that seeks to allow foreign educational institutions such as universities to set up their campuses in India and offer degrees. Ever since a bill was introduced in the Rajya Sabha in August 1995, the proposal has been in the public realm, with different political parties and stakeholders taking different stands on the issue. A serious attempt by the previous United Progressive Alliance government to obtain the approval of Parliament was blocked by the Left parties and their supporters. If things go according to plan, once the Foreign Educational Institutions (Regulation of Entry and Operations) Bill 2010 gets Parliament's approval, the first set of foreign educational institutions will start functioning in mid-2011. The Bill will enable foreign universities to invest at least 51 per cent of the total capital expenditure required for starting their institutions. About 50 foreign universities are believed to have shown interest in setting up campuses in India.

 

A 'milestone' or wishful thinking?

Human Resource Development Minister Kapil Sibal visited the United States in November 2009 and met the presidents and representatives of many top educational institutions. A confident Mr. Sibal has described the Bill as "a milestone, which will enhance choices, increase competition and benchmark quality." The main arguments the proponents of the Bill put forth are these: The foreign institutions' entry will stop or at least curb the outflow of foreign exchange on account of Indian youth going abroad for higher studies. (About 1,60,000 Indians are studying in various countries, spending anything between $4 billion and $7.5 billion a year.). Higher education will become much cheaper owing to competition between Indian and foreign institutions. The quality of education will be enhanced. Advocates of the Bill also contend that the quality and the earnings of teachers will be enhanced in due course.

 

The critics characterise these arguments as wishful thinking. They contend that the entry of foreign universities cannot solve the basic problems of the country's education system, which begin in school and go all the way up. They point out that for two decades now, the government has retreated from the field of education, abandoning its social responsibilities. In the absence of a holistic approach to the problems, which are complex, ideals such as "inclusive education," "education for all," and "equitable access to quality education" will only be empty slogans. The entry of foreign educational institutions, the critics contend, will create further inequality in access to education, unless they are required to follow the state policy of reservation for non-privileged sections.

 

Sixty years ago, soon after Independence, the government set out on a mission to invest serious funds to educate the people and build a new nation. Today the situation has been turned upside down. The Bill and the related set of issues have been in the public realm for about 15 years now. The good thing is that there has been extensive coverage by both the print and broadcast media and plenty of interaction with readers and viewers. The Hinduhas published about half-a-dozen analytical articles, rich in content and mostly critical of the government's resolve to go ahead and let foreign educational institutions set up shop in India. As many as 45 readers shared their views on the subject. Many raised basic questions about the state's failure on the education front. Interestingly, while 20 readers were critical of the Bill, 19 supported it. Six others extended conditional support: predictably, while some of them wanted the government to insist that the foreign educational institutions should follow the reservation system for admission of students, others opposed reservation.

 

readerseditor@thehindu.co.in

 

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THE HINDU

I HAVE A RIGHT TO SPEAK'

THE LATEST JUDGMENT OF THE SUPREME COURT OF INDIA QUASHING THE CRIMINAL PROCEEDINGS AGAINST ACTOR KUSHBOO FOR HER REMARKS ON PRE-MARITAL SEX WILL GO DOWN IN LEGAL HISTORY FOR THE HIGH VALUES IT PROTECTS.

PINKY ANAND

 

  1. Obscenity should be gauged with respect to contemporary community standards that reflect the sensibilities as well as the tolerance levels of an average reasonable person
  2. The proper course for magistrates is to use their statutory powers to direct an investigation into the allegations before taking cognizance of the offences alleged

 

"We can never be sure that the opinion we are endeavouring to stifle is a false opinion; and if we were sure, stifling it would be an evil still."

 

John Stuart Mill

 

A century-and-a-half ago, John Stuart Mill voiced his concern for free speech. The Supreme Court in Kushboo's case has endorsed these ideals.

 

Ms Kushboo's case is a tribute to one of the most sacrosanct rights of a democracy and to a vibrant dynamic society. The Supreme Court judgment reaffirms our faith in liberty: liberty of ideas; liberty of speech and expression; liberty of opinion; liberty of divergence; liberty of dissension, and liberty of circulation. Benjamin Franklin said: "When men differ in opinion, both sides ought equally to have the advantage of being heard by the public." It gives a blow to the power-hungry, aggressive sections of society who claim to be the defenders of faith.

 

Are we a closeted society where even the mention of the word sex raises eyebrows? Sex is not synonymous with obscenity or indecency. In Udeshi's case in 1965, Justice Hidayatullah held: "Sex and obscenity are not always synonymous and it is wrong to classify sex as essentially obscene or even indecent or immoral."

 

Oddly enough, although many may think the judgment is an endorsement of deviant behaviour, it is not. Ms Kushboo did not advocate premarital sex or live in relationship. She only advocated that society should not be hypocritical and pretend that this does not happen. She advocated health safety measures where it did happen and voiced her concern.

 

What the Supreme Court of India's latest judgment does uphold is:

 

1. Obscenity should be gauged with respect to contemporary community standards that reflect the sensibilities as well as the tolerance levels of an average reasonable person.

 

2. Although the survey on which Ms Kushboo was invited to comment, was not a literary work, it was published in a news magazine, thereby serving the purpose of communicating certain ideas and opinions on the above-mentioned subject. The survey touched numerous aspects relating to sexual habits of people in big cities.

 

3. The statements were not defamatory. Ms Kushboo's statement published in India Today (in September 2005) is "a rather general endorsement of premarital sex and her remarks are not directed at any individual or even at a 'company or an association or collection of persons'." It is difficult to fathom how her views can be construed as an attack on the reputation of anyone in particular.

 

4. There was no intention on Ms Kushboo's part to hurt anyone's sentiments. There was neither any intent to cause harm to the reputation of people nor any actual harm done to their reputation.

 

5. The impugned complaints were made by complainants associated with a political party being PMK, which is active in the State of Tamil Nadu. This adds weight to the suggestion that complaints were made to gain undue political mileage.

 

6. There was no specific legal injury caused to any of the complainants since the appellant's remarks were not directed at any individual or a readily identifiable group of people.

 

7. The complaints made were frivolous in nature since the comments did not injure anyone in particular.

 

8. The institution of the numerous complaints against Ms Kushboo was done in a malafide manner. In order to prevent the abuse of the criminal law machinery the complaints were quashed. In such cases, the proper course for magistrates is to use their statutory powers to direct an investigation into the allegations before taking cognizance of the offences alleged. It is not the task of the criminal law to punish individuals merely for expressing unpopular views. The threshold for placing reasonable restrictions on the "freedom of speech and expression" is indeed a very high one and there should be a presumption in favour of the accused in such cases. It is only when the complainants produce materials that support a prima facie case for a statutory offence that magistrates can proceed to take cognisance of the same.

 

9. One must be mindful that the initiation of a criminal trial is a process that carries an implicit degree of coercion and it should not be triggered by false and frivolous complaints, amounting to harassment and humiliation to the accused.

 

When we will turn the pages of history, this judgment of Justice B.S. Chauhan for the three Judge Bench will stand out for the high values it protects, which are integral to democracy and civil society.

 

(Pinky Anand is a Senior Advocate, Supreme Court of India.)

 

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THE HINDU

BUFFETT SUPPORTS GOLDMAN


Berkshire Hathaway CEO Warren Buffett declared his support for Goldman Sachs Group Inc. CEO Lloyd Blankfein on Saturday and said he had no plans to sell his company's stake in the bank.

 

Mr. Buffett and Berkshire vice-chairman Charlie Munger praised Goldman before a crowd of about 40,000 at Berkshire's annual shareholder meeting. Both executives said they are happy with Mr. Blankfein's leadership and said they do not view the Securities and Exchange Commission's civil fraud charges against Goldman as a strike against him.

 

"There's really no reason to think about somebody else running Goldman," Mr. Buffett said when asked whether someone besides Mr. Blankfein should be leading the investment bank. The charges filed April 16 have raised questions about Mr. Blankfein's tenure.

 

Mr. Buffett has been one of Goldman's biggest supporters before and since the SEC filed its civil lawsuit against the bank. The government charged that the investment bank misled investors about a deal involving complex mortgage-related investments that later plunged in value.

 

During questioning by shareholders, Mr. Munger noted that the SEC vote to file the charges was 3 to 2. He said that if he had been a member of the SEC, he would have voted against the suit.

 

Mr. Buffett previewed his company's first-quarter earnings report at the meeting at Omaha's Qwest Center. He said Berkshire rebounded from last year's first-quarter loss and earned $3.6 billion as the economic recovery began and Berkshire absorbed Burlington Northern Santa Fe railroad.

 

 AP

 

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THE HINDU

 

IRAN AND NUCLEAR CONCERNS

INTERVIEW WITH DR. ALI BAGHERI, DEPUTY SECRETARY OF IRAN'S SUPREME NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL.

 

Dr. Ali Bagheri , closely involved with Iran's nuclear diplomacy as Deputy Secretary of the Supreme National Security Council, spoke on April 18 in Tehran to Atul Aneja on the international disarmament conference in Iran and its likely impact on the upcoming Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference in New York. He sought to counter allegations about Iran's lack of cooperation with the International Atomic Energy Agency. He emphasised that Iran and India ought to coordinate their work in Afghanistan. Excerpts:

 

The situation in Afghanistan is turbulent and the Americans may leave soon. Can India and Iran work together in Afghanistan as they have done in the past?

You raised a very important point. Iran's position on Afghanistan is based on the principle that the countries of the region should be responsible for its security. But this is not possible unless we have serious, close and constructive cooperation with the regional countries. Therefore, cooperation within the region is not an option; it's a necessity. During regional interactions at different levels, especially with India, we have emphasised this point. We believe that foreigners are present in our neighbourhood only because we have allowed a power vacuum to develop...

 

We have had, and continue to have, talks with our friends in New Delhi. We do believe that in the immediate future we will see concrete results of this cooperation. We look forward to the arrival of India's Deputy National Security Adviser Alok Prasad in May, for meetings in Tehran within our strategic dialogue framework.

 

There has been an attempt in international forums to make a distinction between the "good Taliban" and "bad Taliban" in Afghanistan.

It would be naive to conclude that the foreigners are determined to uproot the terrorists and the Taliban. Using different tools and means at their command, they want to perpetuate areas of existing and potential instability. Therefore, we reject the viewpoints of the occupiers and foreigners: these are not constructive.

 

What impact will the Tehran conference on disarmament and non-proliferation have on the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference scheduled in New York in May?

The NPT has three pillars. One pillar is disarmament, another is non-proliferation and the third is peaceful use of nuclear energy. Over the past 40 years, from the time the NPT was put into practice, we have witnessed that proliferation has increased and not decreased. Nuclear stockpiles have in fact become more sophisticated and improved.

 

Disarmament… has been put on the backburner. Two conclusions can be drawn. One is that the core provisions of the NPT cannot be accomplished as long as the nuclear weapon countries are in charge of steering the global nuclear agenda. Second, real disarmament will only begin when nuclear weapons are rejected at a popular level across the globe. We are of the view that the success of disarmament will depend on its comprehensiveness. Even if one atomic weapon remains… we would have failed...

 

You seem to be calling for radical changes in the institutional arrangements that govern the international nuclear regime.

The problem is more fundamental. Those big powers which were triumphant after the Second World War and those who had nuclear power laid the foundations of our present unequal situation. As a result, might and power triumphed over civilisation, culture and humanity. But now that cycle has been completed and we have… a new situation. This means the U.N. Security Council, where all power has been concentrated, has in its present form become dysfunctional.

 

The changes in the ground rules governing the management and dissemination of nuclear energy are therefore part of a larger call for the democratisation of the international system. Within this larger framework we proposed at the Tehran conference the establishment of an independent commission or committee that would steer the disarmament issue and would be answerable to the General Assembly.

 

Has the time come for the NPT to be replaced by a new treaty? Countries like India are not part of the NPT, but would have to play a big role if global disarmament is to be achieved.

The principal problem on the question of disarmament is not lack of treaties. However, nuclear weapons states have always wanted exceptional treatment for themselves. We have witnessed that countries inside the NPT have cooperated with technology with countries which have tested atomic weapons and are outside the NPT framework. However, if new arrangements can contribute to real and absolute international disarmament, then it may be appropriate to do so. One recommendation of the Tehran conference was that those countries which are inside the NPT should be barred from working with countries outside it.

 

One of the unresolved issues between Iran and the IAEA relates to the so-called "Alleged Studies." Based on information apparently contained in a laptop computer that was taken out in 2004, it is alleged that Iran conducted high explosive testing, warhead designing and "green salt" experiments. These are supposedly related to the development of atomic weapons. Are you closer to a resolution of this issue with the IAEA?

In 2007, we signed a modality agreement with the IAEA. Under this arrangement, the IAEA mentioned six topics, or issues, which in its view were ambiguous. Both sides agreed to resolve these in an 18-month time-frame. On account of constructive cooperation from Iran, the time-frame… was reduced to six months. [Under]… this time table, the Agency sent six… letters to Iran, [saying] its findings complied with Iran's claims.

 

After this process was completed, the IAEA raised some issues that did not relate to ambiguity. Rather, they were accusations made [about Iran's nuclear programme] by some countries. Had these accusations been based on solid ground or had they been documented, they would have naturally been added to the six outstanding issues. Therefore, those accusations were not critical enough to be considered outstanding or ambiguous... Nevertheless, it was decided that the IAEA should provide details about those Alleged Studies, or accusations. Iran agreed to respond with its assessment and viewpoints, and in a 117-page letter provided its assessment to the IAEA.

 

The approach followed by some countries has been illogical. They have been unable to provide any documents or proof to substantiate their claims. The former IAEA head, Mohamed ElBaradei, at the time of his retirement announced that regarding Alleged Studies, the ball… was in the accusers' court. Had these countries possessed a single piece of evidence, they would have… publicised those documents.

 

Why did Iran object to the nuclear swap deal as was proposed in the Vienna conference in October 2009?

That question should be posed in another way. It shouldn't be why Iran rejected the idea, it should be why certain unreasonable conditions were put on Iran. We were told to swap 1,200 kg of Low Enriched Uranium for fuel. Why ask for 1,200 kg? Secondly, we were asked to provide the bulk of our LEU stocks right away. But, we were told that in return, the fuel, which we urgently require to run the Tehran reactor used for making medicines to treat cancer patients, would arrive only after one year. Why one year?

 

Third... our interlocutors have insisted that the swap should take place outside Iran… Why? The reasons they have given are not logical. We said, isn't it the case that this material is under the custody of the IAEA? Wherever you take this material, you will place it under the IAEA's custody. Our question is: what is the difference between IAEA custody inside Iran and outside Iran? Notwithstanding this, we have not closed the door for talks regarding the exchange outside Iran. Iran wants interaction on this issue.

 

Meanwhile, we have taken measures to produce and fabricate the required 20 per cent enriched fuel for the Tehran reactor inside Iran: we cannot ignore our patients' demands.

The Bushehr atomic power plant is expected to go online this year. How does it fit into your larger plans to generate nuclear power?

 

According to the 20-year vision of the Islamic Republic of Iran, Iran's government is obliged to generate 20,000 MW of nuclear power. This plan has two parts. First, foreign companies would be involved in the construction of power plants. Second, domestically developed capabilities will come into play… We have already developed on our own, the prototype of a 360 MW reactor.

 

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THE ASIAN AGE

EDITORIAL

JHARKHAND'S POLITICS OF GREED GETS BRAZEN

 

Mineral-rich Jharkhand's politics is no stranger to crisis. As is often the case in small states, minor quirks of political dynamics frequently lead to the dismissal of governments, and carefully stage-managed rebellions against those in authority that are little more than bargaining counters for enhancement of political power or the extracting of economic and business dividends.  The politics of stability or ideology is the last thing on the minds of "leaders". The driving force is greed of power or money, or both.

 

Interestingly, it is a family drama that is powering the newest Jharkhand pantomime. Jharkhand Mukti Morcha stalwart "Guruji" Shibu Soren, who never likes to be anything other than chief minister, has been sought to be upstaged by his son Hemant, who is seeking to dispossess his politically-greedy father with unseemly haste. Sensing this, the old boy prepares to defend his castle. He cosies up to the Congress (on the other side of the fence this time) by voting with it to defeat Opposition "cut" motions in the Lok Sabha, doubtless hoping to save himself against his son's moves by tempting the Congress into a power-share deal in Ranchi, jettisoning his alliance with the BJP to make this happen. What follows is a low-order farce. The BJP is furious after the JMM's pro-Congress vote in Parliament and publicly announces withdrawal of support; the Congress doesn't bite; old man Soren is nicely stuck. Seizing his chance, Hemant goes down on his knees and beseeches the BJP not to break the alliance, offering the saffron party the CM's post in the hope it will make him deputy chief minister. Everything seems to be going swimmingly for the BJP. Then there are reports that crafty Hemant Soren is playing at triple-cross, holding parleys with Congress MLAs as well.

 

The suspense may break anytime, but there is no denying it is so thick you can only cut it with a bread-knife. But a good question to ask in this melodrama concerns the BJP, not the JMM (which is playing true to character). When the JMM-led government was formed in January, many in the saffron camp thought — correctly — that the mandate obliged them to sit in Opposition. In the last Assembly, the party had 30 out of 81 seats, but in December 2009 it was down to almost half that, although it had done exceedingly well in the Lok Sabha election seven months earlier, bagging eight of the state's 14 seats. Political greed trumped other considerations, and a BJP licked in the Assembly polls ran to be on the treasury benches, behaviour more usually associated with the likes of the JMM and Jharkhand's "Independents" (the most infamous of whom being former chief minister Madhu Koda). The new crisis in Jharkhand shows the BJP driving dangerously fast in the slippery lane of opportunism. Those in the party who had in December 2009 held that they ought to sit in Opposition are now happy to let their names circulate for the CM's post. This will no doubt change rapidly if the JMM in the Assembly were to split between father Soren and son Soren, and the JMM-BJP alliance crumbles.

 

But what a way for newly-appointed BJP president Nitin Gadkari to start his innings? Where is the voice of leadership, of statesmanship, of political sagacity? There is no one in the party to deny reports that the decision to withdraw support from the JMM government was changed because some central party leaders had "business interests" in the state. On the contrary, in response to questions on this score, Gopinath Munde, the BJP's deputy leader in the Lok Sabha, reportedly had this to say, "There is nothing wrong in doing business."

 

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THE ASIAN AGE

EDITORIAL

SWEETNESS OF SALT

 

Azim Premji, chairman and managing director of Wipro Ltd. was recently speaking at a "Shaping Young Minds Interactive Workshop", on "Success and effective living". Among the various lessons that he suggested to his audience to remember was: "While you must be open to change, do not compromise with your values…, these values are not so difficult to define. Values like honesty, integrity, consideration and sensitivity have survived for generations".


Each of us faces moral choices every day. We are aware that every choice we make can either be a good one or a bad one. Every person has a free will; but if a person is confused about the difference between good and bad or right and wrong because of what they see around them, then who is to blame for the bad choices they make? When one looks around, particularly in the world of business and politics, even the world of priests in the sphere of religion, one finds that one of the greatest losses of our society is the sense of honesty and integrity. In the rating of honesty and integrity, India is, unfortunately, way below other countries.


These virtues are fundamental markers and demonstrate the essence, or salt, as it were, of one's character. Lack of honesty and integrity is not really a new phenomenon nor is it peculiar to India alone.


At the time of Jesus too the society lacked transparency and truthfulness. Seeing the behaviour of people around him Jesus said to his disciples, "You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled under foot" (Matt. 5:13). Jesus poses a serious question before his disciples. He did not want them to be just different from the rest but those who would make a difference to the society they lived in.


The analogy of salt that Jesus uses is, indeed, interesting. While salt adds flavour to food, it is also used as a preservative and has also healing properties. Thus when Jesus speaks about us being the salt of the earth, He presumably implies all three: We would add flavour to our life by living our lives according to path shown by God; In a world with so much pain and sufferings, be it physical or emotional, we could, like salt, heal people's lives; And, of course, if we do not let ourselves be touched by corruption, now a by-word in the Indian society, we would also preserve the purity of life and our society.


Jesus certainly had deep compassion towards the poor and sinners but he would never compromise with people who had a superficial value system. He was quite strict on issues which might seem so trivial to us that we do not even pay attention to them but which are extremely crucial for righteous living affecting a smooth running of society. He says, "If your hand or your foot causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it from you; it is better for you to enter life crippled or lame, than to have two hands or two feet and be cast into the eternal fire. If your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and throw it from you. It is better for you to enter life with one eye, than to have two eyes and be cast into the fiery hell" (Matt. 18:8-9). Surely he does not mean this literally but, as always, expects his listeners to aspire for higher moral living.


Jesus reiterated the quality of being the salt of the earth by telling his disciples, "But let your 'Yes' be 'Yes' and 'No', 'No'. For whatever is more than these is from the evil one" (Math: 5:37). He said this when he had just finished telling them that there was absolutely no need for anyone to swear by anything to make people believe.
It might be worth recalling here what Abraham Lincoln wrote, among other things, to his son's teacher on the first day of school. "In school teach him it is far more honourable to fail than to cheat" and "Teach him to sell his brawn and brain to the highest bidders; but never to put a price tag on his heart and soul".

 Father Dominic Emmanuel, a founder-member of Parliament of Religions, is currently the director of communication of the Delhi Catholic Church. He was awarded the National Communal Harmony
Award 2008 by the Government of India.


Dominic Emmanuel

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THE ASIAN AGE

EDITORIAL

NO RESPITE FOR TRIBALS

 

In her impressive article Walking with the Comrades, Arundhati Roy gave us both the salt and pepper view of Maoists in Dandakaranya as well as the lives and hardship of tribals.


She definitely made more than a journalistic effort to tell the story of tribal conditions, conflicts and the way the Maoists stood by them in times of trouble, exploitation and land grabbing. There is no doubt that the Maoists are working as their saviours from corporate exploiters and the oppression of other agencies.


But do the Maoists have an overall developmental strategy for tribals?


To find an answer, we should try to understand the history of tribal development in the Northeast, particularly Mizoram, Nagaland, Meghalaya and Manipur. About 50 years ago, the tribals of this region were as illiterate as those of Dandakaranya. But today Mizoram has 95 per cent literacy (more than Kerala), Manipur has 68.87 per cent, Meghalaya 63.31 per cent and Nagaland 66.11 per cent.


The amazing thing is that English, which is seen as an alien but desired language by many plain people, has become their common communicative and administrative language. Anybody in India knows that knowledge of English is a kind of power in itself. This educational development has to be seen in the background of the committed activities of missionaries. They averted violent struggles and at the same time, ensured the uplift of tribals. It was a slow but sure process of development and empowerment.


But what is the Maoist vision to develop the Central Indian tribes?


Roy knows that the Maoists moved into Dandakaranya after they lost ground in plain regions of Andhra Pradesh. They did not start their movement just to protect the tribals or to liberate them. They launched their movement around 1967 with a theoretical formulation that India was a semi-feudal and semi-colonial country. The Maoists were of the view that India should go through a process of new democratic revolution on the lines that Mao proposed. Their main idea was to liberate the agrarian villages and encircle the urban areas with a twin strategy of guerrilla warfare and mass mobilisation.


Having failed in this strategy and also having lost hundreds of leaders and thousands of cadres they withdrew into this thick forest zone. They have not changed their understanding of India since then. Does Roy agree with their view of Indian capital, state and society?


I support her if she is sympathising with them for their fight against "corporate invasion" but she seems to suggest that they are like gods who have gone there to change the life of tribals. There is something basically wrong with that understanding.


Maoism as an ideological agency does not have comprehensive liberation and developmental agenda for tribals. Even in China it did not liberate and develop them, in spite of Maoism being in power for so long. The Chinese tribals are not as much developed as our north-eastern tribals.


Yes, ever since Mr Chidambaram took over the home ministry, as an aggressive agent of liberalisation and globalisation, the question of the Maoist strategy of converting Dandakaranya into a war zone has acquired critical importance.

There is a view that the Maoist problem is basically a law and order problem both among the governing agencies and a vast number of civil societal forces. It is actually a socio-economic and ideological movement. It has developed as part of the larger communist ideological development. It is one of the shades of the Indian Communist movement with a history of 43 years.


Over the years it has lost the base in plain areas of Andhra Pradesh and other states and it has chosen the Central Indian forest-tribal belt as a safe zone to conduct its warfare. There are intellectuals in this country who believe that it has been working for the development and uplift of the tribals of the Central India. But both in terms of practice and theory the Maoist movement does not have a reformist agenda for tribals.


Ever since its main ideologues — Tarimela Nagireddy, Devulapally Venkateswar Rao and later Kondapally Sitharamaiah, K.G. Satyamurthy — started the Maoist stream they have been waging a war against the Indian state. Charu Majumdar provided its "Annihilation of Class Enemy" theory. But they could not succeed even in one state.
They are now focusing on the tribal areas as they are the most underdeveloped. Some sort of semi-feudalism and semi-colonialism exists in the tribal regions and the forest gives Maoists a cover that plain areas cannot.
Nagireddy wrote his famous book India Mortgaged in the early 70s. Today India's position even in the world has changed. The nature of its capital has changed quite drastically.


So far Maoists have not revised their theoretical formulation based on such changes. The Maoists definitely do not have the capacity to challenge the Indian state and capital. But the horrible conditions of tribal existence come handy to them. Maoists do not have a viable model of development of tribals also. In a way they are on a weak wicket.


As mentioned, the development of tribals in the Northeast became possible because of missionary work focusing on education. Since Maoists as well as the exploiters of the tribals bank upon their illiteracy, poverty and unemployment, the state must study the development pattern of north-eastern tribals and employ some of those strategies in Central Indian tribal regions.


Mere military strategy will not work. Any massive military operation will result in the deaths of innocent tribals. The Congress cannot afford to acquire an image of tribal annihilator. The Congress too is aligned with imperial monopoly capital, but it does not carry the agenda on its shoulders as the Bharatiya Janata Party  did.
The Maoists have no clue as to how to bring the tribals into the mainstream bypassing the caste structures that the Hindu religion has created. But it is part of Hindu fundamentalist expansion into tribal areas with its own ideological baggage. Unfortunately Mr Chidambaram too is becoming part of that move.


But while we oppose Chidambaram's warmongering we should also understand the limitations of Maoists.

Kancha Ilaiah

 

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THE ASIAN AGE

EDITORIAL

OLD LEADERS & NEW WORK CULTURE

 

 ALL THANKS TO THE STARS

May.03 : Owners of the Chennai Super Kings go strictly by what the astrologers say since the cosmic adviser to their chief honcho made an accurate forecast in the first season when he predicted the team would win nine matches.


Since the ninth win came in the semi-final, the owners were crestfallen knowing the final would be lost. To compensate, the adviser worked overtime during IPL-3 (Indian Premier League), especially at the vital end.
This time, the stargazer's advice to the team was not to travel to Mumbai on a Tuesday for the knockout. This forced India Cements to charter a flight from Chandigarh to Chennai for an overnight halt that later proved controversial.


The chief honcho, N. Srinivasan, who is also secretary of the Board of Control for Cricket in India, could also not take in much of the winning action since he had been strictly told to leave any match at the end of the fourth over in order to increase the chances of his team's success.


 BUDDHA'S NIGHTMARE

In the 2006 Assembly polls, Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee had led the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) and the Left Front to a landslide victory on the poll plank of development and industrialisation.


He also promised to introduce a new work culture which would have no room for militant trade unionism, blockades and bandhs and gave the employees of the state secretariat and the Writers' Buildings an invigorating "Do-It-Now" mantra.


The total shutdown of the state during last week's crippling bandh, however, proved that Mr Bhattacharjee's promises were just tall claims. He has not been able to change anything. It was his own party, the CPI(M), and in particular its trade union wing, the Centre of Indian Trade Unions, which turned Mr Bhattacharjee's dream of a resurgent Bengal into a nightmare.


The success of the bandh may have come as a shot in the arm of the beleaguered Left Front in the state but it dealt a body blow to the chief minister's pro-industry and pro-development image.

 

 A JINXED BUNGALOW

Even the ardent Marxists of Kerala are convinced now that the Manmohan Bungalow in Thiruvananthapuram is jinxed.


On Friday, the minister for public works, P.J. Joseph, who stayed in the bungalow, was thrown out of the Cabinet. He is the fourth ministerial resident of the palatial building to exit it in the last four years.
His predecessors in the bungalow and fellow partymen, T.U. Kuruvila and Mons Joseph, also had to resign within one year of taking up their portfolios, for various reasons. The bungalow, built by the Travancore royal family for their guests, has always messed up the careers of ministers who stayed there. Interestingly, it was the CPI(M) home minister, Kodiyeri Balakrishnan, who tried to "rectify" the flaws of the bungalow by building a new entrance as per vaastu and by making other modifications as soon as the present LDF (Left Democratic Front) government took over. But that did not help him even a bit. The Opposition attacked him for spending public funds worth Rs 11 lakhs to modify the bungalow, and he had to shift to another residence in embarrassment. Everyone is now watching who will be the next ill-fated occupant of the bungalow.
Oldies feel the pinch


Gone are the days when senior dhoti-clad politicians in Orissa were considered a respected tribe. Now they complain that younger politicians are trying to belittle the elders by branding them as "out-of-date" elements. Thanks to this, of the Biju Janata Dal's 103 MLAs, only three — Prafulla Ghadei, Kalindi Behera, Damodar Rout — prefer to continue with their dhoti tradition. On every occasion they meet, they also share their problems and grievances.


"The apprehensions of the dhoti-clad leaders are not baseless", quipped a party insider. For instance, Mr Rout lost his plum panchayati raj ministry to young Prafulla Samal and Mr Behera was shunted out of the ministry. Though Mr Ghadei manages to hold the finance ministry, he no longer wields the enormous power he enjoyed during the reign of Biju Patnaik, father of the present chief minister, Naveen Patnaik. No wonder they are fretting and fuming.

 

 THE TRUTH AT LAST

The Mayawati government in Uttar Pradesh recently signed a memorandum of understanding with the Bajaj group for a power plant in Bundelkhand and issued full-page advertisements in all local newspapers to announce it. The advertisements in English newspapers read thus — "An significant step to ensure interrupted (instead of uninterrupted) power supply… under the dynamic leadership and able guidance of Hon'ble chief minister Mayawati".


There were innumerable red faces in the government when the advertisement appeared. The journalists made it worse by telling every official they met that the government had finally spoken the truth — power supply in Uttar Pradesh is delivered in an interrupted manner as the advertisement said. The officials finally made amends the following day by issuing fresh advertisements.

 

A RHODES SHOW

Even the normally celeb-saturated locals of the Goan capital were taken aback when South African fielding sensation and coach of Mumbai Indians, Jonty Rhodes, walked into an Enfield Bullet showroom in town on Thursday and rode out on a brand-new Bullet Classic 500 cc bike.


Bikes have always been a passion for Goan youth and the site of the ace fielder zooming around the city's streets brought cellphone cameras out. Rhodes is only the latest in a long list of celebs who prefer to roam the Goan roads on bikes. A week back it was Abhishek Bachchan who was spotted in Panaji on a Bullet. Bachchan Junior is very much at home on Goan roads, and has even been seen giving directions to motorists (who surprisingly had no clue about his identity.)


Rhodes, meanwhile, was happy to take a short round on the bike before returning to the showroom. The showroom manager said he was extremely fond of Bullets and wanted to take one back to South Africa.

 

ALL THANKS TO THE STARS

Owners of the Chennai Super Kings go strictly by what the astrologers say since the cosmic adviser to their chief honcho made an accurate forecast in the first season when he predicted the team would win nine matches.
Since the ninth win came in the semi-final, the owners were crestfallen knowing the final would be lost. To compensate, the adviser worked overtime during IPL-3 (Indian Premier League), especially at the vital end.
This time, the stargazer's advice to the team was not to travel to Mumbai on a Tuesday for the knockout. This forced India Cements to charter a flight from Chandigarh to Chennai for an overnight halt that later proved controversial.
The chief honcho, N. Srinivasan, who is also secretary of the Board of Control for Cricket in India, could also not take in much of the winning action since he had been strictly told to leave any match at the end of the fourth over in order to increase the chances of his team's success.

 

BUDDHA'S NIGHTMARE

In the 2006 Assembly polls, Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee had led the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) and the Left Front to a landslide victory on the poll plank of development and industrialisation.
He also promised to introduce a new work culture which would have no room for militant trade unionism, blockades and bandhs and gave the employees of the state secretariat and the Writers' Buildings an invigorating "Do-It-Now" mantra.


The total shutdown of the state during last week's crippling bandh, however, proved that Mr Bhattacharjee's promises were just tall claims. He has not been able to change anything. It was his own party, the CPI(M), and in particular its trade union wing, the Centre of Indian Trade Unions, which turned Mr Bhattacharjee's dream of a resurgent Bengal into a nightmare.


The success of the bandh may have come as a shot in the arm of the beleaguered Left Front in the state but it dealt a body blow to the chief minister's pro-industry and pro-development image.

 

A JINXED BUNGALOW

Even the ardent Marxists of Kerala are convinced now that the Manmohan Bungalow in Thiruvananthapuram is jinxed.

 

On Friday, the minister for public works, P.J. Joseph, who stayed in the bungalow, was thrown out of the Cabinet. He is the fourth ministerial resident of the palatial building to exit it in the last four years.
His predecessors in the bungalow and fellow partymen, T.U. Kuruvila and Mons Joseph, also had to resign within one year of taking up their portfolios, for various reasons. The bungalow, built by the Travancore royal family for their guests, has always messed up the careers of ministers who stayed there. Interestingly, it was the CPI(M) home minister, Kodiyeri Balakrishnan, who tried to "rectify" the flaws of the bungalow by building a new entrance as per vaastu and by making other modifications as soon as the present LDF (Left Democratic Front) government took over. But that did not help him even a bit. The Opposition attacked him for spending public funds worth Rs 11 lakhs to modify the bungalow, and he had to shift to another residence in embarrassment. Everyone is now watching who will be the next ill-fated occupant of the bungalow.

 OLDIES FEEL THE PINCH

Gone are the days when senior dhoti-clad politicians in Orissa were considered a respected tribe. Now they complain that younger politicians are trying to belittle the elders by branding them as "out-of-date" elements. Thanks to this, of the Biju Janata Dal's 103 MLAs, only three — Prafulla Ghadei, Kalindi Behera, Damodar Rout — prefer to continue with their dhoti tradition. On every occasion they meet, they also share their problems and grievances.


"The apprehensions of the dhoti-clad leaders are not baseless", quipped a party insider. For instance, Mr Rout lost his plum panchayati raj ministry to young Prafulla Samal and Mr Behera was shunted out of the ministry. Though Mr Ghadei manages to hold the finance ministry, he no longer wields the enormous power he enjoyed during the reign of Biju Patnaik, father of the present chief minister, Naveen Patnaik. No wonder they are fretting and fuming.

 

THE TRUTH AT LAST

The Mayawati government in Uttar Pradesh recently signed a memorandum of understanding with the Bajaj group for a power plant in Bundelkhand and issued full-page advertisements in all local newspapers to announce it. The advertisements in English newspapers read thus — "An significant step to ensure interrupted (instead of uninterrupted) power supply… under the dynamic leadership and able guidance of Hon'ble chief minister Mayawati".


There were innumerable red faces in the government when the advertisement appeared. The journalists made it worse by telling every official they met that the government had finally spoken the truth — power supply in Uttar Pradesh is delivered in an interrupted manner as the advertisement said. The officials finally made amends the following day by issuing fresh advertisements.

 

 A RHODES SHOW

Even the normally celeb-saturated locals of the Goan capital were taken aback when South African fielding sensation and coach of Mumbai Indians, Jonty Rhodes, walked into an Enfield Bullet showroom in town on Thursday and rode out on a brand-new Bullet Classic 500 cc bike.


Bikes have always been a passion for Goan youth and the site of the ace fielder zooming around the city's streets brought cellphone cameras out. Rhodes is only the latest in a long list of celebs who prefer to roam the Goan roads on bikes. A week back it was Abhishek Bachchan who was spotted in Panaji on a Bullet. Bachchan Junior is very much at home on Goan roads, and has even been seen giving directions to motorists (who surprisingly had no clue about his identity.)


Rhodes, meanwhile, was happy to take a short round on the bike before returning to the showroom. The showroom manager said he was extremely fond of Bullets and wanted to take one back to South Africa.

Reporters' Diary

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DNA

EDITORIAL

MAHARASHTRA'S ROLE

 

Two days ago, Maharashtra woke up to celebrate 50 years of existence as a state. It is certainly a time to celebrate, as Maharashtra has been one of India's most successful states.

 

It is the engine of India's growth, though others — especially neighbouring Gujarat — have risen in recent years to challenge its supremacy. Much of this success has been the result of the growth of Mumbai, the state's cosmopolitan nerve-centre, and the country's commercial capital.

 

But that's not the only reality today. Over the years, growth has been spreading to other hubs, and cities like Thane, Nagpur and Pune have entered the big league.

 

Add the other cities and towns, and Maharashtra is one of the country's most urbanised states. Some 42% of the population lives in urban centres, against the national average of 28%.

 

It's also richer. The state has a high per capita income of Rs63,609, far above the national average of Rs42,514. With 9.4% of the country's population, Maharashtra accounts for 13% of the country's GDP.

 

Even in the social sector, the state has pioneered the concept of employment guarantees, which served as a model for the much-touted NREGA scheme.

 

Clearly, Maharashtra has led the nation in many areas, and the well-being of the state impacts the overall wealth of the nation.

 

If Maharashtrians have much to be proud of, there are also areas of concern. The sex ratio, for example, is sadly below the national average of 933 at 922, and is probably worsening.

 

Clearly, growth doesn't always translate to enlightenment. In Vidarbha, the state has not yet been able to stem the tide of farmer suicides. The fact that Maharashtra has 55% of its people living off agriculture when the sector contributes only 11% to state GDP tells its own story.

 

This is driving urbanisation, as the rural poor flock to the cities for jobs and livelihood. The state's urban centres — Mumbai included — are decaying and infrastructure is abysmal. Meanwhile, the state's politics has deteriorated, with some parties targeting migrants from other states.

 

But this is not the future the 106 martyrs of the Samyukta Maharashtra andolan fought for while demanding a state of their own.

 

They wanted Mumbai to be a part of Maharashtra because they wanted a commercial dynamo to pull the state forward, not to deny other poor people seeking to make ends meet in the city.The idea of Maharashtra is larger that what insecure people give it credit for. India's rise depends on Maharashtra's rise, and the state can be built by both the Marathi-speaking people and those from outside.

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DNA

EDITORIAL

THE ARMS TRAIL

 

The chief of Uttar Pradesh police's special task force, Brij Lal, is guarded about the arms and ammunition being siphoned off from the police training centres and armouries in the state.

 

They are apparently being sold to criminal gangs, dacoits, the mafia and even the Maoists. He contends, convincingly, that the large cache recovered from security personnel, including CRPF and state police armourers, cannot be absorbed by mere gangs but it could be reaching larger armed outfits.

 

That is a logical inference but the evidence needs to be gathered and the link established. The gangs, even the big ones, do not pose a serious challenge to the state as such.

 

That comes from the ideologically-motivated groups like the Maoists. The ambush in Dantewada last month, in which 76 CRPF men got killed, shows the deadly fallout.

 

The small men — including the six who were arrested last Friday in UP — are mainly at the lower rungs of the state police and their motives could not have been more serious than making that extra buck on the sly.

 

This is serious in itself and needs to be cleaned up. These dangerous pilferages in the police, and not just in UP, must be widespread, and the country's top brass — at the Centre and in the states — will have to take the issue seriously and effectively to end it. This is the administrative task.

 

The larger question relates to how the Maoists are requisitioning arms. There is no doubt that arms stolen from the police are crucial for them.

 

What needs to be determined is whether this is the only source that the insurgents tap. If that is the case, then once the pilferage is plugged, the Maoists would be weakened a bit. Evidence suggests that this is not the case.

 

The rebels are accessing arms from an underground arms bazaar with possible links to a global network. This should not be confused with links to trans-national extremist groups. The arms supplies chain is a separate one and functions on a different footing. It has to be unravelled diligently.

 

What needs to be done in the wake of the UP police discovery is to trace every aspect of the underground arms market. It should become part of the strategy of fighting the Maoists. Cutting off the arms supply line is the most efficient way of compelling the Maoists to give up the option of armed struggle.

 

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DNA

CHASING CROOKED SHADOWS

N N SACHITANAND

 

Why can't the Indian state, with one of the most powerful, well-equipped standing armies in the world, contain the depredations of a rag-tag bunch of rebels in the tribal hinterland who may not number more than a few tens of thousands at the most?

 

The answer lies, perhaps, in this quote from Jonathan Raban's book, Surveillance, published in 2006: " ….the state's set up to defend itself from other states, in the old fashioned kind of warfare, but when it comes to fighting you, me, and Minna, the state's clueless. Clueless! First off, it doesn't know who we are. We haven't told them where the battlefield's gonna be. When it comes to dealing with you, me, and Minna, the state's eating soup with chopsticks."

 

Those who are calling for the use of the army and air force to deal with the Maoists should go over the above words very carefully. Of course, it is another matter if you do not really care how many non-combatants you annihilate in order to achieve the immediate objective.

 

The US armed forces slaughtered lakhs of Iraqi civilians to topple Saddam. But I wonder if they could as complacently consider mowing down a thousand of their own civilians to put down a domestic revolt.

 

In India, with its proliferation of media-savvy liberals, ready to pounce on even the smallest instance of state violence on the citizenry, one can well imagine the hue and cry that would be raised if even one tribal bystander got accidentally strafed during an air action on a Maoist dalam.

 

But how do you chase a crooked shadow, which is what a Maoist is in the jungles? The Americans came up with a very effective tactic when faced with a similar situation during the Vietnam conflict.

 

Using the dictum of sending a thief to catch a thief, they created a cadre of special operations personnel, later famed as the Green Berets, who were trained to live and operate independently in the Vietnamese jungles, spy and pass on information about the movement of Viet Cong guerrillas to the American army field commanders and also occasionally perform interdicting operations against the Vietnamese army.

 

There is no point sending hordes of barely-trained constabulary to fight a phantom force. That way lies more massacres.

 

To effectively combat the Maoists, we need to create our own set of ghosts who are trained in the ways of the jungle and will disperse through it to detect, keep track of, and report on the shadowy Maoists and occasionally harass them.

 

With the hard information regularly provided by these special ops infiltrators, the regular combat constabulary, with close heli-borne air support, stands a better chance to put up a good show against the elusive rebels.

 

Liberals who should know better, keep on justifying the Maoist uprising as a result of years of neglect of the tribals by the state. Little do they realise that the Maoist prophylactic is worse than the disease of state neglect. They need to re-read their Animal Farm — George Orwell's remarkably prescient expose of what happens when a bunch of autocrats overthrow the established order.

 

Don't take my word on this. Ask the traders, businessmen, contractors, industrialists, truck drivers, government employees, politicians, policemen, mine managers, farm owners, et al, who live and work in the Maoist-infested belt of eastern India.

 

As for Maoists being chivalrous, the tales of persecution from their male colleagues by the women cadre who recently came over ground in Andhra Pradesh are a revelation. And those villagers who do not see eye to eye with the diktats of the Maoists will be lucky to keep their heads.

 

There is no shortage of human rights activists who insist that the state should first take up the task of improving the lot of the tribals (food, health, education, land rights, roads, etc) before taking on the rebels.

 

Well, the guerrillas have already made their opinion clear about this romantic take by reducing village schools, community centres, railway stations and police outposts to rubble, digging up approach roads, scaring away doctors and nurses and not permitting any sort of government activity in the territories they dominate. Discontented tribals are the Maoists' base. Why should they let this foundation be eroded by the state?

 

I am afraid it is not a chicken or egg question.The state has to curb the rebel menace, if for no other reason than to re-establish its writ in Maoist-controlled areas.

 

This is a writ which the citizens have voluntarily given to the state in a democratic set up but which the Maoists, who are autocratic at heart and in practice, refuse to recognise.

 

Simultaneously, where its writ still runs, the state should take up tribal welfare on a priority basis so that the inhabitants in these regions do not fall prey to Maoist blandishments.It is going to be a long haul but it has to be done.

 

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DNA

PHONE TAPPING ONLY FOR SECURITY REASONS

ANIL DHARKER

 

What would you do if you knew your phone was being tapped? Stop using it except for the most innocuous conversations. The problem, of course, is that you would not know your phone was being tapped and if you ever found out it would be too late to take back all that you'd said over the wires.

 

Even those of us who might lead relatively blameless lives will be horrified at the idea of someone listening in to our prattle. That's because we say things to each other in private which would embarrass us if they became public.

 

In any case every democracy gives you the right to privacy. Once we shut the front door of our house, we enter our personal domain where we can do as we please. (With the proviso, of course, that our behaviour is within the law).

 

Yet even in a democracy, there has to be exceptions. In these days where we live with the threat of terrorism every single day, in every single city, only covert surveillance can foil major catastrophes.

 

This much is well established, and generally accepted. Even in the US and UK, which zealously guard the citizen's right to privacy, wire taps and electronic eavesdropping have been extensively used.

 

Post 9/11 in the US and after the London Underground explosions five years later, there hasn't been any major terrorist attack only because both countries have been able to intercept incriminating phone calls made by potential killers.

 

Yet everyone's protesting about the Delhi phone taps. However, when we go through airport security anywhere, there are now full body searches, including the new, all-revealing 'X-ray' cameras, we do not protest.

 

Is that because we know our own safety depends on this scrutiny? Does that mean our objections to intrusive behaviour are based purely on selfishness and self-preparation, and also that we perceive the danger around us only in a situation like a flight we are about to take, while other dangers, though they may be all around us, being invisible and vague, are completely ignored?

 

Objectively, there is nothing wrong with wire taps, unless some official misuses the information obtained, say to blackmail someone or extract money from him. Or worse, the governments in power uses private information obtained about people in the opposition and use it to cow them down.

 

This is eminently possible in our country where officials of IB and CBI often try to curry favour with the party in power and become willing accomplices in bending rules and procedures.

 

Yet who can object to a watch being kept over suspected terrorists, known mafia dons, murder suspects and the like?

 

Arun Jaitley wants to exclude tax offenders from this list, yet who can dispute that corruption is one of the biggest evils facing our country, and any method employed to catch the culprits should be made available to investigating agencies?

 

Parliament needs to lay down a specific code for the use of phone tapping. Every case should be authorised by an impartial body consisting of government, opposition, judicial and retired intelligence officials.

 

Where permission cannot be obtained in time, it should be compulsory to have post-facto approval.

 

But that leaves out one very important and troublesome problem: the use of random electronic sweeps which is what started the present uproar since prominent ministers, government and opposition politicians, media people and others found their conversations recorded.

 

These sweeps are essential because often the IB will not know the identity of a terrorist, which means it does not have a phone number to tap. So it 'sweeps' a likely area, and tries to see if there's some suspicious conversation there. In our own interest, these sweeps must continue. Yet how do you stop misuse of collateral information the 'sweep' picks up? I don't have an answer. Do you?

 

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THE TRIBUNE

EDITORIAL

POLICEMEN IN ARMS RACKET

BLAME POOR SUPERVISION AND SYSTEMIC FAILURES

 

The arrest of some CRPF jawans and UP policemen for involvement in an arms racket was startling enough. The possibility, voiced by investigators, that they could have sold the arms and ammunition pilfered from armouries to the Maoists, is even more disturbing. While the suspicion is yet to be proved, the inference has been drawn on fairly strong grounds. Petty criminals and underworld gangs would have no need for the large and steady supply of arms and ammunition that the arrested policemen confess to have maintained over a period of time. Also the fact that transactions took place in districts with a sizeable presence of Maoists, directs the needle of suspicion to the insurgents. While armed insurgents are known to have used arms generally given to the para-military forces, till now it was believed they were snatched after attacks on the uniformed men. The probability of the insurgents buying arms and ammunition from the men in uniform and using them against the policemen, adds a chilling dimension to the web.

 

The arrests have also exposed chinks in the system. While it is too early to conclude that para-military forces have been infiltrated by the Maoists, senior officers of the CRPF and the Uttar Pradesh police need to find an answer to the shocking ease with which the arms and ammunition appear to have been switched. Records were apparently manipulated and live ammunition replaced with empty shells. The culprits are also believed to have pilfered empty cartridges and filled them with gunpowder before selling them. The audacious racket was obviously made possible by poor and inadequate supervision at all levels. It is also important to look into the flaws in recruitment, training and deployment of the men. Besides, it is important to find out what prompted the men to be so reckless and stake their jobs, if not lives, for the sake of greed alone; or could there have been some other motivation ?

 

There is certainly something that is rotten in the system. The racket ought to serve as an alarm bell and no effort should be spared to get to the bottom of it. Systemic checks and balances do not seem to have kept pace with the sudden growth of para-military forces in the country. It is, therefore, imperative to put them in place at the earliest.

 

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THE TRIBUNE

EDITORIAL

ILL-EQUIPPED SCHOOLS

HARYANA HAS MUCH TO DO ON EDUCATION

 

Time and again the Haryana Government has proclaimed that education is its priority. But the recent series by The Tribune has exposed the dismal ground reality. It is obvious that education in most government schools in Haryana's rural areas exists only in name. Many glaring deficiencies afflict its government schools. From paucity of teachers to the absence of infrastructure ranging from simple requirements like desks and benches to scientific laboratories, the quality of education being imparted is clearly below par. Undeniably, education in government schools of Haryana needs to be overhauled and monitored with earnestness.

 

It is not as if the state government is not paying attention to promote education. Not too long ago it took pride in the increased enrolment ratio of girls under Sarva Shiksha Abhiyaan programme. More recently, Education Minister Geeta Bhukkal claimed: "We will go all out to convince all children in the age group of 6–14 years to attend school." However, the government must understand that merely sending children to school is not enough. Efforts have to be made to provide quality education that enables and equips students of all sections of society to deal with the exigencies of practical life. The fact that in some schools even Class IX English topper cannot read a sentence is an indictment of both the teachers and the education system of the state.

 

There is an urgent need to re-look at the policy of promotion of students without proper evaluation. Failure in class will be far less detrimental than inability to cope with demands of jobs and life. The government that has promised to do the needful, including putting up an inspection mechanism in place, needs to get its act together. It should stop interfering in the recruitment of teachers and their transfers as well as refrain from assigning them non-teaching tasks. At the same time the teaching community too must take their role as educators with greater responsibility. Until society at large develops a rural-centric attitude, the lopsided development of the nation will continue to pose obstacles in its real progress and growth.

 

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THE TRIBUNE

EDITORIAL

NEPAL ON THE BOIL AGAIN

MAOISTS ARE TO BLAME FOR FUELLING UNREST

 

The Maoists know only one way to get their viewpoint across: resort to strikes leading to violence. Therefore, it is not surprising that they have gone ahead with their threat of May Day demonstrations and an indefinite nation-wide strike despite considerable efforts by the Madhav Kumar Nepal government to resolve all the contentious issues through dialogue. By taking to a confrontationist course the Unified Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) has done no service to Nepal as the country is passing through a very crucial phase in its post-monarchy era. The process of drafting a democratic constitution for Nepal within the stipulated timeframe (till May 28) may get derailed. In an emotionally charged atmosphere, devising a formula to induct the armed Maoist cadres into the Nepal Army may also not be possible.

 

On Wednesday, the three major political parties of Nepal --- the ruling Nepali Congress and the CPN (UML), and the opposition UCPN (Maoist) – appeared to have reached an understanding to forge a consensus on how to resolve the issues coming in the way of establishing peace in Nepal. This had brightened up the hope for the indefinite strike to be called off by the Maoists. But the situation took a turn for the worse on Friday with the Maoists insisting on the Madhav Kumar Nepal government resigning to allow a "national unity government" to be formed. The government was reportedly ready to accept the demand, but this could not happen as, perhaps, the Maoists wanted too many concessions without withdrawing their strike call first. The result was the toughening of his stand by Prime Minister Madhav Kumar Nepal.

 

The Nepal government is rightly determined not to give in to the Maoists' blackmailing tactics and handle the situation by using the Nepal Police and the Armed Police Force, and deploying the Nepal Army in highly sensitive areas. Maoist ideologue Baburam Bhattarai has, however, described the deployment of the army as being in violation of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement reached between the two sides. The Maoists must not forget that any step that is taken to save the democratic process in Nepal will have the support of the world community. They are on the losing side.

 

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THE TRIBUNE

COLUMN

THE OTHER SAARC SUMMIT

INDO-PAK HOSTILITY MUST GO FOR REGION TO GROW

BY KULDIP NAYAR

 

It may well have been another futile exercise, another attempt to scale the mountain of difficulties. Yet the people's SAARC held its meeting in Delhi -its 15th - to re-emphasise the official SAARC summit at Thimpu that the countries in South Asia would continue to lag behind in development until they realised that they had no better alternative to cooperation.

 

Representatives of human rights organisations, trade unions, women's groups and others from all the eight countries in the SAARC region — Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Pakistan, Nepal, the Maldives and Sri Lanka — vied with one another to demand a union of South Asian countries, like the European Union, while retaining their individual identity and sovereignty. Some even saw the prospects of one market, one visa and one currency. In the statement they adopted after the two-day conference, the representatives (60 from Pakistan alone) "reaffirmed the South Asian people's commitment to creating a South Asia free from all discrimination, exclusion and domination."

 

Indeed, these are lofty ideals. But they are worth pursuing. The participants were not only passionate about them but also committed to rise above nationalism and parochialism to make the dream of South Asia Union come true. Their speeches had no rancour, no bitterness and no allegation. They seemed to read one another's mind and talked of steps about how to live together as friendly neighbours.

 

All the eight countries are different in their own way. Yet they are similar in one way: the years of foreign rule has hammered their outlook in a civilisational mould which reflects commonality. But, unfortunately, they seek solution to their basic problems not from within the region but from outside.

 

This dependence is the fallout of their slavery. The British, who ruled practically the entire region, were ruthless masters. They used people in the region as brick and mortar to build their empire. Any big or odd stone that did not fit in was crushed or thrown aside. Not many rose to challenge the system and the very few who did were nipped in the bud. Others were eliminated.

 

Still this region, people of different traditions, defeated the Great Britain and rolled out the mighty empire. In their journey towards independence, they fell and rose but reached their destination. It is a saga of suffering and sacrifice which is recalled even today.

 

South Asia has learned the lesson that every enslaved country does suffer from humiliation. But what it has not is that people have to tie hands with one another to overcome the problems. Together they can fight to determine the path they should take, the tactics they should adopt and the ally they should seek. All this demands an understanding that they are together, no chinks in the armour. This cannot be assumed. A method has to be devised to ascertain opinion, yes or no.

 

What do people think? What do the participants in the struggle for betterment feel? This effort to determine sows the seed of accountability. If some are to be made answerable, they should have the powers to act. Who should such people be? How would they be spotted out? In the 17th century, the English established themselves as the world's supreme against rival claimants, especially the crown. Since then the idea of popular sovereignty has become an integral part of civilized governments. Some nations like France learned from England's example.

 

We in South Asia are a watchful people. We were determined to throw out foreign rule. We also wanted to devise a system to rule ourselves. Our experience was all that the British taught us-the different acts under which the carefully selected people would come to the assemblies and parliaments to rule. A very few came directly, elected by the people. That was our democratic system. Our struggle in different parts of the region was to have more and more elected representatives.

 

We shed one another's blood, although we were independent. The subcontinent of India was partitioned into India and Pakistan on the basis of religion. Sri Lanka was only given freedom and Bhutan as well, when it was not the British protectorate. When the constitution in the newly independent countries was framed, the people's say was naturally the most. The biggest achievement through the constitution was to keep the rights of people supreme and to ensure that the nations did not substitute white masters with brown sahibs.

 

It was not the question of government alone. It was also the question of constitutional guarantee whereby sovereignty remained with the people: How to ensure that the right of the voters in elections was theirs. And does democracy mean only going to the polling booths and registering votes? The answer to such questions may be able to tell whether democracy would survive in South Asia.

 

The people's wishes-and prayers-would have fructified to a large extent by this time if the hostility between India and Pakistan had been overcome. The fact is that even what the two countries agree upon at the summit remain on paper because the decisions are not acceptable to the establishment, the ultimate arbiter, in their respective country.

 

Both India and Pakistan have not been able to overcome their differences going back to the days before Partition. In a way, it is the same old bias between Hindus and Muslims. Parochialism spoils the thinking of secular India when it comes to Pakistan. On the other hand, Pakistan has never adopted secularism even after Quaid-e-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah's declaration that the state would have nothing to do with religion.

 

Between August 1947 and 2010, the two countries have fought the Kashmir war and two general wars in 1965 and 1971, apart from covert wars like the Rann of Kutch, Gibraltor, the Siachin, Grand Slam and Kargil. Both are also nuclear powers. Still they love to hate each other. Kashmir and water are symptoms, not the disease. The disease is the bias, suspicion and mistrust, which appear in one form or another. You can solve one issue but another will rear its ugly head because the basic Hindu-Muslim divide stays. How do the two nations get away from it? The sooner we find an answer to this question, the stronger will be SAARC.

 

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THE TRIBUNE

COLUMN

MAKING SENSE OF SENSEX

BY TRILOCHAN SINGH TREWN

 

I was staying in the bachelor officers' mess in INS Angre during the post-Partition days. The place was close to the National Stock Exchange of India building in Dalal Street. We used to go for morning walks up to Churchgate.

 

In this area Mr Narotam Das, serving in National Stock Exchange, also resided. We used to meet during our morning walks. He showed keen interest in visiting ships, more so for benefit of his two ever-inquisitive kids. I responded by taking his family occasionally by speed boats to ships at anchorage near Gateway of India but never enquired about his job details.

 

One day he invited me to visit his office. I agreed and arrived at the National Exchange building complex in forenoon. His personal secretary told me that Mr Narotam Das was busy in a meeting attended by CEOs from Birlas. Tatas, Voltas, Kirloskar and other corporate houses in connection with issue of bonus and rights issue, equity shares and asked me to wait. He also told me that Narotam Bhai was Director of National Stock Exchange and I may not get any chance of meeting him.

 

I gave him my visiting card insisting to present my card to the boss even while he was amidst the meeting as I had to go on duty soon. The PS went in while I waited. Soon I saw Narotam Bhai coming out, greeting me and asking me to join him as an observer in the meeting.

 

I had not seen Jehangir Tata, GD Birla and other top business tycoons of India seated there, before. As a novice I was just overwhelmed to find myself in such an august gathering, uninvited.

 

Meeting over, I was introduced to the dignitaries as his friend from the Navy. Mr Sethna from Tata Chemicals mentioned that there was provision for select outsiders to acquire rights shares. I thanked but declined the offer as being a very junior officer I had no money to invest in any equity shares, no matter how lucrative those could be.

 

After corporate heads left, the director took me to trading hall where equity shares were traded by voice or gestures by brokers. One could not make out anything but I enjoyed the din and wild gesticulations of participants.

 

Next he took me to a very secure section where wireless reports from various international trading centres were being received indicating financial fluctuations. He explained that the valuable data ultimately assisted in determining daily sensex — a dream news item for millions of Indians. At this point my curiosity stirred and I asked him quietly how and who decides about sensex figure before it is announced to the public. He paused and said very plainly: "Finally it is the prevailing sentiment which decides daily sensex figure."

 

Despite the common man's conception regarding favourable monsoon and bumper crop in India sensex may fall while excellent news of good fiscal reports from corners of Japan, Germany and the US may instantly boost the index. I had never expected that I would come so close to sensex makers with my empty pockets!

 

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THE TRIBUNE

OPED

CAUGHT SNOOPING

STATE FAILS TO PROTECT CITIZENS' PRIVACY

BY ASHWANI KUMAR

 

Allegations of phone tapping through sophisticated electronic devices disrupted the functioning of Parliament last week. The Indian state has the responsibility to secure the citizens' constitutionally guaranteed right to privacy. Democracy demands a proactive role of the state in preventing the invasion of the most cherished of all human rights that defines our identity and ensures our dignity.

 

While the government has allayed the Opposition's apprehensions, the fact remains that the easy availability of sophisticated snooping and surveillance devices can be increasingly resorted to by desperate individuals and non-state actors to render futile our right to privacy repeatedly affirmed by the apex court as an integral component of the right to life itself as envisaged in Article 21 of the Constitution.

 

Thus, the questions we must ask ourselves are: Will it suffice for the government of the day to argue that it respects the citizens' right to privacy and will not authorise its infraction except for overarching reasons of national security and unity of India, while others (non-state actors) with the requisite equipment are allowed to breach the sanctity of one's private space?

 

In the face of repeated allegations of violation of the citizen's right to privacy and dignity by entities other than the state, can we rest content with the safeguards laid down by the Supreme Court for interception of tele-conversation in the PUCL vs.UOI (1997), which guidelines refer only to telephone tapping by the Government of India, through the Home Secretary and reviewed by a committee chaired by the Cabinet Secretary ? Is there a credible system of accountability of the Cabinet Secretary or the Home Secretary for a possible lack of diligence and care in authorising phone tapping? What can be the recompense for the wronged citizen who has had his privacy invaded without cause for long periods?

 

Creeping encroachments by the state in the privacy domain for want of adherence to the imperatives of national security and indifference to the brazen onslaughts on our right to privacy, free speech and personal dignity by non-state actors, including conspiring individuals and corporates impel an urgent review of the processes to ensure that constitutional rights are indeed treated as sacrosanct and beyond the reach of lesser men insensitive to the values of a liberal society.

 

It is inherent in the dynamics of law and nature of the judicial process that notions of justice and freedom change to meet the demands of social evolution. But must we allow inviolable human rights that define our dignity, including the "right to be left alone" be encroached upon beyond a clear constitutional endorsement? The reality of international terrorism and an extended reach of non-state actors to imperil national security and indeed the enhanced threats that nation states face to their unity and integrity are often cited in justification of the state's prying into our daily existence. Even so, can we, without scarifying the first values of our Republic, condone the state's action or inaction responsible for endangering the privacy and liberty of the masses in order to checkmate a few deviants?

 

The apex court having equated the right to liberty and right to privacy as integral to the right to life in Article 21 (Kharak Singh 1964) is expected, as the keeper of the constitutional conscience, to ensure that not just the state but all others are chained to the discipline of law with a heavy price to be paid by those responsible for infractions of the first principles of the Indian state. Above all, it is the eternal vigil of our informed citizenry that will secure our hard-won and well-deserved freedoms. Indeed, the right to privacy as a fundamental right implicit in the concept of ordered liberty as reiterated by the Supreme Court in Govind Vs. State of MP (1975) is to be protected not only against the state but against all others, save in the interest of national security and the unity of the nation as narrowly construed. Leo Valiani the historian, makes the point thus: "Our century demonstrates that the victory of the ideals of justice and equality is always ephemeral, but also that, if we manage to preserve liberty, we can always start all over again…. There is no need to despair, even in the most desperate situations."

 

Legislators and parliamentarians are collectively required to face the challenges of the new age – "the age of extremes"— to ensure the lasting relevance of our non-negotiable values. We must accept that certain rights and laws which protect these rights are more permanent than others and owe no apology to the transient impulses of the moment.

 

The leadership of the UPA, which has initiated a transformational agenda of national renewal, can be legitimately expected to take further initiatives to secure the foundations of our liberal democracy by securing the dignity of citizens.

 

The writer is a Congress member of the Rajya Sabha. The views expressed are personal

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THE TRIBUNE

OPED

PPSC ROW: SELECTIONS THEN AND NOW

BY J.B. GOYAL

 

The revelation of "generous" marks given to some candidates by the Punjab Public Service Commission in interviews for the selection of medical officers will not surprise or shock anybody because such things are now repeatedly occurring in one selection or the other, not just in the PPSC but in the commissions of some other states as well.

 

In this context, I am reminded of my personal experiences in certain state public service commissions — first as a candidate and then as an expert, which in contrast are more refreshing.

 

It was in 1960 that I appeared before the PPSC office situated in Baradari Gardens, Patiala, for the post of lecturer. Mr Hardwari Lal was the presiding member of the selection committee and there was an expert from Mahindra College, Patiala. There was only one post.

 

I was interviewed for about half an hour on my subject. At one point of time, discussions came around the subject of the Ph.D thesis of the expert himself. At that time, I had not completed my Ph.D and was working on my thesis. I severely criticised the findings of the expert and held views quite opposite to his views.

 

Strangely, I was not only selected, but was also given two advance increments. I had no contact or recommendation. It was only on the basis of my academic career, my research publications and post-graduate teaching experience that I was selected.

 

Later, about 25 years ago, I was associated as an expert in the Jammu and Kashmir Public Service Commission for the selection of lectures. The interviews were held in Srinagar and Jammu for a number of days. Each candidate was interviewed for about 30 minutes by me on his subject. Fifty marks were allotted for the interview and the marks given by me were discussed by all members and in almost all cases my views were honoured. At the end of the day, sheets of all the members were signed by each one of us and sealed.

 

On the final day of the interview the results were finalised in the presence of all the members, including myself, adding the marks obtained by the candidates for academic achievements and experience etc. which were worked out according to the rules. The list of selected candidates was signed by all the members, including myself. There was fairness and complete transparency.

 

I had a similar experience in the HPPSC, Shimla, and the Rajasthan PSC, Ajmer. In Rajasthan the list of selected candidates was finalised on the last day in my presence and was exhibited on the premises of the commission the same day.

 

I had the opportunity of having an association with the UPSC also for the civil services examination for five long years as a paper-setter and the Head Examiner. I visited the UPSC office several times for coordinating the final list of marks. I must say there was no interference of any kind at any point of time.

 

I also had the privilege of acting as an expert in the selection of teachers in senior positions in a number of universities all over the country and also in the UGC. I can say with a sense of responsibility that in all such cases the views of the experts prevailed.

 

Even in the case of selection of lecturers in various non-government colleges of the state I was associated with a large number of posts on various occasions and I can say with confidence that selections were made on merit and we did not allow any outside interference. So there was never ever any complaint or controversy.

 

But those are things of the past. Times have changed; greed and lust for power and money have taken over ethics, morality, honesty and integrity. We are drowned neck deep in the bog of corruption, which was polluted our public life and now runs through our veins.

 

The writer is a former UGC Emeritus Fellow, Kurukshetra


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THE TRIBUNE

OPED

CHATTERATI 
A BRAVE NEW STEP

BY DEVI CHERIAN

 

Last week the rich and famous of Delhi got together for a power-packed fund-raising gala evening. The initiative came from Payal Abdullah, wife of Chief Minister Omar Abdullah. It was also the first-ever "charity fund raiser ball" in the capital. Never has anybody belonging to a political family had the guts to take this step but, of course, the Abdullahs are a class apart. Payal comes from an army background.

 

She runs a charity called "Raahat". She founded this NGO after the earthquake rocked Kashmir and left many families and children helpless and alone. Many of us do think of doing things for the poor but then we give it up as soon as we get busy in our own daily chores. But Payal and her two friends kept on feeding, clothing and housing the thousands of helpless orphans and widows and kept "Raahat" low key, out of everybody's sight.

 

But she dreams of providing education to every child of the under-privileged in Kashmir. So this was Payal's brilliant idea now to lure the rich and famous by hosting what they enjoy the best, that is a sit-down dinner and in the process also invade their deep pockets to fund her project. Her mother-in-law, Molly, especially flew in from London to encourage her daughter-in-law's good work and her husband, Omar Abdullah, was the perfect host to most of the invitees who had wilfully paid for their dinner.

 

There were Sheila Dikshit, Robert Vadra and Sunil Mittal. From Bollywood there were Pooja Bedi, Sanjay Dutt and the master of ceremonies for the evening was Rahul Bose. Sanjay and Pooja had been in The Lawrence School in Sanawar with Omar. The energetic Farooq Abdullah danced through the evening while Omar and his two sons were the cynosure of all eyes as they presented Payal a bouquet as their appreciation for her bold initiative.

 

Hopefully, this step of Payal will bring a new hope for the deprived lot in Kashmir. A brave step in an orthodox political system but a right one, no doubt.

 

Spying scandal

Suddenly it is the season of spies. The shock of a woman IFS officer, Madhuri Gupta, being caught in Islamabad passing information to Pakistani handlers has rocked the local establishment. For once though it looks like the counter-intelligence folks were happily ahead in the race. In such sensitive matters, of course, very little really gets revealed, except for the official leaks. Locally it is natural that Delhi circles are speculating based on what those in their business comment informally. Once again, there is a similarity with the spy scandal. How deep and how far it goes is an uncharted territory. But given that the NTRO like the RAW is shadowy and silent, the tongues wag and truth stays conveniently obscured. Internal security systems in our embassies are still rather primitive. Delhi can get rather tight-tipped as far as the official establishment is concerned. But on another kind of spying, the tongues are wagging every minute. The phone tapping of local politicians has opened up many cans of worms. Nobody is quite sure who has been tapped and what has been recorded.

 

Sharad Pawar was the earlier recipient of tapped and taped conversations on the IPL matter. It helped to reduce pressure on the government in Parliament. Other political leaders like Arun Jaitley were silenced with the fact that the NTRO was set up as a rogue outfit by the NDA and accountable only to the National Security Adviser. While the Pawar CD is whispered about, many other politicians went strangely quiet on sensitive issues and Pranab Mukherjee pulled his budget through with relative comfort, thanks to the intelligence agencies and pervert devices.

 

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MUMBAI MERROR

EDITORIAL

MUKTI FOR JHARKHAND?

THE REGION'S TRIBALS NEED A LEADER LIKE JAIPAL SINGH WHO LAUNCHED THE ADIVASI MAHASABHA, NOT SHIBU SOREN WHO HAS TURNED THE STATE INTO THE NEW CAPITAL OF POLITICAL WHEELING-DEALING

 

So, did Guruji really press the red button by mistake? Does he really have Alzheimer's disease? Does he not understand parliamentary procedures? These are the excuses the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha has been trotting out for Shibu Soren's extraordinary volteface in Parliament last week. Lest anyone forget, the man they call Guruji is a sitting Chief Minister and a former Union Cabinet Minister twice over. The JMM's spokespeople might have been better off just stating the obvious: ambition, greed and possibly fear of the CBI. Remember, the 1994 murder of Soren's private secretary Shashinath Jha is being heard afresh in the Supreme Court and a hearing is due soon.


 It wasn't supposed to be like this. With the political calculators out once again in Ranchi, it is difficult to imagine that the Sorens are political descendants of the scholastic Jaipal Singh who, apart from launching the Adivasi Mahasabha in 1938 to push for the creation of Jharkhand, also captained India to an Olympic hockey gold in 1928. Sent to Oxford by missionaries, Jaipal was a Munda tribal from the Chotanagpur plateau who decided to resign from the ICS rather than pay a penalty for missing term while he captained India at the Amsterdam Olympics. The greatest defender of tribal rights in the Constituent Assembly, his spirited interventions ultimately paved the way for the reservation of seats for tribals in government and legislative bodies. It was the Adivasi Mahasabha that turned into the Jharkhand Party which successfully trounced the Congress in Bihar's tribal areas in the first state elections in 1952.


The different factions of today's Jharkhand-centric politics have all sprouted from that original seed and the current power jostling in Ranchi is a far cry from the high intellectualism of Jaipal around tribal rights.
In some ways, this is the fate of most popular movements as they degenerate from the romance of the initial ideology to the personal aggrandisement of its leaders. The BSP has followed a similar trajectory from Ambedkar to Mayawati but at least in its case, the cadres and the basic ideological vision remain intact. Soren might have had mass appeal once, but the JMM for a while now has only been guided by the personal fiefdoms of its leaders.

 

The JMM first shot into national prominence in 1993 when its MPs were accused of taking bribes to bail out the Narasimha Rao government in a no-confidence vote. In undivided Bihar, Soren himself has been called the most pampered politician during the years of Congress dominance. Consider the record since the formation of Jharkhand in 2001. He has resigned under pressure for criminal charges twice before as Union Coal Minister. His first term as Chief Minister in 2005 barely lasted a week and the second ended in ignominy after he failed to get himself elected to the assembly.


Haryana may have invented the politics of aayaram-gayaram but under Soren, Jharkhand has turned into the new capital of intrigue and the politics of wheeling and dealing. All this while it continues to languish way down in all development surveys even as Uttarkhand and Chattisgarh, formed at the same time, have shown relative progress. Now, as the balance of power in his own party is shifting to his son, the red button in the Lok Sabha seems like Shibu Soren's final throw of the dice.

Of course, it is not enough to blame Soren alone. Neither the Congress nor the BJP have clean hands and Soren is only symptomatic of a larger political culture where power is the only currency. In 1998 when Giridhar Gamang's lone vote in the Lok Sabha brought down the Vajpayee government while he was holding parallel office as Chief Minister of Orissa, it created a political stink about impropriety. Soren's case is a repeat but there is no stink this time round. The political debate has moved on and there is little discussion now on issues of constitutional morality. The BJP's cynical Uturn on Jharkhand after initially withdrawing support is typical of this culture.


The now forgotten Jaipal was once hailed as the marang gomke or great leader by tribal communities. Surely, Jharkhand needs another one.

 

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

EDITORIAL

THE THIMPHU THAW

MANMOHAN SINGH'S THIRD GAMBLE WITH PAKISTAN

 

Defending his initiative to seek an agreement with the United States for promoting cooperation in civil nuclear energy development, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh famously told Parliament that he was aware he was taking some political and diplomatic risks in seeking a new strategic engagement with the US but that it was a "risk worth taking". The notion that there are risks involved with major diplomatic initiatives but that some risks are worth taking has shaped Dr Singh's thinking on foreign policy. In seeking to engage Pakistan and try and improve relations with it, Dr Singh took his first risk when he invited President Pervez Musharraf to visit India in April 2005 to watch a cricket match. This decision was taken at the time against establishment advice since the dominant view in India after the infamous Agra Summit was that Mr Musharraf could not be trusted. Refusing to be cowed down by received wisdom, Dr Singh chose to engage Mr Musharraf in what turned out to be a historic process that could have yielded, in Mr Musharraf's own words, a lasting solution to all the so-called "outstanding issues" that have bedevilled the bilateral relationship for over half a century. Regrettably, Mr Musharraf's domestic political fortunes tumbled and with him went the process that was on the verge of yielding substantial results. India-Pakistan relations have been in a tizzy since then.

Following the assassination of Benazir Bhutto, the emergence of a new political dispensation in Pakistan and the devastating Mumbai attack of November 2008, many advised Dr Singh to forget taking the dialogue process forward, but he took his second risk at Sharm El Sheikh. That gamble did not pay off. As a consequence, the naysayers in New Delhi thought they had the last laugh and that Dr Singh would at least now listen to them and forget about trying to normalise relations with Pakistan. Emboldened by US President Barack Obama's ill-advised diplomatic initiatives in the region, and his increased dependence on Pakistan for a way out of Afghanistan, Pakistan thought it could up the ante and ride a high horse in relations with India. The establishment view in Delhi was once again that re-engaging Pakistan would be politically risky. The idea that re-engaging Pakistan now was politically risky was, for Dr Singh, like a red rag to a bull! He happily charged forward! Thus Thimphu happened.

 What next? Much depends on how deep Dr Singh's Thimphu message sinks into his Pakistani interlocutor. If Prime Minister Yusaf Raza Gilani understands that it is as much in Pakistan's interest as India's to resolve long-standing bilateral issues and also deal firmly with the terror threat that India faces from Pakistan-based groups, then one can expect a resumption of the famous Singh- Musharraf dialogue from the point where it was left off. Despite the general air of pessimism in India about relations with Pakistan, especially on Islamabad's commitment to deal with anti-India terrorists and Islamic extremists, it is possible to be optimistic provided the democratic and moderate political forces in Pakistan appreciate Dr Singh's message about the region's shared future and the feasibility of a genuinely win-win deal. The ball is now in Mr Gilani's court.

 

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BUSINESS STANDARD

EDITORIAL

NASSCOM'S MEDICINE

HOW TO PREVENT ANOTHER SATYAM

The committee set up by Nasscom, the IT-BPO industry body, under the leadership of Infosys mentor N R Narayana Murthy after the Satyam scandal last year has made a series of recommendations which aim to make the industry, already known for its high governance and ethics standards, the flag-bearer of best practices in corporate governance across industries. A lot of what it says is obvious and well known but bears formally enshrining in a code, even if it is voluntary, that is likely to become a template. One is that a business is not just about shareholders but other stakeholders also — like customers, competitors, employees and other patrons. This is more widely recognised today, after the fallout from the excesses of market fundamentalism in the 80's and 90's, but still needs underlining. Also to be noted are a few do's and don'ts (again not entirely new) listed regarding various stakeholders, like ensuring data security and privacy for customers, cooperating with competitors on ethical hiring and respecting IPR, and following clear guidelines for related party transactions and gifts and donations.

Since a business is only as good as it is at the top, the report has clear thoughts about the functioning of the board and the institution of chairman-CEO. The two should ideally be different persons but if that is difficult, then there should be a lead independent director. The latter should so function as to deliver the sort of checks and balances that a separate chairman and CEO would have exercised over each other. Significantly, the report has said that the board should disclose more on evaluation processes and succession planning. The latter is a thorny issue with many listed, promoter-run companies in India, and the report mentioning the need for it should make it easier for people to raise the matter. Underlining the watchdog role of independent directors, the report also holds that when it comes to the crunch, no one should be able to say in self-defence that he was not aware of the need to keep an eye on legal compliance.

 The report will ultimately be judged by the context in which it was conceived. To what extent will it lessen the chances, if not totally eliminate them, of another Satyam happening? It is here that it makes a key recommendation on the need to create, nurture and protect the institutions of whistleblower (barely seen in India) and ombudsman. The latter needs to be truly independent, have access to information and resources to carry out detailed investigations. The former is the report's institutional answer to the reality (recognised after Enron and Satyam) that a few powerful and determined leaders of a firm can keep their organised wrongdoing hidden for a pretty long time. The only people who can be in the know of what is going on are those who work closely with the top few. It is these whose identity has to be safeguarded if they, say, alert an independent director or ombudsman. Above all, systems should be set up to protect whistleblowers from victimisation.

 

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BUSINESS STANDARD

EDITORIAL

 EXCHANGE RATE POLICY - II

THE LEAST COSTLY MEASURE TO MANAGE EXCHANGE RATES IS TO GIVE UP THE LIBERAL CAPITAL ACCOUNT

A V RAJWADE

The subheading given to my last column ("Our exchange rate policy", April 26) may have created an impression that it discussed my expectations of what the official policy "could possibly look like". In fact, the article was, as stated in the first paragraph, my articulation of what the policy should be. I continue.

 As argued, an overvalued exchange rate encourages consumption, particularly of imported goods, and is a deflationary factor as far as the domestic economy is concerned; on the other hand, an undervalued exchange rate reduces consumption below the level the productive capacity of the economy can afford, thus militating against the basic objective of growth which is to increase consumption. Both these conclusions assume that there is a "correct" value of the exchange rate which would balance the needs of growth and consumption. In many ways, a carefully constructed Real Effective Exchange Rate (REER) is a reasonable measure of the direction of movement of an exchange rate, and also of its deviation from fair value. (The REER index has some weaknesses but so do all indices used for policy-making — the wholesale price index, the consumer price index, the index for industrial production, etc.) The second measure of the deviation from fair value is the resultant imbalance between the economy's current external earnings and expenditure.

Believers in market efficiency would argue that market prices are self-correcting and that, therefore, the central bank should leave the exchange rate to the market, an argument that is rarely made in relation to the domestic value of money. (No modern democracy, however, can afford to take such a market fundamentalist approach to the value of money.) Arguably, the exchange rate would be self-correcting if the foreign exchange market were to consist primarily of current account transactions — an overvalued domestic currency would make imports cheaper and exports uneconomic, increasing the demand for imports and dollars to pay for them, even as the supply of dollars falls because of the lower export earnings. The resultant demand-supply change in the foreign exchange market would itself correct the exchange rate. The fact is, however, that very often flows other than current account transactions dominate today's foreign exchange markets. Globally, the volume of exchange transactions is about 30 times the trade flows. Even in the domestic market, the gross amount of transactions is around 14 times the current account transactions.

Capital account flows are often cyclical. For example, capital inflows in the equity market would tend to appreciate both share prices and the exchange rate which, in turn, attract more investors thus continuing the cycle, carrying the exchange rate significantly away from fair value. Opening the capital account for outflows by residents cannot really compensate since, if returns in the domestic market are perceived to be attractive, residents will also prefer to keep the money at home. Many emerging markets have witnessed the cyclical movement of capital flows in the reverse direction also, by both residents and non-residents. Given the well-known herd instinct of investors, the only counter-cyclical force can be the central bank.

It is well accepted that an independent monetary policy, a managed exchange rate and a liberal capital account cannot coexist ("the impossible trinity"). In practice, however, it is possible to manage the exchange rate even in a relatively liberal capital account regime, by intervention in the exchange market and sterilisation of the impact on money supply through open market operations or changes in the reserve ratio of the banking system. It is sometimes argued that sterilisation of the excess money supply can lead to an increase in domestic interest rates, which would be detrimental to growth. This argument, however, has limitations. For one thing, if the currency is allowed to appreciate to avoid intervention and sterilisation, this too is a deflationary factor for the economy. Second, so long as sterilisation is limited to the money created through intervention, it should leave the market liquidity, and hence interest rates, unchanged.

It cannot, however, be gainsaid that if domestic interest rates are higher than the earnings on reserves, sterilisation through open market operations will entail a measurable money cost. On the other hand, if sterilisation is done through increasing the cash reserve requirement, there are no costs to the central bank — or even to the banking system since the central bank is impounding only the money it had created through intervention.

But coming back to the impossible trinity, if capital flows continue to surge as many analysts and the International Monetary Fund are expecting, in an extreme situation, one of the three may have to be given up, and it should be the liberal capital account — in other words, resorting to capital controls particularly on portfolio inflows. This is the least costly measure in terms of growth and investment as there is no empirical evidence suggesting that a liberal capital account helps growth. Nobel laureate Andrew Michael Spence said as much during his recent visit to India: "You need to have capital controls and exchange rate management so that you have some control over the volatility of the prices that determine the way you interact with the rest of the world."

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BUSINESS STANDARD

EDITORIAL

PR'S DAY OFF

IT IS UNUSUAL FOR A CLIENT (TATA) TO HELP BOOST THE IMAGE OF A PRO (NIIRA RADIA)

SUNIL JAIN

For all those missing the heady drama of IPL-Lalit Modi till just a week ago, the Niira Radia tapes are like manna from heaven, gossip that can keep you in circulation for several cocktail parties in a row. The tapes are alleged transcripts of taps on the phone of Niira Radia, a PR professional, who is high-profile enough to handle the accounts of both Reliance and the Tatas. Like the Modi affair, the insinuations in the transcripts are near-impossible to verify. How do you confirm, for instance, what a letter from an income tax officer to the CBI says is actually true — the letter says Radia's taps revealed that she was guiding a new telecom operator on how he needed to delay the inflow of funds so as not to give the government the impression that he had made a windfall profit by selling part of his equity? Or that she helped some telecom operators to get licences from the ministry. There are a lot more such purported facts in the transcripts.

 There is, of course, the related issue that rocked Parliament, on whether the government can be tapping phones at will. As BJP leader Arun Jaitley said in the Rajya Sabha, relying upon a Supreme Court judgment, tapping is allowed only in the case of a public emergency or public safety. Given how phone taps are so prone to be misused, allowing income tax officials to tap phone calls at will is an issue that needs to be seriously debated. Surely, tax evasion needs to be cracked with money trails and not phone taps. Indeed, the Central Economic Intelligence Bureau (CEIB) gave up its powers to tap phones (powers that later got transferred to the income tax department) in the early 2000s after CEIB officials were found tapping phones of other officials. It would be interesting to read the documents pertaining to the home secretary authorising the tap of Radia's phones since it is unclear how any of her conversations, even if true, could possibly involve either public emergency or public safety.

What is intriguing, of course, is what exactly the investigators were hoping to find through the taps. That the licences were given by Communication Minister A Raja without an open auction is well known; that he helped a handful of firms by choosing an arbitrary cut-off date for processing applications is equally well-known; that there were other problems in the process is also known. Even without taps, the Comptroller and Auditor General's investigations have pointed out that a handful of firms that were the first to deposit their money seemed to know when the application window would open… How does it matter who called Raja or his colleagues — if what he did wasn't wrong enough to remove him, how does lobbying with him become a crime?

What's hilarious, of course, is the statement by the Tata Group. On April 29, a couple of days after the issue rocked Parliament, a presser from the group read, "The Tata group has had a long and fruitful association with Vaishnavi Corporate Communications and its Chairperson Ms Niira Radia, which has added substantial value to the group's communications and public perception." This is unusual to say the least since it is the PR firm's job to help boost the client's image and not vice versa — in this case the Tatas appear to be building Radia's image!

And what do you make of the rest of the statement? "All of Vaishnavi's interactions with the government on behalf of the Tata group have been related to seeking a level playing field and equity in areas where vested interests have caused distortions or aberrations in policy. Further, Vaishnavi's interactions with the government on behalf of the Tata group, have, in keeping with Tata values, never involved payouts or seeking undue favours."

Level playing field? Wow! This is one of the most powerful industrialists in the country we're talking of, an industrialist who is so powerful he heads a committee whose job is to attract foreign investment into India, and to take care of all the problems foreign investors face. If Tata has a level-playing-field problem, what does it say of the problems lesser industrialists face? And if Tata is facing such a problem, that's the worst possible advertisement for attracting foreign investors.

In any case, it is difficult to imagine what these level-playing-field problems could possibly be. Sure, the Tatas had alleged Anil Ambani got preferential treatment in a case involving an Ultra Mega Power Plant, but this has nothing to do with Raja, which is what the Radia taps are about. Indeed, the Tatas benefited when their land-line licence was converted into a mobile phone one in 2002; and then again when Raja created a special "dual-technology" window for CDMA-mobile phone firms like theirs to get GSM spectrum — which possibly explains why, in December 2007, Ratan Tata wrote to DMK chief M Karunanidhi praising Raja's "rational, fair and action-oriented" leadership. So, what level-playing-field problems did the Tatas have in telecom with Raja in the saddle?

The Tata clarification may have done more damage to the group's reputation than the original tapes which, apart from providing some entertaining gossip, prove little else. Apart from, of course, showing the government doesn't think individual privacy is something it needs to take too seriously, that phone taps are a substitute for good, old-fashioned investigations and that it is naïve enough to think that, in the 2G licence case, any further investigations are even needed.

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BUSINESS STANDARD

EDITORIAL

EXCHANGE RATE POLICY - II

THE LEAST COSTLY MEASURE TO MANAGE EXCHANGE RATES IS TO GIVE UP THE LIBERAL CAPITAL ACCOUNT

A V RAJWADE

 

The subheading given to my last column ("Our exchange rate policy", April 26) may have created an impression that it discussed my expectations of what the official policy "could possibly look like". In fact, the article was, as stated in the first paragraph, my articulation of what the policy should be. I continue.

 As argued, an overvalued exchange rate encourages consumption, particularly of imported goods, and is a deflationary factor as far as the domestic economy is concerned; on the other hand, an undervalued exchange rate reduces consumption below the level the productive capacity of the economy can afford, thus militating against the basic objective of growth which is to increase consumption. Both these conclusions assume that there is a "correct" value of the exchange rate which would balance the needs of growth and consumption. In many ways, a carefully constructed Real Effective Exchange Rate (REER) is a reasonable measure of the direction of movement of an exchange rate, and also of its deviation from fair value. (The REER index has some weaknesses but so do all indices used for policy-making — the wholesale price index, the consumer price index, the index for industrial production, etc.) The second measure of the deviation from fair value is the resultant imbalance between the economy's current external earnings and expenditure.

Believers in market efficiency would argue that market prices are self-correcting and that, therefore, the central bank should leave the exchange rate to the market, an argument that is rarely made in relation to the domestic value of money. (No modern democracy, however, can afford to take such a market fundamentalist approach to the value of money.) Arguably, the exchange rate would be self-correcting if the foreign exchange market were to consist primarily of current account transactions — an overvalued domestic currency would make imports cheaper and exports uneconomic, increasing the demand for imports and dollars to pay for them, even as the supply of dollars falls because of the lower export earnings. The resultant demand-supply change in the foreign exchange market would itself correct the exchange rate. The fact is, however, that very often flows other than current account transactions dominate today's foreign exchange markets. Globally, the volume of exchange transactions is about 30 times the trade flows. Even in the domestic market, the gross amount of transactions is around 14 times the current account transactions.

Capital account flows are often cyclical. For example, capital inflows in the equity market would tend to appreciate both share prices and the exchange rate which, in turn, attract more investors thus continuing the cycle, carrying the exchange rate significantly away from fair value. Opening the capital account for outflows by residents cannot really compensate since, if returns in the domestic market are perceived to be attractive, residents will also prefer to keep the money at home. Many emerging markets have witnessed the cyclical movement of capital flows in the reverse direction also, by both residents and non-residents. Given the well-known herd instinct of investors, the only counter-cyclical force can be the central bank.

It is well accepted that an independent monetary policy, a managed exchange rate and a liberal capital account cannot coexist ("the impossible trinity"). In practice, however, it is possible to manage the exchange rate even in a relatively liberal capital account regime, by intervention in the exchange market and sterilisation of the impact on money supply through open market operations or changes in the reserve ratio of the banking system. It is sometimes argued that sterilisation of the excess money supply can lead to an increase in domestic interest rates, which would be detrimental to growth. This argument, however, has limitations. For one thing, if the currency is allowed to appreciate to avoid intervention and sterilisation, this too is a deflationary factor for the economy. Second, so long as sterilisation is limited to the money created through intervention, it should leave the market liquidity, and hence interest rates, unchanged.

It cannot, however, be gainsaid that if domestic interest rates are higher than the earnings on reserves, sterilisation through open market operations will entail a measurable money cost. On the other hand, if sterilisation is done through increasing the cash reserve requirement, there are no costs to the central bank — or even to the banking system since the central bank is impounding only the money it had created through intervention.

But coming back to the impossible trinity, if capital flows continue to surge as many analysts and the International Monetary Fund are expecting, in an extreme situation, one of the three may have to be given up, and it should be the liberal capital account — in other words, resorting to capital controls particularly on portfolio inflows. This is the least costly measure in terms of growth and investment as there is no empirical evidence suggesting that a liberal capital account helps growth. Nobel laureate Andrew Michael Spence said as much during his recent visit to India: "You need to have capital controls and exchange rate management so that you have some control over the volatility of the prices that determine the way you interact with the rest of the world."

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

DECONTROL PETROLEUM PRICES

 

The Empowered Group of Ministers on petroleum pricing, constituted by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, needs to go ahead and decontrol oil prices without delay. Crude oil prices are clearly on a hardening trend and retail prices of petro-products need to be promptly revised for the greater good.


Not doing so and policy pussyfooting over oil pricing would have grave budgetary implications , given the volumes in oil, and fiscal consolidation would go for a six; it would also send wholly wrong price signals across the board. Already, the under-recoveries in oil are projected at over Rs 87,400 crore and rising.

In any case, government control and administered prices of oil products is an anachronism from the days of pre-reform and autarky. For years now we have gainfully done away with the perverse practice of administered pricing of steel, cement, coal et al, and we do need market-determined , efficiency prices in the huge, fast-growing oil economy as well. And especially so, as three-fourths of our crude oil demand is met by imports.


Besides, multiple expert committees have called for comprehensive oil price reform and the latest Kirit Parikh panel has reiterated decontrol of petrol and diesel prices.


The fact of the matter is that public-sector oil companies are mandated by law to determine retail prices and continuing governmental control is a glaring incongruity in a supposedly reforming, outward-oriented economy. While okaying price decontrol, the ministerial group also needs to iron out continuing policy glitches and anomalies . The taxes and duties on oil products need to be rationalised.


Also, the subsidy on cooking gas needs to be phased out and subsidised kerosene proactively substituted with solar lanterns and other green products. It would, in the process, save the exchequer over Rs 20,000 crore per annum, and remove fuel diversion and adulteration.


Further, the effective ring-fencing of retail oil sales needs to be done away with, and the duty differential between crude and products removed for a thriving, competitive market for petro-goods . Given the low value-added in oil refining, even a minimal duty differential can mean a large effective tariff protection.

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

HULLABALOO IN THE COMMONS

 

The British clearly cannot get enough of India. We have already colonised the minds and palates of our former suzerains with Bollywood and chicken tikka masala . Now they are moving our way when it comes to their political processes as well.


What else can explain the fact that with less than a week to go before Election Day, Britain is happily contemplating a hung parliament, coalition politics and a minority government — phrases that have become the staple of political punditry in India in the past two decades?


Not that the staid British can be blamed for aspiring to this bit of Indianness. Friends become foes only to become friends again, bloated governments become more dependent on outside support than Dolly Parton, leaders feign amnesia or worse to explain away errant behaviour and are always forgiven, plum posts are distributed as party favours, and all players (no matter how small) have a right to make their presence felt.

Like a masala movie, there's always a promise of a huge cast of boisterous characters and never a dull moment in coalition politics, India-ishtyle . No wonder the British are ready to adopt our brand of politics with the same enthusiasm with which they dumped their 'meatand-two-veg' for the crunchy colourfulness of arugulafestooned Mediterranean fare.


Britain has had coalition governments before, but it was impossible for citizens to enjoy the phenomenon as both times they were either on the brink or in the midst of a World War.


This time it's different; but why stop at the same three choices — Conservative, Labour and Liberal Democrat — when it comes to a rainbow coalition?


A Monster Raving Loony Party would not have amounted to much in the Britain of yore. But in the highest traditions of the Mayawati-Mulayam-Mamata-spiced political curry in India, Britain is probably yearning to see considerable political innovation or two to stir up the House of Commons from 2010 onwards

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

TAX STRUCTURE GETS VITIATED FURTHER

 

Finance minister Pranab Mukherjee has made token concessions for sectors like housing and air travel in the official amendments to this year's Budget. Sure, giveaways of Rs 400 crore are paltry in the Centre's Rs 10 lakh crore Budget. However, they send out the wrong signal, on two counts.


One, the government doesn't care about simplicity and uniformity in taxation of goods and services ; and two, individual industries and sectors are welcome to lobby for and obtain individually tailored duty regimes. Concessional import duty rates, exemption from service tax, lower rates of excise duty, etc, are enemies of tax rationalisation.

They spell patronage and arbitrariness and distort the tax structure. Ideally, the government should have reversed commodity-specific and sector-specific duties and reverted to uniform rates of duty. It has, however, faltered here. The Budget itself offered up a clutter of rates.


The changes brought to the Finance Bill show that the tax system has been cluttered even more, with multiple import duty rates, lower excise rates and service tax exemptions to specific sectors in an arbitrary way.

This will also hamper the proposed move to a harmonised goods and services tax countrywide. If the Centre itself cannot have the discipline to have uniform rates of indirect tax for goods and services that have little rationale for being subjected to differential tax treatment, how are 28 state governments expected to agree on uniform rates on their part?


The model GST, recommended by the Thirteenth Finance Commission (ThFC) and accepted by the Centre in principle, allows for no exemptions other than a small common list that includes health and education. The government should try to implement ThFC recommendations with the concurrence of the empowered committee of state finance ministers at the earliest.


A course correction is possible even this year, as changes in indirect taxes can be done outside the budget. Multiple indirect tax rates create room for lobbying, patronage and, worse. Surely, that is not what the government wants.

 

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

INDIA ERRS BY LENDING ITS VOICE TO CALLS FOR A STRONGER CHINESE YUAN

JAGDISH BHAGWATI & ARVIND PANAGARIYA

 

India has joined the US in "China bashing" , calling upon the latter to revalue its currency. According to the Financial Times (April 22, 2010), India's Reserve Bank governor spoke ahead of a meeting of finance ministers and heads of central banks of the G20 in Washington, joining with Brazil, to make a forceful case for a stronger renminbi (also called yuan). This is a mistake.


For some time now, the US Congress and some Washington think tanks have aggressively sought to turn the bilateral exchange rate issue between the US and China into a multilateral issue. They have done this by asserting that the undervaluation of the Chinese currency hurts not just the US but Asia and others as well.

The underlying argument is based on a syllogism. The first argument is that an undervalued renminbi is the root cause of the Chinese current account surpluses and the US current account deficits. The second argument is that the export expansion so achieved by China robs countries such as Brazil and India of their export markets.

The RBI governor was explicit in accepting this second argument when he said: "If China revalues the yuan, it will have a positive impact on our external sector. If some countries manage their exchange rates and keep them artificially low, the burden of adjustment falls on some countries that do not manage their exchange rate so actively."

But neither argument is acceptable. Consider first the error in the second argument. Just because China fixes its exchange rate against the US dollar does not mean India cannot choose the value of its currency against the dollar or other currencies including the renminbi at the level it sees appropriate for itself. What happens to India's exports and imports depends on what it does to its own exchange rate, money supply and fiscal deficits and how its savings and investment are balanced.


China fixed the renminbi at 8.27 renminbi per dollar beginning in 1997 until July 21, 2005 and then shifted to a managed revaluation until April 10, 2008, when it reverted to a dollar peg at 6.99 renminbi per dollar. The shift in the exchange rate during 2005-08 represented a renminbi appreciation of approximately 18.2 per cent. India's own exchange rate moved from Rs 36.32 per dollar in 1997 to Rs 44.54 per dollar currently with many ups and downs inbetween .


The exports-to-GDP ratio grew from a low of 11 per cent in fiscal year 1997-98 to 23.6 per cent in 2008-09 . This was a faster expansion of India's exports than during any other 11-year period in its history. If the Chinese dollar peg during 1997-2005 had any effect on India, the movement in the rupee's exchange rate more than neutralised it.


At the same time, leading scholars of the subject, including Nobel laureate Robert Mundell of Columbia, Ronald McKinnon of Stanford and W M Corden of Melbourne, Australia, have contested the first argument that the Chinese current account surplus and US current account deficit are to be explained primarily by an undervalued renminbi.


Besides, the more than 18 per cent appreciation of the renminbi vis-a-vis the dollar between 2005 and 2008 made little dent in the US current account deficit. From $631.1 billion in 2004, it rose to $748.8 billion in 2005 and $803.5 billion in 2006 before declining slightly to $626.6 billion in 2007 and $706.1 billion in 2008. Going by these numbers, the exchange rate is surely at best one of many factors explaining the US current account deficits.

The US runs a current account deficit with more than 100 countries, including very large deficits with Germany and Japan. The combined current account surpluses of Germany, Japan, Switzerland and Norway far exceed the current account surplus of China. If one believes in the primacy of the exchange rate as the explanation of current account imbalances, one would have to call for these countries also to revalue their currencies!

The major explanation for the current imbalances between China and the US lies in the savings-investment gaps in the countries. China (as also Germany, Japan, Switzerland and Norway) saves more than it is able to invest domestically while the opposite holds for the US. The exchange rate may marginally impact these balances but not nearly enough. Until 1976, the US faced the opposite situation, saving more than it invested. It later learned to spend more and save less. As the living standards of the Chinese rise, you can be sure they too will learn to spend more, thereby self-destructing their current surpluses.


India also makes a major tactical error by lending its voice to the calls for the appreciation of the renminbi. With its savings rate high and rising, it too could run into the Chinese "problem" of a current account surplus. It is surely a mistake then to go down this road where shortsighted US politicians and their enablers would have us go. Politically also India makes an error by taking sides in what is essentially a China-US issue. We have enough problems with China not to want to add a gratuitous one. Will the prime minister take note?

Jagdish Bhagwati and Arvind Panagariya are respectively university professor and professor of economics at Columbia University.

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

INDIA-SPECIFIC GROWTH MODEL NEEDED'

RAKHI MAZUMDAR

 

His firm offers strategic advisory services to large corporates and governments on key policy issues. Harinder S Kohli, president and CEO of the Centennial Group, a US-based strategic advisory firm, has recently edited a book, India 2039: An Affluent Society in One Generation.


The book presents a vision of what India could be 30 years from now, based on the work of a multidisciplinary team of experts from different spheres: policymakers, civil servants, academics and development professionals.

 

It says if India maintains its present rate of growth — which Japan, South Korea and China have done in their long-term spurts — it could be among the top three economic powers. And, in the process, India could achieve the living standards of an affluent society. But this is not a pre-ordained state of affairs.


It comes with a list of imperatives. The book also contains the alternative scenario of India getting caught in a middle-income trap if these imperatives are not fulfilled.


The study has indicated global output would exceed $200 trillion against $60 trillion now and the Asian part of the world will account for more than 50% of it against the present level of 20%. However , it warns India should guard against falling into the middle-income trap that has ailed many Latin American economies.


So how can India avoid this trap? "For this, India needs a dramatic change in the mindset of all stakeholders, including the politicians, bureaucracy, private sector and the civil society." The book compares successful east Asian economies that have sidestepped the middle-income trap as they grew from a low income to a high income, with some Latin American and west Asian economies that fell into the trap.


"Given the verdict of the electorate in general elections last year, India is facing a historic opportunity for bold and farsighted action. But if the momentum is not seized, this opportunity could be easily frittered away," he remarks.

To realise its potential, India must understand the world it will be operating inand the changing shape of its economic footprint, says Mr Kohli, who has spent 26 years in several senior positions in the World Bank. "It must start to put in place the institutions and policy frameworks consistent with a move from poverty to affluence in one generation.


Few countries have achieved this, so the challenge is enormous. But no country has achieved it without serious deliberations over the ingredients for sustained growth," he points out.


What are some of the biggest challenges in this? "It is important for India to successfully navigate simultaneous transformations in moving from a domesticallyoriented to a globally-competitive economy and moving from a small player in global affairs to a responsible global citizen ," he adds.


"To sustain a steady economic growth rate, agriculture has to grow. The government wants to make small farms productive and less reliant on subsidies. We had a meeting with government officials and Planning Commission members on this recently," says Mr Kohli.


"At the same time, the government also wants a more decentralised planning exercise, so that funds percolate down to villages at the panchayat level and development plans too are fixed by them," he avers.
Centennial will be working closely with the ministries of agriculture and rural development to offer policy inputs to the Planning Commission as part of the government's wider initiative to create a new rural development model to improve farm productivity.


"We will take a close look at different models from countries like Mexico, Indonesia, China and Brazil, which have largely decentralised decision-making right up to the village level and try to create an India-specific model around it."


Mr Kohli further says, "For this, we would also have to look at the possible scenarios that could emerge in the next 10-15 years and beyond, when rural wages are likely to increase and there is a subsequent change in items in an average food basket." The new rural development model can then perhaps be incorporated into the Five-Year Plans from the 13th Plan onwards, he hopes.

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

INDIA ERRS BY LENDING ITS VOICE TO CALLS FOR A STRONGER CHINESE YUAN

JAGDISH BHAGWATI & ARVIND PANAGARIYA

 

India has joined the US in "China bashing" , calling upon the latter to revalue its currency. According to the Financial Times (April 22, 2010), India's Reserve Bank governor spoke ahead of a meeting of finance ministers and heads of central banks of the G20 in Washington, joining with Brazil, to make a forceful case for a stronger renminbi (also called yuan). This is a mistake.


For some time now, the US Congress and some Washington think tanks have aggressively sought to turn the bilateral exchange rate issue between the US and China into a multilateral issue. They have done this by asserting that the undervaluation of the Chinese currency hurts not just the US but Asia and others as well.

The underlying argument is based on a syllogism. The first argument is that an undervalued renminbi is the root cause of the Chinese current account surpluses and the US current account deficits. The second argument is that the export expansion so achieved by China robs countries such as Brazil and India of their export markets.

The RBI governor was explicit in accepting this second argument when he said: "If China revalues the yuan, it will have a positive impact on our external sector. If some countries manage their exchange rates and keep them artificially low, the burden of adjustment falls on some countries that do not manage their exchange rate so actively."

But neither argument is acceptable. Consider first the error in the second argument. Just because China fixes its exchange rate against the US dollar does not mean India cannot choose the value of its currency against the dollar or other currencies including the renminbi at the level it sees appropriate for itself. What happens to India's exports and imports depends on what it does to its own exchange rate, money supply and fiscal deficits and how its savings and investment are balanced.


China fixed the renminbi at 8.27 renminbi per dollar beginning in 1997 until July 21, 2005 and then shifted to a managed revaluation until April 10, 2008, when it reverted to a dollar peg at 6.99 renminbi per dollar. The shift in the exchange rate during 2005-08 represented a renminbi appreciation of approximately 18.2 per cent. India's own exchange rate moved from Rs 36.32 per dollar in 1997 to Rs 44.54 per dollar currently with many ups and downs inbetween .


The exports-to-GDP ratio grew from a low of 11 per cent in fiscal year 1997-98 to 23.6 per cent in 2008-09 .

 

This was a faster expansion of India's exports than during any other 11-year period in its history. If the Chinese dollar peg during 1997-2005 had any effect on India, the movement in the rupee's exchange rate more than neutralised it.


At the same time, leading scholars of the subject, including Nobel laureate Robert Mundell of Columbia, Ronald McKinnon of Stanford and W M Corden of Melbourne, Australia, have contested the first argument that the Chinese current account surplus and US current account deficit are to be explained primarily by an undervalued renminbi.


Besides, the more than 18 per cent appreciation of the renminbi vis-a-vis the dollar between 2005 and 2008 made little dent in the US current account deficit. From $631.1 billion in 2004, it rose to $748.8 billion in 2005 and $803.5 billion in 2006 before declining slightly to $626.6 billion in 2007 and $706.1 billion in 2008. Going by these numbers, the exchange rate is surely at best one of many factors explaining the US current account deficits.

The US runs a current account deficit with more than 100 countries, including very large deficits with Germany and Japan. The combined current account surpluses of Germany, Japan, Switzerland and Norway far exceed the current account surplus of China. If one believes in the primacy of the exchange rate as the explanation of current account imbalances, one would have to call for these countries also to revalue their currencies!


The major explanation for the current imbalances between China and the US lies in the savings-investment gaps in the countries. China (as also Germany, Japan, Switzerland and Norway) saves more than it is able to invest domestically while the opposite holds for the US. The exchange rate may marginally impact these balances but not nearly enough. Until 1976, the US faced the opposite situation, saving more than it invested. It later learned to spend more and save less. As the living standards of the Chinese rise, you can be sure they too will learn to spend more, thereby self-destructing their current surpluses.


India also makes a major tactical error by lending its voice to the calls for the appreciation of the renminbi. With its savings rate high and rising, it too could run into the Chinese "problem" of a current account surplus. It is surely a mistake then to go down this road where shortsighted US politicians and their enablers would have us go. Politically also India makes an error by taking sides in what is essentially a China-US issue. We have enough problems with China not to want to add a gratuitous one. Will the prime minister take note?


Jagdish Bhagwati and Arvind Panagariya are respectively university professor and professor of economics at Columbia University.

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

HAVE A LOVE AFFAIR WITH YOURSELF

K VIJAYARAGHAVAN

 

The Bible observes (Mathew : 4,4), "Man shall not live by bread alone" . Any attainments, possessions, status or pomp would be of no avail unless strength of character and the spirit within are also available to channel, utilise and savour these well.


The seven 'success' traits and the seven 'failure' traits enumerated by Dr Maxwell Maltz have thus to be understood for enhancing the former and diluting the later, for true fulfilment.


This also is the process of obtaining that equanimity within, expatiated powerfully by two verses of Bhagavad Gita (2,38 and 6,7). This also is the ultimate test of true success and is naturally obtained through that courage of conviction and that feeling of 'rightness' , manifested eventually through the 'flow' , effectiveness and efficiency in all that the person issues forth or is involved in.


This state of fulfilment is also that feeling of 'having arrived' and 'having your fill' — the feeling of being satisfied in the self by one's own self and delighting in oneself (Gita: 2, 55 and 3,17). Obtaining all that he needs or has dreamt of from his own evolved and potential self, he no more looks to comfort, peace, light, approval or praise from external mortal sources to prop up his ego or convictions.


He obtains these in abundance from himself — antasukah , antararamah, antarjyoti. He thus lives out the biblical concept (Luke: 17, 21), "The kingdom of God is within you" .


This verily is true self-esteem , self-love or self-respect , call what you will — that virtue, termed by Aishwarya Rai, when she was crowned Miss World, as "the greatest wealth" . Ayn Rand terms this "exalted view of self-esteem " as "a man's most admirable quality" . Indeed, this healthy esteem, fulfilment and equanimity go together — one cannot exist at the expense of the other.


Aishwarya Rai, herself, in an interview to Times of India (Oct 20, 1999) sums up, "I am in love with the concept of love. I don't need to be in love with a man in order to find fulfilment in life. You can find fulfilment through your work... When I want to experience love, I only need to delve into the recesses of my mind and heart and relive the visuals of love and romance as I know them."


Beauty, indeed, is not just skin deep! This engrossing love affair with oneself is not merely the key to fulfilment but the justification for one's very presence , as a human, on this earth!

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

OFF THE BEATEN TRACK

MYTHILI BHUSNURMATH

 

 

What explains the relatively scant media attention paid to the report of Thirteenth Finance Commission (ThFC) earlier this year? The superstitiously-inclined might be tempted to blame it on the number 13! Others, to just bad timing!


Remember, the report was placed in Parliament the same day as the Economic Survey and just a day before Budget 2010-11 . Inevitably, it had to share its moment in the sun with the Survey and was subsequently eclipsed, first by the Budget and then by a series of more headline-hogging developments, from rising inflation to now, the IPL scam. Whatever the reason the outcome is unfortunate.


First, because the recommendations of a constitutional body entrusted with addressing vertical (between the Centre and states) and horizontal (between states) inequities in revenue-sharing in a federal structure have a wide import and must be debated. And second because the FC has made a number of novel suggestions that could impact our lives as individuals far more directly than the minutiae of complex tax-devolution formulae.

The credit for this does not go to the commission alone. It is the result of an additional responsibility entrusted on the ThFC and incorporated in its terms of reference: to suggest ways of improving the quality of public expenditure to obtain better outputs and outcomes.


Faced with such an open-ended and vast mandate the ThFC has zeroed in on five broad areas that it regards as critical to better outcomes — better targeting of subsidies, improvement in the infant mortality rate, better statistics, better delivery of justice, police reform and encouraging innovation.


In each of these areas the commission has tried to nudge states in the desired direction by offering the only carrot FCs have at their disposal: incentives in the form of grants.


Take for instance the Rs 2,989 crore grant to state governments to encourage them to enrol beneficiaries of public welfare schemes like the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (NREGS) and PDS within the UID (Unique Identification ) programme. The grant is meant to finance a payment of Rs 100 per head to incentivise citizens below the poverty line register for the UID.


Similarly, a grant of Rs 5,000 crore has been made to reduce the infant mortality rate. The amount is to be shared between states based upon a formula that has two components: a first that rewards improvement in the mortality rate and a second that provides a premium if such change is made above the median value of the mortality rate for all states.


The third component, a Rs 5,000 crore grant, addresses a critical aspect of any initiative that is meant to ensure better outputs and outcomes: improve the delivery of justice.


Given the huge backlog of over three crore cases pending in various courts in the country today, the ThFC has earmarked grants for improving quality of legal infrastructure — increasing the number of court working hours using the existing infrastructure by holding morning /evening/shift courts, enhancing support to Lok Adalats to reduce the pressure on regular courts and to State Legal Services Authorities to enable them to enhance legal aid to the marginalised and empower them to access justice, promote the alternate dispute resolution (ADR) route to resolve part of the disputes outside the court system, enhance capacity of judicial officers and public prosecutors through training programmes and support creation of a judicial academy in every state to facilitate such training.


ASMALL grant has been made for holding 10 mega Lok Adalats per high court and about five Lok Adalats for each of the 1,500 court locations per year. Additionally a grant of Rs 200 crore has been made to strengthen the National Legal Services Authority (NALSA) and State Legal Services Authorities (SALSAs) set up with the aim of ensuring access of the poor and marginalised to the justice system . Training of police personnel, a longneglected area, has also been given a legup through state-specific grants.


One of the biggest puzzles in the India growth story is the limited success we've had in scaling up individual success stories , whether it is the Amul story in the context of milk production or the successful water-harvesting scheme that has turned Alwar from a dry, arid land to a lush green one.


So in a bid to foster simple low-cost innovations that could provide better alternatives , reduce costs and improve service delivery, the commission has set aside some money (Rs 20 crore) for a Centre for Innovations in Public Systems in Hyderabad . Another grant of Rs 1 crore has been allocated to each district to set up a District Innovation Fund (DIF) at the district level aimed at making cutting edge levels of governance responsive to felt needs and innovations.


Lack of reliable data has long been our weak spot. How many Indians have incomes below the poverty line? What is the output of fruits and vegetables? What is size of the services sector? We simply do not know. Successive governments have been batting in the dark and in the absence of such basic information it is not surprising the best of development policies fails to make much impact.


The first step, therefore, is to beef up our statistical machinery, especially at the grassroots' level. The commission has zeroed in on two specific initiatives to do this at the state and district level; at least 75% of the grant is to be utilised for strengthening statistical infrastructure at the district level.


The report is dot on when it says, 'The citizens' primary interface is with the state and local governments.' Hence it is necessary to improve these interfaces if service is to improve. Sadly, with the exception of a few states where service delivery is tolerable , public expenditure has generally been marked by poor outcomes.


Given the magnitude of our problems, grants from the ThFC will make a difference only at the margin. But such grants are a signal to states that if they are willing to redirect their energies in certain desired directions, they will find support from the FC. They are a signal future FCs can build upon as well. And, with some luck, could translate into better every day lives for ordinary citizens. If and when that happens, we'll owe a small debt of gratitude to the ThFC.

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

4TH PILLAR SWINGS TO PARTY BEATS

SUDESHNA SEN

 

I really should be writing about the Greek sovereign crisis and the risk of contagion for Europe, but that subject has been boring me to tears for weeks. Especially since we're going into the last stretch of what has turned out to be a totally paisa-vasool election here, when we were expecting more of the same (yawn) rhetoric we've been hearing for a while from politicians.


First, let's get Greece out of the way. In case you aren't one of those who depend on global markets' daily ditherings for a living, you can be forgiven for glazing over. Frankly, it won't affect anyone in India.
If every worst-case scenario happened, and Europe collapses, you might want to pay some attention. I don't see Europe collapsing any time soon though. It's not exactly a Lehman Brothers.


Still, I'd say, expect more of the same: the total quantum of 'bad' risk in the world that blew banks up have since been passed to governments and this kind of thing was — or should — have been expected. It happened in some degree to Iceland, to Hungary, yadda yadda. Today it's the euro, yesterday it was dollar, the week before it was sterling. Did anybody think that the after-effects of that huge meltdown is going to fade away into next quarter's sunset?


Whatever happens, it won't be end of the world, since the world as we knew it has changed forever, and it's time all those bigwigs start to realise that and do something.


To more interesting things, this UK election will go down in history for its first-ever public TV debates, and how that catapulted a Nick Clegg and his Lib Dems from a marginal presence to centrestage.


Why the debates wield so much power is, while still a matter of wonder for Brits, obvious to outsiders. It's the first time the electorate gets to see unfiltered , uncensored views from the main parties. Unlike in the US or India, British newspapers and media channels have always openly backed political parties , and don't believe that news should be impartial or objective.


So you can't really believe anything you read or see. We read usually authoritative columnists writing like campaign managers, wildly different and selective versions of the results, polls and reportage of what we saw on TV last night and elsewhere — you'd think they were all talking about completely different events.

This time, the Murdoch machinery, led by The Sun, is backing the Tories. While the locals take it all for granted, it's confusing to keep track of who's supporting whom — The Guardian website used to have a guide for the unwary.


To people like the Americans and us, it seems strange how they can reconcile 'a free and fair' democratic press, an individual's right to political choice, and running editorially-dictated election coverage, but then who am I to question the fourth estate of people who invented the concept? It seems to work for them.


Oh well, the longer I stay here, the less I feel I understand the Brits. Take Britain's peculiar anti-snob snobbery. If you happen to be educated, or qualified , as a candidate, you need to hide it. Candidates apparently all have to claim to be under-educated yobs, and not be seen as 'posh'.


Posh, as in rich or privileged, I can understand, but what's wrong with a good education? These Brits are tap-tap-tap.

One of the high notes, for me, in the last TV debate was how all three leaders spent a chunk of precious talk time extolling the 'virtues' of work — and why and how Britons who want to work must be given support and help, how it's so necessary for self-esteem , et al.


I was expecting them to break into a chorus of Japanese-style work-is-worship songs any moment. We're not even talking entrepreneurship, or hard work — just, well, working for a living.

 

It's not as weird as it sounds. I've just had a conversation with an average hard-working British woman this morning. She thinks London is too materialistic , what with all these bankers around, and her chief dream is to be able to 'work less' (than five days), so she can spend more time in her garden. Asking people to retire a year later — something most Indians would kill to get a chance to do — is considered a 'harsh' political decision.
And then take savings.


It's considered completely batty right-wing spin that people should be allowed to leave their life's earnings and houses to their children , and not the taxman. Saving, like work, is a new-found virtue. Till even last Christmas, people were being encouraged to borrow and spend to bankruptcy as their patriotic duty.


And then they wonder why their economy grows at zero-point something. They even ask people like me, at times. Now where do I start, if you have to begin from the basis that working is a vaguely virtuous, but not a necessary or desirable , objective in life? I wish we could be so lucky.

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

LIC WILL GIVE US THE REACH IN OUR BANKING BUSINESS'

GAYATRI NAYAK

 

LIC Housing Finance has managed to beat industry growth rates in loan disbursals. Now the housing finance company has banking ambitions. CEO and director RR Nair, discusses the synergies a banking licence could provide with ET. Excerpts:


You have managed to grow disbursals at a time when banks are yet to see growth in their home loan portfolio.
When the situation was bad and interest rates rose 400 basis points (bps), we took a call not to pass on the higher rates entirely to customers . We passed on the burden of only 125 bps to borrowers. But when rates fell, we passed on the benefit to customers.


We passed on close to 200 bps of lower rates to our customers . That is one reason why there was not much of a migration of our floating rate borrowers to other banks. When large banks came out with what is now called teaser rates, we offered 8.9% fixed for three years.


But later when banks further reduced rates, we did not reduce rate, but instead we complemented it by better services. The effective payout through the entire period of the loan, I think, is very competitive for our customers.

You have already indicated your interest in a banking licence if RBI allows NBFCs to convert themselves into a bank, what would be your ability to stand on your own?

We have a 21-year track record for profit making and dividend payment. Our network comprises over 200 offices throughout the country and roughly around 10,000 marketing intermediaries . Since we are dealing with home loans, it gives us a better understanding of the market and knowledge about the customers. We have more than 5 lakh customers, which we can tap.


Besides, our professionals are wellversed with the functioning of the financial markets and have good appraisal skills. Capital support from LIC is not much of an issue now. We have a net worth of over Rs 3,400 crore. But there could be good synergies with the association of our parent in other ways.


LIC has over 3,000 offices across the country. Our advantage is that, LIC could be a facilitator in opening up of new branches in cities where it already has a presence. LIC itself has huge transactions worth over Rs 10 lakh crore. Some businesses may flow by taking over some transactions . To start with, it will help us with some volume.

Moreover, there are LIC's customers, which is a more important factor than capital support from it. Besides, for LIC too, there could be a comfort of conducting business with its own group arm and it could play an indirect role in the management as well.


Reverse mortgage as a concept is still not taken off in India as many lenders are reluctant to push the schemes as returns are far too deferred, blocking resources over an unpredictable period.


It's a novel concept in India. But the problem here is that the Indian psyche is such that Indians want to pass on their assets to their surviving relatives. The other problem is that the actual income from reverse mortgage is on a deferred basis while the income tax is on accrual basis.


That is a bad proposition for the company to pay tax on a future income. We requested National Housing Bank to take up this issue with the income-tax department and hopefully , if the issue is resolved, then such proposals would be encouraging and we would also be interested in the business. After all, cash flows are important to a company. However, the concept also needs a lot of awareness in our society.


RBI has asked banks to move to base rate as a benchmark. Typically, NHB's guidelines have followed RBI. Are HFCs prepared for a change in the benchmark rate?

We may not have any problem because our basket of loans comprises long-term products. So we may not have a problem fixing base rates. Whereas banks may face a problem because they have to lend short-term at lower rates.

What is your view on real estate prices? Many fear that there is another asset price bubble forming in pockets?
True, prices have gone up steeply in certain pockets like Mumbai. But there is no fear of asset price bubble. Prices will stabilise wherever they have gone up. But where they have not moved up there may be some correction. I don't think there is an asset price bubble. For us, the value of the loan is decided on an individual's repayment capacity and not the property prices.


Have you been able to make use of the credit information bureau? Has there been any improvement in the bad loan position?

After using data from the credit information bureau, our experience is that it is a very useful tool because credit history of customers is tracked. Seventy per cent to 75% of our customers coming to us can be tracked through Cibil. It is helping us control delinquencies at the origination stage.


With RBI laying more stress on real estate prices in framing its policy, do you see some tighter regulations for home loans, given the runaway price rise in real estate prices?

Tightening of lending norms may not help because home loan and price increase are not very much related. It is more related to land cost and material & labour costs. The government has to bring regulatory measures to control unreasonable pricing of properties. Availability of funds may have an impact on demand to that extent it may have an impact. But at best, they may try to discourage offtake, but that may not be effective . The maximum they can do is increase provisioning and that may not affect much.


With many players still offering teaser rates, how do you plan to take on them, especially since you do not have a cost advantage over them?

True, we do not have a cost advantage. But we will make up for it with improving operational efficiency. We had teaser rates by banks last year and still we did well. And it is just a matter of time when such rates are withdrawn.

With financial inclusion gaining steam, don't you see pressure on housing finance companies to extend micro housing loans? How do you plan to go about?

We are interested in this business because bulk of the demand for housing will be from this segment of the society. The business model has to be totally different. The product pricing will have to be different. We may consider setting up of a separate subsidiary for this.

 

Going forward, what are the new ventures you are looking at?

We have started a property services division which will be a one-stop service for home buyers taking care of all aspects including identifying property, providing finance, doing paper work, supervision of construction and all other services that are involved till a home is purchased. We are looking at a feebased model for this business. A year down the line, we may consider to carve it out into a separate venture. If RBI comes out with guidelines for banks, we may also start this venture. Besides, the venture capital business will also be operational this year.


What are your plans for resource mobilisation ?

Last year, we raised Rs 17,000 crore from the domestic market at an average cost of 7.03%. This year, we may require around Rs 20,000 crore. We expect the cost of funds to go up to 7.5% maximum. RBI may not signal a steep rise in interest rate, at best 50 bps.

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

TECH MAHINDRA WILL BE ABLE TO MAINTAIN BIZ FROM BT

NIRAJ SHAH

 

Tech Mahindra's Q4 numbers declared a stellar set of numbers on the bottom line and expect the stock to do a bit of reaction on Monday morning. Of course, the highlight of the quarter would be the deals that the company has signed and the kind of margin enhancement or the holding up of the margins that the company has done.

Tech Mahindra's top management, Vineet Nayyar (Vice Chairman), Sanjay Kalra (CEO) and Sonjoy Anand (CFO) , spoke about the quarter gone by, the year gone by and how would FY11 pan out. Excerpts

In the last Q3 conference call, you did say that the shoots were probably starting to budding out and they would probably take definitive shape at the end of Q4, have you seen that happening in Q4 and going ahead?

Vineet Nayyar: Yes, some of those shoots did mature. We had been endeavouring to make an offering which was an integrated offering which would differentiate us from most of the IT service providers basically to integrate IT, network technology and BPO and to take on entities and do a grassroots development for them in terms of bringing them into the market. This year, three of the telcos we have worked into went live with this kind of a platform and that was a cause of huge satisfaction to us because we established the fact that we could set up a platform of them de novo from the bottom up works, manage it for them and then provide them whatever services they required in terms of customer interface or market interface or back office requirements through a BPO offering.


We had been able to do that and demonstrate successfully with three companies now. This is in a way telco in the box which we have come up with and to we have to sustain that box going forward. In terms of revenues, you have the numbers with you. We grew sequentially by about 2% in dollar terms this quarter. If we were to take constant dollar, then it would be perhaps 4%. Year on year, our growth was quite significant and a growth which was about 33%, earnings also went up. So net net, we have had a good quarter. The only other significant thing which I would like to bring to your notice which came as a very pleasant surprise to us was only few days ago when AT&T selected us as the best service provider and have acknowledged that publicly. Normally they do not let out these things, but they acknowledged it publicly through advertisement in the Wall Street Journal. So that is sense of satisfaction.


It is not more revenue, it is not more profit but in terms of satisfaction level, that was about the highest. So this is by and large a flavour as we see it, as I see it personally this quarter.


The commentary that we have heard from Tech Mahindra from Q1 when we interacted to the last quarter, the talk was that there are still some dark clouds, pricing may or may not improve. Q3 also, you were cautious at least on the pricing front. In the last three months in terms of your dialogues with your clients, are things showing signs of improvement?

Sanjay Kalra: By nature I am cautious and I hope to remain that way because that way, I will never end up disappointing you. There are essentially two parts to the business. There is the BT part and on that, we have discussed a number of times and I have maintained now for about three quarters that we think for the foreseeable future. Our BT business if I look at GBP would be in that £70 million to £72 million.

In Q4, we went a bit higher than that. That is why in spite of a depreciating pound, you still saw a 2% growth in BT but that was more linked to end of year and some projects that may not necessarily repeat. Looking forward, in spite of everything, we have managed to maintain that level of BT business and for the foreseeable future, it will remain in those levels.


The more gratifying part is the parts outside of BT and for the first time at the end of the financial year, I can proudly stand up and say that my non-BT part is more than $0.5 billion. Now if I spoke to you four-five years ago, this was in low dense of millions of dollars. So in that period, in a market that has been through ups and downs good times bad times, at the end of the year when I look at my non-BT business, it really has grown by 38% year on year for the quarter and that is hugely satisfying.


The highlight of the quarter probably would be that everybody expected that the margins would dip and you have maintained them, what has gone right?

Sonjoy Anand: What we have seen within the margins is a combination of things. We have seen benefits from offshoring; we have seen an improved quality of business. The negative that have come in have come from currency and our SG&A has been a bit higher.


Yes, it has moved up slightly from the 13% but can it go up further from these levels because people are talking about that being at a fairly lower level and that will only go up going ahead?


Sonjoy Anand: We have always said that between 13% and 15% is a good range for SG&A. Within that range between quarters, it can move up and down depending on particular events.


One word on the BT side of the business. You said that 46% of the total pie is BT. Is it fair to assume that the worst as far as BT goes is over because last quarter you said that in an overall diminishing pie, you are from BT globally, you are increasing your share? Is that the trend that will happen in the next two or three quarters as well?


Vineet Nayyar: We certainly hope so. We have a great relationship with BT and we will sustain that. We are the preferred one. Yes, the prices have gone and if the share has gone, it is not because we are not doing more business with them. Our business with them has also gone up by almost five times. It is that our business elsewhere has grown at a much faster pace.


So you would maintain that at least the volumes from BT coming in would remain as a constant?


Vineet Nayyar: Inshallah, hopefully.

One word on the contract that had a lot of questions last quarter and you said that you are probably still working on how the modalities of that contract were. Are you in a position to talk about that ?

Sanjay Kalra: Still work in progress, all the closer to the destination now than I was three months ago. These are large complex contracts but work is continuing on those contracts. If that gives you any feel for what it is.

Would you maintain that over the next two or three quarters, the business from AT&T as an individual client will not go down?

Sanjay Kalra: I am fairly confident if we maintain the level of service we have offered them if realities of the world remain the same. I see the relationship with AT&T especially on the back of the recognition where we have now realised that finally they said, son, you have grown up and you have become a good boy, we will keep going back for more business and hopefully if we do everything right, we should continue to see success at AT&T.

The BPO business, and a concern if you can call it, that that analysts believe is probably one space which is a low margin business compared to the other services that you provide and you are increasingly focussing on that, a valid concern you think?


Vineet Nayyar: I do not think so. We are perhaps one of the largest BPO providers for Indian corporates and that may be giving the assumption that we have low margins but our margins are very healthy there. Otherwise we would not be expanding at the pace we are.


How has the pace been in the quarter? I would just like you to reiterate because Q3 you did mention that there has been significant headcount addition but they were going under the training process.


Vineet Nayyar: Yes, we grew quarter on quarter by close to 9% and our year on year growth has been 27%.


Would you maintain that going ahead or better that?


Vineet Nayyar: Should I say inshallah again?


How the wage hikes would impact? Q2 was the quarter in which you did give out wage hikes. Would any more wage hikes happen this annual and how would they impact margins going ahead?


Sonjoy Anand: Last year was an unusual year. Otherwise typically, our appraisal and increment cycle ends at March and increases are effective 1st of April. We have not taken a final view yet but certainly your question on margins in the immediate future, there are going to be some headwinds which are going to come from salary increases as well as we will see the full impact of what has happened on currency at the sterling end. So these are two headwinds which we will see in margins in the quarter that comes.


Most of FPOs are actually going ahead with wage hikes and poaching is fairly rampant. Are wage hikes are a near term certainty?


Sanjay Kalra: Wage hikes are a certainty. It is the quantum of wage hike that we are working on.


Any ballpark estimates that you have, that you would probably need to give on an average an X amount of hike and within an X amount of period from today that we are talking about?


Sanjay Kalra: We are in the same industry, there are competitive pressures, the market pressures are there, so we will react in the right time. In fact not just you, I and my other 33,500 colleagues are also interested in it.

Could wage hikes come in Q1 or would it be delayed in probably Q2 or Q3?


Sanjay Kalra: I would hold back on giving you an exact answer there because it is better that I execute it first and then come back.


You signed deals with new Indian telecom operators, North America is also showing traction. In terms of geographies, emerging markets and NA, is it showing a lot more traction than what it was say probably end Q2-Q3?


Vineet Nayyar: No, the traction is still fight of a superior kind in the emerging markets. We are getting lot of business there and Europe, somewhat surprisingly, is also doing very well for us.


Sanjay Kalra: Telecom as a sector has not been having that rah-rah time that many other business sectors have. Overall, if I look at it from the perspective of a vendor or provider like Tech Mahindra, US is as we thought it would be, there are tenders in the market, there are RFPs, there is stock, pre-sales folks active. In Middle East, in India, in Asia Pacific, I do not know where they pop up from but we still hear every few days somebody pops up and says I am creating a greenfield telco and will you come in and help us because we seem to be recognised in that area as people who can take people from planning board to a launch network very quickly.


Europe, while in our existing customers, we are seeing that the engagements and new businesses, the discussions are on as planned. Some of the new large deals that we had seen, we are finding that the deadlines are being stretched out and extended out. So that would be the best idea I could give you of what is happening in our markets.


Whether it be telecom focus, IT providers or otherwise, most people said that the significantly large deals would probably happen in Q3 and Q4, not necessarily in the first half of FY11.


Sanjay Kalra: It would be consistent with our experiences.


There are two or three rumours doing the round. One of them principally we are hearing that you are in talks for a large deal, probably $1 billion deal, with a New Zealand company. Is it true and how soon can we expect anything?


Vineet Nayyar: Chief Executive is meant to dodge these questions.


Sanjay Kalra: We are en existing partner of Telecom New Zealand and they have gone and said they are talking to several vendors, we are one of them and we are all working towards seeing..., may the best one win.

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

WE ARE HERE TO BUILD INDIAN WALT DISNEY: WALT DISNEY INDIA MD

HEMAMALINI VENKATRAMAN

 

Say Walt Disney and it immediately conjures up myriad cartoon characters that are popular all over the world. It has been more than five years since the $36-billion global media and entertainment conglomerate stepped into India, where it has invested $0.5 billion and has 100 licensees. But operating in a market that has diversity as its foundation, Walt Disney seeks to carve a new identity — Indian Walt Disney.


Outside of the US, India is one of the largest markets, where Disney has invested in for local production. It has a reach that caters to millions of homes, but it is now seeing south in a "more specific" way as 5,000 of the 10,000 theatres of the country are located in this region. South is a strategic market, owing to its film DNA culture, says Walt Disney Company India MD Mahesh Samat in an interview with ET.


Samat is part of the niche 160-plus team of employees in India. While the company is widening its distribution partnership, exploring newer mediums and forging partnerships with creative and technology-savvy entities, Samat dwells on the varied challenges and the opportunities even as "lot of projects are in development stage." Excerpts:


How long will it take for the transition from Walt Disney to Indian Walt Disney? Have you launched any brand building efforts for this?


Disney has a long-term commitment to India. We continue to focus on investing and growing the Disney brand across the country. We are here to build an Indian Walt Disney Company. We bank on the three pillars of reach, relevance and experience, as we work towards building Disney as a family entertainment brand in India.

Reach: We are constantly exploring and entering new distribution channels to extend our reach. While Disney television networks reach over 71 million households, through the terrestrial network, we entertain over 145 million households. Last year, we had over 300 movie titles available to Indian households across various mediums. Our retail organisation combines your distribution network to help our consumer products reach over one lakh stores with special experientials in over 250 sections across the country. Our three websites bring in a monthly traffic of 3.5 lakh fans. This year, Hungama TV was launched in Tamil and Telugu.


Relevance: Our franchise (characters) focus remains a key priority as we continue to bring many of our characters and stories which resonate with the Indian kids and families. For this, we continue to tap into the local creative ecosystem.


Our local shows like Kya Mast Hai Life are household names and we have gone on floor for season II. We have also announced another show on Disney Channel titled Ishaan. In studios business, Zokkomon will be our first-locally produced live action movie for Disney in India, which is ready for good content. It has a more robust live action culture.


We also recently announced our first-locally produced project for south, a yet-to-be-titled epic fantasy adventure film. The film, produced by K Raghavendra Rao and directed by Prakash Rao Kovelamudi, is scheduled for a January 2011 release. Localisation focus will continue to be an important element of our strategy to engage families and will increase the brand relevance. Our intention is to create a Disney script and we are engaged with creative and tech partners for the same. On a long-term basis, six to eight films in a year is our target.


Experience: We have had a consistent strategic focus, made innovative use of technology and have created high-quality branded content. This has put us in a good competitive position to deliver long-term growth while connecting with the Indian families in a whole new way. We will continue to work on creating unique Disney experientials for our fans across offerings every year. We recently released Alice in Wonderland in IMAX 3D and Disney Digital 3D, thus enhancing the movie experience.


What are the challenges that Walt Disney sees in expanding business in India?

The Indian market presents a tremendous opportunity for us to build a relevant and engaging family entertainment brand for the audience. Even though we have been here as a company for just over five years, Disney stories and products have enthralled Indian families and kids for decades.


A lot has changed in these years both in terms of our growth in India, the business environment and also the way the economy is growing. But, what hasn't changed is Disney's vision to build a family entertainment brand in the country. This is an exciting time to be working in India as the entertainment market is evolving rapidly and astutely, representing an enormous opportunity.


Great stories are at the heart of everything that we do at Disney. We don't have a one-size-fits-all approach. We need to create high-quality content that resonates with Indian kids and families. As a global family entertainment brand, we are investing time and effort to drive local relevance through the best-in-class creative expertise to Disney's entertainment offerings in India, which is a diverse market. We are also bringing our global content by making it relevant to the India fans.


Be it through Telugu film project that we announced recently, or acquisitions that our TV business has made to reintroduce Indian kids to classic Indian tales such as 'Ek Tha Jungle' based on ancient Tamil text Thirukkural, or the availability of our channels in local languages such as Tamil and Telugu. We have also successfully built affinity for our global franchises in India by making them locally relevant. Take for example, our franchises Mickey and Friends or the more contemporary Tween icon Hannah Montana.


The next priority for Disney in India is to make these great stories available to consumers for access anywhere, anytime and on a platform of their choice.


Technology continues to plays a critical role in deepening our relationship with consumers. Apart from new distribution platforms, we believe great content on the most relevant platforms is the way to connect with consumers.

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

NEED TO BETTER TARGET FOOD SUBSIDIES TO ERADICATE POVERTY: MONTEK

SUBHASH NARAYAN, AMITI SEN & VINAY PANDEY

 

Montek Singh Ahluwalia is among the key figures who led India's transformation into a liberal economy. The deputy chairman of the Planning Commission says there is a need to better target food subsidies to eradicate widespread poverty. He shared his views on wide-ranging topics such as the stagnation in agriculture and problems in infrastructure funding in an interaction with ET. Excepts:


Agricultural production looks to be stagnating. We have massive deficits for a number of commodities and investments are not happening...


We should not come to conclusion about agriculture in the middle of a drought year. If you look at 2009-10, there is a negative growth in output. But we have to look at the underlying trend. We have done this in the mid-term appraisal and our assessment is that by the end of the 11th Plan (2011-12), agriculture will be back at the 3.5% growth level, though it may fall short of 4%.


We will certainly have come out of the stagnation seen in the period 1996-2002. Investment in agriculture is rising. As for investments, the ratio of investment in agriculture to agriculture GDP shows a steady increase after 2002.

The mid-term appraisal has talked about delinking MSP with procurement price. Can you explain?

The basic function of MSP is to reassure the farmer that he can count on this as a minimum price. If there is a bumper crop, the normal tendency for prices to fall is countered, which helps the farmer. You can also have a situation when there is a shortage of rain, and a possible crop failure. In that case there is upward pressure on prices.

If you only offer the farmer the MSP, you may not get much procurement. If we have a large buffer stock, we can draw it down to meet procurement requirements but if we want to assure a certain level of procurement then we need an incentive. That is going beyond the MSP to offer an incentive price for procurements. This is justified in some circumstances but it should be absolutely clear than an incentive price is something that you resort to only when you have a shortage and is not a normal feature.


Is it possible to have two poverty lines, one for identifying beneficiaries of food security and one for other schemes?
You can have different poverty lines for different purposes, but we are not recommending it. One reason why you need a poverty line is you want to identify those below some agreed minimum as requiring special consideration and you want to monitor whether the growth process is bringing those below the poverty line to get out of poverty over time. For that you need a fixed poverty line.


You can also think of a situation where eligibility for say, food security is linked to one poverty line but eligibility for another benefit, say a scholarship, is linked to another. For example, subsidised healthcare may need to be extended to many who are above the poverty line but cannot bear the burden of sudden healthcare costs.

But you are thinking of changing the poverty line... Are you accepting Tendulkar committee's recommendations?

It is natural for the poverty line to be revised after a while. Growth will reduce poverty over time with reference to a fixed lines. For example, according to our official estimates, poverty had gone down to 27.5% but many people said that the figures is too low because there are many dimensions where deprivation is more widespread.

Over 65% of women are anaemic and 45% children suffer from malnutrition. Consideration of such factors can lead to revising the poverty line upwards. We set up the Tendulkar committee to advise on this. The committee has said the urban poverty measure is reasonable but we should raise the rural poverty line. We have accepted this recommendation and are processing the matter for formal approval.


What are your views on transferring subsidy through coupons or cash?


There are several ideas floating around. Some state governments like Delhi and Bihar have said that the PDS system is too corrupt and the number of shops too large to be effectively monitored. They say they prefer that the central government should give the subsidy in cash which can be transferred directly to the bank accounts of the poor.


Another view holds that if cash is given, it will not be used for food, and the men will squander it on drink. We could of course give the money to the women, but even that is open to the danger that the men can extract the money from the women. Food coupons are said to be better as they ensure that you go to the PDS shop and get some food. However food coupons can be counterfeited.

 

A better version of coupons is a smart card system in which the PDS shop sells the grain at unsubsidised price but the poor get a smart card which credits the shopkeeper with the subsidy amount and what the customer pays is the subsidised price.


This also gets away from subsidised grain distribution, and the incentive for the middleman to divert grain disappears. Some people are opposed to these ideas because they fear it means abolition of procurement and dismantling of PDS shops. That is not so. Procurement will still take place but the grain will be sold through the PDS at non-subsidised prices.


Will this be discussed in the group of state chief ministers on reforming PDS?

We will pose all the options and hear the chief ministers. My personal view is that a pure cash transfer with no PDS structure will not be acceptable. But we can have a PDS which trades in unsubsidised grain while those who are to be subsidised get a smart card. In this way procurement and the PDS remain but you don't have underpriced grain which encourages leakages.


What about the debate over the quantity of subsidised grain to be given to the poor under the Food Security Act?


I think we can meet the objective of providing a fixed amount of grain to the poor at an affordable price. However, the key to doing this lies in changing the present subsidy structure for the above poverty line (APL) cardholders. Today, almost 50% of the government's food subsidy is going to APL families.

If APL supplies are heavily subsidised, which is the case at present, the demand for grain from this category is too large. Even if we could afford the subsidy we won't have the grain. We should assure APL families of access to the PDS. But if the price is not heavily subsidised the demand in a normal year will be low.

The Planning Commission had estimated a requirement of $500 billion investment in infrastructure during the 11th Plan and over $1 trillion during the 12th Plan. Achieving the targets will mean huge investment from the private sector. Levying user charges is an 'if' issue in creating infrastructure. How then will private investment come in?


Well these (user charges) are legitimate issues. The prime minister has said that we should plan for investment in infrastructure sector of about $1 trillion in the 12h Plan. This investment has to be divided into Centre, states and the private sector. We have not yet done the sums, but my guess is that if we have to reach $1 trillion in the 12th Plan, about 45-50% of it will have to come from the private sector.


This can only happen if investors find it profitable and reasonable, and user charges are obviously critical. Keeping user charges low is only feasible if we bear some of the capital cost in the form of a capital subsidy. This is what happens in road projects where we allow up to 40% of the capital cost as a subsidy, the exact amount being determined by competitive bidding. But subsidies eat into resources. The more unwilling we are to levy user charges, the less infrastructure we will get.


Are we out of growth-inflation trade-off? Will we see another round of increase in interest rates?

There is a trade off between growth and inflation in situations where growth has not recovered to potential. In such situation tackling inflation too quickly can delay the recovery. If the economy has recovered, and inflation is between 4% and 6%, there is reasonable balance. If inflation is beyond that range and growth is doing well, which is the case at present, we should worry about inflation more than about the trade-off.


What is your assessment of the performance of the health sector, which has been given so much importance in the 11th Plan document?

Health is obviously critical but I should point out that for good health we need to focus not just on curative heath but also on public health and providing clean drinking water and sanitation, and also, of course, income. Having said that we should acknowledge that we have invested less public money than we should have in curative and public health. We are correcting this now.

 

The 11th Plan target was that public expenditure on health will have to be raised from just below 1% of the gross domestic product (GDP) to 2-3%. In the first three years of the current plan, we have only just got above 1% of the GDP. One reason for less than expected expenditure on health has been that the sector was not ready to absorb resources. There are also non-financial constraints. There is acute shortage of doctors especially in rural areas. On heath, we have to look at a 10-year horizon. There is a great deal to do.

 

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                                                                                                               DECCAN CHRONICAL

EDITORIAL

JHARKHAND'S POLITICS OF GREED GETS BRAZEN

 

Mineral-rich Jharkhand's politics is no stranger to crisis. As is often the case in small states, minor quirks of political dynamics frequently lead to the dismissal of governments, and carefully stage-managed rebellions against those in authority that are little more than bargaining counters for enhancement of political power or the extracting of economic and business dividends. The politics of stability or ideology is the last thing on the minds of "leaders". The driving force is greed of power or money, or both. Interestingly, it is a family drama that is powering the newest Jharkhand pantomime. Jharkhand Mukti Morcha stalwart "Guruji" Shibu Soren, who never likes to be anything other than chief minister, has been sought to be upstaged by his son Hemant, who is seeking to dispossess his politically-greedy father with unseemly haste. Sensing this, the old boy prepares to defend his castle. He cosies up to the Congress (on the other side of the fence this time) by voting with it to defeat Opposition "cut" motions in the Lok Sabha, doubtless hoping to save himself against his son's moves by tempting the Congress into a power-share deal in Ranchi, jettisoning his alliance with the BJP to make this happen. What follows is a low-order farce. The BJP is furious after the JMM's pro-Congress vote in Parliament and publicly announces withdrawal of support; the Congress doesn't bite; old man Soren is nicely stuck. Seizing his chance, Hemant goes down on his knees and beseeches the BJP not to break the alliance, offering the saffron party the CM's post in the hope it will make him deputy chief minister. Everything seems to be going swimmingly for the BJP. Then there are reports that crafty Hemant Soren is playing at triple-cross, holding parleys with Congress MLAs as well. The suspense may break anytime, but there is no denying it is so thick you can only cut it with a bread-knife. But a good question to ask in this melodrama concerns the BJP, not the JMM (which is playing true to character). When the JMM-led government was formed in January, many in the saffron camp thought — correctly — that the mandate obliged them to sit in Opposition. In the last Assembly, the party had 30 out of 81 seats, but in December 2009 it was down to almost half that, although it had done well in the Lok Sabha election seven months earlier, bagging eight of the state's 14 seats. Political greed trumped other considerations, and a BJP licked in the Assembly polls ran to be on the treasury benches, behaviour more usually associated with the likes of the JMM and Jharkhand's "Independents" (the most infamous of whom being former chief minister Madhu Koda). The new crisis in Jharkhand shows the BJP driving dangerously fast in the slippery lane of opportunism. Those in the party who had in December 2009 held that they ought to sit in Opposition are now happy to let their names circulate for the CM's post. This will no doubt change rapidly if the JMM in the Assembly were to split between father Soren and son Soren, and the JMM-BJP alliance crumbles. But what a way for newly-appointed BJP president Mr Nitin Gadkari to start his innings? Where is the voice of leadership, of statesmanship, of political sagacity? There is no one in the party to deny reports that the decision to withdraw support from the JMM government was changed because some central party leaders had "business interests" in the state.

 

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DECCAN CHRONICAL

EDITORIAL

TAPPING PRIVACY

BY ASHOK MALIK

Is tapping of telephones by government agencies the be all and end all of the privacy debate in India? In the past week, the telephone tapping issue has been the subject of heated exchanges in Parliament. At its root are three different examples. It all began when Outlook published an article alleging calls of key politicians had been listened to by intelligence agencies. Next, the Pioneer reported that the intelligence-gathering arm of the income-tax department had kept the phone of a leading public relations executive under surveillance.

Finally, there have been suggestions the tax authorities had also tapped the mobile phones of senior officials of the Indian Premier League (IPL). It is said this gave them substantial information on financial deal-making, some of it believed to be illegal. More piquantly, it led to the overhearing of conversations between an IPL representative and a Cabinet minister, in the course of which the latter tipped off the former about an imminent tax raid.

All of this is fascinating stuff and has had the gossip networks in New Delhi agog. In Parliament, it has led to charges that the government has been monitoring phones of political rivals as well as suspected economic offenders and tax evaders.

There is a subtle difference between those two. Political tapping is illegal and the government has denied it took place or, if it did take place, was sanctioned by authority. Eavesdropping on economic offenders and even those seen as having dodgy tax returns has been admitted to by the home minister, Mr P. Chidambaram. Whether tax evasion constitutes a crime grave enough to threaten national security is another matter. This triggered a riveting debate between Mr Chidambaram and Leader of the Opposition Arun Jaitley in the Rajya Sabha.

Somewhere is this maze of accusations, counter-accusations and iteration of first principles, a crucial question seems to have gone unanswered: is the Right to Privacy under attack only from the state? Does India need to rethink and re-imagine its contours to incorporate breach of privacy by non-state actors?

The framework of phone-tapping itself is decidedly ambiguous. In recent years, there have been three big controversies related to phone-tapping. The current episode is the third. The first occurred in 1997, when transcripts of conversations that included Tata Tea executives made their way to the media. They sought to establish that Tata Tea had paid protection money to the United Liberation Front of Asom to keep its gardens in Assam safe from terror attack.

Another explosion occurred in 2006 when the so-called "Amar Singh tapes" emerged. They insinuated the then Samajwadi Party general secretary was discussing dubious business deals with friends. Mr Singh denied the tapes and threatened to sue anybody who published the "transcripts". An inquiry was ordered but, like so much else in this country, it is buried somewhere.

It is important to note that Mr Singh's phones (in 2005-06) as well as those of executives of the Tata Group and friendly companies (in 1997) were not being tapped by government agencies. Rather, in both cases, the victims of the claimed tapping were part of a politico-corporate war. Private sleuths, working for individuals who had no position in the government and using equipment bought from the market, were conducting operations. It was a form of corporate espionage.

Today, technology has made rapid strides. It is entirely possible for a reasonably resourceful individual or entity to tap the phone of — or hack into the email account of — a target. Since it is not feasible to block the advance of technology and given the loose policing and legal structure we have in India anyway, can these private attacks on the Right to Privacy ever be effaced? In focusing on government spying on political opponents or even ordinary citizens it doesn't approve of — despicable and deplorable as that practice is — it would be prudent not to lose sight of that larger point.

Eyes can take away one's privacy as much as ears. On April 29, Mint reported a coalition of close to 100 civil society groups was planning a public interest petition against the decision to set up the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) and to give every resident of India a number that would help him or her get a national identity card. The groups have cited privacy issues.

This contention is not new. It has crippled Britain's post-9/11 attempts to put it place a national identity card system, creating a situation so ridiculous that the Labour Party backs a national register and the Conservatives oppose it. The concern of critics is the database underlying the unique number/card matrix will transfer enormous power from the individual to the state and could be prone to misuse, leaks and worse.

Without going into the efficacy and utility of a single identity card — set against the half-a-dozen identity markers the average middle-class Indian is now expected to carry, that should be a no-brainer — the privacy argument needs clarification. In Britain, those who anguish over identity cards see no problem with London's elaborate network of closed-circuit (CC) cameras, many of them in private hands. They — and their counterparts in India — see no contradiction between worrying about a public-held database and expressing no fear about equally intensive private-held databases.

In truth, Google — or Facebook for that matter — has access to privacy data about literally millions of people that most Big Brother governments would give an arm and a leg for. Yet, as citizens and consumers, we happily give away information to private players — credit card companies, email service providers, social media websites — without privacy ever even being mentioned.

Finally, there is something paradoxical and even comic about a privacy debate on news television, with anchors and talking heads sanctimoniously proclaiming their phones are tapped by the government. This is probably true, but given the intrusive standards by which news channels define fair reportage — turning up at Ms Sunanda Pushkar's parents' house, to cite an instance — it is strange to find tabloid television painting itself as a defender of privacy.

- Ashok Malik can be contacted at malikashok@gmail.com [1]

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DECCAN CHRONICAL

EDITORIAL

MAOISTS HAVE NO GROWTH MANTRA FOR TRIBALS

BY KANCHA ILAIAH

In her impressive article Walking with the Comrades, Arundhati Roy gave us both the salt and pepper view of Maoists in Dandakaranya as well as the lives and hardship of tribals.

She definitely made more than a journalistic effort to tell the story of tribal conditions, conflicts and the way the Maoists stood by them in times of trouble, exploitation and land grabbing. There is no doubt that the Maoists are working as their saviours from corporate exploiters and the oppression of other agencies.

But do the Maoists have an overall developmental strategy for tribals? To find an answer, we should try to understand the history of tribal development in the Northeast, particularly Mizoram, Nagaland, Meghalaya and Manipur. About 50 years ago, the tribals of this region were as illiterate as those of Dandakaranya. But today Mizoram has 95 per cent literacy (more than Kerala), Manipur has 68.87 per cent, Meghalaya 63.31 per cent and Nagaland 66.11 per cent.

The amazing thing is that English, which is seen as an alien but desired language by many plain people, has become their common communicative and administrative language. Anybody in India knows that knowledge of English is a kind of power in itself. This educational development has to be seen in the background of the committed activities of missionaries. They averted violent struggles and at the same time, ensured the uplift of tribals. It was a slow but sure process of development and empowerment.

But what is the Maoist vision to develop the Central Indian tribes?

Roy knows that the Maoists moved into Dandakaranya after they lost ground in plain regions of Andhra Pradesh. They did not start their movement just to protect the tribals or to liberate them. They launched their movement around 1967 with a theoretical formulation that India was a semi-feudal and semi-colonial country. The Maoists were of the view that India should go through a process of new democratic revolution on the lines that Mao proposed. Their main idea was to liberate the agrarian villages and encircle the urban areas with a twin strategy of guerrilla warfare and mass mobilisation.

Having failed in this strategy and also having lost hundreds of leaders and thousands of cadres they withdrew into this thick forest zone. They have not changed their understanding of India since then. Does Roy agree with their view of Indian capital, state and society? I support her if she is sympathising with them for their fight against "corporate invasion" but she seems to suggest that they are like gods who have gone there to change the life of tribals. There is something basically wrong with that understanding.

Maoism as an ideological agency does not have comprehensive liberation and developmental agenda for tribals. Even in China it did not liberate and develop them, in spite of Maoism being in power for so long. The Chinese tribals are not as much developed as our north-eastern tribals.

Yes, ever since Mr Chidambaram took over the home ministry, as an aggressive agent of liberalisation and globalisation, the question of the Maoist strategy of converting Dandakaranya into a war zone has acquired critical importance.

There is a view that the Maoist problem is basically a law and order problem both among the governing agencies and a vast number of civil societal forces. It is actually a socio-economic and ideological movement. It has developed as part of the larger communist ideological development. It is one of the shades of the Indian Communist movement with a history of 43 years.

There are intellectuals in this country who believe that it has been working for the development and uplift of the tribals of the Central India. But both in terms of practice and theory the Maoist movement does not have a reformist agenda for tribals.

Ever since its main ideologues — Tarimela Nagireddy, Devulapally Venkateswar Rao and later Kondapally Sitharamaiah, K.G. Satyamurthy — started the Maoist stream they have been waging a war against the Indian state. Charu Majumdar provided its "Annihilation of Class Enemy" theory. But they could not succeed even in one state.

They are now focusing on the tribal areas as they are the most underdeveloped. Some sort of semi-feudalism and semi-colonialism exists in the tribal regions and the forest gives Maoists a cover that plain areas cannot.

Nagireddy wrote his famous book India Mortgaged in the early 70s. Today India's position even in the world has changed. The nature of its capital has changed quite drastically.

Since Maoists as well as the exploiters of the tribals bank upon their illiteracy, poverty and unemployment, the state must study the development pattern of north-eastern tribals and employ some of those strategies in Central Indian tribal regions.

Mere military strategy will not work. The Congress cannot afford to acquire an image of tribal annihilator. The Maoists have no clue as to how to bring the tribals into the mainstream bypassing the caste structures that the Hindu religion has created. But it is part of Hindu fundamentalist expansion into tribal areas with its own ideological baggage.

Unfortunately Mr Chidambaram too is becoming part of that move. But while we oppose Chidambaram's warmongering we should also understand the limitations of Maoists.

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DECCAN CHRONICAL

EDITORIAL

OLD LEADERS & NEW WORK CULTURE

 

All thanks to the stars

Owners of the Chennai Super Kings go strictly by what the astrologers say since the cosmic adviser to their chief honcho made an accurate forecast in the first season when he predicted the team would win nine matches.

Since the ninth win came in the semi-final, the owners were crestfallen knowing the final would be lost. To compensate, the adviser worked overtime during IPL-3 (Indian Premier League), especially at the vital end.

This time, the stargazer's advice to the team was not to travel to Mumbai on a Tuesday for the knockout. This forced India Cements to charter a flight from Chandigarh to Chennai for an overnight halt that later proved controversial.

The chief honcho, N. Srinivasan, who is also secretary of the Board of Control for Cricket in India, could also not take in much of the winning action since he had been strictly told to leave any match at the end of the fourth over in order to increase the chances of his team's success.

Buddha's nightmare

In the 2006 Assembly polls, Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee had led the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) and the Left Front to a landslide victory on the poll plank of development and industrialisation.

He also promised to introduce a new work culture which would have no room for militant trade unionism, blockades and bandhs and gave the employees of the state secretariat and the Writers' Buildings an invigorating "Do-It-Now" mantra.

The total shutdown of the state during last week's crippling bandh, however, proved that Mr Bhattacharjee's promises were just tall claims. He has not been able to change anything. It was his own party, the CPI(M), and in particular its trade union wing, the Centre of Indian Trade Unions, which turned Mr Bhattacharjee's dream of a resurgent Bengal into a nightmare.

The success of the bandh may have come as a shot in the arm of the beleaguered Left Front in the state but it dealt a body blow to the chief minister's pro-industry and pro-development image.

Oldies feel the pinch

Gone are the days when senior dhoti-clad politicians in Orissa were considered a respected tribe. Now they complain that younger politicians are trying to belittle the elders by branding them as "out-of-date" elements. Thanks to this, of the Biju Janata Dal's 103 MLAs, only three — Prafulla Ghadei, Kalindi Behera, Damodar Rout — prefer to continue with their dhoti tradition. On every occasion they meet, they also share their problems and grievances.

"The apprehensions of the dhoti-clad leaders are not baseless", quipped a party insider. For instance, Mr Rout lost his plum panchayati raj ministry to young Prafulla Samal and Mr Behera was shunted out of the ministry. Though Mr Ghadei manages to hold the finance ministry, he no longer wields the enormous power he enjoyed during the reign of Biju Patnaik, father of the present chief minister, Naveen Patnaik. No wonder they are fretting and fuming.

A jinxed bungalow

Even the ardent Marxists of Kerala are convinced now that the Manmohan Bungalow in Thiruvananthapuram is jinxed.

On Friday, the minister for public works, P.J. Joseph, who stayed in the bungalow, was thrown out of the Cabinet. He is the fourth ministerial resident of the palatial building to exit it in the last four years.

His predecessors in the bungalow and fellow partymen, T.U. Kuruvila and Mons Joseph, also had to resign within one year of taking up their portfolios, for various reasons. The bungalow, built by the Travancore royal family for their guests, has always messed up the careers of ministers who stayed there. Interestingly, it was the CPI(M) home minister, Kodiyeri Balakrishnan, who tried to "rectify" the flaws of the bungalow by building a new entrance as per vaastu and by making other modifications as soon as the present LDF (Left Democratic Front) government took over. But that did not help him even a bit. The Opposition attacked him for spending public funds worth Rs 11 lakhs to modify the bungalow, and he had to shift to another residence in embarrassment. Everyone is now watching who will be the next ill-fated occupant of the bungalow.

The truth at last

The Mayawati government in Uttar Pradesh recently signed a memorandum of understanding with the Bajaj group for a power plant in Bundelkhand and issued full-page advertisements in all local newspapers to announce it. The advertisements in English newspapers read thus — "An significant step to ensure interrupted (instead of uninterrupted) power supply… under the dynamic leadership and able guidance of Hon'ble chief minister Mayawati".

There were innumerable red faces in the government when the advertisement appeared. The journalists made it worse by telling every official they met that the government had finally spoken the truth — power supply in Uttar Pradesh is delivered in an interrupted manner as the advertisement said. The officials finally made amends the following day by issuing fresh advertisements.

A Rhodes show

Even the normally celeb-saturated locals of the Goan capital were taken aback when South African fielding sensation and coach of Mumbai Indians, Jonty Rhodes, walked into an Enfield Bullet showroom in town on Thursday and rode out on a brand-new Bullet Classic 500 cc bike.

Bikes have always been a passion for Goan youth and the site of the ace fielder zooming around the city's streets brought cellphone cameras out. Rhodes is only the latest in a long list of celebs who prefer to roam the Goan roads on bikes. A week back it was Abhishek Bachchan who was spotted in Panaji on a Bullet. Bachchan Junior is very much at home on Goan roads, and has even been seen giving directions to motorists (who surprisingly had no clue about his identity.)

Rhodes, meanwhile, was happy to take a short round on the bike before returning to the showroom. The showroom manager said he was extremely fond of Bullets and wanted to take one back to South Africa.

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DECCAN CHRONICAL

EDITORIAL

NO RESPITE FOR TRIBALS

BY KANCHA ILAIAH

In her impressive article Walking with the Comrades, Arundhati Roy gave us both the salt and pepper view of Maoists in Dandakaranya as well as the lives and hardship of tribals.

She definitely made more than a journalistic effort to tell the story of tribal conditions, conflicts and the way the Maoists stood by them in times of trouble, exploitation and land grabbing. There is no doubt that the Maoists are working as their saviours from corporate exploiters and the oppression of other agencies.

But do the Maoists have an overall developmental strategy for tribals?

To find an answer, we should try to understand the history of tribal development in the Northeast, particularly Mizoram, Nagaland, Meghalaya and Manipur. About 50 years ago, the tribals of this region were as illiterate as those of Dandakaranya. But today Mizoram has 95 per cent literacy (more than Kerala), Manipur has 68.87 per cent, Meghalaya 63.31 per cent and Nagaland 66.11 per cent.

The amazing thing is that English, which is seen as an alien but desired language by many plain people, has become their common communicative and administrative language. Anybody in India knows that knowledge of English is a kind of power in itself. This educational development has to be seen in the background of the committed activities of missionaries. They averted violent struggles and at the same time, ensured the uplift of tribals. It was a slow but sure process of development and empowerment.

But what is the Maoist vision to develop the Central Indian tribes?

Roy knows that the Maoists moved into Dandakaranya after they lost ground in plain regions of Andhra Pradesh. They did not start their movement just to protect the tribals or to liberate them. They launched their movement around 1967 with a theoretical formulation that India was a semi-feudal and semi-colonial country. The Maoists were of the view that India should go through a process of new democratic revolution on the lines that Mao proposed. Their main idea was to liberate the agrarian villages and encircle the urban areas with a twin strategy of guerrilla warfare and mass mobilisation.

Having failed in this strategy and also having lost hundreds of leaders and thousands of cadres they withdrew into this thick forest zone. They have not changed their understanding of India since then. Does Roy agree with their view of Indian capital, state and society?

I support her if she is sympathising with them for their fight against "corporate invasion" but she seems to suggest that they are like gods who have gone there to change the life of tribals. There is something basically wrong with that understanding.

Maoism as an ideological agency does not have comprehensive liberation and developmental agenda for tribals. Even in China it did not liberate and develop them, in spite of Maoism being in power for so long. The Chinese tribals are not as much developed as our north-eastern tribals.

Yes, ever since Mr Chidambaram took over the home ministry, as an aggressive agent of liberalisation and globalisation, the question of the Maoist strategy of converting Dandakaranya into a war zone has acquired critical importance.

There is a view that the Maoist problem is basically a law and order problem both among the governing agencies and a vast number of civil societal forces. It is actually a socio-economic and ideological movement. It has developed as part of the larger communist ideological development. It is one of the shades of the Indian Communist movement with a history of 43 years.

Over the years it has lost the base in plain areas of Andhra Pradesh and other states and it has chosen the Central Indian forest-tribal belt as a safe zone to conduct its warfare. There are intellectuals in this country who believe that it has been working for the development and uplift of the tribals of the Central India. But both in terms of practice and theory the Maoist movement does not have a reformist agenda for tribals.

Ever since its main ideologues — Tarimela Nagireddy, Devulapally Venkateswar Rao and later Kondapally Sitharamaiah, K.G. Satyamurthy — started the Maoist stream they have been waging a war against the Indian state. Charu Majumdar provided its "Annihilation of Class Enemy" theory. But they could not succeed even in one state.

They are now focusing on the tribal areas as they are the most underdeveloped. Some sort of semi-feudalism and semi-colonialism exists in the tribal regions and the forest gives Maoists a cover that plain areas cannot.

Nagireddy wrote his famous book India Mortgaged in the early 70s. Today India's position even in the world has changed. The nature of its capital has changed quite drastically.

So far Maoists have not revised their theoretical formulation based on such changes. The Maoists definitely do not have the capacity to challenge the Indian state and capital. But the horrible conditions of tribal existence come handy to them. Maoists do not have a viable model of development of tribals also. In a way they are on a weak wicket.

As mentioned, the development of tribals in the Northeast became possible because of missionary work focusing on education. Since Maoists as well as the exploiters of the tribals bank upon their illiteracy, poverty and unemployment, the state must study the development pattern of north-eastern tribals and employ some of those strategies in Central Indian tribal regions.

Mere military strategy will not work. Any massive military operation will result in the deaths of innocent tribals. The Congress cannot afford to acquire an image of tribal annihilator. The Congress too is aligned with imperial monopoly capital, but it does not carry the agenda on its shoulders as the Bharatiya Janata Party did.

The Maoists have no clue as to how to bring the tribals into the mainstream bypassing the caste structures that the Hindu religion has created. But it is part of Hindu fundamentalist expansion into tribal areas with its own ideological baggage. Unfortunately Mr Chidambaram too is becoming part of that move.

But while we oppose Chidambaram's warmongering we should also understand the limitations of Maoists.

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DECCAN CHRONICAL

EDITORIAL

SWEETNESS OF SALT

BY DOMINIC EMMANUEL

Azim Premji, chairman and managing director of Wipro Ltd. was recently speaking at a "Shaping Young Minds Interactive Workshop", on "Success and effective living". Among the various lessons that he suggested to his audience to remember was: "While you must be open to change, do not compromise with your values…, these values are not so difficult to define. Values like honesty, integrity, consideration and sensitivity have survived for generations".

Each of us faces moral choices every day. We are aware that every choice we make can either be a good one or a bad one. Every person has a free will; but if a person is confused about the difference between good and bad or right and wrong because of what they see around them, then who is to blame for the bad choices they make? When one looks around, particularly in the world of business and politics, even the world of priests in the sphere of religion, one finds that one of the greatest losses of our society is the sense of honesty and integrity. In the rating of honesty and integrity, India is, unfortunately, way below other countries.

These virtues are fundamental markers and demonstrate the essence, or salt, as it were, of one's character. Lack of honesty and integrity is not really a new phenomenon nor is it peculiar to India alone.

At the time of Jesus too the society lacked transparency and truthfulness. Seeing the behaviour of people around him Jesus said to his disciples, "You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled under foot" (Matt. 5:13). Jesus poses a serious question before his disciples. He did not want them to be just different from the rest but those who would make a difference to the society they lived in.

The analogy of salt that Jesus uses is, indeed, interesting. While salt adds flavour to food, it is also used as a preservative and has also healing properties. Thus when Jesus speaks about us being the salt of the earth, He presumably implies all three: We would add flavour to our life by living our lives according to path shown by God; In a world with so much pain and sufferings, be it physical or emotional, we could, like salt, heal people's lives; And, of course, if we do not let ourselves be touched by corruption, now a by-word in the Indian society, we would also preserve the purity of life and our society.

Jesus certainly had deep compassion towards the poor and sinners but he would never compromise with people who had a superficial value system. He was quite strict on issues which might seem so trivial to us that we do not even pay attention to them but which are extremely crucial for righteous living affecting a smooth running of society. He says, "If your hand or your foot causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it from you; it is better for you to enter life crippled or lame, than to have two hands or two feet and be cast into the eternal fire. If your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and throw it from you. It is better for you to enter life with one eye, than to have two eyes and be cast into the fiery hell" (Matt. 18:8-9). Surely he does not mean this literally but, as always, expects his listeners to aspire for higher moral living.

Jesus reiterated the quality of being the salt of the earth by telling his disciples, "But let your 'Yes' be 'Yes' and 'No', 'No'. For whatever is more than these is from the evil one" (Math: 5:37). He said this when he had just finished telling them that there was absolutely no need for anyone to swear by anything to make people believe.

It might be worth recalling here what Abraham Lincoln wrote, among other things, to his son's teacher on the first day of school. "In school teach him it is far more honourable to fail than to cheat" and "Teach him to sell his brawn and brain to the highest bidders; but never to put a price tag on his heart and soul".

— Father Dominic Emmanuel, a founder-member of Parliament of Religions, is currently the director of communication of the Delhi Catholic Church. He was awarded the National Communal Harmony Award 2008 by the Government of India.

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THE STATESMAN

EDITORIAL

FUNDAMENTAL DUTIES

THE EXERCISE OF RIGHTS IS INSEPARABLE FROM THE  PERFORMANCE OF DUTIES... HOWEVER, DUTY CANNOT BE A ONE-WAY STREET

 

A FACT not widely known is that the Constitution now incorporates a list of ten "fundamental duties" for the citizens. Initially, it didn't list such duties though seven fundamental rights were inserted. The exercise of rights is inseparable from the performance of duties. This is the reason why the 42nd amendment (1976) associated certain duties with the rights.


It was probably felt that the people were demanding more and more rights without being prepared to fulfil their essential duties. Political leaders encourage the people to raise demands without paying heed to their corresponding duties. Admittedly, insistence on rights cannot create a healthy and affluent society. This was rightly realised by Parliament, whose members may have been influenced by the Constitutions of the former Soviet Union and China. Significantly, the Soviet Constitution of 1936 and 1977 emphasised the inter-connection of rights and duties. The Chinese constitution, similarly, contains a long list of citizens' duties in Article 33.


Amended Constitution

THE amended Constitution enshrines the following duties: It shall be the duty every citizen of India to (i) abide by the Constitution and respect its ideals and institutions, the national flag and national anthem; (ii) to cherish and follow the noble ideals which inspired our national struggle for freedom; (iii) to uphold and protect the sovereignty, unity and integrity of India; (iv) to defend the country and render national service, when called upon to do so; (v) to promote harmony and the spirit of common brotherhood amongst all the people of India, transcending religious, linguistic and regional or sectional diversities and renounce practices derogatory to the dignity of women; (vi) to value and preserve the rich heritage of our composite culture; (vii) to protect and promote the national environment, including forests, lakes, rivers, and wildlife and to have compassion for living creatures; (viii) to develop a scientific temper, humanism and the spirit of inquiry and reform; (ix) to safeguard public property and to abjure violence; and (x) to strive towards excellence in all spheres of individual and collective activity so that the nation constantly rises to higher levels of endeavour and achievement.


Our parliamentarians fondly believed that the people would henceforth perform these duties in order to re-build a happy India. It was also expected that the people would regard these duties as binding and sacrosanct.
But there are flaws in the system. First, these duties have been inserted in Part IV of the Constitution which is non-enforceable in character. So, if a person fails to perform such duties, no penal action can be taken against him.


It is significant that the fundamental rights, as guaranteed by the Constitution, are enforceable in the sense that an aggrieved person can, in case of an alleged violation of his right, move the Supreme Court (Article 32) or a High Court (Article 226) for legal redress. And it is the duty of the court to look into it and, if the allegation is justified, to restore the right by appropriate writs.  Still more crucially,  the right to move the Supreme Court is itself a fundamental right by which other fundamental rights can be protected and kept intact. This  is a unique arrangement that is not provided in any other Constitution of the world.

The fundamental duties have been inserted in part IV and, hence, it has no compulsive force. In other words, a person who neglects such duties can hardly be penalised.


Second, these duties have been mentioned only in the Constitution and not many may be aware of them. Through the media, the information and publication divisions of both the central and state  governments should have made the people duly conscious of their duties.


Third, lofty ideals have been set forth. The individual is "to cherish the noble ideas which inspired the freedom movement", "to preserve the rich heritage of our composite culture", "to develop a scientific temper, humanism and the spirit of inquiry" etc. But the question is: are these high-minded expressions actually meaningful to the vast majority who are wallowing in ignorance and illiteracy? 


Moreover, one of the duties is to promote the spirit of brotherhood and unity in the midst of religious, linguistic and regional diversities. This is no easy task. While the people are more religious than communal, a large number of our political leaders are more communal than religious. With a political objective, they foment religious hatred among the innocent masses and this often leads to bloodshed and chaos. Moreover, while prosperous countries, notably Britain and America, have developed a bi-party system, nearly 500 political parties in India have registered their names with the Election Commission. Most of them are driven by religion, race, caste, locality and language. Thus, the people are fragmented into various groups and their rivalry often exacerbates to conflicts.  Far from developing a sense of unity in diversity, politics in this country has lamentably assailed unity by emphasising the diversity. It is difficult for the people to foster a spirit of brotherhood and solidarity among themselves.


Casualties of civilisation

THE people can be expected to perform their duty only if they get a fair deal from the State. Has the State done its allotted duty? There is gross disparity of income and wealth and crores of people are living far below the poverty line. They are the casualties of civilisation. It has been estimated that only 10 per cent of the population enjoy 35 per cent of the national income and wealth. The reality is the shameful poverty of the many amidst the shining plenty of the few.  Hundreds of thousands are deprived of shelter, food, electricity, medicine and education.


The chapter on Fundamental Duties has directed the State to provide all the basic facilities to the people. But the State has not taken care to abide by its duties to the citizens.  Therefore, the poor cannot be expected to perform their Constitutional duties. It is the duty of the State to (i) minimise inequality (Article 38); (ii) provide adequate and reasonable means of livelihood (Article 39); (iii) give legal aid to the poor (Article 39-A); (iv) grant public assistance in case of unemployment, old age and sickness (Article 41), provide living wage (Article 43); secure the Uniform Civil Code (Article 44); ensure free and compulsory education (Article 46); prohibit drugs (Article 47) etc. Has the government taken steps to perform these duties? Surely, duty cannot be a one-way street.

 

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THE STATESMAN

EDITORIAL

CWG 'PREPARATION'

SHOOTERS SANS RIFLES! 

 

MENTION a sporting scandal these days and images will immediately be conjured up of the much-disgraced IPL. Yet right under the nose of the sports ministry has been enacted a sick drama that projects Indian sports management in the worst of light. The Commonwealth Shooting Federation Championship was conducted at a newly-created, high-cost, long-distance range at a CRPF campus in one of the Capital's satellite towns ~ the hosts finished at the bottom of the points tally. No shame in that, but damning, disgraceful, and demeaning was the fact that our men had to use rifles borrowed from other competitors. "Procedural problems" had delayed the import of specialised weapons for them, though all kinds of other imports have been flowing. Despite our marksmen winning global laurels the sport has never received its due, import of weapons and ammunition has ever been complicated and explains why the best shooters hunt for training opportunities abroad. But no rifles for a "new" event registers a genuine low, and serves to ridicule all that MS Gill told the Rajya Sabha about promoting sport a few days ago. At least the IPL never fell short of basic facilities. Sporting festivals like the Commonwealth Games are projected as the celebration of youth: the host nation, traditionally, participates in every competition and is expected to make arduous preparation that gets reflected in the medals tally. In recent months there has been an overdose of bragging about the establishment of international-standard facilities, installation of the most advanced equipment and what have you. Yet not a whimper about the training and prowess of Indian athletes, their medal-winning prospects. Obviously that is the least of the priorities: the "organisers" will hog the limelight and much more, the athlete counts for so little. If the MPs who worked themselves into a lather over the IPL's financial irregularity cared to look closely at what is going on at a proverbial "stone's throw" from Parliament House they might find something that more merits a JPC. Or is bleeding the exchequer, squandering public funds now par for the political course?

 

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THE STATESMAN

EDITORIAL

ROOTS OF RESENTMENT

POLL-BASED CONCESSIONS MAY NOT HELP 

 

When Jyoti Basu told leaders of his party after the drubbing in the parliamentary election that they had lost touch with the masses, he knew what he was talking about. If CPI-M bigwigs had taken the advice to heart, it would have been a different story during disasters such as the fire in Park Street or the tornado in North Dinajpur where public resentment extends beyond the victims to larger sections that had expected the government to deal effectively with the emergencies. But a fortnight after the storm blew away nearly 50,000 houses in the North Bengal district, killing more than 40 people, relief work is miserably inadequate and thousands without shelter have been left to fend for themselves. The Marxist government may have wanted the Governor to keep away from the disaster zone if only to be spared the agony of district officials being told what to do. It is to Mr MK Narayanan's credit that he insisted on making a second attempt to visit North Dinajpur after being prevented on the first occasion by inclement weather. Was the administration caught napping or did it have a different set of priorities considering that the district has never been the Red bastion that Biman Bose would have liked it to be? The point missed is that it is immaterial whether the distress arises from indifference or incompetence ~ it does not help reverse the trend of the ballot.


Much the same impression is conveyed in the quibbling over casualty figures that resulted in the families of the Park Street fire victims getting a paltry compensation of Rs 2 lakh each. While the Mayor is convinced that the services rendered by the Left-controlled municipal board have been exemplary during the past five years, one arm of the administration claims that families of 34 people who died in the fire on the basis of bodies identified would be entitled to compensation, making nonsense of the official figure of 43. Even this gesture may have a lot to do with the electoral contest next month that has seen the government making one concession after another. Whether the belated gestures and calculated concessions can bridge the gap that the late patriarch had noted with regret will be evident fairly soon.

 

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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 TELEGRAPH

SAYING SORRY

 

It is not every day that the prime minister of a nation personally apologizes to a supporter of his party for making an indiscreet remark. Although democracy — being a government for the people by the people of the people — makes room for such exceptional gestures, one rarely hears of a head of State driving over to the home of a potential voter, and spending close to an hour with her saying sorry for a comment that became publicly audible by sheer fluke. Gordon Brown, the incumbent British prime minister, met a 65-year-old pensioner, Gillian Duffy, while campaigning for the general elections scheduled this week. Ms Duffy, a lifelong Labour supporter, cornered the not-so-loquacious Mr Brown and hurled at him a barrage of questions and comments on a range of issues, including illegal immigration into Britain from eastern Europe. The prime minister, who is neither a charming man of the people nor known to be a skilful campaigner, heard her out before getting into his car. Once safely inside, he let himself go, calling Ms Duffy "a bigoted woman", forgetting that a microphone was still attached to his body. As his remark was broadcast, Mr Brown, whose own views on immigration are rather ambiguous, to say the least, faced an outraged nation, which forced an abject apology from him. As he sought forgiveness from Ms Duffy, Mr Brown described himself as "a penitent sinner".

 

Exceptional circumstances demand exceptional responses. Mr Brown quickly realized the dangerous potential of his gaffe and went on an all-out damage control spree. However, instead of good intentions and the triumph of democracy, one tends to read into his self-flagellating response a tone of pathetic desperation. With David Cameron and the Tories back in full swing, and the looming threat imposed by the young and charismatic Nick Clegg of the Liberal Democrats, chances of a resurgent Labour are already flickering. Mr Brown's apology, in this context, looks more like a last-ditch effort of a man trying to clutch at any available straw to save himself and his party from being completely washed away. There is, however, a lesson of sorts in this episode for India, where the majority of political workers, let alone high-ranking officials or ministers, find it unthinkable to humiliate themselves in such a way before the people they serve.

 

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THE TELEGRAPH

EDITORIAL

HEAD PREFECTS

 

It certainly does not reflect well on the efficiency of the Indian institutes of technology that the question papers for the joint entrance examinations this year contained errors. The IITs are regarded as symbols of excellence in technical education; hence incompetence in entrance examination papers is especially embarrassing. This is apart from the fact that no institution that relies on a fair test for entry can afford to get anything wrong in its question papers.

 

Having said this, it is important to acknowledge that the creators of the standards of excellence are the institutions themselves. Errors in their question papers indicate a slip in those standards, and no one but they themselves can correct it. The IITs each has its own director, who takes on the responsibility of both achievement and failure of the institution. The kind of problem represented by errors in question papers has to do with procedural faults within the institutions. They are entirely within the jurisdiction of the directors concerned. IIT Madras had organized this year's entrance test, and it can reasonably be expected that the director, perhaps in consultation with his peers, would find a way to recompense candidates for the institution's errors. It is, therefore, deeply unsettling to find that the Union human resource development minister, Kapil Sibal, has not only demanded an explanation from an IIT director for the errors, but has also set a date for the directors to declare how they plan to recompense the candidates. The minister has reportedly told the directors to ensure that such mistakes are not repeated, exactly as though they were head prefects fallen down on the job. The HRD ministry's overbearing attitude ignores the principle that it is there to frame education policies, not to interfere with the actual working of the institutions. If every expert charged with institutional responsibility has to be accountable to politicians at every step, there cannot be much scope for developing human resources or cultivating excellence. Instead, politicization would enter by the backdoor. Mr Sibal's job is not to put directors and vice-chancellors on the mat, but to trust the best persons to do the jobs they have been appointed to. A separation of responsibilities is the only means of advancement. Mr Sibal will do education no good if he sits down to monitor each and every examination, irrespective of how many candidates are appearing for it.

 

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THE TELEGRAPH

EDITORIAL

 

 

FROST IN THE AIR

THIMPHU DOES NOT HERALD SPRING FOR INDIA-PAKISTAN RELATIONS

KANWAL SIBAL

 

The apparent thaw in India-Pakistan relations at the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation summit in Thimphu is illusory. The Indian prime minister took three risky political initiatives to restart a dialogue with Pakistan — at his level at Ekaterinburg and Sharm el-Sheikh last year and at the foreign secretary level this year at New Delhi. Pakistan has rebuffed him each time by not delivering on bringing expeditiously to justice those responsible for the Mumbai massacre and acting credibly against jihadi groups targeting India. Tangible steps in this direction would have strengthened the prime minister's hand for pursuing his conciliatory course towards Pakistan, despite domestic opposition. Unfortunately, Pakistan misreads signals from India because of its inherently negative thinking towards us; it wants to score points rather than respond constructively to a well-meaning, even if not always well-advised, Indian approach. This fourth initiative at Thimphu will meet the same fate.

 

Pakistan is treating the dialogue issue as a game of one-upmanship. If India has favoured a step by step approach — broadening the dialogue as Pakistan acts on terrorism and the trust shattered by the Mumbai attack is rebuilt — Pakistan has wanted to move straightaway to a composite dialogue. If India rightly wants to focus on terrorism in the first instance, Pakistan wants to shift the focus back to Kashmir. It seeks to diffuse the issue of terrorism, on which it enters the dialogue on the defensive, within a larger agenda. The insistence on a composite dialogue connotes that Pakistan has done all that it can and needs to do on the terrorism front and it is time for India to move on.

 

Pakistan believes India made the overture to hold foreign secretary-level talks because of pressure from the United States of America and recognition that the policy of spurning a dialogue until the issue of terrorism is adequately addressed had run its course. It has cast India's refusal to hold a dialogue as "coercive diplomacy", to which, driven by its complexes, it feels compelled not to yield. Pakistan does not consider its use of the terrorism weapon, spiking with the traumatic Mumbai attack, as "coercion", but views as such India's political demand that it cease supporting terrorism to facilitate a constructive dialogue on a sustained basis. Sensing that it has crossed the hump on Mumbai, it now characterizes India's Mumbai refrain as "boring"(as if its 63-year-old Kashmir refrain has not become, by this reckoning, mind-numbing). Its claim that the backlash of overdoing the Mumbai incident has caused loss of all public sympathy for India in Pakistan shows how effectively the public mind is conditioned by the propaganda of the ruling class and how fragile the supposed people-to-people friendship is.

 

Pakistan also believes that its successes and India's diplomatic failures on the Afghanistan front persuaded India to rethink its no-dialogue strategy. India saw that whereas military gains in Swat and South Waziristan against the Taliban and the West's political outreach to these forces strengthened Pakistan's hand vis-à-vis the US and burnished its anti-terrorist credentials, India found itself excluded from the Istanbul Conference on Afghanistan and marginalized at the one in London.

 

This confidence that Pakistan's flanks have been reasonably secured against US pressure on the terrorism front would explain Pakistan's posture of not being desperate for a dialogue with India. It cold-shouldered the Indian proposal for a second round of foreign secretary-level talks in Islamabad unless its road map to move quickly towards a resumption of the composite dialogue was accepted. Its more embracing dialogue pitch — for it to mean more than diplomatic gamesmanship — should logically be accompanied by efforts to narrow differences than, as Pakistan is actually doing, raising contention levels.

 

Infiltration of terrorists from Pakistan is showing an upward trend. On Jammu and Kashmir, Pakistan has reverted to its traditional self-determination and United Nations resolutions rhetoric. Hafiz Saeed is being allowed to rant against India and fan jihadi sentiments — he is a useful tool to remind India of the wounds Pakistan can inflict — while being shielded against any legal action on the plea that no evidence of his involvement in the Mumbai attack has been presented by India. The United Jihad Council in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir is not being reined in. Pakistan is courting the most militant of the Kashmiri separatists. Pakistan has opportunistically distorted General Deepak Kapoor's remarks on India's capacity to fight a two-front war and his unveiling of a 'Cold Start doctrine' to whip up feelings all round against the Indian threat, with the latest Pakistani Azm-e-Nau-3 exercises projected as a warning against any Indian adventurist thinking. Recently, while speaking on the fissile material cut-off treaty at the Conference on Disarmament at Geneva, Pakistan's permanent representative assailed India bilaterally. Pakistan seeks every opportunity to attack the Indo-US nuclear deal with arguments intended to incite the non-proliferation lobby in the US, still unhappy with the exception made for India, and fend off concerns about its own expanding nuclear activities by blaming India's intransigence and US nuclear favouritism.

 

Pakistan is frontally opposing our presence in Afghanistan, using Western dependence on it for war-related logistics as a lever to curtail our activity there. There are serious reports about its involvement in the bombing of our embassy in Kabul and the targeting of our aid contingent there. It is making propagandist claims that our consulates in Kandahar and Jalalabad are engaged in materially and financially supporting the insurgency in Baluchistan. Excluding us from the Istanbul conference on Afghanistan may have been a tactical victory, but how does this refusal to dialogue multilaterally with India on a problem involving a SAARC country square with calls for a broad-based dialogue with India bilaterally?

 

India's supposed high-handedness over water flows is now being built by Pakistan into a central issue. In his National Assembly address earlier in April President Asif Ali Zardari mentioned it even before Kashmir. Pakistan wants to move out of the legal and technical constraints of the Indus waters treaty and give itself room to agitate on the issue politically. The public mind in Pakistan is, therefore, being poisoned against India on this highly emotive issue, more so as climate change scenarios predict glacier melt in the Himalayas and water shortages in the region. With the Kashmir issue losing traction internationally, the Pakistani establishment is building up a new issue to justify continuing confrontation with India and internationalizing the matter. True to form, the Pakistani side raised this issue in its recent strategic dialogue with the US.

 

Of late, India had begun to show uncharacteristic and commendable firmness in rejecting a full-fledged dialogue with Pakistan unless it behaves as a decent, normal State on terrorism issues. At Thimphu, India has conceded a political level dialogue without any bankable progress on the terrorism issue, but the demand for resuming the composite dialogue has been resisted. Mercifully, a joint statement — which would have put more pressure on us to concede ground — has been avoided. It is important not to fortify an already triumphant Pakistan in its belief that it can always outmanoeuvre a vacillating India. At Thimphu, Pakistan conceded nothing and therefore the so-called thaw there will herald no spring in India-Pakistan relations.

 

The author is former foreign secretary of India sibalkanwal@gmail.com

 

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THE TELEGRAPH

EDITORIAL

SIMILAR SCRUTINY

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 Calderón told a meeting of Mexican immigrant groups. José Miguel Insulza, the head of the Organisation of American States, was equally angry. "We consider the bill clearly discriminatory against immigrants, and especially against immigrants from Latin America," he told a 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 illegal. Day labourers face arrest for soliciting work if they are in the United States of America 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 dollars before being expelled from the US.

 

The flow of illegal migrants to the US 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. 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 US is most peculiar. It arises from the fact that for a long time the US has deliberately kept the border with Mexico porous, so that large numbers of Mexican illegals can enter the US to provide cheap labour for American agribusiness.

 

Each year the number of permanently resident illegal immigrants grows: even in Arizona, where there is not a huge demand for agricultural labour, there are now an estimated 460,000 illegal Mexican immigrants. 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.

 

Mend the law

 

Yet the Mexican government reacts with outraged indignation whenever the US 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 in the US legally — and that they will be chosen for questioning on the grounds that they simply look "Mexican".

 

President Calderón 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 to the US, are of mixed white and Indian ancestry. In other words, the concern is that they will face constant demands from the police to prove they are legally in the US.

 

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. 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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******************************************************************************************DECCAN HERALD

EDITORIAL

SPY SERVICE

'EVEN RAW AGENTS HAVE BEEN FOUND COMPROMISED.'

 

The arrest of an Indian diplomat working in the country's high commission in Islamabad on charges of spying for Pakistan is a matter of serious concern. The arrested diplomat, Madhuri Gupta, is not a high-ranking official and may not have been able to pass on very important information to her Pakistani contacts. Yet it is admitted that she gave away sensitive information. Espionage is a fact of international life and all countries resort to it. But it is a serious matter when diplomats themselves become spies for other countries. The Indian high commission in Islamabad is the most important and secure among the country's missions abroad.


The fact that even that mission was infiltrated does no credit to our counter-intelligence set-up. Well, she was found out but, according to reports, it was when the counter-intelligence people were on some other trail and because she was a bit indiscreet. A cleverer person may have been able to avoid detection.


There have been other cases of defence or diplomatic personnel working against the interests of the country. A week before the information about Madhuri became public it was revealed that a senior naval officer who had been stationed in Russia in connection with the Gorshkov deal may have fallen prey to a honeytrap. He is being investigated for his actions, and the possibility of his role in the escalation of Gorshkov's price is not being ruled out. In 2004, a RAW officer who was working for the CIA, managed to leave the country for the US when he was under surveillance. Other RAW agents have also been found compromised.


While counter-intelligence efforts should aim at preventing hostile espionage activities in any area and at all levels, special attention must be paid to preventing infiltration of sensitive and important sections of the government and government agencies. Madhuri, according to reports, was unhappy with the way junior officers were treated by senior officials in the foreign service, and her and discontent made her vulnerable. That is absolutely no justification for her treasonable conduct. But it is necessary to ensure that  members of the diplomatic service do not have any complaints related to service or the conduct of their superiors. Similar problems have been reported from RAW also. No organisation is immune to politics, but the room for it should be minimised in sensitive departments and agencies, so that unseemly consequences like this can be avoided.

 

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DECCAN HERALD

EDITORIAL

CUTTING EDGE

'SHIVALIK IS A SYMBOL OF INDIA'S CAPABILITY.'

 

INS Shivalik's commissioning into the Indian Navy is a matter of pride for India. It is India's first indigenously-built stealth frigate. With its commissioning, India has joined an exclusive club of seven other countries that have the capability to build stealth warships. India has other stealth frigates but with Shivalik, it has a state-of the art one that carries a made-in-India label. The Indian Navy and India's shipbuilding industry have displayed admirable capability in design and building of a new generation stealth frigate with futuristic technologies. This is undoubtedly a major accomplishment and a feather in the cap of India's engineers. Shivalik will give the navy an important edge. It can be seen, no doubt, but cannot be easily detected by enemy radar. Every surface of the ship is so constructed to deflect radar signals.


Shivalik's stealth will allow it to sneak up to the enemy undetected and destroy him with a range of high-tech weaponry it carries on board. And it is armed with sharp teeth, indeed. Shivalik is equipped for nuclear and chemical battles too. What adds to Shivalik's value is that its designers have kept the comfort of its crew in mind while conceiving it. Unlike other warships which expect sailors to make do with tinned food and cramped living quarters, Shivalik will provide our naval men (and women) edible food and decent living quarters.


Shivalik provides pointers to how India's military hardware is evolving. This stealth ship is made in India perhaps but it also carries systems and components from countries like the US, UK, Russia and Israel. This serves as a reminder that to emerge as a formidable fighting force, India should draw on the best of Russian and western technologies, in a way that best suits its military needs and strategy.


Excessive dependence on one or other country to meet our defence needs is not in India's best interests.


Doubts have often been raised about India's capability for defence production. DRDO is often derided as a 'white elephant' which has consumed funds and has little to show for it. Indeed, its projects have suffered from horrendous cost overruns and delays. In sharp contrast India's shipbuilding industry has scored several successes and Shivalik is among them. This is a world-class stealth warship at Indian prices.


India has the potential to emerge as a global shipbuilding powerhouse. Shivalik is a concrete symbol of that capability.

 

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DECCAN HERALD

EDITORIAL

CUT IN DELHI, RUN IN RANCHI

'THE DMK MOVEMENT HAS LOST ITS DYNAMIC HOLD AS IT HAS SUCCEEDED IN ITS CASTE-EMPOWERMENT AGENDA.'

M J AKBAR


A cut motion is moved in the Lok Sabha to wound the Congress alliance in Delhi and a BJP alliance a thousand miles away, in Ranchi, begins to bleed to death. Is there a rational connection between cause and consequence apart from the compulsions of an ageing politician suspected of more crimes than we can count without being a professional mathematician? If the story were only about the addictive duplicity of a drama-centric Shibu Soren, it might be worth a fleeting sneer but not much comment. If the BJP has made its bed with Soren, then it can hardly afford to get hysterical at infidelity. Some politicians do not offer their souls at wholesale rates; they bargain for small pieces, a bit at a time, at rates negotiated by market value. If the price is occasionally set by police officers of the CBI, that is par for the course in an age of turbulent corruption. The great merit of the Congress is that its expertise in the use of power for the benefit of the party, whether through public policy or private pressure, is unmatched. When the BJP tried similar tactics, it fell on its face. Its nose is still in disrepair.

Cause and consequence may both be obscured by facts. The turmoil in Delhi, with the ruling alliance being hammered for corruption on a scale unprecedented in the history of the UPA, is not accidental. Very little happens by accident; and information is certainly never leaked inadvertently. There are political reasons why a spat between the look-alikes Shashi Tharoor and Lalit Modi blew up like an Iceland volcano, and spread a cloud of ash over the ruling alliance that has left the biggest of big boys wheezing and a number of small boys in self-pitying tears. The telephone tapping brouhaha that followed did not fall into the lap of journalists like nature's gentle rain from heaven. The transcripts which exposed DMK's A Raja did not multiply by themselves, like excessively enthusiastic amoeba. Someone leaked that evidence, and it was not the hand of God. The fingerprints belonged to someone in government.


The massive Raja scam, with heavily-lubricated PR agencies, semi-lubricated journalists, and triple-dealing corporations, could have been news more than a year ago. It was not. The general elections had not taken place, and the allies would have been foolish to injure each other before an election. On the face of it, the UPA victory of 2009 reinforced the status quo. In reality, it energised the momentum for equations of the second decade of the 21st century.


Multi-party partnerships

The first decade began with the NDA victory under Atal Behari Vajpayee. Those 10 years were stable precisely because of multi-party partnerships. Every member of the group was allotted a relevant share of the cake, inducing comfort. The NDA was so comfortable that it became complacent, and was punished. Both the Congress and the BJP are aware, even if they do not find it expedient to say so, that the next stage in the evolution of Indian democracy will be the gradual elimination of the smaller parties, many of whom are making themselves irrelevant, either because of their inflexible attitude to leadership or because the issues that brought them into power have outlived its utility.


The paradox can be cruel: the DMK movement, for instance, has lost its dynamic hold on Tamil affections precisely because it has succeeded in its caste-empowerment agenda. It has ruled, in one form or the other, since 1967. A new generation awaits a new agenda, and there is no sign of it. DMK leaders have no idea what to do next, except repeat squalid and vicious wars of succession that went out of fashion in the 18th century. If that is the story of the apex, then the leaders on the rung just below are busy looting with a voracious and inexhaustible appetite. Who can blame the Congress for hoping that it can replace the DMK? The squeeze has begun through an exposure of sleaze. Such exposure played a crucial part in the decimation of Lalu Yadav in Bihar. Lalu did not believe he was being sliced in a pincer; neither does the DMK. It will find out when it is too late.


It is equally obvious that the Congress is not entirely unhappy over the tribulations of Sharad Pawar; Maharashtra is another large state where it can bid for sole supremacy. Once again, the spillage of sleaze on a partner's reputation does not hurt the Congress, but creates space that it can capture when time creates the opportunity. This is not a drama of continual thunder and lightning; it is a play dominated by long periods of silence, interspersed by occasional bouts of decisive intervention. So stories will rattle through media only to disappear, and then reappear when the optimal moment arrives.


The BJP has begun to realise the futility of allies that take more than they offer. If it wants to return to the spotlight, it must reconstruct; and the architecture of reconstruction cannot be left to the fringe. We will see a gradual but inevitable effort to expand by the Congress and BJP, and in doing so they will disturb the patterns of the last 10 years. There will be patches in the new quilts as well, but far less patchwork.

 

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DECCAN HERALD

EDITORIAL

IRAQ'S HUMAN RIGHTS UNDER CRITICAL THREAT

US SECRETARY OF STATE HILLARY CLINTON HAS URGED POLITICAL LEADERS TO 'SPEEDILY' FORM A NEW GOVERNMENT.

BY MICHAEL JANSEN

 

As Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki strives to alter the result of Iraq's March 7 parliamentary election with the aim of regaining the top job, he is being assailed by rivals, US officials and human rights organisations. Since the election commission announced that his State of Law bloc, which won 89 seats in the 325-member assembly, had been edged out of the lead by Iyad Allawi's Iraqiya, with 91 seats, Maliki has desperately searched for means to come out in front. He arrested an Iraqiya winner from a restive northern province. A panel affiliated with Maliki disqualified Iraqiya candidates accused of belonging to the outlawed Baath party. The election commission, which insists that the poll was credible, has been compelled by Maliki to recount 2.4 million votes in Baghdad.


Allawi has charged Maliki with besieging his bloc and creating a 'dangerous situation' and vows to take legal action. But Allawi also warned that Iraq's political process has been handed over to a judiciary appointed by the parties in power.


US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton urged Iraqi politicians to 'speedily' form a new government while US Ambassador to Baghdad Christopher Hill has expressed impatience with Maliki's machinations.


Reluctance for alliance

So far, the Shia sectarian Maliki and secular Allawi blocs have failed to convince potential coalition partners to join a government. Maliki's former sectarian Shia allies have expressed unwillingness to cooperate with him. They favour a national unity government including Allawi, anathema to Maliki.


The Obama administration is concerned that the political vacuum could give rise to fresh violence which could slow the withdrawal of US forces, scheduled to leave Iraq by the end of 2011.


According to the Minority Rights Group, Iraqis are third on a 2010 list of peoples most under threat. Somalis are first, Darfuris second, and Afghans fourth. Publication of the ranking coincided with the release of a report by Amnesty International which says civilians are not only slain in random attacks staged by al-Qaeda-linked Sunni jihadi factions but also targeted by sectarian militias and government forces.


In its 28-page document entitled 'Iraq: Civilians Under Fire', Amnesty points out that the largest number of fatalities are caused by Sunni jihadis opposed to the US occupation and the Shia-dominated government. Since last August these attacks have killed more than 850 people, including at least 163 in April.


Iraqis belonging to the small Christian, Sabean-Mandaean and Yezidi communities are forced to hide their identities. A disproportionate number of members of these minority communities are being driven from their homes and country.


Hijab is back

Iraqi women and girls, once the most liberated in West Asia, are compelled to wear the hijab (headscarf) and stay at home. Women are killed by relatives for violating conservative codes of behaviour; gay men are slain for their sexual orientation. Human rights workers, feminists, journalists, and political activists are abducted and murdered. Candidates for the March 7 parliamentary election, who were attacked during the race, remain at risk. Many of the 2.7 Iraqis displaced within the country "face economic hardship and lack basic services", eviction from temporary accommodation and camps, and violence. Exiles returning to their homes are assaulted. Criminal gangs kidnap Iraqis and hold them for ransom.


Amnesty holds community, political and religious leaders responsible for failing to prevent such attacks and bring those guilty to justice. Some leaders even incite violence. A 'climate of impunity' has been "entrenched by the involvement of the authorities themselves in numerous incidents of intimidation of and attacks on critics, including journalists reporting on alleged corruption and misconduct by officials".


Amnesty argues that both random and specific attacks on civilians are war crimes and crimes against humanity. The organisation calls on the US, the Iraqi government and the international community to take action against perpetrators of violence and deal with impunity. Amnesty argues that countries of asylum, the UK in particular, should not forcibly send Iraqis back to their home country.


A third organisation, Human Rights Watch chimed in with the revelation that Iraqis detained in the northern city of Mosul last November and held by Maliki's military office were brutally tortured at a secret prison in Baghdad. The post-war Iraqi regime was meant to put an end to such prisons and treatment. However, Iraqi sources with knowledge of prisons tell Deccan Herald that torture and abuse are common in Iraqi prisons.

 

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DECCAN HERALD

EDITORIAL

THE FOREIGN FRIEND

JOANNA, THATHA'S GUEST, WAS APPRECIATIVE OF OUR ACTIVITIES AT THE PARK.

BY BHARATHI PRABHU

 

Thatha is a 79-year-old gentleman who took to walking in our park two years ago. He lives alone after his wife's death, much against his only daughter's wishes. But being quite active and alert, he manages well. We, the regular walkers in the park have taken to him. We walk Thatha back home, exchange pleasantries and often enquire when he misses his walk.


Thatha tells some of us about his tryst as a high ranking official in the telephone industry. He was deputed to foreign countries and it was on one such posting in Belgium that he met Joanna, a tour guide and her husband Wilfred. This was 40 years ago. Soon the families grew close. Joanna visited India six times and one visit was for Thatha's daughter's wedding.


The current visit is Joanna's first after she lost her husband and Thatha his wife. Thatha pondered about how to showcase the Bangalore of now. Food was not an issue as the cook was very efficient and Joanna loved Indian food. Thatha gave me an update of the preparations for the foreign friend, how the house got all spruced up by the able daughter. "Not that it needed much cleaning," added the house proud gentleman.

Two days before Joanna's arrival we asked Thatha whether he would go to the airport to receive his guest. Thatha shook his head and said: "but I will bring her to the park." And that morning Thatha walked in with his friend. If Joanna was surprised at the sight of men and women clapping, plucking grass and vigorously rubbing their fingers together, she didn't show it. It must have felt like a great photo-op for the lady as she kept clicking. While each one of us introduced ourselves and made pleasant talk, some walkers discretely enquired Thatha about the lady's age and on being told that she was 75, let out admiring gasps.

 

Then the gentleman of the walking group, whose house abuts the park, did a disappearing act and re-appeared with a thermos, cups and fresh cookies. "The biscuits are very tasty Ma'm, eat them," he urged Joanna. The foreign guest savoured the treat. The talk about Flemish language, Belgium's high population density and Indian conditions would have gone on but for the lady who comes to close the gates of the park.


"It is a beautiful park, I will tell my children and grand children about this," declared Joanna. "Thank you and send us pictures," we all chorused even as Thatha beamed at the reception his Belgian friend had got from his park friends.

 

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THE JERUSALEM POST

EDITORIAL

ACTIONS WITHOUT REACTIONS

BY EPHRAIM ASCULAI

 

Iran and Syria will take their place at the Non-Proliferation Treaty meeting as if they are members in good standing.

 

The five-year Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty review conference begins its four-week deliberations in New York today. The five-year cycle is usually held captive by Egypt in the attempt to force Israel to divulge its nuclear secrets and force it to become a party to the NPT as a non-nuclear weapons state. However, the non-proliferation scene has changed profoundly since the previous review conference in 2005.


Two major events shook the non-proliferation regime: the confirmation of Iran's military nuclear ambitions and the destruction of Syria's reactor at Al-Kibar two years ago. Taking up the Syrian situation first, we observe, with wonder, the fact that Syria prevents the International Atomic Energy Agency from inspecting the Al-Kibar site, especially after indications were found that it was the site of a nuclear reactor under construction. Syria's refusal to allow the IAEA to inspect additional sites suspected of being connected to a nuclear project only aggravates the suspicions that Syria was developing nuclear weapons.


The situation is even more serious with Iran. When the IAEA found the courage to refer the Iran nuclear case to the UN Security Council, this body started taking strong actions against Iran. Iran steadfastly refused to suspend its uranium enrichment program for a limited period. It did not heed to the offer (made in the second sanctions resolution) to discuss all outstanding issues and grievances, if only it would suspend it enrichment activities.

Meanwhile, much evidence was accumulating on the military aspects of Iran's nuclear program.


Moreover, the uncovering of the concealed Fordow hillside small enrichment plant provided, in the view of many, the "smoking gun" needed to prove Iran's true intentions – to achieve a military nuclear capability. This, together with its otherwise inexplicable considerable missile-development program made the specter of a nuclear Iran only more realistic.


AND YET, Iran, and Syria, will take their place at the NPT meeting as if nothing happened, as they consider themselves to be members of the NPT in good standing. Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad will receive a visa to enter the US for the purpose of attending the review conference. Standing at the rostrum, he will be able to utter his usual invective against the US and Israel, hypocritically calling for a nuclear weapons free zone in the Middle East, and at the same time receiving reports on his growing stocks of enriched uranium, getting Iran closer, day by day, to the goal of potentially having a considerable military nuclear capability.


There can be no doubt that Iran misused the NPT to obtain know-how, technologies and materials, in addition to those obtained clandestinely from Pakistan and other countries. It was found, both by the IAEA and the Security Council, to have been in breach of its NPT obligations. It took all actions needed to show the world that it was determined to go on, unhindered, with its nuclear development program. It was given a chance to prove that it had some good intentions when it received the offer to receive nuclear fuel for a research reactor (contrary to the Security Council sanctions resolution) in return for moving some of its enriched uranium stocks out of the country, thereby postponing the inevitable date of attaining a potential military capability, but refused to do so.

Why then should it be permitted to go on with the sham of proper NPT membership? Why should it not be relegated to a suspended, or at least observer status at the review conference? Why should the same thing not be demanded for Syria?

 

Logically, this is the way to proceed. Is it a realistic demand? Probably not. The world today is amenable to conciliatory moves, even when they contradict reason. On the one hand, Iran and Syria would probably threaten to withdraw from the NPT. They will suffer much if they do. Their safeguards agreements with the IAEA are independent of NPT membership.


On the other hand, the cost of not taking even minor diplomatic action against Iran and Syria is high, and will get even higher, as time goes by.


The writer is a senior research associate at Tel Aviv University's Institute for National Security

 

 

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THE JERUSALEM POST

EDITORIAL

THE REGION: BRIGHT SPOTS, ANYONE?

BY BARRY RUBIN

 

Let's take a dispassionate look at the changes in the Middle East over the past year

 

 

Let's take a deep breath, clear our heads of any ideological or partisan preconceptions and then ask a simple uestion: How has the Middle East changed in the last year?


If one approaches this in a fair-minded, calm and honest manner, the answers are quite shocking.

Let's start with Iran. While some companies and banks have been discouraged from doing business with Iran, the sanctions or barriers to Teheran are almost the same as they were a year ago. That means that Iran has moved one year closer to obtaining nuclear weapons without serious hindrance. This is not good. No blather about conferences, plans, meetings, speeches and efforts should conceal this fact.


What about the keystone of Iranian strategy, its alliance with Syria? Despite much Western talk about pulling Syria away from Iran – which isn't going to happen – the relationship is closer than ever. No blather about conferences, plans, meetings, speeches and efforts should conceal this fact.


Lebanon? It is more in the grip of Iran, Syria and Hizbullah than a year ago. The Lebanese moderates have retreated and some have changed to a neutral position, because they know the West will not back them. Lebanon's president is ready to align with the Iran-Syria axis. Druse leader Walid Jumblatt, the lion of the opposition, has made his peace with the Syrians, as has Sa'ad Hariri, despite the fact that Damascus was responsible for killing both their fathers. Hizbullah, says the US secretary of defense, has more missiles than most industrialized countries though the UN promised to block these supplies back in 2006. No blather about conferences, plans, meetings, speeches and efforts should conceal this fact..


Turkey? Both the Iranian and Syrian governments have bragged that Turkey is now their ally. The Turkish regime conducts military maneuvers with Syria and not Israel. Turkey's government opposes any sanctions or pressure on Iran regarding nuclear weapons. Today, Turkey is no longer a reliable ally of the US.


No blather.... you know the rest.


US-ISRAEL relations? For the moment, they are on a better footing but they have gone through several crises since the Obama administration took office. On at least two occasions – settlement blocs and also the freeze on West Bank construction only – the administration broke previously made promises to Israel by itself or its predecessor. Moreover, an unprecedented tone of distrust and hostility has set in on Washington.


The Palestinian Authority? Despite extensive US efforts to prove how pro-Palestinian it is, the PA has yet to do anything for the US, including breaking its promise not to take the lead in pushing the Goldstone Report or to hold direct negotiations with Israel. With US policy unwilling to press the PA on concessions, the Obama administration has given the PA a lot of support but obtained nothing in return.


What about the Israel-Palestinian peace process? Well, the best hope at present is that it might return to indirect negotiations, which puts it roughly at the level of contacts prevailing back in 1991. Indeed, getting the two sides to talk – however distantly, however slowly – is going to be regarded by the Obama administration as a huge victory meriting some champagne-drinking. This is pretty pitiful.


How about US relations with the relatively moderate Arab states, moderate compared to Syria that is? Despite Obama's Cairo and Istanbul speeches, the outreach to Muslims, the hint that Islamists would be welcome to dialogue, the distancing from Israel, there is not one iota of improvement. Arab regimes will literally not do anything the US wants.


THIS BRINGS us to the one great achievement claimed by the current US government – high popularity in the Arabic-speaking world. Whatever numbers can be pulled out of polls, and they aren't as good as many people think, any popularity Obama has is totally useless from the standpoint of US interests.


Iraq? It is a relative bright spot, with the US withdrawal under way. There are terrible problems with infighting in Iraq's government, which might turn quite unstable. This is not so much the Obama government's fault, but what is worthy of blame is its cowardly refusal to back Iraqi protests against Syria's sponsorship of terrorism. At any rate, the calm that does exist is due in no small part to Teheran's desire to keep things quiet until the US pulls out, then try to increase its own influence in the country. Not great.


Pakistan should be a big disappointment. True, the government is holding together. But despite the massive tidal wave of American aid, the regime is only willing to defend itself, not exert a real effort to wipe out the Taliban and al-Qaida on the border. And of course Pakistan is shielding its own terrorist assets that have been used to commit horrendous murders in India. Not good.


Finally, Afghanistan where the president has made a public relations-oriented decision: send in the troops in a pseudo-surge to show his apparent toughness, then pull them out to show his apparent dovishness. And with all good intentions the military and political leadership has set an impossible program of stabilizing Afghanistan and providing it with a good government. Meanwhile, bilateral relations have hit an all-time low.

Have I missed some bright spot or great achievement? I don't think so. It's a pitiful situation. What is the point of making this list? Not, despite what you might think, to bash Obama. The real problem is the refusal of policy-makers to recognize just how bad things are and how negative the impact of their policies has been.


It is not too late to change course. But how can opinion-makers explain this to administration officials when most of them don't see how much has gone wrong? Waking up is the first step.


The writer is director of the Global Research in International Affairs Center and editor of Middle East Review of International Affairs and Turkish Studies. His personal blog can be read at www.rubinreports.blogspot.com

 

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THE JERUSALEM POST

EDITORIAL

FREE-MARKET JUDAISM

WHO IS A JEW? THERE'S MORE THAN ONE ANSWER.

 

 

 

The "Who is a Jew?" question threatens once again to drive a wedge of dissent between Israel and Diaspora Jewry,  especially North American Jewry. Leaders of the three major non-Orthodox streams of Judaism in America – Conservative, Reform and Reconstructionist – issued a joint statement over the weekend to that effect.

"To explicitly connect conversion to a single religious stream," wrote the leaders,  "while making no mention of other streams of Judaism... is inconsistent with the democratic ideals on which the State of Israel was founded and relies,  and would detrimentally affect the worldwide Jewish community."


The leaders were referring to a conversion bill proposed by MK David Rotem (Israel Beitenu). Rotem, chairman of the Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee, hopes to make it easier for an estimated 350,000 immigrants from the former Soviet Union and their offspring who are not Jewish according to Halacha, to convert to Judaism.


Incorporating Orthodox rabbis with a more open-minded, lenient and welcoming approach to conversion will lead, Rotem hopes, to a rise in the number of conversions, which presently stands at about 2,000 a year.


However, non-Orthodox Jews are concerned that the bill, a product of political negotiations with Shas and United Torah Judaism, includes concessions to haredi interests that would extend to conversion the Orthodox monopoly that already exists over almost every aspect of religious authority – from marriage to divorce and to burial, from the funding of synagogue construction to the appointment of local rabbis.


At present, there is no law that gives the Chief Rabbinate sole authority over conversions performed in Israel. A Supreme Court decision is pending on the matter. The Supreme Court has already ruled that the State of Israel must provide automatic citizenship to individuals who have undergone non-Orthodox conversions abroad.

For the first time in Israel's history, Rotem's bill states clearly that the Chief Rabbinate is authorized to "deal with" conversions. And haredi MKs want even more explicit language that would give the Chief Rabbinate sole authority over who can become a member of the Jewish people, at least in Israel.


PRIME MINISTER Binyamin Netanyahu must be experiencing deja vu.


Back in 1997, when he was serving his first stint as prime minister, Netanyahu faced an even more severe "Who is a Jew?" crisis. Haredi legislators in his government coalition were pushing for a law that would deny Israeli citizenship to non-Orthodox converts from the Diaspora. Non-Orthodox leaders were warning of a irreparable rift between the Diaspora and Zion.


At the height of the crisis, in November 1997, in a speech before the Council of Jewish Federations in Indianapolis, Netanyahu sagaciously noted that legislation would never solve the "Who is a Jew?" controversy. He hoped that by bringing together Orthodox, Conservative and Reform leaders under the aegis of the Neeman Committee, the three streams would settle their differences. That did not happen, due primarily to the Chief Rabbinate's intransigence.

Thirteen years later, Netanyahu's observation still rings true: Legislation is not the solution. But the failure of the Neeman Commission proves that dialogue does not work either.


Instead, the question of "Who is a Jew?" should be opened up to the competing definitions of the major recognized streams of Judaism – Orthodox, Conservative, Reform and Reconstructionist.


As in the Diaspora, potential converts in Israel should be permitted to operate as sovereign selves. They should be given the freedom to choose among the different streams of Judaism. They should be allowed to join the Jewish people in a way that feels right for them. The same holds true for other religious services presently monopolized by the Chief Rabbinate.


Free market forces, which Netanyahu so adeptly utilized as finance minister to strengthen the nation's economy, should be used to invigorate religiosity.

 

Sociologists of religion such as Rodney Stark and Roger Finke have found that in western countries where one official state religion enjoys a monopoly, people tend to be less religious and religious expression tends to stagnate. By contrast, in countries where religious diversity is highest, so too is religiosity. Competition among different denominations encourages dynamic leadership and breeds excellence.


Israel is a Jewish state and it should remain that way. But the means of Jewish expression are many and varied. These diverse means of expression should be encouraged and fostered, not restricted and legislated.

This will not only strengthen Jewish identity, it will also improve relations with our fellow Jews in the Diaspora, who will feel more at home here.

 

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THE JERUSALEM POST

EDITORIAL

WHO'S AFRAID OF 'SOUTH PARK'?

BY FRIDA GHITIS

Facing death threats over Muhammad depiction, the show's bosses folded.

 

Despite much-quoted claims to the contrary, evidence abounds that the sword frequently defeats the pen. If you don't believe me, come to Amsterdam, to the bustling street where, in plain daylight four years ago, a man alled Muhammad Bouyeri cut the throat of Theo Van Gogh, almost severing his head.


By way of explanation, the Dutch-born Bouyeri plunged a knife into Van Gogh's body, skewering into him a letter threatening to also kill Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a fierce critic of Islam, who had collaborated with Van Gogh on a film about the Koran. The killer, it seems, did not like the film.


Another similarly disposed art critic brought up Van Gogh's name a few days ago in the US. Writing in the Web site RevolutionMuslim.com, he threatened a fate equal to what befell Van Gogh's for the creators of South Park, the animated cartoon that makes it a point to offend just about everyone. According to RevolutionMuslim, a South Park episode depicting the prophet Muhammad (in a bear suit) along with figures from other religions is a crime punishable by death.


Quoting Islamic scholars, RevolutionMuslim explains that, "Whoever curses the messenger of Allah (peace and blessing of Allah be upon him) – a Muslim or a non-Muslim – he must be killed and this is the opinion of the general body of Islamic scholars."


While most Muslims would not shed blood over a comedy show, we have known for a good many years that among the followers of Islam there are those who would kill anyone – even other Muslims – who offends their religious sensibilities. That is not news. What we learned from the South Park event, however, is just as troubling. In the face of threats, the bosses at Comedy Central folded like cheap TV trays. Comedy Central heavily censored the cartoon, granting the blackmailer exactly what he wanted. Forget land of the free, etc. They gave up without even considering a fight.


Jon Stewart, the Comedy Central faux anchorman, regaled viewers with a musical number carrying a message to RevolutionMuslim. Marveling at the extremists' chutzpah for living in New York – home of the world's best Jewish delis – enjoying American freedoms, only to threaten South Park's Matt Stone and Trey Parker and their freedom of expression, Stewart sang a feverish rendition of "Go F– Yourselves," complete with backup gospel choir.

But Stewart went curiously easy on Comedy Central's spinelessness. "It's their right," he allowed. "The censorship is a decision Comedy Central made to protect their employees."


YES, THEY can do it. But that doesn't make it any less scandalous. Comedy Central should have hired bodyguards for Stone and Parker and aired the episode uncut. That way the rich and powerful corporation (Viacom) could have really protected them, protected their safety and their freedom of speech and their ability to do their work and to give Americans their often-hilarious and frequently cringe-worthy material.


It goes without saying, but let's say it anyway, that nobody is required to watch the show. Not Muslims, not Mormons – whose theology South Park mercilessly mocks. Not Jews, not Christians, not patriotic Americans, who might have seen an episode showing Jesus defecating on the American flag.

The show often goes over the line. Those who find it offensive can change the channel. They can write letters, start boycotts, picket the studios. Death threats are simply not acceptable. Caving in to them is shameful.

Too many times in the West we have seen powerful media empires behave like craven weaklings. It was Bart Simpson, aptly, who put it best, writing a hundred times on the blackboard "South Park – We'd stand beside you if we weren't so scared."


A few years ago, after extremists threatened (and later attempted) to kill a Danish cartoonist for depicting Muhammad in his work, I saw the artist interviewed on CNN, my once-proud home. When the cartoonist tried to hold up a page with the drawings, CNN almost tackled the camera to the ground to keep the pictures from airing. Cowardice was never so pathetically hilarious.

Theo Van Gogh, whose antics occasionally resembled South Park's in their tastelessness, discovered that his pen was no match for a killer's sword. And yet, the pen – the keyboard, the comedian, the editorial cartoon, Bart Simpson, Cartman, Kyle, Kenny – they actually hold enormous power. To win, however, they need their backers to show backbone.


Too bad "South Park's" bosses have none.

The writer comments global affairs for The Miami Herald.

 The Miami Herald/MCT

 

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THE JERUSALEM POST

EDITORIAL

IT IS POSSIBLE TO LAUGH AT ADOLF HITLER

BY CORY FRANKLIN

 

His crimes are not forgotten when he is made fun of as on YouTube parodies.

For the past two years, Downfall, a 2004 German film about Hitler's final days, has been adopted for very funny YouTube parodies. The parodies replaced the original dialogue with phony subtitles, showing Hitler ranting about everything from Xbox video games to Kanye West's MTV Award embarrassment to Hillary Clinton's failed presidential bid.


A favorite target of Der Fuhrer's ire was American football player Brett Favre.


Virtually all the spoofs used the same four-minute scene: Hitler, portrayed brilliantly by German actor Bruno Ganz, unleashes an impassioned tirade berating his generals huddled in the underground bunker. The staff listens silently in an adjoining room as a furious and defeated Hitler screams insanely. The faked English subtitles queued perfectly to Hitler's rant exemplify satire at it finest.


Upon hearing the videos had been withdrawn, Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League, said the league was delighted. "We find them offensive," said Foxman. "We feel they trivialize not only the Holocaust but World War II. Hitler is not a cartoon character."


Foxman is a brilliant, sensitive man with a long distinguished career fighting discrimination, supporting Jews and other minorities. But here he is wrong. Adolf Hitler has been satirized and the target of humor since World War II. And look who has been at the forefront.


IN 1940, with America still a neutral in World War II, the Three Stooges did You Natzy Spy, the first film to satirize Hitler. Hitler, played by Stooges' leader, Moe Howard (nee Moses Horwitz, Jewish), sprinkled his diatribes liberally with Yiddish.


A year later, Charlie Chaplin made The Great Dictator, the classic film satirizing Hitler (Chaplin was not Jewish although several of his close family were). Chaplin, in a dual role, played an innocent Jewish barber mistaken for Adenoid Hynkel, a savage caricature of Hitler. Hynkel is a power mad maniac who dances with a balloon globe of the world. The film received worldwide acclaim and Hitler reportedly watched it. Despite this, it did nothing to prevent Hitler from invading Western Europe or the Soviet Union. Even satire doesn't always work.

In 1942, Jack Benny (nee Benjamin Kubelsky, Jewish) starred in his most famous film, To Be or Not to Be, about an acting troupe outwitting the Nazis in occupied Poland. It portrays Hitler prancing around saying, "Heil, myself." Later in the war, Looney Tunes, a Warner Brothers company (Jack Warner, nee Jacob Warner, Jewish), did a cartoon spoof of Hitler with Daffy Duck conking him on the head during a party rally.


The ne plus ultra of Hitler parody came in 1968 when Mel Brooks (né Melvin Kaminsky, Jewish) made The Producers. Its featured number, a Hollywood classic, is the lavish musical, "Springtime for Hitler." In the movie, casting for Hitler is problematic until the perfect Hitler appears, Lorenzo St. Dubois, aka LSD, a drug addled hippie played by Dick Shawn (nee Richard Schulefand, Jewish), who bangs out on the piano, "One and one is two, two and two is four, I feel so bad 'cause I'm losing the war." The film spawned a popular musical and spinoff movie (which unfortunately failed to reprise LSD as Hitler).


Coincidentally, last week Brooks received a long overdue star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Among all the funny movies Brooks has made the unquestioned choice for ceremony's tribute movie was The Producers.

Brooks once explained his view of Hitler: "I was never crazy about Hitler... If you stand on a soapbox and trade rhetoric with a dictator you never win... That's what they do so well: They seduce people. But if you ridicule them, bring them down with laughter, they can't win. You show how crazy they are."


Brooks's sentiments were reiterated by the director of Downfall, Oliver Hirschbiegel, who actually enjoyed the parodies and was not responsible for having them removed from YouTube. Hirschbiegel said, "The point of the film was to kick these terrible people off the throne that made them demons, making them real and their actions into reality. I think it's only fair if now it's taken as part of our history, and used for whatever purposes people like. If only I got royalties for it, then I'd be even happier."


History has shown Hitler to be the perfect foil for satire, unlike other murderous totalitarian dictators. YouTube parodies of Stalin aren't funny. No one will make a film satire of Mao or Pol Pot. Perhaps it is the distinctive features that made Hitler so attractive to the Nazis, and so terrifying and dreadful to the rest of the world – the mustache, the uniform, the salute, the impassioned oratory – that compel satire today.

Foxman's concerns, and those of other Holocaust survivors, are understandable and admirable (personal disclaimer, several of my distant relatives were Holocaust victims). But the enormity of Hitler's crimes is not forgotten when he is made fun of. With no disrespect to those innocents murdered, Chaplin, Benny, The Stooges, Brooks and now YouTube Downfall have demonstrated that, in a sad and tragic way, it is possible to laugh at Adolf Hitler.


By the way, have you heard the one about the two Jewish assassins who wait with pistols for Hitler outside his favorite restaurant? Every day Hitler shows up at 3 p.m. for tea and cakes. When Hitler doesn't show up that afternoon at the appointed hour, one assassin says to the other, "Gee, I hope nothing has happened to him."

The writer was physician-director of the Medical Intensive Care at Cook County (Chicago, Illinois) Hospital for nearly 30 years. He is a lecturer and has been a frequent contributor to the Chicago Tribune op-ed page. His work has also appeared in the New York Times and the Chicago Sun-Times. He was one of Harrison Ford's technical advisors and one of the role models for the character he played in the movie, 'The Fugitive.'

 

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THE JERUSALEM POST

EDITORIAL

THE REVISIONIST ESCAPE

BY AVI BEKER


The work of revisionist Historians on the Arab-Israeli conflict has disastrous implications.

 

The impact of the New Historians who revised and interpreted anew the history of the Arab-Israeli conflict cannot be exaggerated. Their revision of what they termed the "official" Zionist version of history mixed with post-modernist assumptions (i.e. there is no one version of history) was not confined to intellectual debates within the ivory towers of some institutions.


Dismissed at the beginning as a fringe phenomenon, this revision of history has become, within less than a decade, the mainstream reading and learning in universities around the world, claiming that Israel was born in a sin of conspiracies, ethnic cleansing and massacres. Benny Morris, who is considered as the dean of the New Historians and coined the term, has provided since 1988 (in his book The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem) the intellectual infrastructure for this revisionist history. The group also denied what they called the Israeli myth of the heroic 1948 war of "the few against the many," and for some these post-Zionist views were replaced by a self-declared anti-Zionism (e.g. Ilan Pappe).


The implications for Zionist and Israeli historiography were disastrous. Even the more objective professors found it necessary to show the conflict along two opposing and competing narratives: Israeli and Palestinian. According to the dictionary, a narrative is "a story or account of events, experiences or the like, whether true or fictitious."

In Israel the new narrative was reflected in the state-run TV miniseries Tekuma (Revival) broadcast in 1998, marking the 50th anniversary of the state, which adopted many of the New Historians' findings.


A year later these post-modern theories were given legitimacy by the Ministry of Education in its revised high school textbooks (A World of Changes: History for Ninth Grade) as part of a new curriculum aimed at teaching history from an expressly "universal" (as opposed to "nationalist") perspective. This trend even entered the IDF, which through its history division co-sponsored a book which cast serious doubts on previous images of the heroic War of Independence in 1948.


MOREOVER, THE new narrative had a major impact on the peace process: The debate was no longer on the "territories for peace" formula but rather on Israel's responsibility for the atrocities of the Nakba, making the issue of the Palestinian right of return the major stumbling block in the negotiations. While both prime ministers Ehud Barak and Ehud Olmert agreed, together with successive American administrations, to divide Jerusalem, they couldn't accept the Palestinian demand for allowing the refugees to return to all parts of the State of Israel. This was a "red line'' almost for everyone, including former justice minister Yossi Beilin, an architect of the Oslo accords, or the former head of the leftist Meretz party Yossi Sarid who told the Palestinians that their position means "the suicide of the State of Israel."


The revisionist and guilt-filled narrative loomed over the Israeli negotiators at Camp David in 2000 and, a few months later, at the Taba talks. Gilad Sher and Yossi Beilin together with Palestinian negotiators were quoting Morris's book on the refugees, and Daniel Levy, Beilin's assistant, has described how important it was for the Israeli team to change the historical narrative to reach an agreement with the Palestinians on their "right of return."

Former foreign minister Shlomo Ben-Ami, himself an historian, admitted that the New Historians have "definitely helped in consolidating the Palestinians' conviction as to the validity of their own narrative" and that the "Israeli peacemakers also came to the negotiating table with perspectives that were shaped by recent research... powerful arguments on the 1948 war... [which] became part of the intellectual baggage of many of us, whether we admitted it or not."


BUT MORRIS didn't celebrate his "vindication." In a dramatic shift, starting a decade ago, he has begun to refute the essence of his arguments, sending shock waves through the revisionist community. His two most recent books, 1948 and One State, Two States, which were released over the last two years, presented a sharp contradiction of his previous revolutionary thesis. Suddenly, Morris tells his readers that his previous books missed the historic context of the war in 1948, which was a jihadi onslaught by the Muslim world against the Jewish community in Palestine.


By "discovering" numerous quotes and references by Arab leaders to their religious campaign, Morris goes even further than the canonical Zionist narrative and blames Arab rejectionist and eliminationalist attitude toward the Jews as the major impediment to peace in the Middle East. The new Morris accuses many of his professional colleagues of ignoring "the jihadi rhetoric and flourishes that accompanied" what was perceived by the Arabs as "a holy war... divinely ordained necessity."


A comparison between Morris "A" and Morris "B" shows how the historic context can become blurred and even distorted by using selective facts which are inflated at the expense of the larger and more critical forces of history. It may be right that at the end of the war the newborn IDF emerged as better organized, trained and motivated but during the war, as Morris shows recently, there was a totally different assessment. The majority in the interim Jewish government prior to the establishment of the state as well as the Arabs, the British and the Americans, all thought that the Arabs would defeat the Jewish army in Palestine.

The new Morris blames the Arabs for their misfortunes, denies the existence of a Jewish strategy of expulsion or transfer and, in effect, defends the right of David Ben-Gurion to expel even more, given the threats of jihad. Suddenly, in the concluding chapters in both books, Morris brings the case of the Jews who were expelled from Arab lands, showing that there was an exchange of refugees as a result of the war. The Arabs who declared the war, says Morris, are also responsible for perpetuating the tragedy of the Palestinians in refugee camps, unlike those Jewish refugees who were absorbed in Israel.


Morris's journey and his radical retreat from his early publications could provide an unusual testimony for the thin line separating history from propaganda or even falsehood. When the record of events is motivated by a determination to create a post-modern political narrative, it may end up with a false escape from history.


The writer teaches at the MA program on diplomacy at Tel Aviv University after completing two years as a visiting professor at Georgetown University. He is the former secretary-general of the World Jewish Congress.

 

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HAARETZ

EDITORIAL

A WELCOME JEWISH VOICE

 

JCall, a new leftist European Jewish group, released over the weekend a petition signed by more than 3,000 Jews calling for an end to the occupation and Israeli expansion in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. The signatories, including important French philosophers Bernard-Henri Levy and Alain Finkielkraut, say the settlement policy undermines prospects for peace with the Palestinians based on a two-state solution. They express fear for the future of Israel as a Jewish, democratic and ethical state and are concerned by the global delegitimization campaign against Israel.


Like the members of the American Jewish lobby J Street, the people behind JCall don't believe that automatic support of Israeli policy - which advocates, for instance, Jewish construction in East Jerusalem - serves Israel's true interests.


Just as there was criticism of J Street in the United States, the veteran Jewish organizations in Europe have borne down on the new initiative, arguing that the petition will serve Israel's enemies. And just as Israel's Information and Diaspora Ministry expects Israeli tourists to defend the government's settlement policy on their trips abroad, the critics are demanding that intellectuals and ethical people in the Diaspora should be disingenuous.

 

It is to be hoped that the Israeli government does not join the attack on JCall. During the latest crisis with the U.S. administration, Prime Minister Benjamim Netanyahu spared no effort in getting Jewish public figures like Elie Wiesel to join the battle against pressure for a construction freeze in East Jerusalem.


Those who recruit Jews from the right to support their policies must honor the right of the Jewish left to express its views. The contribution of Jewish peace activists in Europe is a suitable response to the damage that members of the Netanyahu government, mainly Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, are doing to Israel's interests there.


The violent conflict between Israel and its neighbors and the suspension of peace talks have contributed to Diaspora Jewish communities' increasing alienation from Israel. That trend is particularly noticeable among the youth.

The fact that thousands of Jews around the world, including prominent intellectuals, are advocating an end to nearly 43 years of malignant occupation is welcome news. Let's hope that the voices of Israel's friends in Paris, London and Brussels will be heard in Jerusalem.

 

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HAARETZ

EDITORIAL

STOLEN JERUSALEM DAY

BY AKIVA ELDAR

 

If everything goes as expected next week, with the beginning of proximity talks, thousands of Jews will be marking 43 years since the "unification of Jerusalem." The politicians will certainly not miss the festive opportunity to express their great love for "our united capital for all eternity."

 

At that same hour, the police will continue to question municipal leaders who, while singing songs of praise to Jerusalem, lent a hand to the construction of the monstrous Holyland complex. You don't need judges in Jerusalem to know that a serious crime was committed against the city with the Holyland. But corruption on the hill in West Jerusalem is nothing compared to the theft of land, identity rape, and the body of lies and criminal discrimination against 270,000 residents of the eastern part of the city.

 

Although these despicable acts have been going on in broad daylight for years, the public and the media don't find them interesting. After all, it's about Arabs. If not for the "unfortunate timing" of the U.S. vice-presidential visit, who would have cared about 1,600 housing units at Ramat Shlomo? Did anyone investigate why, over the opposition of the Israel Lands Administration representative, the District Planning and Building Committee rezoned the land from open space to land for construction? Who knows how many apartments the Housing and Construction Ministry built for young couples from East Jerusalem, which, according to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, is no different than North Tel Aviv?

 

A reminder: Since 1967, Israel has expropriated 35 percent of the area of East Jerusalem (around 24 square kilometers). New Jewish neighborhoods were built on those lands, with 50,000 housing units.


Hundreds of developers and contractors (and public employees?) continue to get rich from this construction. How many neighborhoods were built during that time for Arab-Israeli residents? Zero. When was the last time the government supported the construction of 600 apartments in an Arab neighborhood? Thirty years ago. Most of the lands left in the hands of Palestinians (about 45 square kilometers) have been declared "green areas." Lacking a comprehensive master plan for Jerusalem because of intentional political foot-dragging, building permits cannot be issued for areas outside the densely built-up Palestinian neighborhoods.


And after all that, people on the right dare to complain that Arabs are building without permits, while attempts are being made to "expel" Jews from Beit Yonatan, a large building without a permit that their friends stuck like a bone in the throat of a Palestinian neighborhood. The prime minister is also peddling the line that "a Palestinian from East Jerusalem can build anywhere in the city." It's hard to believe that Netanyahu, who was born in Jerusalem, doesn't know that only Israeli citizens or those entitled to Israeli citizenship through the Law of Return have access to ILA property (93 percent of the land in Israel).


Not only are Arabs from East Jerusalem not allowed to buy the homes in Talbiyeh (whose name has been officially changed to Komemiyut) where they were born 63 years ago; the law doesn't permit them to build a home on one-third of the land of East Jerusalem - the area that was expropriated from Palestinians after 1967. In contrast, Nobel Peace Prize laureate Elie Wiesel, who demanded that U.S. President Barack Obama leave Jerusalem alone, is welcome to purchase a vacation apartment in the new Jewish housing project in Sheikh Jarrah.

While children in West Jerusalem schools are celebrating "Jerusalem Day," thousands of children in East Jerusalem will stay home or crowd into rickety schoolrooms. The education minister and the mayor, who will praise the "unification of Jerusalem," are among those continually defaulting on the pledge to the High Court of Justice to build some 250 of the more than 1,000 classrooms that are lacking in the city.


And people who disregard Israel's High Court will have no trouble ignoring agreements with foreigners. Who remembers that according to phase one of the road map that the Israeli government was to reopen the Palestinian Chamber of Commerce and other shuttered Palestinian institutions in East Jerusalem, pledging that they would operate based on previous agreements?


"For Zion's sake will I not hold My peace, and for Jerusalem's sake I will not rest, until her triumph go forth as brightness, and her salvation as a torch that burneth, and the nations shall see thy triumph, and all kings thy glory," wrote the prophet Isaiah. It's hard to believe that proximity talks will bring peace into closer proximity between Israel and the Palestinians. But if they help replace baseless, sickly sweet declarations with just a little more justice and wisdom emanating from Jerusalem, as the prophet envisioned, that will be enough.

 

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HAARETZ

EDITORIAL

HOLYLAND AND THE STATUTE OF LIMITATIONS

BY ZE'EV SEGAL

 

The investigation of the Holyland affair and all its spin-offs is probably one of the most complex probes ever undertaken by the Israel Police. It is rare for the courts to approve the detention of so many suspects, some for long periods of time.


As the questioning of Shula Zaken (who was released to house arrest yesterday) proceeds, the prosecution and the investigators will have to decide whether they will ask the court to issue an arrest warrant for the former prime minister, who is not entitled to any special privileges. In any event, his interrogation will take place in a police facility and he will have no control over the time or place.


But no mention has yet been made of the possibility that at least some of the alleged offenses may fall under the statute of limitations. When we recall, for example, that Ehud Olmert began his term as mayor of Jerusalem in 1993 and ended it in 2003, it is clear that this is a legitimate concern. This issue is relevant for other suspects in the investigation as well.

 

The Criminal Procedure Law stipulates explicit and unbending directives on the limitations of criminal prosecution. The law states that an individual shall not be prosecuted for an offense if a specified number of years has passed since the alleged crime was committed. Offenses carrying a maximum punishment of more than three years in prison, such as bribery, have a 10-year statute of limitations. The statute of limitations on offenses with a maximum custodial sentence of three years, such as breach of trust, is five years. There are certain exceptions, but they are not relevant to the Holyland investigation.

 

The law states that "an individual shall not be prosecuted" for offenses on which the statute of limitations has run out. From this it can be inferred that there is no restriction on police investigations of offenses that have passed the statute of limitations; the police, however, are responsible for investigating crimes that are likely to lead to an indictment. After such a lengthy investigation, the dates connected to offenses that do not fall under the statute of limitations should be clear to the police by now.


The law also states that for serious crimes, a police investigation stops the clock on the statute of limitations. This raises the question of when the investigation into Holyland and related affairs began, as that is the most important thing for distinguishing between offenses on which the statute of limitations has run out and those that, with sufficient evidence, could lead to an indictment. This distinction played a fundamental role in drafting the indictment against former president Moshe Katsav; as a result, he was not prosecuted for one of the offenses.

The lack of clarity on the issue of the statute of limitations, which cannot have escaped the lawyers working for the police and the prosecution, is just one reason why a progress report on the Holyland investigation needs to be issued. Generally speaking, when senior public figures are under investigation for criminal activity, an official report should be released to avoid intentional or unintentional errors.


The release of quotes from anonymous sources or "figures close to the investigation" can create the impression that these lines convey reliable information. The recent police statement refuting reports that a relative of Zaken had turned state's witness points to the authorities' recognition of the need for official statements. The concise official statement released on the matter stressed that there was "no truth" to reports about contacts with Zaken and that "in any event they did not originate with the police or the Prosecutor's Office." The police spokesman announced that Zaken had been summoned for questioning during her stay abroad, and that she "had not yet reported for questioning." Only a statement by her attorney, Micha Pettman - which was not denied - elucidated that the summons did not name a specific date for the questioning.

 

When Rishon Letzion Magistrate's Court Judge Abraham Heiman - who examined the investigation's conclusions and decided to remand certain suspects, in some cases for extended periods - states that this is "one of the most serious cases in the history of the state," it is clear that an official progress report on the matter would serve a vital public interest.


It follows that such a report is not meant to be complete or detailed, but could contain something that would prevent unfounded reports, some of which are not helpful to the investigation. A clarification from State Prosecutor Moshe Lador regarding the statute of limitations could focus the investigation, which is supposed to reveal offenses that are prosecutable and have a high likelihood of producing convictions.

 

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HAARETZ

EDITORIA

THE LATTER-DAY SABBATEANS

BY DAVID OHANA

 

In an assault on Yeshayahu Leibowitz and Jacob Talmon, Israel Harel said in these pages last month that the two late Hebrew University professors were "hardly great visionaries, to put it mildly, as to the morality and future of the Jewish state." He depicts two of Israel's most important intellectuals as false prophets whose every prediction turned out to be untrue. But Harel perceives a prophet as a kind of fortune teller, whereas Martin Buber interprets the prophet's vocation otherwise: A thinker and public figure who stands at the city gates, points at two moral alternatives and says that we must select one of them.


After the Six-Day War, Israel was confronted with a choice between two kinds of nationalism: that of blood and soil or that of humanism and liberalism. Leibowitz and Talmon urged adherence to an enlightened Zionism that strives to act in accordance with universal principles.


Leibowitz's exhortations on behalf of human rights and minorities' rights, his abhorrence of the rabbinic establishment, his sympathy for the feminist struggle, and mainly his warnings about the corrupting effects of the occupation were various links in a coherent and systematic chain of values. He saw the War of Independence as a necessity that could therefore not be criticized on moral grounds, but he voiced alarm at the implications of the Qibya and Kafr Qasem massacres of Arab civilians by Israeli troops in the 1950s. He laid bare the danger of regarding the land as holy while possessing a messianic faith that begat Gush Emunim, the religious settlement movement.

 

Talmon the historian also feared messianism. In his great trilogy on totalitarian democracy he wondered, "Why does political messianism always turn from a vision of redemption into a trap and yoke of enslavement?" The people of Gush Emunim, he wrote, saw "the hand of God in the conquest of the territories."


Leibowitz and Talmon saw the settlers as latter-day Sabbateans. Referring to Gush Emunim, Leibowitz wrote: "When it turns out that the state has no glory, perpetuity and majesty, everything will blow up. This is exactly what happened to the followers of Sabbatai Zevi." And after the Six-Day War, Talmon cautioned that "a Sabbatean awakening and disappointment" could occur. Just as Harel failed to define "prophet" correctly, he also seems to be wrong about the meaning of "Zionist."


Harel and his settler friends are in fact anti-Zionists who have abandoned the classic religious Zionism. The last pre-1967 conference of the National Religious Party resolved that the NRP would not join a governing coalition that did not put peace with the Arab states at the top of its priorities. A lot of murky water has since flowed down the Jordan River. The rabbis and the settlers have taken control of the Bnei Akiva youth movement, and instead of theological humility they have displayed a metaphysical arrogance. Instead of religious Zionists connected to the reality of Israeli society, they have become exploiters living in a bubble of alienation, an intellectual wilderness.


They have not internalized the Zionist revolution that made us sovereign in our own land, preferring to be victims. They have forsaken the nobility of a sovereign who is self-confident enough to be willing to ompromise, choosing instead to be the hypocritical bully. They have ignored everyone around them, the secular Israelis and the Palestinians, the poor and the migrant workers, so they have never taken part in a struggle for social justice.


Leibowitz and Talmon warned against these and similar processes. Sometimes they erred in this formulation or that prediction, but they managed to see the slippery slope that may yet turn us into modern Sabbateans or the new Crusaders of the occupied territories.


A decade ago, when some inhabitants of Kiryat Shmona left town when Katyushas were falling on it, Harel deplored their "defeatism." In this newspaper, he compared them to the Crusaders. By their conduct, are Harel and his cohorts not testifying that they themselves have fallen from messianic peaks to defeatist depths? Was this not what Leibowitz meant when he predicted that the first to leave the country - metaphorically speaking, of course - would be the settlers?


The writer is a history professor at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev.  

 

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HAARETZ

EDITORIAL

PEACE DEAL MEANS GETTING JEWISH STATE BACK FROM THE ARAB WORLD

BY SHAUL ARIELI

 

How serious Benjamin Netanyahu really is about resuming talks with the Palestinians will be reflected in the extent of his effort to reshape Israeli public opinion, where the concept "there is no partner" has been thoroughly assimilated, partly because of the prime minister's own utterances.


First, Netanyahu will have to cope with the Israeli presumption that the status of the territories is, at best, "disputed," though they are usually perceived as "liberated" or "promised," either by the Balfour Declaration or God himself. United Nations resolutions stating that they are "occupied territories" where a Palestinian state is destined to rise have been disregarded. Accordingly, every inch of the West Bank from which Israel withdraws is perceived as a concession, of both historical rights and real estate.


A second problem is that Israelis perceive their country's control of the West Bank as the starting point for "mutual concessions." The Palestinian concession in 1988 of 78 percent of "historical Palestine" is considered irrelevant. From the premiership of Ehud Barak to that of Netanyahu, Israel has eschewed territorial exchanges on a one-to-one basis, whose ultimate meaning is carving up the "poor man's lamb," to use the biblical metaphor.

 

Third, Netanyahu will have to confront the public's impression that Ehud Olmert, like Barak before him, "gave up everything" but was turned down by the Palestinians. In the Israeli consciousness, "everything" refers to the territorial issue and leaves out Jerusalem, the refugees and security. In fact, the Palestinians stretched the interpretation of the UN's resolutions in order to accede to Israeli demands in at least the four following ways.


Although the international community denies the legality of the settlements, the Palestinians proposed a territorial exchange that allows 75 percent of the settlements to remain under our sovereignty. Although the international community has determined that East Jerusalem's status is the same as the West Bank's, the Palestinians agreed to leave the neighborhoods Israel established after 1967 in Israel's hands. Despite the centrality of the refugee issue, the Palestinians agreed that the practical solution would be financial compensation and to settle the refugees in Palestine. And although every country has a natural right to things like air space, coastal waters and an army, the Palestinians agreed to Israeli demands that take bites out of their sovereignty.

Fourth, Netanyahu will have to face up to the Israeli predilection for creating realities by force of arms rather than seeking international legitimization - as expressed in David Ben-Gurion's dictum, "It's not important what the goyim say, it's important what the Jews do." The source of this concept lays in Israel's success in winning the world's recognition for its conquests in the War of Independence, a war that was fought under different circumstances than exist today. The tripling of the settlements since the Oslo Accords reflects the prevalence of the illusion that we will be able to annex them simply because we built them.


Both Netanyahu and the Israeli public will have to get used to the fact that by reaching an agreement, we won't be bestowing a state on the Palestinians. We will be getting the Jewish state back from an Arab world ready to accept it, not out of love but because it has no alternative.


Israel has indulged in a great deal of foreplay in these negotiations, mostly with itself. Barak and Olmert got closer than Ariel Sharon and Netanyahu, but not one prime minister has mustered the courage to reach the point where an agreement actually has a chance to be conceived. Until we get to that point of our own free will, the Palestinians will prefer to remain in the cozy embrace of the international resolutions, in the hope that they will be implemented, against Israeli interests.

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

EDITORIAL

THE NEW HAVEN MODEL

 

To improve the quality of schools, districts need a rigorous system for evaluating the quality of teaching — rewarding teachers who do their jobs best and retraining or removing those who fail their students. The city of New Haven and the American Federation of Teachers deserve high praise for the new teacher training and evaluation system they unveiled earlier this week.

 

The proposal, which deserves swift approval from the board, shows what can go right when school districts and unions work together.

 

In most schools today, teacher evaluations are not worthy of the name. An administrator typically observes the teacher at work once or twice during the year. Nearly every teacher passes — even at the most dismal schools. Struggling teachers rarely get the help they need to improve. Once they are tenured, it is nearly impossible to dislodge them.

 

The New Haven system would completely rebuild the evaluation process. Instructional managers, mainly principals and assistant principals, will be assigned to teachers to help them lay out academic goals and development plans. These managers will then meet with the teachers throughout the year to give detailed feedback.

 

At the end of the year, teachers will receive a rating, on a 1-to-5 scale, based on how much students learn, how well teachers do their jobs and how well they collaborate with colleagues.

 

Teachers rated a 5, or exemplary, will be eligible for promotion to leadership positions, in which they share their skills with colleagues. Teachers who are rated at the 2 level, which means they are "developing," must improve within a reasonable but limited span of time if they wish to keep their jobs. Teachers who are rated at the 1 level will receive intensive guidance and coaching. If they do not improve they can be dismissed as soon as the end of the school year.

 

New Haven will need to reallocate resources for this system to work. It will need to start by shifting some of the burden for school operations from principals to lower-level administrators, so that principals can invest more time in novice or struggling teachers.

 

Many high-performing charter schools have already adopted similar systems, with measurable success. If New Haven moves ahead, it could quickly find itself at the forefront of the national effort to improve the caliber of instruction in the public schools.

 

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

CALL THE FAT CATS FORTH

 

With little time to spare, Capitol lawmakers gathered outside the Supreme Court Thursday to propose an antidote to the court's damaging decision to open elections to unlimited attack and advocacy ads financed from the shadows by special-interest money.

 

Senator Charles Schumer, Democrat of New York, and Representative Chris Van Hollen, Democrat of Maryland, are calling for new legislation that would let the voters know which financiers are stalking or plumping for which federal candidates.

 

The United States Chamber of Commerce immediately, predictably, warned that the new disclosure rules would "silence constitutionally protected speech." Actually, the measure applies sunshine, not silence, to secretive, end-run campaign spending.

 

Just as Frank Perdue used to proudly back his chickens, the proposed legislation requires the chief donors in corporate, union and shell organization ads to stand by their message before the cameras. It's healthy and candid. And to make informed choices, the voters certainly need to know.

 

It also requires corporations and unions to promptly disclose how much they are spending on these ads. Other provisions would alert shareholders and union members to what the leaders are up to; restrict foreign interests from investing to sway voters; and bar political spending by major government contractors or beneficiaries of federal bailout money that is not repaid.

 

Republican leaders tried to dismiss the legislation as a shield for incumbent Democrats. Polls show the public overwhelmingly opposed to the Supreme Court ruling. Candidates in both parties should view it as protection from being sandbagged by big-money attacks from right or left. President Obama was right when he described passage as critical to "restoring our government to its rightful owners: the American people."

 

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

END TO RESCISSION, AND MORE GOOD NEWS

 

Americans are already starting to see the benefits of health care reform. The new law requires health insurance companies — starting in September — to end their most indefensible practice: rescinding coverage after a policyholder gets sick. In recent days insurers and their trade association have rushed to announce that they will end rescissions immediately.

 

That is very good news for the thousands of people who each year pay their premiums but lose their coverage just when they are likely to run up big medical bills.

 

The insurers decided to act quickly after they were whacked by some very bad publicity. An investigative report by Reuters said that one of the nation's biggest insurers, WellPoint, was targeting women with breast cancer for fraud investigations that could lead to rescissions.

 

Although WellPoint fiercely denied singling out breast cancer patients for scrutiny, it acknowledged using computer algorithms to search for a range of conditions that applicants would likely have known about at the time they applied. That seemed like a backhanded admission that it was indeed searching for excuses — the company would say legitimate reasons — to cancel coverage. The Obama administration and Congressional Democrats urged insurers to end rescissions at once.

 

Insurers claim policies are rescinded only when people have misrepresented or lied about their health status or other important factors at the time of application. Insurers do rescissions only on individual policies, not employer-based coverage. They argued that to keep down rates for the rest of their customers they needed the ability to exclude people who failed to report pre-existing conditions.

 

An investigation and hearings last year by the House Committee on Energy and Commerce challenged those claims. They found many troubling cases where the pre-existing conditions were trivial, unrelated to the claim, or not known to the patient.

 

Some companies issued policies quickly to start collecting premiums and only later, if a policyholder filed expensive claims, performed a detailed examination of medical records. If they found any discrepancies or omissions, they would retroactively cancel the policy, refund the premiums paid, and refuse to pay for further medical services. At that point, of course, the applicant would be unable to get coverage from any other insurer.

 

The House investigation found that three big insurers rescinded some 20,000 policies over a five-year period, and a survey by the National Association of Insurance Commissioners found more than 27,000 rescissions in an overlapping five-year period. That's a small percentage of the millions of policies issued or in force in any given year, but a disaster for the thousands of people who lost their insurance.

 

The insurers were wise to short-circuit the criticisms and end rescissions now. This follows a recent agreement by many companies to start letting dependents stay on their parents' policies until age 26, which isn't required until September. Under pressure from the White House, the industry has also agreed to cover children with pre-existing medical conditions as soon as new rules are issued.

 

Many of the other major provisions of reform don't kick in until 2014, but it is already changing the behavior of insurers. That means more security for many Americans who might otherwise find insurance unaffordable or unavailable.

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

SUDAN'S OTHER CRISIS

 

One year after the International Criminal Court accused Sudan's president, Omar Hassan al-Bashir, of war crimes for the genocidal rampage in Darfur, he was re-elected in a blatantly manipulated election.

 

Mr. Bashir has no legitimacy and he must stand trial for his crimes. But those facts must not divert the world's attention from another potential crisis: the very real danger of renewed civil war between Arab Muslim northern Sudan and the south, which is largely Christian and animist. The last conflict — from 1983 to 2005 — left about two million people dead.

 

Under a United States-backed peace agreement, the semi-autonomous southern region will hold a referendum in January to decide its future. Voters are expected to choose independence. Leaders in both the north and the south pledged to respect the results. But there is so much oil involved that they can't be depended on to keep their word — without strong encouragement from the United States and other major players.

 

Southern Sudan produces most of the country's oil. Mr. Bashir and his cronies are unlikely to give that up easily. Meanwhile, leaders in the south are likely to resist giving up the oil-rich border area of Abyei if it votes separately to join the north. All sides need to understand that this isn't a zero sum game. The oil now gets to market via a pipeline through the north to Port Sudan. Khartoum could continue to share the benefits with a long-term contract under which the south would pay royalties to use the pipeline. And the south needs the pipeline and stability to keep pumping that oil.

 

Washington, the African Union, the United Nations, the European Union and China, which has growing investments in Sudan, must press both sides to ensure a fair and free referendum and to honor the voters' verdict. They must make it clear — firmly and often — that renewed violence is not the answer.

 

Last year, the Obama administration replaced a punishment-heavy approach toward Sudan with one that includes some incentives, although officials continue to debate the right mix. What is most needed is sustained attention, and pressure, in this critical period.

 

There are still a lot of unresolved issues that need to be settled now — including border demarcation, water rights and the status of citizens on both sides of the border. Those will prove even more volatile if left hanging until after the vote.

 

Washington is sending more diplomats to southern Sudan. They have a lot of work to do — and not a lot of time — to help the leaders there improve their ability to govern and promote the rule of law. Otherwise, the desperately impoverished region runs the risk of becoming a failed state the day it is born.

 

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

THE BORDERS WE DESERVE

BY ROSS DOUTHAT

 

Critics of Arizona's new immigration law have not been shy about impugning the motives of its supporters. The measure, which requires police to check the immigration status of people they question or detain, has been denounced as a "Nazi" or "near-fascist" law, a "police state" intervention, an imitation of "apartheid," a "Juan Crow" regime that only a bigot could possibly support.

 

Faced with this kind of hyperbole, the supposed bigots have understandably returned the favor, dismissing opponents of the Arizona measure as limousine liberals who don't understand the grim realities of life along an often-lawless border. And so the debate has become a storm of insults rather than an argument.

 

On the specifics of the law, Arizona's critics have legitimate concerns. Their hysteria has been egregious: you would never guess, amid all the heavy breathing about desert fascism, that federal law already requires legal immigrants to carry proof of their status at all times. But the measure is problematic nonetheless. The majority of police officers, already overburdened, will probably enforce it only intermittently. For an overzealous minority, it opens obvious opportunities for harassment and abuse.

 

Just because this is the wrong way to enforce America's immigration laws, however, doesn't mean they don't need to be enforced. Illegal immigrants are far more sympathetic than your average lawbreaker: they're risk-takers looking for a better life in the United States, something they have in common with nearly every living American's ancestors. But by denouncing almost any crackdown on them as inherently bigoted and cruel, the "pro-immigrant" side of the debate is ultimately perpetuating a deeply unjust system.

 

There's a good argument, on moral and self-interested grounds alike, that the United States should be as welcoming as possible to immigrants. But there's no compelling reason that we should decide which immigrants to welcome based on their proximity to our border, and their ability to slip across.

 

It takes nothing away from Mexico or Mexicans to note that millions upon millions of people worldwide would give anything for the chance to migrate to America. Many come from nations that are poorer than our southern neighbor. Many have endured natural disasters, or suffered political or religious persecution. And many have spent years navigating our byzantine immigration bureaucracy, only to watch politicians in both parties dangle the promise of amnesty in front of people who jumped the border and the line.

 

As of the mid-2000s, roughly 700,000 migrants were entering the United States illegally every year. Fifty-seven percent came from Mexico, and 24 percent from the rest of Latin America. Only 13 percent came from Africa, the Middle East, South Asia and the Pacific Rim.

 

In a better world, the United States would welcome hundreds of thousands more legal immigrants annually, from a much wider array of countries. A more diverse immigrant population would have fewer opportunities to self-segregate and stronger incentives to assimilate. Fears of a Spanish-speaking reconquista would diminish, and so would the likelihood of backlash. And instead of being heavily skewed toward low-skilled migrants, our system could tilt toward higher-skilled applicants, making America more competitive and less stratified.

 

Such a system would also be fairer to the would-be immigrants themselves. America has always prided itself on attracting people from every culture, continent and creed. In a globalized world, aspiring Americans in Zimbabwe or Burma should compete on a level playing field with Mexicans and Salvadorans. The American dream should seem no more unattainable in China than in Chihuahua.

 

But this can only happen if America first regains control of its southern border. There is a widespread pretense that this has been tried and found to be impossible, when really it's been found difficult and left untried.

 

Curbing the demand for illegal workers requires stiff workplace enforcement, stringent penalties for hiring undocumented workers, and shared sacrifice from Americans accustomed to benefiting from cheap labor. Reducing the supply requires bigger Border Patrol budgets and enforcement measures that will inevitably be criticized as draconian: some kind of tamper-proof Social Security card, most likely, and then more physical walls along our southern border, as opposed to the "virtual" wall that the Obama administration seems to be wisely abandoning.

 

You can see why our leaders would rather duck the problem. But when Washington doesn't act, the people on the front lines end up taking matters into their own hands.

 

If you don't like what Arizona just did, the answer isn't to scream "fascist!" It's to demand that the federal government do its job, so that we can have the immigration system that both Americans and immigrants deserve.

 

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

DRILLING, DISASTER, DENIAL

BY PAUL KRUGMAN

 

It took futuristic technology to achieve one of the worst ecological disasters on record. Without such technology, after all, BP couldn't have drilled the Deepwater Horizon well in the first place. Yet for those who remember their environmental history, the catastrophe in the gulf has a strangely old-fashioned feel, reminiscent of the events that led to the first Earth Day, four decades ago.

 

And maybe, just maybe, the disaster will help reverse environmentalism's long political slide — a slide largely caused by our very success in alleviating highly visible pollution. If so, there may be a small silver lining to a very dark cloud.

 

Environmentalism began as a response to pollution that everyone could see. The spill in the gulf recalls the 1969 blowout that coated the beaches of Santa Barbara in oil. But 1969 was also the year the Cuyahoga River, which flows through Cleveland, caught fire. Meanwhile, Lake Erie was widely declared "dead," its waters contaminated by algal blooms. And major U.S. cities — especially, but by no means only, Los Angeles — were often cloaked in thick, acrid smog.

 

It wasn't that hard, under the circumstances, to mobilize political support for action. The Environmental Protection Agency was founded, the Clean Water Act was enacted, and America began making headway against its most visible environmental problems. Air quality improved: smog alerts in Los Angeles, which used to have more than 100 a year, have become rare. Rivers stopped burning, and some became swimmable again. And Lake Erie has come back to life, in part thanks to a ban on laundry detergents containing phosphates.

 

Yet there was a downside to this success story.

 

For one thing, as visible pollution has diminished, so has public concern over environmental issues. According to a recent Gallup survey, "Americans are now less worried about a series of environmental problems than at any time in the past 20 years."

 

This decline in concern would be fine if visible pollution were all that mattered — but it isn't, of course. In particular, greenhouse gases pose a greater threat than smog or burning rivers ever did. But it's hard to get the public focused on a form of pollution that's invisible, and whose effects unfold over decades rather than days.

 

Nor was a loss of public interest the only negative consequence of the decline in visible pollution. As the photogenic crises of the 1960s and 1970s faded from memory, conservatives began pushing back against environmental regulation.

 

Much of the pushback took the form of demands that environmental restrictions be weakened. But there was also an attempt to construct a narrative in which advocates of strong environmental protection were either extremists — "eco-Nazis," according to Rush Limbaugh — or effete liberal snobs trying to impose their aesthetic preferences on ordinary Americans. (I'm sorry to say that the long effort to block construction of a wind farm off Cape Cod — which may finally be over thanks to the Obama administration — played right into that caricature.)

 

And let's admit it: by and large, the anti-environmentalists have been winning the argument, at least as far as public opinion is concerned.

 

Then came the gulf disaster. Suddenly, environmental destruction was photogenic again.

 

For the most part, anti-environmentalists have been silent about the catastrophe. True, Mr. Limbaugh — arguably the Republican Party's de facto leader — promptly suggested that environmentalists might have blown up the rig to head off further offshore drilling. But that remark probably reflected desperation: Mr. Limbaugh knows that his narrative has just taken a big hit.

 

For the gulf blowout is a pointed reminder that the environment won't take care of itself, that unless carefully watched and regulated, modern technology and industry can all too easily inflict horrific damage on the planet.

 

Will America take heed? It depends a lot on leadership. In particular, President Obama needs to seize the moment; he needs to take on the "Drill, baby, drill" crowd, telling America that courting irreversible environmental disaster for the sake of a few barrels of oil, an amount that will hardly affect our dependence on imports, is a terrible bargain.

 

It's true that Mr. Obama isn't as well positioned to make this a teachable moment as he should be: just a month ago he announced a plan to open much of the Atlantic coast to oil exploration, a move that shocked many of his supporters and makes it hard for him to claim the moral high ground now.

 

But he needs to get beyond that. The catastrophe in the gulf offers an opportunity, a chance to recapture some of the spirit of the original Earth Day. And if that happens, some good may yet come of this ecological nightmare.

 

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

FOUNDING AMATEURS?

BY GORDON S. WOOD

 

Providence, R.I.

THE American public is not pleased with Congress — one recent poll shows that less than a third of all voters are eager to support their representative in November. "I am not really happy right now with anybody," a woman from Decatur, Ill., recently told a Washington Post reporter. As she considered the prospect of a government composed of fledgling lawmakers, she noted: "When the country was founded, those guys were all pretty new at it. How bad could it be?"

 

Actually, our founders were not all that new at it: the men who led the revolution against the British crown and created our political institutions were very used to governing themselves. George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Samuel Adams and John Adams were all members of their respective Colonial legislatures several years before the Declaration of Independence. In fact, these Revolutionaries drew upon a tradition of self-government that went back a century or more. Virginians ran their county courts and elected representatives to their House of Burgesses. The people of Massachusetts gathered in town meetings and selected members of the General Court, their Colonial legislature.

 

Of course, women, slaves and men without property could not vote; nevertheless, by the mid-18th century roughly two out of three adult white male colonists could vote, the highest proportion of voters in the world. By contrast, only about one in six adult males in England could vote for members of Parliament.

 

If one wanted to explain why the French Revolution spiraled out of control into violence and dictatorship and the American Revolution did not, there is no better answer than the fact that the Americans were used to governing themselves and the French were not. In 18th-century France no one voted; their Estates-General had not even met since 1614. The American Revolution occurred when it did because the British government in the 1760s and 1770s suddenly tried to interfere with this long tradition of American self-government.

 

Of course, a deep distrust of political power, especially executive power, had always been a part of this tradition of self-government. Consequently, when the newly independent Americans drew up their Revolutionary state constitutions in 1776, most states generally limited the number of years their annually elected governors could successively hold office.

 

"A long continuance in the first executive departments of power or trust is dangerous to liberty," declared the Maryland Constitution. "A rotation, therefore, in those departments is one of the best securities of permanent freedom." In addition to specifying term limits for its plural executive, the radical Pennsylvania Constitution of 1776 likewise required that after four annual terms even the assemblymen would have to give way to a new set of legislators so they would "return to mix with the mass of the people and feel at their leisure the effects of the laws which they have made."

 

At the same time, the Articles of Confederation also provided that no state delegate to the Congress could serve more than three years out of six.

 

In the decade after the Declaration of Independence, however, many American leaders had second thoughts about what they had done amid the popular enthusiasm of 1776. Since many of the state legislatures were turning over roughly 50 percent of their membership annually and passing a flood of ill-drafted and unjust legislation, stability and experience seemed to be what was most needed.

As a consequence, many leaders in the 1780s proposed major changes to their constitutional structures, including the abolition of term limits. In Pennsylvania, reformers eliminated rotation in office on the grounds that "the privilege of the people in elections is so far infringed as they are thereby deprived of the right of choosing those persons whom they would prefer."

 

The new federal Constitution, itself a reaction to the excessive populism of 1776, also did away with any semblance of term limits, much to the chagrin of Thomas Jefferson and many others uneasy over the extraordinary power of the presidency. Jefferson thought that without rotation in office the president would always be re-elected and thus would serve for life. When he became president he stepped down after two terms and thus affirmed the precedent that Washington had established — a precedent finally made part of the Constitution by the 22nd Amendment in 1951.

 

Although federal term limits have been confined to the presidency, the fear of entrenched and far-removed political power, as the present anti-incumbency mood suggests, remains very much part of American popular culture. Yet precisely because we are such a rambunctious and democratic people, as the framers of 1787 appreciated, we have learned that a government made up of rotating amateurs cannot maintain the steadiness and continuity that our expansive Republic requires.

 

Gordon S. Wood, a professor emeritus of history at Brown, is the author, most recently, of "Empire of Liberty: A History of the Early Republic, 1789-1815."

 

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USA TODAY

EDITORIAL

Opposing view: Manageable challenges

BY GERALD W. MCENTEE

 

Recently, there have been a number of hysterical media reports concerning the status of America's public employee pension funds. Unfortunately, almost all of them ignore the root causes of the challenges we face. So, it is not surprising that some of the "solutions" advocated by USA TODAY would actually aggravate the problem.

 

Let's start with some simple facts. The typical public employee represented by AFSCME earns, on average, about $18,500 a year in retirement after a career of public service. For some, this is their only source of retirement income because they do not qualify for Social Security benefits. The employees contribute the bulk of the cost of this benefit, with taxpayers paying 25 cents of every pension benefit dollar.

 

The deep financial downturn of 2008 and 2009, spurred by recklessness on Wall Street, caused significant problems in many pension funds. But our public pension plans are designed for long-term stability, and virtually all of them have sufficient resources to weather this financial storm. More to the point, our pension funds can and will be rebuilt as our economy improves.

 

To be sure, government at all levels must show considerably more discipline in meeting pension obligations. In the past, too many politicians ignored pension contributions in favor of wasteful programs or special-interest tax breaks. But proposals to create 401(k) plans don't even address the problems facing us, much less solve them.

 

Creating a new retirement plan does nothing to erase the debts associated with the old one. With a new plan, taxpayers will not only be on the hook for the old debt but will also be responsible for funding the new system. For example, a study in California pegged the additional cost to taxpayers at $7.6 billion to shut down the traditional pension system and create a 401(k) plan.

 

Our nation faces enormous fiscal challenges. But these challenges are manageable if our leaders understand both the source of the problem and the implications of proposed solutions. Unfortunately, proposals to terminate pension plans in favor of 401(k) plans demonstrate no such understanding.

 

Gerald W. McEntee is president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME).

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USA TODAY

EDITORIAL

DEBATE ON THE OTHER DEBT CRISIS OUR VIEW: UGLY TRUTH ABOUT STATE PENSIONS BEGINS TO EMERGE

 

Even the most casual observers know the federal government has a serious debt problem that's propelling the USA toward the same cliff as Greece. Less well known is that certain states and localities are even worse off. Or at least their problems are coming to a head sooner, as they have fewer options for kicking the proverbial can down the road.

 

States can't print money, and they have limits on borrowing. Much of their shortfall, moreover, is the result of pension obligations that are binding contracts, not just political promises. The looming shortfalls were hidden in recent years through a combination of outright deceit and overly rosy projections for annual investment returns. But the truth is now emerging.

 

Last month, a panel from Stanford University concluded that California's public employee pensions were underfunded by $500 billion. That's about $35,700 per California household. Nationally, the American Enterprise Institute estimates that state pension funds are more than $3 trillion short.

 

The problem is twofold. Many states have lavish programs that allow workers to retire in their 50s with ample pensions — and health insurance to cover them until Medicare kicks in. Second, regardless of how generous their benefits, some states have simply failed to put away adequate funds to cover them.

 

These lavish programs are a good deal for public employees and politicians seeking their votes. But the deal is a bitter pill for taxpayers, most of whom are private sector workers without the types of benefits that state and local workers see as their right.

 

The first thing that must be done is to acknowledge the colossal irresponsibility of lawmakers who have engineered a massive transfer of wealth from non-unionized workers to unionized ones.

 

The next thing to do is to take steps to limit the damage. One good idea is to move new state and local government employees to 401(k)-type programs. This won't solve the problem of current workers and retirees, but it will keep the problem from getting worse. Alaska and Michigan have already moved broadly in this direction, while several other states have 401(k)s for certain types of employees.

 

The ability to rein in spending for current workers and retirees varies from state to state. In about a third of the states, pensions are not the result of collective bargaining agreements and can be adjusted within the confines of what is politically possible. Health benefits are often easier to trim, at least from a legal standpoint.

 

Without dramatic action, it is not difficult to see states such as Illinois and New Jersey falling into downward spirals of tax hikes and service cuts to finance their unaffordable promises.

 

In New Jersey, recently elected Gov. Chris Christie is finding out how tough the issue is. His state faces massive deficits even though it has some of the highest taxes in the country. With little ability to trim pensions, he is demanding that the teachers' unions agree to pay freezes or layoffs. For his efforts, Christie is being portrayed as a Scrooge-like character who is anti-education. Many other states will soon be forced into the same type of contentious fights.

 

The story of state pension shortfalls isn't as well known as the national debt. But given the severity of their problems, that probably won't be true for long.

 

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USA TODAY

EDITORIAL

BE LIKE LAICH

 

In recent months, there has been no shortage of examples of pro athletes behaving badly.

 

Golfer Tiger Woods' colossal infidelity. The sleazy sexual conduct of Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger in a Georgia nightclub. Washington Wizards star Gilbert Arenas bringing handguns to the basketball team's locker room — and later making light of it.

 

In these and other cases, too many athletes have demonstrated a sense of entitlement or an attitude that the rules don't apply to them. Or they've adopted the ethos, too common in politics and business as well, that anything not illegal is somehow acceptable.

 

All of this is why an episode involving Washington Capitals player Brooks Laich comes as such a refreshing change.

 

Maybe you've heard about it. Last Wednesday night, after his team's devastating loss in Game 7 of its hockey playoffs against the Montreal Canadiens, Laich (pronounced "Like") was driving home across a Potomac River bridge that links Washington, D.C., and Virginia.

 

A woman and her 14-year-old daughter, on their way back from the game, had hit a pothole. Their vehicle was disabled in the treacherous traffic. Laich, whose heavily favored team blew a 3-1 lead in the playoff series, might well have whizzed past.

 

Instead, he pulled over and asked the stranded fans whether he could help. Laich spent about 40 minutes changing the tire and apologizing for the Capitals' loss. He wasn't looking for any publicity, but word got out when the daughter promptly updated her Facebook page.

 

Character, it is said, is how you behave when no one is looking. It's also how you behave when you've got your own problems but have a chance to help someone else. Though Laich's team lost, his common decency showed why some athletes really do qualify as role models.

 

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USA TODAY

EDITORIAL

Abortion's middle ground? Reducing them

 

Black children, according to the signs, are " an endangered species." A news release backing this billboard campaign protests the "ugliest form of racism." Those leading and supporting the drive speak ominously of an elite conspiracy, eugenics and black genocide.

 

You might think these volleys come from a progressive crusade against poverty, gun violence, or poor access to health care. Surprise: This recently concluded campaign in Atlanta was mounted by Georgia Right to Life, part of a new front in the anti-abortion movement that links abortion to a sinister plot to destroy black America.

 

Give credit to the abortion-is-genocide vanguard for this at least: They have demolished the usual left-right boundaries in their mixing of cries against racial injustice (typically a liberal cause) with anti-abortion politics (usually a cause of social conservatives). And by bringing new national attention to disproportionately high rates of abortion among African Americans, they have succeeded in shining a spotlight on distress in black communities.

 

Whatever our differing views of abortion, we can probably agree it's good that attention is being paid to pain in a segment of the American population that already suffered too much — even if this campaign employs hype and distortion to make its larger point. Whether we see abortion as the problem or the manifestation of a whole host of other social malignancies, the door of opportunity could be opening wider toward healing progress on the issue that is surely the most persistent argument-starter in the ongoing culture wars around faith and politics.

 

When negotiating isn't possible

In recent years, there has been more talk about "abortion reduction" — from religious and secular voices on both sides of the issue and from places as prominent as the Obama White House.

 

If the idea hasn't caught on widely yet, it's largely because the nature of the abortion debate has poisoned the possibilities for negotiation and common ground. Indeed, the two sides have projected their positions as non-negotiable: the right to life itself vs. a woman's authority over her own body.

 

For one side, the issue is often viewed as profoundly religious, and with no shades of gray. If you're a devout Catholic, for instance, you are taught by the Vatican that abortion is a grave evil. If your faith guides you to the conviction that abortion is killing, what ground is there to give? Yet couldn't that same commitment to saving lives also compel one to join the cause of abortion reduction, even while working for more comprehensive prohibitions? This is not Pollyannaish fantasizing. Any rigorous study of abortion dynamics reveals significant payoffs for both the "pro-life" and "pro-choice" movements if the country undertook a sincere effort to reduce abortion.

 

For the Christian conservatives who have led the charge against abortion, reduction strategies promise the victory of fewer pregnancies ended — not as resounding as overturning Roe v. Wade perhaps, but nothing to scoff at. Another likely outcome: a more responsible approach to sex, such that fewer pregnancies come as unwelcome surprises, and that few